UK
22/10/2013 03:57 BST

Hiring The Hackers: How The UK's New Cyber Force Could Recruit Convicts

Hackers with a criminal past could be recruited to serve in the new military cyber force, the Defence Secretary Philip Hammond indicated.

He said the conviction and sentence would be examined but if the candidate got past the vetting process, "I can't rule it out".

A similar recruitment drive was touted in the US in January. Faced with growing fears of potentially crippling cyber attacks and not enough skilled technicians to combat the threat, the Pentagon committed to dramatically boosting the ranks of US cybersecurity forces, expanding its number of cyber warriors more than five-fold.

hackers

Hackers with a criminal past could be recruited to serve in the new military cyber force

The head of Britain's new unit of "cyber reservists", Lieutenant Colonel Michael White, said he was not setting "hard and fast rules about individual personality traits".

As well as protecting against online attack, the Joint Cyber Reserve Unit will have an offensive capability able to strike at enemies, which is where hackers could come into their own as military assets.

Asked by BBC2's Newsnight whether someone with the right skills would be ruled out if they had a criminal record for hacking, Lt Col White said: "I think if they could get through the security process, then if they had that capability that we would like, then if the vetting authority was happy with that, why not?

"We're looking at capability development, rather than setting hard and fast rules about individual personality traits."

Hammond also told Newsnight he could foresee circumstances in which convicted hackers could be given a role.

"Each individual case would be looked at on its merits," he said. "The conviction would be examined in terms of how long ago it was, how serious it was, what sort of sentence had followed. So I can't rule it out."

He added: "There are many professional people out there who will have the skills that you might traditionally associate with the hackers' skill set who have never done anything illegal and who scrupulously maintain their activities on the right side of the law.

"So this will be a matter of judgment in individual cases. But the armed forces overall do not have an absolute bar on people with criminal convictions becoming members of them."

The new unit will have "considerable flexibility" in recruiting criteria, without the same standards of fitness required for infantry reservists.

The "routine" would be for them to wear uniform but if they were carrying out work away from the public eye "they may not always do so".

Hammond said: "What we are trying to do is recruit the very brightest and the best from across the IT industry and use the skill sets they have got in the national interest to enhance our cyber defences and to help us build an offensive cyber capability."