I will readily admit that I haven’t read Rolling Stone since I was an undergraduate in college. Then, a former student and cyber security enthusiast recommended that I read this article, I haven’t read such a vivid portrayal of the hacker culture and the nature of cyber warfare before. If you are interested in these topics, it is certainly a must-read.
The article is chock full of stories and statistics that describe hacker culture, how hackers protect our government and businesses, why the private sector has been so successful luring them away from government work, how the country’s uneven attitude toward computer hacking deters quality cyber warriors, how other countries have stepped up attacks on our critical infrastructures, and how lazily and ineptly so many companies handle their customers’ data. There are remarkably informative graphics, such as the interactive map of “The Cyberwar’s Most Terrifying Incidents”, which charts a rather harrowing history of cyber nefariousness. And the article offers lots of interesting anecdotes about the goings-on at the HackMiami conference, the ease with which hired guns steal computer servers from casinos, how out-in-the-open customer financial records are at hotels, and the joys of hacking one’s way to unbelievably sweet scores on Candy Crash Saga. We even get an insider’s view of one of the nation’s cyber mission headquarters, the National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center (NCCIC), where sprawling monitors illustrate cyber attacks as they happen. I would absolutely love to see that in person.
A couple of themes rise to the fore. First, the article makes it quite clear that there isn’t enough talent to fill the intense need we have to defend our cyber borders. Second, even if there were enough talent, only a small number of cyber warriors choose to work for the government, whether it’s because they are spooked by Edward Snowden’s revelations, they are unsure where their hobby stands in the eyes of law enforcement, or they worry that established and antiquated rules of engagement will constrain their activity too much and limit what they can do. The talent shortfall and the reluctance to work in a national defense capacity are serious problems that need to be addressed now.
I will be forwarding this article to my Computer Science students now. They are the ones who have these skills. They need to know which skills to develop further, how they can use them, and where their talents are most needed.