The National Security Agency is looking to hire 1,500 people in the fiscal year ending September 30. It will also hire another 1,500 next year

While there have been high-profile computer hacks in the past, 2011 seemed to have a pretty consistent string of corporate and government cyber attacks that affected Sony, the CIA,Gmail and many more. The Pentagon is calling the government attacks an act of war, and are looking for new recruits to help fight this battle.

Many federal agencies like the Department of Defense (DOD), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), NASA and the National Security Agency (NSA) are looking to hire hackers to help find holes in government security and to even launch offensive attacks when needed. But the feds don't want just any hacker -- they want the best of the best, and that is why they're attending this year's Defcon in Las Vegas. 

Defcon is one of the world's largest hacker conventions. It began in June 1993, and is held in Las Vegas annually. Defcon allows hackers to show their stuff in the way of hardware modification, computer code, computer architecture, phone phreaking, etc. The entrance fee is $150 cash -- no names and no credit cards. Everything is anonymous.

"Today it's cyber warriors that we're looking for, not rocket scientists," said Richard "Dickie" George, technical director of the NSA's Information Assurance Directorate. "That's the race that we're in today. And we need the best and brightest to be ready to take on this cyber warrior status."

The NSA is especially looking for hacker recruits, since its entire purpose is information systems security. The agency is looking to hire 1,500 people in the fiscal year ending September 30. It will also hire another 1,500 people next year. 

A general worry with finding new employees from a hacker convention is that young hackers may cross the line or break laws, whether they're aware of these lines or laws or not. But the NSA's screening process for new employees is a rigorous one, and Jeff Moss, a hacker known as Dark Tangent that founded Defcon and the Black Hat convention and is now part of the DHS' Advisory Council, assures that the government needs hackers who really know the trade.

"They need people with the hacker skill set, hacker mindset," said Moss. "It's not like you go to a hacker university and get blessed with a badge that says you're a hacker. It's a self-appointed label -- you think like one or you don't."

The NSA could certainly use the help, since George described distinguishing between a real threat and a bunch of small-scale "messing around" hacks as finding a single needle in a needle stack. In a mess of teenagers just playing around, there's a real "bad guy" mixed in and it's difficult to tell whose who, so everything must be seen as a threat.

But won't a bunch of feds in a hacker convention raise a few eyebrows? George says they won't have a problem fitting in.

"When I walk down the hall [through NSA offices], there are people I see every day and I never know what color their hair's going to be," said George, who said the agency is full of eccentric mathematicians and linguists. "And it's a bonus if they're wearing shoes. We've been in some sense a collection of geeks for a long, long time."

The NSA better find their new hacker friends quickly, because it looks as if cyber criminals are taking their work a step further. Not only are these criminals launching attacks themselves, but they're now offering their services to the public as well.

For as low as $5 to $10 per hour, cyber crooks, who are offering their services in underground forums, will launch distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks to shut down the customer's website of choice. DDoS attacks use a large network of bots to flood websites with enough Web traffic to shut them down. 

For $40 to $50 per hour, a customer can get a day's worth of cyber attacks while a week will cost $350 to $400 and a month will cost $1,200.

One particular forum for the operators of the Darkness DDoS bot even shared the number of bots needed to complete a job. To take down a small website, 15 to 30 bots are needed. An average site needs 250 to 280 bots, a large site needs 750 to 800 bots, a great site with anti-DDoS protection needs 2,000 to 2,500 bots, a group of websites need 4,300 to 4,700 bots and any site with any protection needs 15,000 to 20,000 bots.

Hackers are certainly getting even more courageous with efforts like these, but the government is working to take the target off of its forehead by implementing a new U.S. Cyber Command and offering better training of its security systems to employees.

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