Hackers for good

4/16/2013

The precocious young computer hacker has become a familiar figure in American life. Because of their tendency to break into places where they’re not welcome, many hackers operate beyond the edge of public respectability. That may be about to change.

The Department of Homeland Security says it is recruiting young hackers to help respond to the threat of foreign hackers. Efforts to steal government and business secrets via hacked computer networks have grown, along with computer attacks on America’s power, water, and transportation infrastructure.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano wants to recruit 600 hackers. She is casting a wide net across the nation’s middle and high schools. The department wants to get hackers used to working with American intelligence while they’re still young and open to doing something positive for their country, despite the job’s limited pay.

Because computer security in the private sector is far more lucrative, that’s where much of the nation’s computer talent gravitates. Other countries teach computer security to young people, and sponsor contests to attract the next generation of “digital warriors.”

The United States could benefit from a similar program. Such an appeal to patriotism might be more likely once the extent of the nation’s digital vulnerability becomes known.