GCHQ to train hundreds of enlisted computer experts including convicted hackers for UK cyber defence force
Convicted hackers could be recruited to the UK’S new cyber defence force, the defence secretary has said.
Philip Hammond announced plans for the unit last month, declaring it would have the capability to mount cyber attacks against other countries as a means of deterring them from striking against Britain.
Hundreds of computer experts will be recruited as reservists, trained with the help of GCHQ’s joint cyber unit at Cheltenham, and, asked if they could include convicted hackers among their ranks, Hammond said it was a possibility.
“As a matter of policy, the armed forces don’t necessarily exclude people who have criminal convictions,” he told BBC Newsnight. “Each individual case would be looked at on it’s merits. 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.”
Hammond was asked for his views after the head of the new unit, Lieutenant Colonel Michael White, had responded positively, when the same question was put to him.
“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?” he said.
With many of the belief that there is a deficit of cybersecurity experts in the UK, the hiring of hackers could help plug the gap. A survey of IT professionals last month found that 70% believed businesses should hire ex-hackers to safeguard and improve online security. In the US, it is already common practice, with many companies recruiting at hacker conventions.
Last year, the UK’s cyber defences blocked around 400,000 “advanced, malicious cyber threats” to the government secure intranet alone, according to Hammond. British ministers have not publicly named the culprits partly because it is so difficult to prove who exactly are behind cyber attacks but privately officials point the finger at Russia and China.
The defence secretary has said the new £500m unit could disable enemy communications, nuclear and chemical weapons, planes, ships and other hardware. He told Newsnight that there would be flexibility around recruitment criteria, for example in areas such as fitness, as it would be unnecessary for someone employed in cyber security to show the same physical fitness standards as other members of the armed forces.