U.S. spy chief asks hackers to help government secure Internet
LAS VEGAS, (Reuters) - The head of the U.S. government’s secretive National Security Agency took the unprecedented step yesterday of asking a convention of unruly hackers to join him in an effort to make the Internet more secure.
In a speech to the 20th annual Def Con gathering in Las Vegas, four-star General Keith Alexander stressed common ground between U.S. officials and hackers, telling them privacy must be preserved and that they could help by developing new tools.
“You’re going to have to come in and help us,” Alexander told thousands of attendees.
Alexander rarely gives speeches of any kind, let alone to a crowd of hackers, professional defenders, and researchers whose discoveries of software and hardware vulnerabilities are used by both sides.
Conference founder Jeff Moss, known in hacking circles as The Dark Tangent, told the conference that he had invited Alexander partly because he wanted them to learn about one of the world’s “spookiest, least known” organizations.
Attendees were respectful and gave modest applause, though several said they were concerned about secret government snooping and the failure of authorities thus far to stop foreign-backed attacks.
“Americans pay taxes so that federal agencies can defend them,” said a researcher who asked not to be named. “I see it as a hard sell asking a business entity to spend money for the common good.”
Alexander won points by wearing the hacker “uniform” of jeans and a tee shirt, wandering the halls and praising specific hacking efforts, including intrusion detection tools and advances in cryptology.
He also confronted civil liberties concerns that are a major issue for many researchers devoted to the Internet.
The NSA sponsored a booth at the convention for the first time, which organizers placed next to one from the Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF). The EFF has sued the government, claiming that it illegally tapped conversations of Americans.
Alexander spoke with staff at the EFF booth, telling them he believes the U.S. government can secure the nation and also protect civil liberties. They did not discuss the pending litigation.
Panels at the conference include a discussion of government tracking of individuals through cell phone data.