CISA chief wants younger, more experienced hackers in federal government

Professional experience and credentials don't have the same importance in cybersecurity, where teenagers can hack governments and multi-billion-dollar corporations.

Shutterstock image ID: 569172169 By Zenzen
 

Federal agencies could do much to improve their cybersecurity talent pool if they moved away from restrictive General Schedule hiring practices and were more open to bringing on younger candidates, according to Chris Krebs, Director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.

During an Aug. 3 online discussion hosted by the Wilson Center, former Rep. Jane Harmon (D-Calif.) asked Krebs about the recent arrest and charging of a 17-year-old Tampa student alleged to be behind last month's Twitter hack, asking him if CISA had the staffing it needed to "stay ahead of the 17-year-olds."

Some observers expressed surprise that a teenager could thwart the security defenses of a multi-billion-dollar corporation, but Krebs argued that in the digital domain, practical experience quickly outstrips age and even credentials in importance.

"You know at this point, particularly in cyber, I'm not sure it matters if you're 45 or 17, which speaks to the ways that we need to evolve our hiring practices," said Krebs.

"I'm getting, 17, 18-year-olds that apply for a job and [they] have six years of practical, -- operational effectively -- experience in security research," said Krebs. "So, they've been online white hat hackers since they could…turn on a computer."

It's far from the first time that younger hackers have made a big impact on the world stage, for good or ill. The incredibly disruptive Mirai botnet was stitched together by three American teenagers who first used it primarily to run a DDoS-for-Hire operation against rival Minecraft competitors.

Following their arrests, the trio became something of a success story for hacker rehabilitation, with U.S. prosecutors ultimately lobbying to reduce their sentences to probation largely because of their advanced skill identifying and tracking botnet infrastructure. Their insights offered "a unique opportunity" that provided law enforcement operators "the knowledge and tools they need to stay ahead of cyber criminals around the world," U.S. Attorney Brian Schroder told a court last year.

While he didn't specifically float the possibility of hiring former criminals, Krebs noted that the General Schedule system used by the federal government to make hiring and compensation choices doesn't credit adequately reflect the skills and experience of younger hackers. The current standards are "based on a system from 1929, almost a clerical hiring approach…that really prioritizes experience in a professional setting" such as graduate and post graduate degrees.

That approach, where higher levels of credentialing and experience dictate higher performance, is "just not how cyber works," he said.

It's a recurring argument for the agency. In a budget hearing last year, Krebs complained that he couldn't appropriately compensate younger job candidates who had all the skills needed to excel but don't meet traditional educational and credentialing milestones. The result is that CISA and the federal government may be losing out on candidates at the same time it and the private sector are in fierce competition for an increasingly shrinking pool of cyber talent.

The solution, he argued, lies in diversifying STEM education, both in K-12 education and expanding technology trade schools so that two-year degrees replace "the equivalent of…having to go to law school." Policymakers could also get more from pushing to do more to build security into their products by design rather than focusing on the total number of unfilled cybersecurity positions in the market that are needed to implement security after the fact.

"That's a nihilistic approach as I look at it. If we can make stuff more secure by design and deployment then we're not going to need all those [positions]," said Krebs.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.