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Tough nuts to hack


The National Security Agency (NSA) has a challenge for hackers who think they’re hot stuff: prove it by working on the “hardest problems on Earth.”

Computer hacker skills are in great demand in the U.S. government to fight the cyber wars that pose a growing national security threat — and they are in short supply, Reuters reported.

For that reason, an alphabet soup of federal agencies – the departments of defense, health and human services and NASA among them – are descending on Las Vegas this week for Defcon, an annual hackers’ convention where the $150 entrance fee is cash only: no registration, no credit cards, no names taken. Attendance is expected to top 10,000.

The NSA is among the keen suitors. The spy agency plays both offense and defense in the cyber wars. It conducts electronic eavesdropping on adversaries and protects U.S. computer networks that hold super-secret material — a prize target for America’s enemies, Reuters said.

“Today it’s cyber warriors that we’re looking for, not rocket scientists,” said Richard George, technical director of the NSA’s Information Assurance Directorate, the agency’s cyber-defense side. “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 hiring about 1,500 people in the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30 and another 1,500 next year, most of them cyber experts. With a work force of just over 30,000, the NSA dwarfs other intelligence agencies, including the CIA.

It also engages in cyber-spying and other offensive operations, something it rarely, if ever, discusses publicly, Reuters said.

But at Defcon, the NSA and other “feds” will be competing with corporations looking for hacking talent too.

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