The government has admitted that convicted hackers could join its cyber crime-fighting ranks as it looks to shore up the UK's digital defences.
The new National Crime Agency (NCA) announced yesterday that it is seeking to hire 400 new cyber defence personnel to help ensure the UK can protect itself from the growing threats in the digital world.
Speaking on BBC Newsnight Lieutenant Colonel Michael White said the importance of hiring skilled cyber experts outweighed the perceived issues with using former convicts.
“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.
"We're looking at capability development, rather than setting hard and fast rules about individual personality traits."
Defence secretary Philip Hammond, also speaking on the show, said that currently the armed forces do not discriminate on issues of past convictions, adding that cases are judged on an individual basis. He also gave some broad ideas on what a UK cyber attack could look like.
"You might be able to deny an enemy the use of certain weapons systems [...] you might be able interfere with the way they worked. You might be able to do, by cyber intervention, something that today would be done by a bombing or missile attack," he said.
David Emm, a senior security researcher at Kaspersky Lab, said the potential use of convicted hackers underlined the pressure the UK is under to ensure it can protect itself in cyber space.
“Those who have previously worked for the ‘dark side’ of the code-breaking fraternity are often motivated by money and misplaced ideals, and therefore expecting them to switch sides, and remain there, is unrealistic,” he said.
“However, this development does highlight the problem of a skills shortage and the lack of talent outside the criminal community to tackle serious cyber-attacks facing the country. This is why it is so important to encourage the next generation to study, and become expert on, security-related issues so they can be the ones to fight sophisticated cyber-threats in the future.”
The NCA recruitment drive is the latest in a long line of government initiatives designed to find cyber experts outside of the standard education channels. For example, earlier this year the GCHQ launched its "Can You Find It" challenge to find people with the necessary skills.
Dubbed Barnard's star B, newly discovered planet is believed to be rocky
Also, what's a USB stick?
Gravitational waves become extremely weak by the time they reach the Earth and require highly sensitive equipment for detection
The reactor topped out at 100 million° C