Skip to main content

UK's Joint Cyber Reserve may employ convicted hackers

The UK's new cyber defence force might enlist convicted hackers to join the fight against cyber-criminals and foreign intelligence services, according to its new head.

Lieutenant Colonel Michael White said in a BBC Newsnight interview that "capability development" was more important than "personality traits" when gathering the force.

The new Joint Cyber Reserve is a £500 million initiative that will see reservists working alongside regular forces to protect critical computer networks and safeguard vital data.

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond argued in September that "as in other domains of warfare, we also have to deter." He announced that, "Britain will build a dedicated capability to counter attack in cyberspace and, if necessary, to strike in cyberspace as part of our full spectrum military capability."

However, it's possible that applications to the unit have been thin on the ground, as the recruitment campaign nears a month in length.

On Newsnight, White reassured the public that with every application, he would "look at individuals in the round."

"Each individual case would be looked at on its merits," he said, adding that "the conviction would be examined in terms of how long ago it was, how serious it was, [and] what sort of sentence had followed."

Overall, he said, "I can't rule it out.

Another Newsnight interviewee, Mustafa al-Bassam, was the youngest hacker in the Lulzsec group, and was given a 20-month suspended sentence for a 50-day spree of attacks in the spring of 2011, with targets including the Pentagon, the CIA, and the UK's Serious and Organised Crime Agency (SOCA).

He told the programme that the government's spying operation TEMPORA and its compliance with the NSA's PRISM operation had tarnished its reputation among young hackers, and would harm its recruitment efforts.

"I can understand the need for a government to protect itself," he said, "but when you go ahead and stomp on everyone's civil liberties - as we've seen with all the mass surveillance stories that have been out over the past year - I think you can rest assured that you're going to repel talented people."

In December last year, Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude said 93 per cent of large corporations and 76 per cent of small businesses had reported a cyber breach in 2012.

Image: Flickr (Defence Images)