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Government using games to recruit hackers

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As foreign hackers probe the U.S. infrastructure grid in an effort to infiltrate and undermine the government, the Department of Homeland Security is looking for a few good gamers.

Well, technically, it's looking for a few good hackers of its own -- but it's using games to find them.

The government organization has taken a cue from China and started to use competitions to root out the top teen hackers for possible recruitment to the agency, reports the New York Times. Using competitions like the Virginia Governor's Cup Cyber Challenge, teens take part in military exercises with names like 'NetWars' that have the feel of a game.

Competitors face the same five-level test the military uses on its (much older) security experts, with points earned for cracking passwords and finding vulnerabilities. This year's winner, 17-year-old Arlan Jaska, reached the third level in just a few hours, a feat that typically requires seven to 10 years of training and experience.

Homeland Security isn't looking for hackers to infiltrate other systems, however (the NSA handles that particular part of cyber warfare). Rather, it's looking for talented people to help shore up the nation's defenses against these sorts of breaches. Security expert Alan Paller likens the need for more government hackers -- roughly 600 or so -- to the shortage of fighter pilots during World War II.

Unfortunately, the private sector pays better.

"We have to show them how cool and exciting this is," security trainer Ed Skoudis told The Times. "And we have to show them that applying these skills to the public sector is important."

The practice puts the government in a tight spot. While it’s looking to recruit hackers, it's still actively pursuing "hacktivists" and those who lobby for open data, which could result in some distrust by the most talented hackers.

It was just last year, you might recall, that the group Anonymous took down the CIA's public Website and stole databases from the U.S. Census department. Too bad they weren’t looking for work.

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