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Def Con Hackers On Whether They'd Work For the NSA 126

Posted by timothy
from the well-wouldja? dept.
Daniel_Stuckey writes "Premier hacker conference Def Con, which just wrapped up its 21st year, played host to security professionals who all had very different opinions on what the NSA is up to. In fact, the only thing everyone could agree on is that the PRISM revelations came as no surprise. Even if it isn't news to this crowd, it is still a significant development in the general climate of government surveillance and national security. And at Def Con, where government recruitment was hampered this year by conference founder Jeff Moss's requesting that feds stay away, it seemed like a good idea to walk around asking people if they would still want to work for the NSA."
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Def Con Hackers On Whether They'd Work For the NSA

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 06, 2013 @01:54PM (#44488707)

    Is continuing Edward Snowden's great work.

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Tuesday August 06, 2013 @01:55PM (#44488731) Journal

    "Hey, you, geek. We've got cash, huge fucking computers, and it's totally legal* to hack whoever you want. You in?"

    I'm inclined to guess that, between the people who love toys or have mortgages and the people who think that the NSA is A-OK(tm), they aren't too worried(plus, if your area of expertise or interest is something related to data mining, the NSA might count as honest work compared to, say, Facebook)...

    • by Mitchell314 (1576581) on Tuesday August 06, 2013 @02:26PM (#44489215)
      Yeah, it's one thing to be righteously fighting for principles against the Man, but it's a whole different ball game when you got mouths to feed. Or an fresh, empty resume to build. Or a mountain of loans to pay. Then you can't be so picky when trying to secure a decent source of income.
      • by dj245 (732906) on Tuesday August 06, 2013 @03:08PM (#44489779) Homepage

        Yeah, it's one thing to be righteously fighting for principles against the Man, but it's a whole different ball game when you got mouths to feed. Or an fresh, empty resume to build. Or a mountain of loans to pay. Then you can't be so picky when trying to secure a decent source of income.

        I would disagree. There are so many hoops to jump through to work for an agency like NASA or a 3-letter agency that if I was in desperate need of a job, I would put them on the bottom of the list. Government hiring decisions take forever. Background checks take time. Work conditions are somewhat restrictive.

        Working for a for-profit company is the path of least resistance. Hiring processes may be slow, but they are much faster than the government. If you add salary+benefits, government jobs *might* pay a little better, but maybe not. It is a wash in my line of work. I can't say about who would be more likely to hire a fresh graduate, but if I was really stuck, there are plenty of companies out there with lowball salaries which would put *something* on my resume before moving on.

      • by PeeAitchPee (712652) on Tuesday August 06, 2013 @03:45PM (#44490225)
        Those of us who breed responsibly and only buy shit we can afford have very little sympathy for this point of view. And there's no reason to whore yourself out these days for evil in order to fill an empty resume -- this isn't post-Dot Com nuclear winter, not in the tech sector anyway. In summary, what you describe is the very reason our country is fucked up at this point. Folks who are willing to rationalize evil and immoral deeds for personal gain, at the expense of everyone else and our Constitutional rights, ABSOLUTELY are the problem.
        • OK, I'm with you. I'm not willing to do surveillance work. I have 'breeded responsibly', with the qualification that it takes ~16 years to raise a child, and few people have jobs that can be trusted that far into the future. I have extensive MS level education in math, CS, and EE, and many years of experience with C, C++, C#, and Python. I've tended to specialize in algorithm development and speed performance optimization. I've been employed in San Jose for several years, but my house and family are in

          • by bdwebb (985489)
            How do your degrees and certifications play a role in the availability of surveillance-specific work to you? If anything, surveillance is mostly unrelated to your fields except through a very tenuous connection between your disciplines and requirements for individuals in the surveillance industry. Unless the specific use of your algorithm development skills to this point has been in surveillance and therefore all of your job experience is surveillance related (i.e. the development of cryptographic algorit
            • Thanks for the encouragement. My experience and skill is well suited to radar and video surveillance, not so much for the data-mining kind. I agree that the tech market in San Diego looks pretty good, and there's a lot of stuff there that I think I'm potentially pretty good at. So far I haven't been able to get the ball rolling, but I'm still trying.

          • pretty much everyone I've ever met sells out when it comes to making an actual personal sacrifice for the sake of doing what's right

            Too right! But understand, management is to blame for most of that. They deliberately put people in untenable situations, and sometimes it can be for such stupidly petty crap. If you have any kind of reputation as a star hacker, or an advanced degree or some such, they may demand that you put your personal stamp of approval on some equipment, software, or project that is absolute junk. They don't put it so nakedly of course, they will instead tell you to examine the material, and mention that it would b

            • I agree that management is at the center of the problem since they have the most power, but as with any other corrupt system there's blame from the top to the bottom.

              I would have chosen my 'no respect for cowards' wording a little bit differently if I had more time when I posted earlier. What I meant was I agree with the sentiment of the parent poster, but that since nearly everyone sells out it makes it a lot harder for the few who do try to take a stand on something. I might have more compassion for sel

      • by MobyDisk (75490)

        it's a whole different ball game when you got mouths to feed

        No, it isn't. We are talking about software engineers with degrees. They aren't a starving lot you know. If they are, it certainly isn't because they are refusing to work at the NSA.

      • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

        by Agent0013 (828350)
        And when the Death Star was destroyed, the people building because of mouths to feed were just as dead as everyone else. If a revolution comes and you end up getting shot, don't come crying to me because you chose to work for the side of evil.
      • Yeah, it's one thing to be righteously fighting for principles against the Man, but it's a whole different ball game when you got mouths to feed. Or an fresh, empty resume to build. Or a mountain of loans to pay. Then you can't be so picky when trying to secure a decent source of income.

        and you sell out your kids freedom/future for the next paycheck then yes, you are right. Thank god my mom wasn't a pussy like you and fought for freedom in Poland where she ended up in Goldap http://ipn.gov.pl/en/news/2008/women-in-internment.-goldap-1982-bialystok,-december-10 [ipn.gov.pl],

      • by Ihlosi (895663)
        Then you can't be so picky when trying to secure a decent source of income.

        There are decent sources of income, and sources of decent income. Don't get them mixed up.

        • by mjwalshe (1680392)
          quite right payday loans and ambulance chasing scummy firms like PPI or whiplash claims is the only hard nos I have one my list
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Expect to see a couple of new TV series glorifying the work at NSA-type places, with cool looking actors defending America against all foreigners. That's how it works in the States, propaganda through TV and movies, with some sponsoring of key sports series, like the US Army sponsoring a Nascar team.

    • by Lesrahpem (687242)

      (plus, if your area of expertise or interest is something related to data mining, the NSA might count as honest work compared to, say, Facebook)

      When did the NSA and Facebook become separate entities?

    • by gmuslera (3436)
      For extra motivation, if they even suspect that you will pull another Snowden of them, they will turn you into bits! Who don't want to be the ghost in the machine?
    • by Anonymous Coward

      If so, count me in.

      No, she's taken a teaching position at the Xavier School.

  • Yes (Score:5, Interesting)

    by shuz (706678) on Tuesday August 06, 2013 @01:59PM (#44488807) Homepage Journal

    Despite opinions on ethics for or against, the NSA is still widely considered to have interesting technologies to play with and viewed as leaders in computer system security development. I'm in IT because I love problem solving and the adrenaline rush of having to solve difficult problems under pressure. The responsibility of my job comes first. The only ethical dilemma for me is if someone with authority were to ask me to let a system fail to prove some kind of point.

    • Depends (Score:5, Interesting)

      by SirGarlon (845873) on Tuesday August 06, 2013 @02:05PM (#44488901)
      Work for the NSA, doing what? The NSA does more than one thing. I'd be more than happy to work on developing next-generation crypto algorithms, for example. There is probably some work at the NSA that's compatible with my view of the law and common decency -- and much that is not.
      • by spacepimp (664856)

        More than likely your requirement would be to insert less than random generation techniques into those platforms. You know "perverting" the system so to speak.

      • by gl4ss (559668)

        the only way you'll get to work on next-generation crypto algos is by doing them. but if you work for nsa they'll never see the light of day and you'll be tried in secret court if you publish, only if you can provide an algo with a known vulnurability that is not obvious enough to get spotted in peer review will your work get out.

        sounds like fun & games??

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by FuzzNugget (2840687)

        I guess that depends on your world view and personal philosophy. I don't think I'd be able to live with myself working for any organization that commits such atrocities, regardless of what department employed me. You're still in the same organization and you are still contributing to the problem indirectly (maybe that new encryption system you're developing will be used as part of a program injected into systems to spy on citizens)

        I realize no organization is sparkling clean, but I know I'd sleep a lot be

      • What's really funny is that up until the Snowden circus you could find job advertisements for NSA positions where they actually included the acronyms of the NSA projects and the skillset required from which you could pretty much figure out what type of work you would be doing. And yes, one of the project acronyms was PRISM. SAIC removed the ads but you can still see them in Google cache.

    • Re:Yes (Score:5, Insightful)

      by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Tuesday August 06, 2013 @02:19PM (#44489105) Journal

      "Once the rockets are up, who cares where they come down?

        That's not my department, says Wernher von Braun."

    • Re:Yes (Score:5, Insightful)

      by spacepimp (664856) on Tuesday August 06, 2013 @02:24PM (#44489179) Homepage

      You are legally obliged in working for the NSA to put the US Constitution first. Any work requirement that asks you to violate the constitution is illegal. So you would willfully be violating your primary objective by "putting your job first".

    • Re:Yes (Score:5, Interesting)

      by nbauman (624611) on Tuesday August 06, 2013 @03:03PM (#44489707) Homepage Journal

      Despite opinions on ethics for or against, the NSA is still widely considered to have interesting technologies to play with and viewed as leaders in computer system security development. I'm in IT because I love problem solving and the adrenaline rush of having to solve difficult problems under pressure. The responsibility of my job comes first. The only ethical dilemma for me is if someone with authority were to ask me to let a system fail to prove some kind of point.

      With all due respect to Godwin, this ethical debate started during the cold war when everybody was thinking about the Nazis in WWII.

      I aim at the stars, says Werner von Braun.
      The rockets go up, and where they come down,
      that's not my department, says Werner von Braun.
      Sometimes I miss, I hit England.
      But I aim at the stars, says Werner von Braun.

      After they thought about WWII, a lot of scientists decided that it was wrong to just be a scientist and work on an interesting technical problem that can kill people at the end.

      In particular, the top people who worked on nuclear weapons did some calculations and realized that they had constructed a machine that could destroy humanity. The people who worked on the intercontinental ballistics missiles developed some of the most advanced, cost-is-no-object integrated circuit chips, and every other technology.

      Most good engineers will think out the end purpose of the work they're doing. They worked during WWII to save their country. During the cold war, they were working to destroy their country. I appreciate the adrenalin rush of problem-solving too, but you have to resist it if it's leading towards turning New York and Moscow into Hiroshima.

      During the 1960s, a lot of people thought that the Vietnam war was horribly wrong (and after 3 million Vietnamese were killed in a country that now makes our sneakers, you can see their point). If you're an engineer, then on some level you want to contribute to society. Killing 3 million people in a stupid war is going in the opposite direction.

      You wouldn't kill prisoners of war in order to solve an interesting scientific problem, would you? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milgram_experiment [wikipedia.org] Why is that different from helping to kill 3 million Vietnamese in exchange for working on an interesting technical problem?

      Of course, maybe you're totally immoral. Maybe you want to be like Abdul Qadeer Khan, who sold the Pakistani nuclear weapons secrets to North Korea, Iran and Libya. I'm not sure what to say to those people.

      • Vietnam was a pawn battle in the cold war. Looking at it out of context is insane.

        Where do the Cambodian genocide victims fall in the accounting of deaths in the cold war?

        • Re:Yes (Score:5, Insightful)

          by nbauman (624611) on Tuesday August 06, 2013 @05:41PM (#44491375) Homepage Journal

          OK, look at it in context. We killed 3 million Vietnamese because the war hawks told us that if Vietnam fell to Communism, all the other southeast countries will fall to Communism, like dominoes. Vietnam fell to Communism. The dominoes didn't fall. They were wrong. 3 million lives destroyed for nothing. The war contractors made billions. Sound familiar? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iraq_war [wikipedia.org]

          • by khallow (566160)

            We killed 3 million Vietnamese

            Who is "we" here? The killers include Communists who, let us say, weren't so concerned about South Vietnam falling to Communism.

          • At least some dominoes did fall. One of them was Cambodia. Pol Pot is on the hippies.

            Vietnam was a part of stopping the reds. It was for the economic freedom of the planet.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        I appreciate the adrenalin rush of problem-solving too, but you have to resist it if it's leading towards turning New York and Moscow into Hiroshima.

        (Shrug) Those weapons have, so far, prevented WWIII. I'd say we owe a debt of gratitude to the people who developed them.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 06, 2013 @02:01PM (#44488831)
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Hackers no more or less ethical or principled than other people. Make violating other people's rights interesting or profitable and it will be done.

  • The NSA also does a lot of basic research, especially in mathematics related to code breaking. IIRC it employs more mathematicians as a job title than any other organization in the country. That environment would be ideal to the academically oriented types who just want to ponder number theory all day long.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    ...just long enough.

  • by Roachie (2180772)
    Most people I know crow to the fact that they worked in a secure facility or held a clearance or worked on a weapon at the drop of a hat. Hence most people would jump at the opportunity to work for a governmental TLA.
  • If its a good salary, sure.

  • I'm sure it's the same everywhere there's a nuclear reactor, it needs to be maintained on a yearly cycle.

    In this area a person used to make very good money being used for their exposure. You go
    in do a job until you reach your weekly radiation limit (300 mrem / 3 mSv), then do nothing until
    you are usable again; for a yearly limit of (3 rad / .03 Sv). At which time your let go as it's
    temporary work which your not able to perform any more.

    These temporary jobs were during the summer outages and lasted a few mon

  • Well, I would think if they really want you to work for them, they will be pretty convincing that you will want to work for them
  • by PPH (736903)

    In the cafeteria.

    More 'secret sauce' on that burger, sir?

  • "At the end of the day, there is no freedom, anyway," he said. "I need to pay my mortgage, I need to feed my family. Guys living in the bushes might be better off, but is that even freedom? Who knows. Here, have a beer. I'm off."

  • I've never worked for the NSA, so I don't **know**, but I have worked at the NASA-JSC government installation and lived on many military bases.

    I've also interviewed for a number of private-sector, DoD-like positions.

    Some of these jobs were extremely flexible. We worked our own hours, but had to be available 24/7. The bosses knew we'd cover important events, meetings, and gave us the flexibility.

    At other jobs, desktop types doing programming, we had to clock in by 8am and take no more than 60 minute lunches

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