The U.S. Recruits New Hackers
By Noah Shachtman <mailto:<a href="mailto:noahmax@...?Subject=Re:%20(ai)%20The%20U.S.%20Recruits%20New%20Hackers%2526In-Reply-To=%2526lt;758D1C1C469D114CBC6A96FE41155B6103D7C8AF@...>">noahmax@...</a>?subject
=The U.S. Recruits New
The government desperately needs experts to fight hackers. So they've
recruited a 63-year-old retired aerospace engineer, a midwestern mother of
three, and a long-haired former teen golfing champ to do the job.
The National Science Foundation <<a href="http://www.nsf.gov">http://www.nsf.gov</a>> is handing out $8.6
million worth of two-year training scholarships in computer security, in
return for two years of government service.
These three -- all students at the University of Tulsa, one of six
participating institutions -- are among the first of an expected 200 people
to begin their studies.
Julie Evans found the inspiration to fight computer viruses from a human
disease -- her daughter's cancer.
Evans, 42, is a self-described "geek," with eight computers in her Oklahoma
City home. For most of her adult life, she's worked as a freelance
programmer, raised her three kids, and slowly, one class at a time, earned
her bachelor's degree in computer science, finally getting her diploma in
This year, she was looking around for a computer science master's program.
Then, her oldest daughter, Brandi, a 21-year-old nursing student, was
diagnosed with liver cancer. If the cancer spread, Brandi was dead. An
immediate transplant was needed.
Luckily, only a month and six days after her diagnosis, Brandi received her
new liver at Baptist Hospital in Oklahoma City.
Her mother felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude.
"I can't think of another country in the world where my daughter would have
gotten the transplant in time," Evans said. "I feel a debt to my country
because I still have my daughter."
So when she read about Tulsa's new NSF scholarships, it appealed to both her
sense of service and to her natural affinity for silicon.
It's also a sweet deal for Evans and her fellow students: The NSF pays full
tuition for two years, plus room and board, travel costs and a monthly
stipend of about $1,000.
"I could have never done it if it wasn't paid for," she said.
Such incentives are sorely needed, say experts, to address the government's
gargantuan need for computer security experts.
"In academia, we're producing 3,000 to 4,000 people a year with some
credible security training. But the demand is in the hundreds of thousands
... and government pay rates have not been competitive with the industry,"
said Eugene Spafford, a Purdue University <<a href="http://www.purdue.edu">http://www.purdue.edu</a>> professor
who's supervising his school's NSF security scholarships.
So the few hundred new recruits -- even when combined with additional
trainees supplied by the Department of Defense, which is set to announce a
program similar to the NSF's in the next few days -- won't even begin to
scratch the surface of what's needed.
These hacker-battlers need not be former hackers themselves.
"When people train to be detectives, they don't commit murders," said Sujeet
Shenoi, who oversees Tulsa's Cyber Corps program.
Some recruits, it seems, have done just about everything but hack.
As a teenager, Rick Ayers won 15 straight junior golf tournaments and rubbed
elbows with legends like Jack Nicklaus. In college, he studied architecture
at Louisiana Tech, but split school to go on tour with a local band.
While on the road, Rick met a girl in Tulsa and eventually moved there to be
with her. Rick wound up as a programmer at a local market research firm,
discovered he liked the work and went back to school to complement his
Always looking for the next opportunity, he was hooked as soon as Shenoi
told him about the NSF program. Now, Rick's studying secure e-commerce and
database design, and working his way toward the federal certificates he'll
need for a government computer security job.
Howard Barnes already has more than a bit of government experience. He
joined the Army Reserves as a high school senior in 1956, serving on active
duty for six months at Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri. His first job out of
college was with NASA <<a href="http://www.nasa.gov">http://www.nasa.gov</a>> , designing flight simulation
programs. Later, at Boeing, Howard honed the airborne software of the B-52
But his last position, with a manufacturing division of Cessna Aircraft, was
dull, leaving him without a sense of purpose. So he, too, leapt at the
chance to join the Tulsa program.
"My sister said, 'Some of these adventures aren't as much fun as you get
older,'" Howard said.
"But I worked in a computer-related field for 35, 40 years. I think I have
some talent, some skills. And I think I'm supposed to use them for a good
And so, 46 years later, Howard Barnes is once again a new recruit.