US military needs hackers like Gary McKinnon, says policy analyst

Change in attitude - and pardon - needed

The US Government should consider pardoning Gary McKinnon as part of a campaign to woo people with similar much-needed cyber-skills, influential defence analyst John Arquilla has argued in an article that will make tough reading for the men and women who spent a decade trying to extradite the Briton.

Arquilla's article in Foreign Policy is unconcerned about the rights and wrongs of hacking so much as the inability of US policy and lawmakers to distinguish between malevolence and useful curiosity of the sort that could be put to national use.

The skills of the world's McKinnons are a resource that should be tapped but is not being tapped.

"Oddly, the people who can best lead our explorations of virtual 'inner space' have received less than heroes' welcomes in the United States.," writes Arquilla

"Hackers may be courted and pampered in China, Russia, and other countries, but in the United States they are often hunted by lawmen."

Indeed, many hackers found themselves viewed suspiciously, something that was at odds with the stated intention of the US military to expand US Cyber Command by recruiting such people.

"In a very real sense, today's masters of cyberspace are not unlike the German rocket scientists who, after World War II, were so eagerly sought by both sides in the Cold War to help them build missiles for war and rockets for space exploration."

As for Gary McKinnon, Arquilla more or less agrees with the many commentators who argued that the Scot was a useful early warning of the incredible vulnerability of the country's most critical military systems at a vital moment.

"But if the notion of trying to attract master hackers to our cause is ever to take hold, this might be just the right case in which President Obama should consider using his power to pardon [McKinnon]," argues Arquilla.

"One presidential act of mercy, such as in the case of McKinnon, won't entirely repair relations or build trust between hackers and the government, but it would be a strong signal of officialdom's growing awareness of the wisdom of embracing and employing the skills of these masters of their virtual domain."

The Gary McKinnon affair started as a necessary pursuit of a man who had hacked dozens of US military and NASA servers in late 2001, supposedly in search of evidence on UFOs.

He found nothing but it was a bad moment to carry out any anti-US probe. Last October UK Home Secretary Theresa May finally turned down the US request he be extradited to face trial for those attacks.

In a decade hackers have gone from being a menace to US national security to eccentric, misguided fools, but perhaps Arquilla's point is that they are neither of those.

"What they have in common - aside from a kind of startling intelligence - is a deep attraction to the beauty and complexity of cyberspace."

Join the CSO newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags security

More about NASA

Show Comments

Featured Whitepapers

Editor's Recommendations

Solution Centres

Stories by John E Dunn

Latest Videos

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: The Human Factor - Your people are your biggest security weakness

    ​Speakers: David Lacey, Researcher and former CISO Royal Mail David Turner - Global Risk Management Expert Mark Guntrip - Group Manager, Email Protection, Proofpoint

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Current ransomware defences are failing – but machine learning can drive a more proactive solution

    Speakers • Ty Miller, Director, Threat Intelligence • Mark Gregory, Leader, Network Engineering Research Group, RMIT • Jeff Lanza, Retired FBI Agent (USA) • Andy Solterbeck, VP Asia Pacific, Cylance • David Braue, CSO MC/Moderator What to expect: ​Hear from industry experts on the local and global ransomware threat landscape. Explore a new approach to dealing with ransomware using machine-learning techniques and by thinking about the problem in a fundamentally different way. Apply techniques for gathering insight into ransomware behaviour and find out what elements must go into a truly effective ransomware defence. Get a first-hand look at how ransomware actually works in practice, and how machine-learning techniques can pick up on its activities long before your employees do.

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Get real about metadata to avoid a false sense of security

    Speakers: • Anthony Caruana – CSO MC and moderator • Ian Farquhar, Worldwide Virtual Security Team Lead, Gigamon • John Lindsay, Former CTO, iiNet • Skeeve Stevens, Futurist, Future Sumo • David Vaile - Vice chair of APF, Co-Convenor of the Cyberspace Law And Policy Community, UNSW Law Faculty This webinar covers: - A 101 on metadata - what it is and how to use it - Insight into a typical attack, what happens and what we would find when looking into the metadata - How to collect metadata, use this to detect attacks and get greater insight into how you can use this to protect your organisation - Learn how much raw data and metadata to retain and how long for - Get a reality check on how you're using your metadata and if this is enough to secure your organisation

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them Featuring: • John Baird, Director of Global Technology Production, Deutsche Bank • Samantha Macleod, GM Cyber Security, ME Bank • Sherrod DeGrippo, Director of Emerging Threats, Proofpoint (USA)

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    IDG Live Webinar:The right collaboration strategy will help your business take flight

    Speakers - Mike Harris, Engineering Services Manager, Jetstar - Christopher Johnson, IT Director APAC, 20th Century Fox - Brent Maxwell, Director of Information Systems, THE ICONIC - IDG MC/Moderator Anthony Caruana

    Play Video

More videos

Blog Posts

Market Place