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US spy chief to go to hacking party

By Zhang Yunbi | China Daily | Updated: 2012-07-23 08:04

Computer geeks attending the world's largest annual hacking party in Las Vegas this week will have a rare chance to rub shoulders with the head of the US National Security Agency.

General Keith Alexander, director of the spy agency that has a focus on cyber security, will speak at the Defcon conference. He is the most senior US government official to ever visit the gathering.

The Pentagon disclosed the visit on Friday.

Analysts said the attendance shows the Obama administration's growing willingness to minimize its vulnerabilities in cyber security.

Organizers expect some 15,000 hackers this year as they celebrate the 20th anniversary of the first US hacking event that was open to the public.

"We're going to show him (Alexander) the conference. He wants to wander around," said Jeff Moss, a hacker who organized the first Defcon conference while working as a messenger for a Seattle law firm.

Moss now sits on an advisory committee to the Department of Homeland Security.

Reuters said the NSA plays both offense and defense in the cyber wars, conducting electronic eavesdropping on adversaries while also protecting US computer networks.

Moss said he invited federal agents to the first Defcon conference who politely declined then showed up anyway. He said over the years the federal agents have kept coming to the conference in growing numbers, sometimes in uniform.

Washington has made the Internet one of its policy priorities and made the computer network the foundation of national security.

It believes the fragility of the Internet "poses a threat to the country's security", said Li Wei, director of the Institute of Security and Arms Control Studies at the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations.

In addition to gathering information about the latest hacking techniques, US military and intelligence authorities "have paid close attention to young hackers, who they believe have a more promising career in Internet security defense and attack", Li said.

Defcon offers a side conference for children, Defcon Kids, which Alexander is also likely to visit.

Internet security

The US must beef up regulations to "restrain the use of hacking techniques" in the defense field, said Teng Jianqun, a researcher at the China Institute of International Studies.

Washington has been calling upon the international community for Internet security defense while "sparing no effort in controlling its commanding height in Internet security, and some of its practices are not favorable to the overall cooperation of international computer networks security", Li said.

Meanwhile, US President Barack Obama on Friday urged Congress to pass a cyber security bill to boost digital defense against cyber attacks, which, he warned, could paralyze the country by disrupting critical infrastructure networks.

The 2012 Cyber Security Act, which was introduced in the Senate in February, calls for the establishment of a national cyber security council, chaired by the Secretary of Homeland Security, to coordinate efforts to deal with possible cyber threats.

Obama said the legislation will make it easier for the government and critical infrastructure companies to share data and information on cyber threats so they can be better prepared. It also demands security loopholes be plugged for companies that have not taken basic protection against cyber attacks.

The proposal for the council shows that Washington is prepared to go further in building mechanisms for handling cyber warfare, and Washington's "cyber army" has taken shape in recent years, said Teng.

Analysts said as the Internet evolves in the US, the country also faces increased attacks from hackers.

The US boasts state-of-the-art network technologies, yet "as the Internet continues to prevail and develop, the country has become a major target of hackers", Li said. "The country has suffered the largest number of global Internet attacks."

Reuters and Xinhua contributed to this story.


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