The Pentagon, headquarters of the U.S. Department of Defense, is the nerve center of the most technologically advanced military in the world. Thousands of gigabytes of information circulate through its networks and systems, carrying coffee orders and state secrets alike. For elite hackers, breaking into the Pentagon could be the crime of the century. And today, the Pentagon told them “game on.”
Defense Department officials are bringing in a select group of cybersecurity experts, known in the hacking community as “white hats,” to stress-test the Pentagon’s digital security.
“I am always challenging our people to think outside the five-sided box that is the Pentagon,” Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said in a statement today. “Inviting responsible hackers to test our cybersecurity certainly meets that test. I am confident this innovative initiative will strengthen our digital defenses and ultimately enhance our national security.”
The “Hack the Pentagon” program will pay a bounty to any hacker who finds a bug in the Pentagon’s digital architecture. Hackers won’t actually be hacking the Pentagon’s main “mission control” systems, for obvious reasons — instead, they’ll have access to a controlled network for a limited amount of time. They’ll have to go through an extensive background check first to make sure they’re not black hats, or hackers who exploit flaws in systems for personal gain or criminal reasons. If they find a bug, Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said the hackers “could be eligible for monetary awards and other recognition.”
The Pentagon’s Defense Digital Service will oversee the program, which the military hopes will help the government shore up its defenses in an era of cyber-warfare and online vulnerability.
This tactic isn’t a new one — many cybersecurity firms offer security-testing services to private corporations, but this is the first time the Defense Department has openly conducted a similar program. But as cyber warfare becomes more and more prominent, the Pentagon wants to make sure its walls are high enough and strong enough to keep out a new generation of threats.