The annual Black Hat conference in Las Vegas was a place for hackers and cybersecurity professionals to compare ideas and tactics of the trade but it was also an opportunity for the government to tap a pool of talented cyber skills.
Government agencies are scrambling to bring top IT and cybersecurity talent to their organizations and have made major pushes over the last year to attract the best candidates, despite significant challenges.
Video: This Week in Federal Times — Getting hackers to trust the government
The FBI was among several federal agencies in attendance at this year's Black Hat, with a booth set up in the business hall offering hackers a chance to sign up with the bureau's Cyber Division to "identify, pursue and defeat" malicious cyber threats.
"The FBI recognizes that conferences like Black Hat are attended by some of the most skilled minds in the country," said bureau spokeswoman Jillian Stickels.
Stickels said more than 200 Black Hat attendees visited the booth, some of whom later submitted resumes to the bureau.
"Many remarked how the presence of the FBI changed their opinions of the agency," she said. "Those who had never considered a technology career with the FBI in the past provided their business cards and have already submitted resumes to the FBI's online hiring portal."
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The number of resumes submitted as a direct result of the bureau's presence at the conference was not readily available. (The story will be updated with those figures if and when we get them.)
Last year, the FBI recruited more than 1,500 special agents with cyber expertise, according to data from the bureau's human resources department.
However, the hacker and cybersecurity communities are still wary of the federal government. This fact was clear during the Q&A portions of many of the talks and presentations featuring government representatives.
FBI Director James Comey alluded to some of these worries during a talk in January at the International Conference on Cyber Security.
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"There is a wind blowing that I worry has blown what is a healthy skepticism of government power … to a cynicism so that people don't want to be with us anymore," he said. "We've got to do our best to speak into that wind to try to explain how we're using our authorities in government."
Having a presence at Black Hat and other similar venues is part of the FBI's push to overcome this reality.
"The FBI attended the Black Hat conference not only to recruit strong cyber talent but to build relationships with private sector partners, reach out to the information security community and give more information on how attendees could get involved with the FBI cyber mission," Stickels said. "While private sector jobs have many attractions, there is simply no career in the private sector as rewarding as working for the FBI and knowing that each day you are helping protect America from threats in cyberspace."
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Aaron Boyd is an awarding-winning journalist currently serving as editor of Federal Times — a Washington, D.C. institution covering federal workforce and contracting for more than 50 years — and Fifth Domain — a news and information hub focused on cybersecurity and cyberwar from a civilian, military and international perspective.