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An untapped cyber weapon: Old geeks

March 30, 2016 (Photo Credit: Courtesy)

If you were 15 years old when you were fascinated by your school's Commodore PET in 1979 and are still in IT, you have almost 40 years of experience. You have seen it all: IBM XT, Pentium 2, LOTUS 1-2-3, O/S2, cloud computing and mobile apps. Why do I say it like this? I have a simple reason: We look at IT professionals with the metrics of the 19th century. Naturally, you needed to be young, strong and quick to be one of the riders in the "Army on the Frontier" dashing across the Rockies, but things have changed.

Cyber is not your traditional war. In cyber we don't walk for days, endure thirst and intense sunshine. Instead we shout "Is there a slice over for me?" when the pizza is ripped apart by hungry nerds in an air-conditioned environment.   

The fact that we have individuals who are in their early 50s with almost 40 years of IT experience is a national asset — and we have a lot of them. You can just visit any major tech conference where they flock around the next new cutting-edge technology like ants on a lump of sugar. There are thousands and thousands of mature tech nerds. 

What if we could create Department of Defense reserve cyber units that are Network Engineering-Resilience and Defense (NERD) units? They might not meet the DoD’s height and weight ratio — and they are over normal recruiting age — but I believe they could help the 6,000 counties and 50 states that face the same cyber challenge as the federal sector.

We address the weapons of mass destruction threat with civil support teams, and we could address cyber for state and local government with creating a NERD-unit in each state, several platoons in larger states, and a core of full-time military cyber personnel and an ability to scale up with additional mature qualified members slightly older than the traditional soldiers. The unit stays in the state and is never deployed, which would allow it to accept geeks who don't meet the regular military standards for physical ability, agility and endurance. There is no need to train to reach a common body of knowledge or general IT technology, the old geeks come with all their certifications already, and the idea is that their cyber defense is a state-wide resource.

Cyber needs a push toward untraditional thinking. Just because someone remembers Betamax, DOS 3.2 and still thinks a 14.4 modem was decently fast doesn't remove the fact that the older IT professionals could be powerful in today's cyber battle space — and we have plenty to militarize and fill the ranks in the national cyber defense. The need is there and we have the resource: We need just to acknowledge and organize.  

Jan Kallberg is a research scientist with the website cyberdefense.com.

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