Facebook confirmed it has hired George Hotz, a notorious computer hacker famous for “jailbreaking” the iPhone and PlayStation 3, as tech companies and government officials search far and wide for ways to curtail increasingly severe future breaches.
Hotz, which is working to help the Palo Alto, Calif.-based company develop its iPad app, is not the first hacker to go corporate. In fact, tech companies are increasingly looking to co-opt formerly nefarious-minded cyber-criminals as the threats to security escalate, on the principle that no one knows how to secure a network better than someone who’s always thinking of creative ways to breach it.
Hotz is not even the first Facebook employee to follow this unusual career trajectory: Chris Putnam, who helped create a worm that made a Facebook page look like a MySpace profile, was also eventually hired by the company.
Another former hacker, Jeff Moss, is now the security chief for ICANN, the nonprofit corporation that manages the Internet names registry. Moss, also the founder of the largest conference for hackers, DefCon, helps companies increase tech security.
The push-back against illegal hacking comes during a time of increasingly high-profile cyber-attacks against both government agencies and corporations across the globe.
Two hacking groups, Anonymous and LulzSec, have teamed up to declare cyber-war on the world’s governments and big corporations, in an offensive called “Operation Anti-Security.”
In response, the U.S. and other world governments are proposing tougher penalties for cyber-attacks. The concern is that such moves are piecemeal efforts, and don’t adequately address future threats, especially as the much-touted cloud computing takes off.
Earlier this month, the International Monetary Fund faced a sophisticated cyber-attack, involving significant reconnaissance and including special code, which is believed to have been motivated by the strict measures it offered in its rescue package for Greece. It’s just the latest in a number of high-profile security breakdowns that might only be thwarted in the future by an increased push to recruit the savvy-minded tech hands away from the dark side of hacking.