Beyond Fiction: Government Recruits Young Geniuses with a Game

25hackers-articleLargeCyber Aces

“Ender hadn’t cracked the teachers’ security system yet, so he couldn’t pretend to be a teacher. But he was able to set up a file for a nonexistant student, whom he whimsically named God. […]

Then he settled down to the serious business of designing a security system for his own desk, since the safegaurds built into the system were obviously inadequate.”

—’Ender’s Game’ by Orson Scott Card, pages 49 – 52

As cyber attacks grow more common, the need for national cyber defense becomes more evident. This is why the secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, needs about 600 hackers. However, recruiting hackers to defend the government from cyber attacks is no easy measure. Many potential recruits are lost either to the public sector or to the U.S. National Security Agency.

In an effort to recruit young hacking geniuses, Allen Paller, a security expert, and others have designed a game to hone students’ hacking skills. The non profit group, called Cyber Aces, is supported by a New York senator and others. They host competitions for high school students with military exercises like NetWars that are very similar to video games. The games force students to find new ways around old problems.

“The students faced the same five-level test that the military uses to test its own security experts.”

This is starting to sound familiar, right? Ender, and the other battle school children, are asked to creative solutions to difficult military games.

“They earned points for cracking passwords, flagging vulnerabilities and breaking into a Web site administrator’s account where, had they changed any settings or defaced a site, they would have been eliminated. Their scores were displayed in real time on a leader board.”

It’s unclear if any student made an account under the name “God,” but the government’s effort to recruit young geniuses with a game does seem borrowed from the pages of ‘Ender’s Game’ by Orson Scott Card. Even the statistics-filled leader board seems reminiscent of the leader board in the commander’s mess hall.

Have you ever thought, “This reminds me of ‘Ender’s Game,’” while reading an article? Our column, ‘Beyond Fiction’ is dedicated to sharing those stories. Each Saturday we’ll publish a piece both reminiscent and beyond the fiction of ‘Ender’s Game’. Of course, if you’d like to nominate a feature, please contact us.

Source: The New York Times via Daily Paul