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UK cyber unit will hire hackers

BRITAIN is employing former computer hackers to join a new security unit aimed at protecting cyberspace from foreign spies, thieves and terrorists, the country's terrorism minister said.

Alan West said the technology-savvy staff will join efforts to trace the source of - and prevent - cyber attacks on Britain's government, businesses and individuals. The United Kingdom will also develop its capability to wage cyber warfare against the country's foes, he said.

UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced the creation of the unit yesterday as he published an updated security strategy, detailing Britain's response to global terrorism and emerging threats.

"Just as in the 19th century we had to secure the seas for our national safety and prosperity, and in the 20th century we had to secure the air, in the 21st century we also have to secure our position in cyberspace," Brown said.

West said British government systems had probably come under cyber attack, but said he did not know of any specific cases where sensitive data had been lost.

British telecom BT Group Plc, one of the world's largest telecommunications providers, estimates it has about 1,000 cyber attacks per day on its systems, West said.

British officials are concerned that some terrorist groups, including those linked to al-Qaida, are likely to soon develop the capability to use cyber warfare to attempt attacks on Western targets.

"So far, the terrorists have not been the biggest threat in that area, but they are learning quickly," West said.

Britain estimates about 52 billion pounds (US$86 billion) is lost to the world economy each year as a result of malicious attacks on computer systems.

West said the government was looking to young computer geeks - including those previously involved in hacking or low-level cyber crime - to help overhaul the country's defenses.

"You need youngsters who are actually deep into this stuff - and they really get into it. If they've been slightly naughty, very often they really enjoying stopping others," said West, a former head of Britain's defense intelligence staff.

West said the new cyber security operations unit will be based at Britain's vast Government Communications Headquarters, a major eavesdropping center in Cheltenham, in western England.


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