LAS VEGAS — US spy master Keith Alexander courted hackers at an infamous Def Con gathering rife with software tricksters wary of police and ferociously protective of privacy.
National Security Agency (NSA) director Alexander was the latest, and perhaps the most controversial, federal official to attend the annual hacker conference in Las Vegas to recruit warriors for battles being fought on the Internet.
"I am absolutely impressed with some of the stuff going on here," Alexander said during a keynote presentation to a packed auditorium.
"In this room is the talent our nation needs to secure cyber space."
His Def Con visit came after he was quoted by the New York Times as saying that between 2009 and 2011 there was a 17-fold increase in cyber attacks on critical US infrastructure such as power grids and mobile phone networks.
Along with being boss of the NSA, Alexander is an Army general and head of US Cyber Command created to defend against Internet-based attacks.
"My concern is destructive attacks with serious consequences on critical infrastructure (and key government systems)," Alexander said.
He displayed a list of major companies including banks; credit card firms; videogame and car makers, and even computer security outfits, successfully hacked in the past two years.
"There are a lot of companies with tremendous cyber security expertise getting hacked," Alexander said.
"The reality is that this is the community that who builds many of these tools," he continued with an apparent reference to software weapons wielded by cyber attackers.
"This community, better than anyone, understands where this is going and what we can do to fix that."
He referred to Def Con as "the world's best cyber community."
Alexander, who sprinkled humor and personal stories into his talk, displayed a website for NSA job seekers.
"We need great talent," he said. "We don't pay as high as some of the others, but we are fun to be around."
Public domain photo of NSA Director Keith Alexander via Wikimedia Commons