Federal intelligence agencies are hiring hackers to test the security of government infrastructure and to attack foreign targets.
The recruitment drive, which offers recruits “a licence to hack”, comes after a number of attacks on government agencies including the Department of Human Services during the census collection period.
Other targets include Austrade, the Defence Science Technology Group and the Bureau of Meteorology, which was breached last year by Chinese-based hackers.
Another 97 federal departments have reportedly been told to encrypt more data amid hundreds of attempted intrusions every month.
A Defence spokesman said the recruitment of hackers – termed “penetration specialists” – was not a response to the census attack but a long-term commitment to boost capabilities.
Earlier this year, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced a $230 million cyber security plan to “deter and respond to malicious cyber activities”. The funding followed a $400 million boost for the ASD to recruit hackers.
The hackers, brought into government ranks after passing security assessments, are given permission to attack infrastructure and expose vulnerabilities in security.
Recruitment material calls on candidates to “be a force for good and defend Australia from the dark side”, or to “go covert” and “catch Australia’s phishing foes”.
The Australian Signals Directorate has been scouting schools, universities and technical colleges for talented students, with many now working for the intelligence agency.
The directorate also offers university students internships, provided security assessments can be completed, with 80 per cent of interns joining its graduate program.
In June, the directorate announced it would contribute $12 million to an Australian National University facility focused on cyber security training and research.
UNSW Canberra professor Greg Austin has called for the government and colleges to develop a “cyber militia” to defend public infrastructure, warning of glaring holes in Australia’s cyber security policy.
Students in his Canberra classroom have already begun studying the tactics of hacker armies in North Korea and Iran as well as WikiLeaks and Anonymous.
Professor Austin, an executive with the Australian Centre for Cyber Security, has also called for a national cyber security college to bolster the intelligence workforce.