Not only in Israel

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Cybersecurity firms hire former military intelligence cyber experts

Over the past two years, U.S. cybersecurity firms have brought in several former military and intelligence community computer experts to help combat hackers targeting the U.S. private sector. From the point of view of these ex-government experts, moving to the commercial market brings with it higher wages and endless opportunities.

“I have a blank canvas to paint whatever I want on,” says Brian Varner, who left a position with the U.S. Department of Defense. His job was to break into foreign networks, now he is a security engineer at Symantec Corp. An added benefit to his job is that he gets to work remotely, from Florida.

Symantec has increased the size of its security services division by almost a third, to 500 people, during this past year. According to Home Land Security News Wire, quoting Gartner Inc. analysts: hundreds of ex-government cybersecurity workers now constitute the competitive advantage of a cybersecurity services industry. The industry’s revenues are expected to exceed $48 billion next year, up 41 percent from 2012.

“People coming out of the military and the intelligence community are really, really good,” says Nir Zuk, co-founder of Palo Alto Networks Inc. which specializes in advanced firewalls, and  himself a former Israeli army computer hacker. “They know the attackers. They know how they work.”

Some ex-government cybersecurity hires, though, find it difficult to transition into the private sector. Bloomberg reported in February about a case where JPMorgan Chase & Co. hired two former Air Force colonels for its cybersecurity division. The former Air Force personnel clashed with the FBI, the Secret Service, as well as some members of their own staff, insisting that Russia’s intelligence services were behind a 2014 hack against the bank. It has since been determined that the attack was conducted by ordinary cyber criminals. Insiders use this professional disagreement as an example of how military training can sometimes lead to seeing state-sponsored attacks where there are none.