"SWAT Team of Nerds" exposes cyber-insecurity at Pentagon

THE PENTAGON --- The Pentagon's challenge to hackers to assault its cyber-security system ended today.

One of them, Chris Lynch, a software entrepreneur from Seattle who walks the halls of the Pentagon in his hoodie, has been mistaken for a repairman.

"This the weirdest moment in my life," he said. "I never thought I'd show up in government. I never thought I would be working at the Pentagon."

Lynch was brought on board by Defense Secretary Ash Carter to head a new office called the Defense Digital Service. The title on the door says "Rebel Alliance."

That means: "Anybody who wants to be a part of working around and changing the bureaucracy, and I believe that is our mission," he said. "If we don't, I don't know who else will."

Just as in Star Wars, this rebel alliance -- a staff of a dozen -- is out for a mighty battle with a mighty empire -- the old and slow Pentagon bureaucracy.

"We're kind of a swat team of nerds," he said, adding, "One of our skill sets that we hire is actually a bureaucracy hacker."

Lynch's first project was called "Hack the Pentagon" -- pay a bounty to anyone who can find a way to hack into five of the Defense Department's public websites.

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The Pentagon invited in hackers to help uncover security vulnerabilities.

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"'Hack the Pentagon' doesn't even sound legal," he said."There were a lot of people who didn't like that name."

But "Not every hacker is bad," Lynch said, despite their reputations. "The big change here is that we're now allowing people who are willing and who are not malicious to do it."

In six weeks, 1,400 hackers uncovered 90 vulnerabilities in the software, flaws which could be exploited to tamper with the sites.

"We had our first vulnerability that came in 13 minutes from the launch of the program," Lynch said.

Lynch has covered an entire wall with plans for overhauling Pentagon software that go far beyond public websites, which is why army Lt. Col. Joe Roman came looking for a software solution to the paperwork of recruiting.

The Army had been creating digital files the old fashioned way.

"So they're printing all this stuff and then scanning it," Lynch said.

Lynch's white wall gives this admonition: governments hate two things -- change and the way things are.