'Hack the Pentagon' program invites outsiders to test security of the government's network
'Hack the Pentagon' program invites outsiders to test security of the government's network (In picture: Ash Carter, Secretary of US Defense)Reuters

The US military invited hackers Wednesday to break into the Pentagon's online network as part of a cyber security test aimed at strengthening the security of the US Defense websites. The Department of Defense announced the unique pilot programme, "Hack the Pentagon," which will be launched in April, as the first cyber bug bounty programme in the history of the federal government.

The contest only allows "vetted hackers," which means the participants will undergo a thorough background check before getting on board. The Pentagon said the new initiative is identical to other bug bounty programmes carried out by major companies around the world to improve the security of its networks and services, according to the official press release.

"I am always challenging our people to think outside the five-sided box that is the Pentagon," Ash Carter, Secretary of Defense, said in a statement. "Inviting responsible hackers to test our cybersecurity certainly meets that test. I am confident this innovative initiative will strengthen our digital defenses and ultimately enhance our national security."

The DoD is keeping sensitive systems out of reach, while granting vetted hackers access to public websites. According to NPR, the US Defense Department currently manages 488 websites, which include 111th Attack Wing, defense sites, navy as well as army websites. The "Hack the Pentagon" initiative will be led by DoD's Defense Digital Service, which was launched last fall as part of the White House's US Digital Service.

The DoD did not share specifics of participation requirements among other set rules, but it is expected to be revealed in the "coming weeks." The participants could be rewarded for their efforts in the programme and gain recognition for their work, the agency said.

DJ Patil, the chief data scientist at the White House, said "Hack the Pentagon" bug bounty initiative would pave way for other federal agencies to conduct similar programmes, according to Reuters.

"When people hear 'bug bounty,' they think we are just opening ourselves to attack, but what people forget is, we are always in this day and age under attack," he said. "By bringing crowds to the problem ... you're getting a jump on the curve."