The word “hacker” might bring to mind the motley crew of the 1995 film Hackers, or else a number of high-profile cyberattacks resulting in everything from compromised email addresses to a massive Sony data leak. Recently, however, cybersecurity measures are proving that not all hackers are created equal.

Starting in early 2015, the Japanese government will begin recruiting personnel for a fledgling team of “white hat” hackers. Unlike their counterparts on the other side of the law, these computer experts will bring their skills to bear in identifying and protecting against potential security threats.

January of this year marked the birth of the National Center of Incident Readiness and Strategy for Cybersecurity (NISC) under the directorship of Assistant Chief Cabinet Secretary Takamizawa Nobushige. The center will serve as the base of operations for the cybersecurity force, which began accepting applications from the private sector in the same month and is currently screening candidates. Recruits will eventually swell to around 10, with an additional staff of over 100. The former will serve as government employees for up to five years.

According to a report from Kyodo News, Japan’s National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NICT) logged 25.66 billion attempted cyberattacks against the Japanese government and other domestic institutions in 2014 (this includes attacks purposely carried out to assess system security).

The NICT noted that many of the attacks were attempts at gaining control of routers and security cameras. Furthermore, among traceable cyberattacks, 40 percent originated in China, with Russia, South Korea, and the United States also accounting for a large portion.

Given the growing emphasis on cybersecurity, the aforementioned white hat hackers will prove important than ever. Though the CBS show CSI: Cyber portrays one such hacker, the character Brody Nelson, as a reformed criminal turned good guy, such cases are probably the exception to the rule.

That being said, Japan does appear to understand the appeal of criminal activity for technology wizards, especially among the younger generation. Back in early February, Tokyo hosted a global cybersecurity competition named SECCON. The event drew 4,186 participants and was intended as a platform for Japanese hackers to test their skills against teams from other countries.

Regarding the purpose of the competition, the head of the organizing committee, Yoshinori Takesako, said, “There is a need for a forum where fledgling, young … hackers can grow and gain understanding of their families, schools and the outside world. This is important in order to keep them away from being pulled into the underground world.”

With the NISC only just beginning to take shape, these young hackers may well be joining its ranks somewhere in the not-too-distant future.

Sources: [Yahoo Japan] via Hachima Kikou, The Japan Times, Channel NewsAsiaDaily Sabah
Feature images: Flickr/Charis Tsevis