As a result, “we have an advantage that no one else does,” he says. “Everyone has to go to military service, so we can screen everyone. But even though the screening is complicated, it is not complete. There are kids who have been working with computers since they were 11 or 12 years old. But they don't know how to work with other people. They sit at their computers and don't go out. Their friends are virtual friends.”
U.S. and Israeli officials are both looking at the idea of beginning the screening and development of candidate cyberspecialists as early as 13-14 years of age.
Schwartz agrees that a good time to start cultivating the cyber-talented is around Grade 7, when computer and math skills start to emerge. An Israeli lawmaker tells Aviation Week that the government needs to reach these youngsters before they can be recruited by crime organizations or other countries' intelligence agencies. “We are collaborating with the Navy to develop an assessment of the potential of individuals [and] to predict the success of cyberoperators,” says Mark Maybury, the U.S. Air Force's chief scientist. “I suspect there are some general properties that we will discover are necessary. We should know this within the next year. You can definitely tell which kids enjoy it. Having a passion about a subject is as important as innate talent. What you need are individuals and teams that can think holistically about defense, whether it be in cyberspace, space or air operations. That's the kind of talent the military will need.”
A military cyberproject is not the product of one person. The work on big projects is divided among groups; each is responsible for one portion. The project has to be coordinated through the effort of many people. It took Israeli researchers about three years to figure out the formula.
“Intellectual skill is not enough,” says Ben-Israel. “You need social skills and values. [For the 'lone wolf' type] breaking into the Pentagon's central computer is a game, a challenge, and sometimes they don't have the necessary judgment. You need values to distinguish between good and bad—what's allowed and what's forbidden. In the beginning we had some failures.”
At least one former recruit is now in jail in North America for cybertheft. Ben-Israel looked to his favorite philosopher—Immanuel Kant—for guidance. His books discuss the attributes of a complete person—pure reason, pure judgment and practical reason, the third element being the realm of ethics and values.
“That's what we look for when we screen those kids,” says Ben-Israel. “We begin with their high-school marks and discussions with their teachers. Then we invite them in for a series of tests and interviews, and select some of them. They have to have the right set of values. That's what we look for.”
Israeli lawmakers acknowledge that a new battlefield—cyberoperations—is opening up, and they may have to recruit younger. But they also worry that such people will be isolated from actual combat and the threat of wounds or death. That omission, they worry, will be an unfair advantage that a normal military person does not have. Several government papers on the subject are in circulation.
“There is a moral question of equality,” says an official with insight into Israel's cyberprograms.
As a possible gauge of national cyberskill, a U.S. cyberprotection company recently gave out marks for cyber-readiness to many countries. Sweden, Finland and Israel received the highest marks; Russia and the U.S. were in the second tier, and China was in the third.