Can you learn to be a hacker by joining the United States military? The short answer is yes, but it depends a great deal on an applicant’s skill sets, ASVAB test results, natural aptitude, and other variables.
What It Means To Be A Hacker
There are many definitions of what it means to be a hacker. One of the longest-running hacker magazines, 2600 often sought to define a hacker as someone who is basically curious and wants to know how things work.
Naturally that doesn’t discuss whether or not the hacking activity itself is black hat, white hat, or even gray hat hacking–which is how many who observe the hacker community tend to define those with altruistic hacking interests (white hat) versus those who are interested in greed, scams, and identity theft (black hat), and the twilight zone in between the two (gray hat).
Are There Hackers In The Military?
The military doesn’t usually label their recruits as hackers–these troops are referred to in a variety of ways–the Army has a job called Cyber Operations Specialist, for example, that includes a very familiar list of requirements and training opportunities for those in the career field. Those include the following job duties:
- Provide intelligence and network support
- Collect and analyze digital data
- Maintain network defenses (routers and firewalls)
- Evaluate network defenses
- Respond to “incidents in cyberspace”
- Surveillance and reconnaissance against networks
- Network terrain audits
- Penetration testing
- Digital forensics
- Software threat analysis
Much of that definitely sounds like the classic examples of hacking you might read about or see in the movies, and some of it does not. Sadly, Hollywood is not the place to get a realistic idea of what it means to be a hacker either as an unaffiliated civilian or as a military member trying to learn a new set of skills.
You may get plenty of cliches about hacking from pop culture, but the actual work itself is harder than it appears on the news or in the movies–but it’s definitely a rewarding military career option.
The military does not require you to have a degree in computer science to enter a military job related to hacking. Let’s return to our Army example and review the training a new recruit can expect to get if they are approved to become an Army Cyber Operations Specialist.
The first expectation is that all troops must pass the initial training phase as an officer or an enlisted recruit. New recruits without college degrees entering the U.S. Army as enlisted soldiers who want to become Cyber Operations Specialists will attend 10 weeks of Basic Combat Training and two Advanced Individual Training phases.
Systems and certifications that may be offered via training programs in the Army can result in the recruit being qualified on the following:
- CompTIA A+
- CompTIA Network+
- CompTIA Security+
- Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH)
- Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)
- CISCO Certified Networking Associate (CCNA)
As you can see, there is an industry-standard Certified Ethical Hacker credential possible, as well as training/certifications for routers, network issues, and much more.
Who Qualifies For These Military Hacker Jobs?
Each branch of military service has its own requirements for cyber security jobs like the one we’ve been reviewing above. For the particular Army job seen here, there is a minimum ASVAB score requirement in the following areas:
- General Technical (GT): 110
- Skilled Technical (ST): 112
Again, each branch of military service has its own unique requirements. For example, the Air Force’s Cyber Systems Operations job (which may or may not be similar to the Army equivalent mentioned above) for enlisted troops has only a general ASVAB requirement compared to the Army job above. The minimum qualifications for this Air Force hacker-type military career includes:
- High school diploma, GED with 15 college credits, or GED
- “Knowledge of cyber system elements”
- Completion of an “Initial Skills” course
- Completion of a current Single Scope Background Investigation (SSBI)
- Completion of 8.5 weeks of Basic Military Training
- Must be between the ages of 17 and 39
How To Find A Military Hacker Job
The recruiting office is the place to get the most up-to-date information about job openings in military cyber operations, white hat military hacking, etc. However, if you are looking for general information (as opposed to what the current vacancies might be) you can search the official sites for all branches of military service.
Be sure to use key phrases like “Enlisted White Hat Hacker” or “U.S. Military ethical hacker job” as search terms and don’t forget that the Department of Defense uses the term “cyber” a lot when describing hacker jobs, missions, organizations, etc. You can also look up the organizations responsible for military computer operations and related missions such as:
- S. Fleet Cyber Command
- Marine Forces Cyberspace Command
- Air Force Cyber Command
- U.S. Space Force
- U.S. Army Cyber Command
How To Apply For A Military Hacker Job
The first thing to remember is that if you have skills that meet the job description, you should mention them to the recruiter–you will want to have a conversation with a recruiter from more than one branch of the military so you can compare job descriptions (most military branches use the term “cyber” as a keyword for military hacker jobs), education and training requirements, etc.
Hacking is a tricky skill since many of the options you have to learn aren’t always “white hat” choices. Remember that a recruiter is obligated to ask you about past run-ins with the law no matter how minor they may seem.
If you have a past that is not troubled by legal run-ins (especially those based around your hacking skills) you will have an easier time with the recruiting process but don’t assume that you do NOT qualify–let a recruiter determine if a past legal issue is a true barrier to enlistment or if it simply requires the request for a waiver (which IS possible depending on circumstances).
Getting a military job that requires or trains troops to use hacking skills requires you to speak to a recruiter, consider your basic training options, and much more. It’s good to research your career interests first before talking to a recruiter.
If you are firm in your commitment to a specific type of career field, you will have a better time in the recruiting process than someone who hasn’t made up their mind yet. And if you are committed to a certain path, be up front about that when talking to any recruiter from any branch of service. It will save you a great deal of time.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News
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