Cash awards are on offer under the 'Hack the Pentagon' program for computer hackers who can test the Pentagon's cybersecurity. If successful, the program could be extended to other departments.
Vetted, outside hackers are being invited to test the cybersecurity of some public US Defense Department websites in a pilot project next month.
"Hack the Pentagon" is the first-ever program offered by the US government and is modeled on similar competitions known as "bug bounties" organized by major corporations, such as United Continental Holdings, to seek out gaps in network security using so called penetration testing.
"I am confident that this innovative initiative will strengthen our digital defenses and ultimately enhance our national security," Defense Secretary Ash Carter said in a statement unveiling the pilot program.
A senior defense official said thousands of qualified participants were expected to join the initiative which was aimed at finding and identifying problems before malicious hackers could exploit them. To date, the Pentagon has tested its networks using "red teams" of its own personnel.
The new program opens parts of the network to individuals from industry and academia. They will not have access to more sensitive networks or key weapons programs.
"The goal is not to comprise any aspect of our critical systems, but to still challenge our cybersecurity in a new and innovative way," a Pentagon official said.
To qualify as a Pentagon hacker, participants must be US citizens, register and submit to a background check.
The Pentagon's Defense Digital Service (DDS) was set up last November to bring experts from the US technology industry into the military for short periods of time.
"Bringing in the best talent, technology and processes from the private sector ... helps us deliver comprehensive, more secure solutions to the Department of Defense," said Chris Lynch, a former Microsoft executive and technology entrepreneur who heads DDS.
jm/sms (Reuters, AP)