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DHS appoints former hacker, Black Hat founder to council

Jeff Moss, a former hacker who founded the Black Hat and DEFCON conferences, was one of 16 people appointed to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Advisory Council.

In this volunteer role, Moss, 39, of Seattle will provide recommendations and advice directly to the Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.

“I think this is a great opportunity for [the information security] community to be heard at the highest level to date,” Moss told Monday.

Napolitano swore in Moss on Friday to a three-year term, according to the DHS. Moss, a former hacker who goes by the alias “Dark Tangent,” is a regular industry speaker and founder and director of the security conferences Black Hat and DEFCON, annually held in Las Vegas. He also has served as a director at Secure Computing and held positions in the information security division at Ernst & Young, according to his biography.

Moss said that being chosen to sit on the advisory council was surprising, especially considering he runs two conferences that often attract speakers wanting to give controversial talks. In one case last summer, a federal judge banned three MIT students from presenting at DEFCON because they wanted to detail vulnerabilities in the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority's (MBTA) subway fare collection system.

"I just assumed we weren't mainstream enough, or my past wasn't corporate enough [to sit on the advisory council],” Moss said.

But he believes he is qualified for the position because of his vast exposure to the field of computer and information security. Through his work on Black Hat and DEFCON during the past 17 years, Moss has met and worked with a range of cybersecurity experts and said he's still “constantly reading, learning and discussing."

Another strength Moss thinks he brings to the advisory council is an independent voice.

“Somebody pointed out -- I have no trouble speaking truth to power,” he said.

Other members of the board sworn in Monday include Chairman William Webster, former director of the CIA; Louis Freeh, former director of the FBI; and James Schlesinger, former secretary of defense and secretary of energy.

In addition to naming its advisory council, the DHS recently filled three key cybersecurity posts within the department. And at the White House, there still is an open seat for the newly announced cybersecurity coordinator position.

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