The Pentagon’s ‘SWAT Team of Nerds’

They have been a separate entity around the Pentagon for less than five years, taking on a variety of complex technical issues for different DoD groups. And the...

They have been a separate entity around the Pentagon for less than five years, taking on a variety of complex technical issues for different Defense Department groups. Their organizational structure is a lot like a Silicon Valley start-up and they refer to themselves as “The Swat Team of Nerds.”

The head nerd is Daniel Bardenstein, DoD Digital Service Expert and Lead at Hack the Pentagon.

“We are a small group of technologists that sit under the Office of the Secretary of Defense,” Bardenstein said on Federal Monthly Insights – Hacker-powered Security. “So we are DoD employees, not another contractor.”

Bardenstein is proud of his team’s “unique fusion” of experience from the private sector to career government civilians, complemented by military folks, who periodically offer their services on assignment.

One part of their DoD role is ethical hacking and cybersecurity. Additionally, they work to detect and protect American assets from adversarial drones and they were heavily involved in COVID-19 response, among other things, providing cybersecurity for Operation Warp Speed.

“We do a lot of advising on technology best practices, we’ll do discovery sprints with various partners around the DoD to help understand kind of the root of a problem, be it technologically, organizationally or culturally. And then provide our findings back to both DoD leadership and the partner group that we’re working with,” said Bardenstein on Federal Drive with Tom Temin.

All the while, the SWAT Team of Nerds stays “lean and quick.” The high-price-tag Operation Warp Speed effort involved, at the top of the list, cybersecurity concerns.

“We co-lead, along with NSA, and we worked closely with a lot of other cybersecurity agencies around the government, to protect the entire end-to-end process of the vaccine, from the research and development, the clinical trials, the distribution and manufacturing,” said Bardenstein.

The “Hack the Pentagon” bug-bounty program has been executed more than 30 times, where the vast white hat hacker community lends a hand.

“One of our core philosophies and missions on the cybersecurity side is to not only improve the cybersecurity around DoD and the government and its systems, but also to kind of change the culture around how they view cybersecurity and how to engage with it,” Bardenstein said.

“The ‘Hack the Pentagon’ program that’s been running for five years brought the first bug bounty to the U.S government, where we basically used hackers from around the world, and pointed them at various DoD assets for them to break in and highlight vulnerabilities. They responsibly disclosed what they found and were financially compensated.”

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