Fitness and Discipline for Cyber Warriors

“More PT Drill Sergeant, more PT! We like it, We love it, We want more of it!”

There is a basic tenant in most of the worlds military forces that regardless of what your actual job or rank is, whether you are a private or a General, whether you are a cook, clerk, or mechanic, below everything, at the very core of your existence you are nothing but a gravel crunching, ground pounding infantry soldier (11B). Or as an old Colonel once told me, the poor slob in the kill zone. (Thank you, Sir!)

As part of the basic core existence in your nations military all soldiers, airmen, and sailors are required to be able to perform a basic set of tasks. Things like knowledge of how to wear your countries uniform, the ability to maintain and operate a firearm, how to use protective equipment such as a gas mask, and above all the ability to give and follow orders. But these items are more than just basic knowledge and rout tasks, it comes down to discipline, self-discipline mostly, that quality of doing what needs to be done without needing to be told or even wanting to do it.

This is what basic training is for, an intense six or maybe ten week training regimen that not only teaches all soldiers basic tasks like how to operate their firearm or shine their boots but also self discipline, the ability to continue doing your job under stressful and adverse conditions. This being the military, lives literally depend on that basic skill. It is discipline alone that is more important than any other trait or skill taught during that introductory basic training course of the worlds militaries.

The only way to teach discipline is to place an individual under stress and at the same time ensure that they can complete required tasks. The easiest way to place an individual under stress without placing them in a potentially hazardous situation is through physical activity. This is one of the reasons why most of the world’s militaries have minimum requirements of physical fitness. Things like a set time and distance for running, a minimum number of pushups or sit-ups. This ensures a minimum level of fitness for all soldiers and helps to ensure basic levels of self-discipline. These basic requirements apply to all soldiers, private or General, cook or mechanic.

There are a few military job specialties that are harder to recruit for than others. Explosive Ordnance Disposal (89D) comes to mind, and there often incentives offered for new recruits to choose one job over another, often these incentives are monetary in the form of signing bonuses or hazardous duty pay. By and large however serving in the military is its own reward for most people for whatever personal reason they have, whether it is monetary compensation, future educational opportunities, patriotism, or in some cases they just like guns.

Recently a new military occupation has evidently become exceeding difficult to recruit for, that of the mythical ‘cyber warrior’ (25B, 35N, 35Q). Militaries around the world are complaining that they just can’t get enough people to fill the jobs they have available for any ‘cyber’ type position. As a way to incentivize new recruits there has been consistent talk that reoccurs every few months of dropping the physical fitness requirements for soldiers, airmen and sailors involved in ‘cyber’ activities. This is a colossally bad idea. Such an action would greatly impact morale of the entire military, will do nothing to increase recruitment numbers for these specialties and draws on an unfounded stereotype of those people who have traditionally been called ‘hackers’.

To create a special class of soldiers that are exempt from minimum fitness requirements will create resentment among other non-exempt units. It will also cause those who are exempt to suffer from issues of elitism and they will feel that they are no longer part of the basic military or required to abide by its rules. With the lack of discipline that will come with the removal of a physical fitness requirement this increase in elitism and individuality in a military setting could prove deadly.

The physical requirements and training aspects of military service are seldom a reason why someone who is interested in joining the military finally decides not to join. On the contrary, there are many examples of people who join the military specifically for the physical aspect that service requires. In fact in my own experience there were two people in my basic training unit who said the primary reason they joined the service was to lose weight, they said that nothing else worked for them and that they hoped the discipline they would learn and the physical exercise would finally accomplish what they could not do on their own.

Claiming that the only people who are qualified or want to do ‘cyber’ jobs in the military are only people who are not interested in physical activity plays on the age-old stereotype of ‘hackers’ who live in their parents basement eating nothing but pizza. Obviously the politicians and Generals who are advocating this no physical fitness requirement for ‘cyber’ operatives have no idea who it is they are trying to recruit anyway. Take a look around at any security industry or hacker conference, sure there are some obviously overweight and out of shape people in attendance but I would be willing to wager that the percentage of people who are somewhat physically fit would be far greater than the regular population.

If the militaries of the world are having problems in recruiting for ‘cyber’ specialties finding the proper incentives to increase recruitment in those areas is critical. As the world ramps up its electronic warfare capabilities being short handed at a precarious time would obviously be ill advised. However, dropping the physical fitness requirement for these soldiers, airmen and sailors is not going to increase their recruitment and retention levels and could potentially damage the effectiveness of the entire military through resentment and lowered morale. The politicians, military analysts and officers who advocate such a major change in military policies are obviously ignorant of not only who it is they are trying to recruit but the basic core of how todays modern military actually works.

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About Space Rogue

Space Rogue is widely sought after by journalists and industry analysts for his unique views and perceptions of the information security industry. He has been called to testify before the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs and has been quoted in numerous magazine and newspaper articles as well as appeared on such TV shows as News Hour with Jim Lehrer, CNN Nightly News, ABC News Online with Sam Donaldson, and others. A recognized name within the industry, Space Rogue has written articles that are often quoted or refered to by other major media outlets. He has spoken before numerous audiances including the Digital Messageing Association, Defcon, Pumpcon, HOPE, H2K, and others. As a former member of L0pht Heavy Industries, Space Rogue ran the widely popular Hacker News Network which quickly became a major resource on the Internet for daily information security news. Before HNN he ran the The Whacked Mac Archives, which at the time, was the largest and the most popular Macintosh security site on the net. Currently Space Rogue does consulting for various companies.

One thought on “Fitness and Discipline for Cyber Warriors

  1. It seems like here you’re equating ‘physical fitness’ with ‘weight, strength, endurance, and stamina’ which you’re further equating with a baseline of willpower. Now, most of the time, that last equation is fair and accurate. I don’t take issue with it because frankly the percentage of people who have legitimate glandular issues which cause obesity is pretty negligibly insignificant.

    However, in the context of prerequisites for military recruitment, the first equation is demonstrably inaccurate. To join the military, you must also pass other tests which are patently ridiculous for a hacking job. Have you ever met anyone who was unable to use a computer effectively because of vision worse than 20/100 (short of them being entirely blind)? Or stomach ulcers? Or any of the other things on the laundry list of medical requirements that really only matter if someone armed is actively trying to kill you and you’re within range?

    I won’t disagree with these requirements as they apply to extremely dangerous physical jobs, especially ones which require close cooperation as part of a team. And it certainly seems advantageous to put new recruits through a trial by fire.

    But if a specific requirement has no justification at all within the scope of a job- especially if applicants for that job are already scarce- it might be advisable to drop, or at least relax, those requirements. Requiring that all hackers you hire should have nearly perfect vision is like requiring all routers you buy to be capable of making toast.

    Sure, you can find what you’re looking for, but at the end of the day you’ll either be short on toast, or overstocked with shitty routers.

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