London: Britain plans to recruit convicted computer hackers to a newly set up cyber defence force if they pass security vetting, the head of the unit said on Tuesday.
The Joint Cyber Reserve Unit was announced by the UK government in September.
Under the 500 million pound initiative, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) is set to recruit hundreds of reservists as computer experts to work alongside regular armed forces.
The unit will defend national security by safeguarding computer networks and vital data, and it will also launch strikes in cyberspace if necessary.
Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said he could foresee circumstances in which convicted hackers could be employed.
"Each individual case would be looked at on its merits," he said.
"The conviction would be examined in terms of how long ago it was, how serious it was, what sort of sentence had followed. So I can`t rule it out."
Lt Col Michael White, the head of the new cyber unit said he would "look at individuals in the round" when assessing applicants.
Recruitment would be focused on "capability development" rather than "personality traits", he added.
It is hoped the move will address the shortage of people with the technological skills and knowledge to protect corporations, the military, and government systems from cyber attacks.
The MoD said the recruitment, which started in early October, would target regular personnel leaving the armed forces, current and former reservists with the required skills, and civilians with the appropriate technological knowledge.
When asked whether someone with the right skills would be ruled out if they had a criminal record for hacking, Lt Col White said: "I think if they could get through the security process, then if they had that capability that we would like, then if the vetting authority was happy with that, why not?
"We`re looking at capability development, rather than setting hard and fast rules about individual personality traits."
Cyber attacks and crime have become more common in recent years.
In July, it emerged Britain was seeing about 70 sophisticated cyber espionage operations a month against government or industry networks.
In a written statement in December last year, Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude said 93 per cent of large corporations and 76 per cent of small businesses had reported a cyber breach in 2012.