Pentagon Will Reward Hackers Who Find Security Problems on Its Websites

PHOTO: The Pentagon is seen in this aerial view in Washington, March 27, 2008.Charles Dharapak/AP Photo
The Pentagon is seen in this aerial view in Washington, March 27, 2008.

Hacking the Pentagon might normally result in prison time, but for a select group of hackers, it could yield huge paydays.

The "Hack the Pentagon" bug bounty program begins today and will run until May 12. During that window, hackers will try to find vulnerabilities in the Defense Department's public websites to win $150,000.

For a group usually averse to providing personal information, there is a catch. Every participant in the program has to agree to a background check before participating in the program. A Department of Defense spokesman told ABC News "more than 500 people" had joined the program.

Robert Siciliano, an online safety expert at Intel Security, told ABC News the federal government's first-ever bug bounty program -- an approach that has long been utilized by many corporations -- was "better late than never."

"This is a humbling gesture for the federal government and it is without a doubt, the single most proactive way the government is utilizing the brilliance of the crowd to protect our nation's infrastructure," Siciliano said.

The group will "participate in a controlled, limited duration program," and will not be working with the Pentagon's most top secret systems, according to a news release.

"I am always challenging our people to think outside the five-sided box that is the Pentagon," Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said in a statement. "Inviting responsible hackers to test our cybersecurity certainly meets that test. I am confident this innovative initiative will strengthen our digital defenses and ultimately enhance our national security."

A spokesperson for the Defense Department did not immediately return ABC News' request for comment.