Hacking Course Teaches Students to Prevent Security Breaches
Hacking Course Teaches Students to Prevent Security Breaches

by Brandon T. Bisceglia ’14
UNH Today Contributing Writer

After Brandon Knieriem got his first taste of being a hacker, he wanted more.

Luckily for him, he didn’t break any laws or earn a spot on a most-wanted list. The experience was part of UNH’s new “ethical” hacking course, a class aimed at teaching students how to identify and protect against vulnerabilities in computer networks.

Knieriem, a native of Lisbon, Conn., is pursuing his master’s degree in the Henry C. Lee College of Criminal Justice and Forensic Sciences. But after taking the course, he also is thinking about starting a degree program in computer science.

A new class is teaching students to stop hackers.

“Criminal justice is all about what you can do in theory,” he said. “Computer science asks, ‘What do you have right now?’”

Frank Breitinger, an assistant professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Computer Science in the Tagliatela College of Engineering, teaches the course, which was recently featured on FoxCT.

Breitinger designed the class around a project in which students followed a process that included learning where a system was exposed; using a program to attack and maintain access to the system; identifying the malicious software; expunging it; and rechecking the updated system to make sure it stayed secure.

The most important difference between what malicious hackers do and what Breitinger teaches is what he calls “blocking the roads.” While both types of hacking involve exposing openings in systems, ethical, or “white hat,” hackers close those pathways before any damage can occur.

He says that in order to stop the “bad guys,” you first have to learn to think like them.

“We’re fighting cyber wars right now,” Breitinger explains. “My colleague, Ibrahim Baggili, has pointed out in the past that you need to train in both offense and defense to be successful.”

Breitinger and Baggili are both part of the UNH Cyber Forensics Research & Education Group. UNHcFREG received worldwide attention last month for revealing that its researchers could extract personal information from smartwatches made by LG and Samsung. The discovery came only months after the group shed light on security flaws in smartphone apps used by more than 1 billion subscribers.

The issue of hacking was in the headlines recently as the U.S. Office of Personnel Management revealed that personal information of more than 21.5 million Americans had been compromised.

Musharraf Alruwaill, an international student who works in information technology at Al Jouf University in Saudi Arabia, found the course enlightening.

“Many things I learned were new,” he said.

Alruwaill has been interested in computer security since he was 15 and sees a future in trying to prevent computer vulnerabilities. “There will be more security threats, especially in quantum computing, because it’s new,” he said.

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