March 5, 2013

Hacking Class

A New Jersey school is training a new generation of computers hackers.

Shelby: Desktop computers, smartphones, tablets and laptops. They’ve all become a way of life for most of us.

And that’s why these students at Red Bank Regional High School in New Jersey are learning how to defend their devices.

“This is a slot for the video card.”

Shelby: Why is it important for young people to know how to do these things?

The question is why is it not important? They’re what you live with, and you can’t do your job without them.

Mandy Galante has been teaching computer classes for almost 11 years. And she teaches more than just the basics.

Students here at Red Bank Regional High School are learning that owning a computer is kind of like owning a car. You have to learn how to use it, you have to maintain it and you can also learn how to hotwire it. Or should I say, hack it.

That’s right, these students are learning how to be a hacker, someone who knows how to uncover a flaw in a computer’s security system, and break in.

So, most people think that hacking is bad.

“Funny thing is it doesn’t even refer to the art of breaking into something; it’s just taking old ideas, and refreshing them and making them new…the point of hacking is not only to advance our knowledge but also to protect ourselves from other hackers.”

Shelby: One of the first things he learned was that hacking and “cracking” are very different. White hat hackers are the good guys, while black hats, or crackers, are the bad guys.

“This is becoming the next skill, digital literacy, even at the software level, do you know how to work your operating system? do you know how to avoid viruses?, do you understand what it means when someone hacks you and how to protect yourself against that?”

Shelby: And it’s a growing field in the job market, as government agencies are trying to hire hackers to defend against foreign cyber attacks. Private businesses are also hiring penetration testers, who try to break into their networks to find out if their systems have any weaknesses.

“We use a tool called N-Map where we can basically poke at a system, and by that poke we can find out everything it’s running”

Shelby: And by everything he means everything. Operating system, which service pack your computer is on, and software. If you use a smart phone, that’s even easier.

“It’s pretty much the gold vault of hackers. If they get into your phone they could do whatever to you they want.”

Shelby: But why teach such potentially dangerous skills to high school students? Mandy says that she’s saved some students from the “dark side.”

“They’re risky. They take risky behavior, and so by bringing it into the classroom, we teach them how to use that behavior, not put themselves at risk, not put their careers at risk. Yes you’re interested in this, yes you should learn about it, but let’s do it properly.”

Shelby: And if that isn’t enough to convince you that Mandy’s class is serious business, all students, and their families have to sign an ethics agreement before entering her class.

“If the kids cannot be trusted, they can’t be in the class.”

Shelby: The students are not allowed to use their abilities outside of the school while attending Red Bank. And if they do, they could be kicked out of the class.

“This has opened up massive, massive new doors for me, new opportunities that I never knew that I could get into something so magnificent and amazing and so interesting. And it’s has helped me so much.”

Shelby Holliday, Channel One News. 


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