Adelaide security researcher nurturing students' love of a good hack

A group of nearly 100 University of Adelaide computer science students is beginning their third day in a computer-security intensive program that was co-ordinated by a School of Computer Science security researcher and PhD candidate.

The program, which ran over three days this week, was delivered in response to student demand as a series of six focused workshops, helping first and second-year computer science students to learn more about the key issues in data security and hacking protection.

The hands-on sessions – in which students were given the chance to run penetration-testing exercises against provided honeypot computers – covered topics such as cross-site scripting, cryptography, reverse engineering, SQL injections, buffer overflow and other attacks.

They had proved quite popular with the students, School of Computer Science research associate Yuval Yarom told CSO Australia, who have often watched the security space with interest but could not access formal university training to extend themselves further in the area.

“They come because it's an interesting area and I hope they will consider going into it,” said Yarom, who has been working in the security industry since 1994 and has published in industry journals on a range of cryptographic and other topics.

“Australia needs those skills, and the industry needs these skills,” he continued. “It's a pity that we don't get them out of university.”

The lack of formal university training in IT security had meant students got a skewed vision of the opportunities available in the industry – even to the point where many believed there was more money to be made in writing and selling malware than in legitimate, and more interesting, IT security careers.

“Unfortunately people who learn these skills outside tend to have the wrong ideas about the purpose of the activity, and they go a little too black-hat,” he explains.

“It's very hard to make money hacking; if you have the right skills, you can make more money by protecting against hacking. On average, attackers do not make too much money.”

With few Australian universities offering formal and hands-on training in IT security, workshops like Yarom's are a small step towards filling the gap, he believes.

The University of Adelaide sessions will continue on a regular basis – probably once a week – and will be increasingly directed and taught by students as the idea gains momentum.

“Students came up with the idea, and I want them to be as involved as possible,” Yarom explains. “I think they learn the best when they teach. Once we have a bit more experience we will know better.”

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