In a third-floor classroom in the corner of the O’Connell Technology Center, students are taught the fine art of hacking.
Leonard Fisk, a computer science professor, has been instructing at Chico State since 1976, decades before the World Wide Web was invented in 1993. He is teaching “Advanced Computer Security,” a class open to undergraduates and graduate students alike. The class focuses on learning how to use programming skills to attack and defend websites.
Groups of students in this class create e-commerce websites which the other groups attack using common cyber-attack methods and software.
“We’re producing people who can look at a site and tell you the weaknesses far more readily than the average guy who comes up with a degree in computer science,” Fisk said.
The students have made their websites so well-defended that Fisk has set up a number of virtual servers for his students to “romp and stomp” in, he said. As Fisk was wrapping up his Thursday class, one student said he had hacked one of these servers while his classmate was talking. Then, he brought his laptop to the front of the class to show how he did it.
Fisk said he’s worried about the future of computer security in the U.S., citing the proactivity of foreign hackers. Domestic cybersecurity companies have directly tied the Chinese military to cyber attacks in the U.S., and China is not not the only major hacker out there, he said.
“If you don’t think that everyone’s trying to hack Obama’s Blackberry, you’ve got another thing coming,” Fisk said.
Being ready for Fisk’s computer security class isn’t easy, Fisk said. Students’ interest in technology has been waning even though the need is higher than ever.
“I’ve actually had one or two students who in the last four or five years who have said to me, ‘this is too hard,’” Fisk said.
Concerns have been raised about cyber security since the NSA was caught hacking other countries. Internet-based companies have also been deemed vulnerable, so the demand for the kind of security experts his class produces is only going to go up.
“For students that want to go into this, this is a major growth industry,” Fisk said. “The money’s good, and I think it’s exceedingly important to us as a culture, to be able to play this game. Because if we aren’t able to use the internet with impunity and we aren’t able to do business online, we’re screwed.”
Enrique Raymundo can be reached at [email protected] or @eraymundocv on Twitter.