June 5, 2006

A degree in hacking

Author: Tina Gasperson

The University of Advancing Technology (UAT) in Phoenix, Ariz., is marketing its new Network Security program as a way to get a degree in hacking. The school is drawing the interest of geeks who use Windows, Linux, and Macintosh, according to UAT's IT manager Raymond Todd Blackwood, and even a few who want to go to the dark side of network security.

Hackerdegree.com's Web page looks like a non-Windows desktop with a few terminals open, inviting the curious to learn more about fighting "cybercrime," "cybertheft," and even "cyberterrorism." It serves as an advertisement and info site that links to the main site at uat.edu. However, the site works only with Internet Explorer, and won't display anything but the Flash animated masthead if you're using any other browser. "That's an old site," Blackwood says. "We're working on redesigning now and we're investing a ton of money into building an amazing Web site" that will work with all browsers.

A UAT game design student I chatted with told me that some black hat types are attracted to enroll in the network security program at UAT, but most are eventually outed by other students who detect their bad intentions. After they're reported, the administration bars them from any shady cracking activities on campus. Some would-be evildoers are convinced to become "white-hats" once they see that there is good money to be made as a legitimate security guru.

The student I spoke with told me that he sticks with Windows design because a "bigger audience equals a bigger paycheck," but that the school offers options for those who want to work with Linux.

Blackwood and a group of students recently completed a program called the Phoenix War Driving research project, in which teams of assessors looked for unsecured and "default settings" wireless networks in the suburbans areas of Phoenix. "Initially we wanted to find out how much wireless connectivity had grown, but we quickly found out that watching it grow wasn't such a big deal. There was an incredibly high number of unsecure access points." The project found 168,000 of them, according to Blackwood, and now is in the process of teaching residents of the surrounding communities how to secure their networks to reduce the chances of unwanted access. "We've reached about 300 people in the areas surrounding Phoenix," Blackwood says.

UAT has about 1,200 students in all. The school also offers degrees in multimedia, software engineering, and technology commerce, and a Master of Science in Technology graduate program. Students can attend the campus in Arizona, or study online from anywhere in the world. In 2005, the freshman profile was 343 on-campus students and 47 online attendees (see admission information). Interested visitors to the Web site can chat with current students to find out what its like to attend UAT.

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