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IT Course at Merrimack Teaches Students How To Hack

A new computer and network security course at Merrimack College in North Andover, MA is teaching students how to be hackers and phreakers. Vance Poteat, associate professor of computer science at Merrimack College, teaches students the basics of both "hacking" (breaking into a computer) and "phreaking" (breaking into a phone). He also teaches students how to detect if someone has done it to them as well. Then they do it themselves and to each other in a lab setting. The goal is to prepare students for a career in network defense.

"In order to understand it, you have to do it," Poteat explained. "It's learning offensively, to act defensively. There have been a lot of wide eyes in this class."

According to the university, Poteat set ground rules on the first day. Students signed release forms stating they would use the skills taught in the class for educational purposes only. They are also made aware of the consequences.

"I want to make sure they know this isn't a joke," said Poteat. "It's a felony to abuse these skills."

The course is mandatory for IT majors, but many electrical engineering and computer science majors have opted to take it as well.

"This course is extremely important because in today's world, there are many people who know how to hack and since all computers are interconnected through the Internet, they are all possible targets, said Michael LoVerme, a computer science major, who is taking the course as an elective. "By taking this course, we are learning how to start defending against these attacks."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a writer who covers technology and business for a number of publications. Contact her at dian@dischaffhauser.com.

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