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At NYIT digital detectives defeat cyber threats

Work in a specially built lab that simulates and implements a complete network environment.

Contributed

Thoughts of computer hackers usually conjure up images of sinister activity. But at New York Institute of Technology’s (NYIT) Vancouver campus, hacking — in an isolated computer lab — is an important part of teaching master of science in information, network, and computer security students what they need to know for career success.

“In our intrusion detection and hacker exploits course, students are split into two groups for this activity,” says associate professor Ahmed Awad. “They work in a specially built lab that simulates and implements a complete network environment. Some work on computers equipped with hacking tools and some work on what we call ‘vulnerable computers’ to prevent the attacks.

“So, on the one side, students get to study the behaviour of the attacker by hacking and on the other side, they learn to choose the right tools to effectively detect and prevent all kinds of attacks. Then they switch roles.”

The experience is just one of the many hands-on activities students complete in the only master’s level degree program in cyber security available in Western Canada. That’s because, says Awad, the program, which covers everything from introductory topics to advanced areas such as computer forensics, was designed with interactivity in mind.

“Our program’s advisory board is full of professionals who help us ensure the courses fulfill workforce needs so students are employable,” he says. “All of our courses cover theory, of course, but there is a huge emphasis on projects and activities and assignments.”

Another vital practical component is a project during which students choose their own approach: research paper, hands-on (building an application or practice implementing a solution for a specific attack) or community (partnering with a company to help the company solve a problem). Considered a capstone project, it can lead to various opportunities, says Awad.

“Recently, alumni who did a research paper for this course submitted it when there was a call for papers during the Cyber Security Week we host at NYIT and ended up having it published in a book called Information Security Practices: Emerging Threats and Perspectives, for which I was one of the editors,” says Awad.

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