Students, law enforcement officers, military personnel and others are congregating at the Anderson School of Management this week for a seminar about cybersecurity fundamentals, in hopes that they can apply it to their education or careers.
The week-long course, formally called Advanced Digital Forensics, is a mix of lecture and hands-on activities based on the concepts of reverse engineering and network analysis, said Drew Hamilton, professor of computer science and engineering at Mississippi State University.
“Hopefully we can give them some insight, show them where to look up the information and what kinds of tools they can actually work with,” Hamilton said.
The course is a collaboration between UNM’s management program and Western New Mexico University’s criminal justice program. Participants come from across the state, ranging from UNM and WNMU to the Department of Homeland Security and National Guard.
“In terms of reverse engineering, this is one of the most advanced cybersecurity topics, so we were pleasantly surprised and challenged when the professionals out in New Mexico said, ‘Hey, we want to do this,’” Hamilton said.
According to searchsoftwarequality.techtarget.com, the topic of reverse engineering is essentially what it sounds like: “taking apart an object to see how it works in order to duplicate or enhance the object,” and it is “now frequently used on computer hardware and software.”
Hamilton said many of the hands-on activities are being done through what is called a virtual machine, which has the ability to simulate separate operating systems.
“What we’re focusing on in this particular course is tracing network traffic, which is a fairly advanced topic,” Hamilton said. “We’re not expecting to make computer scientists out of them, but what we’re looking to be able to do is give them some familiarity.”
One participant was working on what Hamilton described to be network traffic that was being observed through the lens of special software that allows an individual to identify a communications transmission of interest — something that can be applied in real-world cybersecurity.
Participants from various law enforcement agencies preferred not to comment on how they plan to apply what they learn to their jobs. However, Dae Glendowne, assistant research professor at Mississippi State, said that one real-world application of the material would be in deciding the innocence of a suspect.
“If somebody gets accused of some crime and they say ‘I didn’t do it, malware was on my machine,’ a lot of times it’s not true, but we need people now that have the ability to go through and say definitively (whether they did it),” Glendowne said. “They have the ability to dive a little bit deeper, that’s what the reverse engineering side offers them, and it’s the most beneficial and direct impact they can take out of this class.”
Hamilton said students from the represented institutions get class credit for taking the course, and that there is another academic population that he would like to reach. There are currently talks between Mississippi State and UNM about bringing the technology and material into high school classrooms in their respective states, in order to introduce students to the subject matter.
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“Let’s get some of these folks interested in STEM careers,” he said. “Even in a tough economy there are good jobs and great salaries for STEM students, so we’re looking at some future plans for that as well.”
Glendowne said that the variety of participants has been a challenge, but they adapt their course each day to determine how best to teach the material and get it across in a way that makes sense to everyone.
“It makes things hard, from an interest standpoint and from a technical standpoint, so we teach these classes very dynamically,” he said. “You know there’s going to be some gaps in places, but we just do our best to keep rolling through.”
Hamilton said the seminar is something he would like to do again in the future, and while they are looking at other host locations around the state, he said he wouldn’t mind coming back to Albuquerque.
“The hospitality and support of UNM has just been absolutely outstanding, and we’re so appreciative of that,” he said.
David Lynch is the news editor at the Daily Lobo. He can reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @RealDavidLynch.