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Hacker tips for schoolkids

The cyber highway is dotted with malware mines. Students of South Point High School were last week taught how to avoid the booby traps by two experts whose job is to identify them.

The two founded the Indian School of Ethical Hacking, operational in Sector V for about eight months.

“Whoever penetrates a (computer) system is a hacker. They are of three kinds — white hats or ethical hackers, who penetrate websites with permission from the owners or alert them if they find vulnerability, black hats, who steal data or cause damage, and those who use freely available tools to break into systems. The first two types are skilled computer programmers. The last type cannot cover their tracks like black hats and often get caught,” said Abir Atarthy, an ethical hacker, who exposed vulnerability in the websites of Nasa and Apple.

Atarthy has been giving lessons in IT security to BTech and MTech students in hometown Kharagpur, including those from the local IIT, for six years now. “Kharagpur does not have a single good computer training centre,” he said, adding that like most hackers, he is self-taught.

Asked to define hacking, a member of the audience comprising the school’s computer science students of Class XI and XII, said hacking meant stealing a friend’s Facebook password. “It is that and much more,” smiled Atarthy’s colleague Sandip Sengupta, a former Pointer. “People think IT security is about virus and spyware but that is only five per cent of what we are dealing with.”

It is also not enough, he told the students, to install an anti-virus. “That is because an anti-virus has signatures of a specified number of viruses against which it secures a computer. If an unknown virus attacks, it is after a thousand people suffer that one will complain. The anti-virus company would take a sample from the infected computer, analyse it, match the signature with their database, if it does not match then the new signature will be added to the database. It is a time-consuming process. You need another software to stop the unknown at the gate. That is a firewall.”

The students were told about some recent scams, such as those perpetrated by sending emails seeking help to transfer money out of a foreign country.

The ethical hacking school, though geared for professionals, has a course for beginners too, for which basic computer knowledge suffices. “We are so frequently on the Net, especially the social networks. But we had no idea how vulnerable we are,” said Class XII student Srijib Das, after collecting a leaflet of the school.