In Cyberwar class, college students learn to think like hackers

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At the University of California, Berkeley, college students are learning to think like hackers in order to find exploits and bugs in applications and websites that consumers use every day. These students are taking a class called Cyberwar.

The applications range from government websites to commercial banking and shopping applications, though one student admitted that local government websites were often more insecure.

“I mostly focused on government websites, specifically voter registration websites,” Vy-An Phan, a junior studying computer science, told CNN. “What I found was state websites and local websites were usually extremely poorly run. If I can find [bugs], certainly someone else can.”

Professor Doug Tygar says the goal of his class is to teach his students how to think like hackers so that they can design secure websites and apps.

“The goal is to train students to build super secure systems,” Tygar said. “But in order to do that, they have to be able to think like a hacker.”

The class has partnered with HackerOne, an organization that hires hackers to help companies repair vulnerabilities in their security systems. Every bug a student finds is reported to HackerOne and, sometimes, the students are paid for their work. Most of the students do their classwork for organizations that use HackerOne.

In addition to possibly earning them some extra cash, the class may also help them prepare for careers in cybersecurity. Research firm Cybersecurity Ventures estimates that by 2021, there will be more than 3.5 million unfilled cybersecurity positions worldwide.

HackerOne has expressed an interest in expanding the program’s reach, though the Berkeley offering won’t be available next year. However, Tygar has said that he hopes to bring the class back in the future, though he says he will be changing the name.

For her part, Phan says that she hopes to fill one of those jobs as she finds security work “much more rewarding” than the work of a developer.

Cyberwar might not be offered next year, but Berkeley offers plenty of unique courses. For instance, if you’ve ever wanted to learn the language of Game of Thrones’ horse lords, then you might be interested in Berkeley’s class on Dothraki.

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