Catching bad guys on the electronic frontier

04/26/18 03:04:pm
| Category: Alumni

Even in a world used to being flooded with numbers and data, the statistics surrounding hacking and information breaches are pretty astounding. Every 39 seconds, for example, there is an attack against a computer on the internet. 230,000 new malware programs are produced every day. Someone’s identity sells for $5 a pop on the dark web. And each major security breach a company experiences costs, on average, $3.8 million.

These are just a few of the facts that Joseph Greenfield, husband of Mirman alumna Fernanda Greenfield and cybersecurity expert, gave in his introduction to a three-part LEAP series for our Upper School students. Like the web’s roots, the information on computer crimes — for evil and, as it turns out, for good — runs considerably deeper than those facts. But they provided a good starting point for a stimulating series of discussions on hacking: programming, “white hat” (working for a company to identify security threats) vs. “grey hat” (hacking on your own and alerting a company to a security threat) vs. “black hat” (the bad guy stuff), ethical hacking, digital forensics, and more were explored.

“There are bad people in this world. I want you to be good people. I want you to be some of the protectors of this nation’s critical infrastructure,” said Greenfield, noting that there is currently a shortage of qualified individuals to take up much-needed jobs in cyber security. He started getting interested in hacking at age 11 and 12, much like many of the Upper Schoolers in the room — and it’s never too early to start thinking about a future you might be passionate about. Now, he holds a position as an Associate Professor of Information Technology Practice at the University of Southern California, where he authored the undergraduate security minor in Applied Computer Security. He is also a Senior Forensic Examiner at Maryman & Associates, specializing in Windows systems and Server investigations as well as breach investigations.

Over the series, Greenfield took the students through case studies of major security breaches, the science of encryption, case studies on malware, and more. After his introduction, students came back for a second session in which they got to play a bit of digital “capture the flag.” A third session saw small group work where the students were learning how to break into models of company systems as they would if they were employed by those companies to detect security flaws. Joseph plans to return next year to continue to work with students through another series on the same subject.