Ethical hacking class focuses on deterring ‘black hats’

Character Penelope Garcia of TV's "Criminal Minds" may be America's best-known "white-hat" hacker.



When most people hear the words “ethical hacking,” they probably think of Penelope Garcia in TV’s “Criminal Minds.”

But not many people know what it actually involves and how to become certified as an ethical hacker.

At Detroit Mercy, graduate students are given the opportunity to earn a certificate in ethical hacking in addition to their degree.

The course is being offered online this semester by Dr. Daniel Shoemaker, director of information assurance.

Although Shoemaker is the course instructor, the course itself is a given by the International Council of Electronic Commerce Consultants or EC-Council.

The university is partnered with the EC-Council to give students the opportunity to stand out in the field.

The course technically teaches students the same methods that black-hat hackers use to get through firewalls.

Black-hat hackers are people who are known for breaking into computer networks and evading security to get data they see as valuable.

Shoemaker said the methods behind this is the same as good hackers use in criminal justice.

“You have to know how a criminal thinks in order to stop him,” he said.

Students have to show they are efficient in hacking through a final exam at the end that consists of a simulation showing they can bypass a security protocol on a network.

Essentially, the career itself is a paradox.

There is no such thing as “ethical hacking.”

The only reason it is ethical is because you are helping the government or the company that employs you from losing data, Shoemaker said.

But at its core, hackers are still people who are breaking the law every time they go to work.

The only difference between them and criminals is that they have permission to do so.

As the world becomes more connected through the internet, the responsibility that ethical hackers have will continue to grow.

When there is great responsibility, there is also a great amount of power.

Dr. Rita Barrios, associate professor and chair of Computer Information Systems, always says, “You’ve got the keys to the kingdom,” meaning that having such a career puts you in charge of making sure all the information saved is safe and secure.

Before “ethical hackers” take on their positions, they sign contracts agreeing not to release any information to which they have access.

So as long as you don’t do what Edward Snowden did, your job will be secure.

Despite having jobs available to make sure a company’s information is secure, there is no one making sure that their products are.

Smart TVs, ovens, refrigerators, you name it – many are connected to the internet, yet none has security.

Some point out that having more items connected to the internet could help the government keep tabs on us.

And if the government can access such tools, black-hat hackers can do the same and that is the real threat.

Getting the ethical hacking certificate has a financial catch.

“There is an additional fee students have to pay on top of their tuition,” said Dr. Shoemaker. “The price they pay is still a discount, but it is another payment.”

The reason students sign up for the course with Dr. Shoemaker is to receive class credit.

Everything else is done through the EC-Council.

While many schools are offering ethical hacking, it is really just the beginning of a field that is sure to continue to grow.