Photo: Colourbox

New hacker lab aims to improve security on the Internet

Friday 24 Aug 18

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Christian D. Jensen
Associate Professor, Head of Section
DTU Compute
+45 45 25 37 24
DTU opens a hacker lab where students will learn how to hack—for the sake of cyber security.

A good defence against cyber-attacks is learning to think like a hacker. And that is the purpose of the new hacker lab opening soon at DTU Compute.

“Hackers often think differently and creatively to find security holes. If we want to be better at defending ourselves against cyber-attacks, we need to teach students to understand how a hacker thinks,” says associate professor Christian Damgaard Jensen, who heads the new educational offer.

DTU students will learn how to break through security for smart door locks, speakers and other devices on the Internet of Things (IoT) in a new hacker laboratory. The rapid spread of digitization has created an abundance of intelligent systems for which cyber security has not been properly considered during product development. This could become a major problem in the future, as we become even more dependent on IoT.

“The security of the physical systems needs to be examined, because the devices create more entry points for hackers and therefore weaken security. IT security people need a workshop where these IoT devices are available, just like chemists need a laboratory to conduct experiments,” says Christian Damgaard Jensen.

"Hackers often think differently and creatively to find security holes. If we want to be better at defending ourselves against cyber-attacks, we need to teach students to understand how a hacker thinks."
Christian D. Jensen

In the white hat’s service
The fact that a university is teaching students hacking might sound controversial, but in many ways the initiative is about recruitment. Young IT talents need to be aware that they can hack for a good cause—known as ‘white hat hacking’.

“I think that the ideology surrounding hacking is already shaped in primary and secondary school, so for us it is also a matter of showing the outside world that young IT talents can take their skills this way. DTU also provides a healthy moral component in addition to the teaching,” says Christian Damgaard Jensen.

Leading young hackers down the right path is also something that Danish Defence Intelligence Service has had good experience with. They established the Danish cyber team, which motivates young people to use their skills to win international hacker competitions. These constructive communities are important for teaching young people that they need to refrain from committing cyber crime or ‘black hat hacking’ according to Morten Eskildsen, captain of the national hacker team:

“When you are young and naïve, you can be easily shaped ideologically by the forums you visit. If someone hacks illegally, they may feel that they are hacking for justice, because they have been influenced that way. It feels so easy and risk-free because it seems anonymous, but it can end with major personal consequences if they are discovered. So it’s important we also have communities that show you can hack for a good cause,” he says.

The national cyber team is a community of young people who train their hacking skills together to solve various cyber challenges at international hacker competitions. Hacking teamwork is one of the things DTU’s hacker laboratory will create, and which Morten Eskildsen raises as the element that really creates results.

“It requires endless lonely hours on the Net to learn how to hack. But what really gave my abilities a boost was when I began to share ideas with others online and on the national cyber team,” says Morten Eskildsen.

The hacker lab is expected to open before the autumn holidays.

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