‘Hacker-in-Residence’ how to fight against cyberattacks

CEDARVILLE — In a world where we rely heavily on computers in our daily lives, hackers and others who launch cyberattacks have the potential to cause more and more damage. But hackers aren’t always the bad guys – good hackers are also needed to find and fix vulnerabilities before they’re used for harm.

Ben Sprague is one such good hacker, and as Cedarville University’s “resident hacker” for the spring 2022 semester, he hopes to train student hackers to use their skills to protect others from cyberattacks. .

Sprague graduated from Cedarville in 2006 with a Bachelor of Science degree in computer engineering, one of six members of that program’s inaugural class. Since graduating, he has worked in the government and defense contracting industry in the Cincinnati area. In addition to this work, he provides cybersecurity services for Christian ministries.

“It is prohibitively expensive for churches and ministries to hire penetration testers – people you allow to probe your network and find vulnerabilities before the bad guys do,” said Dr. Seth Hamman, director and associate professor of cyber-operations and computer science at Cédarville.

Sprague said he has helped missionary organizations find and fix vulnerabilities in their networks that could have been exploited by “bad actors”, a term used by those in the industry for computer programmers who aim to do harm. , not to help. By hacking into their systems, Sprague also shows them warning signs that their network is under attack.

“The goal is to teach defenders how to defend,” Sprague said. “To do that you need to be a genuine and good striker.”

Sprague officially holds the title of visiting professor and member of the Center for the Advancement of Cybersecurity at Cedarville. He will teach a course for juniors and seniors the basics of ethical hacking and help with another course. On March 30 at 4 p.m., he will present a cryptocurrency seminar where students can trade a blockchain-based currency created by Sprague for a hands-on learning experience.

He also helps a senior design team build a “device to leave behind”, a small disguised computer designed to be surreptitiously plugged into a network to allow unauthorized remote access. The goal is that after seeing the capabilities of the device, companies are more careful about which devices they allow to plug into their networks.

“The ability to push the boundaries of defenses requires you to understand attacks,” Sprague said. “A computer programmer has to be security conscious, so they don’t create things that are vulnerable in the first place.”

Says Hamman, “Through years of diligent effort, Ben has developed an elite level of skill. In the world of cyber operations, it occupies a very valuable niche – the deeply technical ability to find and exploit vulnerabilities.

Sprague added that in addition to a strong cybersecurity curriculum, Cedarville offers a unique environment to teach hacking techniques.

“The core of ethical behavior already built into our curriculum fits well into the realm of teaching people how to do dangerous things,” he said. “It would be really scary to train students to attack computer systems if you didn’t also trust them to be ethical in their approach.”


Submitted Photo Dr. Seth Hamman, Principal and Associate Professor of Cyber ​​Operations at Cedarville University, working with students in the Cedarville Cybersecurity Computing Bay.

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