Computer Students Learn 'Defense Against the Dark Arts'

Technology > IT

Virginia computer science teacher shows students how to protect against cyber attacks.

Students at the University of Virginia can now enroll in a course called "Defense Against the Dark Arts," named after a course students at Hogwarts Academy can take in the fictional Harry Potter series. Instead of casting spells like the characters in the books, these summer-session computer science students are learning programming and coding as a barrier to cyberattacks. The class looks at computer viruses past and current, encryption, and how to break computer programs.

The course was created by computer science professor Jack Davidson, a Harry Potter fan who says he will teach the first day of the class in his graduation robe and a conical wizard’s hat.

Class professor Aaron Bloomfield says that before students can learn how to defend computers against viruses, they need to understand how the viruses are designed.

“The goal is that they learn enough about these topics so they can write better and more secure programs, so their programs are less likely to be broken or hacked,” said Bloomfield. “Another goal is that they are aware enough of these topics that in their operations of computers, they can take more responsible actions.”

The students sign a pledge that they will not use the information they gain in the class to attack a computer they are not authorized to attack. Bloomfield says the students study the Association for Computing Machinery’s code of ethics, which states that software engineers always act in the public good, maintain their integrity and professionalism, and work within the best interests of the customer and the public good.

Student Stephen Park came to the class out of curiosity but has now become much more aware of the threats.

“We live in such a technologically advanced and increasingly networked era, where things such as personal banking and government infrastructure are extremely important to protect,” he said. “It is vital for us to educate ourselves on the significance of these security threats and the consequences that follow, because it can affect just about anyone.”


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