Access Granted. Welcome to the digital side of Mason High School.
Some students lock themselves out of their phones. Others hack into the school system.
Greg Kummer’s Advanced Placement Computer Science (AP CS) classes teach students how to handle and master computer code, opening the door for them to pursue technology majors and careers in the future. Many of those students seek opportunities outside of the classroom to use their skills, finding the extent of what they can do with computer code. It is through this outside exploration that a select group of Mason High School students have discovered how to hack into networks and manipulate the code that makes them work. Kummer himself is fully aware of their abilities and said in previous years, he has had students who have hacked into the school’s network for a prank.
“There was a networking class I taught, where you have to use what they call command dos prompts,” Kummer said. “One of the commands you can do is something call ‘net-send.’ That was the way people could text; you’d send a message from one computer’s IP-address to another’s. We had a kid who took that to a tenth degree; he hacked in and found the IP-addresses of the lunch computers and sent a message that said “The Mason Police are watching you” to the computer in the cafeteria. The lunch ladies had a heart attack, and when they found him, he got a 10-day-suspension.”
Kent Cooper, a senior in Mr. Kummer’s AP CS class, said the school has since taken measures to prevent such an incident but believes that they could still get into the network if they tried.
“They realized that if you put a bunch of computer nerds in a room, we’re going to figure out how to do some pretty nasty things,” Cooper said. “Now we’re on a completely different network than the rest of the computers in the school, but yeah, I think we could still get in if we wanted to. It would probably be really hard getting anything worthwhile, but right now, I think I could access any person’s computer right now and for the most part anyone’s H-Drive. Most of the kids in AP CS don’t care–there’s not much in your H-Drive that’s going to make a difference–but I guarantee you there is a way to get deeper. There is a way, and we could find it.”
Cooper said a lot of what they could do is reigned in within the classroom and within the school.
“Mr. Kummer doesn’t tell us directly how to hack; that’s somewhat bad teaching,” Cooper said. “He’s never taught us how to get into a system, most of that happens when we go looking for it outside of class. In fact, Mr. Kummer has a list of kids who might be able to do something like that, and I’m almost certain I’m on the list; most kids in AP CS are on that list.”
Kummer has confirmed that he does have such a list and that he has had to point out several students throughout the years who administration has wanted to keep an eye on.
“I tell my kids, you take this class, you’re putting a big target on your back,” Kummer said. “Because if anything goes wrong with the network, the first person they come to see is me. I have a list of kids to point out to (administration), and they’ll ask me if they would know how to do it, and if they’re my students, they probably do.”
While he does enforce his students’ staying off of the school network in his classroom, Kummer approves of what he calls ‘ethical hacking,’ which is simply his students exploring their environment.
“You jump on a computer, and you are able to sit at a computer and just explore,” Kummer said. “As far as I’m concerned, hacking is getting used to your environment. Now, you’ve gotta have the ethics and integrity that you won’t mess with somebody else’s stuff, but there is a way to do it where it’s nothing more than an educational tool, just as much as my class is.”
Cooper agrees that hacking is more regular for a programmer than a lot of people think and said he is actually planning on becoming a ‘white-hat hacker’ as his career.
“There are basically three types of hacking,” Cooper said. “There’s white-hat hacking, which is when a company pays you to hack into their program, and then you tell them how you did it, so they can patch up the holes in their program. There’s gray-hat hacking, which is where you go in, then you contact the person who owns the network you hacked into, and you say, ‘So, I got into these places in your network. If you pay me, I’ll tell you how.’ That’s kind of the moral-gray area. Then there’s black-hat hacking, which is when you are officially breaking the law and stealing credit card information or blocking someone out of their program until they pay.”
Cooper is not the only AP CS student who is looking for a career in Network Security. Senior Musa Khan has already found himself in a leading role in a business.
“Me and a group of seven other individuals got together over the summer with a serial entrepreneur,” Khan said. “We were tasked with starting a company, and so as a team we built the web platform, and then the business plan, from scratch, and then at the end of the summer we had some adventure capitalists who we pitched to and they gave us an evaluation of what our company was worth. So we have the whole demo done; now we’re doing some user testing and we’re planning on making it go completely live in March.”
Khan said the point of the website is to allow for more open access to what would have been in-person meetings in the name of information seeking.
“It’s a college consulting service where we connect those applying to college with college undergrads to get advice on FAFSA, student loans, general applications and scholarship applications,” Khan said. “Right now we’re starting to see that a lot of kids are having to spend hundreds of dollars to get any sort of college help, so now we’ve made that more accessible.”
As computers continue to dominate more and more of everyday life, computer programming in general is becoming an increasingly important skill. Kummer said he firmly believes that simply knowing how to get around the system establishes a different kind of thought process that can help in any field.
“The person who finds a cure for cancer is going to be a Computer Scientist and a Medical Doctor; whoever is going to solve world hunger is going to be a Computer Scientist and a Geneticist,” Kummer said. “Computer Science is a tool. It’s your other passion, what you do with that data-in and data-out, that’s going to have what it takes to change the world.”
Kummer said that a lot of Computer Science revolves around mathematics, but it is very different from math classes because students learn what to do with that information.
“I taught math for years, and if you gave me a chance between math and computer programming, it’s not a contest,” Kummer said. “Math hasn’t changed for 3,000 years. Computer programming is just getting started.”