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Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Cat and mouse

Last week's Times Education Supplement had an interesting article on how pupil hackers are breaching computer firewalls to access forbidden material. It seems that many youngsters are finding ever more ingenious ways to look at websites they have been locked out from and to wreak havoc on school computer systems.

The paper says that networks are becoming more vulnerable as pupils increasingly have access via their laptops. In one school a teacher found that a pupil had hacked into her e-mail account and sent a message to her boyfriend dumping him. In another a Year 10 pupil downloaded software to hack into the system and leave obscene messages on computer screens.

It is common knowledge that young people are light years ahead of most adults in terms of their knowledge of computers. Even so, it was a surprise to find the TES turn to a 17 year old deputy head boy for advice. Simon Bangs is apparently a computer expert who advises software companies on security.

He told the paper that schools are underestimating pupils. "Some are picking up the skills of someone who has been working in the industry for three years or more. It's going to be a battle between the students and the companies building security systems over who can make the better hack or patch."

Steve Gold, a specialist internet security journalist, sums up the problem. He said that many monitoring systems were beyond the budget of schools and internet managers often lacked the expertise to use them.

Where exactly, this leaves Plaid Cymru's idea of giving a laptop to every school child, is uncertain. There are clearly security and child protection issues to be addressed in this policy, that could make it unworkable.
where exactly, you learned to punctuate, is also unclear...
Punctuation was always my weak point.
Back before the Internet came to schools we used to have great fun messing around with the school network. Most of it was harmless, although we did get into a little trouble occasionally...

God only knows what they get up to now...
We Were Adults
I just think it is infantile. Real people like "scientists" simply don't do that kind of thing.

I remember joining a research group of computation chemists (I was just a very humble junior know-nothing low life … a Masters degree research student). I remember one of the computational chemists ("first chemist", the first chemist was a leading expert in running chemistry codes on massive parallel computers) telling me that "the lab" had a guy (another computational chemist, "second chemist") for a "visit" (one of those sabbaticals, so probably lasted a few months if not a year). Anyway, the first chemist didn't like the second chemist; I never found out why, but I guess they had some “history”.

The operating system on all the computers (which included the world’s best supercomputers) was UNIX and all the supercomputers were networked (even the super-zip-transparallel-super-array-kick-ass-Mustang Fireball zing computer, there’s a very funny story about this computer, but I will have to write a book), and within the group members were permitted to visit other members’ areas via a LAN (local area network). It was an open academic “scene” - we learned from each other - kind of place. Great atmosphere, some good looking ladies (but not in “my” group, well actually there was one, but she hung out with another group) and really good tucker in the labs canteen, which was open 7 days a week, and had the really hot babes so I ate like a king!

Opps, back on track - the first chemist altered (maybe deleted) an element in one line of the second chemist's source code which run to a zillion lines or so - the second chemist wanted to modify his source code to run on the supercomputers in the lab - probably one of the parallel supercomputers. Anyway, the second computer spent his entire visit trying to track down why his code would not compile and run on one of the supercomputers. The second chemist would fix the bug only for the first chemist to insert another. This went on for the whole visit. The second was very boastful about himself, his accomplishments and that his country was first to invent this, that, the other thing, and everything else … anyway, I guess it was an ego thing, but the second chemist threw himself off one of the buildings, A6. He landed on a new zip-fast supercomputer being delivered to building A6, one of “our” buildings.

He survived; the new zip fast supercomputer was sent flown back to its factory. The members of “my” group went ballistic, tracked down the second chemist and hung him from building A7, not one of our buildings. The scientists in A7, a group of competing scientists who thought the Earth was not a sphere, thinking there were being fitted up, attacked our building but inadvertently attacked another building filled with maintenance personnel. The lab Director "took sides" and we all turned into "mad scientists".

Such a sad, sad story. But we were all adults about it and never hacked into any school's network.

No siree, we were adults.
Leo Laporte (TWiT) recently suggested that it's vital we teach kids to use Google effectively.

A Head of ICT at a large comp I talked to recently asked if it was feasible to block Google within the school.

Another school I visited recently thought they'd blocked Google images. All the kids were using google.ie (Eire), rather than .co.uk, and were happily browsing all the unsavoury images they could find.

The staff in schools aren't the sharpest knives in the drawer.
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