In a telling example of higher education’s misplaced priorities, a Canadian student was expelled for finding privacy flaws in a university’s computer network. Fresh-faced 20-year-old hacker, Hamed Al-Khabaz, attempted to warn school administrators about a vulnerability he discovered in his school’s network while working on a mobile app, but instead got accused by Dawson College’s software company of a pre-meditated cyber attack. After meeting with administrators, he continued to test whether the school had actually had closed the privacy loophole and was expelled.
A university system that encourages students to aggressively tackle real-world problems would have praised the student; instead, they just wanted him to bury his head in books and labeled his explorations as an unrequested intrusion.
“Despite receiving clear directives not to, he attempted repeatedly to intrude into areas of college information systems that had no relation with student information systems,” explained the college.
“He thinks it’s only his house,” said Computer Science Chair, Ken Fogal, who compared Al-Khabaz’s actions to breaking into a house. “That house also has my information and my whole life stored there, and I’ve been in that house the last two years.”
Dawson College has resisted growing pressure from negative media exposure to reinstate the student and erase the F’s he was given, sparked by a cry for help that Al-Khabaz posted on YouTube (below)
The technology discovered long ago that hackers made the best recruits. Facebook hired a 21-year-old who became famous for cracking the iPhone and breaching the PlayStation 3 console. The National Security Administration recruits future employees at the hacking festival, Defcon. “If you have a few, shall we say, indiscretions in your past, don’t be alarmed,” reads their career page.
A school system that was interested in preparing people for the real world and was aligned with the priorities of employers would encourage hacking. Indeed, Skytech, which makes the school’s Omnivox system that is used by nearly 100 colleges, has offered Al-Khabaz a scholarship.
Skytech and the over 10 tech companies that have offered him a job have their priorities straight. Why can’t we say the same for our system of higher education?
[Photo Credit, Martin Reisch via Wired Campus]