CYBER SECURITY SQUAD: These Teens are Our Nation’s Hope Against Hackers

Screen Shot 2015-04-26 at 9.47.53 AMInteresting selection of cyber security officials.

It appears that White House emails are the latest target to be hacked. According to today’s New York Times, hackers — believed to be linked with the Russian government — did not get a hold of classified information, but they were able to gain access to some of President Obama’s email correspondence. It is another cyberattack that has many on edge. Our Cover Story is reported by David Pogue of Yahoo Tech:

In Huntsville, Alabama, they’re training the next generation of cyberwarriors. Here, high-school students can take Cyber Security the way other kids might take Geometry or English.

And they have no problems being called nerds.

“I am definitely a nerd,” said senior James Brahm.

“Yeah. All of us would definitely be classified as nerds,” added fellow student Matthew Rogers.

Morgan Wagner laughed, “I think nerds seem to have jobs!”

She’s not kidding. These kids already have after-school jobs, and it’s not flipping burgers. “Some of us work at a local engineering firm,” said Brahm. “And we’re developing an experimental form of malware detection.”

“And sometimes they forget we’re in high school,” he laughed.

“They’re calling us at, like, 1:30, and it’s like, ‘I’m in the middle of my fifth period!'” laughed Wagner.

Just listen to these kids talk and you can see why it’s so easy to forget they’re still only in high school.

“Cyber warfare is really attractive to other countries because it’s affordable and allows them to strike at other countries and whatever political interests they don’t like with relative impunity, and cause damage without having it traced back to them,” Brahm said.

Rogers said, “It’s really easy to attack, but it’s very difficult to defend. Which is why teaching cyber security’s very important.”

All the experts agree: America needs a lot more kids like the ones in Huntsville, because hacker attacks aren’t just occasional headlines anymore — they’ve become routine.

Pogue asked Frank Heidt, co-founder of the Seattle-based security company Leviathan, “Suppose I pick 100 American companies at random. How many of the 100 could you get into?”

“Nearly all of them,” he said. “And it’s not just me.”

Heidt employs hackers, but Leviathan’s hackers are good guys. Companies hire them to help secure their computer networks.

A few years ago Heidt’s team figured out a way to break into the computers of a huge oil company — not to do damage, just to show that it could be done. They started with a Google search, where they found a press release from one of the oil company’s subcontractors, which had sold networking gear to the oil company.

“They published a press release, because they were very proud to supply all this excellent equipment to this very, very large project for this truly amazingly big company!” Heidt laughed.

Heidt’s team found the user manual for that equipment, and in that manual, they found the factory setting for its owner name and password: “admin admin.” “It’s the most famous username and password,” said Heidt.

Which you’re supposed to change once you buy the equipment, right? “You are supposed to,” he said.

But the oil company hadn’t change that password — and Heidt could have taken control of its phone and data systems.

How big a team, and how long was involved, in unearthing this information that could have targeted an enormous gas company?

“A single intern, one engineer, and one week of effort,” Heidt laughed.

Lisa Monaco, President Obama’s top homeland security and counterterrorism advisor, told Pogue, “What we’re seeing increasingly is a range of breaches — credit card theft, theft of trade secrets, economic espionage. All of these things combine to form what we’ve described as one of the most serious national security and economic threats that we face.”

Read more: CBS News

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