SEAS opens security lab

GW students will study computer and Internet security starting in about a week when the University opens a new lab in Phillips Hall.

The lab will feature a “completely confined” network for security testing, meaning outside sources cannot access it. Students will hack into or infect the computers and then figure out how to patch the security holes.

The room will house computers for a group of 12 scholarship recipients, mostly computer science majors. The winners receive full tuition and room and board for two years. Although the lab is intended primarily for the recipients’ use, other students who collaborate with computer science faculty will be able to use the resources.

Technology corporations Cisco Systems, Symantec and Tripwire donated nearly $100,000 in equipment for the new lab. The National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Defense provided the scholarship money.

Scholarship recipients will spend two years studying information warfare and then work for the U.S. government, protecting cyberspace.

Lance Hoffman, scholarship program director and GW professor of computer science, said the lab is beneficial for the students.

“This helps make us one of the leading institutions in security education,” he said.

The National Security Agency named GW one of its 50 “Centers for Academic Excellence in Information Assurance Education” from 2002 to 2005. Other centers include Carnegie Mellon, George Mason and Towson universities. Centers meet training standards for information assurance and encourage independent research by students and professors, officials said.

Chris Compton, a graduate student in the program, said GW’s status as a Center for Academic Excellence and its variety of course offerings helped him choose GW over other universities.

Graduate student Evan Dornbush, one of the scholarship recipients, said GW’s location in the nation’s capital is a crucial supplement to the program.

Dornbush said program participants are in various stages of undergraduate or graduate work. Students who are not experts in computer security are eligible to apply for the scholarship.

This year’s application deadline is Feb. 2, and more information can be accessed at http://www.seas.gwu.edu/scholarship.

Students stressed the uniqueness of GW’s lab, which features a “portable educational network” – an Internet-in-a-box utility, which will travel between Phillips and Tompkins halls for a course in Internet warfare.

Information Systems and Services officials said GW has a history of fighting computer viruses and hackers. Krizi Trivisani, director of Systems Security Operations, said colleges are havens for hackers and that in August about half of the e-mails coming through GW’s system contained viruses. She said the number lowered because of improved virus filters and a decrease in file sharing.

“We’re still finding that people on campus don’t know that we offer Norton Antivirus for free,” she said.

Trivisani said students should utilize the free anti-virus software, update their machines regularly for system patches, turn off their computers when they are not in use and install a personal firewall. She said that free and commercial firewall options are available, such as Norton Personal Firewall, Zone Alarm and BlackICE Defender. Firewalls help filter information sent to computers through the network.

GW’s e-mail system has a set of protections, including a virus scanner installed in August 2001. Within its first month at GW, the scanner filtered 11,000 messages containing viruses. This August, 1.6 million viruses were filtered.

Dan Price, manager of Academic Technology Services, said GW uses a tool called PC-Rdist to erase potentially harmful materials that find their way into GW’s computers. The software resets computers to a stored, clean image file after each student uses the machine.

In an effort to increase student awareness, ResNet provided students with an educational CD-Rom at the beginning of last semester. Officials said about 90 percent of the student body ran the recommended software.

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