IT students prepare for war

Graphic by: Brandon Coe

Maureen O'Leary

Tomorrow marks the beginning of War Games, the 48-hour competition between classmates to attack each other’s computer networks while keeping their own protected and working properly.

“With IT especially, you have to be on call all the time because anything can happen. There are hackers out there that want to get secure information held on big databases, so it’s vital to know how to protect them,” Shannon Snell, senior IT major, said.

There are no rules as far as hacking, only physical attacks are off limits. Anything short of that is okay with Jordan Shropshire, Ph.D., IT professor and creator of War Games.

Georgia Southern University is one of the only schools with an assignment like this because the monetary cost reaches close to half a million dollars, Shropshire said.

The networks the students will work on mimic a small-scale corporate data center. The networks come pre-built with malware, viruses and security holes. The students don’t know what the system is, they find the holes, they secure it and they get to attack other people, Shropshire said.

“This is kind of a very scary final for them. Most of these students are graduating seniors. The next time they do this it’ll be because the business they work for is being attacked. It’s their last chance to make mistakes before it costs people their privacy,” Shropshire said.

“There’s equipment racked up in here that they’ve never seen before. I’ve been hiding it for four months. Each rack has around forty thousand dollars of equipment in it,” Shropshire said.

Any student with an emphasis in networking will take Dr. Shropshire’s class and go through the War Games.

Students must work in teams during the games. Students do not know whom they will be working with until the day of the event.

Over the 48-hour duration of the competition, at least one member of the team has to be present at all times to man the network.

The competition is a mandatory part of Dr. Shropshire’s Network Security class and has been going on for three years.

Austin Kuster, senior IT major, said he already has an idea of tactics that his team can use, but since the teams are unknown until 6 p.m. on Friday when the students arrive, he has to wait to meet them before nailing down a strategy.

“I’ve heard of the war games and the stuff that goes on in them over the past years I’ve spent in the IT department. My guess is that it’s going to be a learning process, and it’s supposed to be a lot of fun as well,” Austin Kuster, senior IT major, said.

“I choose the teams the same way they cast ‘The Real World.’  I team up people that don’t want to work together. Students are pushed to the limit socially, emotionally of course is the biggest thing and technologically. It’s not an easy thing to come in and deal with this much chaos and not kill each other,” Shropshire said.

The 48-hour duration of the competition is likely implemented to prepare the class for real life situations in the IT field, Kuster said.

This semester’s War Games is set to begin this Friday at 6 p.m. and continue for the following 48 hours until Sunday evening.

Shropshire said he’s been pleasantly surprised by teams’ performances in the past.

Shropshire said, “A lot of these students leave for internships and come back with an expertise in a niche that I wasn’t even expecting. So I’ve been disappointed and also very surprised at times, and that’s the best part is the unexpected. I love it. This is my favorite time of year, War Games weekend.”