The School of Information Studies (iSchool) is grounded in an environment that recognizes both historical and current-day technological problems. In recent years, increased attention has been given to studying, preventing, and assessing cybersecurity related issues.

In October, four iSchool students were chosen to represent the School at the 10th annual EC-Council Foundation’s Hacker Halted Conference in Atlanta, Georgia. Graduate student Olivia Kisker and sophomores Quinn Hecker, Emily Simens, and Victoria Tomalin, were selected to attend the weekend-long conference of advanced hacker training, professional presentations, networking, and panel discussions.

All four participants were chosen due to their dedication to the iSchool’s Information Security Club. The club meets weekly and focuses on supplementing students’ increased interest in cybersecurity and its implications. Simens, who has been in the club since her freshman year, clarified the goals of the group, “we do labs that are examples of real life security threats, and talk about things that go on in the field. It’s important because as the cyber field grows and threats increase, the world will need way more people that know about security and how to protect information.”

Professor Bahram Attaie, the club’s advisor, was excited about the event and the iSchool’s representative women. “The ladies are active members of the InfoSec club, and I am really hoping that this event will generate lots more interest and attract more women to the club,” he said.

The trip was arranged through the financial support of the iSchool’s Alumni Office and IBM, and Professor Attaie hopes to see these contributions continue in the future. 

“Professional conferences like Hacker Halted present a great learning opportunity for our students,” Attaie said. “This is the iSchool’s first time participating in this conference and hopefully we can continue to secure sponsorship for future trips.”

Simens was overjoyed with the conference. “The trip was 100% worth it, and I would recommend it to any girl interested in cybersecurity. Everyone there was so supportive, and wanted to network,” she said. “The best part about the trip was how many influential people we were able to meet. One of our favorite keynote speakers was [game developer] Chris Roberts. We were really left speechless after his presentation; he has figured out how to hack everything from countries, to Amtrak trains, and even milking machines!” 

The experience was rounded out by knowledgeable speakers. These included Ernest Wong, Chief of Staff at the Army Cyber Institute; Joshua Crumbaugh, founder and CEO of the enterprise cybersecurity training company PeopleSec; and Dr. Fred Cohen, CEO of the U.S. government’s security research and advisory company Fred Cohen and Associates. 

“The weekend really opened my eyes to how many opportunities are out there, and how many more will be created by the time we graduate,” Simens noted. “And this event shows how dedicated our school is to women in technology. I don’t know of any other schools that go this above and beyond to support their students like this. We were all really grateful to be able to go to an event like Hacker Halted and have such an amazing learning experience.”

Upon returning from the conference, the four participants were invited by the iSchool to share their learned knowledge with high school girls at the 7th annual It Girls Overnight Retreat. This retreat has seen over 570 girls from all over the United States develop their love of and confidence in information technology.

For participating high school juniors and seniors, the weekend of activities and networking was highlighted by the steganography presentation given by Hecker, Kisker, Tomalin, and Simens. “We showed the girls how to hide a file in a picture and email it without being detected. We also showed them how viruses could easily be sent through email and not be picked up by any antivirus program,” Simens said, describing the activity. “The participants really liked the presentation, and it just goes to show that as long as you introduce security in a friendly way, anyone can learn it.”