NDSU Students Put Cybersecurity Skills to the Test

they hacked smoke detectors, coffee machines and drones

FARGO, ND — NDSU students are testing their cybersecurity skills by hacking into all kinds of technical equipment.

Some of what they were able to get into may surprise you.

Hacking something like a household smoke detector may not be as difficult as you might think.

“I was honestly surprised at how easy it was. I definitely thought it would’ve been a lot harder but all we had to do was find the address and tell it to connect. There wasn’t a lot that went into it,” said Joe Billstrom, a NDSU computer science student.

NDSU students hacked into things like smoke detectors, drones and coffee makers to detect just how vulnerable they can be.

That’s why some professors say it’s all about awareness.

“If you don’t realize that you’re vulnerable in a certain way, it makes it kind of difficult to be on the lookout for the vulnerability,” said Jeremy Straub, NDSU associate professor of cyber physical systems and cybersecurity.

Billstrom says he was shocked to learn some servers didn’t even have passwords for protection.

“To add that kind of security credential is pretty easy so it’s the kind of thing that when you find out a company didn’t do that, it’s just a little surprising,” Billstrom said. “That’s a very obvious thing that anybody should know to do.”

One way people can protect themselves is just by speaking up.

“If you see something, say something,” Straub said. “The biggest thing is just looking for things that are a little bit unusual and reporting them. All of these areas that the students are working on are areas of critical national need. So we’re dealing with real world problems.”

Students say being able to hack into something isn’t necessarily always a bad thing because they can create the solution.

“Most systems are insecure and if you work hard enough, you can get around them. But you can also work hard enough to prevent people from getting into them by just having them be difficult to get into,” said Mitchell Fokken, a NDSU computer science student.

Students also worked on ways to detect ATM tampering and how to prevent pipeline security issues.

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