Ethical hacking: The card game

Whether you are a precocious youngster brought up on classic hacking films or a seasoned professional at the top of his game, Control-Alt-Hack, which has been developed by the University of Washington, is a card game that is worth a try.

The game is based on the pursuit of ethical hacking, which is, in short, the activity that sees individuals, on behalf of an organisation, attack or infiltrate a system in a controlled way so as to establish what weaknesses there are.

Now then, we are quite sure we’ve piqued your curiosity here, so allow us elaborate further. The theme is based on the Information Security industry and attempts to paint an accurate picture of what ethical hacking, sometimes referred to as white hat hacking, is all about.

The premise is that you, along with your fellow players, work for a Hackers Inc, an elite company specialising in network security and data protection. The motto of the company, brilliant by the way, is: “You Pay Us to Hack You.”

“Your job is centred around missions – tasks that require you to apply your hacker skills (and a bit of luck) in order to succeed,” the designers of the game explain.

“Use your social engineering and network ninja skills to break the Pacific Northwest’s power grid, or apply a bit of hardware hacking and software wizardry to convert your robotic vacuum cleaner into an interactive pet toy…no two jobs are the same. So pick up the dice, and get hacking!”

It all sounds very exciting and aside from the fact that it is, in part, a game, the authenticity of it is not to be underestimated. After all, the developers, Tamara Denning, Tadayoshi Kohno, and Adam Shostack, are all computer security experts. They have wanted the game to mimic reality, and thus it has as much “juicy and accurate” content as possible.

While the developers and the university are keen to point out that it should not be mistaken for a being educational – it is, above all, designed for entertainment – the unfolding narratives of the game nevertheless reveal important information security concepts.

Consequently, it can therefore be used as an educational tool, be it in a school session informing the next generation of potential ethical hackers of some of the things they might be involved in, or as a genuinely engaging and fun way of conducting training sessions in a professional capacity.

The game might be fun and a little bit dramatic, a quasi-fictional representation so to speak, but it can be instrumental in triggering new ideas, discussion points and strategies in a decidedly novel way. In this, the efforts must be applauded. Although it is not out yet, professionals, academics and instructors can sign up here for notification.

Before go, we thought we’d elaborate on those timeless hacking movies we’ve all come across. There’s a ton, that much is true, but, for some reason, what came to mind instantly was WarGames with a young Matthew Broderick, the Net, with, well, young Sandra Bullock, and Tron, with Jeff Bridges. And yes, he is young.

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