Students at Dakota State University are learning to be hackers, so they can help protect computer networks in the future–and it’s all part of a government program in place at dozens of institutions nationwide, reports the Argus Leader. Students learn in a secured lab. They know a disciplinary board would judge deviant behavior, and they sign a "white-hat oath" a half-dozen times before graduating. In the end, they are scholars in ethical hacking. The program attracts students with a knack for computers on their way to technical careers. But it still catches them by surprise for the ease of breaking into systems and the possibilities for mischief. "Most of the time it’s an eye-opener. Nothing we show them is less than a Google click away," instructor Patrick Engebretson said. Dakota State is one of 86 sites the U.S. government has picked to shore up essential protection in information systems. That gives the school a role in a federal effort tracing back to terrorist concerns that took hold in 1998 and were re-energized after Sept. 11, 2001. Dakota State applied for the designation in 2003. It helped that "we were the first university in the country to offer a degree in computer network security," said Kevin Streff, director of the DSU Center for Information Assurance. The program has grown to 125 undergraduates with information security majors and about the same number in related fields. They make up close to one-tenth of the university’s total enrollment of 2,870. Graduates go on to work in the computer security industry. "The marketplace is gobbling them up," Streff said. But they also are part of a larger national purpose–preventing a digital Pearl Harbor that would clog military communication, jeopardize food supplies, and cripple the economy…

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