'Scary Smart' Students Pass the Grade During Paper's Security Audit
When the Omaha World-Herald newspaper needed to audit the security of its wireless computer connection between two offices in western Nebraska, it utilized the Nebraska University Consortium on Information Assurance (NUCIA) and the faculty and students of the College of IS&T.
Dr. Blaine Burnham, NUCIA senior research fellow, took on the role of project director. IS&T faculty member and NUCIA senior technology research fellow Stephen Nugen served as the primary point of contact and report author; IS&T/NUCIA colleague Tim Vidas assisted. They put students Bryan Wilwerding and Jonathan Kamler to work on the audit.
"The World-Herald has enjoyed an excellent relationship with the college in other projects in the past, so it was really no surprise that we looked to the university for assistance this time," says Jim Johnson (pictured), the World-Herald's information systems security administrator.
He says the college had done research on the wireless network in its Security Technology Education and Analysis Laboratory, and Burnham decided the methods could be applied to the newspaper's wireless implementation at the Star-Herald Publishing Co. facilities in Scottsbluff and Gering.
Not only did the team from IS&T identify the system's vulnerable areas, Johnson says, it revealed that the vendor who sold the product to the World-Herald had not conformed it to the newspaper's specifications.
"This project yielded an opportunity for us to sit down with the vendor and fix things," he says. "It was a learning experience for the vendor as well. The team from UNO was able to teach him some things about how to securely set up these systems."
He describes the IS&T team members who worked on the audit as methodical. "As Dean Hinton says, they're 'scary smart.' They definitely knew what they were doing and how to find vulnerabilities.
"They began work even before we left Omaha, looking at the system from inside out. As soon as we got out on the network in Scottsbluff, they began performing tests between that site and the site in Gering."
Johnson, who has served as a member of the College of IS&T Advisory Committee since 2000, says the audit "was a good opportunity for our Information Technology (IT) staff to collaborate with people who are working with cutting-edge technology."
The World-Herald implements its own share of new technology. The Freedom Center, the $125 million state-of-the-art Omaha production facility opened in 2001, is home to many high-tech devices, including Transfer Vehicle System (TVS) robotic vehicles used to deliver newsprint to the press.
The newspaper has a rich history with UNO and the College of IS&T. The World-Herald worked with other area corporations to help establish the Peter Kiewit Institute (PKI) and the college, and the paper employs five UNO graduates in its 40-person IT department, as well as many others throughout the company.
Johnson says the security audit underscores the value that the college, its faculty and students offer businesses in metropolitan Omaha.
"When I have people come in from out of town to visit the newspaper and the city, PKI is always one of my stops," he says. "It is so far ahead of most other colleges. People are in awe of the facilities and the resources that the school makes available to the community.
"Partnering with IS&T has proven time and again to be a wise decision."