Enlisting the young as white-hat hackers

Thursday, 29 May 2003, 4:22 PM EST

On a Wednesday evening, in an office suite appointed with Pentium II's and little else, 10 teenagers were doing Andrew Robinson's bidding. Fortified by pizza and soda, they studied a computer system's weaknesses, looking for ways to break in and steal information.

Mr. Robinson, 38, who runs a small information security company in nearby Portland, had less-than-nefarious plans in mind, however. His free after-school program is intended to teach teenagers the basics of ethical hacking, or protecting a company's computer system from attack by learning how to attack it yourself.

The program, called Tiger Team, named for the professional consultants who analyze system security risk, teaches young hackers to use their skills for good instead of evil. Working as two teams, the teenagers play a virtual game of capture the flag, trying to crack the other team's network and do damage while defending their own. An honor code keeps them from creating mischief outside their labs.

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