A version of a PC game that has players fill the shoes of a computer hacker is being developed for use as a training tool in schools and workplaces. Originally released in August 2015, Hacknet has already been downloaded more than 100,000 times on the internet-based distribution platform Steam. It was created by Matt Trobbiani, a 25-year-old University of Adelaide computer science graduate, who originally had no educational intentions when he was developing the game.
It turns out that US Pacific Command’s cyber warfare division already buys Hacknet and runs all their new recruits through it – it’s a big deal and I originally had no idea that this was something really very valuable at all.
It’s got a really good base for putting it into high schools or training courses for businesses and military programs, it just teaches this baseline technical competence and confidence.
Everyone who’s gone through the game is less scared of computers and much more prepared to deal with technical problems in a sensible way – they know how to use a terminal, they know the basics of computer security, they know fundamental skills that I think if everyone knew then the world would be a much safer place, especially online.
I was teaching a lot of this stuff just by accident and the teaching side of this is becoming a bigger deal so I’m working on a special version geared towards schools and universities.
– Matt Trobbiani
The immersive terminal-based hacking simulator, which is also being translated into Simple Chinese, follows the trail of a famed hacker, Bit, who has recently died.
Bit, a hacker responsible for creating the most invasive security system on the planet, has been murdered. His failsafe kicks in and sends instructions to a lone user who can help unravel the mystery and ensure that Hacknet-OS doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.
Using a wide array of terminal commands and specific hacking protocols, Hacknet teaches the player how to complete a series of core missions without holding their hand. The world is open to exploring and features multiple branching pathways and secrets to discover. In this game, players need to be vigilant when covering their tracks because careless decisions may come back to haunt them.
Educational Aspects of Hacknet
Contrary to what the game’s title might imply, the award-winning game is not breeding a new generation of hackers. Playing the game actually teaches users skills for increasing online security that protect them from hacking.
It’s much more useful as a defensive tool than as an aggressive one. You leave Hacknet after being from the perspective of the aggressor the entire game but you’ll know a lot about how to be much safer online and you’ll know next to nothing about how to actually do any damage.
It definitely says that there is a place for what we call ‘white hat hackers’ in the world, being a hacker isn’t just a bad thing, there’re a lot of hackers out there who do a lot of great work, who are really helping companies and who are very transparent about everything that they do.
I think this negative notion of hackers is really cool but it’s not necessarily how the world works.
– Matt Trobbiani
Educational Version of Hacknet
Although the distribution and licensing arrangements have yet to be determined for the education version, Hacket is already confirmed to be a workplace training tool.
Ideally it would be split up into lesson-sized chunks that are designed to be teacher and other student assisted so the students work together and the teacher works with anyone who is struggling to smooth over the first couple of weeks to hopefully bring everyone up to a certain level of confidence and competence so no one gets overwhelmed by the material, which is a really big problem in computer science courses especially. – Matt Trobbiani
University of South Australia cybercrime expert Associate Professor Raymond Choo said turning Hacknet into an educational tool was a timely initiative.
“Malicious cyber activities are no longer a matter of if but of when, and they are a rapidly expanding form of criminality that knows no borders. Games could be a useful way of engaging our younger generation in cyber security training, and allowing them to learn, practice and hone their skills in a relatively risk-free virtual environment.” – Dr Choo
Hacknet is available on Steam.
* Source: Newsleads