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Micah D. Halpern Headshot

Iran's Teaching Hacking in High School

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Courses in computer hacking will be added to the senior high school curriculum in Iran. The announcement was made in mid-August, in order, I assume, to drum up interest and excitement. The Iranians want to enlist high school students to hack foreign drones. I kid you not, this is real.

The announcement came from FARS, a semi official media outlet that is the voice of the Iranian Republican Guard Corp (IRGC). General Ali Fazali the acting commander of the Basij militia gave the course a name. He explained that the new study is to be called "Defensive Readiness."

A major component of the curriculum already exists in Iranian schools. It is called "Civil Defense Training" and is taught through a manual. The manual will now have to be updated to incorporate the hacking component of the course. "This year," said General Fazali, "we will witness changes in the contents, teachers and teaching hours of the defensive preparedness lesson."

This could be a brilliant plan by the Iranians. But, it won't be. It will, most certainly, backfire. All plans like this backfire. They fail because they do not understand the way young adults think and react and they do not understand the nature and character of the hacker.

Once you give students the skills to hack they will not stop at drones -- they will hack and attack anything and everything that they dislike. And they probably dislike the government of Iran more than they dislike drones. In the end, only a handful of students will gain the necessary skills. And, this high school course aside, those who do become hackers would have become hackers even without the blessing of their educators.

Hacking cannot be taught. Actually, just the opposite. Hacking is about turning everything you were taught upside down. Hacking is about knowing a computer system inside and out and then finding its flaws. Hacking is about finding holes and backdoors that give you access. Hacking is about ingenuity, it is about combining linear and circular reasoning and thought and trial and error. Hacking requires patience, a lot of patience.

You just cannot teach hacking.

A good hacker is like a professional ball player. It starts with raw talent. That talent is then channeled, guided and honed. Finally comes the ultimate goal -- success. But whereas in professional athletics the athlete wants the entire world to know who they are, the hacker lives in a world of anonymity, known only to members of an elite and very secret society.

In order for the Iranians to really develop a world class hacking community they need to recruit and convert students from the most anti-governmental community in Iran. And then they have to motivate those students to work on behalf of the government they despise. That is a gargantuan task. Number one, hackers disdain all computer interference, monitoring and censorship. Number two, Iran does not have a very extensive underground hacker community.

Some talented youthful Iranians will be able to hack -- but they won't be doing it from a manual and they won't be learning their trade from a teacher in a class in an Iranian high school.