New cybersecurity concentration gives App State students skills to combat hackers | Blowing Rocket

BOONE — Chris Taylor is a computer hacker, and he teaches his students the tricks of the trade — with the best of intentions.

Taylor, a professional security specialist and senior lecturer in Appalachian State University’s Department of Computer Information Systems (CIS), is spearheading the department’s new cybersecurity concentration that begins in fall 2021.

Taylor holds a few professional certifications, including the Certified Ethical Hacker credential, which he describes as “a bit of an oxymoron.”

“Ethical means to choose the right path, while the term hacking is associated with breaking and destroying. So, the ethical hacker certification means I can legally — with specific permissions — break into systems in order to show companies their vulnerabilities and how the problems can be fixed,” he explained.

Serious breaches into corporate and institutional computer systems have made headlines lately, Taylor said, and managing cybersecurity is a growing field. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for information security analysts is expected to increase by 31 percent over the next decade.

Dr. Scott Hunsinger, chair of and professor in App State’s CIS department, said, “Our cybersecurity concentration with the CIS degree will allow students to learn the skills necessary to protect companies from malicious hackers and ransomware attacks. I am thrilled Chris Taylor is serving as our cybersecurity program coordinator.”

Taylor has developed and taught multiple CIS courses, including Managing Security, Audit Analytics  and Ethical Hacking and Countermeasures.

Picking locks and breaking codes

When Taylor began as an instructor at App State in 2011, he was working full time for a cybersecurity firm. He has since transitioned to a full-time faculty member but retains a consultant position in the firm to keep his knowledge of real-world security threats up to date.

In his classes, Taylor teaches hands-on skills, from physical lock-picking to digital security applications.

“Some organizations spend a lot of time and money on their technology but have a cheap door lock to protect their secure areas,” Taylor…