A Tutoring System for IT Security
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A Tutoring System for IT Security

The ``I LOVE YOU'' virus and the ``CodeRed'' worm have demonstrated how vulnerable today's IT systems are to hacker attacks. However, many risks can be avoided if both users and IT responsibles are sensitized to and trained for IT security.

For that reason, the Institute for Telematics develops a tutoring system, called LERNPLATTFORM IT-SICHERHEIT, that provides knowledge tailored to specific user groups. In contrast to other tutoring systems, exercises are not performed in a restricted simulation environment but on a real system. This allows the learner to easily apply his skills in practice.

The tutoring system is based on the Linux operating system. Many free security tools are available for Linux which make this open source OS an ideal platform. The tutoring system does not only provide Linux-specific contents but also covers general security aspects. The covered topics will include cryptography, authentication, intrusion detection, firewalls, network-sniffing, viruses, and security scanning.

Depending on the type of user, the requirements with regard to IT security may vary strongly. For instance, a typical end user needs information on the secure exchange of emails; but in contrast to a system administrator, he is not concerned with aspects of intrusion detection. Similarly, the depth in which a topic should be discussed may vary depending on the user profile. The tutoring system takes this into account by compiling information and exercises individually for each user group.

When using the Lernplattform, a user acts in a complete Linux environment. The interaction with the tutoring system takes places via a web browser that presents the information in a familiar and structured way. The exercises are made on the user's Linux system by invoking command line tools or X applications.

Architecture of the tutoring system

The presented contents falls into one of the following three categories:

  • Theoretical knowledge on the given subject
  • Technical descriptions for software tools and the configuration of the operating system and applications
  • Practical exercises based on the contents provided before

In advance to each exercise, the tutoring system configures the Linux system in such a way that the exercise can be performed correctly and leads to the desired result. For example, important system files are modified so that the user is able to detect certain services. To practice the usage of certificates, the tutoring system creates a virtual partner with whom the user can exchange encrypted and signed emails.

Exercises for the encryption and signing of emails

An important prerequisite for self-study is specific assistance and assessment of the learning process by the tutoring system. In case of problems, the user is supported by queries and tips for fault analysis. At the end of an exercise, the results and answers are checked for correctness by the tutoring system. A glossary allows to lookup unknown acronyms or terms that are mentioned in the text.

The learning progress can be watched on a statistics page at any time. Beside an overview of which chapters have been visited/completed, the tutoring system tracks the time spent in each section. Among others, this information is intended to be used for optimizing the size and structure of the learning contents.

The case that a user corrupts his system by misconfiguration is also taken into account. The tutoring system is going to be started completely from a CD. After reboot, the user can proceed at the place where he left the system. For that purpose, all user-specific information is stored on disk and read when the user logs in again. Alternatively, techniques are evaluated that allow to offer the tutoring system online via the Internet. In this scenario, exercises might be performed within a virtual machine on a server.