InfoSec Students Use Software to Prepare for Business Worst Case Scenarios

 Information Systems

KENNESAW, Ga. (Feb 26, 2018) — Whenever a manmade or natural disaster forces a business to close, every minute that passes increases the likelihood that it will never reopen. However, a strong disaster recovery plan can prevent a temporary closure from becoming a permanent one.

Information Security and Assurance Professor Dr. Michael Whitman uses state-of-the-art technology in his classrooms to teach students how to respond to disasters in a way that keeps employees safe while helping ensure business continuity.

For the past 18 months, Whitman has used a commercially available software system called Preparis in his undergraduate and graduate incident response and disaster recovery classes. In the business world, Preparis helps organizations respond to crises like floods, fires, workplace violence, terrorist attacks, and cyber-attacks. In the classroom, the software allows Whitman to simulate similar incidents and have his students respond.

“I go into D2L and post a message simulating a crisis like a fire in the break room,” he says. “I tell the students that the fire department has it under control, but half the building has been destroyed. My students then have a 48-hour window to get emergency notifications pushed out.”

Students log into Preparis to notify their hypothetical employees and track the status of the incident, looking for instructions as to whether it is safe for employees to return to work or if the company will move operations to an alternate site. They are required to update employees every step of the way via Preparis’ electronic notification system.

To reinforce the fact that disasters often have global implications, Whitman assigns each student to monitor the incident as if they were working from different parts of the world. This affects what information they have access to and which employees they must contact.

Whitman says having access to commercial incident response software in the classroom provides students with valuable experience using the kinds of technology tools they will encounter in their careers.

“It’s an effective communications tool we can use to reinforce the lessons in our lectures,” he says. “Students gain a more detailed understanding of how to implement the theory of the textbook. It’s one thing to tell students the benefits of having a crisis management system, and it’s another to sit down and show them how they can click a button and tell 400 employees that it’s not safe to come into work.”

Dr. Traci Carte, Chair of the Coles College of Business Department of Information Systems, shares Whitman’s commitment to supplementing classroom lessons with practical experience.

“It is so important in an applied discipline like information security and assurance for students to experience real world applications like this one,” she says. “The ISA faculty do an amazing job of finding and leveraging opportunities like this to ensure our students get the best possible educational experience.”

Whitman routinely searches for new software to repurpose for classroom use. When he came across Preparis, he was impressed by the company’s practice of providing colleges and universities with free licenses for student use and of giving them full access to technical support resources. Whitman is so impressed with the software that he has begun integrating it into laboratory exercises for the next edition of the course textbook he co-authors with Dr. Herb Mattord, also a KSU Information Security and Assurance professor, which will be available to universities across the country.

“As long as Mother Nature, malicious hackers, and random accidents have the potential to grind businesses to a halt,” Whitman says, “it is vital that information security and information systems professionals know how to respond to these emergencies.

“My entire course is about planning for non-normal business operations,” he adds. “Anytime an outside factor impacts the organization, if that organization hasn’t planned for it, then it has the potential to stop the business. And the longer your business shuts down, the higher probability it won’t open again. Prudent organizations prepare for these contingencies.”

- Patrick Harbin