CITES haunted house shows horrors of cyberspace

Erica Magda

Erica Magda

By Eric Heisig

Walking in the dark, surrounded by creepy monsters along the way, a visitor carefully steps forward, asking himself, “What could be wrong with my computer?”

The horrors of computer security were explained uniquely in a haunted house set up by Campus Information Technologies and Educational Services on Wednesday afternoon at the Illini Union.

“The security team and the computer help desk had to find a way to do Computer Security Month in October,” Brian Mertz, documentation specialist for CITES, said. “Since it is close to Halloween, we decided to do a haunted house.”

Ryan Sharpe, a user service specialist at CITES, played the role of the “laptop thief” in the haunted house. He said the planning team chose some of the more visual problems to show people their dangers.

The haunted house consisted of four terrifying parts, which represented some of the recurring issues CITES hears about. The visitors were first led to an exhibit on laptop protection, where they witnessed the crime of an unidentified man stealing a laptop. The cloaked tour guide, played by Mertz, explained the growing problem of laptop theft. Mertz explained that more people are buying laptop computers instead of desktop computers and that a computer lock will help prevent it from theft.

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    Around the corner came frightening file sharing. A masked man, identified as Nathan Carpenter, a user service specialist, gives the visitors a CD.

    “Here’s a copy of the movie ‘Superbad,'” Carpenter said.

    The visitors were then taken to a black light set up on a wall. The CD, when it was held under the black light, was labeled as “Stolen Credit Card.” Mertz said file-sharing programs, where users can download music and videos, can often hack into a computer and get personal information.

    “(File-sharing programs like) Limewire are threats,” Carpenter said. “Your computer is essentially an open machine.”

    Visitors of the haunted house were then escorted to an area “crawling” with computer viruses. As the visitors moved forward, they encountered an onslaught of spider webs, snakes and animals. The set was designed to show the “horrors” of Internet security and how easy it is to get caught with viruses.

    Mertz said to be sure to download the free anti-virus software offered by the University to avoid such virus problems.

    Finally, the visitors came to a barrage of horrifying images that were projected on a wall. The flashing images were of people’s profiles that were available through social networking sites, like Facebook and MySpace. Mertz said it is important to not make passwords for these sites public. Mertz added that displaying addresses or birthdays can make it is easy for people to obtain sensitive personal information.

    CITES will continue Computer Security Month today from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. with a laptop clinic at the Undergraduate Library in Room 295.