Network security lesson idea: teaching with router simulators

Network security lesson idea
A simulator for a NetGear router

Network security

Network security is an important topic that links to many aspects of the ITGS syllabus. Strand 2.5 Home and Leisure specifically mentions the security of home networks. There are obvious ties to other strands too, including 2.1 Business and employment, 2.2 Education and training, and 2.4 Health. Wireless networks bring many advantages over wired networks but also present new security issues of which ITGS students must be aware. This is important not just for their studies, but for their everyday lives.

In my textbook I describe a lesson idea where students create a security advice booklet for new computer users. I know some teachers who are lucky enough to have spare networking hardware which their students use to actually create and configure networks themselves. First hand experience is always an excellent way to learn. Another great idea is to use home router simulators. I discovered these recently and found them a very useful classroom tool.

Network security simulators
Router simulators are available for a variety of router models

These simulators recreate a router’s configuration page, allowing users to experiment with a variety of settings without compromising a real network. All settings found in the real routers are present, from automatic downloading of firmware updates to MAC address blocking. Comparing these simulators with the routers I own or have owned, I could find no discernible differences.

ITGS Lesson ideas

A great lesson idea is to have students research the basics of network security and wireless network security online. They can then use one of these simulators to put theory into practice. Students could use DTP software to present their findings by creating a step-by-step guide to securing a home network. Screenshots could show the settings they have chosen, with a explanation of why in each case. The range of simulators available online is wide enough that many students will be able to find one for the router they have at home. In this case a follow-up activity could be to compare their settings from the simulator with the actual settings on their home router.

LinkSys router simulator
Configuring the wireless encryption on a simulated router

These router simulators could be useful for learning network security both in ITGS and in IB Computer Science. Simulators are available from a number of companies, including Belkin, NetGear, and LinkSys (a full LinkSys list can be found here).

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