Dawson College Student Expelled for Exposing Security Flaws, Receives Job Offer
After Hamed Al-Khabaz, a twenty year-old computer science major at Dawson College in Montreal, Canada, discovered a flaw in the campus’s online academic portal, he soon found himself in some unexpected trouble. Although Al-Khabaz claimed that his discovery of the security breach was unintentional, and further investigated it out of altruism, the administration at Dawson were less than pleased, and subsequently expelled Al-Khabaz for violating the school’s code of conduct. But now, Al-Khabaz’s actions have resulted in a surprising turn of events: a job offer from the security software company that developed the software itself.
The event in question took place in September, when Al-Khabaz and a fellow student discovered the flaw in the online portal powered by Omnivox by accident while working on a project for the school’s software development club. Al-Khabaz and his friend found that by using other student’s ID numbers in the encrypted links found in the portal, they were able to obtain information that could lead to identity theft, such as social insurance numbers, phone numbers, and home addresses for the 250,000 students using the software in colleges across Quebec.
“I was just trying to help and make sure our data was safe,” Al-Khabaz told CBC Montreal’s Daybreak.
After immediately informing the head of the school’s information technology department, Al-Khabaz was first thanked for making the discovery. A few days later, however, Al-Khabaz ran a program to check to see if the problem had been resolved. Upon doing so, he almost immediately received a phone call from Skytech, the development company responsible for Omnivox, who then informed him that he was guilty of launching a cyber attack which could result in jail time. The company then informed him that he must either sign a non-disclosure agreement or face prosecution.
“I just wanted to get back into school. I had to collaborate with them. I was pretty scared at that point and I didn’t want to get my education ruined,” said Al-Khabaz.
Despite his cooperation with Skytech, Al-Khabaz then found himself in trouble with Dawson itself. Claiming that regardless of his stated intentions, Al-Khabaz had still violated the school’s code of conduct, and the only option available was expulsion.
“[If] you look at the Criminal Code, it is clear that if someone is having access without authorization to any computer service, he is … guilty in a criminal act,” said Dawson director general Richard Fillion. “We’re not doing this blindly, we’re not doing this with happiness, but we had to consider a serious breach in these values and principles.”
After being forced to leave the school, a number of students and staff members at Dawson have rallied around Al-Khabaz in hopes of overturning the decision for expulsion. Among his sympathizers is the Dawson Student Union, who immediately appealed for Al-Khabaz’s reinstatement.
“Hamed is a brilliant computer science student who simply wanted to help his school,” said Morgan Crockett, director of internal affairs and advocacy at the Dawson Student Union. “Dawson College should be thankful for his talent and foresight. They must immediately reinstate Hamed, refund the debt he has incurred as a result of his unjust expulsion and offer him a public apology.”
Although all requests for Al-Khabaz to return to Dawson have so far been denied, Skytech has taken a more thankful view of the expelled student, and hope to use his abilities to help further improve their software. The company has now offered Al-Khabaz a scholarship to help him complete his degree and a part-time job working in technological security.
“We will offer him a scholarship so he can finish his diploma in the private sector,” said Edouard Taza, the president of Skytech.
While some good has now resulted from the event, Al-Khabaz maintains that all he really wants is to return to his old school and put the entire fiasco behind him.
“I really want to go back to school,” said Al-Khabaz. “I really love the teachers in computer science at Dawson College.”