Kids at code camp get with the programming


At one local camp this summer, about 10 kids sat at computers creating their own worlds within the popular game “Minecraft.” In another room, two 11-year-old boys excitedly showed an instructor the game they created with the same platform used to develop games such as “Temple Run,” “Angry Birds” and “Hearthstone.”

There is no swimming or horseback riding at this camp. For the most part, it’s just a bunch of kids on their computers. But they’re not simply sitting around playing games; these campers learn to code by creating their own video games, websites, apps or mods in “Minecraft” (files that alter the programming code of the game to reflect the changes the user wants). 

This is CodeREV Tech Camp, the brainchild of Evan Boorman. Started less than two years ago, CodeREV Kids (short for code revolution) has seven summer camp locations — including at Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills and its headquarters in Santa Monica. Geared toward kids ages 6 to 15, summer courses are each one week long and cost about $550 for full-day sessions. A year-round, after-school membership program is also available, with individually designed programs that range from $189 to $285 per month.

“Learning to code helps with logic and advanced problem-solving skills with detail orientation and math,” said Boorman, 34. “We’re teaching kids to find answers for themselves. And we lead them there by asking questions: ‘How do you think you’ll do that? Why do you think that happens when you try that?’ ”

During a 14-year teaching career — whether teaching eighth-grade algebra or tutoring students to prepare for college — Boorman noticed how college graduates with coding skills were more likely to find high-paying jobs that made them happy doing work they enjoyed. His own friends were prime examples of that. So, seven years after he started teaching, he taught himself how to code. He also learned through working on projects with friends building websites. 

What he found, though, is that schools aren’t catching up fast enough with including coding and programming classes in their everyday curriculum. That led him to create CodeREV’s first camp during the winter months of 2014 with the support of some friends and family. What started as a group of about 24 kids learning how to code using “Minecraft” has grown in less than two years to an organization with more than 1,000 enrolled children this summer, approximately 100 members and partnerships with about 30 schools in the Los Angeles area. 

Seated at his desk in his office located at the Santa Monica camp with around 30 campers talking and laughing loudly in the rooms below, Boorman looked every bit the proud parent. 

Boorman himself comes from an accomplished Jewish family. His father, a doctor, is an adjunct professor at UCLA who teaches medicine, and his mother, a computer software consultant, was a math professor at the University of Michigan. His identical twin brother, Erie, is a neuroscientist and postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Oxford studying brain networks involved in the decision-making process.

But more than his parents, Boorman identifies with his maternal grandfather, an Austrian-Hungarian Jew who survived the concentration camps, came to the United States and built a new life for himself. 

“My grandfather came here with nothing, not knowing the language,” Boorman said. “He taught himself English from Westerns and working at a gas station. He worked up to supporting his family and owning a house in Brentwood. He was self-taught. I idolized him. That’s how I think I developed the entrepreneurial spirit.” 

CodeREV — which does offer kids breaks every day for fun off-computer activities — is Boorman’s second business. After graduating from UC Santa Barbara, he started Tailored Tutoring, a company that helps students with college preparatory work. 

Although he himself doesn’t teach, Boorman visits each camp weekly to check in, answering questions from students and making suggestions to instructors on teaching methods, if needed. 

Anson Goode, director of the CodeREV camp located at Temple Emanuel, said he works at the camp because “the future of our engineers and programmers is here and I’m a part of that.” 

“I wish I had had a camp like this when I was growing up,” Goode, 24, said. “My first exposure to coding and programming was when I was in college. When these kids get to college, they’re gonna know so much more [than I did].”

One of those kids is Helaman Forsythe. The 13-year-old gamer is already looking forward to coming back next summer. Forsythe said he wanted to learn how video games work, and his father found the camp for him, which beats staying at home. 

“The camp is like playing video games,” Forsythe said. “But better.”

Flame virus can sabotage computers, attack Iran, expert says


The powerful Flame computer virus is not only capable of espionage but it can also sabotage computer systems and likely was used to attack Iran in April, according to a leading security company, Symantec Corp.

Iran had previously blamed Flame for causing data loss on computers in the country’s main oil export terminal and Oil Ministry. But prior to Symantec’s discovery, cyber experts had only unearthed evidence that proved Flame could spy on conversations on the computers it infects and steal data.

Symantec researcher Vikram Thakur said on Thursday that the company has now identified a component of Flame that allows operators to delete files from computers, which means it can cause critical programs to fail or completely disable operating systems.

“These guys have the capability to delete everything on the computer,” Thakur said. “This is not something that is theoretical. It is absolutely there.”

Flame was deployed at least five years ago and is the most sophisticated cyber spying program ever discovered. Researchers have been racing to better understand its capabilities ever since Moscow-based Kaspersky Lab uncovered Flame last month after the security firm was asked by a United Nations agency to look for a virus that Iran said had sabotaged its computers, deleting valuable data.

Last week, researchers at Kaspersky Lab linked some of the software code in Flame to the Stuxnet cyber weapon, which was widely believed to have been used by the United States and Israel to attack Iran’s nuclear program. Symantec later also said Stuxnet and Flame shared some code.

Current and former U.S. and Western national security officials told Reuters this week that the United States played a role in creating Flame. The Washington Post reported that U.S. and Israel jointly developed Flame and used it to collect intelligence to help slow Iran’s nuclear program.

Iran complained about the threat of cyber attacks again on Thursday, saying it had detected plans by the United States, Israel and Britain to launch a “massive” strike after the breakdown of talks over Tehran’s nuclear activities. . It was not clear if the cyber attack referred to Flame, or a new virus.

Symantec declined to comment on who the firm believes is behind Flame.

INFRASTRUCTURE AT RISK

If Symantec’s conclusions are validated, that means Flame could be used as a weapon to attack computers that run critical infrastructure systems, including dams, chemical plants and manufacturing facilities, security specialists said.

Boldizsár Bencsath, an expert on cyber warfare with Hungary’s Laboratory of Cryptography and System Security, said there was at least a 70 percent chance that Flame was used to attack Iran in April.

“Of course it can be used for sabotage,” said Bencsath, who began investigating Flame several weeks before it was first reported to the public. “It may have been used to attack critical infrastructure and it may be used in the future.”

Sean McGurk, a former Department of Homeland Security official who helped direct the U.S. effort to protect critical infrastructure from cyber attacks, said that Flame was not the first piece of malicious software designed to sabotage systems by deleting data.

What makes it unique, he said, is that the data-wiping module works alongside a suite of other programs including the espionage tools that have previously been identified.

“It could render computing devices useless,” said McGurk, who is now chief executive of a consulting firm known as NExt Generation Micro LLC.

That presents a threat, he said, because computers are used in all sorts of industrial control systems, affecting everything from critical processes at manufacturing plants to the pressure inside water networks. “Cyber elements can have catastrophic impacts,” he said.

Neil Fisher, vice president for global security solutions at Unisys, said Symantec’s findings – if verified – mean that Flame could be “highly dangerous.”

“Many of our utilities have connected their operational management to the Internet to save costs,” he said.

“Water, gas, electricity certainly constitute the critical national infrastructure,” he added. “Dysfunction of those … systems could have uncomfortable consequences for a large number of people.”