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Cloud-based cyber range delivers statewide hands-on education

To boost the number of trained cybersecurity professionals in Virginia, Virginia Tech created the Virginia Cyber Range. It hosts educational modules in an Amazon Web Services cloud for use in college courses, laboratory exercises and realistic tactical cybersecurity trials at VT and at other eight other public institutions across the commonwealth.

The goal of the Cyber Range is to produce more graduates better prepared to enter the cybersecurity workforce. It will initially focus on four-year institutions and community colleges in Virginia, with plans to expand to K-12 students.

 “As we are looking to increase the number of students who have opportunities to take cybersecurity classes, hands-on experimental learning is incredibly important,” Scott Midkiff, VT’s vice president for IT and CIO, said during a June 13 AWS Public Sector Summit panel.

The Virginia Cyber Range also provides training for faculty and features courseware addressing digital forensics, network defense, securing the critical infrastructure and the “internet of things,” malware detection, usability and privacy issues as well as secure coding practices.  The cloud platform allows participating schools and agencies to easily access the materials and offers scalability and responsiveness, while minimizing costs.

Midkiff sees the center’s cybersecurity work as a complement to the Department of Defense’s Stafford, Va.-based Cyber Range, a realistic simulation and modeling network environment to test capabilities and train military personnel. VT’s cyber range allows for more experimentation and hands-on learning for students and faculty.

“There have been a number of cyber ranges out there, but we wanted to focus very much on education,” Midkiff said. “We want to create an environment where students are able to stimulate attacks and defenses in the virtual cloud.”

AWS supported the project through a “generous allowance of credits” and technical support, according to Midkiff. 

The Virginia Cyber Range brings together faculty from George Mason University, James Madison University, Longwood University, Norfolk State University, Virginia Tech and Radford University.  Faculty from Lord Fairfax Community College, Northern Virginia Community College and Tidewater Community College will also have access to the training at range.

The center was initially funded through legislative action, but that funding is currently set to expire at the end of the June 2018.  Therefore, Midkiff has been actively looking to secure additional funding through public-private partnerships. 

“We are looking to move toward a model that is sustainable through other mechanisms within two years,” Midkiff told GCN after the panel.  “There could be future state support in how we might deliver the program to do other things, but it’s uncertain at the moment, and there will always be cybersecurity needs.”

Midkiff is actively engaging with various federal agencies, private companies and other universities to invest in VT’s cybersecurity program.

In May, Virginia Tech was designated as a Center for Academic Excellence in Cyber Operations by the National Security Agency,  the first university in Virginia to receive the designation. 

About the Author

Sara Friedman is a reporter/producer for GCN, covering cloud, cybersecurity and a wide range of other public-sector IT topics.

Before joining GCN, Friedman was a reporter for Gambling Compliance, where she covered state issues related to casinos, lotteries and fantasy sports. She has also written for Communications Daily and Washington Internet Daily on state telecom and cloud computing. Friedman is a graduate of Ithaca College, where she studied journalism, politics and international communications.

Friedman can be contacted at sfriedman@gcn.com or follow her on Twitter @SaraEFriedman.

Click here for previous articles by Friedman.


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