What Is a Cyber Range?
A cyber range is a place, both virtual and physical, designed for cyberwarfare training. It can be used by companies to assess readiness for an attack, or as a practice field for students looking to get into the cybersecurity field.
While some, like X-Force Command, are private, some states are using public funds to install cyber ranges at public colleges that can then be used throughout the public school system.
“It’s this virtual environment where you can practice skills and you can simulate attacks in a safe environment, so you can figure out how to combat against it, prevent it,” says Rebekah Michael, executive director of the Ohio Cyber Range at the University of Cincinnati.
The advantage of having the range at a university, like the Virginia Cyber Range at Virginia Tech University, is that the school takes care of the hardware, software installation and management and configuration, with the virtual space living in the cloud. This allows more schools to have access to the hands-on experience than they otherwise would.
“We take that burden away from them,” says David Raymond, director of the Virginia Cyber Range and deputy director of Virginia Tech’s IT Security Lab.
How Students Use Cyber Ranges
Whether it’s through simulations, competitions or lab drills, cyber ranges give students a place to visualize what they’re reading about in the classroom, something that Raymond says is essential for cyber education.
“They’ve got to be able to put hands on keyboards and apply some of the techniques that they’re learning in class,” he says. At Virginia Tech, Raymond says, students learn how to identify and penetrate vulnerabilities, properly secure web applications and build and test firewalls using two machines at once.
Once foundational skills are gained, cyber ranges also offer immersive simulations. “We just had a women in technology capture the flag competition last spring,” says Michael, “so they get in and run these exercises in competitions.”
This exercise is a little different than the game you remember from elementary school gym class. In such competitions, students break into teams and work to hack into each other’s virtual machines. Not only do they have to focus on infiltrating systems but they also have to be ready to defend themselves against similar attacks.
X-Force Command, based in Cambridge, Mass., offers educational options for high school and university students alike. Executive Director Christopher Crummey says the site hosted a capture the flag competition that included Tufts University, Northeastern University, Boston College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology — and the students who did the best didn’t play by the rules.
“They thought way outside the box,” Crummey says. “That’s how the bad guys think: They think outside the box.”