Tech

Bridgewater State CyberSec Program Sets Bar for Applied Training

A new approach to cybersecurity education may help produce qualified cyber experts with real-life training.

Colleges and universities are starting to offer specialized undergraduate courses in cybersecurity as part of their computer science degrees. However, these programs often lack hands-on training in mitigating cyberattacks.

It is not uncommon for corporate employers to complain about graduates applying for IT jobs without any hands-on cyber experience, according to Steve Zuromski, CIO at Bridgewater State University. This gap drove officials to create a unique cyber training program to fill that void.

With the demand for cyber jobs through the roof, students often lack interest or awareness of the need for this training, even within dedicated computer degree programs. The unique approach bridges the gap and gives students hands-on practical experience.

“We know there is really a national and, frankly, worldwide crisis concerning cyber. That is where our role is. That is where we fit in — building and diversifying the talent pipeline in Massachusetts,” Zuromski told TechNewsWorld.

Comprehensive Cyber Training for All Ages

The cyber training efforts, however, do not aim at only attracting university-level students, offered Michelle Stanfield, director of Bridgewater’s Cyber Range. Not only is it a resource for degree-seeking students, but its fully functional Cyber Range is also a resource to ensure the entire community gains a better cyber perspective.

The cyber facilities staff works with different municipalities and anyone with an initial career thinking about upskilling through its certification programs. The Cyber Center also works with K-12 programming to acquaint students with cybersecurity at the earliest stages.

“They have the opportunity to learn and be exposed to a field they may not know anything about,” Stanfield told TechNewsWorld.

This cyber program, called CASE, includes Bridgewater’s Center for the Advancement of STEM Education. Bridgewater State developed a module for high school students who can come into the Cyber Range lab for four to five hours to participate in an immersive experience, she added.

Bridgewater’s Cyber Range and the Security Operations Center (SOC) serve two separate purposes, according to Zuromski.

The Cyber Range is virtual. It provides students and other external groups the ability to come in and train in a protected space. The lab creates different cybersecurity crisis scenarios that mimic attacks found in the wild. It allows people to train in a safe virtualized environment where they cannot hurt anything.

The SOC, a separate physical facility on the campus, is designed in partnership with CyberTrust Massachusetts. That center, staffed with CTM’s staff and Bridgewater’s cyber students, monitors live events from municipalities and nonprofits.

Cybersecurity Bootcamp Simulations for Real-World Readiness

The Cyber Range offers visiting students and participants from external organizations a five-hour mockup experience few will soon forget. It also turns on their interest in the need for cybersecurity, Zuromski noted.

They come into the range acting as the cybersecurity team for a video game. The company soon comes under a ransomware attack. They come to Bridgewater State, sit down, and suddenly an attack happens. The lights go from green to red. The desks shake a bit, so a sense of panic gets them excited.

Students at Bridgewater State University Cyber Range receive real-world cybersecurity training

During this experience, they figure out how the attack occurred. Then, they need to make a plan and report to the CEO and board. The plan needs to include what happened, how we can prevent this from happening again, and whether the company should pay the ransom, explained Zuromski.

“It really is a state-of-the-art facility designed to train people. Not just in the room, but we can also train people remotely at the same time. We can reach a very wide audience here and mimic what it is like for corporate customers,” he observed.

The best part of Bridgewater’s on-premises cyber training is the practical experience of working in the SOC. Students receive high-quality, affordable, and accessible cyber education. They gain practical experience in a safe virtualized environment at the Cyber Range. Then, they go into the SOC and get the actual live experience, all before they graduate.

“Plus, it benefits those municipalities and nonprofits that did not have that protection to begin with. So it is a win-win all around,” said Zuromski.

State-of-the-Art Cyber Training Facility

The range spans 1,200 square feet, featuring 24 workstations and dual-screen monitors. Fully grant-funded by the federal, state, and local governments, it cost nearly US$4 million.

The facility includes stadium-style seating, an 18-foot by seven-foot ultra-high-definition video wall, video cameras throughout, and confidence monitors on the sides and back.

Bridgewater State University Cyber Range facility

A control room in the back houses students or other professional staff working to help control the room’s theatrics. Lighting integrated throughout the ceiling grid and at the back of the room provides a halo effect around the giant video wall.

“We even have lighting around the ribbon, a top ribbon banner on the top, and integrated throughout the furniture within the room. All really kind of designed to deliver that immersive cybersecurity training experience,” said Zuromski.

Expanding Cyber Training Programs

According to Stanfield, Bridgewater is building out its catalog of offerings for external audiences and expects to be available this summer. That new program will include an extensive catalog of experiences from cyber team sins — an activity where teams come together to figure out how to solve anything from ransomware to DDoS attacks.

“We also fully intend to be able to do individual training. So, for example, if companies feel that their security professionals need to learn a specific skill, we will be able to offer that as well,” she explained.

The hard-core academic side of cybersecurity is also growing, Zuromski noted. The Massachusetts Board of Higher Education recently approved offering a full cybersecurity curriculum as a degree.

The university has already received over 200 applications for the bachelor’s degree program starting this fall.

Editor’s Note: The images featured in this article are courtesy of Bridgewater State University.

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