New cybersecurity range at UC will teach quick response to cyber threats

CINCINNATI - A new cyber range unveiled on Tuesday at the University of Cincinnati will become a virtual training ground for students, emergency responders and business leaders to learn how to defend against cyberattacks.

UC leaders hope the Ohio Cyber Range, developed with the help of a $1.9 million state grant, boosts the region as a pipeline for cybersecurity talent.

“The end goal: Southwest Ohio will become the region's and the nation’s biggest and most reliable source of IT talent, particularly in the concentration of cybersecurity,” said Hazem Said, director of the UC School of Information Technology.

Cyber experts liken the new virtual facility to a shooting range where police officers go for target practice. The cyber range will allow students, and eventually state emergency responders and business IT leaders, to learn how to quickly defend against sophisticated attacks.

“The whole idea of cybersecurity is to put doors and locks on your house,” Said said. “We built a digital economy in this Information Age, which is like building walls on a home. Cybersecurity is like adding the windows and the doors, locks and keys.”

Several years ago Gov. John Kasich asked state leaders to develop stronger cybersecurity infrastructure and strengthen Ohio’s cyber workforce.

That led to the creation of the Ohio Cyber Collaboration Committee, a group of more than 200 from public, private, military and educational organizations.

Once the committee came up with the idea for a cyber range and began scouting a site for it, they realized that UC already had a framework in place.

In 2013 two UC senior IT students designed a “Sandbox” virtual computing system that the university eventually decided to implement it at the school with a $500,000 investment.

“When the state came to us, we showed them the Sandbox and our expertise … and the state was very excited because they are not starting from scratch, they are able to leverage the five years of experience we already have,” Said said. “What the state support allows us to do is grow our existing capabilities to higher levels than before.”

The $1.9 million state grant will allow the Sandbox system to be expanded into a cyber range that is eventually accessible by all Ohio high school and college students, as well as the private sector.

“A company can use the range as a hands-on learning tool for its interns in a secure environment that is not tied to their network,” said Maj. Gen. Mark E. Bartman, adjutant general of the Ohio National Guard. “The cyber range will also support emergency cyber exercises with Ohio National Guard and the Ohio emergency management agencies.”

The range will be a virtual training ground for cybersecurity exercises and competitions to train in incident response, Bartman said.

UC is gradually expanding the number of high school districts that may use the cyber range.

This year UC’s School of Information piloted a program to train high school teachers how to teach IT courses in their classrooms, so that students have the necessary skills for the cyber range. That program will reach 18 school districts and 20 high schools in the coming school year.

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