Living our Mission Blog Series: How Tony Hammerling, Curriculum Developer, Orchestrates a Symphony of Cyber Learning at Circadence

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Circadence’s Curriculum Developer Tony Hammerling wasn’t always interested in a career in cyber—but he was certainly made for it. In fact, he initially wanted to be a musician! While his musical talents didn’t pan out for him early in his career, he quickly learned how to create unique harmonies using computers instead of instruments…After joining the Navy in 1995 as a Cryptologist and Morse Code operator, he transitioned to a Cryptologic Technician Networks professional where he performed network analysis and social network/persona analysis. It was there he learned more offensive and defensive strategies pertinent to cyber security and was introduced to network types and communication patterns. He moved to Maryland to do offensive analysis and then retired in Pensacola, Florida. The world of cyber grew on Tony and he enjoyed the digital accompaniment of the work it offered.

For the last few years, now settled in Pensacola, Florida, Tony is a critical part of Circadence’s Curriculum Team, working alongside colleagues to develop learning objectives and routes for players using platforms like inCyt, Project Ares, and other cyber games like NexAgent, Circadence’s immersive network exploration game. Currently, Tony and his team are focused on building out learning of network essentials in NexAgent, and “…are bridging the gap between what new IT professional’s learn in NexAgent and getting them onto more advanced learning pathways in Project Ares,” says Tony.

“We’re starting to introduce new content for [Project Ares] battle rooms so users coming out of NexAgent can have an understanding of the tools and techniques needed for more advanced learning of cyber defense—and actually apply those tools and techniques in realistic scenarios.”

As the technical subject matter expert for cyber curriculum, Tony digs into the details with his work—and that’s where he shines. Tony and his team ensure that user learning is reflective of today’s cyber attacks and vulnerabilities. In the next iteration of NexAgent, users will be able to focus on network segmentation using election security as the theme for game-play. From separating election polling servers to working with registration databases to designing networks to prevent election fraud, learning becomes much more interesting for the end-user.

The most exciting part about Tony’s job is the diversity of material he gets to work on every day. One day he could be helping end-users of Project Ares identify fraudulent IP addresses in a battle room and another day he could be working on a full-scale technical design of a SCADA system modeled after a cyber incident at a Ukrainian power plant.

By understanding corporate demands for new content, Tony and his team have more direction to build out cyber learning curriculum that aligns to customer’s needs. He believes the technical training he’s able to support with learning material in Circadence’s platforms complements traditional cyber learning paths like obtaining certifications and attending off-site classes. The variety of learning options for users of all cyber ability levels (both technical and non-technical), gives professionals the opportunity to be more thoughtful in their day-to-day lives, more critical and discerning of vulnerabilities and systems, and more creative in how they address threats.

“Knowing that people are able to come into a Circadence product and learn something that they didn’t know before or refine specific knowledge into an application/skill-based path is exciting. I don’t think too much of the greater impact my work provides—but perhaps 10 years down the line when we can say ‘we were the first to gamify and scale cyber training,’ it will mean so much more.”

We are grateful for the unique talents Tony brings to the Circadence family of products and how he’s able to craft learning “chords” that when orchestrated, provide a symphonic concerto of cyber learning activity—empowering cyber professionals across the globe with relevant, persistent, and scalable cyber training options to suit their security needs.

Photo by Marius Masalar on Unsplash

Photo by Alphacolor on Unsplash

 

Why Alternatives to Traditional Cyber Training Are Needed Immediately

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Are you looking for a more effective, cost-conscious cyber training tool that actually teaches competencies and cyber skills? We’ve been there. Let us share our perspective on the top cyber training alternatives to complement or supplement your organization’s current training efforts.

Cyber training has evolved over the years but not at pace with the rapid persistence of cybercrime. Cyberattacks impact businesses of all sizes and it’s only a matter of time before your business is next in line. Traditional cyber training has been comprised of individuals sitting in a classroom environment, off-site, reading static materials, listening to lectures, and if you’re lucky, performing step-by-step, prescriptive tasks to “upskill” and “learn.” Unfortunately, this model isn’t working anymore. Learners are not retaining concepts and are disengaged from the learning process. This means by the time they make it back to your company to defend your networks, they’ve likely forgotten most of the new concepts that you sent them to learn about in the first place. Read more on the disadvantages of passive cyber training here.

So, what cyber training alternatives are available for building competency and skill among professionals? More importantly, why do you need a better way to train professionals? We hope this blog helps answer these questions.

Cyber Range Training

Cyber ranges provide trainees with simulated (highly scalable, small number of servers) or emulated (high fidelity testing using real computers, OS, and application) environments to practice skills such as defending networks, hardening critical infrastructure (ICS/SCADA) and responding to attacks. They simulate realistic technical settings for professionals to practice network configurations and detect abnormalities and anomalies in computer systems. While simulated ranges are considered more affordable than emulated ranges, several academic papers question whether test results from a simulation reflect a cyber pro’s workplace reality.

Traditional Cyber Security Training

Courses can be taken in a classroom setting from certified instructors (like a SANS course), self-paced over the Internet, or in mentored settings in cities around the world. Several organizations offer online classes too, for professionals looking to hone their skills in their specific work role (e.g. incident response analyst, ethical hacker). Online or in-classroom training environments are almost exclusively built to cater to offensive-type cyber security practices and are highly prescriptive when it comes to the learning and the process for submitting “answers”/ scoring.

However, as cyber security proves to be largely a “learn by doing” skillset, where outside-of-the-box thinking, real-world, high fidelity virtual environments, and on-going training are crucially important, attendees of traditional course trainings are often left searching for more cross-disciplined opportunities to hone their craft over the long term. Nevertheless, online trainings prove a good first step for professionals who want foundational learnings from which they can build upon with more sophisticated tools and technologies.

Gamified, Cyber Range, Cloud-Based Training

It wouldn’t be our blog if we didn’t mention Project Ares as a recommended, next generation alternative to traditional cyber training for professionals because it uses gamified backstories to engage learners in activities.  And, it combines the benefits and convenience of online, cyber range training with the power of AI and machine learning to automate and augment trainee’s cyber competencies.

Our goal is to create a learning experience that is engaging, immersive, fun, and challenges trainee thinking in ways most authentic to cyber scenarios they’d experience in their actual jobs.

Project Ares was built with an active-learning approach to teaching, which studies show increase information retention among learners to 75% compared to passive-learning models.

Check out the comparison table below for details on the differences between traditional training models and what Project Ares delivers.

Traditional Training
(classroom and online delivery of lectured based material)
Project Ares
(immersive environment for hands on, experiential learning)
Curriculum Design

  • Instructors are generally experts in their field and exceptional classroom facilitators.
  • Often hired to develop a specific course.
  • It can take up to a year to build a course and it might be used for as long as 5 years, with updates.
  • Instructors are challenged to keep pace with evolving threats and to update course material frequently enough to reflect today’s attack surface in real time.
  • It is taught the same way every time.
Curriculum Design

  • Cyber subject matter experts partner with instructional design specialists to reengineer real-world threat scenarios into immersive, learning-based exercises.
  • An in-game advisor serves as a resource for players to guide them through activities, minimizing the need for physical instructors and subsequent overhead.
  • Project Ares is drawn from real-world threats and attacks, so content is always relevant and updated to meet user’s needs.
Learning Delivery

  • Courses are often concept-specific going deep on a narrow subject. And it can take multiple courses to cover a whole subject area.
  • Students take the whole course or watch the whole video – for example, if a student knows 70%, they sit through that to get to the 30% that is new to them.
  • On Demand materials are available for reference (sometimes for an additional fee) and are helpful for review of complex concepts.   But this does not help student put the concepts into practice.
  • Most courses teach offensive concepts….from the viewpoint that it is easier to teach how to break the network and then assumes that students will figure out how to ‘re-engineer’ defense. This approach can build a deep foundational understanding of concepts but it is not tempered by practical ‘application’ until students are back home facing real defensive challenges.
Learning  Delivery

  • Wherever a user is in his/her cyber security career path, Project Ares meets them at their level and provides a curriculum pathway.
  • From skills to strategy:   Students / Players can use the Project Ares platform to refresh skills, learn new skills, test their capabilities on their own and, most critically, collaborate with teammates to combine techniques and critical thinking to successfully reach the end of a mission.
  • It takes a village to defend a network, sensitive data, executive leaders, finances, and an enterprises reputation:  This approach teaches and enables experience of the many and multiple skills and job roles that come together in the real-world to detect and respond to threats and attacks….
  • Project Ares creates challenging environments that demand the kind of problem solving and strategic thinking necessary to create an effective and evolving defensive posture
  • Project Ares Battle Rooms and Missions present real-world problems that need to be solved, not just answered. It is a higher-level learning approach.

If you want to learn more about Project Ares and how it stacks up to other training options out there, watch our on-demand webinar “Get Gamified: Why Cyber Learning Happens Better With Games” featuring our VP of Global Partnerships, Keenan Skelly.

  You can also contact our experts at info@circadence.com or schedule a demo to see it in action!

Photo by Helloquence on Unsplash

When cyber security meets machine learning

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What happens when cyber security and machine learning work together? The results are pretty positive. Many technologies are leveraging machine learning in cyber security functions nowadays in order to automate and augment their cyber workforce. How? Most recently in training and skill building.

Machine learning helps emulate human cognition (e.g. learning based on experiences and patterns rather than inference) so autonomous agents in a cyber security system for instance, can “teach themselves” how to build models for pattern recognition—while engaging with real human cyber professionals.

Machine learning as a training support system

Machine learning becomes particularly valuable in cyber security training for professionals when it can support human activities like malware detection, incident response, network analysis, and more. One way machine learning shows up is in our gamified cyber learning platform Project Ares, under our AI-advisor “Athena” who generates responses to player’s queries when they get stuck on an activity and/or need hints to progress through a problem.

Athena generates a response from its learning corpus, using machine learning to aggregate and correlate all player conversations it has, while integrating knowledge about each player in the platform to recommend the most efficient path to solving a problem. It’s like modeling the “two heads are better than one” saying, but with a lot more “heads” at play.

Machine learning as an autonomous adversary

Likewise, machine learning models provide a general mechanism for organization-tailored obscuring of malicious intent during professional training—enabling adversaries to disguise their network traffic or on-system behavior to look more typical to evade detection. Machine learning’s ability to continually model and adapt enables the technology to persist undetected for longer (if it is acting as an autonomous agent against a trainee in our platform). This act challenges the trainee in the platform in a good way, so they begin to think like an adversary and understand their response to defensive behavior.

Machine learning supports cyber skills building

Companies like Uber use machine learning to understand the various routes a driver takes to transport people from point A to point B. It uses data collected to recommend the most efficient route to its destination.

It increases the learning potential for professionals looking to hone their cyber skills and competencies using machine learning.

Now imagine that concept applied to cyber training in a way that can both help cyber pros through cyber activities while also activating a trainee’s cognitive functions in ways we previously could not with traditional, off-site courses.

Machine learning abilities can analyze user behavior for both fraud detection and malicious network activity. It can aggregate and enrich data from multiple sources, act as virtual assistants with specialized knowledge, and augment cyber operators’ daily tasks. It’s powerful stuff!

To learn more about machine learning and AI in cyber training, download our white paper “Upskilling Cyber Teams with Artificial Intelligence and Gamified Learning.”

Photo by Startup Stock Photos from Pexels

How Cyber Security Can Be Improved

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Every day we get more interconnected and that naturally widens the threat surface for cybercriminals. In order to protect vulnerabilities and keep pace with hacker methods, security – and non-security professionals must understand how to protect themselves (and their companies). And that involves looking for new ways to improve cyber security. To start, we believe cyber security can be improved by focusing on three areas: enterprise-wide cyber awareness programs, within cyber teams via persistent training, and in communication between the C-suite and the CISO. Check out our recommendations below and if you have a strategy that worked to improve cyber security in your company or organization, we’d love to hear about it.

Company-Wide Security Awareness Programs

Regardless of company size or budget, every person employed at a business should understand fundamental cyber concepts so they can protect themselves from malicious hackers. Failure to do so places the employee and the company at risk of being attacked and could result in significant monetary and reputation damages.

Simple knowledge of what a phishing email looks like, what an unsecured website looks like, and implications of sharing personal information on social media are all topics that can be addressed in a company-wide security program. Further, staff should understand how hackers work and what kinds of tactics they use to get information on a victim to exploit. Reports vary but a most recent article from ThreatPost notes that phishing attempts have doubled in 2018 with new scams on the rise every day.

But where and how should companies start building a security awareness program—not to mention a program that staff will actually take seriously and participate in?

We believe in the power of gamified learning to engage employees in cyber security best practices.

Our mobile app inCyt helps novice and non-technical professionals learn the ins and outs of cyber security from hacking methods to understanding cyber definitions. The game allows employees to play against one another in a healthy, yet competitive, manner. Players have digital “hackables” they have to protect in the game while trying to steal other player’s assets for vulnerabilities to exploit. The back and forth game play teaches learners how and why attacks occur in the first place and where vulnerabilities exist on a variety of digital networks.

By making the learning fun, it shifts the preconceived attitude of “have to do” to “want to do.” When an employee learns the fundamentals of cyber security not only are they empowering themselves to protect their own data, which translates into improved personal data cyber hygiene, but it also adds value for them as professionals. Companies are more confident when employees work with vigilance and security at the forefront.

Benefits of company-wide security awareness training

  • Lowers risk – Prevents an internal employee cyber mishap with proper education and training to inform daily activities.
  • Strengthens workforce – Existing security protocols are hardened to keep the entire staff aware of daily vulnerabilities and prevention.
  • Improved practices – Cultivate good cyber hygiene by growing cyber aptitude in a safe, virtual environment, instead of trial and error on workplace networks.

For more information about company-wide cyber learning, read about our award-winning mobile app inCyt.

Persistent (Not Periodic) Cyber Training

For cyber security professionals like network analysts, IT directors, CISOs, and incident responders, knowledge of the latest hacker methods and ways to protect and defend, govern, and mitigate threats is key. Today’s periodic training conducted at off-site training courses has and continues to be the option of choice—but the financial costs and time away from the frontlines makes it a less-than-fruitful ROI for leaders looking to harden their posture productively and efficiently.

Further, periodic cyber security training classes are often dull, static, PowerPoint-driven or prescriptive, step-by-step instructor-driven—meaning the material is often too outdates to be relevant to today’s threats—and the learning is passive. There’s minimal opportunity for hands-on learning to apply learned concepts in a virtualized, safe setting. These roadblocks make periodic learning ineffective and unfortunately companies are spending thousands of dollars every quarter or month to upskill professionals without knowing if it’s money well spent. That’s frustrating!

What if companies could track cyber team performance to identify gaps in security skills—and do so on emulated networks to enrich the learning experience?

We believe persistent training on a cyber range is the modern response for companies to better align with today’s evolving threats. Cyber ranges allow cyber teams to engage in skill building in a “safe” environment. Sophisticated ranges should be able to scale as companies grow in security posture too. Our Project Ares cyber learning platform helps professionals develop frontier learning capabilities on mirrored networks for a more authentic training experience. Running on Microsoft Azure, enterprise, government and academic IT teams can persistently training on their own networks safely using their own tools to “train as they would fight.”

Browser-based, Project Ares also allows professionals to train on their terms – wherever they are. Artificial intelligence via natural language processing and machine learning support players on the platform by acting as both automated adversaries to challenge trainees in skill, and as an in-game advisor to support trainee progression through a cyber exercise.

The gamified element of cyber training keeps professionals engaged while building skill. Digital badges, leaderboards, levels, and team-based mission scenarios build communicative skills, technical skills, and increase information retention in this active-learning model of training.

Benefits of persistent cyber training

Gamifying cyber training is the next evolution of learning for professionals who are either already in the field or curious to start a career in cyber security. The benefits are noteworthy:

  • Increased engagement, sense of control and self-efficacy
  • Adoption of new initiatives
  • Increased satisfaction with internal communication
  • Development of personal and organizational capabilities and resources
  • Increased personal satisfaction and employee retention
  • Enhanced productivity, monitoring and decision making

For more information about gamified cyber training, read about our award-winning platform Project Ares.

CISO Involvement in C-Suite Decision-Making

Communication processes between the C-suite and CISO need to be more transparent and frequent to achieve better alignment between cyber risk and business risk.

Many CISOs are currently challenged in reporting to the C-suite because of the very technical nature and reputation of cyber security. It’s often perceived as “too technical” for laymen, non-cyber professionals. However, it doesn’t have to be that way.

C-suite execs can understand their business’ cyber risks in the context of business risk to see how the two are inter-related and impact each other.

A CISO is typically concerned about the security of the business as a whole and if a breach occurs at the sake of a new product launch, service addition, or employee productivity, it’s his or her reputation on the line.

The CISO perspective is, if ever a company is deploying a new product or service, security should be involved from the get-go. Having CISOs brought into discussions about business initiatives early on is key to ensuring there are not security “add ons” brought in too late in the game. Also, actualizing the cost of a breach on the company in terms of dollar amounts can also capture the attention of the C-suite.

Furthermore, CISOs are measuring risk severity and breaking it down for the C-suite to help them understand the business value of cyber.  To achieve this alignment, CISOs are finding unique ways to do remediation or cyber security monitoring to reduce their workloads enough so they can prioritize communications with execs and keep all facets of the company safe from the employees it employs to the technologies it adopts to function.

Improving Cyber Security for the Future

Better communications between execs and security leaders, continual cyber training for teams, and company-wide cyber learning are a few suggestions we’ve talked about today to help companies reduce their cyber risk and harden their posture. We’ve said it before and we will say it again: cyber security is everyone’s responsibility. And evolving threats in the age of digital transformation mean that we are always susceptible to attacks regardless of how many firewalls we put up or encryption codes we embed.

If we have a computer, a phone, an electronic device that can exchange information in some way to other parties, we are vulnerable to cyber attacks. Every bit and byte of information exchanged on a company network is up for grabs for hackers and the more technical, business, and non-technical professionals come together to educate and empower themselves to improve cyber hygiene practices, the more prepared they and their company assets will be when a hacker comes knocking on their digital door.

Photo of computer by rawpixel.com from Pexels

Computer Fraud and Security – Gamification as a Winning Strategy

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In this “game of protection’ to balance defensive and offensive security techniques, now is the time for CISOs and business leaders to reach for a new cyber security manual – one that leverages gamification.

Cyber Ranges and How They Improve Security Training

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WHAT ARE CYBER RANGES?

Cyber ranges were initially developed for government entities looking to better train their workforce with new skills and techniques. Cyber range providers like us deliver representations of actual networks, systems, and tools for novice and seasoned cyber professionals to safely train in virtual, secure environments without compromising the safety of their own network infrastructure. Today, cyber ranges are used in the cybersecurity industry to effectively train the cyber workforce across companies and organizations for stronger cyber defense against cyber attacks. As technology advances, cyber range training advances in scope and potential.

To learn more about Circadence’s cyber range platform, visit https://www.circadence.com/solutions/topic/cyber-ranges/.

The National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education reports cyber ranges provide:

  • Performance-based learning and assessment
  • A simulated environment where teams can work together to improve teamwork and team capabilities
  • Real-time feedback
  • Simulate on-the-job experience
  • An environment where new ideas can be tested and teams and work to solve complex cyber problems

In order to upskill cybersecurity professionals, commercial, academic, and government institutions have to gracefully fuse the technicalities of the field with the strategic thinking and problem-solving “soft skills” required to defeat sophisticated attacks.

Currently, cyber ranges come in two forms: Bare environments without pre-programmed content; or prescriptive content that may or may not be relevant to a user’s industry. Either cyber range type limits the learner’s ability to develop many skill sets, not just what their work role requires.

UNDERSTANDING CYBER RANGES IN A BOX (OR CYRAAS, as we call it.)

Cyber ranges in a box is a collection of virtual machines hosted on an on-premise or cloud-based environment. Now, don’t let the name “in a box” fool you, at Circadence, you can’t purchase our cyber range solution on its own. To your cyber learning benefit, Circadence offers a cyber-range-as-a-service [CyRaas] solution embedded within the Project Ares cyber learning platform for optimized training and skill building at scale. When you purchase Project Ares, CyRaaS is included. It provides all-encompassing tools and technologies to help professionals achieve the best cybersecurity training available. Our service offers industry-relevant content to help trainees practice offense and defense activities in emulated networks. Cyber ranges also allow learners to use their own tools within emulated network traffic to reflect the real-world feeling of an actual cyberattack. In “training as you would fight,” learners will have a better understanding of how to address cyber threats when the real-life scenario hits.

With advances in Artificial Intelligence (AI), we know cyber ranges can now support such technology. In the case of our own Project Ares, we are able to leverage AI and machine learning to gather user data and activity happening in the platform. As more users play Project Ares, patterns in the data reveal commonalities and anomalies of how missions are completed with minimal human intervention. Those patterns are used to inform the recommendations of an in-game advisor with chat bot functionality so players can receive help on certain cyber range training activities or levels. Further, layering AI and machine learning gives security  professionals better predictive capabilities and, according to Microsoft, even  “improve the efficacy of cybersecurity, the detection of hackers, and even prevent attacks before they occur.”

To learn how cyber ranges are being used to improve cyber learning for students (and how it can be applied to your organization or company,
DOWNLOAD OUR “LEARN BY DOING ON CYBER RANGES” INFOGRAPHIC.

GAMIFIED CYBER RANGES

With many studies touting the benefits of gamification in learning, it only makes sense that cyber ranges come equipped with a gamified element. Project Ares has a series of mini-games, battle rooms, and missions that help engage users in task completion—all while learning new techniques and strategies for defeating modern-day attacks. The mini-games help explain cyber technical and/or operational fundamentals with the goal of providing fun and instructional ways to learn a new concept or stay current on perishable skills. The battle rooms are environments used for training and assessing an individual on a set of specific tasks based on current offensive and defensive tactics, techniques and procedures. The missions are used for training and assessing an individual or team on their practical application of knowledge, skills and abilities in order to solve a given cybersecurity problem set, each with its own unique set of mission orders, rules of engagement and objectives.

CYBER RANGE SECURITY

There is a lot of sensitive data that can be housed in a cyber range, so system security is the final piece to comprising a cyber range. The cloud is quickly recognized as one of the most secure spaces to house network components (and physical infrastructure). To ensure the cyber ranges are operating quickly with the latest updates and to increase visibility of how users are engaging in the cyber ranges across the company, information security in the cloud is the latest and greatest approach for users training in test environments.

We are proud to have pioneered such a state-of-the-art cyber range in many of our platforms including (as mentioned above), Project Ares®, and CyRaaSTM. We hope this post helped you understand the true potential of cyber ranges and how they are evolving today to automate and augment the cyber workforce.

Close the Cybersecurity Workforce Gap with Apprenticeships, Internships, and Other Alternative Pathways

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We’ve all heard by now that the cyber workforce gap has reached a level of desperation that puts all of us, and our country, at risk. It’s time we start moving the conversation away from the problem and towards innovative solutions.

To truly narrow this cyber workforce gap, it’s crucial to solicit the collaboration and support of the “golden trifecta” – academia, commercial industries, and government. And while educating and training high school and university students is important, this should not be our only focus; re-skilling and upskilling populations such as Veterans, minorities, career changers, women, persons with disabilities and learning differences, and others, have tremendous potential to both shrink the gap and contribute much needed diversity to the cyber workforce.

Recognizing National Cybersecurity Career Awareness Week (Nov. 12-17), we thought it prudent to share three tools that can help prepare the next generation of cybersecurity professionals to address ever-evolving threats and the aforementioned challenges.

Apprenticeships

Compared to other professions, cybersecurity apprenticeship programs are scarce.  Yet, there is hardly a better way for an organization to fill its pipeline with well-qualified cybersecurity talent than by building an apprenticeship model into existing recruiting strategies. By integrating an “earn while they learn” model, employers can leverage a unique opportunity to grow their own talented pool of cyber professionals who have the highly desired combination of hands-on skills and foundational, academic knowledge.

“This is absolutely fundamental, and a key plan in meeting the workforce needs. Our solution to the gap will be about skills and technical ability,” says Eric Iversen, VP of Learning & Communications, Start Engineering. “And the most successful of apprenticeship programs offer student benefits (e.g., real-world job skills, active income, mentorship, industry-recognized credentials, an inside track to full-time employment, etc.) and employer benefits (i.e., developed talent that matches specific needs and skill sets, reduced hiring costs and a high return on investment, low turnover rates and employee retention, etc.)”

These types of opportunities are especially beneficial for recruiting individuals who may be switching careers, may not have advanced degrees, or are looking to re-enter the field. The U.S. Department of Labor, provides guidance on starting apprenticeship programs.

Internships

The hardest part of being a young professional is finding that first career opportunity. However, that is a particular challenge for aspiring cyber professionals when just about every job posting they find asks for some level of relevant, industry experience. The problem is, not many organizations are willing to give it! For organizations looking to bring fresh ideas, perspectives and talent through the door, internship partnerships with local academic institutions can be a great workforce development tool. Many community colleges, technical colleges, and universities have well-oiled practices of connecting their students with local companies. In fact, it’s not uncommon for most students, both undergraduate and graduate, to be required to complete an internship in their field of study before graduation. Much like a successful apprenticeship program, a strategic internship program enables a situation where everyone involved, wins.

Alternative Pathways

While there are many models to be considered here, the following two are typically the most accessible and well-received for both students and employers.

  • “Stackable” Courses, Credits & Certificates: Simply put, “stackable” learning opportunities allow students to quickly build their knowledgebase and achieve industry-relevant experience that leads directly to employment. The idea here is two-fold.

a). High school students can enroll in college-level coursework and/or earn cybersecurity-focused certificates while completing their high school career.

b). College-level students can leave higher education for a job, and later return with credits that count toward the next certificate or degree.

This approach continues to gain traction as high school counselors and college administrators respond to the rapidly evolving nature of our economy.

  • Cyber Competitions & Hackathons: There is hardly a better vehicle for the practical application of one’s skillset than participating in a cyber competition or hackathon. These types of opportunities are becoming more and more common, and many times, cyber enthusiasts of all proficiency levels view cyber competitions and hackathons as the “latest and greatest” in extra-curricular activities. While numerous studies can be cited to support the significant traction cyber competitions and hackathons have gained, the fact is they’re changing the landscape in important ways. For example, cyber competitions and hackathons are often cited as positively impacting one’s exposure to the industry. Cyber competitions:
    • Support exposure to new and emerging technologies
    • Enable networking opportunities with like-minded folks
    • Offer environments for learners to demonstrate their abilities
    • Provide opportunity for new talent recruitment

Circadence is proud to lend its platform Project Ares® for many local and national cyber competitions including the cyberBUFFS, SoCal Cyber Cup, and Paranoia Challenge so students can engage in healthy competition and skill-building among peers. For more information on cyber competitions and hackathons, check out the Air Force Association’s CyberPatriot, Carnegie Mellon’s picoCTF, Major League Hacking, and the National Cyber League.

Closing the cyber workforce gap will take diversification in all sense of the word.

  • Diversity from supporting organizations, institutions, and companies.
  • Diversity in learning approaches and experiences.
  • Diversity in learners themselves.

Enterprise, government and academic institutions must pursue innovative and engaging ways new to attract underrepresented professionals to apprenticeships, internships and alternative pathways to add diversity to the cybersecurity workforce. And based on the current state of our cyber workforce, this suggestion is not just important, it is essential.

Many desired outcomes become a reality when we emphasize these efforts. It’s the unique perspectives, the inspired teamwork, the widened pool of well-qualified talent, the creativity and the “all-hands-on-desk” (see what we did there?) mentality that will help strengthen the cybersecurity industry not just for students, but for all agencies and businesses. Let’s embrace all of it!

Modernizing Cyber Ranges

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Cyber ranges were initially developed for government entities looking to better train their workforce with new skills and techniques. Cyber ranges provide representations of actual networks, systems, and tools for novice and seasoned cyber professionals to safely train in virtual environments without compromising the safety and security of their own networks.

Today, cyber ranges are known to effectively train the cyber workforce across industries. As technology advances, ranges gain in their training scope and potential. The National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education reports cyber ranges provide:

  • Performance-based learning and assessment
  • A simulated environment where teams can work together to improve teamwork and team capabilities
  • Real-time feedback
  • Simulate on-the-job experience
  • An environment where new ideas can be tested and teams and work to solve complex cyber problems

In order to upskill cybersecurity professionals, commercial, academic, and government institutions have to gracefully fuse the technicalities of the field with the strategic thinking and problem-solving “soft skills” required to defeat sophisticated attacks. Cyber ranges can help do that.

Currently, cyber ranges come in two forms: Bare environments without pre-programmed content; or prescriptive content that may or may not be relevant to a user’s industry. Either form limits the learner’s ability to develop many skill sets, not just what their work role requires.

Six Components of Modern Cyber Ranges

Modern cyber ranges need realistic, industry-relevant content to help trainees practice offense and defense and governance activities in emulated networks. Further cyber ranges need to allow learners to use their own tools and emulated network traffic in order to expand the realism of the training exercise. By using tools in safe replicated networks, learners will have a better understanding of how to address a threat when the real-life scenario hits.

We also know that cybersecurity attacks require teams to combat them, not just one or two individuals. So, in addition to individual training, cyber ranges should also allow for team training and engagement for professionals to learn from one another and gain a bigger picture understanding of what it REALLY takes to stop evolving threats.

With advances in Artificial Intelligence (AI), we know cyber ranges can now support such technology. In the case of our own Project AresÒ, we are able to leverage AI and machine learning to gather user data and activity happening in the platform. As more users play Project Ares, patterns in the data reveal commonalities and anomalies of how missions are completed with minimal human intervention. Those patterns are used to inform the recommendations of an in-game advisor with “chat bot-esque” features available for users to contact if help is needed on a certain activity or level. Further, layering AI and machine learning gives cyber professionals better predictive capabilities and, according to Microsoft, even  “improve the efficacy of cybersecurity, the detection of hackers, and even prevent attacks before they occur.”

With many studies touting the benefits of gamification in learning, it only makes sense that modern ranges come equipped with a gamified element. Project Ares has a series of mini-games, battle rooms, and missions that help engage users in task completion—all while learning new techniques and strategies for defeating modern-day attacks. The mini-games help explain cyber technical and/or operational fundamentals with the goal of providing fun and instructional ways to learn a new concept or stay current on perishable skills. The battle rooms are environments used for training and assessing an individual on a set of specific tasks based on current offensive and defensive tactics, techniques and procedures. The missions are used for training and assessing an individual or team on their practical application of knowledge, skills and abilities in order to solve a given cybersecurity problem set, each with its own unique set of mission orders, rules of engagement and objectives.

There is a lot of sensitive data that can be housed in a cyber range so security is the final piece to comprising a modern cyber range. The cloud is quickly recognized as one of the most secure spaces to house network components (and physical infrastructure). To ensure the cyber ranges are operating quickly with the latest updates and to increase visibility of how users are engaging in the cyber ranges across the company, security in the cloud is the latest and greatest approach for users training in test environments.

There you have it. The next generation cyber range should have:

  • Industry-relevant content
  • Emulated network capabilities
  • Single and multi-player engagement
  • AI and machine learning
  • Gamification
  • Cloud-compatibility

We are proud to have pioneered such a next generation cyber range manifest in many of our platforms including (as mentioned above), Project Ares®, and CyRaaSTM. We hope this post helped you understand the true potential of cyber ranges and how they are evolving today to automate and augment the cyber workforce.