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

Living Our Mission Blog Series: Building Hyper-Scalable Cyber Training Experiences with Randy Thornton, Enterprise Architect at Circadence

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A newly minted Engineering Fellow, Randy Thornton has dedicated his craft to software development for over 30 years. His passion for learning and using new technologies is evident in Circadence’s cyber range platform, Project AresÒ.

Randy joined Circadence in 2005 when the company was selling its WAN Optimization product, MVOÔ. His background in scientific computing software for CAD/CAM, telecom, and seismology have all been brought to bear to transform Project Ares from a mere cool idea that met unique market demands, to now, a full-fidelity, hyper-scalable range training tool for cyber security professionals used worldwide.

Randy and Circadence: Then and Now

In the beginning, there were about four Circadence employees working on the Project Ares prototype, which was eventually adopted by government and military agencies who were looking for better ways to train their cyber operators. Fast forward to today, Randy is leading the Project Ares team to redesign the architecture to scale within Microsoft Azure.  The goal is to provide private sector enterprises the same cutting-edge opportunity to train their cyber teams of any size and location on a gamified range—persistently, authentically, with flexibility and relevant to their specific cyber readiness needs. And Randy has been there through it all!

Today Randy mentors the engineering team at Circadence and helps them identify and collate standards around how the company’s products’ code is written and tested. He also helps identify what technologies to use and evaluates the technical feasibility of using new tech in the products themselves.

“Researching and learning new technology and staying on the cutting-edge is one of the most exciting parts of my job,” said Randy. “I see so much potential for Project Ares…so much promise…and being able to build out complicated networks in the cloud is a welcomed challenge for me.” he added.

Fellow Designation Reflected in Technical Capabilities within Project Ares

Randy’s contributions have been celebrated with a promotion to an Engineering Fellow, a significant career milestone that honors his achievements, expertise, and technical leadership to Project Ares, Circadence, and the cyber security industry as a whole.  The well-deserved recognition clearly stems from the fact that Randy never stops learning! He recently completed his Azure architecture certification exam, which helps him contribute to transitioning Project Ares to run on Microsoft Azure intelligent cloud.

“Project Ares’ ability to scale across regions is even more prevalent now thanks to Microsoft Azure,” said Randy. “The usability, the functionality, and its capability to connect across multiple locations and look like one single installation will be very beneficial to enterprise and government entities looking to scale their cyber training efforts effectively.”

A professional motto that drives Randy’s belief in continuous innovation in Project Ares is “Every time we change code, we should improve it.” It is this technical philosophy that has kept Randy and the Circadence engineering team on their toes and moving at pace to meeting market demands for scalable cyber training experiences.

Evolving Cyber Training to Scale for Customers

Randy’s current project lies in Project Ares.Next, an evolution of Project Ares from an on-premise application to a true cloud native SaaS platform that fully exploits the advantages of the cloud computing model.  Many of the cloud native improvements for Project Ares will be “under the covers”.  But customers will see performance improvements in mission virtual machines and new cyber curriculum will be able to be added to the platform more expeditiously. Project Ares users who want to train their teams from anywhere in the world will be able to do so persistently, without compromising user experience and impacting mission load times, etc.

As Project Ares evolves, we start to adapt to Go and Google standards and Kubernetes standards,” said Randy. “We’ve been working closely with Microsoft engineering teams on how we use the Azure Cloud most effectively and efficiently,” he adds.

The work of Randy and his teams is technical in nature and we greatly appreciate the level of knowledge and expertise they have to ensure Project Ares stays on the cusp of cyber training market demands using the latest technology to automate and augment the cyber workforces of tomorrow. We are grateful for their work to make Project Ares better every day as they use their talents to inform what our customers experience in the platform.

Learn Project Ares, including recent mission and battle room updates!

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash
Photo by John Schnobrich on Unsplash

Living Our Mission: Learning is Built into Project Ares, Thanks to Victoria Bowen, Instructional Designer at Circadence

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Victoria Bowen has worked in the instructional design field for about 35 years – primarily developing e-learning with a smattering of web development, SharePoint development, and Learning Management System administration. She holds an undergrad degree is in psychology, a master’s in special education, and doctorate in curriculum, instruction, and supervision with emphasis on instructional design.  What that means is that she knows how people learn and what aids and interferes with learning in training products. Victoria worked an IT security services company and then transitioned to a training role with the Air Force’s Cyberspace Vulnerability Assessment/Hunter (CVAH) weapon system. “I was responsible for the training database and the app store for several versions of CVAH.  I also developed user guides and training materials,” she said. Victoria served in that role for about nine months before joining the Circadence team.

Since September 2013, Victoria’s main job as an instructional designer has been to analyze training needs for Circadence products. She helps assess target audiences for Circadence products to determine learning goals and objectives for the product designers. She establishes the behaviors that a user would be assessed against, after engaging with the product, to ensure learning has occurred. Victoria also suggests ways to evaluate those behaviors to optimize product utility. In doing so, she prepares training outlines and documentation and writes content development processes and learning paths. Mapping Job Qualification Requirements (JQRs) tasks to training tasks is a regular function of Victoria’s job alongside mapping National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) standards to training tasks. She ensures the core skills addressed in our curriculum creation tool Orion™ align to defined NIST standards.

Applying instructional design theory to new technology

What keeps Victoria returning to her desk every day is the challenge of learning and applying instructional design theory to cutting edge training technology. Although the old rules still apply, Circadence is leading the way in developing new rules and research on how learning happens and best practices for simulations like Project Ares®. We know a lot about constructivism as an underlying theory, but to apply it gaming environments like Project Ares is new and fascinating,” she says.

The challenge of applying theory to technology is complicated by the fact that new books about instructional design and cognitive analysis and processing are published frequently. And there are new online articles every month. Also, there is a growing emphasis on instructional analysis before beginning training development projects, so there is a growing emphasis on analytical skills for instructional designers. These skills help us design the right training, just enough training, and just in time training for learners.

“Ensuring we are constructing an environment in which the player is constantly learning, not just performing a task or activity is essential.  We need the player to understand the what, when, how, and why related to the tasks they perform in the environment.  For deeper learner and better retrieval from long term memory, we also need the player to understand how their tasks relate to each other.” Victoria says. “Furthermore,” she adds, “we want the player’s understanding and performance to progress from novice to intermediate to expert. That doesn’t happen just by repetition. There must be instruction too.”

Instructional design within Project Ares

For the Project Ares Battle Rooms and Missions, Victoria collaborates with cyber security subject matter experts to write the learning objectives and assessment criteria, provide role-based learning content outlines, identify gaps and redundancies in content, and review product design to ensure high quality instructional design aspects. For inCyt™, she’s written the scripts for several of the cyber security lessons. Finally, Victoria also reviews and identifies instructional design issues such as scrolling text and text display not controlled by the user, “both of which interfere with cognitive processing by the user and adversely affect transfer from short term to long term memory,” she adds.

“I have a different challenge every day and I like challenges. I’m also fascinated by cyber security and enjoy learning more about it every day. Instructional research has consistently supported that interactivity is the most important component of instruction regardless of delivery method. We have a very interactive environment and that’s great for retention and transfer of learning to real world application.”

Victoria’s passion for intelligent learning systems dates back to her time in school. “When I was a poor graduate student at the University of Georgia, I paid around $25 a month in overdue fees to the library so I could keep the AI books I checked out longer. (Once they were turned in, professors usually got them and could keep them up to a year.) There were only about 25 books on that topic at the time. Today, it is remarkable to see what our AI team can do with Athena.”

Why persistent cyber training matters

The cyber world is changing very fast. People need to learn constantly to keep up with their job requirements. Cyber challenges are not about cookie cutter solutions. It’s important that the cyber operator learns cyber problem solving, not just cyber solutions. By jumping into a training program and being able to craft different approaches to solving problems and test those approaches, the cyber professional can learn skills that directly help them do better on the job. Plus – a big plus – the training is fun!

Living our Mission: Creating Authentic Cyber Training and Learning Environments Inspired by Real-World Experience: Todd Humes, Sr. Mission Designer

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Bringing his Air Force and military security engineering background to use, Senior Mission Designer Todd Humes understands what it takes to defend networks from adversaries. Prior to Circadence, he served in various government security roles including as a Systems Security Engineer and Systems Administrator and on the commercial side as a Director of Network Defense Operations at a Managed Security Service Provider. He noticed a gap in commercial cyber training and readiness that eventually lead him to Circadence.  

In his current role, Todd ensures that real-world training exercises developed meet critical training objectives and are authentic for the end-user. “We want to provide a safe place for trainees to learn cyber…so he/she doesn’t have to worry about causing damage on actual networks when trying to build skills,” he says.  

It’s important trainees in Project Ares experience true-to-life cyber threat scenarios that they would in their actual workplace.

In “mimicking a controlled environment that they would see” in the workplace, trainees gain “an experience that is highly relatable and allows for professional development,” Todd says.  

When developing new missions Todd and his team examine market verticals and threats associated with those industries to identify unique scenarios that can be built out in a Project Ares mission. “We do our own research and threat intelligence targeting verticals, brainstorm specific scenarios and begin designing what the network environment should look like,” he says. The automation and orchestration of how the mission will unfold require a great deal of programming. Between building the mission components, the layout, and the services that will be “affected” in the exercise, Todd and his team bring cyber threats to life in the most authentic way possible. Sometimes, he adds, “we have to reverse engineer the malware [for example] to get the capability we want,” adding layers of complexity and back-end work to produce the final product.  

But the intricacies of building missions is anything but dull. “It’s never boring! We’re always learning day in and day out and the people who are successful in this field are the individuals who continue to learn themselves,” Todd says.

To ensure missions stay relevant against today’s threats, Todd is always keeping a pulse on the latest research and vulnerabilities by studying online reports and attending cyber conferences and industry-related events to network with like-minded leaders.  

He believes by continuously learning about the industry, all professionals in this line of work and beyond can find new and better ways to address an exploit and stay one (or several) steps ahead of hackers. He considers cyber security one the few industries and specializations that requires persistent learning and skill building in order to “extend the life” of security across organizations and companies.   

Learn Project Ares, including recent mission and battle room updates here.   

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

Ransomware – The Attack Du Jour!

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Ransomware is gaining traction among hackers; emboldened by financial success and anonymity using cryptocurrencies. In fact, ransomware is now considered a tried and true cyberattack technique, with attacks spreading among small and medium-sized businesses, cities and county governments. Coveware’s recent 2019 Q1 Ransomware Report notes:

  • Ransoms have increased by an average of 89% over Q1 in 2019 to $12,762 per ransom request
  • Average downtime after a ransomware attack has increased to 7.3 days, up from 6.2 days in Q4 of 2018, with estimated downtime costs averaging $65,645
  • Victim company size so far in 2019 is anywhere from 28 to 254 employees (small, medium, and large-sized businesses)

Let’s review how ransomware works and why it’s so effective. Ransomware is a type of cyberattack where an unauthorized user gains access to an organization’s files or systems and blocks user access, holding the company’s data hostage until the victim pays a ransom in exchange for a decryption key. As you can surmise, the goal of such an attack is to extort businesses for financial gain.

Ransomware can “get into” a system in different ways, one of the most common through phishing emails or social media where the human worker inadvertently opens a message, attachment, or link acting as a door to the network or system.  Messages that are urgent and appear to come from a supervisor, accounts payable professional, or perceived “friends” on social media are all likely ransomware actors disguising themselves to manipulate or socially engineer the human.

Near and Far: Ransomware Has No Limits

Many types of ransomware have affected small and medium-sized businesses over the last two decades but it shows no limitations in geography, frequency, type, or company target size.

  • Norwegian aluminum manufacturing company Norsk Hydro, a significant provider of hydroelectric power in the Nordic region, was shut down because of a ransomware infection. The company’s aluminum plants were forced into manual operations and the costs are already projected to reach $40 million (and growing). The ransomware name: LockerGoga. It has crippled industrial firms across the globe from French engineering firm Altran, and manufacturing companies Momentive, and Hexion, according to a report from Wired.
  • What was perceived as an unplanned system reboot at Maersk, a Danish shipping conglomerate, turned out to be a corrupt attack that impacted one-fifth of the entire world’s shipping capacity. Deemed the “most devastating cyberattack in history,” NotPetya created More than $10 billion in damages. To add insult to injury, the cyber risk insurance company for Maersk denied their claim on the grounds that the NotPetya attack was a result of cyberwar (citing an act of war exclusionary clause).  WannaCry was also released in 2017 and generated between $4 billion and $8 billion in damages but nothing (yet) has come close to NotPetya.
  • On Black Friday 2016, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency fell victim to a ransomware attack. The attacker demanded $73,000 for services to be restored. Fortunately, speedy response and backup processes helped the company restore systems in 2 days—avoiding having to pay the ransom. In March 2018, the City of Atlanta experienced a ransomware attack that cost upwards of $17 million in damages. The Colorado Department of Transportation fell victim, too, left with a bill totaling almost $2 million.

These headlines are stories of a digital war that has no geographical borders or structured logic. No one is truly immune to ransomware, and any company that thinks that way is likely not as prepared as they think they are. Beazley Breach Response (BBR) Services found a 105% increase in the number of ransomware attack notifications against clients in Q1 2019 compared to Q1 of 2018, as well as noting that attackers are shifting focus to targeting larger organizations and demanding higher ransom payments than ever before.

Immersive cyber ranges – Protect Yourself, Your Business, Your People

If your own security efforts, staff practices, and business infrastructure are continuously hardened every time a new breach headline makes the news, the things that matter most to you and your company will be better protected. One of the ways to consistently harden security practices is via immersive and persistent training on gamified cyber ranges. Some benefits of using cyber ranges like this include:

  • Helping professionals of all skill levels learn and apply preventative measures such as: regular backups, multi-factor authentication, and incident response planning and analysis.
  • Understanding what ransomware looks like and how it would “work” if it infected their company’s network.
  • Cloud-based environments can scale to emulate any size digital system and help users “see” and respond to threats in safe spaces.
  • Providing user assistance and immediate feedback in terms of rewards, badges, and progress indicators, allowing organizational leaders who want to upskill their cyber teams to see the skills gaps and strengths in their teams and identify ways to harden their defenses.

When ransomware does come knocking at your business door, will you be ready to recover from the costly and reputational damages? If there is any shred of doubt in your mind, then it’s time to re-evaluate your cyber readiness strategy. As we’ve learned, even the smallest vulnerability or level of uncertainty is enough for a cybercriminal to take hold.

Photo by Michael Geiger on Unsplash and via website.

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 offering, 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.

Learning from the Top 5 Financial Cybersecurity Incidents

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Banks, credit unions, credit card companies, investment firms, and insurance companies are all under cyberattacks—making financial cyber security a hot topic of discussion. For years, the finance industry has been one of the hardest hit with cybercrime according to Deloitte. And it continues to rank in the top five most vulnerable industries. In 2017, 69 material cyber incidents were reported to the Financial Conduct Authority, an increase from the 38 incidents in 2016, according to Information Age. Financial cyber security regulations are keeping companies in check but the pace at which threats evolve in sophistication requires a persistent approach to stay ahead of hackers.

If you bank online or have an insurance policy, you likely understand the convenience of single keystroke access to financial information. It’s easy, convenient and useful to transfer funds from mobile device to mobile device; electronically sign a form; or get a quote for a mortgage company just by entering in new financial details. Unfortunately, the rapid pace of adoption of new technologies that make these everyday transactions convenient is widening the attack surface for hackers and prompting security professionals to consider even stronger finance cyber security risk management processes.

Financial Cyber Security Incidents

Below are some of the most notable cybercrime attacks on financial services firms that we can learn from in order to take a more proactive approach to cyber security readiness.

Equifax 

The consumer credit reporting agency was breached in 2017, exposing the sensitive personal information of more than 147 million Americans. Partial driver’s license data was the primary data leaked. Equifax representatives said the vulnerability that allowed for the attack to occur was the failure to keep its computer systems adequately up to date.

Bank of Chile

State-backed hackers infiltrated the Bank of Chile’s ATM system in January 2019 and stole $10 million. The cyber heist was deployed via hackers initiating a virus as a “distraction” then prompting banks to disconnect 9,000 computers to “protect customer accounts.” Meanwhile, hackers sneaked in and used the global SWIFT bank messaging service to deploy fraudulent transactions.

India’s Cosmos Bank

Unauthorized users accessed their system and siphoned nearly $13.5 million through withdrawals across 28 countries. Unidentified hackers created a proxy switch that approved all the fraudulent payments.

Lazarus group

North Korea’s hacking operations are targeting financial institutions nationwide—completely indiscriminate of a brand or geographic location. The country is linked to attacks in 18 countries, according to a report from Russian cyber security firm Kaspersky Lab. The hacking operation known as “Lazarus” targeted employees at banks who visited the hackers’ list of 150 specified internet addresses. Experts say the attacks are at a “level of sophistication not generally found in the cybercriminal world,” and companies should take proactive measures to carefully scan their networks for the presence of Lazarus malware samples, disinfect their systems and report the intrusion.

Bangladesh Bank 

Bangladesh Bank experienced a hack in February 2016 that drained $81 million from accounts in a few short hours. Attackers subverted the bank’s SWIFT accounts, the international money transfer system, to get what they wanted, reports Wired magazine. Hackers sent more than three dozen fraudulent money transfer requests to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York asking the bank to transfer millions of Bangladesh Bank’s funds to accounts in the Philippines, Sri Lanka, etc. Reports indicate lax computer security practices were to blame (e.g. lack of firewalls installed on the networks), allowing hackers to easily infiltrate the network and find the credentials needed to proceed. The concept of attacking systems on the weekend isn’t a new approach either—other banks like Tesco experienced the same timing in November 2016 when thousands of current account customers were hit with fraudulent transactions by hackers.

Learning from Financial Cyber Security Incidents

Outdated systems, employee exploitation, weakened network security, and a poor ratio of defenders to hackers all contribute to the severity of these financial cyber security incidents.

These attacks tell us a lot about what preventative steps can be taken. To ensure financial services firms have the latest systems updated and in place requires an experienced cybersecurity team to perform regular system checks and updates.

Financial cyber security compliance leaders need to empower their teams with the right tools and persistent learning opportunities so they can be prepared for any malware infection or system overwrite that occurs.

The increase in reported attacks reflects a greater need for accountability across all financial institutions. As the attack frequency grows, so must our cybersecurity vigilance. Cyberattacks will adapt to defense strategies so financial firms need to ensure they are always one step ahead. The best way to achieve this goes beyond hiring our way out of the issue. Training your cyber workforce proactively using gamified cyber range training to combat the latest threats is the key to sustained success.

For more information on how financial firms can upskill their security workforce
download Project Ares subscription brochure.

Photo by Alexander Mils on Unsplash