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.
Policy makers are now prioritizing data security over talent, efficiency and controlling costs. As students growing up and being educated in the digital age, we are just starting to understand the importance of cyber security to individuals and their companies. Taking part in a Research Associate Internship on campus at Nichols College, our eyes have been opened to the vast number of threats we face on a daily basis.
Oracle conducted a study titled “Security in the Age of Artificial Intelligence,” where 341 C-Suite executives and 110 policy makers were asked of their plans to improve their company’s security in the next two years. The top answer from this sample was to train existing staff. Human error poses the greatest risk to these companies (Oracle). In order to mitigate this risk, it is imperative to understand the opportunity cost of training employees on the importance of cybersecurity. Prioritizing training would prevent small mistakes, potentially costing a company much more in the long run.
A Nichols College Associate Professor of Accounting and Finance, Bryant Richards, noticed a gap in cyber security education, wanting to bring cyber to campus in a big way, stating “As cyber risks have become ubiquitous throughout the industry, it is our responsibility to provide some degree of cyber literacy to our business students. We must train our accounting students to be data and technology professionals who understand accounting. The realistic and experiential nature of Project Ares matches how our students learn and provides a transformative learning experience.” Richards along with the two of us, helped Nichols partner with Circadence to complete a three-month pilot program of their gamified cybersecurity learning platform Project Ares.
What We Found: Circadence did a great job with Project Ares, with an appealing, gamified user interface that sucks you in and is easy to use. As a student with no technical experience in the cybersecurity field, Project Ares proved to be both engaging and challenging. It provided an abundance of resources through its Media Center and Mini Games. Users can obtain a base layer of knowledge, progressing into education on concepts like the Cyber Kill Chain and how hackers utilize it. The interactive Battle Rooms provide real-life, technical lab environments where users can spin up virtual machines, explore real-world tools, build their confidence, and hone their skills.
What We Learned: You do not have to be a professional hacker to steal someone else’s information or gain access to their computer. Understanding the code is no longer enough; this is much more than an individual problem. If your own device is compromised, the hacker can steal your personal information, and steal information from your employer and worse. This harsh reality surprised us when we first commenced our research. From clicking a wrong link in an email, to accidentally tapping an advertisement banner on your phone; these small errors can seem harmless but are really detrimental to your overall security.
The gamification of cybersecurity training has allowed those of us with no prior knowledge, a chance to get a leg up. With increased demand to train existing staff, new training approaches must be made for the next generation of cybersecurity specialists. Gamifying the process made it easily digestible, directly benefitting any potential company or individual.
The first step in becoming educated on cybersecurity is understanding that there are threats present in our everyday lives. In the words of the man who gave us our initial walkthrough of Project Ares, Brad Wolfenden compared cybersecurity to buying a gallon of milk, saying:
“I believe that part of the disconnect around cybersecurity best practices comes from the assumptions we make as consumers in general – that what we’re buying is designed and sold with our best interests, and security, in mind … The food you buy and eat is certified by the Food & Drug Administration to indicate it has been safely grown/ raised and suitable for human consumption. When making technology purchases, we cannot take these same conveniences for granted.”
It is everyone’s ‘job’ to maintain high ethical standards and awareness when operating on the Internet nowadays. It is no longer up to one person or pre-installed software to protect your personal information. The more we are educated on the basic underlying principles of cybersecurity, the safer we will all be.
Oracle. “SECURITY IN THE AGE OF AI .” Oracle, 2018, www.oracle.com/a/ocom/docs/data-security-report.pdf.
Wolfenden, Brad. “A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats: Celebrating National Cybersecurity Awareness Month.” Circadence, 30 Oct. 2018, www.circadence.com/national-cybersecurity-awareness-month/.
*Students R.J. LeBrun & Lorenzo Secola guest authored this blog post as part of their Research Associate Internship at Nichols College
One of the top innovators in the training space is Circadence®. The Boulder, CO-based company got its start in the mid-1990s as a pioneer of massive multi-player video games. It then took its expertise in moving massive amounts of gaming data and applied it first to training military cyber warfare specialists, and, next, to training security analysts in the enterprise, government and academic communities.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Keenan Skelly. Skelly has more than 20 years of experience providing security and management solutions across a wide array of platforms to include personnel, physical, and cybersecurity.
The oil and gas sector is susceptible to security vulnerabilities as it adopts digital communication methods that help power energy production and distribution. To understand the cyber threats to the oil and gas industry, there exist approximately 1,793 natural gas-powered electricity plants in the U.S. and they generated 34% of the nation’s electricity in 2018. Much of how we live and work is dependent upon the energy produced from oil and gas production, including everyday cooking, heating/cooling, communication, and use of electronic devices and appliances. Therefore, even the smallest cyber attack on one of the thousands of interconnected and digital systems can pose a serious cyber risk to oil and gas production.
A company that goes through an attack can experience a plant shutdown, equipment damage, utility interruptions, production shutdown, inappropriate product quality, undetected spills, and safety measure violations—to name a few. Recently, 87% of surveyed oil and gas senior executives have reported being affected by cyber incidents in the past 12 months. Further, 46% of attacks in Operational Technology go undetected.
Cyber Attacks on Oil and Gas, Energy, Utilities Companies in History
Security threats to the oil and gas industry have already manifested across facilities worldwide with no signs of slowing down.
- In 2010, Stuxnet, a malicious computer worm, was used to hijack industrial control systems around the globe, including computers used to manage oil refineries, gas pipelines, and power plants. It reportedly destroyed a fifth of Iran’s nuclear centrifuges. The worm was delivered through a worker’s thumb drive.
- In August 2012, a person with privileged access to one of the world’s leading National Oil Companies’ (NOCs’) computers unleashed a computer virus called Shamoon (disk-wiping malware). This virus erased three quarters (30,000) of the company’s corporate personal computers and resulted in an immediate shutdown of the company’s internal network.
- National Security Authority Norway said 50 companies in the oil sector were hacked and 250 more were warned to check their systems, in one of the biggest hacks in Norway’s history.
- Ugly Gorilla, a Chinese attacker who invaded the control systems of utilities in the United States, gained cyber keys necessary to access systems that regulate flow of natural gas. In January 2015, a device used to monitor the gasoline levels at refueling stations across the United States—known as an automated tank gauge or ATG—could be remotely accessed by online attackers, manipulated to cause alerts, and even set to shut down the flow of fuel. Several Guardian AST gas-tank-monitoring systems have suffered electronic attacks possibly instigated by hacktivist groups.
- In December 2018, Saipem fell victim to a cyber attack that hit servers based in the Middle East, India, Aberdeen and Italy.
These examples show other oil and gas companies the consequences that arise from insecure cyber environments, vulnerable systems, and cyber teams that lack the latest skills to stay ahead of attackers.
How Circadence Can Help
To manage security risks in the oil and gas sector while lessening the attack surface, cyber security teams need to be prepared to address all possible scenarios that can occur in order to effectively protect and defend infrastructures.
Project Ares® cyber security learning platform can prepare cyber teams with the right skills in immersive environments that emulate their own oil and gas networks to be most effective. It is designed for continuous learning, meaning it is constantly evolving with new missions rapidly added to address the latest threats in the oil and gas industry. Further, targeted training can be achieved from the library of mission scenarios to work on specific skill sets.
Training in cyber ranges is a great way to foster collaboration, accountability, and communication skills among your cyber team as well as cross-departmentally. Persistent and hands-on learning will help take your cyber team to the next level. Benefits of this kind of learning include:
- Increased engagement – by keeping learners engaged they are able to stay focused on the subject matter at hand
- Opportunities to close skills gaps immediately – instant feedback, instruction, and critique make it easy for learners to benefit from interaction with the instructor and peers and immediately implement this feedback to improve
- Risk mitigation and improved problem-solving – hands-on training allows learners to master skills prior to working in real-world environments. People can work through tough scenarios in a safe training environment – developing problem-solving skills without risk.
By placing the power of security in human hands, cybersecurity teams can proactively improve a company’s ability to detect cyber-related security breaches or anomalous behavior, resulting in earlier detection and less impact of such incidence on energy delivery, thereby lowering overall business risk. Users are the last line of defense against threat actors so prioritizing gamified training for teams will foster the level of collaboration, transparency, and expertise needed to connect the dots for cybersecurity in oil and gas sectors.
This solution coupled with proper collaboration between IT and OT divisions to share real-time threat intelligence information will do wonders for companies looking to stay out of the negative news headlines and stay safe against an attack.
Download our Infographic “oil and gas cybersecurity” for more details on cyber readiness and training.
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
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.
There is a hacker attack every 39 seconds. The average cost of a data breach in 2020 is expected to exceed $150 million. And by 2021, there will be more than 3.5 million unfilled cybersecurity jobs worldwide. No enterprise is safe from an attack.
Because of that, CISOs realize as they evolve business operations to better serve customers, such progression has unintended security consequences and compromises. With strapped resources (both human and financial), how can CISOs in commercial sectors DO MORE to up their cybersecurity posture WITH LESS? The answer lies in the human-power to control systems, processes, and technologies.
CISOs in every industry realize technologies and “one-and-done traditional training” cannot keep companies safe—but with the properly skilled individuals taking the reins to leverage those technologies optimally, the human-side of cybersecurity can minimize the skills gap and frequent attacks.
We’ve taken the liberty of publishing several articles to help CISOs “do more with less” to strengthen their cybersecurity posture. We understand you’ve spent lots of time and resources developing your teams. And they’re doing the best they can with the resources they have. Still, to amplify their success, ongoing training can help—and we hope these articles help, too.
- Help wanted: Combatting the Cybersecurity Skills Shortage
- Modernizing Cyber Ranges for Professional Learning
- How to Tell if your Cyber Posture is Prone to an Attack
- Cybercrime Incidents in the Financial Services Sector
- Why We Can’t Keep Ignoring Cyber Fatigue
- How Continuous Learning Can Help Upskill Cyber Teams
- Why Gamification is the Answer You’ve Been Looking For
- The Benefits of Active Learning in Cyber Training
Growing Cybersecurity Challenges
CISOs and their teams are challenged to keep pace with evolving cyber threats due to staffing shortages, resource constraints, strategy misalignment. Not to mention the continuous threat of attacks on industries with interconnected technologies. In fact, 70% of cybersecurity professionals claim their organization is impacted by the skills shortage; With spending expected to exceed $1 trillion between 2017 and 2021 and 74% of C-suite executives failing to involve CISOs the leadership table, this makes the job of the CISO incredibly difficult. That is why Circadence is dedicated to helping CISOs DO MORE WITH LESS—because we understand the arduous uphill climb they face (and will continue to face) if something is not done.
Hungry for more help? Download our 3 A’s INFOGRAPHIC to learn more ways to support your cyber team against imminent threats.
There’s Still Time to Up Your Cybersecurity Posture
If cyber teams cannot upskill and keep pace with evolving threats, commercial sectors will continue to be hacked. Customers will not only lose trust in these institutions that aim to protect them and make their daily lives functional, but they simply won’t be able to operate efficiently, economies will suffer, and more.
However, for enterprises that have experienced an attack, it’s not too late to invest in cyber training to prevent another. Doing nothing after an attack is the worst possible response. With failure comes opportunity to enhance resiliency on both a company-wide level, as well as at an employee-specific level. Investing in training tells hackers the attack attempt stops at its people first.
For enterprises that have not experienced an attack, it’s not a matter of “if” but “when” it will occur. Digitalization and limited human resources make company’s front lines vulnerable and appealing to hackers. Now is the time to be proactive and empower cyber teams to train against hackers in a way that doesn’t require time-consuming travel, expenses, and other resources—simply a willingness to learn, grow, and upskill to better the company and themselves.
Circadence wants to change how cyber professionals prepare for, protect, and defend against evolving cyber threats. We hope these, and future resources will help CISOs and cybersecurity leaders take proactive steps to strengthen their cybersecurity posture by training their teams and their entire organization, without the costly burden of traditional training courses.