Living our Mission Blog Series: Hitting a Home Run with Circadence’s Security Management, thanks to TS Reed, Cybersecurity Engineer

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The journey to cybersecurity engineer has been an exciting one for Circadence’s TS Reed. The former baseball pro turned security tech expert found his passion for problem solving at Circadence. After completing an undergraduate degree in criminology at Cal State Northridge, he pursued a master’s degree in mechanical engineering at CSUN and then a master’s in cybersecurity engineering from the University of San Diego.

TS started as an intern at Circadence and was quickly onboarded as a full-time employee for his technical prowess, adaptability, and knowledge of modern security functions and processes. For the past three years at Circadence, TS has monitored the company’s network security, tested the security of its products (including Project Ares) and learned how and what to look for to stay one step ahead of attackers.

“It’s impossible to be bored in this job. Security is always changing: the way people build it, the way people attack it. You have to continuously learn and teach yourself the latest and greatest practices,” said TS.

But cybersecurity management wasn’t always in the stars for TS. Prior to joining Circadence, TS coached division one baseball at the University of San Diego and was also an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator at the University of Arkansas Fort Smith. A Cal State Northridge Alum, TS was a well-respected baseball player, hitting home runs in the athletic industry (named a CIF California Player of the Year and a Division 1 All-American at CSUN) with the fourth highest batting average at the 2008 Big West Conference. After college he went on to play one year of professional baseball in St. Louis for the Gateway Grizzlies of the Frontier League.

He traded in his baseball cleats for cybersecurity after discovering the inherent problem-solving nature of the field—a part of the job that greatly intrigued TS to dive into a completely new field of study and long-term career trajectory.

For TS, one of the best ways to “win the game” in the security field is to think like a hacker. By understanding what vulnerabilities they look for to exploit and why, security engineers like TS, know how to harden systems and deploy preventative measures beforehand. And while open forum online communities help TS and other security professionals “understand the mind of a hacker” there is always a level of uncertainty he has to deal with.

“Hackers are attacking constantly and finding new ways to infiltrate networks,” said TS. “We have to stay as close to them as possible,” he adds.

While TS’ professional journey has been unconventional at best, he has noticed many lessons from his baseball career that have translated into the cyber arena.

“Teamwork is huge; I learned early on in baseball that every teammate receives things differently. You have to take the time and care enough to figure out how your team members communicate. [In cyber security], everyone communicates differently too. Both in receiving communication and externally communicating. Step one is always getting a feel for that in order to be as effective as possible when communicating with teammates/team members.”

Likewise, TS learned that in baseball, a player’s own skill level and performance weren’t the sole indicator of how “good” a teammate was. The greatest measure, he says, is how effective one is at making others better and serving them.

“To be good at and handle your job is one thing but whenever you have a team involved, the greatest measure of a player or cyber employee is the capability to lift up those around them and make them better,” he advises. Empowering teammates, teaching them, and learning from them is the approach he lives by at Circadence.

We are proud to have TS as part of the Circadence family and know while he’s not hitting balls out of the park at the stadium, he’s hitting home runs with Circadence, hardening its cyber security posture.

Photo by Joey Kyber 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

Top 10 Cyber Myths

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The top cyber security myths CISOs and security professionals fall victim to. Empower yourself with persistent training and skill building instead.

NICE Names Circadence’s Brad Wolfenden as New Co-Chair

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Bradley Wolfenden, Director of Cyber Academic Partnerships at Circadence  will begin his tenure as the new co-chair for the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education (NICE) Competitions Subgroup in April, 2019.

Hope for Cybersecurity: Cyber Teaching Challenges & New Horizons for Cyber Learning

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The statistics are dismal. An estimated 3.5 million unfilled cyber positions by 2021 and today, we have over 300,000 openings in the U.S. alone. According to a New York Times article, “filling those jobs would mean increasing the country’s current cybersecurity workforce of 715,000 people by more than 40 percent,” according to data presented at the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education Conference. If you’re a student in cyber or are just undeclared, there hasn’t been a better time to consider cybersecurity as a professional career. The field has come a long way from the stereotypical hoodie-wearing, Mountain Dew sipping worker in a dark room performing tedious coding tasks.

Cybersecurity is so much more than that—and it’s exciting! Don’t believe us? At Divergence Academy, we are preparing the next generation of cyber professionals to enter the workforce and alleviate the skills gap through gamified learning. If more institutions adopted such an approach, we as educators would be more successful at not just engaging our students in teaching relevant concepts and theory, but successful at helping them build skills needed in today’s workforce.

Cyber Teaching and Learning Challenges

But before we get into the “hopeful” part of this article, we need to understand the challenges in teaching cyber in the first place. The way that cybersecurity has been taught throughout the years often include lectures, PowerPoint presentations or online models that students complete on their own. Inherently there is nothing wrong in teaching new information in this way. However, the opportunity exists to help students learn how to apply this knowledge to a real-world setting. The act of doing and creating the needed experience is the single most important quality job candidates can bring to an employer and this is the gap Divergence Academy is hoping to close.

When students sit in a classroom, information can be presented in a systematic way, where in real life this may not always be the case, especially in the world of cybersecurity.

When you think of teaching someone how to think like a hacker, you are fundamentally teaching them how to be creative in how they approach a situation.

The concept of teaching someone to think like a hacker is easier said than done, which is why diversifying the way students can process information is crucial. Not every student learns in the way same.

There’s Hope for Cybersecurity: Continuous Skills Acquisition and Application

As cyber educators and instructors, we know there is no “one-way” to teach and that’s the good news! While certifications and technical degrees are a starting place for cybersecurity readiness and workforce development, instructors must think of new methods that provide persistent access to cyber education.

This statement can best be described with an analogous story. If an aspiring baseball player was training for the major leagues and went to practice to hone his/her skills, they would certainly learn something. However, if that aspiring baseball player then applied for the major leagues a year or so later, without attending training leading up to that point, he/she would be a little rusty, wouldn’t you say? The same situation can be applied to cybersecurity. You wouldn’t attend a class or even complete a full degree in cybersecurity and then apply for a job and say you were a “seasoned cybersecurity professional,” would you? Of course not. There is no “final inning” in cybersecurity signaling a professional’s peak of learning and skills acquisition.

Threats evolved day by day and if a student graduates thinking about phishing or malware detection one way and ends up in a work environment where that knowledge isn’t applicable anymore, we won’t be able to help the next generation of cyber pros be successful in their jobs. To keep current students and alumni actively engaged in critical learning, persistent access to cybersecurity training must be employed. In this industry, the only constant in cybersecurity is change, and for that reason (in addition to the multitude of attacks businesses every day), educational institutions can be vigilant in putting learning to work for the businesses and workplaces we rely on to support our daily functions.

As technology and interconnectivity evolve with each passing day, steps must be taken immediately to adopt a pedagogy that values and emphasizes continuous learning to best prepare our students for the career they want. With gamified learning at the helm of a new teaching approach for cybersecurity, we can be on our way to minimizing the cyber skills gap and empowering today’s students in a more effective way.

For more information about our gamified learning cyber courses, visit https://divergenceacademy.com/.