This installment of the “Living our Mission” blog series features Circadence’s Rajani “Raj” Kutty, Senior Product Manager.
Raj is fascinated by technology’s evolution in the marketplace and that interest has informed her career path toward success. She achieved her masters degree in computer science from University of Pennsylvania in 2003. From there, she spent 15-16 years in the tech industry and has always been interested in the everchanging advancements in technology. Her tech background consists of Java programming, business analysis and product management. In the beginning of her career, she worked on mobile app designs, web app development, and programming for various industries including finance, insurance, retail, and more. For the last 10 years, she’s moved into the direction of product management. Her shift into this area began because she enjoys building a roadmap for product development and seeing it through the various stages from identifying a problem in the market, and creating a product that solves pain points for customers. Her experience working with many different industries provides an advantage to Circadence since she has a first-hand understanding of why these businesses can benefit from additional cyber security training to protect company assets.
Raj started at Circadence about 7 months ago and was immediately captivated by the concept of cyber readiness and the security industry as a whole. Throughout her profession, she noticed a growing issue many companies faced: a lack of cyber security awareness and training. Over the years, she heard a lot about the cyber workforce shortage and knew the first step to creating a solution for this problem was to get the user engaged with the right type of training. In her mind, if the user is engaged in training, then it would result in better cyber defense for the organization. Her previous work experience, thoughts about cyber security readiness and ideas around engaged training were validated when she heard what Circadence was doing to help companies be “cyber ready” using gamified learning platforms. In the past, training would consist of a video, classroom lecture or reading textbooks- something dry and boring, she said. Raj felt Circadence offered a unique solution to get people interested in cyber security, which could lead to more strategic cyber defense performance and possibly minimize the cyber workforce gap.
“Training has to be fun and interesting to the user, while still being effective. I feel like Circadence is offering this to the cyber workforce in a game-play mode, which is more engaging for the user.”
Day to day, Raj works with different departments and team members at Circadence developing product strategy and bringing a product roadmap to life. Her knowledge across many industries helps ensure our products meet the needs of different organizations, while still maintaining in-depth cyber training and ease-of-use for the customer. Much like planning a road trip, which requires knowledge of route to destination, Raj leads her team every day by investigating and communicating strategy and plans to determine where they need to go next to bring the product to market.
Her main focus over the last couple months has been a new portal Circadence is developing called CyberBridge. CyberBridge is the entry point at which users can access all Circadence cyber learning platforms including Project Ares®, inCyt®, Orion® and more. It’s a global SaaS platform that offers different types of cyber training content for different markets.
“I love that I get to help design a product that addresses the cyber challenges across different industries and the ability to provide a readiness solution pertinent to each sector’s security pain points.”
The products Raj helps map to market fulfills her goal of bringing much-needed cyber awareness and training solutions to everyone and every business. Her perspective: With every tech integration, Bluetooth connection, and device-to-device communication we implement to make our working lives easier, we inherently increase our cyber risk as our attack surface widens. There are no signs of a slowing tech usage, hence why the importance of cyber awareness continues to grow each day. When we talk about how businesses need to protect themselves, we’re really talking about the people of a business, since people are what make up a company. In today’s world of escalating cyber threats, it’s everyone’s responsibly to gain cyber awareness to protect a company.
“Cybersecurity is like community immunity, when everyone gets vaccinated, we are improving and protecting our greater community, and cyber security works the same way.”
As we enter the New Year, one thing is certain: cyber attacks aren’t going anywhere. Enterprise companies have been tasked with defending their networks from unyielding cyber crooks who want a piece of the pie for themselves. What’s on the horizon for enterprise security threats in 2020? We’ve got a few predictions.
Deep Fake technology can create fake but incredibly realistic images, text, and videos. Computers can rapidly process numerous facial biometrics, and mathematically build or classify human features, to mimic a person or group of individuals for public manipulation. Bloomberg reports the tech is becoming so sophisticated, detecting a DeepFake video from a real one, is getting harder and harder to differentiate for viewers.
While the technical benefits are impressive, underlying flaws inherent in all types of Deep Fake models represent a rapidly growing security weakness, which cyber criminals will exploit. It will be critical for businesses to understand the security risks presented by facial recognition and other biometric systems and educate themselves on the risks as well as hardening systems that require/use facial recognition.
API and Cloud vulnerabilities
An application programming interface (API) is an interface or communication protocol between different parts of a computer program intended to simplify the implementation and maintenance of software. APIs are an essential tool in cloud environments, acting as a service gateway to enable direct and indirect cloud software and infrastructure services to cloud users.
A recent study showed more than three in four organizations treat API security differently than web app security, indicating API security readiness lags behind other aspects of application security. The study also reported that more than two-thirds of organizations expose APIs to the public to enable partners and external developers to tap into their software platforms and app ecosystems. Threat actors are following the growing number of organizations using API-enabled apps because APIs continue to be an easy – and vulnerable – means to access a treasure trove of sensitive data. Despite the fallout of large-scale breaches and ongoing threats, APIs often still reside outside of the application security infrastructure and are ignored by security processes and teams.
Larger attack surface due to the massive increase in connectivity
Greater number of devices accessing the network
The extension of security policies
Authentication of a larger number and wider variety of devices.
As more 5G devices enter the network, organizations must prepare for the onslaught of added security threats.
Ransomware attacks evolve
Ah, ransomware, seemingly every hacker’s favorite extortion tool. According to McAfee Labs 2020 Threat Prediction Report, the increase of targeted ransomware has created a growing demand for compromised company networks. This demand is met by criminals who specialize in penetrating company networks and sell complete network access in one go.
“I expect that the ransomware used will continue to become more advanced. I am concerned that some threats have just become more stealthy, or are working toward that, and that readily available ransomware will enable even novice criminals to maintain stealth. Organizations are spending more resources to defend against ransomware, which might drive out a few of the lesser players, but any organization with resources will still see ransomware attacks happen as a fast and easy way for financial gain, so hackers will continue to pursue advancements.” ~ Karl Gosset, VP of Content Development at Circadence
It’s clear that the threat landscape will continue to grow and become more sophisticated in the coming year, which means it’s time for businesses to step up their security game.
Circadence believes that the best way to do this is through cyber learning games themselves! Our flagship product, Project Ares, delivers real-world attack scenarios in a safe, online range environment and allows users to practice and hone their cyber skills through the use of games. With missions specific to enterprise threats, such as Operation Crimson Wolf and Operation Desert Whale, Project Ares will ready your organization for any looming threats like these. By using a gamified cyber learning platform like this for your security teams in 2020, you can readily pop some champagne and dance the night away, knowing your enterprise is better protected in the new year.
Every year hackers come out of the woodwork to target various companies, specifically around the holiday season. In fact, cyber attacks are estimated to increase by as much as 50 – 60% over the holidays. With staff often spread thin and consumers taking advantage of online shopping and banking for added convenience, the timing is perfect for HR professionals to stay vigilant with how they onboard new employees with cyber education while encouraging good cyber hygiene among existing colleagues. Understanding the risks employees come across while online, how to train them to detect and mitigate these risks, and how you as an HR manager can ensure continued efforts to harden security posture will make you a cyber safety hero this holiday season!
While IT and cyber professionals are primarily responsible for securing a company’s networks and ensuring teams are up to snuff, the reality is that cyber risk extends beyond what occurs in the server room. Human error continues to be one of the top reasons cyber attacks are successful. This means that not only do security teams need to be trained, but cyber training across every department, with every employee who works on a computer, is essential to obtain and maintain good cyber hygiene across the company. If every employee in your organization understands how their actions can impact overall company security, more personal responsibility will be taken to maintain cyber safety.
Don’t fret! HR professionals need not be masters in cyber security. There are great tools out there to help anyone learn the basics and be able to share their foundational learning with others. So, what are some of the things you can learn and train employees on to mitigate attacks?
Phishing emails – With inboxes flooded daily, it can be hard to spot potential threats in emails. Hackers send targeted emails that may address a work-related matter from a co-worker or manager. One click on the wrong email, and you could be infecting your business device with malware. It is important every employee understand what suspicious emails “look” like and how to avoid nefarious click bait.
Using company devices for personal work – It’s an easy thing to do – grab a work device off the counter and start online shopping, emailing friends and family, or finally getting around to baking that chocolate chip cookie recipe from Martha Stewart. However, accessing un-secured sites and opening personal, and potentially phishing, emails on a work computer puts companies at risk. As an HR manager, you must recognize this common occurrence and be able to speak to it with your staff. If a hacker is able to gain access to a business computer through an employee’s personal use, they gain access to all of the company information on that employee’s device as well.
Using personal devices to conduct business – The same can be said for using personal devices to conduct business. It can be difficult to “turn off” after work hours and many employees answer some work emails on their cell phone, or load a work document on his/her personal tablet or laptop. When company staff access potentially sensitive business documents on their personal device, they risk leaking that information to a hacker. To prevent attacks company-wide, HR pros must be aware of how often this type of behavior occurs and work closely with their IT department to learn how company networks are secured when remote access is granted to employees outside of home and work IP addresses.
HR managers: Spread good cyber hygiene!
Security awareness training is becoming increasingly prevalent at companies that know what it takes to have good cyber hygiene. According to a recent report by Infosec, about 53% of U.S companies have some form of security awareness training in place. While this is still barely over half, it’s a start. So what can you do to rank among companies leading the charge in cyber security?
Offer continuous training – Cyber security awareness training is not a “one and done” event. This kind of training should continue throughout the year, at all levels of an organization, and be specific to different job roles within the company. Technology is always changing, which means the threatscape is too. When you are battling a constantly shifting enemy, your employees need to be vigilantly trained to understand each shift.
Perform “live fire” training exercises – Live fire exercises (LFX) happen when users undergo a simulated cyber attack specific to their job or industry. One example is having your IT department send out a phishing email. See how many people click on it and show them how easily they could have been hacked. This data can be used to show progress, tailor problem areas, and train to specific threats as needed.
Stress the importance of security at work and at home – Showing employees the benefit of cyber awareness in the workplace translates to awareness at home as well. Help prospective and existing employees gain a wide breadth of understanding about cyber best practices by making learning approachable instead of unattainable or intimidating.
Reward good cyber hygiene – Reward employees who find malicious emails or other threats with your company’s IT team and share success stories of how employees helped thwart security issues with vigilant “eyes” on suspicious activity. Equally, it is important to also empathize with employees who make mistakes and give them the tools to learn from their mistakes. Many employees receive hundreds of emails each day, and while training tips and education are helpful tools, it is not a perfect solution.
Training employees to be cyber aware can be difficult unless a structured program and management strategy is in place. We’re here to help! Circadence’s security awareness platform, inCyt, is coming soon! inCyt allows employees to compete in cyber-themed battles and empowers them to understand professional and personal cyber responsibility. By cultivating safe cyber practices in virtual environments, HR managers can increase security awareness and reduce risks to the business.
To learn more and stay in the know for upcoming product launches, visit www.circadence.com
According to CIO magazine, about 96% of organizations use cloud services in one way or another. In partnership with Microsoft, we are proud to announce that Circadence has redesigned its Project Ares cyber learning platform to fully leverage a cloud-native design on Microsoft Azure. This new, flexible architecture improves cyber training to be even more customized, scalable, accessible, and relevant for today’s professionals.
This transition to cloud infrastructure will yield immediate impacts to our current customers.
Increased speeds to launch cyber learning battle rooms and missions
Greater ability to onboard more trainees to the system from virtually any location
More access to cyber training content that suits their security needs and professional development interests
Proven success at Microsoft Ignite
At the recent Microsoft Ignite conference (November 2019), more than 500 security professionals had the opportunity to use the enhanced platform. Conference participants set up CyberBridge accounts and then played customized battle rooms in Project Ares. Microsoft cloud-based Azure security solutions were integrated into the cloud-based cyber range to provide an immersive “cloud-in-cloud” sandboxed learning experience that realistically aligned to phases of a ransomware attack. The new version of Project Ares sustained weeklong intensive usage while delivering on performance.
So what’s new in the new and improved Project Ares?
Curriculum Access Controls for Tailored Cyber Learning
One of the biggest enhancements for Project Ares clients is that they can now control permissions for training exercises and solution access at the user level. Customer Administrators will use the new CyberBridge management portal to tailor access to Circadence training exercises for individual users or groups of users.
Single-sign-on through CyberBridge enables the alignment of training exercises to individuals based on their unique learning requirements including:
Cyber skill-building exercises and complex missions within Project Ares for cyber professionals
Cyber foundation learning with Cyber Essentials tools for the IT team
Security awareness training with inCyt for general staff
Cyber Essential learning tools and the inCyt game for security awareness will be added to CyberBridge over the next several months. With the capability to pre-select training activities reflective of a company’s overall security strategy, enterprise security managers can call the shots.
“As the administrator, you now choose what curriculum content your team should have. “This provides more flexibility in cyber training for our customers in terms of what they can expose to their teams.” ~ Rajani Kutty, Senior Product Manager for CyberBridge at Circadence.
Greater Scalability and Performance in Cyber Training
With a cloud-native architecture design, Project Ares can support more simultaneous users on the platform than ever before. Project Ares can now handle over 1,000 concurrent users, a significant improvement over historical capacity of 200-250 concurrent users on the platform. The combination of content access control at the group or individual level and the increased scalability of Project Ares creates a solution that effectively spins up cyber ranges with built-in learning exercises for teams and enterprises of any size. Additionally, this means that no matter where a cyber learner is geographically, they can log on to Project Ares and access training quickly. We see this as similar to the scalability and accessibility of any large global content provider (e.g. Netflix)—in that users who have accounts can log in virtually anywhere in the world at multiple times and access their accounts.
Now that Project Ares can support a greater volume of users on the platform, activities like hosting cyber competitions and events for experts and aspiring security professionals can be done on-demand and at scale.
“We can train more people in cyber than ever before and that is so impactful when we remember the industry’s challenges in workforce gaps and skills deficiencies.” ~ Paul Ellis, Project Ares Senior Product Manager at Circadence
The previous design of Project Ares required placing users in “enclaves” or groups when they signed on to the system to ensure the content within could be loaded quickly without delay. Now, everyone can sign in at any time and have access to learning without loading delays. It doesn’t even matter if multiple people are accessing the same mission or battle room at the same time. Their individual experience loading and playing the exercise won’t be compromised because of increased user activity.
Other performance improvements made to this version of Project Ares include:
Quicker download speeds of cyber exercises
Use of less memory on user’s computers, and resulting longer battery life for users, thanks to lower CPU utilization.
These behind-the-scenes improvements mean that training can happen quicker and learning, faster.
New Cyber Training Content
One new Mission and three new Battle Rooms will be deployed throughout the next few months on this new version of Project Ares.
Mission 15, Operation Raging Mammoth, showcases how to protect against an Election attack
Battle Rooms 19 and 20 feature Splunk Enterprise installation, configuration, and fundamentals
Mission 15 has been developed from many discussions about 2020 election security given past reports of Russian hacktivist groups interfering with the 2016 U.S. election. In Operation Raging Mammoth, users are tasked to monitor voting-related systems. In order to identify anomalies, players must first establish a baseline of normal activity and configurations. Any changes to administrator access or attempt to modify voter registration information must be quickly detected and reported to authorities. Like all Project Ares Missions, the exercise aligns with NIST/NICE work roles, specifically Cyber Defense Analyst, Cyber Defense Incident Responder, Threat/Warning analyst.
Battle Rooms 19 and 20 focuses on using Splunk software to assist IT and security teams to get the most out of their security tools by enabling log aggregation of event data from across an environment into a single repository of critical security insights. Teaching cyber pros how to configure and use this tool helps them identify issues faster so they can resolve them more efficiently to stop threats and attacks.
Battle Room 21 teaches cmdlet lightweight commands used in PowerShell. PowerShell is a command-line (CLI) scripting language developed by Microsoft to simplify automation and configuration management, consisting of a command-line shell and associated scripting language. With PowerShell, network analysts can obtain all the information they need to solve problems they detect in an environment. Microsoft notes that PowerShell also makes learning other programming languages like C# easier.
Embracing Cloud Capabilities for Continual Cyber Training
Circadence embraces all the capabilities the cloud provides and is pleased to launch the latest version of Project Ares that furthers our vision to provide sustainable, scalable, adaptable cyber training and learning opportunities to professionals so they can combat evolving threats in their workplace and in their personal lives.
As this upward trend in cloud utilization becomes ever-more prevalent, security teams of all sizes need to adapt their strategies to acknowledge the adoption of the cloud and train persistently in Project Ares. You can bet that as more people convene in the cloud, malicious hackers are not far behind them, looking for ways to exploit it. By continually innovating in Project Ares, we hope professionals all over the globe can better manage their networks in the cloud and protect them from attackers.
Ever wondered about the people behind Project Ares’ development? How does Circadence identify and develop learning curriculum material to benefit today’s cyber professionals? The crux of the strategy stems from the talents within our own Circadence family and is the driving force behind this “Living our Mission” article. We are sharing the unique talents of Megan Daudelin, Team Lead of Curriculum Development for our flagship gamified learning platform, Project Ares. While one might expect that a cyber background is critical to any tech-focused role in a security company, Megan would argue that having a strong understanding of learning theories, experience teaching cyber subjects, and placing oneself in the customer’s shoes equally weigh in importance to successfully build rich cybercurriculum into our products.
Blending Forensics, Hospital Security, and Cyber Education
Megan has a rich history in the cyber security industry, which started after she graduatedwith her bachelor’s degree, and continued as she worked full time while completing her Master’s in Digital Forensics Management from Champlain College. Prior to Circadence, she served as a Digital Forensic Analyst at ManTech and Information Security Content Analyst at Tenable Network Security. She also worked as a Network Security Analyst at New London Hospital between her stints at ManTech and Tenable, monitoring networks and medical devices in accordance with HIPPA. Those experiences helped her learn the importance of understanding an end-user’s behavior to identify and investigate digital evidence.
Her career as a digital forensic analyst revolved around gathering and interpreting data. She recalls a previous jobwhere she was responsible for writing up a narrative around a customer by referencing only the information available in a customer’s device. She would get a sense of the day-to-day digital life the userled to understand who and how that person was using the technology.
“That’s the part I liked, taking a vast amount of information and drawing the lines through the ‘dust cloud’ of data to figure out the connections between everything and turn the ‘cloud’ into a digestible amount of information.”
As Megan embraced new skillacquisition on the job, she grew to appreciate how problem-solving played a critical role in managing threats for her employers and their customers.
It was her passion for identifying the tools and techniques that best helped harden security posture that led her back to the classroom as an Adjunct Professor at her alma mater,Champlain College, to help groom the next generation of cyber professionals.Her professional experience across multiple disciplines in cyber, from digital forensics to network security to ethical hacking and incident response, allows her to teach courses on a variety of cybersecurity disciplines—a job she still does today.
Using Teaching to Inform Cyber Learning in Project Ares
Over the last two years, Megan has taken her love for teaching and applied it directly to the innovation within Project Ares. She is able to see how her students learn bestwhether through direct,hands-onexperiences or learning from peers, and she applies those observations within a customer’s experience in the platform. All of this comes with the understanding that she must remember not to get “too deep” into one thought pattern, to maintain the “10,000 foot view” as she puts it, so that she can build cyber learning curriculum that is cross-disciplinary and cross-functional.
Megan put her cyber and teaching skills to the ultimate test at the Microsoft Ignite “Into the Breach” cyber defense experience in November 2019. She helped design six custom-built Battle Rooms in Project Ares that were used in a competition-style activity among event registrants. The battle rooms provided a gamified learning approach to teach cyber professionals about Microsoft Security Tools. Megan used the Project Ares virtual environments to create a hands-on, experiential learning activity that focused on problem-solving using Microsoft tools. By adopting the end-user’s perspective, she was able to help the players through the maze from the home page of the Project Ares interface down to the data they were looking for to find the answers they needed.
“It was quite the adventure learning all these new security solutions and organizing them into a cohesive storyline. We weren’tasking independent questionsto teach TTPs in a silo. Instead, we were walking the playersthrough a single attack pattern. The narrative was knit together so that they could understand that the tasksin the Battle Rooms were related to the progressive arc of a full-scope attack and there were different points along the kill chain where the Microsoft tools could help to identify, analyze, and respond.”
As Megan works hard to build learning curriculum into Project Ares, she can’t help but think about what lies ahead for the cyber security industry.
“I hope the prioritization of training and education continues to increase; I hope the prioritization of security as a pillar of someone’s organization continues to get recognition. I think we’re coming out of a phase where organizations felt that theycould just ignore the elephant that’s stomping around their data center.
I’m hopeful we’re moving into a time that people are becoming more aware of their organization’s digital activity online…. not just in a check-the-box periodic program kind of way, but in the sense that cyber security readiness and training has ongoing funding and cross-function collaboration. The industry is moving toward recognition that this is where priorities lie.”
It is this kind of forward-thinking mindset in employees that helps Circadence deliver state-of-the-art products and we are incredibly proud to have Megan within the Circadence family!
If you’re anything like me, you get really excited when the holidays roll around. The music is cheerful (the Hallmark Channel is on 24/7–high five!), the fireplace is roaring, and I can curl up with my blanket and mobile phone to SHOP ONLINE (of course). Ah, the spirit of the holidays…But the bah humbug part about the scene I’ve just set, is I’m not the only one feeling “festive.” Cybercriminals LOVE when surges in online shopping occur because people are looking for the best deals on gifts, bargain hunting, and planning for the biggest online shopping days of the year: Black Friday and Cyber Monday. This means adversaries can more easily manipulate our holiday spirits with cyberattack methods like phishing and social engineering, credit card fraud, and more.
So while you prepare your winter festivities and “add to cart,” consider these 12 tips to keep your “digital dwelling” safe and warm during Cyber Monday and Black Friday, especially.
Shop from websites you know and trust.
Don’t click on those flashy “hot deals” that are likely too good to be true. Scammers deliver ads based on your interests, offering sweet discounts or great deals to get the click. Now is NOT the time to experiment with new retail websites and apps.
Don’t go “public.”
Avoid public Wi-Fi when using the Internet, especially when accessing sensitive data like your bank account balance or emails. Your personal information isn’t a “gift” you want to give a hacker this holiday season.
Update your operating systems.
With a little more downtime during the holidays, take a merry minute to keep your operating systems as current as possible. This also goes for apps on your phone.
Refresh your passwords.
Enter into the New Year with stronger, more secure passwords—something that will keep a criminal out of your personal property and prevent identity theft. Things like symbols and numbers to replace letters add a layer of complexity that make passwords harder to crack. Consider using a password manager to store all your different passwords so you don’t forget them!
To ensure you are protected from any precocious cyber predator, check our security awareness game inCyt, a fun way to learn cyber concepts and attack methods while cozying up on your couch with a hot toddy. You can practice proactive cyber readiness during the holidays—and year-round with this sweet resource.
Don’t click on suspicious links.
Scammers, like the Grinch, will impersonate real online retailers and stores to get you to open an email and click on links while you are holiday shopping. Don’t! This phishing email tactic opens the door for them to install malware on your computer and before you know it, your data is stolen and compromised.
Look for the lock.
Secure websites will often have a lock icon in the browser address bar to indicate it is a secure connection.
Get creative with security questions.
Your mother’s maiden name or favorite food can most likely be found online somewhere, so try getting creative with your security questions to access your accounts. Choose a motto you live by perhaps or choose an answer to a question that is completely opposite of what you would select.
Watch your bank and card activity.
Hackers can see your financial activity when you’re sleeping and when you’re awake if you’re not careful. Diligently monitor your bank account, online transactions, and card activity and notify your financial services provider if you observe any suspicious activity.
Some devices will auto-connect to available wireless networks. Ensure you are only connected to wireless and Bluetooth networks when devices are in use or about to be used. Unknowingly being connected is the opportune time for hackers to cause damage right under your nose.
Store devices when away.
If you’re a busy traveler, criminals seek out meal times to check hotel rooms for unattended laptops and mobile devices. Be especially wary when attending conferences or trade shows as guest networks tend to be more vulnerable to attacks (and allows hackers to access lots of data from lots of people, who are all in one convenient location).
Activate double authentication.
If you haven’t done so already, ensure all your apps have a double authentication factor so every time someone tries to log in to your online account, they need a code or key that is texted to your phone or sent to your email to gain access. That makes unintended access to things like social media accounts more difficult for cybercriminals.
Practice persistent protection.
Hackers aren’t just looking to exploit individual data, they also target businesses knowing many take extra time off this time of year to spend with loved ones. Ensure your company has a strong cybersecurity response plan in place and key members of your threat intelligence, analysis, and fraud teams are consistently practicing responding to threat scenarios. Our Project Ares platform runs on Microsoft Azure, so professionals can practice cyber offense and defense from anywhere, at any time on a gamified cyber range.
It’s important to practice safe online behavior all year-round but the holidays bring about an extra level of digital activity hackers love to exploit. Make sure you are taking proactive measures to ensure you are having the most wonderful online shopping day of the year—and cybercriminals aren’t.
As promised, I’m back with a follow-up to my recent post on how we need modernize the learning experience for cybersecurity professionals by gamifying training to make learning fun. Some of you may have attended the recent Microsoft Ignite events in Orlando and Paris. I missed the conferences (ironically, due to attending a cybersecurity certification boot camp) but heard great things about the Microsoft – Circadence joint “Into the Breach” capture the flag exercise. If you missed Ignite, we are planning several additional “Microsoft Ignite The Tour” events around the world, where you’ll be able to try your hand at this capture the flag experience. Look for me at the DC event, right after the Super Bowl, in early February.
In the meantime, due to the great feedback that I received from my previous blog (which by the way I do really appreciate, especially if you have other ideas for how we should be tackling the shortage of cyber professionals), I will be digging deeper into the mechanics of learning to understand what it really takes to learn cyber in today’s evolving landscape. I want to address the important questions of how a new employee would actually ramp up their learning, and how employers can prepare employees for success, and track the efficacy of the learning curriculum. Once again, I’m pleased to share this post with Keenan Skelly, chief evangelist at Boulder, CO-based Circadence. Take a look a look at some of her recommendations:
Q: Keenan, in our last blog, you discussed Circadence’s ‘Project Ares’ cyber learning platform. How do new cyber practitioners get started on Project Ares?
The way that Project Ares is set up allows for a user to acquire a variety of different skill levels when launched. It’s important to understand what kind of work roles you are looking to learn about as a user. What kinds of tools you’re looking to understand better before you get started on Project Ares. For example, if I were to take some of my Girls Who Code, or Cyber Patriot students and put them into the platform, I would probably have them start in the Battle School. This is where they’re going to learn about basic cybersecurity fundamentals, things like ports and protocols, regular expressions and the cyber kill chain. Then they can transition into Battle Rooms, where they will start to learn about very specific tools, tactics and procedures (TTPs), for a variety of different work roles. If you are a much more skilled cyber ninja, however, you can probably go ahead and get right into Missions, but we do recommend that everyone who comes into Project Ares does do some work in the Battle Rooms first, specifically if they are trying to learn a tool or a skill for their work role.
In Project Ares, we have a couple of different routes that an expert or an enterprising cybersecurity professional can come into that’s really focused more on their role. For example, we have an assessments area that is based entirely on the work role. That aligns to the NIST framework and the NICE cybersecurity work roles. For example, if you are a network defender, you can come into that assessment pathway and have steps laid out before you to identify your skill level in that work role.
Q: What areas within Project Ares do you recommend for enterprise cyber professionals to train against role-based job functions and prepare for cyber certifications?
You might start with something simple like understanding very basic things about your work role through a questionnaire in the Battle School arena. You may then move into a couple of Battle Rooms that tease out very detailed skills in tools that you would be using for that role. And then eventually you’ll get to go into a mission by yourself, and potentially a mission with your entire team to really certify that you are capable in that work role. All of this practice helps prepare professionals to take official cyber certifications and exams.
Q: Describe some of the gamification elements in Project Ares and share how it enhances cyber learning.
One of the best things about Project Ares is gamification. Everyone loves to play games, whether it’s on your phone playing Angry Birds, or on your computer or gaming console, so we really tried to put a lot of gaming elements inside Project Ares. For example, everything is scored within Project Ares, so everything you do from learning about ports and protocols, to battle rooms, to missions gives you points, experience points—those experience points add up to skill badges. All these things make learning more fun for the end-user. For example, if you are a defender, you might have skill badges in infrastructure, network design, network defense, etc. and the way Ares is set up, once you have a certain combination of those skill badges you can actually earn a work role achievement certificate within Project Ares.
This kind of thing is taken very much from Call of Duty, or other types of games where you can really build up your skills by doing a very specific skill-based activity and earning points towards badges. One of the other things that is great about Project Ares is it’s quite immersive, so the Missions, for example, allow a user to come into a specific cyber situation or cyber response situation (e.g. water treatment plant cyber attack) and be able to have multimedia effects that demonstrate what is going– very much reflective of that cool guy video look. Being able to talk through challenges in the exercises with our in-game advisor, Athena, adds another element to the learning experience. She, Athena, was inspired by the trends of personal assistants like Cortana and other such AI “bots” which have been integrated into games. So these things like chat bots, narrative storylines, and skill badges are super important for really immersing the individual in the process. It is so much more fun, and easier to learn things in this way, as opposed to sitting through a static Power Point presentation or watching someone on a on a video, trying to learn the skill passively.
Q: What kinds of insights and reporting capability can Project Ares deliver to cyber team supervisors and C-Suite leaders to help them assessing cyber readiness?
Project Ares offers a couple great features that are good for managers, all the way up to C-Suite individuals who are trying to understand how their cybersecurity team is doing. The first one is called Project Ares Trainer View. This is where a supervisor or manager can actually jump into the Project Ares environment with the students or with the enterprise team members and actually do that in a couple of different ways. So for example, the instructor, or the manager can jump into the environment as Athena, so that the user doesn’t know that they are in there, they can provide additional insight or help that is needed to a student.
A supervisor or leader can also jump in as the opponent, which gives them the ability to see someone who is just breezing by everything, to maybe make it a little more challenging; and then of course, they can just observe and leave comments for the individuals. That piece is really helpful when we are talking about managers who are looking to understand their team’s skill level in much more detail.
The other piece of that is a product we have coming out soon called Dendrite. Dendrite is an analytics tool that looks at everything that happens at Project Ares so we record all the key strokes, any chats that a user has with Athena, the in game advisor, and any chatting a user may have done with other team members while in a mission or battle room. Cyber team leads can really see what’s going on, and as a user, you can see what you’re doing well, and what you’re not doing well. That can be provided up to the manager level, the senior manager level, and even to the C-Suite level to demonstrate exactly where that individual is, in their particular skill path. It helps cyber team leads to understand what tools are being used appropriately and which tools are not being used appropriately.
For example, if you are a financial institution and you paid quite a bit of money for Tanium, but upon viewing tool use in Dendrite, you find that no one is using it. It might prompt you to rethink your strategy on how you are using tools in your organization optimally. Or, how you’re training your folks to use those tools. These types of insights are absolutely critical if you want to understand the best way to grow the individual in cybersecurity and make sure they are really on top of their game.
Q: How do non-technical employees improve their cyber readiness?
Here at Circadence we don’t just provide learning capabilities for advanced cyber warriors. For mid-range people just coming into the technical side of cybersecurity, we have an entire learning path that starts with a product called inCytÔ. Now, inCyt is very fun, browser-based game of strategy where players have some hackable devices that they have to protect, like operating systems and phones. Meanwhile, your opponent has the same thing objective: protect their devices from attacks. Players continually hack each other by gathering intel on their opponent and then launching different cyber attacks. While they’re doing this, players actual get a fundamental understanding of the cyber kill chain. They learn things like what reconnaissance means to a hacker, what weaponizing means to a hacker, what deploying that weapon means to a hacker, so that they can start to recognize that behavior in their everyday interactions online.
Some people ask why that’s important and I always say: “I used to be a bomb technician, and there is no possible way I could defuse an IED or nuclear weapon without understanding how those things are put together.” It’s the same kind of concept.
It’s impossible to assume that someone is going to learn cyber awareness by answering some questions or watching a five-minute phishing tutorial, after they have already clicked on a link in an suspicious email. Those are very reactive ways of learning cyber. inCyt is very proactive. And we want to teach you in-depth understanding of what to look for, not just for phishing but for all the attacks we are all susceptible to. inCyt is also being used by some of our customers as a preliminary gate track for those who are interested in cybersecurity. So you may demonstrate a very high aptitude within inCyt in which case we would send you over to our CyberBridge portal where you can start learning some of the basics of cybersecurity and see if it might be the right field for you. Within our CyberBridge access management portal, you can then go into Project Ares Academy which is just a lighter version of Project Ares.
Professional and Enterprise licenses in Project Ares pave more intricate learning pathways for people to advance in learning from novice to expert cyber defender. You’ll be able to track all metrics of where you started how far you came, what kind of skill path you’re on, what kind of skill path you want to be on. Very crucial items for your own work role pathway.
How to close the cybersecurity talent gap
Keenan’s perspective and the solution that is offered by Project Ares really helps to understand how to train security professionals and give them the hands-on experience they require and want. We’re in interesting times, right? With innovations in machine learning and artificial intelligence, we’re increasingly able to pivot from reactive cyber defense to get more predictive. Still, though, right now we are facing a cybersecurity talent gap of up to 4 million people depending on which analyst group you follow, so the only way that we are going to get folks interested in cybersecurity is to make it exactly what we have been talking about: a career-long opportunity to learn.
Make it something that they can attain, that they can grow in, and see themselves going from a novice to a leader in an organization. This is tough right now because there are relatively few cybersecurity operators compared to demand, and the operators on the front lines are subject to burnout, with uncertain and undefined career paths beyond tactical SecOps. What’s to look forward to?
We need to get better as a community in cybersecurity, not only protecting the cybersecurity defenders that we have already, but also helping to bring in new cybersecurity defenders and offenders who are really going to push the boundaries of where we are at today. This is where we have an excellent and transformational opportunity to introduce more immersive and gamified learning, to improve the learning experience and put our people in a position to succeed.
To read more about how to close the cybersecurity talent gap, please read this ebook.
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.
The holiday season is a time of giving, however, for hackers it can be a time of swindling. We are all susceptible to cyberattacks, but small businesses can hurt the most from the fall out. With limited staff numbers, small IT departments (if any at all), and no money allocated toward remediation, it is of the utmost importance to protect your small business, especially over the holidays. So, what can you do to protect yourself?
Understand your vulnerability by industry – While every industry can be targeted by scammers, there are some more at risk than others. Specifically, retail, automotive, manufacturing, and financial. Not only do these industries process a lot of sensitive data and large quantities of money, but they also use automated process and many interconnected devices which are vulnerable to cyber attacks. Assessing your risk is the first step in preventing it.
Adopt a cyber security policy – Whether you’re a sole proprietor or a company with 5,000 employees, cyber criminals are targeting your business. Smaller businesses may not have controls, processes, or policies in place for cyber security defense and offense. There are several options for securing a comprehensive cyber security plan such as a managed service provider (MSP), a systems integrator or security system provider, or a cyber security consultant. Take the time to put together a comprehensive policy for your employees to learn and reference.
Educate employees on cyber risks and prevention – It won’t do you any good to adopt a cyber policy if you don’t train your employees on risk awareness and staying safe online while working. Ensure you utilize persistent, hands-on learning, such as a cyber range, to keep employees abreast of the latest threats while building confidence in their abilities to recognize threats and suspicious activity.
Beware of popular scam tactics used against small businesses – From overpayment scams to phishing emails, hackers will try just about anything to get to your money and sensitive information. Be wary of anything that looks or sounds suspicious such as calls from unknown persons, pop-ups, and unfamiliar websites, only open emails from trusted sources, and NEVER give your credit card or personal information to anyone you don’t know whether over the phone, by email, or in person.
Secure WiFi Networks – These days all businesses require WiFi to operate, so you need to ensure your network is safe. Hide your network, which you can do by googling instructions or working with your internet provider, so that your router does not broadcast the network name (or SSID) and ensure that a password is required for access. Be sure you change the administrative password that was on the device when first purchased as well to a complex password only you will remember. Setting up a private network for employees and offering a guest network to customers is a great way to keep customers happy while ensuring your cyber safety.
Make backup copies of important information – Regularly back up data on every computer used in your business including documents, spreadsheets, financial and personnel files, and more. You can do this through many channels from uploading files to an external hardrive, USB, the cloud, or using a paid data storage site.
Install and update antivirus software – Every device you use for your business needs to be protected with antivirus, antispyware, and antimalware software. You will need to purchase this software either online or from a retail store and will need to assess your specific needs based on a variety of factors, such as the type of operating system you use (mac or PC) and your budget. Here is a handy guide for things to consider before purchasing antivirus software. Be sure you install and update antivirus software regularly to ensure the newest and best iteration is at work protecting your sensitive information.
Install a VPN – A virtual private network (VPN) is a software that enables a mobile device to connect to another secure network via the internet and send and receive data safely. If you regularly use your smartphone to access secure information for your small business, it can be technology that is well worth investing in. Setting up a VPN is a simple task but depends on what operating system you use. Check out this great article that guides you through VPN set up for various systems.
By following these tips and tricks, you can ensure that your business stays protected and profitable. Cyber security is an ever-changing field, and businesses must continually adapt to new attack methods and be able to defend themselves. Keep the latest in cyber training at your fingertips with Circadence’s inCyt security awareness game of strategy and if you have a small security team/IT professional, consider our flagship immersive, gamified cyber learning platform, Project Ares for advanced cyber training. We wish you a safe and happy holiday season!