What is a Cyber Range?

What is a cyber range?
What is a cyber range?

What is a Cyber Range- Industry and government groups responsible with cyber defence are finding it increasingly difficult to recruit and hire trained security specialists as the cyber threat environment becomes more aggressive. A cybersecurity degree is rarely enough to provide a person with the abilities needed to counter advanced threats. This necessitates breach training in realistic settings.

Unfortunately, in the field of cybersecurity, there are few options for on-the-job training.

A cyber range is one option. A cyber range, similar to the physical shooting ranges used by law enforcement and the military, establishes a training environment that replicates a wide range of security incidents, allowing cybersecurity experts to practise and learn how to respond successfully.

Many states are now constructing cyber ranges. The purpose of this essay is to explain how cyber ranges work and why states are investing in them to improve their security postures.

What is a Cyber Range?

A cyber range is a controlled, interactive technology environment where aspiring cybersecurity experts may learn how to detect and neutralise cyber threats using the same equipment they’ll use on the job. The range represents the worst-case scenarios for assaults on IT infrastructure, networks, software platforms, and applications. The set-up includes technologies that can track and operationalize a trainee’s progress and performance as they grow and learn through simulated scenarios. When used correctly, a cyber range can create trust in cybersecurity professionals.

Learning management components (a “Learning Management System,” or LMS) are also included in the spectrum. An LMS allows teachers and students to track their progress through a set of training modules. The LMS could also be linked to a “orchestration layer,” which links certain elements of the curriculum to the underlying IT assets that make up the range. For example, if the teacher wants to replicate a data exfiltration attack, the orchestration layer communicates these attack parameters to the cyber range’s data and network components. The student can next participate in a simulated exfiltration attack and put his or her defence strategies into action.

The underlying infrastructure of the range could comprise a network, storage, computing (servers), switches, routers, firewalls, and other devices. In other circumstances, an open source platform such as OpenStack is used to create the range. A virtualization layer aids in reducing the physical footprint of the range. Some ranges are cloud-based in part or whole. The range’s “target infrastructure” simulates real-world digital assets that could be targeted by hackers. Commercial products from the “real world,” such as Microsoft Windows Server, might be the target. This level of precision is critical because it allows instructors to determine if a pupil has acquired the abilities required to repel an actual attack. The instructors can then provide immediate feedback.

Cyber ranges are valuable for people and organisations who want to experiment with new cyber protection technology in addition to training. They can use the range to solve complicated cyber challenges in a secure environment. They can put new ideas to the test and watch how teams react to new cybersecurity solutions.

Drivers of Cyber Range Development

There are numerous factors that influence the development of cyber ranges. For one thing, it’s impossible to learn everything there is to know about cyber protection in a classroom setting. Operators must have hands-on experience. The real world, on the other hand, is not conducive to this type of education. Allowing students to learn cyber skills on production systems with real data is far too dangerous. Furthermore, the chances of a teachable incident occurring on a schedule that coincides with a training programme are exceedingly slim. It’s possible to wait months for a significant cyberattack to occur, but it’s critical to be ready when it does. As a result, the range.

Lack of Well-Trained Cybersecurity Professionals

The fact that there aren’t nearly enough educated cybersecurity experts to satisfy demand is the number one reason cyber ranges are becoming more widespread and sophisticated. According to a 2019 research by the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS), 82 percent of companies said their workforces lack cybersecurity capabilities. Seventy-one percent feel their firms are suffering immediate and quantifiable consequences as a result of the skills gap.

The National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education (NICE) conducted another study and discovered that the United States is short of over 300,000 cybersecurity specialists. The number of unfilled cyber roles in the world is approaching 2 million. To close the skills gap, according to BankInfoSecurity.com, cybersecurity jobs needs rise by more than 40% in the United States and 89 percent globally.

The Growth of Highly Advanced, Constantly Evolving Attack Vectors

The threat landscape becomes more serious as the talent gap widens. Anyone who has been paying attention to the news in recent years has noticed a tremendous increase in data breaches and bold attacks, including the surprising infiltration of US federal institutions via the Solar Winds supply chain attack. Almost every private and public sector organisation in the United States is under attack by governmental actors. There has never been a time when the stakes have been higher.

A Need for Training that Simulates Different Kinds of Attacks

In addition, attacks are becoming more diversified and complex. If cyber professionals are to have a chance of protecting sensitive digital assets from advanced persistent threats (APTs) and other sophisticated attack vectors, they must train on entire technology environments. Spear phishing, Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS), bot assaults, API attacks, and other types of attacks are among them. Detecting the assault in many circumstances necessitates learning to notice seemingly trivial anomalies in network behaviour and device records. To determine competency, all of this necessitates extensive training and individual testing.

A Need for Readiness

Finally, the training and personnel demands that cyber ranges may address are all about achieving a high level of cyber defence readiness. Waiting till the threat scenario grows more extreme before recruiting and training cyber specialists is not an option. This must happen right now, in light of the growing threat in cyberspace around the world.

Incident Response Plans Need to be Tested

However, being ready entails more than just filling seats. To be ready to defend digital assets, a cyber security operation must demonstrate its ability to respond to incidents. The cyber range provides a setting for cyber experts to demonstrate their ability to carry out incident response strategies. Working from established incident response “playbooks” that specify how to respond to particular threats could be part of this.

Different types of assault necessitate different reactions. A security operations center’s (SOC) response to a phishing attack will differ from its response to a DDoS, and so on. Trainees can go through the reaction protocols and attest to their competence to manage a variety of threats on the cyber range.

Examples of cyber ranges in use today

A wide range of firms are developing cyber ranges for a variety of applications. These include educational institutes that provide cyber security curricula. Cyber ranges are commonly used in corporate security training programmes. Some companies utilise ranges to screen potential cybersecurity workers. Others are still using cyber ranges to test new items.

The following are some significant instances of cyber ranges in use today:

Defense/intelligence cyber ranges — Just as the military develops gunnery, aviation, and other training ranges, cyber ranges are being built to train cyber fighters. The Simulator Training Exercise Network (SIMTEX), popularly known as “Black Demon,” is managed by the United States Air Forces. The National Cyber Range (NCR), for example, is run by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

Research/educational — Universities create cyber ranges with which to conduct research on security, technology and human-machine interactions, among many use cases. For example, in 2006, the University of Illinois created the RINSE (Real Time Immersive Network Simulation Environment). It is mostly used for training purposes. The Information Warfare Lab at West Point is another example (IWAR).

Industrial/commercial — Some cyber ranges are designed to test commercial devices against hostile actors, such as servers. The IBM X-Force Command Centre, for example, is in charge of this. It’s a malware simulator that lets testers examine how well systems can withstand attacks.

Smart grids — Because the electricity grid is such a high-value target for cybercriminals, the utility industry has invested in developing cyber ranges for their specific IT and network systems. These ranges are capable of simulating the grid’s interconnected power networks. They also manage SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) systems, which are widely used in the power industry.

Internet of Things (IoT) – As the Internet of Things (IoT) expands, it creates a new attack surface. Because many IoT devices lack built-in security safeguards, it’s critical to have professional security operators on hand to defend them. The IoT cyber range must be able to replicate a large number of devices as well as the scattered, perimeter-free environments in which they are used.

Why are States Developing Cyber Ranges?

A number of states in the United States are developing their own cyber ranges. The reasons differ, but aside from providing economic stimulation, cyber ranges assist states in training individuals to safeguard their own susceptible digital assets. In recent years, ransomware attacks and other threats have wreaked havoc on governments. The ranges also aid in attracting talent to work for state governments, who sometimes find it difficult to compete with private sector for security personnel. Florida, Arizona, Michigan, Georgia, Arkansas, and Virginia are among the states that have built cyber ranges.

Georgia is an excellent example. The state began construction on a $35 million cybersecurity centre in 2017, which includes a cyber range. Cyber security for Georgia’s people, businesses, and government institutions was a “paramount priority,” according to then-Governor Nathan Deal, who unveiled the project. According to GovTech.com, the cyber range will be available both electronically and in person, allowing students to test technology, check staff skills gaps, and train in a secure setting.

Michigan has also established its own cyber range, which is used for cybersecurity teaching, testing, and training. The Michigan Cyber Range (MCR) is also utilised for testing new industrial control systems for security. It works as an unclassified private cloud with virtual servers connected via fibre optics. It has four physical locations in Michigan, all of which are on university campuses.

The MCR was conceived by a former West Point professor who was instrumental in the development of the US Military Academy’s cybersecurity curriculum. He was accompanied by a Michigan National Guard General. Other former military personnel have assisted in the management and development of the MCR’s activities. MCR collaborates with the Michigan National Guard to run a location.

The virtual environment of the MCR replicates systems used in local governments, utility companies, and law enforcement agencies. The West Michigan Cyber Security Consortium (WMCSC), for example, uses this environment to conduct red/blue teaming exercises in the context of a simulated attack on a municipality. MCR also collaborates with an NSA-approved cybersecurity training and certification company.

The Certified Information Systems Security Officer course, a five-day, 40-hour programme, has been the most popular for years. Some classes use MCR’s simulated city “Alphaville,” which includes a virtual village with a library, school, and city hall. Each simulated location in Alphaville has its own network, operating system, and so on.

Ranges of the Future of Cybersecurity

Cybersecurity, which has never been easy, is becoming increasingly difficult and serious. From corporations to state governments, organisations are trying to identify and educate the individuals necessary for a strong cyber defence. They are employing cyber ranges to teach and test potential candidates in order to close the talent gap. As a result, cyber ranges are on the rise.

Cyber ranges play a key role in cybersecurity research and the creation of new security solutions, in addition to teaching and training. The cyber range will play a role in educating cyber workers to up to the challenge of cyber defence as the cybersecurity landscape continues to grow in ever-more dangerous ways.

Jennifer Thomas
Jennifer Thomas is the Co-founder and Chief Business Development Officer at Cybers Guards. Prior to that, She was responsible for leading its Cyber Security Practice and Cyber Security Operations Center, which provided managed security services.