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Robust Technology Supports Higher Education Cybersecurity Training Programs

At Massachusetts Bay Community College’s Cybersecurity Education Center, a secure virtual environment is essential for in-person and remote learning, say Shamsi Moussavi, director of the center, and Michael Lyons, the university’s chief information officer. Photograph by Shawn Henry.

This approach is essential to support distance learners.

“They have the ability to work from anywhere. With cloud availability, they can work on that network anytime, day or night,” he says. The university uses VMware vSphere and the students install VMware Workstation on their laptops.

This, in turn, allows all students to gain hands-on experience with cyber defense tools and techniques.

“If I’m teaching penetration testing, I’ll have students create a small attack-breach network on their own personal computer,” he says. With VMware, “they’ll have maybe three or four machines and a Windows server, and they can all be networked together so they can try to hack each other. If they blow anything, they can always revert to a snapshot on the vSphere side.

Also at Syracuse University, virtualization supports distance learning. “We have open computing clusters for virtual machines that run in the cloud or on special servers in the university’s data center,” says Professor Shiu-Kai Chin.

“We have Dell Blade servers and clusters of Apple workstations, and students work on approved laptops, usually high-end Dell machines with an operating system and processor capable of running virtual machines, with the required memory, enough RAM and hard disk space – probably 12 gigabytes of RAM and at least 500 gigabytes of solid-state drive or hard drive,” says Chin.

LEARN MORE: How can immersive learning be used in blended classrooms?

Updated physical lab spaces replicate real-world scenarios

As many schools seek to support remote learners, in-person education continues, and when it comes to cyber, physical spaces matter. Rose State has its cybersecurity training center, and San Bernardino also has a physical lab.

MassBay’s curriculum also includes a physical space that aims to recreate the technology that students will encounter in the corporate environment.

“We could call it a switch, but when you look at it, there’s a system board, there’s a hard drive, there’s memory. It runs a really specific application. In the lab, they can break some of the mysticism around technology. It breaks down those barriers,” Lyons says.

The school recently landed $1.2 million in grants from the National Science Foundation to support student learning. Nearly half of this funding “helps us create a cyber range, a secure virtual environment and which allows students to practice cybersecurity exercises without impacting other networks”, explains Professor Shamsi Moussavi, director of the Center for Cybersecurity. Education in Mass Bay. Cisco switches and Dell servers support these drills, she says.

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