How can the people in an organization learn how to respond to a cyber attack without fending off an actual attack? It's a puzzle that University of Maine at Fort Kent Professor of Computer Science Dr. Raymond Albert and about 45 other people are solving with the help of a secure simulation environment they are testing this fall.
On October 17, students gathered at UMFK, the University of Southern Maine (USM) and York County Community College (YCCC) for training in how to use the new cyber security “collaboratory”. On October 24, the students returned to the collaboratory, a combination of collaboration and laboratory, to defend their systems from a simulated attack. The collaboratory provides a secure virtual environment within the University of Maine System to allow students and researchers to essentially engage in cyberwar games without endangering the rest of the digital world.
Dr. Albert said on Wednesday, October 21, “It's a National Science Foundation (NSF) sponsored research project in which the UMFK and USM and YCCC are partnering, and the primary purpose of the NSF activity is to explore the development of a cybersecurity collaboratory.”
Since last year, Albert has worked with other cyber security experts in the university system to develop the lab and the curriculum materials for a new degree program, a Bachelor of Science in cyber security. The virtual lab became a reality last spring with its first simulation activity. This fall, the coalition of campuses is engaging in two more simulations taking place over four weekends.
The collaboratory in the simulations will allow five students at each campus to work together collaboratively over Maine's large geographic distribution. The students will play roles in three simulated companies and will have to respond to a simulated attack on the systems.
“These companies are faced with attacks, and the students respond to the attacks as best they are able to by working collaboratively with their counterparts at the other site locations,” said Albert. “The focus is not necessarily on the attack per se or how the students specifically respond to the attack technically. The focus is on how the students communicate and collaborate with their colleagues in distant locations.”
Almost 50 people are involved in the simulations, including Edward Sihler, Jim Owens, Lynn Lovewell of USM; Arthur Drolet and the UMFK library staff in Fort Kent; and Mark Monnin at the YCCC. The researchers will record the students during the simulation and use the results to further develop the simulated collaboratory.
Dr. Albert said, “This specific activity is really a pursuit of the goals and objectives of our research. It involves students at each of these partnering institutions, and it's an example of the fun and exciting activities that students in cybersecurity can be involved with.”
The University of Maine System announced the new bachelor of science in cyber security degree earlier this year, which students at UMFK, USM, and the University of Maine at Augusta may now pursue.