Metro State home to Minnesota’s first ‘cyber range’


Marjorie Otto/Review • Metropolitan State University held a grand opening celebration May 16 for its new MN Cyber Range, which will be based in the university’s Jason R. Carter Science Education Center. The cyber range, the first of its kind in Minnesota, is described as a “flight simulator for cyber attacks.” Cyber security professionals will use the range to practice how to react to and stop cyber attacks. Instructors demonstrated how the training simulator works during the grand opening.

Range will be used to train for cyber attacks

 

The first “cyber range” in Minnesota has opened at Metropolitan State University in the Dayton’s Bluff neighborhood. The university held a grand opening ceremony for it on May 16. 

The teaching tool, called MN Cyber Range, is described by its creators as being akin to a “flight simulator for cyber attacks.” It will be used to help train cyber security experts on how to react during such attacks. 

The grand opening featured a number of cyber security experts and government officials who are invested in making Minnesota a leader in cyber security, a growing field that industry leaders said is at risk of having a shortage of workers. 

“As you know, cyber security readiness is more important than ever. The threats are not just to our government, they’re to our businesses, they are to our very democracy itself,” said U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar in  a recorded message to the crowd. 

She mentioned attempts by Russian hackers to access voter registration data in Minnesota and across the U.S. during the 2016 presidential election. “This is an issue that unites us all.” 

Brig. Gen. Johanna Clyborne, who serves as commissioner and chief information officer for Minnesota IT Services, echoed the senator’s sentiments. She said that cyber security needs to be a top issue in the state and that it’s a growing field, but that employment can’t keep up.  

Speakers also included Maj. Gen Jon Jensen, head of the Minnesota National Guard, Sharon Vickers, chief information officer and director of technology and communications for the City of St. Paul, and Rep. Tony Albright from House District 55B. All the speakers underscored the need to invest and create employees to fill cyber security jobs.

“This world-class cyber security training and simulation platform, the only military-grade cyber training facility in Minnesota, will go a long way towards strengthening our state cyber security training capabilities,” said Klobuchar.

 

Flight simulator of cyber security

A demonstration of the teaching tool took place during the grand opening. 

The range will be used by students and professionals who already have experience working on cyber security. Companies can rent the range to train employees, and the government and military have also expressed interest in using it.

The cyber range was created by Elbit Systems, a Texas-based company that creates a variety of products for defense, homeland security, medical instrument markets and for commercial aviation. 

While it may be difficult to know the exact details of what was going on during the demo without having an extensive computer science background, the concept of the teaching tool was fairly simple. 

Through the cyber range, educators start a mock attack on a fake company network. In the example shown during the grand opening, the “hacker” gained access to a fake company’s website and was able to change content on it before the trainees stopped it. 

As trainees work through and problem solve issues, the entire session is recorded so instructors and trainees can go back and analyze their work. Instructors can also watch the trainees in real time, seeing their screens as they work through a problem. 

Faisal Kaleem, the cyber security instructor at Metropolitan State and executive director of MN Cyber Range, said the point of the range is not only to sharpen individual skills, but also team building and working on the cyber security process. 

While the demonstration only lasted a few minutes, Kaleem said a run through the simulation may take four or more hours. Often, the simulated attack may not happen right away — it may happen towards the end of a multi-hour session to simulate what a cyber security analyst’s day on the job is really like, not knowing when an attack may occur. 

The range can be adjusted to mimic a company’s network to help train employees and because of the virtual nature of the range, it can be used remotely across the state, making it accessible to any organization or school to use. 

 

Looking towards the future

The first set of classes at the MN Cyber Range will begin on June 18.

In Minnesota alone, Kaleem said there are about 5,400 jobs that are waiting for skilled cyber security experts. “Cyber range training is the solution to the skill-gap threat,” he said. 

Kaleem also said cyber security experts say that the security market will be worth about $202 billion by 2021, due to increases in threats, the number of devices connected to the internet and the additional regulations expected to be created over time. 

Metropolitan State University President Ginny Arthur said the creation of the cyber range is another example of the university’s goal to “disrupt the state of higher education” by providing unique learning options for students, and is another way the college is contributing to the state’s economy.

“We are proud to offer the first cyber security range in Minnesota,” she said. “We are committed to this work, in this field, and to what it offers our future students and to the health of our state’s economy, our state government and the employer community. The need is urgent and the opportunity is open ended.”

 

– Marjorie Otto can be reached at 651-748-7816 or at eastside@lillienews.com. Follow her on Twitter at @EastSideM_Otto

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