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If you process a quick google search of 2019 cybersecurity breaches, you will see that there is a lengthy list of businesses and organizations that have been negatively impacted just last year. As more and more businesses and organizations have an online presence and use cloud-based services, there needs to be an increased focus on cyber security to protect the personal and sensitive information of their members, patients, or customers.

To better address the emerging risks of cyber threats, cyber ranges have been formed in various states. Cyber ranges help inform high school and college students about cyber threats and bridge an education gap on how to prevent them.

The Virginia Cyber Range, located in the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center, aims to be a leader in cyber security education for the United States. To learn more about their mission and goals, we interviewed Director of the Virginia Cyber Range, Dr. David Raymond.

Photos: (Photo 1) Members of the Virginia Cyber Range team (Thomas Weeks, Maureen Lawrence-Kuether, David Raymond) at the AWS Public Sector Summit in Washington DC last June. (Photo 2) Members of the Virginia Cyber Range Executive Committee at a meeting in August 2019.

Describe what your company does/is and what is your mission. (What is a cyber range?)

A cyber range is a practice network for people to learn various techniques and software used by cyber defenders. It is usually isolated from school and home networks to avoid someone mistaking a practice network attack used in teaching as a real attack on the network.

In our case, we are funded by the Commonwealth of Virginia to provide resources for cybersecurity education in Virginia public high schools and colleges. In addition to providing isolated network environments for students and faculty across the state, we also provide courseware that educators can use to teach cybersecurity courses in high schools and colleges. Finally, we support cybersecurity competitions between student teams to support teaching and foster increased interest and awareness in cybersecurity.

In your opinion, what has brought on a need for cyber ranges?

The use of computer networks for many aspects of our lives, and the need to protect those networks from abuse, has fostered a need to build a workforce of cyber defenders. Cyber ranges have become recognized as a great way to provide training opportunities for future cybersecurity professionals.

Do you find that cyber ranges are becoming increasingly popular and if so why now?

Thanks to ubiquitous wireless networks and other technologies, more and more devices are connected to the internet. These devices bring many benefits, but they also increase the number and variety of computer systems that might be targeted by criminals and others who want to abuse them for various reasons.

This has increased the demand for skilled cybersecurity professionals. As a result, many states are recognizing the need to offer cybersecurity classes to high school students, both to expand the future workforce and also to increase awareness of basic computer and network security techniques. This expansion of cybersecurity education has led to a corresponding increase in the availability of resources like cyber ranges to support it.

What concepts do your laboratory environment and exercises teach?

We have courseware and lab environments to support a wide range of cybersecurity topics and education levels. Introductory content exposes students to concepts such as cryptography, computer networks, and basic cybersecurity terminology. More advanced content teaches students how to configure firewalls, recover compromised systems, and analyze networks for vulnerabilities. We even support penetration testing, or hacking into other’s networks to test for vulnerabilities. After all, you can’t properly learn to defend without understanding how hackers will attack you! Of course, we also provide lessons and courses around cyber ethics to help students understand how to be good citizens on the internet.

What positive outcomes do you expect to see or currently see as a result of having the Virginia Cyber Range?

We hope to improve cybersecurity education in Virginia high schools and colleges and ultimately see a stronger cybersecurity workforce in the Commonwealth. We are also encouraged to see Virginia becoming a leader in cybersecurity education for the nation. We are one of few states whose department of education has added cybersecurity courses to the high school course catalog, and we have the only state-sponsored cyber range, available at no cost to any public high school or college in the state.

Do you partner with specific schools and universities? Do you find that you have more high school or college faculty and students who are interested in the cyber range programs?

The Virginia Cyber Range is governed by an executive committee comprised of 17 colleges and universities in Virginia that have been designated by the National Security Agency as Centers of Academic Excellence in Cybersecurity Education. This group helps us decide what content to provide and what features to make available in our environment. Beyond the Executive Committee, our resources are used by 21 of Virginia’s 23 Community Colleges and 13 of 15 public universities. Thanks to a recent addition of cybersecurity courses to high school curricula by the Virginia Department of Education, we have over 200 high schools using the cyber range. In terms of sheer numbers, high schools are definitely our biggest user base!

What made you pick the VTCRC as the home for your operations/office?

Our state funding comes through the Virginia Tech budget and when we were funded, we became a new department at the university under the Division of Information Technology. After looking for space around the region, the CRC ended up being a natural fit for us. It is adjacent to the Virginia Tech campus, has great amenities and strong management, and the costs are quite competitive for the region. We were happy to find available space here that met all of our needs.

What are some recent achievements or news your company is most proud of and why?

We have seen a lot of interest outside of Virginia over the past few years and last year we announced the launch of the U.S. Cyber Range of Virginia Tech to support paying customers outside of the Commonwealth. This paid service further helps to establish Virginia Tech, and the Commonwealth of Virginia, as leaders in cybersecurity education.

Additionally, in January 2020 we surpassed the 10,000-user mark in the Virginia Cyber range. This is a great milestone for us and helps us to understand the importance and the impact of what we do.

In 2017, the Virginia Cyber Range and AWS formed a strategic partnership. Tell us more about that as well as the “Hackathon for Good” competition.

AWS has been a great partner to us. They provided free access to cloud resources during our startup phase, and they have provided technical expertise as we have developed our infrastructure and software in their public cloud environment over the last 4 years.

As part of this partnership, we were pleased to participate in the AWS “Hackathon for Good” during their 2019 Public Sector Summit in Washington DC, alongside the American Red Cross, the National Institutes for Health, and the United Nations Refugee Agency. This competition had teams of software developers working to solve real-world problems posed to them by the sponsor organizations. Teams with the best solutions were awarded prizes, while the sponsors got to leave with software to support future initiatives. It was a true win-win!

What do you expect to see from the Virginia Cyber Range in the next 5 years?

We expect to see continued growth over the next 5 years. We will see growth in usership by Virginia students and teachers as more high schools adopt cybersecurity courses; we will see growth in the features and functionality of our cyber range software; and we will see continued growth in the customer base and revenues of the U.S. Cyber Range of Virginia Tech. These are definitely exciting times for us!

Written by: Nicole LuthGlobal Partnership Coordinator

Virginia Cyber Range
1880 Pratt Drive, Suite 2000