Cyber Battle: Students get ready to take on hackers
From Contact magazine, Winter 2015-16
It’s a worldwide war. Every person, organization and government is under threat of attack, and Palm Beach State College has joined the fight.
Yes, computer hackers are formidable enemies. These faceless criminals permeate the Internet, targeting computers, mobile devices, tablets, networks and cloud-based services — wherever they can wreak havoc with personal information, intellectual property and even the world’s infrastructure.
According to the security company Symantec’s latest report, more than 317 million new pieces of malware (aka malicious software) were created in 2014 — that’s almost one million a day.
Consequently demand has skyrocketed for specialists who can protect and defend against these attacks. Cybersecurity job postings grew 91 percent from 2010-2014, a rate three times faster than information technology job postings overall, according to Burning Glass Technologies.
Yet despite this critical need, there will be a shortage of 1.5 million cybersecurity professionals by 2020, as projected by the 2015 Global Information Security Workforce Study, conducted by Frost & Sullivan. This giant gap has spawned public-private collaborations involving academia, industry and government agencies, such as the National Security Agency and Department of Homeland Security. The goal: rapidly expand our cybersecurity workforce.
“This is a very unique time to work on something that’s of national security interest. There’s a dire need, and it’s getting worse. Our programs are going to help meet that need for our region.” — Richard Chance, associate professor and chair, Information Management B.A.S. program
Palm Beach State is preparing students for cybersecurity careers, deploying an impressive arsenal of degree and certificate programs, cyber-experienced faculty and a computer lab unlike any other in South Florida.
Of course, PBSC has been teaching computer science for decades, with broad offerings in networking, programming, web technology and information security. In 2011, the College added a Bachelor of Applied Science degree in Information Management with a concentration in Security and Network Assurance. Yet, with cybersecurity an increasingly urgent national priority, it became clear that the College needed to do more.
Help came from Washington, D.C., specifically the federal Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training grant program. In 2013 a consortium of seven Florida colleges, including Palm Beach State, won a $10.2 million TAACCCT grant to implement their plan, Florida XCEL-IT. PBSC’s portion of $1.2 million was the fuel it needed to enhance its cybersecurity pathway from beginning to end.
“The XCEL-IT grant has really propelled us,” says Richard Chance, associate professor and chair of the Information Management B.A.S. degree. “This is a very unique time to work on something that’s of national security interest. There’s a dire need, and it’s getting worse. Our programs are going to help meet that need for our region.”
With human and technical resources funded by the grant, Palm Beach State has ramped up the B.A.S. program and the foundational Associate in Science degrees in computer networking and programming. The College also launched two cyber-focused College Credit Certificate programs, which along with existing CCC’s, serve as steppingstones to the A.S. degrees or as quicker routes to employment. A new cybersecurity lab opened in September, and by spring term, all programs will be aligned to industry certification content, giving students a head start in obtaining professional credentials.
In these programs, students learn about a variety of cybersecurity career areas, including penetration testing to assess vulnerabilities, network monitoring to defend against attacks, and forensic analysis to investigate failures. PBSC bases its cybersecurity curriculum on the National Cybersecurity Workforce Framework set forth by the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education. The College is also working toward earning designation as an NSA/DHS National Center of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance. In addition to meeting academic criteria, CAE-IA schools also work with their communities and campuses to raise cybersecurity awareness and share expertise.
“This really is innovative of Palm Beach State College … providing a place where students can learn hands-on and not just out of a book.” — Lynne Clark, National Security Agency
Inside Palm Beach State’s new cybersecurity lab on the Lake Worth campus, students face off against real-world attack strategies — found in a 7-inch-high green box.
“We looked at a tool that would differentiate our lab from just a regular computer lab,” says Chance. That tool is the lab’s cornerstone device: the Ixia BreakingPoint Storm™, a state-of-the-art stress tester used to detect vulnerabilities in networks and data centers. Popular with Fortune 100 corporations and government agencies, BreakingPoint Storm also keeps IT staff sharp with hands-on training exercises built around real-world threats.
Just as military troops use a firing range to practice weapon skills, the BreakingPoint Storm functions as a “cyber range” to hone cyberwarrior skills. The device allows PBSC to simulate networks with millions of people using any of 300 online application protocols, from Google® Gmail to Oracle®. The challenge happens when nefarious traffic is injected into the mix, and students must find the “needle in the haystack.” BreakingPoint Storm comes with 37,000 pieces of “exploit code” — including the essence of actual attacks, such as the malware that crippled Target and Sony.
“We are literally training people on the latest threats that are being launched against organizations,” says Don Gladney, Ed.D., associate dean for the B.A.S. programs and a former IBM executive. “Every two weeks we get a complete refresh of all the known threats to download into the BreakingPoint box. We don’t have to wait for another release of a software simulation or another textbook release. Our graduates will be ready to go to work and hit the ground running.”
The lab also has network servers running various operating systems, virtual machine capability, switches, routers and a soon-to-be-installed video wall that will enable real-time threat visualization on multiple screens. Every session is recorded, so students are able to do analysis as well. “We’re giving students the tools that industry is using,” says Chance. “We want the lab to be one of the most comprehensive in the state, where one day, we can offer these services to area businesses.”
Gary Rogers, Ph.D., a new PBSC professor, guides students as they create virtual networks, evaluate threats and figure out ways to protect their networks. He also splits students into teams: offense and defense.
“I’m a football fan,” says Dr. Rogers, who has a cybersecurity background that includes senior positions with the Internal Revenue Service and U.S. Department of Defense contractors. “In football, if you’re going to have a good defense, you need to know what offense is coming at you. Conversely, if you want to be a success on offense, you need to know what defenses are there. We’re teaching students both sides: how to penetrate and then how to defend against those attacks.”
The only other school in Florida teaching with the Ixia BreakingPoint Storm is Eastern Florida State College in Brevard County. This fellow XCEL-IT consortium member has challenged PBSC to a “hackathon” this spring to see which school can best tackle cybersecurity issues. No matter who wins, both schools are pioneers in using BreakingPoint Storm for education.
At the lab’s grand opening, Lynne Clark, chief of the NSA’s National Information Assurance Education and Training Program, said “Congress is very interested in how we produce people who not only have the knowledge but can show that they have the skills. This really is innovative of Palm Beach State College to be at the spearpoint of this new effort, providing a place where students can learn hands-on and not just out of a book.”
From all walks
As word spreads about what the College is doing in cybersecurity, enrollment is growing. A former chef discovered she’d rather cook hackers than recipes. A criminal justice student realized he’s hooked on computers. A mom had to find a better career after her husband was disabled. All are excited about their new pathway.
The XCEL-IT grant gives special categories of students, 24 and older, a leg up, including veterans and displaced workers who are unemployed or underemployed. XCEL-IT students receive support from a dedicated advisor and when they graduate, CareerSource Palm Beach County helps them find jobs.
Last spring, students formed the Cybersecurity Alliance, a club to promote public awareness of cybersecurity and help students transition to careers. “Palm Beach State’s given me a lot of opportunities to meet new people and really get into the program,” says Andrew Bonwell, the club’s founding vice president, who has an A.S. degree in criminal justice and is pursuing the B.A.S. degree.
Natalie Chambers-Smith echoes Bonwell’s sentiment. The mom who needed a new career, this B.A.S. student served as the club’s secretary and already has a job as a systems analyst with Worldwide Hotel Link U.S.A. She works remotely as she finishes her degree.
“This is the best opportunity for me,” says Chambers-Smith. “It’s not even about the money, although PBSC is less expensive. It’s the classroom size as well. You’re not a number here, and you have access to all your professors.”
Kim Lampe, a senior in the B.A.S. program, sees the lab as a career springboard. “The College is heading in the exact direction it needs to be heading. A lot more students will be attracted to this program because of the practical experience.”
“Security is a huge challenge, so having an education partner focus on training people at a high level is awesome. It’s critical for us as we grow to have access to local talent.” — Mark Smith, COO, 3Cinteractive
Looking next to building Palm Beach State’s future enrollment, the College is developing plans to start a summer cybercamp in collaboration with John I. Leonard High School. “There is no need now for businesses to go beyond Palm Beach County for cybersecurity workers. We are building them here at PBSC,” says Jose Ortiz, the College’s XCEL-IT grant director.
Business partners are excited, too. “Security is a huge challenge, so having an education partner focus on training people at a high level is awesome,” says Mark Smith, chief operating officer of 3Cinteractive, a mobile marketing company in Boca Raton. “It’s critical for us as we grow to have access to local talent.”
Chance, who previously served in the Marines, is serious about this mission. “The new cold war is a cyberwar, and we’re going to be right in the middle of it, training people to participate and help secure our public and private infrastructure. There’s an incredible amount of opportunity that awaits students who have these skills.”
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Photos by Al Evans