RIT’s stunning new Cybersecurity Range gets $3.3M boost

The university is utilizing a donation from IBM to advance research and workforce development in its new Cyber Range and Training Center.
By: | March 3, 2021
Photos courtesy of RIT

Toward the end of 2020, the Rochester Institute of Technology unveiled a sparkling, state-of-the-art three-floor structure on its campus called the Global Cybersecurity Institute.

At 52,000 square feet, the facility is providing students, researchers and industry professionals with the most advanced technology tools and education offerings to help further digital security across the world. One of the most stunning features is a Cyber Range and Training Center that allows teams to test and mitigate real-world crisis scenarios.

As part of the work being done at the Range, RIT recently held its annual Collegiate Penetration Testing Competition with other top universities including MIT and Stanford to hack and uncover network weaknesses in mock cyber incidents. The development of those individuals and the sharing of knowledge – they uncovered a remarkable 140 vulnerabilities in the four-day event – will create a pipeline of talent for the future that can help defend against cyberattacks.

To help in this initiative and in preparing this workforce, IBM announced on Wednesday  it is pouring $3.3 million into the Range through an in-kind donation to the university. The gift not only will train up the next wave of professionals but provide them with the tools to get ahead of cybercriminals.

“The work RIT is doing to equip future generations of cybersecurity talent is a critical facet of meeting growing demand in our field,” said Heather Ricciuto, Academic and Talent Program Manager for IBM Security. “This contribution and the ongoing collaboration between IBM and RIT can prepare learners with resources to gain experience, while also helping IBM connect with future skilled professionals.”

RIT’s Global Cybersecurity Institute

Training the next wave

Industry experts have noted that although there are more than two million professionals working in cybersecurity, 3.5 million more individuals are needed globally in the fight against cyber crime, including at least 300,000 in the United States. There are a number of workers with technology skills who have claimed to have the skills necessary to help, but are they really prepared to step in any help companies right away?

In 2020, there were said to be more than 80,000 cyberattacks occurring daily in the U.S.

That’s where RIT and the Range, along with other higher education endeavors such as the National Center for Cybersecurity Education at California State University-San Bernardino, are making a difference by making new technology the centerpiece of their work.

The gift from IBM will bring the latest in cybersecurity advances to students and researchers by equipping the Range with its Security QRadar technology, “which helps security teams accurately detect and prioritize threats across the enterprise, enabling swift investigation and response to help reduce the impact of incidents.” It is also offering consulting services and access to curriculum and licenses to the Institute.

“The Cyber Range is going to allow us to create scenarios where non-technical professionals can come in and learn about the weaknesses in their systems and how to rectify those problems,” said Chad Weeden, director of esports and cybersecurity range at RIT. “We’re even integrating RIT’s strength in interactive games and media to create immersive stories where participants have to work together to solve the problems.”

The Cyber Range essentially can front as a security operations center, with massive video screens, glass privacy walls and a conference room available to conduct these scenarios. Depending on the level of breach done in mock drills, flashing LED lights and booming sounds will indicate trouble and students will need to react. RIT says even the temperature of the room can be increased to put the heat on those tending to the cyberattack.

“These experiences will be varied and customized, so participants will never know exactly what to expect — just like real life,” said Justin Pelletier, director of the Cyber Range and Training Center.