At Massachusetts Bay Community College’s Center for Cybersecurity Education, a secure virtual environment is vital for in-person and remote learning, say Shamsi Moussavi, Director of the center, and Michael Lyons, the university’s CIO. Photography by Shawn Henry.
This approach is essential to supporting remote learners.
“They have the ability to work from anywhere. With the availability of the cloud, they can work on that network at anytime, day or night,” he says. The university uses VMware vSphere and students install VMware Workstation on their laptops.
This, in turn, enables all students to get hands-on experience with the tools and techniques of cyber defense.
“If I’m teaching pen testing, I’ll have the students create a little attack-offend network on their own personal computers,” he says. Using VMware, “they’ll have maybe three or four machines and a Windows server, and they can all be networked so that they can try and hack each other. If they blow anything up, they can always revert to a snapshot on the vSphere side.”
At Syracuse University too, virtualization supports remote learning. “We have open computer clusters for the virtual machines that are running on the cloud or on special servers in the university data center,” says Professor Shiu-Kai Chin.
“We have Dell Blade servers and Apple workstation clusters, and students work on approved laptops, usually high-end Dell machines with an operating system and CPU able to run virtual machines, with requisite memory, enough RAM and hard disc space — probably 12 gigs of RAM and at least 500 gigabytes of either solid-state or hard disk drive,” Chin says.
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Updated Physical Lab Spaces Replicate Real-World Scenarios
While many schools are looking to support remote learners, in-person education continues, and when it comes to cyber, physical spaces matter. Rose State has its cybersecurity training center, and San Bernardino likewise has a physical lab.
MassBay’s program also includes a physical space that aims to re-create the technology students will encounter in the corporate environment.
“We might call it a switch, but when you look at it, there’s a system board, it’s got a hard drive, it’s got memory. It runs a really specific application. In the lab, they can break down some of the mysticism around technology. It breaks down those barriers,” Lyons says.
The school recently landed $1.2 million in National Science Foundation grants to support student learning. Nearly half of that funding “is helping us to create a cyber range, a virtual environment that is secure and that allows the students to practice cybersecurity exercises without impacting the other networks,” says professor Shamsi Moussavi, director of the Center for Cybersecurity Education at MassBay. Cisco switches and Dell servers support these exercises, she says.