Cybersecurity threats – from malware, to phishing attacks, to ransomware and everything in between – have increased exponentially over the past few years, threatening intellectual property and data security across academia, industry, and government.
That’s a big reason why uOttawa recently partnered with IBM on an immersive and interactive cybersecurity learning facility known as a Cyber Range – essentially, a walled-off computing environment that allows students and other users to simulate cyberattacks and cyber threat scenarios for training purposes.
“It’s like a sterile environment where you can duplicate your organization’s full architecture without being connected to outside networks,” explains Jacques Beauvais, uOttawa’s dean of the Faculty of Engineering.
Participants will be able to hone their response readiness from state-of-the-art simulation and control rooms through a range of sophisticated, wargame-style scenarios. That includes red team vs. blue team attack-and-defend exercises, simulations of attacks on critical infrastructure or large companies and organization-wide simulations involving personnel across management, communications, as well as R&D and engineering.
“You need to test the quality of your defense mechanisms – and the only way to do that is to attack them,” he says. “Systems, and people, need to show how they’re going to react.”
Addressing Canada’s cybersecurity talent gap
The Cyber Range within uOttawa’s Cyber Hub will provide significant training and interdisciplinary research capabilities for students, businesses and government organizations. It’s also a critical piece of infrastructure that will help address the country’s current cybersecurity talent gap, says Beauvais – from full-time students to professionals already in the workforce.
The university has already begun integrating the Cyber Range’s training capabilities into upcoming undergraduate, graduate and micro-credential courses.
“We understand the need for lifelong learning,” Beauvais explains, especially in a fast-moving discipline such as cybersecurity. The university already works with outside organizations and collaborators to provide customized training, he says, and the Cyber Range will only help strengthen academia-industry partnerships.
“That includes re-skilling or up-skilling people already in industry that are looking for a particular specialization. We’re all about working with industry.”
That it’s being built in Canada’s capital – home to numerous federal agencies and other organizations dedicated to cybersecurity – just makes the initiative that much more powerful.
“You’ve got all the key players in Canada’s cybersecurity sector (in Ottawa),” adds Liam Peyton, vice-dean of graduate studies at the Faculty of Engineering. “To have that opportunity to bring in expertise to help train our undergrad or grad students, our industry partners, and other government people – it gives us enormous convening power to bring people together and really develop cybersecurity.”
And if partner organizations also need help with innovation or prototyping, adds Beauvais, the university’s Richard L’Abbé Makerspace and Makerlab facilities are just steps away.
Product of longstanding uOttawa-IBM partnership
The Cyber Range builds upon the foundation of a decade-plus partnership thanks to a $21 million in-kind contribution over five years from IBM and $7 million from the university. The facility’s planning, design, and eventual content delivery has been and will be a collaborative effort between the university and teams from the IBM Security Command Center.
Led by co-directors Guy-Vincent Jourdan, of the Faculty of Engineering, and Iosif Onut from the IBM Canada Centre for Advanced Studies (and also a uOttawa adjunct professor), Peyton says uOttawa’s Cyber Range will help promote a cybersecurity centre of excellence in Ottawa.
“This will be a best-in-Canada, one of the best in the world, state-of-the-art, fully instrumented command-and-control center where you can create whatever test environment you want,” he explains. “You can build up or take down networks, test different security aspects, allow people to do their best to break in, and do it in a safe place that’s walled off from the rest of the world.”