Curtain lifts on advanced cybersecurity fighter at University of Akron
In one deceiving swoop, cyber adversaries can steal personal data, such as bank account information, or disable an entire computer system and hold it “hostage” with ransomware until a large sum of money is paid. Cyberattacks have previously hit the city of Akron and Cleveland Hopkins International Airport. Who knows what could be next — and more importantly — when?
To prevent or identify unauthorized access to a secure cyber system, northeast Ohio now has a state-of-the art resource at The University of Akron in the form of the R.C. Musson and Katherine M. Musson Charitable Foundation ICS Testbed.
The establishment of this simulation lab (in research communities known as an industrial control systems “testbed”) at UA will permit corporate information technology and operational technology professionals to practice identifying and responding to threats on an emulated network. It’s the only public testbed in the state at a university that companies can utilize for network simulation, which is very critical for workforce development and training. The testbed will allow companies to develop and update skills and strategies needed to monitor and manage cyber threats without putting actual operating systems at risk.
UA’s testbed is specific to control systems in the manufacturing industry. The 2,000-square-foot facility on the fourth floor of the Polsky Building can seat up to 40 people, with each workstation equipped with high-performance 1-terabyte Dell computers in a secure intranet setting that cannot be penetrated from the outside.
“Cyber defense of our manufacturing facilities is paramount for both the economy and national security,” said Dr. John Nicholas, professor of computer information systems. “The Musson Industrial Control Systems Testbed will allow UA to work with our local industry partners to develop training to help not only their IT team learn more about operations and technical cyber defense.”
Closing cybersecurity knowledge gap
Nicholas emphasized that “cybersecurity is only as good as your least knowledgeable employee. This facility will allow UA to provide training to help close the gap in cybersecurity knowledge and help companies to learn and implement cybersecurity best practices.”
The testbed is also one of two core service sites for the Ohio Cyber Range, a statewide priority of the Ohio Governor’s Office under the leadership of the Ohio Army National Guard to train the cybersecurity workforce in constituencies such as government, public, private, military and education. UA joined the statewide cyber range in January 2019 in a $1.18 million agreement. The establishment made UA the second Ohio Cyber Range Core Services Site after the University of Cincinnati. Unlike the testbed, Ohio Cyber Range Akron, as it’s called, is completely virtual and not targeted to a specific industry. When fully operational, anyone can log onto Ohio Cyber Range Akron for access to educational programs and exercises.
“We are happy to have The University of Akron as a partner,” said Maj. Gen. John C. Harris Jr., Ohio adjutant general. “The Ohio Cyber Range, along with recent legislation to create the Ohio Cyber Reserve, will enhance the state’s capabilities to secure critical information technology infrastructure.”
The testbed and cyber range facility is also available for students in UA’s robust cybersecurity degree track. The degree track launched in 2018 and had 199 enrolled students for the fall 2019 semester.
“The testbed facility will benefit UA students with providing a safe virtual interactive representation of networks, system tools, and a simulated internet environment to work together and solve complex cyber problems,” said Stanley Smith, associate professor of disaster science and emergency services. Smith is currently teaching two courses in the testbed facility – cybercrime and cyber warfare. “In addition to developing skills, students will use the facility’s features to gain hands-on experience to compete against students from other universities at the National Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition invitationals.”
Funding for the facility came from the R.C. Musson and Katherine M. Musson Charitable Foundation, the Timken Foundation of Canton and The University of Akron Women’s Committee.
Leader in cybersecurity education and workforce training
“We are grateful to our donors who understand the critical importance of cybersecurity and support the University’s efforts to establish itself as a recognized leader in cybersecurity education and workforce training,” said Dr. Elizabeth Kennedy, dean of UA’s College of Applied Science and Technology, which houses the cybersecurity program.
UA is the first public university in Ohio to offer a bachelor’s degree in computer information systems (CIS) with a focus in cybersecurity. Officially launched in 2018, it is among the first cybersecurity degree tracks in the U.S. that includes courses in applied cryptography (the science of encrypting messages), which are typically offered at the graduate level.
A dedication ceremony for the testbed and cyber range was held Monday, Dec. 9. Speaking at the event were Kennedy, UA President Gary L. Miller, Ph.D., Jay Musson, president of the R.C. Musson and Katherine M. Musson Charitable Foundation; Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, Ohio Army National Guard Commander Col. Daniel J. Shank, and state Rep. Tavia Galonski. A video message was played that featured UA alumnus Michael J. Morrell, who served as deputy director and acting director of the Central Intelligence Agency from 2010-2013, and had a highly respected career in the CIA as an analyst from 1980-2013.
Technical specification of the ICS testbed facility:
- 40 Dell Precision 7740 workstations with:
- Intel Core Processor i7-9750H 6 Core, 12M Cache, 2.60GHz up to 4.5GHz Turbo 45W
- Radeon Pro WX 3200 with 4GB GDDR5 video
- 17.3 inch Ultra Sharp 1920x1080 LCD screens
- 24 GB 2666MHz DDR4 Non-ECC RAM
- 1 GB M.2 NVME Solid State Hard Drives
- Intel Wi-Fi 6 AX200 + Bluetooth
- Four Dell N3132PX-ON network switches supporting up to 40 Gigabit bandwidth.
- 100 Hard Wired CAT6E ethernet connections (2 per machine)
- Two 86-inch LG LED 2160p 4K monitors
Media contact: Alex Knisely, 330-972-6477 or email@example.com.