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Cyber range technology

The growth in importance of cybersecurity over the last decade is undisputed; its scope has widened to pose risks for every organisation that functions digitally in any small way. Cyber ranges are among the technological solutions that have been discussed, implemented, and developed in response to this growing threat, and have risen to become one of the leading cyber defence technologies, arming IT teams with the skills and experience they need to fend off attacks. So, what exactly do they do? writes co-founder of the platform CybExer Technologies, Lauri Almann.

Cyber range technology creates a sophisticated virtual-environment which can be tailored to mimic your IT systems. Within the simulated network of the cyber range, IT teams can launch a ‘practice’ attack and respond in real-time. By partaking in these practical exercises, users learn to cope under high levels of stress, locating and exploiting vulnerabilities on various network systems, which in turn helps them develop the skills they need to identify, monitor, report and resist cyber attacks. The exercises on cyber ranges can also take the form of Capture-The-Flag (CTFs) or live-fire drills, and even a combination of both (threat hunting). Cyber ranges can be hosted on premise and also be deployed quickly through the cloud – whatever the customer chooses.

An important caveat to note is that cyber ranges are designed to be included as part of a wider cyber strategy. Reporting to and creating situational awareness at the C-suite level is also an important exercise in cyber security. Situational awareness is vital for decision makers if they are to understand what is going on in their networks and make informed decisions that protect the assets of the organisation.

Cyber ranges have also proved to be an engaging way to teach cyber to youngsters – CTF competitions provide them with a ‘gamified’ practical way of studying cyber security.
A cyber range can also be an essential supporting asset in digital transformation processes, since it builds up virtualized environments, tests systems, and helps increase understanding of how different technologies integrate and what the security aspects are. Cyber ranges are able to support not only training, exercises or testing, but can be used to establish proof of concept with new technologies, systems and integration projects.

The cyber range is a powerful tool – the largest training environments that have been deployed consist of up to 5000 virtual machines including business IT and Operational Technology components. This makes the cyber range use-case portfolio endless. Let’s take a look at a few here:

For government

Cyber is fast becoming a new frontier for statecraft, and governments’ use of the internet and underground criminal gangs is a source of exacerbated geopolitical tensions. Large scale state sponsored cyber attacks against a country were firstly reported in 2007 when cyber attacks on Estonia saw cash machines and online banking services struggle, news portals and internal government web-pages go down.

In 2021 the services are much more complex and rely on IT-systems more than ever. Water purification systems, hospitals, gas-stations, power plants and other parts of critical infrastructure are heavily relying on IT-systems. Governments are expected to be able to defend and guarantee the resilience of society.

Now, the pressure is on governments to get ahead of attacks, rather than become the next victim. The value of simulation training exercises has been formally recognised by defence bodies like NATO for some time, and in Europe, the UK, Luxembourg (who acquired their own cyber range in October 2021), Ukraine, and Estonia (which is even planning to run the ranges on 5G) are already using cyber ranges.

For enterprise

A number of high-profile extortion cases (including the huge $10m loss suffered by CNA Financial in 2020) make a clear case for cyber rages’ commercial use. For businesses, the threat of ransomware is particularly poignant, and the incentive for hackers continues to grow simply because the potential monetary gain is so high.

The increasing use of ‘triple extortion’ tactics is a key problem for enterprises, and makes a clear case for the use of cyber range technology, since it requires immediate, measured action to be taken by IT teams on the front line. Failure to do so can result in significant revenue and job losses, or even the collapse of entire companies.

For education

There is a growing appetite for reform in cyber security training, particularly among higher education institutions; with the UK’s top universities now offering National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) certified Bachelor’s and Master’s programmes. The Department for Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) reported nearly 400,000 cyber security-related job postings from 2017 to 2020, and covid has shined a spotlight on the global cyber skills shortage since attacks have increased simultaneously with the move to remote working. Young people need both theoretical and practical know-how to hit the ground running when they enter the workplace, and cyber range technology promises to be a valuable tool for any academic institution that wants to provide IT and cybersecurity education of the highest quality.

Cyber forever

We can expect to hear more about cyber ranges as decision-makers become aware of just how effective they can be. In the coming years, the mission of cyber range technology providers to empower human potential in cyberspace will continue to permeate mainstream discourse on security, and we should see investment from the aforementioned sectors spike. Without this, we are likely to fail in our efforts to break the vicious cycles of cybercrime.


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