University opens Cyber Range to educate students on how to handle growing threat

UMass Lowell student Zachary Perlmutter working at the newly-opened Cyber Range center Image by Lowell Sun/Jon Winkler
UMass Lowell student Zachary Perlmutter working at the newly-opened Cyber Range center.

Lowell Sun
By Jon Winkler

LOWELL – With public concern over cybersecurity at an all-time-high, UMass Lowell is teaching students how to prepare and counter cyber attacks with its new Cyber Range.

The classroom, located inside the university’s Wannalancit Business Center, was unveiled to the public and officially opened Friday morning. The center features 20 workstations with computers on a closed network, allowing computer science majors to test themselves against simulated cyber attacks and to learn how to avoid catastrophe.

Fred Martin, associate dean for student success at the university’s Kennedy College of Sciences, said the internally-funded Cyber Range has been in the works for about two years as a means for students to research how to both defend their hard drives from cyber attacks and also perform counters from cyber attacks on their own.

“Cybersecurity is so critical to our nation’s well-being,” Martin said. “Economics, politics, banking, medical, every sector needs cybersecurity understanding. We’re in the business of teaching students how things work and how to make things better. The reason to learn how to attack is so that you can help companies understand their weaknesses.”

Haim Levkowitz, the chair of the university’s computer science department, said that there is a desire among the staff at UMass Lowell to prepare students to deal with the threat of cyberattacks. On top of that is a desire from local business owners to hire individuals highly-qualified to protect their information.

“In general, there’s a shortage of about 900,000 people in the general area of computer science,” Levkowitz said. “A growing part of it is the whole business of cybersecurity and we’re trying to train at least some people to get in there and solve these problems. Everybody knows about cybersecurity, but most people don’t really know the details of cybersecurity.”

The center was supported by a multitude of local officials. UMass Lowell Chancellor Jacqueline Moloney said she felt “great confidence” in the center’s opening and saw the issue of solving cybersecurity problems as “crucial.”

“The Cyber Range complements all the work that we’ve been doing,” Moloney said. “There’s a tremendous need for educated professionals in the security space.”

U.S. Rep. Lori Trahan noted how one of the first issues she was briefed on when she was first sworn in was cybersecurity.

“We increasingly see sophisticated cyber criminals destroy the financial futures of so many,” Trahan said. “We must rise to that challenge. The Cyber Range allows UMass Lowell to expand its pipeline of skilled individuals to other local companies. It’s easy to see why this campus was designated a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Research.”

State Rep. Thomas Golden Jr. is an alumnus of UMass Lowell, a fact he referenced when he cheekily said he hacked into the school’s grading system to graduate. Jokes aside, Golden noted how many people carry so much personal information in their cellphones and how cyber attacks make them so vulnerable to theft.

“When you think about what you have in your hands with that phone, your bank records and medical records, it’s scary to think of those in the wrong hands,” Golden said. “If you’re a partner with UMass Lowell, it is beneficial to you, the students, the commonwealth and the country.”