GenCyber Program Is Being Offered Free to Accepted Students

GenCyber logo

By Edwin L. Aguirre

Eighty high school students from across New England and New York will get a chance to learn about cybersecurity during a free, two-week virtual camp this summer.

The GenCyber program will be conducted July 12 to 23 by the UML Cyber Range, the university’s center for cybersecurity education, research and workforce development.

The summer camp is being provided at no cost to participants, thanks to a $100,000 grant from the National Security Agency (NSA) in Fort Meade, Maryland.

“The camp is full,” says Computer Science Prof. Xinwen Fu, a cybersecurity and cyberforensics expert who is the director of the university’s Center for Internet Security and Forensics Education and Research (iSAFER) and the UML GenCyber program.

“The students were recruited on a first-come, first-served basis, and we encouraged young women and students from underrepresented groups to apply.”

In addition to Fu, the teaching team includes Asst. Prof. Sashank Narain, Prof. Fred Martin and Asst. Teaching Prof. Sirong Lin of the Department of Computer Science, Asst. Prof. Claire Lee of the School of Criminology and Justice Studies, and Paul McNeil, a teacher at Greater Lowell Technical High School. The NSA grant includes $10,000 for an additional server for the Cyber Range.

Prof. Xinwen Fu at the UMass Lowell Cyber Range Image by Imelda Joson
Computer Science Prof. Xinwen Fu, left, works with a graduate student at the UMass Lowell Cyber Range near East Campus.
According to the NSA, the goal for the GenCyber student camps, which are being offered in 41 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, is to help address the nation’s shortfall of skilled cybersecurity professionals.

According to Cybersecurity Ventures, a leading researcher and publisher covering the global cyber economy, there will be 3.5 million unfilled cybersecurity jobs in 2021 – enough to fill 50 NFL stadiums. What’s more, global cybercrime will cost businesses and governments $6 trillion this year, up from $3 trillion in 2015, according to the company.

Recent events – such as this month’s ransomware attack on the Colonial Pipeline that supplies fuel oil to the eastern half of the U.S., as well as the massive security breach at IT giant SolarWinds that was discovered last December – have demonstrated the vulnerability of America’s cyber infrastructure and the urgent need to strengthen the country’s cyber defenses.

“Through GenCyber, we hope to motivate high school students for cybersecurity-related college programs and careers, as well as raise security awareness and cyber ethics among students,” says Fu. “We also aim to design teaching methods and develop appropriate content on GenCyber concepts for K–12 cybersecurity education.”

A Virtual Cloud Platform

“This is the first GenCyber camp ever in Massachusetts,” Fu notes. “Only basic computer use is expected from the students. Knowledge of programming and cybersecurity is not required.”

He says the GenCyber curriculum has five modules, and each module includes a game played between students and instructors, a lecture with hands-on lab exercises, and a discussion on specific topics, including phishing emails, firewalls, intrusion and detection systems, cybercrimes and digital forensics, encryption, cryptography, software security and ethical hacking (also known as penetration testing, which is legally breaking into computers and devices to test an organization’s cyber defenses).

For UMass Lowell’s camp, lectures will be delivered through Zoom, and the hands-on lab exercises and demos will be performed through the Cyber Range platform.

“Because of COVID-19, we have transformed the Cyber Range facility into a virtual cloud platform with an intuitive and easy-to-use web interface,” Fu says.