What is a Cyber Range? A Definitive Guide and Definition
Everything in the modern world relies on internet-connected technology. We trust technology to do as it’s told, and to be there when we need it. And technology is so prevalent that it’s almost invisible. From missile defense systems, to hospital patient information databases, to public education and private enterprise, everything that we take for granted as a part of modern life depends on technology working as expected.
Security researchers are well aware that our technology is also hugely vulnerable. Exploits, scams, ransomware, and data breaches are household words. Cyberattacks are launched hourly against targets of every size around the world. The enemy is sophisticated, well trained, well-funded, and often state sponsored.
The cybersecurity threat landscape never sleeps. Attacks can come at any time, and their nature may change at a moment’s notice. Highly trained threat actors are constantly evolving, testing, innovating, and developing new tools. No one is immune, from government organizations to the smallest family-owned business.
This is a field where the conditions on the ground are constantly changing. In order to be effective defenders during a cyberattack, cybersecurity professionals must not only be able to gain skills but ensure that they remain current. Cybersecurity training is like fluency in a foreign language: it must be practiced constantly, or it will fade with disuse. One-time classes and seminars are invaluable resources, but they are only one component of learning.
The enemy trains constantly, and it is vital that cybersecurity professionals do the same. Cyber range training is one of the best ways to remain prepared.
What is a cyber range?
A cyber range is a platform that provides hands-on cybersecurity practice to teams of professionals. Cyber ranges provide a secure, legal environment for cybersecurity education, practice, and cyber warfare training. Threat isolation is ensured by providing trainees the ability to recognize and respond to real-world challenges in a controlled environment. This approach guarantees that client infrastructure and data is never at risk as a result of cybersecurity training.
Cyber range customers include military and government agencies, universities, and private companies. Cybercrime investigators in law enforcement, threat hunters, incident responders, SOC analysts, information technology professionals, and many others use cyber ranges to improve their skills and team expertise.
Any team of security professionals tasked with maintaining cyberdefense readiness can benefit from cyber range training. Cybersecurity professionals come from diverse backgrounds, and often possess equally diverse skillsets. This broad spectrum of talent can lead to immense gains in innovation and out-of-the-box thinking, but it can also be a hindrance through its lack of standardization. Cyber range training addresses this issue by ensuring that all team members remain skilled and current in their practice, regardless of background.
“Learn once” is a legacy message. One-time training is insufficient to combat 21st century threats. In an ever-changing world, where yesterday’s skills are already obsolete, regular discipline and practice give today’s cyberdefense teams a crucial edge. Cyber range training ensures that in a crisis, teams are able to call on their training to turn the tide.
Common features of cyber ranges
Cyber ranges contain several core components common across solutions.
Component 1: Range Learning Management System (LMS)
The range learning management system (LMS) enables the range administrator to control training and monitor learning objectives. The LMS provides the capability to set up and control exercises, manage teams, and generate reporting on trainee progress. In some cyber range implementations, the LMS is what differentiates a professional cyber range from a cyber lab.
Component 2: Realistic Training Environment
Many cyber ranges aim to offer a realistic training environment. These ranges often provide a simulation of an enterprise network, complete with simulated network configuration, endpoint software, routing information, and internal and external network traffic. They may contain actual hardware and software or may be a combination of actual and virtual components.
Some dedicated cyber ranges are completely hardware-based, containing physical infrastructure in a network rack. However, this approach is challenging to scale, and many providers are moving to virtualized infrastructure. These cyber ranges may be on-premises or cloud-based and may or may not require the installation of client-side software. Advanced ranges may include a “hardware-in-the-loop” option, which offers a blended environment between virtual and physical setups.
Component 3: Curriculum
Cyber ranges provide either a pre-packaged or a customizable curriculum. Pre-packaged curricula include a certain amount of predefined exercises and testing. Some cyber range solutions will offer work role mapping with exercises to qualify an individual to that work role, using frameworks such as NICE and JQR. Customizable content differs from client to client and provides the ability to address specific organizational and training needs. This gives the entity the ability to train on the specific techniques, tactics, and procedures the threat actors are currently using against their organization.
Component 4: Gamification
The more innovative cyber ranges available incorporate gamification into their training. This approach increases trainee engagement while also improving knowledge absorption and retention. Gamified training encourages creativity by framing training as problem-centered rather than content-oriented. Trainees receive immediate feedback, and cyber range administrators receive immediate results.
Component 5: Reporting
Cyber ranges often contain a variety of reporting and metrics tools. These make it possible for range administrators to assess trainees’ performance and improvement over time. Combined with internal reporting on employee effectiveness and retention, these reports can be an essential factor in calculating the ROI of cyber range training. In addition, range reports enable leaders to pinpoint the strengths and weaknesses of their people, and to remedy any skill or knowledge gaps.
What to look for in a cyber range
We’ve developed a list of 9 features that an ideal cyber range solution should include. Here are the things that a prospective buyer should look for.
Feature 1: Tools-Agnostic
Every environment is different, and every team is different. A good cyber range solution will allow trainees to use the same tools and software during training that they use every day on the job. It’s important to train like you fight; Formula One drivers don’t practice timed laps in their minivans. Why limit your cyber professionals?
Feature 2: Focus on comprehension and competency
Book learning has plenty of value, but when a real-world cyberattack strikes, professionals have to be able to solve problems quickly and without checking the answer key. The training offered by a cyber range needs to focus on ensuring total comprehension, rather than memorization. Training should also provide content for all levels of proficiency, from beginner to expert. The ideal cyber range will include regular content updates based on the changing cybersecurity landscape.
Feature 3: Replay value
Cyber professionals need to maintain their readiness. And in order to do so, they must train in a way that provides functional learning and skills development. Replay value and randomization are key to making sure that trainees can’t simply memorize a set of answers in order to progress. An ideal cyber range ensures that no trainee will ever see the exact same question twice. This ensures that mentoring and cross-team learning are possible while preventing cheating.
Feature 4: At-a-glance reporting
Cyber range administrators must be able to track training and advancement, provide feedback, and show results. A good cyber range will offer a variety of reporting and metrics tools to provide objective, measurable results. Range reporting should be easy to understand and easy to generate.
Feature 5: Customizable and scalable
All organizations can benefit from cyber range training, but one size does not fit all. A cyber range needs to be customizable and scalable to any environment, including environments of differing architecture, security, and clearance levels. When choosing a cyber range, ask: how will this scale to our environment? What customizations are possible – or impossible?
Feature 6: Internet connection not required
It may seem counter-intuitive to think of cybersecurity training in an offline environment. But there are many real-world scenarios where this is necessary. For some organizations, security requirements may mandate that certain systems never connect to the corporate network or to the internet. And for deployed military, troops in the field may not have internet access on demand. The ideal cyber range can be used under any circumstances, including without an internet connection.
Feature 7: Easy to set up and deploy
Cyber range training should mitigate problems, not cause them. Look for a cyber range solution that can be deployed efficiently, without requiring additional staff or extensive training. In the words of one of Aries’ clients, “The system needs to be so simple someone just out of boot camp can use it.”
Feature 8: Offers a variety of cybersecurity skills
Not all cyber ranges offer the same depth or breadth of cybersecurity training. Some ranges narrowly focus on perfecting specific skills, where others may offer a broad selection of many skills with only some specialization. Some cyber ranges specifically target defensive- or offensive-only roles, where others offer a mix. Ensure that your organization selects a cyber range with a well-rounded cybersecurity range that meets your organization’s needs, both now and in the future.
Feature 9: Ability to award CPE credits
Many regulations, both commercial and government, require staff to maintain specific cybersecurity certifications, such as CISSP, Security+, GSEC, CEH, CISM, and CISA. To maintain these, professionals need to acquire a large number of continual professional education credits (CPEs). A good cyber range gives an organization the ability to award CPEs to their staff.
Cybersecurity training is a perishable skill. In order to remain competent, cybersecurity professionals must have access to continual practice and education that reflects real-world scenarios and threats. No industry is bulletproof against cyberattacks, and preparedness is key to mustering an effective response.
Investing in a professional cyber range is a smart move for any organization, and it doesn’t have to be a difficult one. Highly trained cybersecurity professionals will always catch things that automated tools miss. And by ensuring that teams maintain their mission readiness, your organization can stay safe, prepared, and out of the 5-o-clock news.
The bad guys practice all the time. Shouldn’t you?
Contact Us Today, Defend Better Tomorrow.
Aries Security wants to help you prepare for tomorrows cyber threats. Our experienced and knowledgable staff is here to guide you through the process of setting up your event, building your content or installing your range. Contact us today.