June 19, 2017
Using secure computers inside the College of Engineering and Computer Science, professors from around the world can mimic cyberattacks on networks and see where software is vulnerable.
In the early 2000’s, Professor Kevin Du knew he wanted to find ways to get his students hands on experience in cybersecurity
“From my background, I learn much better when I do something. So then I decided, I should get the students to work some exercises. But at the time, there was not much going on, on the internet. So I decided I would just develop my own for my own class at Syracuse University,” said Du.
Du developed labs where students could simulate cyberattacks and then identify security flaws and software errors.
“It turns out students liked that very much and they are very passionate about this. So then I decided maybe other people will like that,” said Du.
“This lab itself sometimes takes some learning. So I also got a grant from the National Science Foundation to train other professors – especially professors who are new into this area – to teach them how to use that. So they come to Syracuse for four days and the training and they take what they learn back to their class,” said Du. “So far 600 universities worldwide and in more than 30 countries are using my labs”
High profile cyberattacks have shown hackers can exploit even small mistakes.
“In the past, just one computer is maybe open to the outside. Now ten devices are in your home – ten doors open you don’t even know,” said Du.
Using secure computers inside the College of Engineering and Computer Science, professors can mimic attacks on networks and programs. Professor Megan Thomas from California State University Stanislaus was grateful for the opportunity to participate in exercises that can only be done in a controlled environment.
“It would be tough to do with limited resources and it would be almost impossible to do safely,” said Thomas. “It is very kind of folks at research universities like Syracuse that they share what they have developed with the grad students and all that kind of thing, and public universities that don’t have the resources.”
Dr. Daniel Ragsdale from Texas A&M University uses Du’s labs in his classes. He believes the program offers practical experience that could help secure countless devices and networks we rely on every day.
“We continue to see, if you want students to understand what this is all about, they have go to do hands on. They have to work directly with the software, see the vulnerabilities, understand how those vulnerabilities could be exploited and you can only do that in an environment such as this. What Kevin and his students have done is really an incredible resource for people that are teaching in this space,” said Ragsdale.
“We are trying to educate our students so when they write a program, they know an attacker is going to attack in such a way so they don’t make the same mistake,” said Du. “As a result, their system is going to be more robust, more secure.”
For more information on using online versions of the SEED labs, click here.
For his work on the Seed labs, Du received the “2017 Academic Leadership” award from The 21st Colloquium for Information System Security Education, a leading computer science conference that brings government, academia, and industry together.