UC hosts cybersecurity training exercise

Ohio Cyber Range Institute prepares for potential attacks

To prepare the state of Ohio to counter growing cybersecurity threats, the Ohio Cyber Range Institute at the University of Cincinnati hosted a four-day training exercise.

A team from the Ohio Cyber Reserve, a volunteer force under the command of the state’s adjutant general, was selected for this pilot exercise to improve its ability to conduct its mission while developing an Ohio Cyber Range Institute group to provide a repeatable, tailored, challenging and realistic cyber incident problem.

“Ohio has been leading the way with an innovative approach to address cyber threats,” said Maj. Gen. John C. Harris Jr., Ohio adjutant general. “Starting with the efforts of the Ohio Cyber Collaboration Committee more than seven years ago, Ohio has a cyber range for schools, governments and businesses to use to conduct cyber testing and training. The Ohio Cyber Reserve, a civilian volunteer force, has been created to assist eligible small governments affected by cyberattacks. These combined efforts strengthen cybersecurity and protect critical infrastructure across the state.”

University of Cincinnati president Dr. Neville G. Pinto spoken and enjoyed the Distinguished Visitors Day for the OCRI and OhCR Pilot Cybersecurity Exercise on Friday July 15, 2022. Photos by Joseph Fuqua II

Maj. Gen. John C. Harris Jr., Ohio adjutant general, gives a speech during a Ohio Cyber Range Institute training exercise at the University of Cincinnati's 1819 Innovation Hub.

About one quarter of the Ohio Cyber Reserve's approximately 80 personnel attended the training exercise that began July 14 at UC’s 1819 Innovation Hub.

During the exercise, the participants were challenged by multiple simulated malicious actors such as an insider threat, criminal hacking, hacktivist activity and an advanced persistent threat, with the pace and complexity of malicious events tailored to the team’s performance and achievement of its training objectives.

The reservists actively analyzed simulated activity on a virtual network, the Ohio Cyber Range, using the defense tools that all cyber reserve teams have at their disposal.

“This scenario is quite representative of the types of challenges that such a team would be asked to resolve, when a cyber incident impacts government services,” said Richard J. Harknett, co-director of the Ohio Cyber Range Institute.

University of Cincinnati president Dr. Neville G. Pinto spoken and enjoyed the Distinguished Visitors Day for the OCRI and OhCR Pilot Cybersecurity Exercise on Friday July 15, 2022. Photos by Joseph Fuqua II

Members of the Ohio Cyber Reserve take part in a training exercise at the University of Cincinnati's 1819 Innovation Hub.

This and future exercises provide value through team assessment, leveraging a sophisticated digital training environment on the Ohio Cyber Range and emulating a variety of scenarios.

“It is an honor for UC to partner with the state of Ohio and serve as host for something as incredibly important as cybersecurity training,” UC President Neville G. Pinto said. “It is evidence of the successful effort to build strong partnerships between higher education, military and industry through the Ohio Cyber Range Institute.”

The threat of cyberattacks against government, industry and private citizens continues to increase in frequency and consequence from numerous attackers with goals, techniques and effectiveness constantly changing, said Scott Petersen, executive director of UC Digital Futures-Cyber Development. Such cyberattacks can affect many and requires integration of government, industry and academia for readiness.

Such complexity necessitates ever-improving technical and operational expertise to help secure the cyber ecosystem and recover from cyber incidents, Petersen said. Persistent training and education are vital.

“Exercises like this are widely considered a necessary best practice for our nation’s ‘first responders.’ They hone the technical skills of participants and forge relationships that are crucial for a coordinated response from government and private organizations,” Petersen said.

University of Cincinnati president Dr. Neville G. Pinto spoken and enjoyed the Distinguished Visitors Day for the OCRI and OhCR Pilot Cybersecurity Exercise on Friday July 15, 2022. Photos by Joseph Fuqua II

Bekah Michael, executive staff director of the Ohio Cyber Range Institute, explains how members of the Ohio Cyber Reserve are being trained at the University of Cincinnati's 1819 Innovation Hub.

Ohio has demonstrated innovation and leadership to address these threats through the Ohio Cyber Collaboration Committee, which led to the development of the Ohio Cyber Range and the Ohio Cyber Reserve. The range brings resources to improve the cyber teams and individuals, statewide.

The University of Cincinnati is uniquely postured to help. UC was selected to develop and administer the Ohio Cyber Range Institute due to its multi-disciplinary expertise and demonstrated collaborative approach. One of the missions of the OCRI is to manage the statewide Cyber Range, an integrated cyber education-workforce  and economic development platform that has begun activities in every congressional district in its first year of operation.

The four co-chairs of the OCRI come from three colleges at UC: College of Engineering and Applied Science, College of Education, Criminal Justice, and Human Services, and College of Arts and Sciences. UC is one of only 18 institutions in the country to hold the National Security Agency’s designation as Centers of Academic Excellence in both cyber operations and cyber defense.

See media coverage from the training exercise:

Featured image at top: Members of the Ohio Cyber Reserve, a volunteer force under the command of the state’s adjutant general, take part in a training exercise at the University of Cincinnati's 1819 Innovation Hub. All photos by Joseph Fuqua

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