On Guard

by Don Rodriguez

In a world besieged by what seem to be new wide-ranging cyber threats arising daily, building a combat-ready force is not a bad idea. To help, two member organizations of the Arizona Technology Council have teamed to open a second location of a facility dedicated to supporting revolutionary advancements in cybersecurity.

The Metro Phoenix location of the Arizona Cyber Warfare Range (AZCWR) is a collaborative effort of the Arizona Cyber Threat Response Alliance (ACTRA) and Grand Canyon University. The volunteers of AZCWR have joined with the university to offer valuable cybersecurity resources and workforce training to cultivate highly skilled cyber professionals.

Open to the public, this location joins the original AZCWR, which launched in 2014 at the City of Mesa’s Arizona Laboratories for Security and Defense Research, or more commonly called AZLabs.

The Council’s Cyber Security Committee has hosted an event annually at the Mesa branch and plans to have a committee event there in early 2018. The Committee serves as a platform for information security professionals to share best practices and for technology companies without chief information security officers to seek guidance on requirements to strengthen their digital defenses. To help keep the momentum going, the Council and ACTRA also were to host the second annual Cybersecurity Lunch Forum on Dec. 7 at SkySong in Scottsdale.

AZCWR is one of largest privately funded, volunteer-staffed organizations in the country focused on innovation and education in cybersecurity. It was launched by a consortium of volunteers from user groups, educational institutions and corporations in Arizona. The management team, including co-founders Ray Rivera and Brett L. Scott, are all active in groups such as the Southwest Security Professionals Forum, Sonoran Desert Security Group and Infragard.

Also part of the management team is the Information Systems Security Association (ISSA). The Phoenix Chapter of the ISSA joined the management team in 2014, and has provided more than $300,000 in donated equipment to help bring the range to its current size.

AZCWR provides a barrier-free opportunity for teaching people with all types of backgrounds to become security savvy. Though not a traditional educational institution or a certifying party, its mission is to educate the public regarding cybersecurity through “learn by doing.”

Most security-focused education curricula are focused on the theory and standards of computer fundamentals and information management. However, the volunteers who facilitate AZCWR believe in learning by doing. They created the AZCWR to give security professionals and even non-professionals the opportunity to push the limits. In fact, they encourage users to “learn by destruction.” That is accomplished through “live fire” computer network attacks against a wide variety of platforms. In this no-holds-barred environment, there are no restrictions, no filters and just two rules: no using the range as a botnet and no distributed denial-of-service attack flood of AZCWR resources.

To promote learning, there are four segmented areas for members to explore: beginner, intermediate, advanced and “Jedi.” Each validated user is granted a 24-hour access pass to the selected range. Each range has exercises and environments that allow members to explore everything from basic terminology and concepts to full-scale attacks against real-world targets. When a target is compromised, an image of the platform is moved to a secured storage area for use in digital forensic training.

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