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‘Range’ of Opportunities

Grant-funded cybersecurity tool to provide hands-on training

Taher Al Sharif, ’18, G’20, knows the value of experience. Working as a cybersecurity graduate assistant at Bridgewater State University helped him land a job in the burgeoning field. Now he’s excited his alma mater will build a new facility to provide opportunities for even more students.

Called a cyber range, it will allow students and professionals to confront simulations, including sophisticated ransomware and malware attacks. These mock cybercrime investigations will be based on real cases.

“All those students will get this hands-on experience,” said Al Sharif, who earned a computer science bachelor’s degree and MBA from BSU. “It can lead to bigger and better things.”

The range, recently supported by a $250,000 state Skills Capital Grant, can be accessed from the cloud. However, BSU will turn a room in the Dana Mohler-Faria Science and Mathematics Center into a state-of-the-art lab with computers and a wall of monitors. This will offer a realistic setting to experience the pressure and complexity of cyber-attacks.

“It’s like Disney World. You go for the experience,” said Steve Zuromski, ’04, G’09, vice president for information technology and chief information officer. “We want them to be immersed. We want this to be a destination and experience for them.”

The range complements Bridgewater’s growing offerings in a the cyber-security field with an estimated 7,400 open positions region wide. Across the country, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 31-percent growth in the number of information security analyst jobs between 2019 and 2029.

BSU offers an undergraduate minor in the Department of Computer Science and is developing a major in cybersecurity. The College of Graduate Studies offers a cybercriminology and cybersecurity graduate certificate, and is developing a master’s degree.

“The cyber range is going to be a really great addition for our students,” said Dr. Hannarae Lee, an assistant professor of criminal justice. “Employers want candidates to have actual experience. We’re going to fulfill all those requirements for students and employers.”

“It puts everything together,” said Dr. Enping Li, an associate professor of computer science. “It will greatly boost students’ practical skills.”

The range will also serve regional organizations, as BSU will provide cybersecurity training to municipalities, schools, state agencies, law enforcement, the military and private businesses.

“There’s a critical need in our area for municipalities and other state agencies to be trained in cybersecurity,” Zuromski said. “We feel we’re uniquely positioned to be able to provide that training.”

Now a cybersecurity engineer for National Grid, Al Sharif appreciates the skills he gained at BSU that future students will hone through the cyber range. 

“This can really get you that next job or dream job,” he said.

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