New CU Cyber Range aims to make UCCS, CU Denver national leaders in cybersecurity education and workforce development

Two new courses and a new CU Cyber Range will expose students across the CU System to immersive cyber-attack scenarios, helping to prepare them for future cybersecurity careers. Photo credit: Chayce Lanphear

Cybersecurity is one of the fastest-growing careers in the nation — and a critical line of national defense. To help prepare students for future careers, a new partnership between UCCS and CU Denver will create the CU Cyber Range: a simulated environment where students can experience realistic cyber-attacks.

Led by Shouhuai Xu, Gallogly Endowed Engineering Chair in Cybersecurity at UCCS, and J. Haadi Jafarian, Assistant Professor of Computer Science and Engineering at CU Denver, UCCS and CU Denver will create two new cyber operations courses: Introduction to Defensive Cyber Operations, for junior students, and Defensive Cyber Operations, for seniors and graduate students. The courses will both expose students to immersive cyber-attack scenarios using the CU Cyber Range.

“We are excited about this CU Next project, because it will not only help elevate our cybersecurity degree education and workforce development endeavors, but also serve as a starting point towards a full-fledged Cyber Range that can serve other purposes including research,” Shouhuai said.

The project is the first of its kind, according to Xu and Jafarian, because the course curricula will be designed around two national initiatives, both of which are considered best practices in the cybersecurity field. The first is the NIST Cybersecurity Framework, a set of cyber defense guidelines published by the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology. The second is the NICE Framework, a blueprint for increasing the United States’ cybersecurity workforce.

Together, the frameworks provide the twin underpinnings for the project: education that prepares students for real cybersecurity challenges, and a focus on building up the national cybersecurity workforce.

“When an enterprise network is hacked, staff must respond to the incident by figuring out the cause and the damage,” Xu and Jafarian write in their proposal. “This is not taught in the current cybersecurity curriculum, owing to the lack of a real infrastructure for teaching students to see the ‘forest’ rather than just the ‘trees’. The present project — the creation of the Range and the two new courses — is just a starting point towards making CU’s cybersecurity education and workforce development national leaders.”

Xu and Jafarian anticipate that the courses will launch in fall 2023, at which point the curriculum will become available to students at both institutions — and to CU’s partners. The U.S. Space Force anticipates leveraging the CU Cyber Range for workforce training and development after its launch, according to Colonel Randy George, Joint Task Force – Space Defense Director of Communications and Cyber Operations.

Additional team members include Joshua Alcorn, Assistant Professor of Research within the UCCS College of Engineering and Applied Science; Jugal Kalita, Professor and Chair of the UCCS College of Engineering and Applied Science UCCS; Greg Williams, Director of Networks and Infrastructure for UCCS; Joseph Murdock, Instructor of Information Systems in the CU Denver Business School; and Douglas Sicker, Professor of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering at CU Denver.

The project was funded by the CU Next Awards, which provide up to $300,000 in funds for innovative, technology-focused faculty projects. Learn about the 2022 CU Next Award recipients online.

About Cybersecurity at UCCS 

UCCS is a recognized cybersecurity education leader in the region, awarding hundreds of degrees each year in cybersecurity fields at the bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral levels. UCCS cybersecurity programs train security professionals who work to ensure the nation’s security and support faculty research and strategic cybersecurity partnerships with industry, government, military and academic institutions, including the U.S. Space Force and the National Cybersecurity Center.  Due to generous Colorado state funding of cybersecurity education, UCCS students are eligible for significant financial aid towards security degree scholarships. Learn more about Cybersecurity Programs at UCCS.