CU Cyber Range-based courses in cyber operations announced for fall 2023 

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

UCCS and CU Denver are launching 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 expose students to immersive cyber-attack and defense scenarios using the CU Cyber Range that is being built at UCCS. 

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, these courses are part of an initiative funded by the CU Next Award to make UCCS and CU Denver a national leader in cybersecurity education and workforce development. The Cyber Range is an interactive simulation environment where students can experience realistic cyber-attack scenarios. 

CS 3920: Introduction to Defensive Cyber Operations will give students a systematic overview of key aspects of defensive cyber operations, including technical and non-technical aspects as well as principles and operations with a special focus on experiential learning conducted on an extensive and scalable Cyber-Range testbed that provides students with a virtual environment for realistic, hands-on labs and exercises.  

CS 4915/5915: Defensive Cyber Operations will teach students advanced technical skills for defensive cyber operations. The content includes advanced tactics, techniques and procedures with hands-on defensive cyber operation experiments and research components. The course equips students with key technical skills for conducting real-world defensive cyber operations. 

“At a high level, these two courses will leverage our Cyber Range to emulate an enterprise network as well as realistic attack campaigns, where an advanced persistent threat scans, enumerates and social engineers to exploit by abusing software flaws and misconfigurations, deploying malware and furthering their foothold,” said Xu. “Students will be placed in the security operations center to defend the enterprise network against this multi-faceted threat by implementing the NIST Cybersecurity Framework.”  

A sample scenario would suppose an attacker employing Metasploit to actively scan an enterprise network to identify a dynamic web portal where they could leverage command injection to gam local access for the server. From there, the attacker would identify and exploit kernel vulnerability to escalate to the root privilege where they can further scan for lateral movement opportunities. Students will learn to develop their defense chain to thwart each step of this attack campaign, such as implementing specific access control lists in a network firewall to slow down the attacker’s initial scanning, configuring a web application firewall to block command injection payloads and deploying OS patches to remediate kernel vulnerabilities. 

The course curricula are designed around two national initiatives considered to be best practices in cyber security: the NIST Cybersecurity Framework, a set of cyber defense guidelines published by the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the NICE Framework, a blueprint for increasing the United States’ cybersecurity workforce.  

The two new courses and CU Cyber Range were jointly designed by faculty members at UCCS and CU Denver. By using on-the-job equipment and monitoring student performance, the CU Cyber Range will equip graduates with the skills and experience needed for direct hire into the cybersecurity workforce. The courses will be offered by UCCS, with CU Denver students taking them remotely. 

The project was funded by the CU Next Awards, which provide $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 bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral levels. UCCS cybersecurity programs train security professionals who work to ensure the nation’s security, 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.