keyboard

The center was built in October.

Massanutten Technical Center built the only Educational Security Operations Center for high school students in the country this past October. This ESOC allows students to monitor networks, identify if they’re being hacked and diagnose attacks to determine which ones are worth investigating.

“This ESOC is an idea from Harrisonburg and Rockingham County economic development board,” Edna Reid, a JMU cybersecurity professor, said. “It’s a way for them to help schools train students for future jobs and recruit companies to the area who are interested in having people already trained in cybersecurity.”

Reid said training experience that simulates the real world is invaluable. A number of people aren’t going to college, but by acquiring skills from this course, they can apply for cybersecurity jobs. 

“It’s easier for them to come up to speed and become productive employees in a shorter time frame,” Reid said. “With the educational SOC, we can actually educate more high school students and adults in cybersecurity, and they can get their certifications and be able to enter the workforce in a shorter amount of time.”

Bud Ritchie is the cybersecurity instructor at MTC. Ritchie said there are 33,500 cybersecurity jobs in Virginia and not many people available to fill them. The state government is looking to increase the number of training facilities to meet that need. They decided to move away from fixing computers to meet the cyber skills gap and train students for jobs that are readily available.

“Just like the real world, most SOCs work in teams — I assign my students into groups of four,” Ritchie said. “Everyone has to be able to take anybody else’s role. Our goal is to be able to convince employers that these students can graduate from here and be a tier-one SOC analyst.”

His favorite assignment is a live attack-defense scenario using Minecraft. Other players call in, and they have five minutes to fix a problem in real-time.

“When you put kids in a situation where they’re actually dealing with raw data or real information, and you make the simulation as close to real-life as possibly as you can,” Ritchie said, “It better prepares them when they leave to go into the workplace and actually perform a job function.”

Reid was able to visit an ESOC at a community college in Singapore to learn more about how it was implemented. To her knowledge, it’s the only ESOC in the world, along with MTC, that’s not at the university level.

Evelynlee Barker is a third-year student at MTC who just started learning about cybersecurity. Her favorite part of the class is working hands-on and completing scenarios that could actually be used when she gets out of the class.

“You have to start getting along with people — you can’t have any grudges because you’re working together not only on projects like this,” Barker said. “We’re in here every day — it’s very much like the real world where you have to get along with people.”

Reid said the city of Harrisonburg is planning on building a second high school, and there’s already discussion of building an ESOC in the new school. MTC has received emails from around the country of schools that want to visit and use this lab as a model for their own facilities.

“It’s just that realization when they see it that what we do here is actual real-world stuff, and they’re actually obtaining real-world skills,” Ritchie said. “I think that’s my favorite part.”

Contact Matthew Sasser at sasserma@dukes.jmu.edu. For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.