AUGUSTA — Mike Malone enrolled in the University of Maine Augusta’s cybersecurity program after his grandmother’s computer was hacked and she became a victim to ransomware. 

“My grandmother had no idea what computer hacking was,” Malone said. “She has paid money to have her information given back.” 

The stakes were high for her. The hacker had taken family photographs. 

Malone, who is 49 and a veteran, hopes to use his skills to inform and protect older and veteran populations from malicious cyber infiltration. Younger students in the program, he said, are looking at working in the private and financial sectors. 

The new Maine Cyber Range at UMA will give students hands-on, simulated training in detecting, combating and preventing cyber threats. 

During simulated scenarios based on real attacks, students of the cybersecurity program will get to practice their skills finding, stopping and remediating cyberattacks.

“It goes beyond the theory and gives (students) practical applications that are real-world scenarios that ensures they are ready for the workplace on day one,” said UMA President Rebecca Wyke before the ribbon cutting ceremony Wednesday. 

Student Samantha Wilkins, center, talks to people during a cyber range demonstration Friday at the University of Maine at Augusta. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan

The range, powered by Cyberbit Range platform, is designed to be a resource to all universities within the University of Maine System, and it can also be utilized by other learning facilities, municipalities and businesses. 

In a demonstration after the ribbon cutting ceremony, around 20 users sat at state-of-the-art computers with double monitors and practiced identifying a threat and discovering how it penetrated the simulated system and what its mission was. 

In this simulation, an attacker sent emails to organization members inviting them in the subject line to “check out a cool movie.” 

Those who clicked the link in the suspicious email gave the attacker access to their computers and to the organization’s network. Then the attacker was able to collect classified documents via that organization’s email. 

Those using the simulation had to determine who in the fictional organization had clicked the attacker’s link, then find the program downloaded onto their hard drives. 

“When we run actual training, we emphasize the team effort,” said student Samantha Wilkins, lab manager for the cyber lab and trainer for the range. “They work together with combined knowledge.” 

She said simulations usually take around three hours.

When the range is in use, users will work in teams with assigned roles to monitor the firewall and the System Information and Event Management (SIEM). Someone would also act as a server administrator, explained Pierre Laot, a cybersecurity system engineer and system and network administrator for UMA. 

“The SIEM device is going to be something that is smarter and going to analyze the logs in every feed,” Laot said. From there, it can generate an alert if it finds something suspicious.

“The first line of defense is to have a team that can detect the threats and thwart the attack before they get into the system and can cause very serious damage,” said Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, during the ceremony.

King co-chairs the bipartisan Cyberspace Solarium Commission with U.S. Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wisconsin. The goal of the commission is to plan a strategic approach to defending the country in cyberspace.

“This is an urgent national security issue,” King said, “and one of the reasons is because it is a cheap way to attack another country.

“(Russian President Vladimir) Putin can hire 4,000 hackers for the price of one jet aircraft.”

The University of Maine at Augusta program’s launch follows an announcement in October that former Wex Inc. President and CEO Michael Dubyak donated $1 million to the University of Southern Maine to jump-start a digital innovation center focused on cybersecurity and computer science.

Jeremy Qualls, dean of USM’s College of Science, Technology and Health, said the Michael E. Dubyak Center for Digital Science and Innovation is expected to be fully operational within the next two years with nine faculty members, and that it plans to work jointly with the UMA Cyber Range Facility in addition to hosting its own hands-on programs in cybersecurity education.

Qualls said the Dubyak Center already offers a bachelor of science degree in cybersecurity and is developing a master’s degree program, as well.

“Cybersecurity is one of our most popular majors,” he said. “We emphasize hands-on (education) whereas UMA focuses on online (education).”

Malone, who is also a trainer for the range, said that people of all demographics need to be aware that cyberattackers have ill intent. 

“Understand that there are people trying to take advantage of them,” he said, adding that it can happen on any device — including tablets and smartphones. 

Press Herald Staff Writer J. Craig Anderson contributed to this report.


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