Cybercrimes are growing exponentially, posing tremendous threats on our financial markets, undermining public confidence, violating our privacy, and costing hundreds of billions of dollars annually (estimated to cost up to six trillion dollars by 2021). It’s no wonder cyber professionals are in great demand in every walk of life. Contrary to common belief, cybersecurity is much more than a technical challenge. It is also a business challenge and a human challenge.
As a result, cybersecurity education has become one of the fastest growing disciplines in higher ed and vocational training. Building the cybersecurity workforce of the future and integrating cybersecurity understanding across all industries are top priorities for our national security, financial stability, and economic prosperity.
One promising avenue for cybersecurity education and training is lab simulation. Lab simulations serve to enrich existing security curricula or to enable security courses to be offered with a lab component. Unlike traditional labs, simulators utilize virtual equipment and space, and are accessed through a geographically distant computer (virtual machine). Lab simulation also affords the opportunity to work in a team environment – sharpening soft skills as well as technical skills. Through proper lab settings, students can work on the same network environment simultaneously as part of a team. Additionally, lab simulation removes the time and space limitations of traditional labs, thereby allowing more users overall to share the resources and access anytime, from anywhere. On top of the mentioned features are additional benefits that have drawn educators across the country to incorporate virtual machine learning in their programs:
- Flexible access. Perhaps the most often cited benefit of any online learning is that it can be done at the student’s convenience and when he or she learns best. The same is true of virtual laboratories if the experiments are on the student’s own time.
- Instant feedback. Students can redo experiments on the spot while they are still in a critical thinking mode. All the results are recorded, making communication between teachers and students more efficient too.
- Top-notch technology. Schools and students that use virtual labs have access to cutting-edge technology when it comes to experimentation. Companies that build and maintain virtual labs must compete with each other to stay ahead of technology progression and that raises the quality of options for students.
- Lower costs. There is a fee associated with using virtual labs but the capital and maintenance costs are drastically reduced.
We need a large cybersecurity workforce quickly, and we need one that is hands-on trained in the latest tools and techniques of the field. In the short term, rather than reinventing the wheel in educational organizations across the nation, we should utilize hands-on skills lab simulators within cyber degrees, cyber centers, and training programs. So, are virtual machine labs the future of cybersecurity education? Absolutely.