MSU's CCI and Circadence Partner to Create Virtual Cybersecurity Tool
April 22, 2020
Closeup of part of a Netmapper virtual network specification to be deployed as a Cyber event.
Photo was exported from N/CRAF software by Bob Reese
Researchers with Mississippi State’s Center for Cyber Innovation
are helping protect the country’s most secretly held assets through a partnership that’s creating state-of-the-art, virtual cyberattack defenses.
A university alliance with cyber readiness company Circadence Corporation
is customizing an existing MSU-designed Netmapper computer program to develop next-generation cyber learning and training software that can scan and map the military’s complex computer network infrastructures.
This innovative replication of network infrastructures on virtual cyber ranges creates events for training information technology personnel, giving them the skills and defense mechanisms they need in warding off complex attack vectors.
Craig Greenwood, a Circadence integration team manager, said, “This partnership is a win-win, not only for the research and expert collaboration to protect our nation’s most crucial assets, but also for building Mississippi’s workforce and economy.”
Greenwood was the first to recognize that two separately funded projects needed to be interfaced to provide the military with significant advantages when building virtual cyber ranges to simulate real-life attacks and train for defense capabilities.
MSU’s Netmapper, funded by the federal government’s Threat Systems Management Office of Redstone Arsenal, is designed to integrate into the Cyber Range Automation Framework, funded by the U.S. Department of Defense’s National Cyber Range Complex and created by TSMO network engineers managed by Circadence.
A 1300 Node Virtual-network specification in Netmapper.
Photo was exported from N/CRAF software by Bob Reese
Bob Reese, MSU CCI researcher, and Phil Akers, CCI senior research engineer, designed Netmapper to automatically scan and map a network with the resulting information used to replicate that network in a cyber range environment. The software automation drastically reduces the time it takes IT personnel to manually gather the information.
“Netmapper scans and identifies types of devices on the network, like PCs, server machines, network routers and switches,” Reese explained. “During a network scan, data items such as installed programs, services, operating system configuration and more are retrieved, and a network map is generated. This data then can be used to create a representation of that network on a cyber range.”
Greenwood said, “Before Netmapper, a cyber event planner had to use a manually-created, imprecise network inventory to produce an event specification document. A cyber event engineer then would translate that unreliable data into the CRAF to build the virtual network and machines to meet and run the event-specific cyber scenario.”
He explained, “Coupling Netmapper with CRAF creates an easy tool we’re calling Netmapper/Cyber Range Automation Framework, or N/CRAF. It has the graphical user interface canvas for design. The scan and verify functions are set up and integrated with automation frameworks, so you use the same tool to design, build and verify it, and then use the same tool to go back at the end and save or capture what you actually built or performed. N/CRAF also can be standardized across the DoD. It’s the only available cyber range tool I know of that checks all the boxes.”
MSU-Circadence team members emphasized that N/CRAF’s power is in making live changes and then exporting for electronic display or saving to an easily read file. They said an important N/CRAF capability is, if a project ends and later needs to be resurrected, a cyber team can begin where it left off.
“It also eliminates the worry about storage space and saves projects into one file that’s accessible at any time,” Akers added. “We’re continually improving it based on weekly feedback from Circadence engineers. We call it a ‘living’ project where we test, tweak and test again. If the N/CRAF tool is standardized across the military, it translates into extensive savings in time and money for the DoD.”
Another MSU-Circadence partnership advantage is in educating and building America’s future cybersecurity workforce. MSU junior computer science major Kaleb Thornton of Tupelo has been working with CCI researchers and Circadence engineers since the project’s inception through a scholarship.
“I’ve learned how to read a variety of coding languages and create and adapt code to fit in with existing solutions. One thing that I’ve been surprised to learn is that different authors carry certain styles and techniques, so you begin to recognize the author from the personality of the code,” Thornton said, adding that he plans to intern for the National Security Agency, where he hopes to gain permanent employment.
Greenwood said, “Word has gotten out that through this project we’re poised to create jobs right here in Mississippi. If N/CRAF is approved across all military branches, we’ll have to hire employees to create formal training and support programs, and the additional workforce to deploy N/CRAF in locations across the country.”
For more information on CCI, visit www.cci.msstate.edu
MSU is Mississippi’s leading university, available online at www.msstate.edu
is a market leader in cybersecurity readiness. Powered by a culture of innovation and the demands of an evolving cyber landscape, Circadence delivers award-winning cyber learning solutions featuring gamification as a tool to create immersive learning that sticks. The company has developed product portfolio that addresses cyber learning needs from security awareness to complex cyber team interaction to address critical security challenges for enterprise, government and academic institutions. For more information, visit www.circadence.com
Story by Diane Godwin