MSU and Circadence Partner to Develop Inventive Cyber Software Tool
By Diane Godwin
Closeup of part of a Netmapper virtual network specification to be deployed as a Cyber event. Graphic submitted by Bob Reese.
Mississippi State University’s Center for Cyber Innovation (MSU CCI) researchers are working with cyber readiness company Circadence Corporation to develop next generation cyber learning and training software to help protect the country’s most secretly held assets.
The partnership’s goal is to customize the MSU-designed Netmapper software to scan and map the military’s complex computer network infrastructures to create realistic cyber events used to train and strengthen cybersecurity skills and defenses. Virtual cyber ranges require a realistic replica of a network infrastructure to effectively equip information technology personnel with training and defense mechanisms to ward off complex attack vectors.
Bob Reese, an MSU CCI researcher and Phil Akers, a CCI senior research engineer, have 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 etcetera are retrieved, and a network map is generated. This data can then be used to create a representation of that network on a cyber range.”
MSU’s Netmapper, funded by the government’s Threat Systems Management Office (TSMO) of Redstone Arsenal, is designed to integrate into the Cyber Range Automation Framework (CRAF), created by TSMO network engineers managed by Circadence. CRAF is funded by the DoD’s National Cyber Range Complex. Craig Greenwood, a Circadence integration team manager, recognized that the two separately funded projects needed to be interfaced, and as a result, would provide the military with some huge advantages when building virtual cyber ranges to simulate real-life attack situations and train for defense capabilities.
A 1300 Node Virtual-network specification in Netmapper. Graphic submitted by Bob Reese.
“Before Netmapper, a cyber event planner had to use a manually-created imprecise network inventory to produce an event specification document. The cyber event engineer would then translate that unreliable data into the CRAF to build the virtual network and machines to meet and run the event specific cyber scenario,” Greenwood explained. “By coupling Netmapper with CRAF it creates an easy tool that we’re calling Netmapper/Cyber Range Automation Framework (N/CRAF). It has the graphical user interface canvas for design. It has the scan and verify function all completely setup and integrated with automation frameworks, so you use the same tool to design it, the same tool to build it, the same tool to verify it, and then the same tool to go back at the end and save off or capture what you actually built or performed. And finally, N/CRAF can be standardized across the DoD. It’s the only cyber range tool I know of that is available that checks all the boxes.”
Members of the MSU and Circadence team stated that the power of N/CRAF is that changes can be made live and then exported for electronic display or saved to file that is easy to read. They said an important capability of N/CRAF is if a project ends and then in six months it needs to be resurrected a cyber team can pickup where they left off.
“It also eliminates the worry about storage space. N/CRAF saves projects into one file that can be accessible at any time,” Akers added. “We are continually improving it based on weekly feedback from Circadence engineers. It’s what we call a ‘living’ project where we test, tweak and test again. We can do everything within this tool, which streamlines the process. If the N/CRAF tool is standardized across the military, it translates into extensive savings in time and money for the DoD.”
Another advantage of the MSU/Circadence partnership is that it is educating and building America’s future cybersecurity workforce. Student Kaleb Thornton is an MSU junior computer science engineer major currently working with CCI researchers and Circadence engineers on the project since its inception.
“Through this project 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 has surprised me to learn however, is that different authors carry certain styles and techniques and you can begin to recognize the author from the personality of the code,” Thornton explained. “This experience has given me a scholarship that pays for my books and tuition, and in the summer, I will intern for the National Security Agency, and if all goes as planned, I will have a job waiting on me at the NSA when I graduate.”
It’s evident that college classmates have heard of Thornton’s success through the MSU and Circadence partnership and are eager to meet Circadence recruiters at the University’s Career Days.
“The 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’re going to have to hire employees to create formal training programs, formal support programs and the additional workforce to deploy it in multiple locations across the country,” Greenwood said. “This partnership has been 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.”
Circadence Corporation 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.
MSU is Mississippi’s leading university, available online at www.msstate.edu.