programmers working on a computer program

Paintball at the WMCAT Hub Debut

Paintball with a purpose. That was the theme for the 6th Annual Purple Event, hosted by the West Michigan Cyber Security Consortium (WMCSC) on October 10th at the West Michigan Center for Arts and Technology (WMCAT) facility. A purple-team cyber competition is unique in that it consists of teams made up of five offensive (red) and five defensive (blue) security professionals. They work together and share skills and knowledge in order to exploit, control, and secure assets within the live fire virtual cyber city, Alphaville. The “live fire” cyber security environment simulates real-life environments such as libraries, schools, city management offices, public utility facilities, residential homes, and even networked vehicles.

In this year’s event SCYTHE provided access to their attack simulation platform. The teams were free to use SCYTHE in any way they saw fit, and due to the flexibility of the tool it could be used both offensively and defensively. The advantage of utilizing an automated attack simulation tool in this environment is priceless. I have to give kudos to SCYTHE for providing their tool in the environment in a fun and creative way. It added a little extra excitement to the event!

This was the inaugural event for The Cyber Hub @ WMCAT, which is home to the newest and the region’s first declassified cyber hub powered by the Michigan Cyber Range. The Cyber Hub @ WMCAT, will provide a training environment for exercises like the Purple Event, certification trainings in cybersecurity and many other events to support the cyber community in West Michigan.

As an advocate for The Cyber Hub @ WMCAT, I have been working to bring this virtual training environment to West Michigan for over four years. Many professionals before me had been working on the same effort for many years prior. The stars were aligned and we were able to get a neutral location where business, education, and professionals will be willing to participate fully without any conflicts. By neutral it is meant that no organization or institution would or should have a reasonable conflict in participating. No one has to worry about being on some competitors turf.

Of course this was only the inaugural kickoff of The Cyber Hub @ WMCAT, but we are already exploring the great potential it can provide the community around training. We can use it to facilitate Capture The Flag events between industry security teams and students. Inter-college competitions, as well as organization versus organization, and of course the inclusion of schools districts are all possible. Being that this facility is unclassified and open to the public we can be creative and innovative; try something new! A couple of ideas being toyed with right now are providing individualized access with a skills-based rating system. The environment would allow you to get as far as you can go while providing hints if needed and tracking your skills. Another idea is a virtual security operations center (SOC) in the environment that can allow for hands-on training of analysts that would be able to respond to SOC related issues. Being that this function is one of the highest outsourced items in information security right now.

As a neutral, community-based cyber hub, WMCAT is the perfect facility to house this environment and create the largest impact to the community. The only way to address the talent gaps in skill, number of professionals, and overall diversity is to utilize non-traditional methods. I believe we can develop a continuous talent pipeline by engaging and exposing community members passionate about technology and IT careers. With the partnership with WMCAT those gaining exposure to information security are high school students from Grand Rapids area Public Schools, young adults, as well as under and unemployed adults. WMCAT is poised to be the best vehicle allowing us to reach these audiences. I agree with WMCAT in the belief that there are entry-level employment opportunities in information technology and cyber security that can provide meaningful career pathways and economic security for families. I have dedicated myself to help roll out this facility in a way to continuously support and develop students on their journey. The field of cyber security is enormous and the job options are nearly endless from technical to non-technical roles. In my experience the number one issue is that individuals just have no exposure to the field. If we can increase awareness of cyber security careers and exposure to the skills needed to be successful in those careers to more individuals – especially to those in younger grade levels and from underrepresented communities – we can create an excitement for cyber security as a way to increase economic and social opportunity for people, and ultimately increase the talent pool and create a diverse and inclusive hiring pipeline.

It was a true joy to participate this year with the Purple Event as well as kicking-off for The [new] Cyber Hub @ WMCAT. Thank you to all of our sponsors and members who supported us and participated. I really look forward to the future and building off this momentum.

About Abraham Jones:

Abraham Jones is a trailing spouse of a faculty member of Grand Valley State University. Originally from Washington State where he began his journey in information security starting back in 2000 (aka Y2K). Now a cyber security architect for a multinational private organization, he recalls the early days of on call duty at the Center for Materials Research. Protecting DoD data while conforming to research and academic openness policies introduced him to the glorious world of cyber security. On his journey he has held the titles of Data Security Analyst, Senior Cyber Security Engineer, Cyber Security Consultant, Information Security Supervisor, and now Cyber Security Architect. He is a champion for information security within the Western Michigan cyber community. Volunteering and participating in many local organizations and also running the GrrCon talent accelerator program.