Publication details

Scalable Learning Environments for Teaching Cybersecurity Hands-on



Year of publication 2021
Type Article in Proceedings
Conference 2021 IEEE Frontiers in Education Conference (FIE)
MU Faculty or unit

Faculty of Informatics

Keywords cybersecurity education; interactive learning environment; sandbox; virtual machines; cyber range; educational data mining; learning analytics; learning technology
Attached files
Description This Innovative Practice full paper describes a technical innovation for scalable teaching of cybersecurity hands-on classes using interactive learning environments. Hands-on experience significantly improves the practical skills of learners. However, the preparation and delivery of hands-on classes usually do not scale. Teaching even small groups of students requires a substantial effort to prepare the class environment and practical assignments. Further issues are associated with teaching large classes, providing feedback, and analyzing learning gains. We present our research effort and practical experience in designing and using learning environments that scale up hands-on cybersecurity classes. The environments support virtual networks with full-fledged operating systems and devices that emulate real-world systems. The classes are organized as simultaneous training sessions with cybersecurity assignments and learners' assessment. For big classes, with the goal of developing learners' skills and providing formative assessment, we run the environment locally, either in a computer lab or at learners' own desktops or laptops. For classes that exercise the developed skills and feature summative assessment, we use an on-premises cloud environment. Our approach is unique in supporting both types of deployment. The environment is described as code using open and standard formats, defining individual hosts and their networking, configuration of the hosts, and tasks that the students have to solve. The environment can be repeatedly created for different classes on a massive scale or for each student on-demand. Moreover, the approach enables learning analytics and educational data mining of learners' interactions with the environment. These analyses inform the instructor about the student's progress during the class and enable the learner to reflect on a finished training. Thanks to this, we can improve the student class experience and motivation for further learning. Using the presented environments KYPO Cyber Range Platform (CRP) and Cyber Sandbox Creator (CSC), we delivered the classes on-site or remotely for various target groups of learners (K-12, university students, and professional learners). The learners value the realistic nature of the environments that enable exercising theoretical concepts and tools. The instructors value time-efficiency when preparing and deploying the hands-on activities. Engineering and computing educators can freely use our software, which we have released under an open-source license. We also provide detailed documentation and exemplary hands-on training to help other educators adopt our teaching innovations and enable sharing of reusable components within the community.
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