CyberStart: An ingenious way to discover cyber security skills

Ned Baltagi, Managing Director, Middle East & Africa at SANS Institute, explains the features of the CyberStart game to Security MEA and how it can kindle interest in youngsters to choose cybersecurity as a career.

Can you elaborate more on the kind of games and challenges that are available in the CyberStart game?

In CyberStart Game players get access to a rich gamified environment where they get to take on the role of a cyber security agent thwarting criminal gangs! They have the opportunity to develop skills across every area of security in an immersive and gamified learning experience. Additionally, the game teaches persistence and problem-solving in a fun and engaging way, that doesn’t feel like study! The game is packed with bases and levels of content that progressively grow more difficult and teach more advanced skills as the students thwart different criminal gangs! Each challenge contains a different mission for them to tackle and will offer briefings, hints and resources to help them through. Players will start with basic problem-solving challenges but as they progress, the challenges become replicas of real-world scenarios and cyber-attacks.

Players will develop technical skills in cryptography, programming, penetration testing, forensics, Linux, and binary manipulation.

How secure is the access to this gaming platform?
Cyber security often requires using skills and techniques that can be used for good, or for bad. When developing CyberStart Game we took real care to make sure we built an environment that was appropriate and safe for youngsters, teaching them the skills to find the best students and slingshot them into the industry, but not without an important message of ethics, the law and how to use your skills for good. CyberStart Game provides players with a safe place to learn about cyber security and depending on their talent, aptitude and passion in real but safe environments to practice with real tools. It has been used safely by over 200k young adults!

What aspects of cybersecurity does the game target?
The coverage of cyber security topics is very broad to make sure players have a chance to find their passion within cyber security. In the HQ base, the player’s job is to stop cybercriminal gangs and stay one step ahead. This base will teach technical cyber security skills such as social engineering, cryptography, web application penetration testing, and the Linux command line.

On the Moon base, players will develop their programming skills and learn how to use Python to help build their own security tools. The challenges will start from beginner and gradually build to advanced topics.

In Forensics base, players will learn the essential concepts used by security professionals in the aftermath of a security incident. They will tackle challenges that teach steganography, file forensics, memory forensics, password security and log analysis.

For those who 100% our HQ base, the Volcano base explores more advanced topics such as web app attacks, binary exploitation and network scanning.

What is the rough time span for different modules of this game?
CyberStart Game features over 200 challenges meaning there are hundreds of hours’ worth of content for players to work through. Different students will naturally progress at different paces which is why CyberStart Game has been designed for the players to structure their own learning. Levels unlock as players progress and they can keep track of their scores and points to help visualize their learning journey. Some players spend 40-50 hours and learn a huge amount, where the top students will spend 2-300 hours working on challenges, or participating in the community. You can do as much or as little as your passion and interest allows and the game is a great way to find out if you have a hidden talent for cyber security.

Have you got into tie ups with any education providers / Universities to roll out the gaming platform?
Across the U.K. and the U.S. huge numbers of schools have already rolled our CyberStart Game in substantial national and regional programs. The game can be used individually, with parents at home or in a classroom setting to develop cyber security understanding and find our future potential cyber defenders. Universities and schools often buy licenses to deploy to their students to develop their technical skills overall, but in the process enabling a set of students who are really talented to shine and find a path to the cyber security industry. Perhaps your kid or your student is the next defender against a national attack!

We know that cyber threats/actors are ever-evolving, how will this game adopt to meet these challenges?
CyberStart Game is constantly updated as a platform to cover the latest techniques, topics and principles. We’ve expanded the content massively over the past few years based on what cyber criminals are doing, how technology is evolving and what students need to fast track into further study or careers if they are interested. The core skills of being a cyber security practitioner and being an effective problem solver, researcher and being persistent are timeless components of the game and all the more effective for the gamified, rich narrative and fun approach.

How will this game aid in following the best practices learnt?
The challenges within CyberStart Game are focused on building up a player’s technical awareness, practical tool usage, and approach to follow best practices of people working in today’s industry. At the intermediate levels, players start using the same tools and approaches that current working practitioners leverage, and as they move into advanced areas of CyberStart Game they are exposed to more industry tools, move from highly simulated work to real networked lab environments. Students can take on only part of the content and leave much more cyber security aware as they go on to the future workplace, or perhaps they will uncover a hidden talent and the Game will give them everything