Project Title: Puzzle Based Cyber Security Learning to Enhance Defensive Skills of Front-Line Technicians

Additional Information on this Project:

Cyber-enabled devices are becoming more and more complex with integration of new capabilities and functionalities, both in software and hardware, making it very difficult for users to realize that they are under cyber-attacks or the cause of data breach, etc. It is also well-known fact that vulnerabilities at one component can affect other components in any computing device. But it is hard to realize the interdependencies of various components in order to secure the entire path to in and out of a cyber system. Puzzle-based Learning (PBL) approach proved to have improved STEM learning environment including mathematics, physics and computer science, however, there has been very little work done in computer and cyber security education. We propose to introduce PBL to basic cyber security education to help students better understand complex attack paths and countermeasures for fraud detection, cybercrime, and advanced persistent threats (APTs).

The goal of the project is to improve the effectiveness of cyber security education through PBL, which has been proven to be effective in STEM education. Objectives of this project are 1) to develop complex scenario-based, interactive, multi-level puzzle exercises on cyber security through the construction of deep reasoning of knowledge content; and 2) to examine how to effectively integrate such puzzle-based learning technology with instructional content of community college courses to improve the skillsets of frontline cyber defenders. The proposed project will be implemented in phases in classroom activities, and a small-scale efficacy study will be conducted by participating in cyber capture-the-flag competitions to determine if the new enhanced courseware enables increased learning compared to the existing instructional methodology. Cyber security has increasingly become important because of the sophistication and frequency of online attacks, and the consequences of these attacks on organizations network infrastructures. Different forms of puzzles are in existence for people to think, expand knowledge and stimulate their cognitive ability. We expect that the scenario-based cyber security puzzles will be significantly enhanced through the implementation of interactive intelligent tutoring software. The successful implementation of this project will improve defensive skills of students pursuing a career in the Network and Computer Systems and Computer Network Support Specialists occupations, which includes those who will be enrolled in cyber security courses and programs that will support the front line technician. The dissemination of these security courses will have a broad impact on increasing awareness across the community college and high-school campuses and beyond.

This collaborative project will be led by Jackson State Community College (JSCC), who has been designated a National Center of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance (IA) in IA 2-year Education and Training by the Department of Homeland Security and the National Security Agency. The College is also the lead institution for the Tennessee Cyber Security Education Consortium (CSEC). JSCC is also partnering with the Center for Information Assurance (CfIA) at the University of Memphis, a nationally-designated a Center for Academic Excellence in Information Assurance Education (CAE-IAE) and Research (CAE-R). The CfIA is dedicated to providing world-class research and education to communities and the nation at large, in Information Assurance. Over last six years, these two collaborating institutes (among others) developed a synergy in improving cyber security education and training in the state. For example, they ran joint workshops, cyber security expo, faculty visits, and a joint NSF project. This puzzle-based cyber security learning project will leverage existing collaboration with the UofM to enhance our community college students’ problem solving skillset and to better prepare them for front-line cyber defense. We will provide the developed puzzle-based exercises to our partner community colleges to support their IA education; this will also help to attract minority students in the field of IA.