Pace University’s Cybersecurity War Room Teaches Cyber Defense

Pace University’s groundbreaking Cybersecurity War Room is preparing students to safeguard the digital world.

With data breaches, ransomware attacks, and identity theft on the rise, cybersecurity has become a pressing need for countless organizations. In a bid to prepare the next generation to engage on a digital battlefront, the Pleasantville campus of Pace University recently unveiled its Cybersecurity War Room. It’s designed to simulate realistic threats, allowing students to get hands-on experience defending systems from an attacker.

For Justin Boudreau, a 21-year-old majoring in computer science and economics, and also the president of Pace’s Cybersecurity Club, the war room addresses a pressing issue. “It’s incredibly important to keep up-to-date to protect people’s data,” says Boudreau. “I’ve had individuals in my family be victim to cyberattacks, as I’m sure most people have, and I think it’s vital to try to protect people as the world grows more and more digital, and information becomes more available.”

Built to address this need, the Cybersecurity War Room is led by Joe Acampora, a computer-science professor at Pace University’s Seidenberg School of Computer Science and Information Systems. “I focus on cybersecurity here at Seidenberg, but I’m also usually the coach for the Cybersecurity Club’s competition team,” says Acampora. “However, this year we are hosting the regional competition for collegiate cyber defense, and I’m the director of the competition, so I had to step back from my coach role to be impartial.”

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Since he arrived in 2020, Acampora has been building out the war room’s Cyber Range, a wall of video screens, much like a data center’s, on which students navigate their digital battles. In some scenarios, a portion of the students pose as the attackers, while others attempt to defend from cyber incursions. “It is a live simulation in the sense that a professor like Joe can throw real-life scenarios in real time, such as a company being hacked, and students must figure out how to defend against it,” says Pace’s assistant vice president of public affairs, Jerry McKinstry.

The futuristic Cyber Range is a large part of this tutelage. “This front-end interface is a big part [of the classes] because it’s what people can see, can touch, can feel,” says Acampora. “It also gives me the opportunity as an instructor, and also the students, to collaborate with multiple screens, so I can see what the students are doing and they can see what I’m doing.”

Joe Acampora and his students in Pace University’s Cybersecurity War Room.
Joe Acampora and his students in Pace University’s Cybersecurity War Room. Photo courtesy of Pace University.

For Boudreau, this innovative setup has paid off. “Not only do we take away technical skills that are taught in live demonstrations and PowerPoints, but we also learn how to collaborate, communicate, and work together as a team,” says Boudreau, who hopes to work in the field of network security. “That’s very important to the [collegiate cyber defense] competition, and, of course, in the real world, when you’re actually dealing with these threats.”

For Acampora, the war room boils down to these real-world applications. “I could describe to you how to play football, but until you get out on the field and start to actually do it, you’re not going to really understand it,” says Acampora. “I think it’s the same way with what we teach. We will always teach a lot of theory, that is the foundation; but when it comes to putting it to use and getting you really prepared for when you step out into the real world and walk into one of these situations, I don’t think there’s is anything like going through it and having that pressure and that emotion of being immersed in the situation.”

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