Where can students learn to defend computer systems against the smartest, meanest, most malignant viruses known – without exposing their own systems and the Internet to this nasty code?
For nearly 400 students at 10 universities and colleges offering courses in the field of computer security, the answer is the Defense Technology Experimental Research (DETER) testbed. Headquartered at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering’s Information Sciences Institute, DETER is a sealed off mini-Internet system that allows safe experimentation in security issues.
Created in 2004, the testbed is a collaboration among USC, the University of California, Berkeley and Sparta Inc., a company specializing in cyber-security testing. The company is funded by the Department of Homeland Security.
Increasingly, DETER has become a site not only for research but also education. The testbed’s first use in education began in 2005 with a UC Berkeley class and quickly spread to other campuses. To date, 19 classes have used the system over the past six years.
“Use of hands-on materials in education has been shown to improve student learning and retention in many scientific fields,” said Jelena Mirkovic, a computer scientist at the Information Sciences Institute. “With DETER, we can bring the same benefits to the cyber-security area.”
Schools currently offering cyber-security courses using DETER include USC, UCLA, Colorado State University, University of Portland (Ore.), Youngstown (Ohio) State University, Vanderbilt (Tenn.) University, Stevens (N.J.) Institute of Technology, San Jose State University, Johns Hopkins (Md.) University and Santa Monica College.
Mirkovic also is leading an effort with UCLA, UNC (N.C.) Charlotte, Lehigh (Pa.) University and Colorado State University to create publicly available education materials for the cyber-security classes. Sponsored by the National Science Foundation, the first batch of 12 exercises was completed this summer and will be made available to teachers at http://education.deterlab.net
Along with its use in classes, DETER recently was used to introduce undergraduate students to research in cyber-security. The Team for Research in Ubiquitous Secure Technology center, a collaborative effort among eight universities, received an award from the National Science Foundation that enabled them to train 16 undergraduate students in cyber-security research.
Students recruited from across the United States used DETER to work on various research projects for three months.