Rapid7 Brings Intel Threat Data to USF Cybersecurity Lab

At the most basic level, security research happens when curious people rummage through data. What makes for good security research is when these people have access to good data and the right skills.

That’s what Rapid7 hopes to accomplish with its new partnership with the University of South Florida to create a cyber threat intelligence lab. The Boston company recently made a $1.5 million donation through the Rapid7 Cybersecurity Foundation to establish the Rapid7 Cyber ​​Threat Intelligence Lab at the school.

Rapid7 will provide the lab with access to its big data initiatives, including Metasploit, Velociraptor and Sonar, says Corey Thomas, Rapid7’s CEO. The lab will support the interdisciplinary research efforts of faculty experts and students and help drive a deeper understanding of the challenges facing advocates today.

“We’re already investing in data and we want more people to use it,” Thomas says, noting that people with different experiences and backgrounds bring diverse perspectives and end up using data differently. “Start with the same data and get different perspectives,” says Thomas.

Improving research results through data

Students will have the opportunity to learn hands-on and develop cybersecurity skills, as well as experience real-world tracking of global threat actors. Lab projects and research based on threat intelligence data will help students better understand the challenges security professionals face when protecting users, says Thomas. The lab would play a role in helping to educate and develop the next generation of security professionals, she adds.

Through the lab, students and faculty will have access to real-world data that they can use for research and training, which is an “unprecedented opportunity,” says Robert Bishop, dean of USF’s College of Engineering, in a email to Dark Reading. “Most importantly, this partnership will unite the campus in cybersecurity research.”

The lab will launch by establishing a foundation of interdisciplinary faculty leadership with new direction in the USF College of Engineering and endowed faculty positions created at four USF colleges: College of Arts and Sciences, College of Community Sciences and Behavior, the College of Engineering and the College of Business at Muma. The lab will also work closely with the State of Florida’s Cyber ​​Florida Initiative, a university-based program focused on expanding and improving the cybersecurity workforce in the Tampa Bay region.

Rapid7 already has a history of investing in the community, Thomas says. There are many areas of collaboration in threat intelligence, incident response, and information sharing. With this partnership with the University of South Florida, the company is “intensifying our commitment to open data, open research and open threat intelligence,” Thomas says.

Real World Safety Education

Thomas says he won’t try to predict what kinds of research projects will come out of the lab. Rapid7 provides the data, but faculty and students at the university will drive their own ideas and perspectives. “We’re not controlling the outcome: teachers and students have their own plans,” says Thomas.

Many universities have established cybersecurity labs to provide students with hands-on learning opportunities to gain cybersecurity skills and real-world experience in the field. A lab environment makes it possible to refine techniques, gain access to different resources from external partners, and collaborate across different fields to drive research into security technology and techniques. Results from the lab research will help improve industry understanding of attacker behavior, and that knowledge will be fed back to professionals to apply in their jobs.

In 2018, the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) opened a cybersecurity lab at the University of Waterloo to help create advanced cybersecurity and privacy tools. The RBC investment supported researchers at the David R. Cheriton School of Computer Science and the Department of Combinatorics and Optimization at Waterloo’s School of Mathematics, according to the university. Research projects included data-driven software-defined security, privacy-enhancing technologies, and post-quantum cryptography. Defense contractor Northrop Grumman partnered with California Polytechnic University in 2014 to establish the Cal Poly–Northrop Grumman Cyber ​​Lab as a center for cybersecurity education. The lab provided faculty and students with the opportunity to interact with experts from other higher education institutions, private companies, government and defense agencies, and research laboratories.

These private sector partnerships with educational institutions also focus on developing a cybersecurity workforce. For example, IBM partnered with Historically Black College & Universities to establish Cybersecurity Leadership Centers. As part of the partnership, IBM provides a customized security curriculum and learning platform to complement the university’s cybersecurity education offerings. Faculty and students also have access to the IBM Security Command Center, an immersive training experience on how to respond to cyberattacks.

The Rapid7 Cyber ​​Threat Intelligence Lab fits in with ongoing cyber security initiatives at the University of South Florida due to the focus on developing the skills needed to enter the cyber security workforce. The university recently received a $3.7 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to establish the Cybersecurity Research and Education for Service in Government (CREST) ​​program. The NSF grant would provide scholarships for more than two dozen undergraduate and graduate students to prepare them for high-paying, high-demand jobs in the federal government and other public institutions, according to a university news release. The funds will also be used to bolster educational and research resources at the Florida Center for Cybersecurity, or Cyber ​​Florida, which is located at USF and provides students with access to classroom simulations and experiential learning opportunities. There is also a program to help professionals without a computer science background get into a master’s program in the field, according to Dr. Sudeep Sarkar, distinguished university professor and chair of the department of computer science and engineering at the University of South Florida.

“By focusing on both continuing education for professionals and enhancing current cybersecurity education efforts, USF is working to fill the talent pool for one of the fastest-growing and most lucrative fields in the United States.” Sarkar tells Dark Reading in an email exchange.

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James D. Brown
James D. Brown
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