The University of Akron is joining the state’s cyber range — a computer network that allows students and others to learn how to guard against and fight cyber attacks.

Think of a shooting range. But instead of practicing shooting, students and others will learn skills amid simulated cyber attacks.

"It will be set up much like military training, where there will be a red team attacking and a blue team defending," said John Nicholas, a UA professor of computer information systems and program director for the school's cybersecurity degree track.

UA’s involvement — being funded with a $1.18 million state grant — will double the capacity of the Ohio Cyber Range by adding servers, storage and programming at the yet-to-be-determined UA site. The UA site will be connected — virtually — to the initial Ohio Cyber Range site, which opened last year at the University of Cincinnati.

Cyber ranges are growing in number across the country as governments, businesses, educational institutions and other organizations look to grow defenses against cyber attacks and hone the skills of those working in the cybersecurity industry.

UA’s involvement in the Ohio Cyber Range follows the university’s launch of the school's undergraduate cybersecurity degree track in fall 2017. It's the only such program in the country that includes courses in cryptology (the study of coding patterns that can be used to secure information). The degree track is one of six degree options in UA's computer information systems bachelor's degree program.

“This will be a facility that will be a place to train for avoiding an attack to begin with and recovery [of information] after there is an attack — to train people on both ends, the defense and the recovery,” said Rex Ramsier UA's executive vice president and chief administrative officer.

“It's pretty exciting,” Ramsier said. “This is good for the region and good for the whole state.”

The cyber range is designed “to educate people — make them cyber aware, understand terms such as fishing [involving fake emails,] worms [self-replicating viruses] and learn about other cyber vulnerabilities,” Nicholas said. “Part of this will be to educate people to protect themselves and learn how to protect their own networks and companies' networks.”

Nicholas said the cyber range, under the oversight of the Ohio National Guard, will be used to help train high schoolers and even younger students, as well as university students. It also will be used for workforce development as well as to help local governments and nonprofits train employees.

UA gets to leverage “an area of strength” — cyber security — in which it is investing, Ramsier said.

The Ohio Cyber Range is available now at the University of Cincinnati. UA plans to have its site fully operational by early fall.

The range grew out of the Ohio Cyber Collaboration Committee, which is led by the Ohio Adjutant General’s Department. The committee includes more than 200 people representing public, private, military and educational organizations.

Katie Byard can be reached at 330-996-3781 or kbyard@thebeaconjournal.com. You can follow her @KatieByardABJ on Twitter or Facebook.