Exclusive: An inside look at Arizona Cybersecurity Warfare Range
Look into a mind of a cyber hacker
There are monitors everywhere, wires intertwined, lights blinking and it’s hard to tell just where that beep is coming from. Huddled at one end of the room is a group of people, ranging from recent college graduates to some who are more seasoned, all dressed casually in t-shirts and jeans. Scattered around them are empty pizza boxes and soda cans. From a quick glance, you wouldn’t think they have anything in common, but this group is helping to fight global cybercrime and detect vulnerabilities in some of the nation’s top businesses and government entities. And they all live in Greater Phoenix.
This group of volunteers at the Arizona Cyber Warfare Range (AZCWR) are white-hat hackers. What used to be a research facility for military technology in the 1980s has transformed into a unit for protection and education. Funded by the City of Mesa the facility is considered a Go-Co, part government-owned and contractor-owned. Each volunteer has the opportunity to take and later teach free courses on cybersecurity. Anyone from an 11-year-old to a retired 70-year-old woman is welcome. Currently, the range serves 1,300 volunteers annually.
Many of the volunteers have day jobs in computer security and voluntarily take the time to better their own skills and serve their community through AZCWR. The range has also helped some get a new start down a different career path. One volunteer who worked as a Costco cashier for 10 years found AZCWR at a time when he wanted to make a change. After beginning a few courses he was hooked. Now he’s employed in the cybersecurity industry at one of the top firms in the region and oversees a cybersecurity group at a university while still continuing to volunteer at AZCWR.
The range offers people a unique take on the cybersecurity industry. At AZCWR volunteers embrace the hacker mentality. While hackers are known by most as the “bad guys” the range gives people the opportunity to think like a bad buy, but act like a good guy. The best way to foil a cyber attack is to think and act like the person on the other end. At the range volunteers are able to completely dismantle foundations without fear. Not only does this help them better understand the material they are working with, but gives them a perspective that is nearly impossible to find in the private industry. This method is what helps the volunteers at AZCWR warn others about possible cyber attacks and how to best protect against them.
The AZCWR’s main missions are to educate, gather intelligence and change the industry. With the support of the community and its volunteers they will only further continue to better their own skills and the Greater Phoenix region. Learn more about our large cybersecurity presence here.
Get a special behind the scenes look at the daily life of a hacker in this 360° video of Arizona Cyber Warfare Range. Pro tip: Click and drag to move around the room. Best viewed on YouTube mobile.