• February 19, 2024

Teaching Cybersecurity and Ethical Hacking with Hands-On Tools

Greg M. Smith
  • by Greg M. Smith

Cybersecurity is an exciting field, promising great growth and career potential.

By offering classes such as ethical hacking and penetration testing, schools like Maryville University help students gain job-ready experience and get a good taste of what they’ll work with in their careers.

For instructors and higher education institutions, having the right tools to help students go beyond theory and gain the skills they need to succeed, in interviews and on the job, is a high priority.

“I have a duty to give my students the best experience possible so that they’re not only qualified, but they have hands-on experience they can talk about during an interview,” explains Bob Barrett, cybersecurity instructor at Maryville University’s School of Business.

Cybersecurity is one of the largest programs at Maryville. We sat down with Bob to talk about the program and the innovative ways they’re approaching hands-on learning to go beyond exams and theory for cybersecurity students.

Preparing Students for a Career in Cybersecurity

“I’ve been a director and interviewed tons of people,” Bob says. “I don’t think getting an ‘A’ on a term paper alone is going to qualify you. It won’t make you feel comfortable in an interview or on the job when there’s a crisis.”

Providing the right virtual tools to deliver content through hands-on learning makes a big difference. Passive learning is less effective and “in a cybersecurity program where students can touch it, build it, configure it, break it, fix it,” Bob explains, they are more prepared.

Students can speak to their experience with a firmer knowledge base and they’re more confident about tackling serious issues — like when a website gets hacked or there’s a firewall problem.

And confidence really is key for students — nearly 50% of recent graduates feel unqualified for entry-level positions in their field.

Virtual Environments for Hands-on Learning

Cloud is a big differential. Without the cloud, students would need to build their own virtual machines and most laptops are not robust enough to do that.

Operating systems are not universal among students either. Some people have older machines, or newer, or little RAM. All those variables become inconsequential once you go to the cloud because everyone has the exact same environment.

“As an instructor, that consistency gives me the predictability I need,” Bob says. “I don’t mind ambiguity, but I can only put so much expectation on the student and what they can build on their own laptop.”

“With Propeller virtual learning solutions, I could do everything I wanted to accomplish. And they could build out just the right environment and install the things that I wanted to install.”

Propeller Delivers to Specification

One of the biggest benefits in working with Propeller has been the ability to develop environments to his own teaching needs.

“When I started, I reached out to Mohammad and asked about whether we could change things,” Bob explains. “He was all for it and got involved personally.”

Working together, they developed customized solutions to meet the exact specifications Bob needed for classes. For example, they built out a suite of environments for the hacking lab so that students who couldn’t come into school in person could practice activities for their ethical hacking courses

Job Ready for Active Directory

About 95% of companies use Active Directory.
“If I can teach students to do some basic Active Directory before they start applying, I'd like to think that I'm giving them an advantage,” Bob explains.

To support Bob, Propeller created an environment where he could teach students how to build an Active Directory and then connect all of the other virtual machines. In this way, OS students are getting a sense of micro-level building in an enterprise type of environment.

Pros, Cons, Challenges — and Solutions

With cybersecurity and computer science courses, the biggest roadblock for students can be the hardware. Students don’t necessarily have the funds for the most cutting-edge devices. Virtual environments level the playing field so all the students have the same access without restrictions.

And some students use both the Propeller environment and their own laptop. “It’s an interesting, unplanned teaching point for me – whether to buy a solution in the cloud or to build it on my computer,” Bob explains. “That’s a decision people make in the field, so we’re exposing the students to those decision points early.”

“Propeller is great at building virtual platforms. And to specification. They enable great teachers to do what they do well.”

Want to learn more about Propeller’s virtual solutions for your cybersecurity degree program? Contact us today to learn more.

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