Students Benefit from Hands-On Learning at the Sanford Family Cyber Security Lab

Teacher pointing to computer monitor while students observe in cyber security lab
April 3, 2023

The Sanford Family Cyber Security Lab in The Lesley H. and William L. Collins College of Professional Studies (CCPS) at St. John’s University is just one of several innovative labs that help students master career-specific skills and collaborate on interdisciplinary projects.  

“The Sanford Family Cyber Security Lab is equipped with state-of-the-art hardware and software, including 3D televisions and projectors, that give students the opportunity to utilize cybersecurity offensive and defensive tools to practice computer and network security techniques,” said Luca Iandoli, Ph.D., Distinguished Chair and Dean of the Lesley H. and William L. Collins College of Professional Studies (CCPS). “It is designed for digital and hands-on forensic analysis, which prepares students for careers in local, state, and federal cybersecurity and digital forensics fields.” 

The College’s Cyber Security Lab was renamed the Sanford Family Cyber Security Lab in 2019 after Linda S. Sanford ’74Ed, ’98HON, St. John’s Board of Trustees Emerita, and the members of her family. Now retired, Ms. Sanford became one of the highest-ranking women at IBM and is widely recognized as a pioneer in the technology industry.  

The lab opens into the Homeland Security Center of Excellence, which students use for research. The Sanford lab is utilized for many cybersecurity purposes such as intrusion detection, vulnerability mitigation, network perimeter defense, incident response, network forensics investigation, and malware analysis. One of the lab’s unique features is it allows instructors to demonstrate mock cybersecurity scenarios while allowing both face-to-face students and virtual participants to understand in a visually appealing manner step-by-step breakdowns of cybersecurity concepts and training examples. 

Erald Troja, Ph.D., Assistant Professor and Coordinator of the Bachelor of Science in Cyber Security Systems program, which was recently awarded accreditation from the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, Inc. (ABET) and the contact for the Cybersecurity National Center of Academic Excellence, utilizes the lab to broadcast his station’s network packet analyzer (Wireshark) to provide students with a solid understanding of the HTTP protocol.  

“Such practical, hands-on activity prepares students for more advanced labs such as the Cross-Site Request Forgery attack and the countermeasures lab, where they play offensive and defensive roles while interacting with a real-life website that is vulnerable to attack,” he explained. 

During the spring semester, the lab is also used to integrate a cybersecurity component into a campus-wide crisis simulation event. Denise M. Dragos, Assistant Professor, Department of Computer Science, Mathematics, and Science, works with other faculty members in the Criminal Justice and Homeland Security, Journalism, Physician Assistant, Public Relations, and Toxicology degree programs to execute this integration. 

“After a scaled-down, virtual exercise in 2021 due to the pandemic, we returned to a larger, more interactive exercise in 2022,” said Professor Dragos. “The cyber students work as digital first responders and are tasked with analyzing devices related to the simulated exercise. Their findings are reported in real time to the other students, who are working in roles pertaining to their areas of study. Even the Department of Public Safety participates as part of their annual training.” 

The Sanford Family Cyber Security Lab is also home to the St. John’s student chapter of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), an organization for Computer Science and Cyber Security Systems and Information Technology majors, moderated by Dr. Joan E. DeBello, EdD, Associate Professor and Chair of the Division of Computer Science, Mathematics and Science. The lab machines are loaded with virtual machine tools to allow the members of this organization to have hands-on experience.  

Raymond Ramdat, a Cyber Security Systems major and President of the AMC student chapter, encourages students in all majors to visit the Sanford Lab. “Our fundamental goal is to build a community within St. John’s that allows those interested in technology to cultivate their interests, grow professionally, and network with like-minded individuals,” he said. “The Sanford Lab serves as a safe haven for this effort.”  

Cyber Security is among the most in-demand technical skills right now with 2.7 million cybersecurity job vacancies worldwide. St. John’s University was named one of the top 10 Cybersecurity Colleges in the U.S. in 2022 by Spiceworks