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By Gary Robbins, The San Diego Union-Tribune

The University of San Diego is creating a “cyber range” where students can experience simulated online attacks and learn how to defend against them — or even fight back.

The school wants to expose students and industry partners to everything from automated attacks by lone hackers to major assaults by foreign governments, notably China and Russia.

The USD range, which is scheduled to open next year, is part of a broad and growing effort nationwide to train workers to deal with cybersecurity problems, which have been escalating for years. The University of Southern California already operates a cyber range. So does the U.S. Defense Department and a coalition of universities in Michigan.

The USD range is expected to accommodate up to 30 students, who would be divided into teams that confront a variety of real-world scenarios.

“Imagine tools on display that show cyber events graphically, with colors constantly changing as attacks materialize, alarms and warnings firing as systems experience breach attempts, and graphic representation of the success or failure of the efforts,” said John Callahan, who oversees cybersecurity programs at USD.

“This is a bit dramatic, but for things like penetration testing and red team-blue team scenarios, our goal would be to create a network operations center within our facility so that students could not only experience a real-world environment, but be able to learn from the visualization of the elements of the exercises,” he said.

The planned cyber range comes about a year after USD created a master’s degree program in cybersecurity, something that universities across the country are doing as well.

In related news, the University of Southern California announced this week that it has created the Center for Cyber-Physical Systems and the Internet of Things, which is the universe of devices connected to the Internet. A major concern is how to deal with the burgeoning number of household devices that are linked to the web and often are vulnerable to hackers because they lack security shields or have weak ones.

“The incoming torrent of the [Internet of Things] will provide a myriad of opportunities to improve the everyday life of all people, particularly those in urban environments,” the center’s director, Yannis C. Yortsos, said in a statement.

“[The center] will serve to advance the state of the art, seek solutions to grand challenge problems, particularly as they affect society at large, and provide thought leadership across academia and the industry.”

©2016 The San Diego Union-Tribune Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.