Warren — Jake Bednard on Tuesday morning sifted through a black screen of jumbled letters and numbers, searching for his computer's gateway address.
Once located, he plugged the series of numbers into a "Capture the Flag" program, scoring points and moving on to the next level.
Bednard, a junior computer science major at Wayne State University, was among the first to explore the program at his university's new Michigan Cyber Range Hub, tucked inside the school's Advanced Technology Education Center at 14601 East 12 Mile in Warren.
"It's very cool coming here and doing what we want with these computers," said Bednard, 24 of Clinton Township. "It's like playing around with cyber espionage without having to go to jail."
That's the point, organizers said at the hub's grand opening Tuesday. The lab was designed to prepare cybersecurity students and professionals to detect, prevent and mitigate cyber attacks in a real-world setting.
"By learning what the bad guys can do, they learn what to defend against," said Bryan Robinson, cyber range security researcher with Ann Arbor-based nonprofit Merit Network, which operates the small lab of about a dozen computers.
Merit also sponsors hubs at its office in Ann Arbor and at Pinckney Community High School. The concept was proposed in 2011 by Gov. Rick Snyder, according to Merit. The first hub opened in 2012 at Merit, where Snyder attended the grand opening.
Tuesday's ribbon-cutting ceremony was attended by officials including WSU Provost Keith Whitfield and Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel, who highlighted southeast Michigan's emergence as a front runner in the information technology industry.
"I was born and raised within a stone's throw of this place," Hackel said. "The transformation of Macomb County has been absolutely incredible."
Whitfield indicated that the lab also is meant to benefit those outside the Wayne State community.
"It will bring together educators and industry for the betterment of all southeastern Michigan," he said. "We look forward to sharing the hub with the community."
A handful of noncredit and for-credit courses already are scheduled for "experienced professionals...or cyber security newcomers." Classes will include sessions with the Capture the Flag program, ethical computer hacking, and more. For information, call (313) 577-6581 or read about WSU's educational outreach efforts online.
Moving forward, the hub will host more cyber security training, business services and hands-on educational opportunities through the university's College of Engineering and Division of Education Outreach, officials said. Partnering organizations include Merit, the Advance Michigan Defense Collaborative, Michigan Economic Development Corporation, and neighboring Macomb County Community College.
"Partnerships and collaboration was that common thread that ran through every one of these leaders’ remarks," Merit President and CEO Joseph Sawasky said on Tuesday. "There's an old adage: If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together."