With metro Atlanta becoming the home of many technology companies and startups, it makes perfect sense to have a place where people and professionals can learn different practices involving cybersecurity.
At least, that is what Jovonni Pharr, 32, an Atlanta-based scientist and engineer, thought while working as a data scientist for State Farm. That thought eventually led him to create the Georgia Cyber Warfare Range (GCWR).
“A lot of the acquisitions that have come from Atlanta companies are cybersecurity-related,” Pharr said. “When I was working in cybersecurity [in Atlanta] for State Farm, it was clear to me the demand from students, beginners, practitioners, and advanced people, wanting a cohesive cybersecurity ecosystem.”
“We specialize in people having that guided experience, whether it’s physical and they come to the cyber range and they work on our servers directly or we do virtual sessions with people so that we can help people do things from the comfort of their own homes.”
Located in Fulton County, GCWR provides guided and self-learning resources for technology professionals to improve their skills in cybersecurity. A membership-based facility, currently with 28 members, GCWR also offers a curriculum for students K-12.
“A cyber range is a safe space for people who want to do things that might be seen as illegal if they did them on their own. So if you want to hack a website or learn how to hack a website or damage a digital asset, unless you set up that asset or own that website you’re actually breaking the law,” Pharr said.
A graduate of Georgia State University, Pharr initially received a degree in Finance in 2012, before going back to receive a degree in Computer Information Systems in 2015.
Subsequently, he began working for State Farm, which allowed him to visit and work alongside the Arizona Cyber Warfare Range.
“In 2015, I went to Arizona to work in research and development for State Farm, working on cutting-edge technology and building bleeding-edge prototypes for the company,” Pharr said.
“When I was out there I was leading a large part of the cybersecurity research. I built the relationship with what’s called the Arizona Cyber Warfare Range. I worked at the Arizona Cyber Warfare Range for two years while I was out there. I came back to Georgia to work as a data scientist in cybersecurity or state farm and started up the Georgia Cyber Warfare Range.”
GCWR officially became operational in October 2020, after Pharr’s team was able to purchase over $30,000 in equipment, which included over 25 servicers and server racks.
“We are the only Black-owned cyber range in America because there are not cyber ranges everywhere,” Pharr said. “The only other cyber range in Georgia is funded by the government, it’s called the Georgia Cyber Center.”
According to Pharr, GCWR is currently in talks with a few universities to provide their students with access to the cyber range, allowing their technology and cybersecurity students to gain hands-on experience.