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SOCLAB: Virtual Threats, Real World Experience

Brian Baglow


SOCLAB Edinburgh Napier University

The launch of Edinburgh Napier University’s new Security Operations Centre (SOC) marks a new era in collaboration between academia and industry to combat the rapidly evolving threat of cyber attack.

It’s an increasingly dangerous digital world. As more and more of our daily lives move online, the threats become ever greater. Cyber crime, fraud, malware, ransomware, phishing, vishing, smishing, and social engineering could all rob you of your data, identity, savings – or kill your business.

As cyber security evolves to meet the ever-growing threat, a new generation of security experts are needed. The question then becomes, how do you train them and give them experience of real world threats, attacks and security systems, without potentially destroying data, enabling access, or shutting down critical infrastructure should it all go wrong?


Enter Edinburgh Napier University’s new SOCLAB. A dedicated, state-of-the-art Security Operations Centre. SOCLAB can ‘virtualise’ almost any hardware configuration and enable sophisticated cyber attacks to take place, just as they would happen in the real world – without compromising real hardware or systems.

Using SOCLAB, Napier’s global student body, as well as businesses worldwide, can participate in realistic, real-world cyber attacks, without the fear of real hardware or systems being compromised.

SOCLAB also marks a new level of collaboration between academia and industry, with a growing list of partnerships ensuring that all of the latest software, services and techniques can be deployed within the lab.

Official Launch

The new facility was officially opened on April 11th 2018 by Napier’s Principal Professor Andrea Nolan and Joanna Cherry QC MP along with CEOs and executives from many of the UK’s leading cyber security companies.

It was exactly that contact with industry which inspired the creation of the lab, according to Sally Smith, the head of the school of computing at Edinburgh Napier. A research project by two Cyber Academy students prompted discussions with Satisnet, one of the UK’s leading security service providers, about how a multi-purpose training environment could be created, which could be used by students as well as upskilling industry employees.

“The links between SOCLAB and industry are a key element of the project,” said Sally. “It enables students to train on real-world scenarios, using real-world tools.”

Joanna Cherry QC MP, noted the value of SOCLAB to the Scottish economy: “I was delighted to be asked to speak at the launch of SOCLAB. The Scottish government wants to create an environment in which innovation, especially from digital technology firms, can thrive. Training and educating the next generation of employees, entrepreneurs and leaders is vital to this ambition. The new SOCLAB’s ability to mimic a real-world environment and the links it has created to industry make this an invaluable resource as we continue to grow the Scottish economy.”

Real World Experience

Peter Ferry, the CEO of Wallet Services (and honorary consul of Estonia) agreed that the links with industry set SOCLAB apart from the existing academic facilities. “The SOCLAB facility enables graduates schooled in academia to pick up the sort of real world experience, it would be impossible to gain without being subjected to an actual attack. Giving them the ability to make real world mistakes and make the sort of judgement calls they’d be required to by an employer, without actually breaking anything, is incredibly useful.”

Peter’s words were echoed by Dr Jamie Graves, the CEO of Zonefox, which was spun out of Edinburgh Napier University, and former Cyber Academy student, who highlighted the growing demand for skilled and experienced people. “The SOC is the intersection between innovation and real world skills. Looking at the market we can see every SME starting to realise that their survival depends on having access to the sort of cyber skills Napier is producing. SOCLAB is a melting pot where students, graduates and industry experts can come together and build the skills we need to stay ahead of the game.”

The Epicentre of Cyber Security

Napier University’s expertise and pioneering approach to cyber security education, skills and training were highlighted by several attendees as having huge value to business.

Rory Shannon, the head of security managed services for ECS, told DIGIT: “The launch of SOCLAB once again shows Napier’s commitment to the cyber space. ECS is looking forward to working with the lab in the future and being part of further partnerships as SOCLAB evolves and grows.”

Federico Charosky, Managing Director of Quorum Cyber, said: “SOCLAB reinforces Napier’s position as a pioneer and Scotland’s position as the epicentre of cyber security education, skills and training. We are privileged to be working with the lab to help train the next generation of security leaders.”

Making a Difference

Prof Bill Buchanan OBE, who leads The Cyber Academy, said: “Our dream has always to build training infrastructures which mimic the real-life IT environment, and where we can run scenarios. The collaboration with Satisnet Check Point highlights that we aim to use the most advanced systems and tools possible, and to train a wide spectrum of roles into how they can identify cope and respond to threats.”

Satisnet’s  Director, John McCann commented: “Edinburgh Napier are at the forefront of Cyber Security training and innovation, my company have a mission to be the best at what we do in the Security Operations Centre and Cyber Training space, so this partnership is a perfect partnership.”

Vassilios K. (Basil) Manoussos, the manager of Napier’s Cyber Academy, summed up the launch and the real practical value of SOCLAB: “After several delays, thanks to the weather, the turnout tonight was beyond expectations. We had 150% more people, with a who’s-who of former students and security industry CEOs – many of whom are one and the same. We’re very proud to have such experience and expertise in our partners.

“The value of the SOCLAB is simple – it takes education beyond the classroom. It drops students into real life scenarios and challenges them to react to situations that they would only experience within an organisation being attacked. The people who are trained here in SOCLAB will be able to understand situations more fully and respond appropriately. They’ll be able to make a difference.”

Movers and shakers

Brian Baglow


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