Update 7/31/2022 – I want to say over these last couple of years I believe other platforms have picked up their game and no longer believe Immersive Labs is by any means the best. I leave the post up nevertheless because it was my feeling at the time. The cost and licensing model hasn’t changed either and is still not practical for small or even mid-size companies. If a large organization could afford this I would recommend other platforms like Tryhackme and recommend a more realistic cyber range than this.
Below is my original post
There are a vast number of training options out there like SANS, eLearnSecurity, HTB, Hackhills, Tryhackme, Cybrary or Virtual Hacking Labs and there are number of free options out there. With so many choices, it can be hard to know which platform is best for new or experienced security professionals to practice and learn new skills. If I only had one choice it would be Immersive Labs. Now, you might or might not have heard of Immersive Labs, but I’ll go into why I choose this platform over all the rest.
Immersive Labs is a platform I fell in love with right off the bat. What stuck out for me was the clean interface, the vast number of labs (red teaming, blue teaming, application security and CTFs), the ability to do all the labs from my browser, up-to-date vulnerabilities and, of course, the gameification aspect. Now, I will say other platforms have upped their game and created similar features to the ones I mentioned above, but I still feel Immersive Labs is a superior product and other platforms should take notice.
I want to mention one of the most important features to me and one that still stands out above the rest is the development of machines with current vulnerabilities. For example if there’s a proof of concept for a vulnerability such as CVE-2020-1472 you’ll see a lab dedicated for this, sometimes within days of it being released. I can’t express how valuable this feature alone is. Suddenly, I’m working with current vulnerabilities that are still active in the wild and not trying out MS08-067 for the millionth time. This is so different than just reading about how a vulnerability works, but suddenly having hands on experience with it.
Speaking of the hands-on experience, the labs are massive; there are literally hundreds of labs and not just simple ones. Each lab has a difficulty level ranging from 1 to 9. Some of the level 1 labs are simpler tasks; for example, you might be asked to move around in Linux. Harder labs might include difficult tasks such as Windows DLL Hijacking.
The topics are vast and structured well. The lab sections include:
- Knowledge Base: Where you get familiar with concepts.
- Tools: Where you get familiar with the tool sets.
- Offensive: Where you start attacking some systems.
- Defensive: Where you start learning how to defend against or identify attacks.
- Immersive originals: Where you can start testing your skills.
- Application security: This can include code review and misconfiguration of cloud apps.
Now, I can’t go into every lab and tell you why it’s amazing, but I’ll tell you how Immersive Labs personally helped me with the eLearnSecurity Threat Hunting Professional exam. After going through all the material given by eLearnSecurity and redoing the labs over and over again, I knew I was still missing some valuable skills, specifically with the tool volatility. I found on forums that volatility was something you would need to know inside-out on the exam and people expressed different resources that you could get to practice. Personally, I went to one source: I turned to Immersive Labs.
I didn’t need to download memory dumps or set up some special system to start working on the labs. You’re able to do everything in a browser in a controlled environment (you can even detonate ransomware). The labs were great; each had multiple questions that you have to answer to complete. They do give you a description prior on working on the lab and even some links to help you, but you have to put in the work to figure out the lab answers. I also want to mention I never struggled with inputting answers like some other platforms or capture the flags. I passed the exam and having access to Immersive Labs and their labs on that specific topic helped immensely.
Another example of using Immersive Labs is the ability to demo attacks. At one of my previous jobs we would share information or teach each other about attacks. I remember using the Immersive Lab “Kerberoasting” lab to demonstrate the whole life cycle of the attack, from querying the domain controller to cracking the hash. Since it was done in the browser it was easy enough to share my screen so all my coworkers could see the process. This was a great platform to demonstrate attacks. I spent less time setting up and more on showing.
The last thing I want to mention is that why I enjoy the platform so much is due to the gamification aspect of it. When you purchase the product or sign up with for a free account with your .edu email, you’re grouped with your colleagues. As you complete a lab such as level 1 lab, you get 100 points. These points are then added together to give you a total and you can see how you compare to other people in your group. This is a great motivator when you see one of your colleagues pull a little bit ahead of you in points.
Now, you might be sold on the platform at this point, but I do have to mention some downsides to the platform as well. It’s not much, but it’s a big one if you decide to look into this platform further, and that’s getting access. All the above mentioned services in the first paragraph are public accessible, meaning if you have money you can purchase it. With Immersive Labs you can’t. They only work with corporations and you’re required to buy a minimum of five licenses. This prices out most smaller organizations very quickly and any individuals. It’s truly unfortunate. If you have an .edu email address you can sign up for the free platform and have a taste of it, but it’s not the same.
Not being able to get access to the platform even if you have money is unfortunate, but it still doesn’t change my answer on what is the best learning platform for new or seasoned security professionals is. For me it’ll be Immersive Labs for the foreseeable future, but I hope Immersive Labs allows public access or that other platforms up their game even more.
Editor: Emily Domedion