While there is little that can be done about the lack of enthusiasm and sufficient technical expertise to counter the cybersecurity threats it now sees, the National Security Agency is looking to the future with its continuing National Centers of Academic Excellence in Cyber Operations Program.
After a rigorous application and screening process, NSA selected the following schools to receive the CAE-Cyber Operations designation for the 2013-2014 academic year:
•Air Force Institute of Technology in Ohio;
•Auburn University, Alabama;
•Carnegie Mellon University, Pennsylvania; and
•Mississippi State University.
The program, which now has a total of eight schools, complements more than 100 existing centers of academic excellence (CAEs) in research and information assurance education – jointly overseen by NSA and the Department of Homeland Security.
An outgrowth of the President's National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education, the program identifies institutions that have a deeply technical, interdisciplinary curriculum centered on fields such as computer science and electrical engineering.
In addition, the program offers some participants opportunities to apply their learning or enhance their teaching in summer seminars at NSA. Participating students and faculty members do not engage in actual U.S. government intelligence activities.
According to Steven LaFountain, an NSA technical leader, legal and ethical issues in cybersecurity are a required and critical part of the effort. “Cyber skills are increasingly important in national defense,” he said, “but it's even more important to operate as responsible citizens in the use of such skills.”
Although many of the topics covered in this program are routinely taught in colleges and universities, the focus of this initiative, he said, is to seamlessly integrate the material to help students better understand how they could someday help to defend the nation. Summer seminar participants must undergo background checks and obtain temporary, top-secret security clearances.
The schools chosen in 2012, the program's first year, were Dakota State University, South Dakota; the Naval Postgraduate School, California; Northeastern University, Massachusetts; and the University of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Like the agency's other CAEs, those in the cyber operations program are evaluated annually. Designations are for five years and schools across the country can compete to join each year.
To learn more about NSA's Centers of Academic Excellence, go to: www.nsa.gov/academia.