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September 5, 2013

NSA Expands Academic Cyber Initiative

Isaac Lopez

The National Security Agency (NSA) announced this week that they will be expanding their academic cyber initiative aimed at increasing technical proficiency in the US workforce. The security agency has announced that four schools have been newly selected to be added as a part of the NSA’s National Centers of Academic Excellence (CAE) in Cyber Operations program.

The program itself is an outgrowth of the president’s National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education (NICE), an initiative with a mission of enhancing the overall cybersecurity posture of the United States by broadening and cultivating the pool of individuals prepared to enter the cybersecurity workforce.

The new schools selected for the program include the Air Force Institute of Technology in Ohio; Auburn University in Alabama; Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania; and Mississippi State University. These new schools will bring the total number of schools in this deeply technical program to a total of eight, joining sister schools including Dakota State University in South Dakota; the Naval Postgraduate School in California; Northeastern University in Massachusetts; and the University of Tulsa in Oklahoma.

The Cyber Operations program aims to reduce the vulnerability in the US national information infrastructure through the promotion of high tech, inter-disciplinary higher education programs that promote education and research in information assurance, while increasing the number of qualified professionals with this expertise across disciplines.

According to Dr. Ernest McDuffie, the Lead for NICE, cyber attacks on the U.S. Federal Government alone increased 680% from 2006 to 2011. Of course, the private sector is not immune to such attacks, where examples like the 2011 breach of the Sony PlayStation network resulted in compromising the information of over 70 million customers. These examples, says McDuffie, show why more integrated technical education is important for the future of U.S. economic and national security.

While the topics covered in these programs are routinely taught in colleges and universities, the NSA says that their rigorous application and screening process ensures seamless integration of the materials to help students better understand how they could someday help to defend the nation. Additionally, schools who receive the designation are able to offer a special summer teaching program where participants who undergo background check and obtain temporary, top-secret security clearances can engage in a 10-week internship.

With the scrutiny that the NSA has received lately, officials say that ethics are an important part of the curriculum. “In the application process and in all of its work with selected schools, the NSA emphasizes the importance of integrity and compliance,” said Steven LaFountain, an NSA technical leader. “Cyber skills are increasingly important in national defense, but it’s even more important to operate as responsible citizens in the use of such skills.”

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