Magazine article National Defense

Military Academies Look to Fill Nation's Cybersecurity Gaps

Magazine article National Defense

Military Academies Look to Fill Nation's Cybersecurity Gaps

Article excerpt

The rise of all things cybersecurity has been accompanied by a collective groaning that there is a shortage of personnel skilled enough to protect critical government and military networks.

The Defense Department is under constant attack from hackers, and officials said they need to do a better job of recruiting Internet security experts to stop them.

The military academies, for their part, have been churning out potential "cyber-warriors" for years. Though their numbers aren't staggering, these potential computer gurus often find themselves whisked away after graduation into positions outside the cybersecurity field. The challenge is coming up with a plan to put these young men and women in pertinent roles when they enter their respective services, officials at the military academies said.

"We've been doing this longer than the Army has thought it important," said Lt. Col. David Raymond, who teaches a senior cybersecurity capstone course at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.

About 30 information technology, computer science and electrical engineering majors take the course each year. "But very few of these guys go into cybersecurity positions," Raymond said. "The Army is just now trying to figure out what the right career path is for someone who graduates with a cybersecurity focus."

Most of these West Point graduates go into tactical signal work in infantry or armor battalions and may only later in their careers find themselves with an opportunity to work at U.S. Cyber Command or at the National Security Agency.

"That may be changing in the near future," Raymond said. Officials at Army er Command are investigating if there should be a branch or functional area that allows the service to take a newly minted lieutenant with a suitable background and place him in a cybersecurity role immediately, he explained.

Like West Point, the other academies recognize the sea change and are putting ncreased focus on their network secu-ity curriculum, both for these specialists ind for the rest of the students who pass through their doors. All eyes are on the U.S. Naval Academy's efforts to require every midshipman to study cybersecurity.

The Naval Academy, in Annapolis, Md., has created a Center for Cyber Security Studies and instituted mandatory network defense courses in an attempt to prepare new recruits for Internet warfare. The first class, Cyber 1, covers the basics and is being taught to about 1,300 students this year.

The Navy is in dire need of security experts as it must not only protect computer systems ashore but also each ship's self-contained network and an intranet shared with the Marine Corps.

Midshipmen are finding out that in order to be good stewards of cyberspace, they must also know what it means to be bad.

From a classroom on their Annapolis campus, a group of freshmen "plebes" and their professor recently sniffed out open computer ports around the world to take control of webcams, moving them around and peering into lives of strangers thousands of miles away

Far from a primer on voyeurism, these students were being taught a lesson about the dangers of the Internet and how keeping a port open is like leaving a backdoor unlocked for a burglar

If they want to learn how to protect critical networks, these future sailors and Marines have to know what it takes to bring them down, said their instructor Navy Capt. Steven "Doc" Simon.

Webcam experiment aside, students are shown how to perform offensive and defensive actions in virtual networks that do not connect to the actual Internet.

National Defense sat in on a recent class during which the plebes worked together to create wireless networks on their issued laptops only to have Simon and his assistant, Ensign Justin Monroe, break into them, steal critical information and display it for all to see. The students were forced to go back and add encryption to their wireless access points. …

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