Magazine article National Defense

iCollege Takes Nation's Cybersecurity Leaders Back to School

Magazine article National Defense

iCollege Takes Nation's Cybersecurity Leaders Back to School

Article excerpt

Confused, dysfunctional, incoherent.

These words have been used often to describe the nation's ever-evolving approach to cybersecurity. The White House, Defense Department, Department of Homeland Security and other agencies have gone back and forth with each other and industry about ethics, authorities and responsibilities when it comes to protecting government and private networks. The questions of who does what, when and how are still being debated.

The answers may come easier as more of those in charge head back to school for an education in information and power.

"It's very hard for senior leaders to make policy ... without context or understanding," said Sam Liles, professor of cyber-integration and information operations at National Defense University's iCollege, the largest of five schools on the Fort McNair campus in southwest Washington, D.C. "It's hard to unite doctrine and policy when the technology is evolving so quickly."

Military and civilian leaders often speak of deficiencies in the cybersecurity work force, primarily referring to those with enough computer prowess to serve on the front lines of network defense. Less attention has been given to the gap in knowledge that exists among the senior leadership trying to carve out policies and strategies under which the government's "cyberwarriors" must operate.

The iCollege, also known as the Information Resources Management College, is working to fill this gap, which exists partly because the technical experts don't often rise to leadership positions, professors said. The school offers about 200 graduate-level courses to mid-and senior-level military officers and civilian staff from the Defense Department and across the federal government.

"When you say 'cyber' people think security," said Robert Childs, chancellor of the iCollege. "But it's so much more than that."

Leaders come here to become students of information, he said. They learn what it means to protect it, exploit it and use it as a weapon of war. In small soundproof rooms, they brainstorm big ideas about how to stop adversaries from infiltrating their computer networks, what to do about determined hackers who may have the support of an entire nation behind them and other problems that confront military and civilian leaders in the information age.

A pair of researchers from the University of South Florida recently found a noticeable knowledge gap between local government information technology professionals and their superiors while conducting a statewide survey. The results of the survey, published in the Journal of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, showed that it would probably take a serious event before munici-palities redirected resources and attention to matters of cybersecurity. Critics similarly have said it may take a "digital Pearl Harbor" for the military and the rest of the federal government to develop a more effective approach to cybersecurity.

Pentagon officials have said part of the problem is those trying to come up with policies and strategies often don't understand the nuances of cyberspace. The iCollege's professors aim to create an environment for chief information officers, their staffs and the IT work force that will lead to clear policy and doctrine.


"Cyber is such a wicked problem," said Air Force Capt. Rich Cespiva, a professor in cyher-integration and information operations at the iCollege. "We show them the art of the possible in terms of real-life things that can be affected by [information technology]."

Professors here deliver lessons to service members at the rank of major and above and to civilian employees at equivalent grade levels. About 70 percent of the iCollege's enrollment comes from the Defense Department. The rest are from other agencies, including DHS, the State Department, Transportation Department and the FBI. …

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