Cyber warfare gains interest at military academies

Air Force Academy's Cyber Warfare Club has 124 members.
Air Force Academy's Cyber Warfare Club has 124 members.

As cyber security grows in importance to national security, the nation’s three major military academies are teaching students how to be effective cyber warriors, both by defending and attacking computer systems.

The U.S. Naval Academy, which admits it has fallen behind the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., and the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., outlined a strategy Monday to catch up quickly to best train future officers to fight in cyberspace.

Andrew Phillips, the Naval Academy’s chief academic officer, said the computer science department is running its first-ever cyber security course for students who are not computer science majors.

“The course is something of a pilot test to determine what sorts of topics in cyber security and information warfare can realistically be taught to midshipmen who have no prior computing background,” Phillips told the school’s Board of Visitors during a meeting March 15.

In December, the Naval Academy created the Center for Cyber Security Studies. The center was quick to coordinate with the National Security Agency, headquartered nearby, and set up a six-week internship program for 14 students. That’s a 50 percent increase from last year.

The Naval Academy is testing two new elective courses in computer science: Cryptography and Network Security and Computer Forensics. The Naval Academy also is founding a new club which will use hands-on activities and contests to increase cyber warfare awareness for the entire student body.

U.S. officials and computer experts have repeatedly warned that the nation is not adequately prepared for a cyber attack.

Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Md., chairs a congressional subcommittee that oversees cyber security issues and is a member of the academy’s Board of Visitors. He said, “Our future military leaders need to really understand that this is a major threat to the United States and we have to be prepared.”

Cyber security education has become even more important to the Navy, which established the U.S. Fleet Cyber Command and recommissioned the U.S. 10th Fleet at Fort Meade in Maryland in January. They have been put together to enhance cyber security in military operations.

Phillips said the new command so close to the academy has underscored the importance of teaching cyber skills.

“The Navy really is stepping into this with both feet, and they’re doing it very quickly,” Phillips said.

The other two academies have made cyber security a part of the curriculum taken by all students for years.

Lt. Col. Robert Fanelli, a computer science professor at West Point, said information technology has been required for about 10 years for all cadets who don’t test out of the class.

“I think that the emphasis on these issues is only going to increase, at least over the short term, and I think longer-term it’s not going to go away,” Fanelli said.

The Air Force Academy created an emphasis in the subject in 2004 by adding classes in Cryptology, Computer Security and Information Warfare and Network Security. Since then, the school has graduated more than 80 students with the cyber warfare emphasis.

The , founded last year, includes 124 members from all classes from 12 academic majors.

Every freshman at the Air Force Academy takes a class that includes some aspects of cyber warfare.

“Everybody has some exposure,” said Lt. Col. Jeff Boleng, deputy head of the Air Force Academy’s department of computer sciences, noting that the school has seen interest grow in the last five years.

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