The Naval Academy is now one of 22 educational institutions to be granted a Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Operations by the National Security Agency.
The academy’s cyber operations program is the only one to receive the designation in 2020, according to a release from the academy.
The designation, which was awarded over the summer but celebrated in November, meant the academy had to meet several “knowledge points” to demonstrate that it met NSA standards, said Capt. James Caroland, chair of the Cyber Science Department.
Essentially, the NSA is looking for programs that will support their efforts, and the designation says that the academy program will do that, said Paul Tortora, director of the academy’s Center for Cyber Security Studies. For the midshipmen who graduate from the program, it says that they would be a good person to hire at NSA, whether it is while they are serving in the military or after they have finished their service requirement.
There are also midshipmen who graduate but do not commission who may go into a career at the NSA or other cyber operations company, and the designation will make them stand out as candidates, Caroland said.
All midshipmen are required to take two cybersecurity classes — once as plebes and once as second-year midshipmen — which means even those not in the cyber operations program will still benefit from the designation, he said.
The designation may also help the cyber operations program, which was established in 2015, hire more faculty members and grow as a program, Caroland said.
In terms of attracting more applicants, it could help the academy receive applications from potential students who want to study cyber operations. It might also help existing midshipmen, who are selecting their majors, choose cyber operations, he said.
The academy has an established partnership with the NSA, located at Fort George G. Meade. That helped with the accreditation as academy leadership could reach out to accreditation staff at NSA to make sure the program met requirements. There were some tweaks the academy made to the program, as a result, Caroland said.
A small number of midshipmen — about 40 or so — will intern with the NSA or other cyber operations command at Fort Meade. About 20 midshipmen may commission into a cyber operations unit, either at Fort Meade or another base, Tortora said.
But even if the midshipmen are not going into a cyber career or unit after graduation, they’ll need to apply cybersecurity skills, he said. The cyberspace is a manmade warfighting area and everything in the military is now enabled by cyber operations and security.
“No matter what they do upon graduation, having a better awareness, they’re going to take that to the fleet, to their unit and make even the younger sailor or marine understand we’re not clicking on those links or not using thumb drives for the following reasons,” he said.
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