Pentagon leaders have established cyber security as an urgent priority to develop within the military with a focus on training leaders. The Defense Department is quick to admit it’s still trying to determine its place in protecting the nation from cyber attacks.
However, military brass has said repeatedly that the officers who will define the Pentagon’s future within cyber security will likely be the youngest set of officers to include those still in training. Cue the Naval Academy’s Class of 2016, which will be the first to have graduates with a Cyber Operations degree.
Leaders at the Naval Academy have spent five years developing the cyber classes since former Commandant Adm. Gary Roughead, who later became the chief of naval operations, challenged the academy to provide cyber classes beyond its computer science offerings.
The academy started by establishing a mandatory class that all midshipmen must take their plebe (freshman) year called Cyber 1. In their third year, midshipmen must take another mandatory course called Cyber 2, which provides more in depth instruction to include cyber policy and economics.
Naval Academy Dean and Provost Andrew T. Phillips said the goal has always been to offer a Cyber Security Studies program that went beyond writing code.
“We wanted to make sure we covered the basics as well as the policies, law and economics that are associated with cyber,” Phillips said.
The Naval Academy faced a challenge in creating its Cyber Operations major at the same time the Defense Department has struggled to define its role within the realm, Phillips said.
“The services are still trying to figure out where they fit in right now so that it did make it a little harder,” Phillips said.
The service researched the many graduate-level cyber security programs that exist at university such as the University of Maryland. However, the Naval Academy’s program will be the first major at the undergraduate level.
Naval Academy leaders designed the major to continue to adapt over time much like the technology will develop and dictate changes. Many fundamentals will remain the same, but the program is also designed to ensure students stay up to date with the latest technologies, Phillips said.
“We know 30 years from now that the technology will likely be completely different but our hope is that the fundamentals remain the same and these midshipmen can fall back on those,” he said.
Students majoring in Cyber Operations will have the opportunity to complete internships over the summer with civilian software and internet companies as well as the federal agencies such as the National Security Agency, which is a 30-minute drive from the Naval Academy.
So far, about 30 students have signed up for the major. Midshipman 4th Class Molly McNamara is one such student who chose the major after taking Cyber 1 her plebe year.
McNamaara didn’t arrive at the Naval Academy completing a host of computer science classes in high school. Instead she planned to major in chemistry or pre-med.
Her familiarity with computers didn’t go too far beyond Microsoft and Facebook, she admitted. However, McNamara chose to major in Cyber Operations after learning about the wide ranging impact cyber can have on networks throughout the military and society.
Midshipman 4th Class Zachary Dannelly has a more traditional background for a student you’d expect to pick Cyber Operations as a major. He took Advanced Placement computer science in high school as well as web design classes.
He chose the major because he wants to be a part of a military field that is still being defined.
“It’s exciting to be a part of a new field. It’s almost like being the first people on submarines,” Dannelly said.