Naval Academy Launches Cyber Operations Major

Naval Academy Cyber OperationsANNAPOLIS, Md. — This fall, the Naval Academy will become the first service academy — or university for that matter — to offer their undergraduate students the chance to major in Cyber Operations.

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.

About the Author

Michael Hoffman
Michael Hoffman is the executive editor at Tandem NSI and a contributor to He can be reached at
  • hibeam

    They should download the Chinese version of our F-35 software. I understand most of the bugs have been worked out.

  • oblatt1

    The stupidity of turning one of our last remaining international markets into a battlefield is just staggering.

  • majr0d

    “This fall, the Naval Academy will become the first service academy — or university for that matter — to offer their undergraduate students the chance to major in Cyber Operations.”

    Mike, you missed something…

    “Since 2004, the Air Force Academy has offered a degree in computer science-cyberwarfare”

    • Josh

      They are different degrees.

      • majr0d

        Are they? Are Cyber Ops and Cyber Warfare really “different” besides the name an institution gives to them?

        • tmb2

          From a 2011 article:

          “In 2006, the concentration shifted from information assurance to cyber warfare. Cadets in this program must take three specific classes; CS431 Cryptography, CS438 Computer Science and Information Warfare, and CS468 Network Security.

          The Air Force Academy is not alone in its emphasis on the computer science and cyber warfare. Each of the major service academies have similar program. Faculty in each institution share ideas, host visiting NSA faculty and work often with each other and compete in the NSA cyber exercise
          About a year ago according to Col David S. “Hoot” Gibson, head of the computer science department, the U.S. Naval Academy contacted USAFA for information and guidance on setting up their own cyber warfare program.

          “When the USNA was starting up their cyber program, colleagues from there contacted me for a description of how we are organized, our cyber curriculum, and how we mapped our curriculum to the NSA’s Center of Academic Excellence program,” explained Dr. Dino Schweitzer, Academy computer science professor. ”

        • Josh

          Well, actually, yes they are different. Cyber warfare is defined as “politically motivated hacking to conduct sabotage and espionage.” Cyber operations is defined as “a classification of military operations that use of Computer Network Attack, Computer Network Defense, and Computer Network Exploitation against an enemy to achieve military objectives.” Cyber operations goes more in dept rather than just hacking.

          • majr0d

            The spelling is different also. The real answer is in the syllabus and considering the discussions & links between academies they are in effect the same thing. I’ve got a “national security” degree which at its core is international relations with emphasis on the military component but not an exclusion of other aspects.

            The difference between “Warfare” and “Operations” is even less.

          • tmb2

            No kidding? I’m halfway through an MSIR program with a National Security focus.

          • tmb2

            Computer Network Exploitation, aka “hacking.”

            When you have a security vulnerability on your computer that someone can use to get into your system, it’s called an Exploit.

  • U.S.A

    Im glad to see us taking cyber war fair seriously

    • M. Dalgleish

      Go directly to remedial English grammar, punctuation, and spelling lessons…suspend computers…

  • U.S.A
  • Dr. Horrible


  • garr

    ahhh, grasshopper…, we had such hopes for you, yet you continue to
    descend into ignorance and intolerance.

    • Belesari

      Well I can disagree with the way he made the statement but not really the content all around.

      Obama has shown a habit of doing many of the things socialist do policy wise. His presidency has pushed this country more and more towards a european state rather than the US.

      As for giving our secrets to the chinese? Some probably yes. The clintons did it which people seem to forget. They gave the chinese ICBM technology by way of a corporation which wanted to move to china. This allowed the chinese to get much more accurate ICBM’s.

      But then the Chinese are stealing anything they can so it doesn’t really matter now. If he gives them secrets they will take them. There is a reason why the Chinese can’t get SpaceX secrets but can get any of ours. All the damned paper work leads somewhere they just get it….when congress critters, senators, lobbyist, etc aren’t accidentialy giving it to them.

      There is a difference between intolerance and a difference of opinion or not knowing the whole truth. Treating someone as stupid or ignorant and leaving tends to just cement the feelings and idea about that particular matter meaning you have failed.

      • Belesari

        Of course its much easier on the mind to just call those who don’t believe as you do no matter the reason as evil, stupid, or a “Sheep”.

        And the vote is….well.


          Ha ha. Get used to friend. Despite the knowledge you bring, there are plenty of trolls out there.

  • eric michael strobl

    check out the land in south keroa that the northiees wants so damn much they trying to bullie them over fish an chicken with rice and duck soup with rice

  • JohnnyRanger

    Go Army! Beat Navy!

    • M. Dalgleish

      Ahh…the Army are friendlies. Try to stay current…

  • hibeam

    Can I suggest we name our first Cyber Operations Submarine after President Obama? It would make perfect sense in so many ways.

  • JoeSovereign

    The fact that they have to place a switch on a chair in the middle of the room does not inspire confidence. It looks like a 1998 LAN party.

    This picture shows the utter lack of commitment to technology. Are rooms in the Naval Academy that specialize in Information Technology really not wired in 2013?

    • blight_

      That’s a lot of CAT5 ports in the wall for a ton of people to appear in on short notice.

      Would you prefer Wifi? I guess the semi-secure option would be CAT5->Wifi router in a shielded room, so only occupants could acess.

      I imagine in a room designed for tons of people with laptops, you’d put the CAT5 ports into their desks.

      By the way, who even knows where this image is coming from?

    • Former Cyber Student

      This specific class was a wired LAN lab to explore networking over a wired switch. The next lesson was on WI-FI networking. Also this class was designed as an introduction to cyber security for people with little to no experience with computers which explains why you would have to have a whole class on both wired and wireless networking. So, before you jump on the academy for being low tech, I would do a little more research on what’s going on.

  • M. Dalgleish

    This whole USNA cyber warfare group has never received appropriated funding, indicating a serious lack of L-T commitment by USN or Congress over many years. So much for Roughead effort.
    And the answer now is to make it a major?
    If USNAAA is going to write about this stuff, try to give a complete picture. Otherwise the whiff of propaganda is about the room.

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