NSA Teams Up With Colleges to Train Students for Secret Cyber-Ops Jobs

NSA headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland. Photo: Courtesy NSA

The National Security Agency is partnering with select universities to train students in cyber operations for intelligence, military and law enforcement jobs, work that will remain secret to all but a select group of students and faculty who pass clearance requirements, according to Reuters.

The cyber-operations curriculum is part of the Obama administration’s national initiative to improve cybersecurity through education, and is designed to prepare students for jobs with the U.S. Cyber Command, the NSA’s signals intelligence operations, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other law enforcement agencies that investigate cyber crimes.

The U.S. Cyber Command’s job is, in part, to support the military in offensive cyber operations against enemy networks, suggesting the students would be trained in the methods of hackers.

“We’re trying to create more of these, and yes they have to know some of the things that hackers know, they have to know a lot of other things too, which is why you really want a good university to create these people for you,” Neal Ziring, technical director at the NSA’s Information Assurance Directorate, told Reuters.

But another NSA official was quick to add that the NSA wasn’t looking to teach students illegal hacking techniques.

“We are not asking them to teach kids how to break into systems, we’re not asking them to teach that. And a lot of them have said they wouldn’t teach that,” said Steven LaFountain, a senior NSA official who guides academic programs told Reuters. “We’re just asking them to teach the hardcore fundamental science that we need students to have when they come to work here.”

Although 20 universities applied to participate in the program, only four were selected so far: Dakota State University, Naval Postgraduate School, Northeastern University and University of Tulsa.

Schools applying for the program had to meet 10 criteria, among them was a requirement that they teach courses in reverse engineering.

Once the students have the basic knowledge needed, they will be eligible to receive training to work in classified jobs with the NSA.

“In our operational developmental organization, we would spend up to 12 months to give them the secret sauce, the tradecraft, the really deep technical training so that they could make themselves useful in doing what we need them to do, and that’s with that technical underpinning,” Captain Jill Newton, who leads NSA’s cyber training and education programs, told Reuters.