As part of its ongoing efforts to combat cybercrime, the NSA has developed new cyber-ops training programs at a handful of US universities. According to a report from Reuters, the agency has begun developing curriculum that will prepare students for jobs at the US Cyber Command, which collects and decodes foreign intelligence, while protecting government networks. Thus far, the program is only available at four universities, and students looking to enroll in the NSA's summer seminars will first have to pass a security clearance.
According to Neal Ziring, technical director at the NSA's Information Assurance Directorate, the agency is specifically looking for "quality cyber operators." Such individuals, however, can be difficult to identify, given the relative scarcity of trained hackers. In an interview at the NSA's Maryland headquarters, Ziring told Reuters that operators would "have to know some of the things that hackers know," though they'd have to be well-rounded, as well, "which is why you really want a good university to create these people for you."
To participate in the program, universities had to fulfill ten criteria, including curricula that offer courses on reverse engineering. This requirement posed a barrier for many schools; of the 20 universities that applied, only four were accepted: Dakota State University, Naval Postgraduate School, Northeastern University, and University of Tulsa.
The training program is part of the Obama administration's broader effort to enhance US cybersecurity through education. These seminars won't turn students into cybersecurity experts over the course of a summer, but according to the NSA, they will provide the technical underpinning required for further training in classified positions.
There are some ethical concerns, of course, but senior NSA official Steven LaFountain says the curriculum is designed to provide fundamental education, rather than a primer on how to illegally break into computer networks. "We are not asking [universities] to teach kids how to break into systems," LaFountain explained. "We're just asking them to teach the hardcore fundamental science that we need students to have when they come to work here."