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National Security Agency Turns to NPS to Support Cyber Summer Internship Program

12 October 2021

From Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Tom Tonthat, Naval Postgraduate School Office of University Communications

MONTEREY, Calif. - As cyber operations gained prevalence as a national security imperative, the National Security Agency (NSA) organized the National Center of Academic Excellence (NCAE) in Cybersecurity program to develop cohesive and collaborative educational programs with community colleges, colleges and universities that provided core competencies and standards, ultimately supporting the development of talented cyber professionals for a broad swath of federal agencies.

One of the NCAE programs, the Center for Academic Excellence in Cyber Operations (CAE-CO) program is a highly technical, interdisciplinary, higher education program grounded in computer science, computer engineering, and electrical engineering disciplines, all core strengths of the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS).

Part of this broader effort is the CAE-CO Summer Intern Program, a 12-week, intensive program to give students a deeper understanding of the offensive and defensive technologies protecting computer networks and infrastructure around the country, and how they are integrated through real-world scenarios and applications.

The CAE-CO Summer Intern program is an outreach program for students studying cyber operations at NSA-designated universities, supporting the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education and furthering the goal of broadening the number of people capable of supporting a cyber-secure nation. Given the university’s deep expertise in these relevant disciplines, the NCAE turned to NPS subject matter experts, and their knowledge and experience of cyber operations, to provide courses and materials for the CAE-CO intership program.

“NPS has supported the CAE-CO Summer Intern Program at NSA for probably seven or eight years by providing them with lectures and labs,” said NPS computer sciences and computer engineering Professor of Practice George Dinolt, who coordinated with the NSA, NPS faculty, and CAE-CO participants for a recent CAE-CO program session. “This is a well-received program that identifies schools as cyber centers of excellence and in specific cyber operations disciplines.”

Some of NPS’ course materials for the CAE-CO program deals with evolving applications of cyber operations in areas such as network traffic analysis, exploitation development, digital forensics, cellular and mobile analysis and other cybersecurity courses.

“NPS has been one of the leaders, especially in the cyber operations field, in providing materials to other universities and in encouraging other universities to do this kind of work,” Dinolt continued. “We're in a unique situation suitable for it because we have access to classified resources as well as unclassified resources.”

When the COVID pandemic made the teaching environment difficult, NPS stepped up to host a group of 24 students on campus during July to provide more in-depth, on-site instruction as part of their CAE-CO program.

“For the students, this was their first major contact with NSA,” added Dinolt. “Part of what the NSA is trying to do with its internship program is give the students a good reflection of the opportunities that they will have. Coming to NPS was their opportunity to interact with people at NPS and with people at NSA. The students seemed to be very enthusiastic at the end of the five weeks.”

While NPS hosted participants of the CAE-CO program, it is not the university’s only partnership with the NSA on cyber education. A longstanding effort with the NSA’s National Cryptologic School has provided NPS graduate coursework to more than 2,000 NSA, U.S. Cyber Command, and 10th Fleet employees in cyber warfare, cyber systems, and wireless security.

NPS’ successful initiative to provide students with on-site instruction, in addition to its ability to provide course material on an increasingly important and dynamic topic, demonstrated its capabilities of current and future collaborations with the NSA.

“Our reflection upon NPS is great,” wrote Jason Smith, NCAE program director. “The summer was a great collaboration for two missions to come together and show the interns effective communication among the Department of Defense.”

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