ANNAPOLIS, Md. (NNS) -- The new academic year marks the beginning of the Naval Academy's new cyber security curriculum, in which midshipmen are required to take classes that will enhance their knowledge of cyber warfare and the threat it poses to national security.
Discussion of building a cyber curriculum at the academy began several years ago, when the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) explained the importance of cyber security to the fleet, said Capt. Steven Simon, director of the academy's Center for Cyber Security Studies.
"The Department of Defense and the CNO identified cyber as an area that is critically important to all naval officers," said Simon. "When midshipmen get commissioned and go out into the fleet, whether they are standing on watch on a submarine, on the bridge of a surface ship, attached to an squadron or in the field, the decisions they have to make will be partly influenced by how the cyber domain impacts their ability to conduct their mission. These courses are meant to give them a foundation in cyber education."
Once the CNO put out the message, the academy initiated an examination of cyber security, and how it should become a part of the curriculum at the naval academy, explained Associate Professor Christopher Brown of the computer science department.
"The academic dean assigned a committee to help create a report which outlined that cyber security was relevant to an academic setting like the Naval Academy, and how it might be incorporated into the midshipman experience," said Brown.
As one of the contributors to the plan, Brown helped the coordination and development of the plebe year core course SI 110, also known as "Cyber 1," which is part of the cyber security curriculum initiative.
"The Cyber 1 course is basic general knowledge about how computers work, how networks are put together, and the vulnerability of those networks," said Simon.
The focus of this course is to increase the baseline and knowledge of cyber security for all plebes. When they get to the fleet, they will be prepared, explained Deputy Director of the Center for Cyber Security Studies Cmdr. John Myers. From the beginning, he said the intention was for the course to be technical and hands-on.
"Ultimately, the students will do some network attacks as well as network defense," said Brown. "Along the way, they also will be able to modify some programs, produce some web pages, build a wired or wireless network and try to attack some websites."
The course consists of two hours of lecture and two hours of lab per week and is divided into three portions. "Cyber Battlefield" emphasizes the understanding of digital data, Internet protocols, the physical computer, operating systems, programs, Internet, wired networks and more. The second part is called "Models and Tools," where the plebes will learn about protecting and attacking in the cyberspace through the use of theoretical models, said Brown.
"We look at some kind of theoretical model for what it is that you are actually trying to protect or attack in cyberspace, what are you defending, as well as general-purpose tools, including firewalls and cryptology that allows you to start protecting things," said Brown.
In the final part of the course, called "Cyber Operations," the students will put what they've learned up to that point to practical use.
"Here, they really take that knowledge to build, defend and attack other networks," said Myers. "We hope to create that baseline of cyber security for each of the plebes. Then in their junior year, they will take Cyber 2, which will allow them to have a much better understanding of cyber security."
"Cyber 2 goes into more depth, and provides some background on policy and economics," said Simon. "From here on, there will be some elective type courses offered by different departments around the yard, so students who are interested can go deeper. But the baseline is to provide every midshipman that graduates this understanding of the cyber domain and how it impacts their commands and ability to conduct their missions."
The Center for Cyber Security Studies is designed to work interactively with academic departments around the yard to help develop cyber security courses and provide necessary expertise as the academy builds on its cyber program, said Simon.
"The idea is to work with the government and industry to broaden this, and bring more expertise into the yard so students gain more appreciation for it," he said.
It's becoming increasingly clear that cyber security is a real issue, particularly for military organizations but for individuals as well, Brown said.
"Learning these concepts and being able to make principled decisions in regards to security and your personal and professional life is really going to be important for these students when they graduate," Brown said.
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