It is easy to think that the Midshipmen at the United States Naval Academy would all go on to careers on U.S. warships or serve in distant posts around the globe. For years, part of the U.S. Navy recruiting strategy was that those serving would see the world. However, graduates of the service academy could find themselves involved in work that involves a very different domain. Instead of guarding the world’s oceans, it could involve protecting American assets in cyberspace.

This month, the Naval Academy’s cyber operations program was granted the National Security Agency (NSA) designation as a Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Operations (CAE-CO). This is the only program to be awarded the designation this year, and is just the 22nd in the United States to hold such a designation since the program was created in 2012.

Diane M. Janosek, Commandant of the NSA’s National Cryptologic School, which is home to the CAE-CO program, presented the award to the Naval Academy in a private ceremony on Tuesday, Nov. 10.

“Congratulations to the U.S. Naval Academy on achieving your CAE-CO designation and a special congratulations to the first class of midshipmen graduating from this deeply technical program,” said Janosek. “These cyber operators have been armed with deep mission expertise, multi-layered academic training and a passion to defend our Nation. Ex Scientia Tridens!”

Hopper Hall

The Naval Academy’s newest building, Hopper Hall – named for Grace Hopper, an accomplished mathematician who joined the U.S. Navy Reserve during the Second World War and retired as an admiral – is the home to midshipmen in the cyber operations program, as well as those studying computer engineering, computer science, information technology and other STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) related studies.

Construction of the building began in October 2016 and it was completed this past July. It is the first building at any of the three major service academies to be named for a woman.

The United States Naval Academy was also the first institution of higher learning in the country to require cybersecurity classes for all students. All midshipmen are now required to take two cybersecurity classes – once as plebes and once as second-year midshipmen.

As a result, even those who are in the cyber operations program stand to benefit from the new NSA designation.

Cybersecurity Excellence

The National Centers of Academic Excellence in Cybersecurity (NCAE-C) program is now managed by the National Cryptologic School at the NSA. Those CAE-designated institutions must complete validation of a Program of Study (PoS), which includes a series of courses and experiences that a student can reasonably accomplish in the course of attaining a degree or completing a certificate.

The Naval Academy’s Center for Cyber Security Studies is such a program. It supports internships in cyber and related fields, and works closely with the NSA, U.S. Cyber Command, Fleet Cyber Command, Marine Forces Cyber Command, and the Naval Cyber Warfare Development Command, which all located at Fort Meade in Maryland. This provides midshipmen with hands-on experience in real world cyberwarfare during summer training months, as well as throughout the academic year.

Upperclassemen cyber operations majors may engage in independent study, while approximately 40 or so midshipmen will have the opportunity to intern with the NSA or one of the other cyber operations commands. A select group of cyber operations majors now participate each year with midshipmen from the computer science and information technology majors in the Service Academy Cyber Defense Exercise, which is hosted by the NSA.

The midshipmen have won the exercise three out of the past five years, and have earned trips to the White House in 2015, 2017, and 2018 for presidential-level recognition.

Upon graduation, about 20 midshipmen may commission into a cyber operations unit – either at Fort Meade or another base. Additionally, there may be midshipmen who graduate from the Naval Academy who do not commission, and they may go into a career at the NSA or other cyber operations company.

“The Naval Academy’s cyber operations major was accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) in both 2016 and 2018, which recognized the high level of academic rigor and substance in our program,” said Navy Capt. James Caroland, chair of the Cyber Science Department, which oversees the major. “Achieving the NSA designation as a Center of Academic Excellence in cyber operations provides us with yet another distinguished level of recognition on just how solid our program is and how valuable it is both academically and with regards to national security.”

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Peter Suciu is a freelance writer who covers business technology and cyber security. He currently lives in Michigan and can be reached at petersuciu@gmail.com.