April 26, 2013

Military ramps up training for new breed of cyberwarriors

Brian Witte and Dan Elliott / The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

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Martin Carlisle, a computer science professor at the Air Force Academy and director of the school's Center for Cyberspace Research, instructs cadets in cyber warfare, at the U.S. Air Force Academy, in Colorado Springs, Colo.


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A cadet works at a large computer display in a classroom at the Center for Cyberspace Research at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo.


Almost every Army cadet at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., takes two technology courses related to such topics as computer security and privacy. West Point also offers other cyber courses, and a computer security group meets weekly. One of the biggest cybersecurity challenges is keeping up with the head-spinning pace of change in the field.

"You know American history is pretty much the same" every year, said Lt. Col. David Raymond, who teaches a cybersecurity course. "In this domain, it's really tough to keep up with how this thing evolves."

In his congressional report, Clapper noted that the chance of a major attack by Russia, China or another nation with advanced cyber skills is remote outside a military conflict — but that other nations or groups could launch less sophisticated cyberattacks in hopes of provoking the United States or in retaliation for U.S. actions or policies overseas. South Korea accused North Korea of mounting a cyberattack in March that shut down thousands of computers at banks and television broadcasters.

Gen. Keith Alexander, head of U.S. Cyber Command, told Congress in March the command is creating teams to carry out both offensive and defensive operations. A spokesman said the command is drawing cyber officers from the service academies, officer schools and Reserve Officer Training Corps programs.

Teams from the three academies compete in events such as last week's National Security Agency Cyber Defense Exercise, in which they try to keep simulated computer networks running as an NSA "aggressor team" attacks. Teams from the U.S. Coast Guard and Merchant Marine academies also took part, along with graduate students from the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School and Canada's Royal Military College.

Air Force won among undergraduate schools. The Royal Military College won among graduate schools.

That hands-on experience is invaluable, said 2nd Lt. Jordan Keefer, a 2012 Air Force Academy graduate now pursuing a master's degree in cyberoperations at the Air Force Institute of Technology.

"You can't just go out there and start hacking. That's against the law," he said. The competitions, he said, "gave me actual experience defending a network, attacking a network."

Counterterrorism expert Richard Clarke, noting that really high-level computer skills are rare, suggested the military might have to re-examine some of its recruiting standards to attract the most adept cyberwarriors.

"Hackers are the 1 percent, the elite and the creators," said Clarke, who served as White House cybersecurity adviser during the Clinton administration. "I wouldn't worry a whole heck of a lot (about whether they) can they run fast or lift weights."

Cyber's appeal was enough to get Keefer to put aside his dream of becoming a fighter pilot, a job with undeniable swagger. "It's a challenge, and for people who like a challenge, it's the only place to be," Keefer said.

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