NSA: Looking for a few good cybersecurity professionals
Network World - At a time when cyberattacks on America's critical infrastructure have increased 17-fold (between 2009 and 2011), the need for highly trained cybersecurity professionals is acute. However, 83% of federal hiring managers in a recent survey said it was extremely difficult to find well-trained cybersecurity professionals and a projected shortfall of 20,000 to more than 40,000 people is expected in the years to come.
The National Security Agency (NSA) is doing something about this cyberskills gap by partnering with the nation's service academies, colleges and universities to foster the growth of the world's most advanced cybersecurity professionals.
Recently, Network World was invited to visit the Puzzle Palace and interview two interns, one of whom said his time there has caused him to completely lock down his Facebook page, cell phone and computer because "in the world of cyber security a single person can do something really bad."
While the NSA is known for its supersecrecy, it has a long history of working with educational institutions. Programs are divided into Cooperative Education, Internship and Scholarships. The Cooperative Education Program is a rotational program with students alternating semesters of full-time work with full-time study. During the work tour students put in a standard 40-hour week with each tour designed to reveal specific areas of interest and skills that they can then focus on for a career. The internships, at the high school, college and graduate levels, run the gamut from cryptanalysis, cybersecurity, and information assurance to human resources, occupational health, history and languages. Scholarships are available at high school, college and graduate levels. Students who graduate with NSA on their transcripts are much in demand - correspondingly, when later at work in military, intelligence, or industry - much is expected of them.
We recently sat down with lieutenants Matthew Greene and Maxwell Love, both 2012 graduates of the U.S. Military Academy (USMA) at West Point. With bachelor's degrees in Computer Science and Systems Engineering respectively, both were also cybersecurity interns in the NSA's Service Academy Intern Program (SAIP). SAIP complements NSA's 166 other academic-outreach programs with colleges and universities. The other programs - for both two- and four-year schools - emphasize areas such as information assurance education and even cyber operations.
Why did you apply for the NSA intern program?
[Lt. Greene] "West Point allows you to do internships, not just at NSA but at any government organization as well as at Google, Cisco and universities like USC and Penn State, to name a few. I had done one with the U.S. European Command, Information Assurance Directorate, where they had just finished up their yearly cybersecurity exercise and were doing analysis. The NSA guys over there were very active helping them with the analysis and patching holes in their systems. They [NSA] pulled us into the office and said, 'We'd like you to work on this project'. They weren't very specific, they just said 'It's in the field right now; it's a live system; and it's going to save soldiers' lives.' "
This state transportation department uses computer science students from a local university as programming interns, and everyone is happy with the arrangement -- until one intern learns how to bring down the mainframe.
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