Speaking at CyCon U.S., General Mark Milley challenged the audience’s younger members to take up the mantle of cyber leadership. “That rock is going to go in your rucksack, and we are counting on you for the future.” The need for innovative programs to train our future cyber leaders is apparent to the U.S. Army chief of staff and many national-level leaders. The problem is not limited to the military: In a borderless domain, cyberthreats don’t distinguish between military and civilian networks. Nor is the problem solely technological: The Army chief also pointed out the moral, legal and ethical concerns brought on by advances in artificial intelligence and autonomous battlefield systems.
These challenges are not unique to the U.S. Army nor even the U.S. military. The nation’s need for adaptive cyber leaders spans the military’s ranks, industry’s labs and trading floors, and the halls of our universities. Yet, the cyber training shortfall narrative is so ubiquitous it hardly needs to be cited. Academia, industry and the military are all innovating to prepare our future cyber leaders, and the Army Cyber Institute (ACI) at West Point is working to bridge all three efforts as we build a model to develop cyber leaders.
Inspiring young people to serve and motivating them to a career of service by necessity goes beyond the classroom. That’s why, in addition to researching and developing pre-commissioning training and curriculum for our future Army officers, we developed the Cyber Leader Development Program to incorporate external opportunities. Developed at West Point, the Cyber Leader Development Program has expanded to include ROTC. Based at our nation’s civilian universities, ROTC programs are an Army touchpoint to the research being done in the larger academic community.
Although the Cyber Leader Development Program is an Army program, the principles transcend an officer’s service and career path; all of the military’s junior leaders will be leading through multidomain competition and conflict, and must understand operations on land, air, and sea — and now cyberspace. The nation’s senior military colleges are a key partner. The immersive 24/7 military experience offered by these institutions is ideal for identifying and developing future cyber leaders. It connects us to the research being done at the senior military colleges, including beyond their military programs. As the senior military colleges commission into all services, we are better able to develop the joint force’s cyber leader development model. Even those students who complete the program but do not join the military will be better prepared to serve in other capacities. The program’s result: a more formidable U.S. workforce, in and out of uniform.
Developing tomorrow’s cyber leaders must be a multidisciplinary effort. We cannot separate the math and engineering students exploring cyberspace in their labs from the strategic, legal and ethical discussions social science students debate in their seminar rooms. We need work across disciplines to ensure each of our students leverages the diversity offered at their colleges and universities.
We have also begun a summer internship program at West Point for ROTC students: Cadets from across the country and from various disciplines immerse themselves in multidisciplinary cyber research under the supervision of the ACI’s researchers. The program develops cadets’ creative thinking skills as they seek innovative solutions to real-world problems. It is an opportunity to advance their technical knowledge and skills, develop leadership abilities and contribute to real-world research benefiting the U.S. Army. We’re proud to announce that we are now accepting applications for this summer’s Army Cyber Institute Internship Program.
Competitions are a great way to get students excited about cyber defense, testing their problem-solving skills both as individuals and teammates. A great example is the NSA’s annual Cyber Exercise, in which the world’s top network specialists challenge student teams with state-of-the-art hacker techniques. The students design, build and configure their own networks — safely removed from real-world networks — and then defend them against determined intruders. Each gains a sense of the dangers posed by a hostile network environment and learn realistic defense strategies. West Point has won as many times as all other teams combined, and this spring our cadets will strive to retake the trophy.
These competitions don’t even require attendance at a military academy or university. To challenge all our soldiers, we developed and host the annual All Army Cyber Stakes competition. Regardless of where they may be stationed, contestants compete against each other, testing their skills in forensics, cryptography, binary exploitation, reverse engineering and web-based attacks. The result is a good-natured frenzy of competition, with reach round of results generating March Madness-like excitement, but the real outcome is increased readiness within our cyber ranks. Organizations and universities should consider developing their own cyber competition to hone their employee and student skills.
We have created a venue for our students, leaders and academics to present their research and learn from world-class practitioners. That’s why we developed scholarships to bring service academy and ROTC students to CyCon U.S., our annual symposium exploring cyber conflict in a globally connected world and to Tallinn, Estonia, for the CyCon conference hosted by the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence. Despite their youth and inexperience, they’re often our most enthusiastic audience members and routinely pose challenging questions to generals, corporate executives and policymakers alike.
Many challenges remain: creating a dynamic cyberspace career alongside the military’s traditional stringent career path, a lack of flexibility compensation for government civilian and military professionals, and a perceived gap with private-sector opportunities. The continuing work spearheaded by the Army will ensure our nation has a more ready cyber force.
• Col. Andrew O. Hall, Ph.D., is the director of the Army Cyber Institute at West Point. Lt. Col. Terence M. Kelley is a U.S. Army public affairs officer. The views expressed are those of the authors and do not represent the official policy of the Department of Defense, the U.S. Army, nor the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. ROTC Cadets interested in the ACI Cyber Internship Program may request more information from [email protected]
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