Elite Designation for Cyber Ops Program From NSA


(Composite image: Bob Demers/UANews)

A program at the University of Arizona that began only 18 months ago has been recognized as one of the best in the country for 2018-2019.

The UA's program in cyber operations, based at its Sierra Vista campus and taught both traditionally and online, has received official designation as a Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Operations, or CAE-CO, by the National Security Agency, an arm of the U.S. Department of Defense. After an extensive application process, the NSA made a site visit in April. It will make a formal announcement of the UA's designation on June 6.

Although about 150 four-year colleges and universities, including the UA, have been designated as Centers of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education, or CAE-CDE, only 20 institutions have achieved CAE-CO status, which affirms an emphasis on specialized cyber ops technologies and techniques. The smaller group also includes the U.S. Air Force Academy, U.S. Military Academy and Naval Postgraduate School. 

The CAE-CO designation is valid for five academic years, after which a program must reapply to retain it.

"With the rapid advancement of digital technology, there is now a corresponding high demand for cybersecurity expertise in the public and private sectors," said UA President Robert C. Robbins. "I am very proud that the University of Arizona is meeting that demand and that the National Security Agency has recognized our cyber operations program as one of the nation's best. As they graduate from a top-tier cyber program, our students will make vital contributions in the workforce of our region and to the defense of our nation and its citizens."

The UA's degree program for a Bachelor of Applied Science in cyber operations has two paths: an engineering track with a security focus, and a defense and forensics track. A policy track, combining the technical aspects of those two with studies in law, political science and philosophy, is expected to launch in the spring.

The big difference from most other cyber programs, according to founder and director Jason Denno, is the skills-heavy, hands-on work done by UA students in a virtual city called CyberApolis, an advanced honeynet, and forensics, malware and internet of things labs.

"With this NSA designation, the UA joins an extremely exclusive group of cyber programs," Denno said. "The CAE-CO designation demonstrates that the UA's program meets the most demanding academic and technical requirements in the country and supports the University's broader mission of providing thought leadership for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Cyber is a core theme of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which represents the convergence of the digital, physical and biological worlds." 

According to the International Information Security Certification Consortium, a nonprofit organization that specializes in training and certifications for cybersecurity professionals, an additional 1.8 million cyber professionals will be needed in the U.S. by 2022. The median salary in 2017 for information security analysts was more than $95,000.

"The one thing our graduates can count on," Denno said, "is the fact that they will possess extraordinary technical cyber skills. Those skills are not very common in the workplace right now. They're not going to be looking for work. Work is going to be looking for them for the rest of their lives."

"The Bachelor of Applied Science degree in cyber operations not only meets the standards set by the NSA but provides online access to a virtual environment that simulates the real cyber world," said Melody Buckner, interim dean of the academic unit overseeing the program. "Students connect to content and experts that may not have been available to them before the launch of this program. Now people all over the state, the nation and the world can become experts in cyber operations — as well as UA Wildcats."