Northeastern designated by the NSA as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Operations

Through a new partnership with the NSA, Northeastern’s cybersecurity curriculum will prepare select students for highly specialized jobs in federal intelligence and law enforcement agencies that investigate cybercrimes. istockphoto.

North­eastern Uni­ver­sity has been des­ig­nated as a National Center of Aca­d­emic Excel­lence in Cyber Oper­a­tions by the National Secu­rity Agency. The pro­gram, in which stu­dents can pursue a new spe­cialty in cyber oper­a­tions, aims to pro­vide them with the advanced tech­nical training and skills to tackle emerging cyber threats in their pro­fes­sional careers.

After a rig­orous appli­ca­tion and screening process, North­eastern is only one of four uni­ver­si­ties nation­wide to earn this esteemed dis­tinc­tion in the newly launched pro­gram, which is part of Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s National Ini­tia­tive for Cyber­se­cu­rity Education.

In selecting North­eastern, Agnes Chan, asso­ciate dean and director of grad­uate edu­ca­tion in Northeastern’s Col­lege of Com­puter and Infor­ma­tion Sci­ence, said the NSA was par­tic­u­larly impressed with the university’s experiential-education model and overall strength in cyber­se­cu­rity research and education.

“In cyber oper­a­tions, you can’t just be a the­o­reti­cian,” Chan said. “The inte­gra­tion of co-op and class­room learning, com­bined with oppor­tu­ni­ties to par­tic­i­pate in research, pro­vide our stu­dents with a very practice-oriented experience.”

Through this part­ner­ship, under­grad­uate com­puter sci­ence stu­dents at North­eastern can work toward a newly cre­ated con­cen­tra­tion in cyber oper­a­tions by taking existing high-level courses in areas like soft­ware vul­ner­a­bility and net­work security.

In addi­tion, stu­dents as well as fac­ulty will par­tic­i­pate in sem­i­nars run by the NSA, in which they will be faced with solving real cyber­se­cu­rity chal­lenges. As par­tic­i­pants, stu­dents and fac­ulty will be hired as tem­po­rary NSA employees and will undergo back­ground checks and obtain secu­rity clearances.

For par­tic­i­pating fac­ulty, the sem­i­nars will present the oppor­tu­nity to strengthen their exper­tise in cyber­se­cu­rity and trans­late that knowl­edge in the classroom.

Chan said that while this pro­gram is ini­tially only open to under­grad­uate computer-science stu­dents, she hopes it will expand into a master’s pro­gram, as well as to the Depart­ment of Elec­trical and Com­puter Engi­neering in Northeastern’s Col­lege of Engineering.

Along with strength­ening its aca­d­emic part­ner­ships, the NSA said the pri­mary goal is to expose stu­dents to the sci­en­tific and intel­lec­tual foun­da­tions of cyber oper­a­tions, pro­viding a glimpse into how that knowl­edge can be applied to cyber-related careers in the government.

The NSA pro­gram also requires the uni­ver­si­ties to include an aca­d­emic com­po­nent about the legal and eth­ical issues sur­rounding cyber­se­cu­rity. North­eastern meets this require­ment with its Fun­da­men­tals of Infor­ma­tion Assur­ance course offered in the Master of Sci­ence in Infor­ma­tion Assur­ance pro­gram, Chan said.

The NSA, along with the Depart­ment of Home­land Secu­rity, had des­ig­nated North­eastern a National Center of Aca­d­emic Excel­lence in Infor­ma­tion Assur­ance Research in 2008.

The des­ig­na­tion builds on Northeastern’s ongoing com­mit­ment to secu­rity research. The uni­ver­sity opened its George J. Kostas Research Insti­tute for Home­land Secu­rity in Sep­tember 2011. In March,a team of North­eastern experts led a con­gres­sional briefing in Wash­ington on evolving cyber­se­cu­rity threats, and in April, Kostas Insti­tute co-director Stephen Flynn tes­ti­fied at a con­gres­sional hearing on the chal­lenges posed by cyber­se­cu­rity threats.