USF partners with military network to address cybersecurity challenges

by | Feb 4, 2022

The U.S. military is enlisting the University of South Florida to help combat complex cybersecurity challenges.

USF announced on Friday that it was selected to partner with U.S. Cyber Command (CYBERCOM) — a spinoff of the National Security Agency (NSA). USF will join 84 universities and colleges nationwide to be part of the newest Academic Engagement Network (AEN) that will be tasked with enhancing four primary lines of effort (LOE): future workforce, applied cyber research, applied analytics and strategic issues.

The Florida Center for Cybersecurity, also known as Cyber Florida, submitted USF’s application to be part of the CYBERCOM network, and will be running point on the university’s participation. Cyber Florida is a statewide organization hosted by USF, and works with all 12 Florida State University System institutions.

Ron Sanders, Cyber Florida’s staff director, described the application process as “very rigorous,” highlighting how difficult it is to become a member of CYBERCOM’s network.”

“The reason it was spun off is because at the end of the day, NSA is an intelligence agency – it collects intelligence,” Sanders said. “Cyber Command is a combatant command. Its current doctrine is to ‘defend forward’.”

Sanders also noted that while the NSA has its own relationships with academic institutions, its research needs are distinct from those of CYBERCOM.

“The Academic Engagement Network focuses on what scholars in the academic community can contribute to Cyber Command in terms of frontline cyber operations,” Sanders said. “It is more narrowly focused on those tactical research questions that can help Cyber Command and the country protect military networks and, frankly, go after bad guys if and when necessary.”

In terms of how USF faculty will be able to share their expertise, Sanders described the evolution of the AEN as “a case of crawl, walk, run, and Cyber Command is in the crawl stage.”

“Initially, I think Cyber Command plans on asking a number of fairly technical cyber security questions that we could share with faculty to see if any of them have insights or solutions to those particular questions,” he added. “As the Academic Engagement Network matures, it will become more of a dialogue where we share things we’re researching with Cyber Command, and these may be areas they haven’t thought about but may have applications to the Command.”

As the AEN continues to invest in establishing an accessible pool of qualified cyber professionals, Sanders believes there will be opportunities for students to become involved through grants awarded by Cyber Command or other agencies.

“At some point, grants will follow, research will follow, research assistants, graduate assistants, internships will follow,” he said. “The net result will be more information and insight flowing back to Cyber Command on various issues.”

Sanders also said his office is talking with Cyber Command about naming Cyber Florida as an affiliate member of the AEN.

“We told Cyber Command that we could reach the other State University System institutions, we’re engaged with their scholars and their colleges,” he said. “As an affiliate member, they would treat us not only as a source of cybersecurity insights in our own right, but also as a conduit to other scholars who may not be part of the Academic Engagement Network but who have something to contribute to Cyber Command.”


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