Department of Systems Engineering & Management

Department of Systems Engineering & Management
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AFIT Cyber Operations/Warfare Education and Research Programs
Posted: 05/05/2008 by AFIT Public Affairs

On December 7, 2005, the Secretary of the Air Force, Mr. Michael W. Wynne, added the cyberspace domain to the Air Force warfighting mission. This addition to the Air Force’s roles and responsibilities signaled the start of a cultural change required to posture the Air Force for success in this domain. One of the cultural changes affecting the Air Force was to determine how to grow a cyberspace workforce to meet the highly dynamic challenges associated with this domain of operations. To grow such a workforce, three workforce development and sustainment pillars must seamlessly interact: education, training, and experience. The Air Force Institute of Technology, through its graduate education and research programs, is providing leadership in developing the cyberspace workforce for the Air Force for today and in the future.

Since the early 1990s, AFIT has been teaching and performing graduate-level research focusing on understanding and developing advanced cyber-related theories and technologies. These theory and technology advancements have included efforts in network intrusion detection and avoidance, insider threat mitigation, cyberspace situational awareness, network visualization, software protection, and anti-tamper technologies development. These advancements have been made possible through the AFIT Center for Cyberspace Research and its research sponsors.

The CCR, established in March 2002, conducts defense-focused research at the master’s and PhD levels. The CCR is forward-looking and responsive to the changing educational and research needs of the Air Force, the Department of Defense, and the federal government. The CCR was designated as a National Security Agency National Center of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance Education in 2002, recertified in 2005 by the NSA and the Department of Homeland Security, and is presently awaiting redesignation resulting from its Fall 2007 application. In 2005, the CCR received national CyberCorp Institution status from the National Science Foundation. Strong research ties exist between the CCR and the Air Force Cyber Command, the Anti-Tamper Software Protection Initiative Technology Office of the Air Force Research Laboratory, the Sensors and Information Directorates of AFRL, the NSA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Air Force Information Operations Center, and the Air Force Communications Agency. The CCR conducts both classified and unclassified research; faculty and students hold security clearances and conduct research at many classification levels. The CCR faculty possesses a wealth of knowledge and experience in communications, networking, and information security gained through DoD operational assignments before joining the faculty.

Supporting the CCR research efforts are two highly-focused graduate degree programs: Cyber Operations and Cyber Warfare. These two programs support one of the federal government’s and DoD’s most critical mission areas – Computer Network Operations. CNO includes both defensive and offensive operations. The defensive side of CNO focuses on protecting critical assets and intellectual property from exploitation. Offensive CNO is concerned with proactive measures to affect an adversary’s critical resources. The AFIT cyber-related academic programs provide education across the CNO spectrum of operations.

AFIT’s cyber-related graduate programs are at the master’s level while doctorate degrees focusing on cyber are obtained through Computer Science/Engineering and Electrical Engineering. These programs provide a mixture of theory and application with most courses having laboratory components. These courses include computer network design, cyber defense and analysis, cyber attack, cyber-focused reverse engineering, digital forensics, software protection, critical infrastructure protection, and biometrics security. State-of-the-art teaching laboratories support these classes.

As an example of the hands-on learning that occurs, a team of four CCR students combined their cyber skills and interests in digital forensics to field a team in the annual DoD Cyber Crime Center (DC3) Digital Forensics Challenge for 2007. This highly competitive event brought together 126 teams from commercial, government, civilian, military, and academic institutions to highlight tools, techniques, and procedures that address the most troubling issues DC3 faces.

Using innovative techniques, the team cracked passwords; repaired damaged media such as CDs, DVDs, and a thumb drive; extracted hidden information from audio files; and dissected digitally altered photos to accrue points in the challenge. In the end, AFIT’s team, “Cyber Warriors” consisting of Maj. Andy Hansen, Mr. Al-Nath Tuting, Capt. Dorsey Wilkin, and Capt. Mike Kolbe, took the Grand Champion trophy, placing first among the 126 teams. Challenges such as these demonstrate the value of graduate education and research and highlight the talents the Air Force is developing in support of the AFCYBER mission.

Both cyber academic programs require incoming students to possess undergraduate backgrounds in Computer Science/Engineering or closely related fields. Students entering the AFIT cyber education programs must be United States citizens. Graduate fellowships are available for U.S. citizens to attend AFIT either through the Dayton Area Graduate Studies Institute (DAGSI) www.dagsi.org or via NSF fellowships managed by the CCR. For further information, view pages at www.afit.edu/ccr/.