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Master's Degree Program

Graduate Cyber Operations (GCO) Program

The Graduate Cyber Operations (GCO) program is a six-quarter, 18-month, resident program at AFIT leading to a Master of Science degree with a major in Cyber Operations. Students normally enter the program in September and graduate 18 months later in March.

Cyber Operations (CO), which encompasses most of the technological aspects of Information Operations, are those actions taken to affect an adversary's information and information systems, while defending one's own information and information systems. To support CO, professionals must be cognizant of the tools, techniques, and practices required to defend, attack, and exploit these resources. At the technical level, CO encompasses multiple scientific disciplines that ensure the security of critical infrastructures, such as:

  • Offensive and defensive cyber operations
  • Systems security engineering and operations
  • Application software security
  • Mobile and wireless device security
  • Reverse engineering
  • Cryptography
  • Computer forensics
  • Threat and vulnerability assessments and analyses

Cyber Operations also encompasses managerial aspects such as:

  • Strategic and tactical planning for information security
  • Managerial and engineering ethics
  • Legalities
  • Managerial roles and responsibilities
  • Risk management
  • Information assurance systems and product acquisition

Program Educational Objectives (PEOs) are the expected accomplishments of program graduates during the first several years following graduation:

  1. Breadth. Apply foundational scientific concepts and sound engineering principles to efficiently and effectively advance Air Force and DoD technological capabilities.
  2. Depth. Are well-educated, highly-valued, and successful engineers and scientists.
  3. Teamwork. Significantly contribute to technical interdisciplinary team projects.
  4. Professionalism. Professionally communicate technical solutions and results.
  5. Lifelong Learning. Continue to pursue lifelong multidisciplinary learning as professional engineers and scientists.

Student Outcomes (SOs) describe the specific knowledge and skills students are expected to possess at graduation as a result of the program curriculum:

  1. Graduates will demonstrate an in-depth understanding of cyber operations.
  2. Graduates will be able to communicate technical information clearly by written and oral means.
  3. Graduates will conduct independent research on topics related to cyber operations, including identifying and scoping a problem, locating and synthesizing relevant published prior work, planning and executing valid research, documenting results, and publishing them.
  4. Graduates will be able to apply the scientific method and use reliable standards of evidence for conclusions reached.
  5. Graduates will independently learn technical details for which they are responsible.

The GCO program produces graduates who can effectively use the tools and techniques of both computer science as well as traditional engineering disciplines to approach and analyze complex problems, and design effective solutions for these problems. This program provides a substantial technical foundation in cyber operations including: 1) operating systems 2) computer network protection and exploitation 3) application security 4) mobile and wireless device security and 5) reverse engineering and exploitation. The program culminates with an individual thesis that typically supports Department of Defense needs. In the thesis, the student applies their individual technical expertise and demonstrates their design and analysis skills. Finally, the program satisfies the requirements of the Cyber Operations academic degree code assigned to Air Force officers on entry into the program.

Prerequisite Knowledge
The ideal student background includes an undergraduate degree in Computer Science or Computer Engineering. Students with non-computer science and engineering backgrounds may be admitted into the program, but will likely need to attend preparatory courses in addition to the Cyber Operations program requirements. At a minimum, students must possess the following background knowledge prior to fully engaging in the program:

  • Proficiency in software programming and code development
  • Knowledge and application of:
    • Data structures
    • Computer Architecture
    • Operating Systems
    • Computer Networking
    • Discrete Math

Program Requirements
The GCO program curriculum consists of the following components: 1) core courses, 2) a mathematics or math science requirement, 3) cyber operations breadth, 4) an individual thesis, and 5) additional Air Force requirements (if applicable).

Core Courses (24 quarter hours)
The objective of the core courses is to provide graduate-level education in cyber operations through a series of computer and information security-related courses. These courses cover a wide range of CO topics including computer networking, advanced and distributed operating systems, and data security, all incorporating principles and best practices for protecting and attacking vital information resources. This objective is accomplished through satisfactory completion of the following courses:

  • CSCE 525 - Introduction to Cyber Warfare and Security (4 hrs)
  • CSCE 526 - Secure Software Design and Development (4 hrs)
  • CSCE 528 - Cyber Defense and Exploitation (4 hrs)
  • CSCE 629 - Cyber Attack (4 hrs)
  • CSCE 660 - Mobile, Wireless, and SCADA Device Security (4 hrs)
  • CSCE 725 - Reverse Engineering (4 hrs)

Mathematics Requirements (4 quarter hours)
Students are required to take at least one graduate-level course in mathematics or math science. A probability and statistics course is highly recommended to fulfill this requirement. Acceptable courses include:

  • CSCE 544 - Data Security
  • CSCE 554 - Fundamentals of Performance Analysis and Experimental Design
  • CSCE 644 - Cryptanalysis
  • STAT 525 - Applied Statistics for Managers I
  • STAT 583 - Introduction to Probability and Statistics

Cyber Operations Breadth (8 quarter hours)
Cyber Operations students shall select courses from the following list to provide adequate depth, consisting of at least 8 quarter hours:

  • CSCE 527 - Cyber Forensics (4 hrs)
  • CSCE 544 - Data Security (4 hrs)
  • CSCE 587 - Microprocessor Design and Synthesis (4 hrs)
  • CSCE 644 - Cryptanalysis (4 hrs)
  • CSCE 654 - Computer Communication Networks (4hrs)
  • CSCE 687 - Advanced Microprocessor Design Lab (4 hrs)
  • CSCE 689 - Distributed Software Systems (4 hrs)
  • IMGT 684 - Strategic Information Management (3 hrs)
  • IMGT 687 - Managerial Aspects of Cyber Security (4 hrs)

NOTE: Students can apply a course to satisfy only one requirement. For example, a student cannot take CSCE 644 and apply it towards both the math and breadth requirements.

Thesis (12 quarter hours)
The capstone of the AFIT GCO program is the thesis. The thesis is an in-depth study of a Cyber Operations research topic of interest to the student, their thesis advisor, and the Air Force and/or the Department of Defense. The thesis is at least twelve (12) quarter credit hours of CSCE 799. Typical allocation of these twelve hours can be over three (4 summer, 4 fall, 4 winter) or four terms (2 spring, 2 summer, 4 fall, 4 winter) depending on student course load and scheduling availability.

Both of the Research Seminars listed below are required by the Department:

  • CSCE 698 Research Seminar
  • CSCE 698 Research Seminar