The U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) recently launched a new program, the National Centers of Academic Excellence in Cyber Operations, aimed at collaborating with colleges and universities to expand the numbers of professionals with skills in cyber operations. The program is an outgrowth of the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education.

The first four schools to receive the Centers of Academic Excellence in Cyber Operations designation for the 2012-2013 school year are Dakota State University in South Dakota, the Naval Postgraduate School in California, Northeastern University in Massachusetts, and the University of Tulsa in Oklahoma. The schools were selected thanks to a "deeply technical, interdisciplinary curriculum centered on fields such as computer science, computer engineering, and electrical engineering," according to the NSA.

"Of 20 universities that applied, only four received this week the new designation ... Out of 10 requirements, the two most lacking at many schools were courses on 'reverse engineering' -- or how to gain knowledge of a technology or product to reproduce it -- and cellular communications and mobile technologies, NSA officials said," writes Reuters' Tabassum Zakaria. "'We found a lot of schools weren't emerging with the technology, weren't keeping up,' said Captain Jill Newton, who leads NSA's cyber training and education programs."


The aim of the program is to provide students with an understanding of the scientific and intellectual foundation of cyber operations, along with a sense of how those skills could lead to government careers. Seminar students and faculty members will be hired as temporary NSA employees, will be required to undergo background checks, and will obtain top-secret security clearances. They won't, however, participate in actual U.S. government intelligence activities.

"The nation increasingly needs professionals with highly technical cyber skills to help keep America safe today -- and to help the country meet future challenges and adapt with greater agility," NSA technical leader Steven LaFountain said in a statement. "When it comes to national security, there is no substitute for a dedicated, immensely talented workforce. This effort will sow even more seeds."