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

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.