Adversaries and threats to national security are constant and ever changing. Cybersecurity courses like Hacking for Defense (H4D), a program of the National Security Innovation Network (NSIN), hope to combat these threats with trained personnel.
The University of Alabama in Huntsville has become the first in the state to offer H4D, starting in the spring semester of 2020. H4D is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Defense and teaches students to work with the defense and intelligence communities to rapidly address the nation’s emerging threats and security challenges.
Students will form five-member teams and be assigned a problem and a mentor from a Department of Defense agency. Every class is different because every problem assigned to a student team across the country is unique, said Max Weintraub, program manager with NSIN.
“The original curriculum was created at Stanford University and expanded upon with NSIN’s support in conjunction with our partners at the Common Mission Project,” Weintraub says. “As a Department of Defense Program Office under the Undersecretary of Research and Engineering, we see value in creating opportunities for innovators at top universities like UAH to try to solve emergent national security problems.”
UAH Assistant Professor of Computer Science Tathagata Mukherjee will lead the class, which provides real-world situations for students to solve. “Cyber security is one of the major threat areas, as is shown by the existence of the cyber command, and there is a need for qualified people to serve in this domain and apply their minds to the challenges that are at the forefront of national security in the cyber domain.”
Once the student teams have been assigned a problem, they will interview involved Department of Defense personnel who are stakeholders. On average, each team will interview 70-80 people in a semester.
“Based on their understanding, the students will develop an initial solution, called a Minimal Viable Product, which will be the main deliverable of the project at the end of the semester,” Mukherjee says. Currently UAH has problems from the Missile Defense Agency and will receive more from Amy Futures command and other related agencies.
Business development cycle concepts incorporated in the H4D class will be mentored by Rigved Joshi, director of UAH’s Invention to Innovation Center. These business concepts include the importance of documenting every step of the process.
For the students, the hands-on experience of working with Department of Defense agencies on real-world problems is invaluable. “For students who are interested in pursuing careers related to defense, many technology companies, large defense contractors and even the Department of Defense organizations actively recruit H4D alumni,” Weintraub says.
For the problem sponsors, they get a minimal viable product that addresses their real-world problem — solved by a team of students dedicating hundreds of hours to the solution.