On February 10, 2022, U.S. Army Gen. Paul M. Nakasone, commander of U.S. Cyber Command, director of the National Security Agency, and chief of the Central Security Service hosted a virtual welcome session for students, faculty and staff partners selected to participate in the inaugural CYBERCOM Academic Engagement Network event.
AEN is a collaborative effort between academia and CYBERCOM to leverage the capabilities and talents of both to provide a more robust defense of the United States.
“I hope all of you view this initiative as common ground for a shared dialogue, not just CYBERCOM’s arena,” said Nakasone. “Ideally, it would be terrific if we could mature this network to the point where we move beyond solely dialogue and develop real solutions, real impacts to our shared challenges.”
The event, held at DreamPort, began with a look at the current cyber threat landscape. Nakasone discussed how cyber-threats evolve quickly and the importance of being able to anticipate and not just react to them, as well as the imperative to maintain the initiative.
He pointed to SolarWinds, the Microsoft Exchange vulnerability, Colonial Pipeline, Kesaya, JBS, and Lof4j as major cyber events occurring in the last year.
Nakasone discussed how the scope, scale, and sophistication of these incidents has progressed past anything seen previously and broke down key current statistics and facts to include:
- 43 percent of cyberattacks target small businesses
- As of 2021, a ransomware attack occurs every 11 seconds, and increase from every 39 seconds in 2019.
- Organizations impacted by cyberattacks have risen significantly as more work has shifted to the virtual environment
“It’s not just government and national security systems being targeted, it’s everyone,” said Nakasone. “Private citizens, businesses and industry, academia, public sector services like hospitals and first responders, and government at all levels: local, tribal, state, and federal.”
The discussion pivoted to the CYBERCOM mission and a breakdown of its national and global footprint, listing the numerous locations where we work such as; Maryland, Georgia, Hawaii, Texas, Utah, Florida, Colorado, Washington D.C., Germany, the United Kingdom and Australia.
These are facilities ran by CYBERCOM and the NSA and don’t include the individual cyber commands of each military branch – Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines, and Coast Guard, which are also part of the AEN and are actively engaging schools locally.
Breaking down the layout of the units and organizations involved brought the conversation around to persistent engagement and the defend forward concept, key strategies employed by CYBERCOM.
“The concepts in our approach, defend forward and persistent engagement, have become cornerstones to our strategy,” he said. “These concepts recognize that competition in cyberspace is enduring, and we can best defend our nation by maturing partnerships and taking the fight to our adversaries on terrain outside of U.S. networks.”
The application of persistent engagement and defend forward function most effectively with partnerships.
“Each of you and your institutions are uniquely positioned to spend time on some of our most challenging problems that we at CYBERCOM don’t always have the bandwidth to address since we are in the fight every day with our adversaries,” said Nakasone.
Success in the new era of strategic competition will rely on the ability to develop partnerships of all kinds that acknowledge shared risks, shared goals, and most importantly shared solutions. It takes a unified effort to gain and maintain competitive advantage in this evolving threat environment, Nakasone told the more than 230 students, faculty and staff in attendance.
“It’s only through these partnerships and collaboration that we continue to make it increasingly difficult for our adversaries to operate,” he said.
Nakasone closed the meeting with a pitch for talent and CYBERCOM’s need for it. Adding the opportunities available with CYBERCOM, its component commands and the NSA as either military or civilian worldwide. He also emphasized the unique opportunities and benefits of working with advanced national defense systems and technologies not always available in the civilian sector.
Nakasone thanked the attendees for their participation.
“This is a terrific start to forging a deep intellectual backbone in our nation’s efforts in creating a secure and stable cyberspace,” He said.
Since the establishment of AEN five months ago, the partner numbers have increased to 92 institutions that include; eight federal institutions, service academies and war colleges, 70 four-year colleges and graduate schools, and 14 community colleges. These institutions represent 40 states and Washington D.C., with ten institutions serving minority populations.
The next AEN application window will open in July 2022. Find more information about AEN by visiting this site: www.cybercom.mil/Partnerships-and-Outreach/Academic-Engagement/