The U.S. military is enlisting the University of South Florida to help address complex
USF is among 84 universities and colleges nationwide selected to partner with U.S.
Cyber Command (CYBERCOM) through its new Academic Engagement Network. The goal is
to enhance efforts in applied cyber research, applied analytics, strategic issues
and future workforce development.
The Florida Center for Cybersecurity, also known as Cyber Florida, submitted USF’s
application to be part of the CYBERCOM network, and is coordinating the university’s
participation. Cyber Florida, which is a statewide organization hosted by USF, works
with all 12 Florida State University System institutions.
Ron Sanders, Cyber Florida’s staff director, described the application process as
“very rigorous,” noting, “It wasn’t as if anybody could just raise their hand and
say they wanted to be part of CYBERCOM’s network.”
Created in 2010, CYBERCOM in its early years was a spinoff of the National Security
“The reason it was spun off is because at the end of the day, NSA is an intelligence
agency – it collects intelligence,” Sanders said. “Cyber Command is a combatant command.
Its current doctrine is to ‘defend forward’.”
He also noted that while the NSA has its own relationships with academic institutions,
its research needs are distinct from those of CYBERCOM.
“The Academic Engagement Network focuses on what scholars in the academic community
can contribute to Cyber Command in terms of frontline cyber operations,” Sanders said.
“It is more narrowly focused on those tactical research questions that can help Cyber
Command and the country protect military networks and, frankly, go after bad guys
if and when necessary.”
In terms of how USF faculty will be able to share their expertise, Sanders described
the evolution of the Academic Engagement Network as “a case of crawl, walk, run, and
Cyber Command is in the crawl stage.”
“Initially, I think Cyber Command plans on asking a number of fairly technical cyber
security questions that we could share with faculty to see if any of them have insights
or solutions to those particular questions,” he said. “As the Academic Engagement
Network matures, it will become more of a dialogue where we share things we’re researching
with Cyber Command, and these may be areas they haven’t thought about but may have
applications to the Command.”
Sanders gives credit to Gen. Paul Nakasone, commander of U.S. Cyber Command and director
of the NSA, for recognizing the value of engaging with the academic community.
“There’s a lot more capability in the academic community than either NSA or Cyber
Command together can field within their own ranks,” Sanders said.
As the Academic Engagement Network matures, Sanders believes there will be opportunities
for students to become involved through grants awarded by Cyber Command or other agencies.
“At some point, grants will follow, research will follow, research assistants, graduate
assistants, internships will follow,” he said. “The net result will be more information
and insight flowing back to Cyber Command on various issues.”
Sanders also said his office is talking with Cyber Command about naming Cyber Florida
as an affiliate member of the Academic Engagement Network.
“We told Cyber Command that we could reach the other State University System institutions,
we’re engaged with their scholars and their colleges,” he said. “As an affiliate member,
they would treat us not only as a source of cybersecurity insights in our own right,
but also as a conduit to other scholars who may not be part of the Academic Engagement
Network but who have something to contribute to Cyber Command.”