America's most high-tech intelligence agency is looking to American colleges for the next generation of cyber warriors and it is now designing its own top secret classes to prepare them for training in the dark arts of cyber espionage.
The National Security Agency announced Monday that four universities had been selected for a new academic program designed to teach students skills "associated with specialized cyber operations."
The NSA is vague on the details of the courses and says on its website the curriculum will only offer the students a "glimpse" of the cyber capabilities sought by the country's foremost collector of worldwide electronic intelligence data and protector of classified U.S. computer networks.
Officials at the NSA told Reuters that the program, which is an extension of President Barack Obama's National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education, will focus on the "basic knowledge" of computer systems that would be the foundation of more advanced, secret operations. Any successful students won't be trained for their real jobs until they actually arrive at the NSA.
Still, students and faculty involved will have to go through background security checks and obtain top secret clearance before cracking open their laptops, the NSA says.
"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," Steven LaFountain, an NSA technical leader with the program, said. "When it comes to national security, there is no substitute for a dedicated, immensely talented workforce… This effort will sow even more seeds."
The universities selected by the NSA are Dakota State University, the Naval Postgraduate School, Northeastern University and the University of Tulsa.