Pentagon Recruiting Drive Targets Fivefold Increase in Cyber Command

The U.S. Department of Defense reportedly plans to boost its cyber-security agency to nearly 5,000, but knowledgeable security professionals remain scarce.

The U.S. military reportedly plans to boost its cyber operations force fivefold to nearly 5,000 individuals. However, the government will have to contend with a very competitive market for knowledgeable security professionals.

Pentagon officials confirmed the expansion of forces for the U.S. Cyber Command over the weekend, according to separate reports in The New York Times and The Washington Post. Cyber Command is tasked with protecting critical national networks, defending the U.S. military from cyber-attacks and launching its own offensive operations through cyberspace.

Currently, however, there is a shortage of security professionals with the necessary experience to fill the slots, according to Alan Paller, research director for the SANS Institute. Instead, the Pentagon will have to rely on a new model for intensively training the right kind of person, he said.

"Right now, there aren't any people in the pipeline to fill those slots," Paller said. "There is no supply of them. If you hire someone, you are going to take them away from another company."

As part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Task Force on CyberSkills, Paller and other experts estimated that it would take 2,000 hours of on-the-job training to bring a college graduate to the level necessary to defend a network from attack.

The skills that the government and private industry are seeking include working knowledge of network administration and operating systems as well as system administration and application development.

To gain these skills, the task force recommends that the department organize cyber-security challenges and contests to select candidates who have a high probability of succeeding. Those who pass a gauntlet of tests will then be admitted to intensive cyber-security studies offered as pilot programs at 10 community colleges. Finally, graduates of the programs will automatically receive a residency in the government or a private-industry partner.

Brookdale Community College in New Jersey has already started a competition, the CyberChallenge, with the help of the SANS Institute. The school expected more than 250 to sign up to compete. Instead, more than 600 participants had entered the contest by the registration deadline, Jan. 15.

"Brookdale Community College is taking the lead to help protect the security of our state and nation by creating the country's first CyberCenter initiative," New Jersey Secretary of Higher Education Rochelle Hendricks said in a statement on Jan. 16. "This unique public/private partnership builds a clear pathway from classroom to workforce, providing a much-needed training opportunity for New Jersey students to gain entrance into this important and highly employable field."

The CyberCenter initiative offers training to returning veterans, members of the armed forces, New Jersey high school juniors and seniors, and college students. Each contestant will study the online materials for each of three courses and then compete against other students in a multiple-choice quiz. The highest-scoring competitors will get scholarships, internships and other prizes.

Robert Lemos

Robert Lemos

Robert Lemos is an award-winning freelance journalist who has covered information security, cybercrime and technology's impact on society for almost two decades. A former research engineer, he's...