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NIWC Atlantic and NIWC Pacific Collaborate with University of Hawaii to Create Opportunities for Cybersecurity Students

22 May 2023

From Kris Patterson

An academic collaboration between Naval Information Warfare Center (NIWC) Atlantic, NIWC Pacific and the University of Hawaii (UH) is creating paths for cybersecurity students to gain vital hands-on experience and bolster their career opportunities for government work.

An academic collaboration between Naval Information Warfare Center (NIWC) Atlantic, NIWC Pacific and the University of Hawaii (UH) is creating paths for cybersecurity students to gain vital hands-on experience and bolster their career opportunities for government work.

The Naval Information Warfare Center and University of Hawaii System Cybersecurity Internship Program was created in 2020 with the university’s Information and Computer Science department to increase the number of cybersecurity professionals in Hawaii.

The internship is open to the University of Hawaii at Manoa and all other campuses and community colleges under the University of Hawaii system.

Students who participated in the program and have since graduated from UH have already been hired by government agencies such as the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA).

The program’s early success has garnered the interest of Hawaii’s top legislators, like U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono and U.S. Rep. Ed Case, who recently visited the UH campus at Manoa.

“This is a really important program to prepare students to be in the cybersecurity area … I’m really glad that we’re doing a lot of it here in Hawaii, at the University of Hawaii,” Hirono said during her visit April 12.

Representatives from NIWC Atlantic, NIWC Pacific and UH gave the senator and congressman an overview of the internship program and how this cooperative effort empowers university students preparing to work in the field of cybersecurity to transition into federal employment.

“The internship provides a pathway for students to familiarize themselves with government cybersecurity work,” said Ayaka Sharp, NIWC Pacific Action, Business Operations and Strategy Management team lead who represented NIWC Pacific during the visit.

Current interns presented their research on cybersecurity topics important to the Department of Defense (DoD), ranging from Quantum Key Distribution, Malware Attribution, and Common Information Models for DoD Defensive Cyber Operations.

During Case’s visit May 3, Jericho Macabante, a junior from UH Mānoa, highlighted how the internship has provided him invaluable experience.
“I’ve had the chance to work on risk assessment, gaining technical knowledge and studying different areas that are part of cybersecurity,” Macabante said.

Case said he was impressed by what the students are learning, the opportunities afforded to them through participating in the program and that he looks forward to doing what he can to contribute to the program’s success.

“I’m trying to make sure that people come out of my school here with the skills, and to find jobs and can stay home,” Case said. “I’m looking at how we can help further these efforts.”

Since creating the internship three years ago, NIWC Atlantic and NIWC Pacific personnel have collaborated with the UH administration, including participating in advisory boards and interacting with UH professors to develop the program, Sharp said.

“The professors' involvement and openness allowed NIWC Atlantic and NIWC Pacific personnel to better understand the student community and ensure a positive internship experience,” Sharp said. “Thanks to the collaboration through the program, internship advisors have a better understanding of the requirements of cybersecurity students and what they want for their careers.”

NIWC Atlantic conducts an in-class internship course at UH that feeds into an on-site internship program with NIWC Pacific, where students are assigned to work on relevant projects at NIWC Pacific’s Indo-Pacific department in Hawaii.

“Mentors from NIWC Pacific and NIWC Atlantic identify the types of IT and cybersecurity professionals desired and use that information to tailor the internship course curriculum,” Sharp said. “This tailored approach helps prepare students for work performed by the warfare centers. It allows us to evaluate students more realistically and select the right candidates for our workforce rather than relying solely on academic performance.”

One such project is with NIWC Atlantic’s Cyber Security Service Provider (CSSP) team. Interns do research over the course of the semester based on a problem statement that the CSSP has provided.

“That problem could be anything from malware analysis to cloud monitoring – something that is going to interest the students but also aids the CSSP,” said Cecilia Dallier, CSSP director. “This allows the students to dip their toes into what our work is about.”

The NIWC Atlantic CSSP has several teams under its umbrella who provide cybersecurity services across the Department of Defense.

“Our team includes network monitoring response professionals, senior analysts that make sure we can appropriately detect malicious activities, counter-insider threat professionals and numerous network defense professionals,” Dallier said.

One of the CSSP team’s largest customers is the Defense Health Agency, which provides health services to 9.6 million service members, their family members and veterans.

“Our customers have a lot of sensitive data that they need protected so they come to us for premier cybersecurity services,” Dallier said.

To provide these services, the CSSP has to maintain a steady pipeline of cybersecurity talent. Dallier said she hopes the internship program will encourage college students to not only pursue cybersecurity careers, but more specifically, positions with the organizations that fall under their parent organization, Naval Information Warfare Systems Command (NAVWAR).

“We’re trying to make sure that we have that ready workforce who can help lead us into the next generation of services that we need to offer to defend the warfighter,” Dallier said. “We have a lot of competition from private industry for cybersecurity talent. But what makes us special is our service to the mission. We’re protecting the warfighter. We’re making sure our service members and our DoD civilians and their families are all protected, that their health information is protected and that they are able to do their jobs.”

Eric Inouye, head of the Command and Control (C2) and Networks division for NIWC Pacific’s Indo-Pacific department, said he believes this internship program and programs like it will not only provide students a solid understanding of cybersecurity fundamentals but will also be critical to warfighters as they confront cybersecurity challenges unique to the DoD.

“The cybersecurity problem space will only get bigger as technologies advance, and our adversaries get more sophisticated,” Inouye said. “Having a knowledgeable workforce allows us to better evaluate and integrate industry solutions. We serve as honest brokers to identify the best solution, not a vendor-specific one, to meet the unique mission of the DoD. This internship is another ‘weapon’ to strengthen our national defense and achieve NAVWAR's vision to rapidly deliver cyber warfighting capability from seabed to space.”

For more information about the internship program, visit
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