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NATO School and USPTC Cyber Partnership Continues

Article by Maggie Spivey

The “Network Security” course concluded its final week in early May in Oberammergau, Germany, at the NATO School.  Instructed by JD Fulp, Senior Lecturer of Computer Science in the Graduate School of Operational and Information Science at Naval Postgraduate School (NPS), the completion of the 10-week course marks the first time this course has been taught at the NATO School and the second one taught in partnership with NPS, the designated U.S. Partnership for Peace Training and Education Center (USPTC).

Following the first course, “Network Vulnerability Assessment and Risk Mitigation,” taught in 2010 by Scott Cote, also a Senior Lecturer of Computer Science at NPS, the USPTC and NATO School have been working together to develop a cyber security certificate program.  With the completion of the Network Security course, it marks the halfway point for the certificate program, which will ultimately consist of four courses, including “Incident Handling and Disaster Recovery Planning” and “Network Traffic Analysis.”

“NATO is continuously developing and enhancing the protection of its communication and information systems against cyber attacks,” stated Liliana Serban, NPS Liaison Officer to the NATO School.  “These efforts and capabilities to assist nations’ to protect their networks against a major attack represent the practical implementation of NATO’s current policy on cyber defense, which was approved by the member nations in January 2008, following the cyber attacks targeting Estonia, in 2007.

“The 2010 NATO Summit in Lisbon placed cyber security at the forefront of the new security challenges that NATO and partners will have to deal with in the years ahead.  Both the new Strategic Concept and the Lisbon Summit Declaration make clear that the rapid evolution and growing sophistication of cyber attacks make the protection of Allies’ information and communications systems an urgent task for NATO on which its future security depends.”

Serban added, “NATO’s New Strategic Concept points out that ‘in order to carry out the full range of NATO missions as effectively and efficiently as possible, Allies will engage in a continuous process of reform, modernization, and transformation.’  As part of this evolution, it articulates NATO’s need to ensure ‘that it has the full range of capabilities necessary to deter and defend against any threat to the safety and security of our populations.’  This includes ‘develop[ing] further our ability to prevent, detect, defend against, and recover from cyber attacks.”  

As the NATO School conducts education and individual training in support of current and developing NATO operations, strategy, policy, doctrine, and procedures, the partnership with the USPTC was natural given their current relationship stemming from the Partnership for Peace Training and Education Center (PTC) program.  As the USPTC, the Naval Postgraduate School is one of 24 NATO-recognized PTCs, while the NATO School plays a role acting as the Chair of the biannual PTC working group meetings and the annual Commandant's Conference, hosted by different PTCs.

With its location in Germany, the NATO School is able to draw a student base that is international in character.  The Network Security Course included 27 students from Romania, Italy, Spain, Morocco, Germany, Sweden, Finland, Tunisia, Lithuania, Moldova, Poland, the Netherlands, Great Britain, Portugal, Austria, and the United States.  

“All of the students worked in IT or IT-security in some way, shape, or fashion, from high-level policy shaping to ‘down in the weeds’ device configuration,” stated instructor JD Fulp.  “All had a keen interest in advancing their know-how and network theory, because all of them, to varying degrees, will be able to apply that knowledge to their daily job.”

This sentiment was shared by one student who stated, “This is a needed course for all related CIS [Communication and Information Systems] jobs inside NATO world.”  Students hailed from a variety of organizations, including NATO Communication and Information Systems Services (NCSA – Naples and Brunssum offices); NATO EF2000 and Tornado Development Production and Logistics Management Agency (NETMA); and NATO Combined Air Operations Centers (CAOC).

The course was focused on the underlying principles involved in the “bits-in-transit” aspect of information security.  This includes three major topic areas: 1, a thorough understanding of how computer networks function; 2, the identification and filtering of malicious network traffic via authentication mechanisms, attack signature recognition, and filter mechanisms and strategies; and 3, the protection of friendly/legitimate network traffic via cryptologic mechanisms.

Instructed in a hybrid format, the first and last weeks were conducted via immersive, all-day sessions onsite at the NATO School, while the middle 8-weeks entailed work on asynchronous (i.e., on students’ schedules) lab and reading assignments administered via Sakai.  “This hybrid format allows busy, working professionals to more easily accommodate such a course into their calendars, as they only need to be absent from their normal duties for two, one-week periods.  

“The idea is to ‘bootstrap’ them with core principles during week one, in-residence, then have them reinforce and apply those principles in lab work that they complete during the non-resident weeks.  During our last week, also in-residence, I cover some more advanced topics, such as cryptography, do a review of all the 200-plus course learning objectives, then conduct a final exam assessment,” stated Fulp.

“One of the things we asked at the end of the course was would you recommend this course to others, and every hand went up,” added Fulp.  “Students said they found the course technically challenging and of more technical depth than other security classes they have taken that are more policy-focused.”  According to one student, “This was an excellent course that gave me the knowledge and confidence to continue my education into the world of network security and ethical hacking.”  

New students will also get this opportunity to continue their education as both cyber classes are now being offered regularly at the NATO School.  The third cyber security certificate program course, Network Traffic Analysis, is expected to be offered in fiscal year 13, so students will have the opportunity to continue to expand their knowledge and, ultimately, contribute to their nations’ ability to prevent, detect, defend against, and recover from cyber attacks.

Posted 28 May, 2012

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