By Brandon OConnorAugust 1, 2019
WEST POINT, N.Y. -- The Army Cyber Institute at West Point brought in extra manpower this summer to help it tackle some of the most pressing issues in the cyber field.
ACI welcomed 40 interns for a three- to four-week program including 36 ROTC cadets and four civilian students.
This marked the third summer ACI has brought in ROTC cadets as summer interns and the program has grown exponentially each year with only eight taking part the first year and 23 last year.
"What we get out of it at the Army Cyber Institute is the energy," Chris Hartley, Deputy Director of ACI, said. "When they came in three weeks ago, they didn't know any of this stuff. They may have been a mathematician or computer scientist or kinesiologist, but they bring a certain level of energy and newness to it.
"They come in with no preconceptions. Give me a problem and let me see if I can solve it," he added. "And we do that."
The interns worked with ACI researchers on programs including laying the groundwork for securing computers from quantum computing attacks and identifying patterns in networks used by terrorist organizations.
In all, the interns worked with 10 ACI researchers on 11 different projects.
"I taught myself to be a better coder and I taught myself how to use sequel databases," Cadet Matthew Holcomb, a junior studying computer science at Boston College, said. "I taught myself how to apply my knowledge of computer science to something that the real world can use more than just making projects for the sake of making projects in school."
Holcomb's project centered on hyper elliptic curve cryptography, which is a secure form of computer security that will help protect sensitive information when quantum computers go online.
His role during the internship was to help build a database, a task his team was able to complete during their time at ACI even while teaching themselves the skills they would need.
"It was a difficult experience," Holcomb said. "I learned a lot about databases and a lot about Python coding. I learned a lot about crypto systems that I didn't know existed. It's given me a great perspective about what the capabilities of computers are.
"It's scary what computers can do. Computers can break us, and it's our job to defend ourselves before any potential threats come into play," he added.
Along with the practical application of having 40 members added to the research team for a month, the internship also enabled ACI to more fully introduce the cyber capabilities of the Army to the students, show them around the U.S. Military Academy's academic programs and lay the foundation for a successful next generation of cyber officers.
"The main thing we get out of this is developing future cyber leaders, future cyber officers, and I think we are doing a great job in this," Dr. Elie Alhajjar, an ACI research scientist, said. "It increases the preparedness of wannabe cyber officers, because what we are trying to do is look at the cyber domain.
"This is the baby step to start preparing ROTC students to become eventual cyber officers, branch cyber and become as prepared as they can be to be able to compete with our adversaries," he added.
Following their time working with ACI each of the groups presented their work and the plan is to have them present again at an upcoming cyber conference.