Software enginner Kevin Young from LinQuest Corp. brainstorms with Cadet First Class Ren Herbert and Cadet Second Class Erik Lecy during the new CyberWorks course.
Software enginner Kevin Young from LinQuest Corp. brainstorms with Cadet First Class Ren Herbert and Cadet Second Class Erik Lecy during the new CyberWorks course.

This year at the Air Force Academy, CyberWorx has taken a new approach to strengthening military and industry ties in the cybersecurity domain.

In August, 16 cadets from different degree programs began collaborating with technology industry professionals to develop cybersecurity solutions through design thinking and broad perspectives.

Through a formal agreement with the Center for Technology, Research and Commercialization in Colorado Springs, representatives from companies — including aerospace companies Boecore and Boeing — are spending an hour every other day with cadets to exchange ideas and collect information through interviews, questionnaires and on-site visits, including traveling to nearby military bases.

“It’s not a client relationship where a company comes to us for a capstone project,” said Lt. Col. Michael Chiaramonte, CyberWorx director of operations and course director. “Cadets and partners are working together, brainstorming ideas to try and solve a real problem in the Air Force.”

Alongside industry specialists, cadets are working to figure out how to present cyber risks  — usually complex and technical data — to commanders using methods that are intuitive and involve a human perspective, Chiaramonte said.

“When you get that broader perspective, you wind up generating technology that is much more meaningful to people and friendlier to use,” he said.

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The class is made up of juniors and seniors, 14 male and two female cadets, majoring in economics, operations research, management and human factors.

The class is divided into five teams of business professionals and cadets who spend the majority of time conceptualizing different prototypes that would solve cybersecurity problems in a valuable way, Chiaramonte said.

“We’re hoping to take the prototypes and transfer them to our industry partners,” he said. “They can build things faster and can hopefully develop something into a commercial product.”

Chiaramonte is a cyber operator for the Air Force and has worked at the Air Force Academy since 2012. A faculty member in the computer science department, he said he thought of the course when he was considering ways to expand the Academy’s cyber program and make it more relevant to the Air Force.

After Gen. John Hyten, commander of Air Force Space Command at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, approved the pilot class, Chiaramonte created the curriculum and said more cadets wanted to enroll than the department would allow.

“Since this was our first time trying it, we wanted to keep the number a bit smaller,” he said.

Throughout the course, industry partners will rotate among the teams to allow cadets to interact with different personalities.

“It’s a life experience for them,” Chiaramonte said. “It’s almost like having an internship inside the classroom. It’s something they wouldn’t get otherwise because of the interaction with industry, being able to solve a problem with them in more of a professional manner than strictly a course. It lets them think about things in more of a strategic, high-level way than they probably would have before.”

About 90 percent of the problems the government has in cyberspace, industry has as well, Chiaramonte said.

“We’re all trying to protect our data and networks so that we can go ahead and do whatever our job is,” he said. “We may have different roles but the technical problem isn’t different.”

Being a part of the class has been an energizing learning experience, said Patty Bonvallet, technology development manager at Boecore.

“The cadets bring a valuable perspective to analyzing this information communication problem,” she said. “They have grown up with technology, and it is so integrated into their everyday lives. They are very objective about the cyber domain space, not having many preconceived notions about what it means, how it is or should be conveyed [and] therefore are very open to new ways in which it can be discussed and utilized.”

It’s been an honor to be involved in an effort that is important to the security of the country, she said.

“Boecore gains hands-on experience by working with a new generation of technology-driven cyber professionals to fulfill critically important engineering, IT and cyber roles of the future,” Bonvallet said. “Boecore’s main goal for the collaboration is to maximize this opportunity to develop a strategic partnership with the Air Force as it develops new cyber capabilities and effective innovation approaches.”

Andrew Vance, founder and president of Vance Consulting, is also a local partner. He said the prototype solution he’s developing with cadets is for a problem assigned by the Pentagon and the 24th Air Force.

“It’s remarkable,” he said. “Cadets’ participation has truly been collaborative and innovative, proposing ideas that include using intuitive data interaction and subsequent analytics — similar to Instagram and YouTube — to dynamically tailor information based on the end user’s passive preferences.”

Vance said the Academy should continue to offer the class.

“I believe this class could evolve into a multipart course that might involve more extensive operational testing of the prototypes,” he said.

Kevin Young, an engineer for LinQuest Corporation, said he hopes to bring a different perspective with a background in civil engineering. He’s learned new design methodologies through his participation.

“Coming from a software engineer’s standpoint, it is ingrained in our heads to start designing a solution when presented a problem,” he said. “Instead we are told to switch our mindset to initially diverge — through interviews and observing behavior —  to come up with designing the right prototype. My main hope is to bring the methodologies introduced by this class back to my company and incorporate them where applicable.”

CyberWorx, C-TRAC and the Catalyst Campus have been instrumental in fostering collaboration among academia, government and industry to evaluate and innovate new technologies to improve cybersecurity, Vance said.

“C-TRAC is delighted to be able to bring opportunities like the CyberWorx program to industry to collaborate with the Air Force,” said Erin Miller, managing director of C-TRAC.

Companies or individuals interested in participating in the class in future semesters can contact Miller at 896-5087. 


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