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U.S. spy agency looking to train students in cyber ops

New college program accredited by National Security Agency to prepare students for future careers in cyber operations.

The National Security Agency has chosen the first four universities it will accredit to teach cyber ops programs.

The universities winning the designation Centers of Academic Excellence in Cyber Operations" are Dakota State University, the Naval Postgraduate School, Northeastern University, and the University of Tulsa.

Twenty universities have applied to partner with the federal agency, which said it started the program with an eye toward building a larger reservoir of professionals to support its work in conducting cyber-intelligence operations against adversaries. The interdisciplinary curriculum will include coursework in computer science, computer engineering, and electrical engineering. Some participants will also be invited to NSA seminars.

But this is not the equivalent of spy school. NSA said in a statement that the participating students and faculty members would not participate in U.S. government intelligence activities. Still, government officials have long bemoaned what they see as a pressing need to step up the number -- and talent -- of people it can choose to staff its myriad cyber espionage posts.

Last month, the NSA conducted its 10th annual cyberdefense exercise, pitting students from different military academies against each other to test their skills.

One of the instructors participating in that event, Air Force Capt. Michael Henson, told CNET that we are often told that the younger generations are much more capable with computers and being connected in general. What he tends to find, however, is that while many students are very adept at sending e-mail, and using social-networking sites and so on, they don't tend to have a grasp on what's happening "under the hood."

That comment echoed similar statements from military and intelligence professionals on the challenge of staffing up with qualified personnel. Indeed, speaking with Reuters, Neal Ziring, the technical director at the NSA's Information Assurance Directorate, acknowledged the current dearth of high-quality cyber operators.

"We're trying to create more of these, and yes, they have to know some of the things that hackers know. They have to know a lot of other things, too, which is why you really want a good university to create these people for you," he told Reuters. /p>