Sandia LabNews

Sandia training the 'Cyber Defenders' of tomorrow

Education Partnerships sponsors College Cyber Defenders program

Sandia’s top employee met its newest recently when Sandia President Paul Robinson toured the College Cyber Defenders’ (CCD) program where Corbin Stewart (8910) had just been hired as a limited-term principal technologist.

Researcher Fred Cohen (8910) began the program in January 1999 through Education Partnerships Dept. 8524. The program is sponsored by DOE Defense Programs’ University Partnerships. It educates students in information protection using projects carried out on about 120 computers in a student-run network. The group has already analyzed almost 500 of the approximately 2,500 known attacks published on the Internet, and hopes to bring that number to 2,000 by the end of the summer.

Fred coined the phrase "computer virus" when he was a graduate student at the University of Southern California in 1983, and devised most of the defenses used against viruses today. He has the students compile a database of attacks they’ve analyzed — and the defenses that work against them — at The students work with Nina Berry (8920), who replaced soon-to-retire Sandian Dick Isler (8910) — for whom mentoring the students led to his teaching computer science at Las Positas Junior College in nearby Pleasanton.

"Their work here is equivalent to homework and tests," Fred told Paul, who heard presentations by the students and received background information from Education Partnerships Dept. 8524 — Manager Karen Scott, Student Programs Coordinator Barbara Zaragoza, and University Partnerships Coordinator Holly Stryker. Education Partnerships has featured the program in its Web site at

Attracting the future workforce

Besides hosting visitors, the students are required to make several formal presentations that are recorded on CD-ROM for their work portfolio. Fred says this is part of the real-world value that Sandia offers to students pursuing college studies. "It’s fundamental to not only be able to do the work, but to present their work and themselves."

CCD is one of a suite of programs sponsored by DOE National Nuclear Security Administration/Defense Programs designed to attract the future workforce of the DOE-NNSA complex. The focus of Sandia’s student programs is to create a "pipeline to employment" and produce future employees. This particular program is designed to help Sandia fill a pressing need for computer science graduates to assist growing information-security functions. The idea is to attract computer science students to Sandia and expose them to the type of work performed at the Labs. The importance of cyber-security expertise and training at Sandia received national attention through articles in the Washington Post and other media outlets. The computer science students are expected to be placed into other areas of the laboratory as they advance in their studies and skills — a role Corbin will model.

"It sounded really exciting," Corbin says about his interest in the program. "I knew I needed hands-on computer experience. It is only in applying knowledge that you really start to understand the theories you learn in school."

LaVon Dayton is a computer science student at Las Positas College who began the internship about a month ago. "The program is absolutely wonderful," she says. "It’s a relief to finally be doing what I’m going to school for. Everyone is nice, and they want me to succeed."

‘The most significant opportunity’

In the summer, the program will grow from training about 15 students at a time (who often work around their classes at local colleges) to include 25 or more students from across the country. It will be self-sustaining, with newcomers mentored by the more experienced participants. Karen also envisions expanding the program to include faculty in the future. It is structured to include students (US citizens) from high school (aged 16 or more) through graduate school.

Recent visitors to the CCD program include the staff of Lockheed Martin’s LM-1 employee video magazine production and CBS’s 60 Minutes.

Corbin says it was a revelation to him that he would want to pursue this specialty. Since he started in the new program 15 months ago, he said, "the projects became more interesting as time went by." The variety of activities available now "allows you to learn pretty much whatever you want to learn," adds Dayton. "It’s the most significant opportunity that’s come to my life so far."

Last modified: March 24, 2000