[-- Read Time: 4 mins --]

One of the hot jobs in the aerospace industry is cybersecurity, and those with computer skills have a leg up on the competition.

The Air Force alone says it experiences millions of attempts daily by outsiders seeking to hack into its computer systems.

Across the military, skills in cybersecurity, intelligence and surveillance data analysis, program management and software development are in demand.

Some of the nation’s biggest defense contractors are offering scholarships, hosting competitions and scouring college and high school campuses to attract young people to cyber careers.

The companies see increasing opportunities to provide computer security services to government and corporate customers. They also need to safeguard their own proprietary data.

“It’s definitely an area of growing interest,” said Dan Stohr, spokesman for the Aerospace Industries Association, a trade organization of aerospace technology companies and manufacturers.

“It’s a hot ticket for the future,” Stohr said.

“The cyber area is a critical skills need for us right now, because we’re competing with other companies to win contracts from the U.S. government to help defend us against outside threats,” said Stephen Davis, a spokesman for Boeing Co.’s recruiting operation.

The Air Force Institute of Technology, the Air Force’s post-graduate education and research school at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, teaches courses in offensive and defense cyberwarfare techniques. The goal is to
prepare for future wars in which capabilities to knock out an enemy’s computer networks and defend vital U.S. systems will become increasingly critical.

U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Centerville, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, is promoting the Air Force Institute of Technology as a site where federal agencies can send their information security personnel for training. AFIT’s Center for Cyberspace Research has been designated by the Air Force as its cyberspace technical center of excellence.

The U.S. House of Representatives is taking up several pieces of cybersecurity legislation this week. One that received bipartisan support when it passed the House Intelligence Committee in December — the Cyber
Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act — would provide tax incentives to companies if they share information with one another and the government about hackers’ attacks on their systems.

Aerospace industry employers list systems engineering, software development, aerospace engineering, mechanical and electrical engineering as chronic needs and among the hardest-to-fill jobs. People with those
backgrounds, depending on the region of the country and their experience level, can receive entry-level salaries anywhere from $50,000 to $80,000, said Diane Miller, director of operations for Northrop Grumman Corp.’s cybersecurity group, who oversees the company’s business providing computer security services to the government.

“It really is such a relatively new profession that the academic environment is trying to catch up,” Miller said.

Some universities have created new degree programs in areas including cybersecurity and secure information systems, Miller said. A Northrop Grumman business unit in Cincinnati has worked with the University of Cincinnati to develop a cybersecurity degree program there, she said.

The cybersecurity jobs in industry often require that applicants have security clearances, which narrows the potential pool for hiring, officials said.

“They are in demand, and they know it. So we have to work hard to attract them,” Davis said.

Boeing, Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin Corp. all serve as prime contractors on Defense Department contracts and want to ensure that the control networks of weapons systems, and manned and unmanned aircraft, are not vulnerable to cyberhacking, said Scott Coale, president of DaytonDefense, the regional association of defense contracting companies.

All three companies have operations in the Dayton area. Smaller companies that could support the bigger companies’ contracts, or military program offices, are clearly interested in serving the cybersecurity market, Coale said Monday.

Boeing has hired computer engineers whose job it is to try and hack into Boeing’s own computer systems, as part of internal security efforts. Two of those engineers were hired after excelling in a cybersecurity competition hosted by Boeing, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Northrop Grumman is a major sponsor of CyberPatriot, a program that the Air Force Association started in 2009 to encourage the interest of young students in science, mathematics and the cybersecurity world. The program features a competition that allows teams of high school students from around the country to defend a network against attacks directed by professional cybersecurity experts.

CyberPatriot started in 2009 with eight teams of high school students in Florida. This year’s competition in March, near Washington, D.C., involved 1,019 teams. Northrop Grumman funded $54,000 in college scholarships through the program, said Bernie Skoch, a retired brigadier general who oversees the CyberPatriot program for the Air Force Association. The Air Force Association is an independent nonprofit group that supports Air Force air power. But promoting development of skills in cyber techniques is important for the American economy in general, not just the military, Skoch said.

Northrop Grumman hired 11 high school students as interns after the 2011 CyberPatriot competition and is hiring 30 this year, said Miller, Northrop Grumman’s liaison to the CyberPatriot program.

In March, the Dayton Development Coalition and the Entrepreneurs Center in Dayton issued a national invitation for entrepreneurs to apply in a competition designed to attract cybertechnology innovators to the Miami Valley. The Cyber Warriors Technology Accelerator competition will offer 10 winning applicants, selected by a committee, a 10-week business development “boot camp,” up to $20,000 in startup capital, and a chance in September to pitch their concepts to government and business officials.

(c)2012 The Dayton Daily News (Dayton, Ohio)