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In the Spotlight: Cybersecurity Expert Ethan Givens

Ethan W. Givens, Deputy Chief of the Strategic Education Initiatives and Alliances Division in NSA's College of Cyber

Being versatile is a principle Ethan W. Givens, a former Marine, has long taken to heart. Now the Deputy Chief of the Strategic Education Initiatives and Alliances Division in NSA's College of Cyber, he works to help the Agency beef up cybersecurity training - an area that never ceases to evolve as NSA works 24/7/365 to protect the nation.

Q: What led you to a cybersecurity career?

A: You could say I was lured by the fact that it was, for me, rugged, new terrain. I was an active duty Marine when I was first assigned to the NSA. I had no real affinity for computers when I reported to the Information Operations Technology Center (IOTC) for duty, and it was quite different from my tactical experience up to that point. Entering the area of computer network attack, to help combat foreign threats to the nation and our allies, presented a challenge. I was drawn to it.

I was first introduced to cybersecurity as an all-source analyst in the IOTC, researching various aspects of computer systems to support operations. Learning about the public and private systems that rely very heavily on computer networks to operate was an eye-opener for me.

My next tour at NSA was with what we call "the Red Team," and that experience solidified my desire to pursue cybersecurity. The Red Team's mission is to improve the security posture of computer networks crucial to the Defense Department and the nation. In an exercise used to discover vulnerabilities, the customer (organizations that manage national security systems) must keep our team from penetrating its networks and systems. If the team is able to get in - well, I should say ‘when' because they always get in - our experts then work closely with customers to strengthen weak areas. It was extremely satisfying to see systems become increasingly secure compared with our previous vulnerability assessments of those very systems.

Q: What do you do at NSA now?

A: I am a Deputy Division Chief in the College of Cyber. My area, the Strategic Education Initiatives and Alliances Division, is the "front door," so to speak, of the College of Cyber. The division has four primary efforts: the GenCyber Program, an initiative that offers free summer camps for students and teachers in grades K-12 across the country; the Centers for Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense and Operations, which promote cyber education within universities; the Cyberspace Workforce Improvement Program; and the Department of Defense Cyber Training Support Team, which coordinates cyber training for U.S. Cyber Command. We also coordinate training for and with other external government and military organizations.

Q: What is the hardest thing to deliver in your role?

A: Timely and on-demand cyber-related training. Government processes do not change quickly and we all know that cyberspace changes virtually non-stop. New systems, applications, operating systems, and tools are developed every day. Technical training is inherently difficult because it often requires individuals with particular skills and hardware resources that must constantly be updated to remain relevant. The speed at which technology evolves adds another layer of difficulty to delivering effective cyber-related training.

The College of Cyber has to hit a very fast-moving target. It is no small task to keep pace with developments in technology while delivering training content enterprise-wide - at the desired time, to a population with varying skill levels - in response to mission requirements. But we are determined to get the job done. Like I said, I'm attracted to challenges!