Is attending an NSA CAE IA/CD designated cyber security program important?

NSA CAE IA/CD… What do all of those letters really mean? In short, CAE is a designation. A designation that indicates a core set of standards as laid out through the National Security Agency (NSA). The CAE part simply means “Centers of Academic Excellence” where the focus would be on Information Assurance (IA) and Cyber Defense (CD).

Breaking down the Jargon

The National Security Agency (NSA)

Established in 1952 by order of Harry Truman, the National Security Agency (NSA), has two missions: Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) and Information Assurance (IA).

  • Signals Intelligence(SIGINT) is the branch of military intelligence concerned with monitoring and intercepting signals that may contain “sensitive information”. This information is often encrypted, and so an element of signals intelligence involves cryptanalysis. The NSA collects SIGINT from various sources like foreign communications, radar, and other systems.
  • Information Assurance (IA) prevents unauthorized access to sensitive information or classified information and systems. IA prevents others from stealing and tampering with our national security systems and information and protects the confidentiality, authenticity, and availability of data. Essentially, IA is cyber security.

Centers of Academic Excellence (CAE)

These CAE institutions became a way for Homeland Security and the NSA to recognize and grant designations to schools that offer rigorous programs in information security including the following:

  • Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense (CAE-CDE) for universities that offer bachelor’s and master’s degree programs.
  • Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Two-Year Education (CAE-2Y) for associate degree programs.
  • Center of Academic Excellence in Research (CAE-R) for programs awarding doctoral and research programs involved in cyber security.

A Brief History of CAE

In 1998 the government sought new ways to increase the profile of cyber security through education and research initiatives. One of the prominent initiatives was establishing the NSA National Centers of Academic Excellence (CAE). CAE continued to expand throughout the 2000s. In 2008 CAE expanded to include information assurance (IA) for research (CAE-R) and years later the CAE in Two-Year IA Education (CAE2Y) certification was created for two-year institutions, government training facilities, and technical schools.

How a School Becomes a Center of Academic Excellence (CAE)

CAE institutions achieve the designation when they:

  • Have a center for IA/CD education
  • Encourage IA/CD research
  • Utilize a multidisciplinary scientific approach
  • Meet a set a core set of knowledge units (KUs)
    • Cyber Defense

    • Cyber Threats

    • Data Analysis

    • Intro to Cryptography

    • IT Systems

    • Policy, Ethics, Law, and Compliance

    • Information Assurance Fundamentals

Is attending an NSA CAE IA/CD Designated Program Important?

While many cyber security jobs are open to students who attend any accredited cyber degree program (or even those who are self taught in some cases), making sure your program is NSA/CAE IA/CD designated can help to ensure that you’re studying cyber security concepts and practices deemed important by two of the largest employers in the cyber security world: the National Security Agency and the Department of Defense. Employers will know that — according to your degree level — you have studied a wide range of currently pressing cyber security tools in your training. While cyber security workers are in great demand regardless of where they go to school, there’s never any harm in going the extra mile to ensure that you’re learning the most valuable cyber security skills you can.

While not attending a NSA CAE IA/CD designated school is by no means a dead end to your future cyber security goals, we have seen it be an additional boon to many cyber security workers. For this reason we’ve included the designation as a metric in all of our rankings of online cyber security degree programs.