NAVY INFORMATION OPERATIONS COMMAND, NORFOLK, VA — Instructors at Navy Information Operations Command (NIOC) Norfolk and San Diego began teaching a revised Computer Network Team Trainer (CNTT) course recently that incorporates new technology and addresses major training gaps for shipboard Information Systems Technicians (ITs) charged with carrying out cybersecurity functions and defending Navy networks.
Sailors from NIOC’s Navy Blue Team (NBT) redesigned the curriculum for the Navy in response to fleet demand for more robust and hands-on Computer Network Defense (CND) training. According to NIOC Norfolk’s Cyber Department Head, Lt. Cmdr. Yonnette Thomas, the response has been overwhelmingly positive and expects the newly revised curriculum have a direct impact on cybersecurity in the fleet.
"Junior and senior Sailors alike are impressed with this course. The vast majority of the students particularly like the hands-on labs that have been created that allow them to practice their CND skills in a training environment,” said Thomas. “The students leave the classroom excited about executing what they’ve learned on their shipboard networks.”
NIOC has offered the CNTT course since 2008, but with changes in technology and upgrades to naval networks the course had become deficient in training Sailors to operate in today’s cyber domain. Since its inception, CNTT was intended to train Sailors on tactics, techniques and procedures to harden shipboard networks against intrusions and exploitations, and provide an overview of the Navy Blue Team mission, capabilities and vulnerability assessments. The revised curriculum maintains the same mission, but is focused on preparing fleet units to pass Stage II and Stage III inspections under the Navy’s Cyber Security Inspection and Certification Program (CSICP) and ultimately defend fleet networks against the real threat from a growing field of cyber actors.
NBT conducts nearly 100 CSICP inspections each year, and recent results indicated a need for updated training. Sailors from NIOC Norfolk leveraged lessons learned from recent inspections, as well as feedback from the fleet, to implement changes to the curriculum. The revised CNTT course offers more specific preparation material to assist fleet units in passing inspections. Hands-on training was designed directly from the NBT assessment criteria, for the purpose of providing students specific knowledge of best practices for achieving and maintaining a network security posture which passes CSICP inspections and denies cyber adversaries.
Additionally, instructors conducted significant fleet network research to identify shipboard tools that are capable of identifying the same vulnerabilities that NBT finds using a specialized tool kit. The research resulted in a new training module that includes a side-by-side comparison of NBT and shipboard CND tools. NBT’s Training Officer, CWO3 Camille Harwell, believes the new module is incredibly valuable.
“NBT uses a specialized toolset to conduct inspections. Our tools are designed to quickly give us a snapshot in time and identify vulnerabilities present at that moment,” said Harwell. “We only get four or five days to assess a network, so speedy data collection is critical. Shipboard tools provide Sailors the ability to defend their networks 365 days a year.”
To provide maximum support to the fleet, CNTT is also conducted on the West Coast at NIOC San Diego. As part of the Task Force 1030, NIOC San Diego partners with NIOC Norfolk in carrying out the NBT mission. Like their East Coast counterparts, the San Diego team has been teaching CNTT for many years and recognized the need for a course update. Their input and assistance was crucial in launching the revised course in Norfolk, and the new CNTT curriculum is set to launch on the West Coast this month. According to CDR TF 1030, Capt. Joe Finn, the synergy between his bicoastal team has led to a product that he’s proud to provide to the fleet.
“Cyber operators are facing new and serious challenges. We owe it to the fleet to provide valuable and realistic training that will prepare them for defending their networks. Ships are deploying into highly contested cyber environments like the 5th Fleet AOR where dedicated adversaries pose serious threats to the Navy’s mission,” said Finn. “Our goal is not only to help fleet units prepare for cyber inspections, but also to create Cyber Warriors that are fully prepared to defend Navy networks against real cyber threats. The professionals at NIOC Norfolk and NIOC San Diego have done tremendous work creating a course of instruction to reach that goal.”
CNTT instructors in Norfolk and San Diego are also actively involved in the Navy’s Cyber Operational Planning Team (C-OPT). The purpose of the C-OPT is to effectively infuse cyber training into the Navy’s Optimized Fleet Response Plan (O-FRP). Among their many contributions to the C-OPT, TF 1030 Sailors and Leadership have proposed a requirement for shipboard ITs to attend the CNTT course during the O-FRP training cycle, to ensure Sailors are fully prepared to operate and defend fleet networks.
Questions about the revised CNTT course can be directed to NIOC Norfolk or NIOC San Diego.