Consumer — 22 May 2014

Special to American News Report

The term “cyber security” has become part of our lexicon.

“In fact, the term ‘cyber’ is used today the way aviation was in 1919,” said Ray A. Letteer, who is the Senior Information Assurance Official for the U.S. Marine Corps. “For as much as we know, we are still in the early days of understanding how to protect our information.”

So what do the Marines want from technology? They expect exactly what you and I want from it in our daily lives.

“Keep it running and keep it safe, so I can do my job,” is how Letteer summarizes it.

Letteer, who earned a doctorate in Information Assurance at Capitol College in Laurel, Maryland, is helping change the way Marines view cyber security. When he decided to pursue his doctorate at Capitol, “I already knew exactly what I wanted to study: How we develop the cyber-Marine.

It tied in well with what he was doing in his job, and this self-described “life long learner” wanted to take what he learned to make the Marines better. There’s also a personal reason that he wants to make positive change. His four sons all serve in the military.

512px-U.S._Marine_Corps_Cpl_121108-M-EF955-081He wasn’t starting from zero — Letteer’s work with the Marines guided him.

“I knew that one of the big challenges is to get everyone on the same page and have them speak the same language,” said Letteer, who was once a linguist for the National Security Agency. Even some of the Marines’ operational names were confusing.

“In one instance, we would use the term ‘Defense Cyber Operations’ and in others we would say ‘Computer Network Defense’. They mean the same thing. No wonder some folks on the ground were confused,” he explained.

Just how confusing was it? Letteer needed to find out.

For his doctoral work, he conducted a survey of Marines from all walks of life. He found that the lexicon used in the Marine Corps was convoluted.

“We even found some intel people confused about terminology,” he said.” We’ve identified some areas that are now being addressed through training.”

How does a busy man with a critically important job like Letteer take time off to earn a doctorate in information assurance?

Well, he didn’t. He earned it while working in his high pressure job.

“I had earned my masters degree at Capitol College while I was working and I knew that they understand how to craft a graduate program with the working person in mind,” he said. “I wanted to study the cyber Marine issue and Capitol was the right place to pursue it.”

In 2011, he started his doctoral work.

He credits the school’s approach to distance learning as a key to his successful journey. Capitol faculty, he said, took a proactive interest in his work, making themselves available to answer questions, guide his research and tighten his focus.

“Also, one of the first classes that I took in the program was a writing program which truly helped me,” said Letteer.

He began to return the favor and teaches a couple of classes at Capitol now.

Of course, that’s not a surprise because he likes to keep himself busy.

Remember we told you he was a former linguist at the NSA?

Between earning his masters and starting work on his doctorate, Letteer decided to take a break in his post-graduate work by studying Mandarin.

“When your whole life is about Information System Security, your mind is geared in one area,” he explained. “Studying Mandarin had me using a whole different part of my brain and actually refreshed me.”

While he might get back to studying Mandarin some day, he is thinking about cyber security every day.

As Letteer points out, the military has to be better at it than business or academia.

“When the Target Stores data security was breached it cost them money,” he said. “If we fail, it costs us lives.”

Letteer said that one of the ways that the Marines are improving their cyber security is by getting in earlier and remembering that the person matters.

“It’s the human factor that is critical,” he said. “Better training about technology and security earlier in the process is occurring. We used to ‘bolt it on’ during the training, now we’re baking it into the training earlier.”

Letteer’s doctoral work, which has not yet been published, has been getting positive reaction from Marines involved in cyber. He’s going to continue to work on the subject, both in his doctoral work and in his “day job”.

For that we can all feel better.


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