Small Wars Journal

Recruiting, Development, and Retention of Cyber Warriors Despite an Inhospitable Culture

Thu, 07/29/2010 - 5:56pm

Recruiting, Development, and Retention

of Cyber Warriors Despite an Inhospitable Culture

by Lieutenant Colonel Gregory

Conti and Lieutenant Colonel Jen Easterly

Download the full article: 

Recruiting, Development, and Retention of Cyber Warriors Despite an Inhospitable


Make no mistake, our nation faces persistent, widespread and growing threats

in cyberspace. Across the array of dangerous actors and their capabilities, we've

witnessed an evolution from data compromise and loss, to the disruption of information

networks to the physical destruction of information systems. Our military forces,

in particular, depend heavily on classified and unclassified networks for command

and control, intelligence, operations and logistics. These networks -- over 15,000

of them -- represent a very tempting target, and the number of attacks against them

has increased dramatically over the past several years.  The United States

Government recognized the clear and present danger posed by this increasingly perilous

threat environment and created United States Cyber Command. 

We are at a unique cusp in history, as we have the first-ever opportunity to

create a large-scale organization to fight and win wars in cyber space.  

This isn't a trivial undertaking; there are myriad details that must be addressed. 

In this article, we focus on what is arguably the most important -- the human dimension,

specifically how we attract, develop, and retain a world-class cadre of cyber warriors. 

By building the best possible team and creating an environment that attracts more,

we can lay the foundation upon which we can successfully build Cyber Command. 

However, while the Defense Department has endorsed Cyber Command, the kinetic warfighting

culture generally has not. Positive strides have been made recently to include the

development of the Navy's Information Dominance Corps and planned establishment

of the Army's Cyber Brigade.

However, building the most effective Cyber Command will require fundamentally

changing military culture -- specifically how we think about networks and how we

manage the talent that we need to leverage these networks for warfighting effects.  

Uncomfortable, but necessary change will be required, else we risk creating a large

bureaucracy, staffed with marginally effective individuals, a "Cyber Command" in

name only.  This article presents a viable way ahead and suggests actionable

solutions for building, developing and retaining a world-class team.

Download the full article: 

Recruiting, Development, and Retention of Cyber Warriors Despite an Inhospitable


LTC Gregory Conti is an Academy Professor and Director of West Point's Cyber

Security Research Center. He holds a BS from West Point, an MS from Johns Hopkins

University and a PhD from the Georgia Institute of Technology, all in Computer Science.  

He is the author of Security Data Visualization (No Starch Press) and Googling Security

(Addison-Wesley) as well as over 40 articles covering computer security, online

privacy, and cyber warfare.  He is a frequent speaker at leading security conferences

including Defcon, Black Hat, RSA, and Shmoocon.  He recently returned from

a deployment as Officer in Charge of Cyber Command's Expeditionary Cyber Support

Element in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

LTC Jen Easterly is a member of the US Cyber Command Commander's Action Group

(CAG). She served as the first Commander of the Army Network Warfare Battalion from

July 08 - July 2010.  She holds a BS in International Relations from the United

States Military Academy and an MA in Politics, Philosophy and Economics from the

University of Oxford.

About the Author(s)


I diagree Drew. I think strategists have always had a place at the top of military ranks. And lets be honest here, a cyber warrior is just a stragist with deep background knowledge of computer architecture. It's all about understanding your target, your own capabilities and the enviorment of today. The government needs to capitalize on motivated individuals, and capture talent before it leaks out to decentralized hacker cells. Even there, the government should reach out to such cells and work with them rather than against them. These are the locations that future threats will emerge from, these are the targets we need to win on our side today, or at the least keep a close eye on. These are not all malicious individuals, just like all gun enthusiast are not malicious killers. These people are specialists, they are strategists, they are the next generation of highly skilled soliders. These information warriors will control future global influence to come, subtly without invoking dangerous physical reprecusions. As a wise strategist once put, "The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting. "

Drew (not verified)

Thu, 07/29/2010 - 10:24pm

You might as well ask "how do we retain women, despite a negative culture". Or, "how do we retain smart people, despite an anti-intellectual culture".

Like it or not, the knuckle-dragging door kickers run the Army, despite a diminishing need for their ilk in foreseeable future conflicts, and the relative ease in which we can generate, as a nation, an army of neanderthal misogynists/misanthropes. Traditional combat troops are a dime a dozen, frankly. Specialized troops are hard to find, yet the Army gleefully, as a culture, throws roadblock after roadblock in their way to staying in, while they reward the 50 IQ dude who can PT and jump out of an airplane (a dubious skill with extremely limited military application) with praise and promotion.

It's not even military prowess that's in question. I've got a huge IQ, yet I can do all sorts of military tasks with alacrity. Except one. And that is to fit in socially with a bunch of military morons. And getting promoted/getting along is ONLY about fitting in socially.

Until the military fixes the "birds of a feather" issue, leaders with Dog-sized IQs will continue to be described as "good guys" and get promoted, and the odd-balls who like war-games and play in dark rooms with computers will get harassed, passed over and pushed out of the army to a place where they will take money instead of other less tangible rewards.