By Michael Madrid
It’s one thing to go to class and listen to a boring lecture that you only pay attention to because you have an exam, but what if we told you there was a college course where you get to work on real problems where actual results are needed? If you think you have what it takes to solve some of our nation’s most formidable threats and security challenges, then you’ll want to stick around to hear what Hacking for Defense is offering to students across the country.

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University Hacking for Defense

If you’re anything like us, the word “hacking” sounds like a bad or mischievous word, but at H4D, it is given a different meaning. So, what is the Hacking 4 Defense? Well, it’s a university program put forth by the Department of Defense (DOD) for students to collaborate with Defense and Intelligence Communities to address national security problems. We don’t know about you, but that sounds like a tremendous responsibility, especially for young college students. Astonishingly, many students who participate finish the program having solved a significant problem. Hacking for Defense is a 10-16-week college course where students from various backgrounds team up to solve national security problems. Students are taught to attack problems by utilizing Lean Startup principles, testing potential solutions, interviewing over 50 stakeholders, and developing a minimally viable product (MVP) solution that solves the problem given to them. Moreover, this hacking program is unlike any typical university class. Students must be able to work in a “flipped classroom,” meaning the lectures they receive will have to be done before class because class time is used for questions and answers. Also, students spend a significant amount of time doing “experiential learning” by interviewing multiple clients who have a problem they need to solve. Lastly, students are taught in an “inverted lecture hall,” meaning the lectures they attend are based on their work and progress.

Where To Participate in Defensive Hacking

Since its inception at Stanford University, Hacking for Defense has grown substantially, spreading to over 50 universities, including West Point Academy. Here’s a brief list of ten universities that provide the hacker defense program:
  • Arizona State University
  • George Washington University
  • Georgetown University
  • Indiana State University
  • James Madison University
  • San Diego State University
  • Texas A&M University
  • University of Alabama - Tuscaloosa
  • New York University
  • Ohio State University
With over 20 repeat sponsors, 18 solutions funded, and approximately 53 startups formed, it’s no wonder universities are adopting this program at an incredible rate. Students are finding a lot of success, and so are DOD sponsors. If your university isn’t on the short list above, check out all available colleges here.

Hacker Defense Qualifications

So, you know you have what it takes to solve some of our nation’s top security problems. Now what? Well, if you are looking to apply, obviously, you will want to be enrolled at any of the listed universities or the Army West Point. Once that’s squared away, it depends on the university if any prerequisites are required before enrolling. Some universities don’t need any, while some require previous class work before enrolling in the program.

What Task Will You Be Given?

Let’s look at an example of what you could be doing during your experience with Hacking for Defense. This example comes from an early problem given to Stanford University that became a startup company. Capella Space is a radar imagery company whose original problem revolved around a synthetic aperture radar. During the course, students were entrusted with finding solutions for identifying illicit activity and responding to natural disasters. Since then, Capella Space has raised around $80 million and has secured contracts with the National Reconnaissance Office and the U.S. Air Force.

H4D Gives Students Meaningful Tasks

Students who join the Hacking for Defense program are taught vital entrepreneurial skills to develop solutions. By getting real-world defense problems, students work on meaningful tasks that benefit them, their clients, and the nation as a whole. So, if you think you’ve got what it takes or know someone who would strive in a position like this, make sure to enroll, so you can be a part of the answer.

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