Authored by KiMar Gartman This article was published in the February Edition of Cyber Defense Magazine.

Design Thinking

Nestled on the front range of Colorado, the United States Air Force Academy bustles with activity while cadets make their way to their first hour classes. Nineteen cadets from eleven different majors file into Fairchild Annex, Room 2N300, otherwise known as the CyberWorx Design Studio. Inside, the walls are alive with ideas, the tables outlined with visual storyboards, and industry members await the cadets to continue ideation on how to solve the Air Force’s most difficult cyber problems (some approaching the level of “wicked” problems). This is the home of the Air Force CyberWorx program launched in fall of 2016 at the Air Force Academy.

By using design thinking principles, which President and CEO of IDEO Tim Brown defines as “a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success” (IDEO), the CyberWorx program brings together industry, military, and academia to tackle real Air Force cyber problems. “Our Air Force’s agility in the cyber domain and the imagination we bring to bear on problems helps us stay ahead of bad actors who wish to exploit operational and cybersecurity flaws. This is crucial for our resilience — getting our missions done by avoiding or fighting through cyber attacks on our missions,” said Colonel Jeff Collins, Director of Air Force CyberWorx.

CyberWorx

Thus far, the CyberWorx program has launched four projects and is about to kick off its fifth. CyberWorx teams have tackled such issues as how to communicate cyber threats to decision makers in times of war and how to more quickly train 21st century cyber specialists.A goal of the CyberWorx program is for the results from each project to be further developed and commercialized. To this end, the industry partners involved in the first project are now collaborating to develop the results of their CyberWorx experience in a project called the Cyber Risk Dashboard. “The opportunity to be involved with a project such as this from the beginning stages with the AF provided insight into how the AF makes decisions and what they are looking for in certain key industry areas,” stated one team member.

Support for CyberWorx

A key component in the CyberWorx program’s success is its support from such organizations as the Center for Technology, Research, and Commercialization (C-TRAC), a non-profit organization housed on the Catalyst Campus of Colorado Springs, Colorado. C-TRAC serves the CyberWorx program under a partnership intermediary agreement. C-TRAC’s purpose is to find and vet industry partners to participate in the CyberWorx program and to facilitate the further development of project results for transition back to the warfighter. C-TRAC has successfully enlisted participation from such companies as Cisco, Boeing, BoeCore, and LinQuest. CyberWorx leadership defines the industry sector participation needs for each project and CTRAC recruits accordingly. “We are always looking for industry members to participate in CyberWorx projects. Involvement ranges from regular participation in semester-long cadet courses to attending a one-week design sprint. It’s a great opportunity to gain past performance, reward an employee, learn design thinking or make Air Force connections, all with the goal of solving wicked hard cyber problems,” explains C-TRAC’s Managing Director, Erin Miller.

Industry Involvement

Industry partners who have been involved in the semester-long programs have worked closely with cadets finding the experience very rewarding. “The project itself was dynamic and challenging which taught the cadets good lessons on how things will be outside the academic world,” commented one participant. Industry partners who have been involved in week-long sprints have worked with members of academia and Air Force leaders. End-of-project evaluations were very positive with remarks such as “I got to work on an important and meaningful project to help the Air Force. I also felt respected and equal in all the team discussions and briefs.” Many participants from the commercial sector also felt they received valuable insights to take back to their companies. One such participant stated, “This sprint instilled a lot of personal confidence when it comes to critical thinking that I could carry back to my industry. I also felt like I was making a positive impact and difference for the AF.”

Issuing the Call

The CyberWorx program currently has the capacity to run two simultaneous projects, but is looking to expand this capacity (and add a secure design facility) later this year. Additionally, the Air Force is working on a plan to construct a new building on the Academy campus that will enable CyberWorx to host ten simultaneous projects. Thus, C-TRAC is calling all industry, academia, and state or local government members who may have interest in being part of this innovative, new program. Although participation is on a voluntary basis, the rewards are great including the opportunity to network with leaders in industry, academia, and the military in a collaborative effort that could dynamically change the face of how the Air Force handles cyber issues as well as transform best practices within the participant’s own workplace. For more information, please visit our CyberWorx page or contact us!