From the Marines to the classroom: Jake Graham and cybersecurity

If experience is a good teacher, then students in Jake Graham’s IST and SRA classes are the beneficiaries.

The career of Col. Jake Graham, U.S. Marine Corps (Retired) and a professor in Penn State’s College of Information Sciences and Technology, has seen him at the controls of an AH-1 Cobra attack helicopter and overseeing tactical nuclear weapons from a command post in Stuttgart, Germany, where he was on duty during the Sept. 11 attacks.

Graham was chief of operations to the Northern Task Force commander during Operation Iraqi Freedom. He’s piloted such dignitaries as Russian President Boris Yeltsin, Pope John Paul II and George H.W. Bush on Marine One, the U.S. presidential helicopter.

“We have this phrase: theory to practice,” Graham said of his work in IST’s classrooms. “My job is to operationalize the practice piece of it — try to put hands on, make it tactile, get your hands and feet moving, and actually touch it and feel it a little bit.”

This past academic year, Graham’s first with IST, students in SRA 211 were immersed in an exercise called “Show Me the Money,” which had them trying to thwart the intentions of destruction-bent terrorists by analyzing their associations with one another, as well as their financial transactions and communications. For the project, Graham, IST senior research associate, wove together fiction with a bracing dose of real people and detail.

In an era when state-sponsored and freelance cyber-attacks are less the stuff of thrillers and more the realities of the news, these lessons are important.

“Security is not a problem that is going away soon,” the Marine veteran said.

“Whether it’s security based on a terrorist threat or security based on a criminal threat or security based on a cyber-threat, these are interest areas that are going to last for a long time, if not forever.

“Cyber-security, identity theft — those kinds of targets of opportunity are just growing by leaps and bounds,” Graham went on. “The more we are tied to technology, the more we are vulnerable to that same technology.”

Information technology also has opened new realms for warfare involving both state-sponsored and rogue elements, which seek to take down or compromise our information infrastructure.

Graham said there’s been a move from physical battlefields to cyberspace.

“They’re not wearing combat uniforms or carrying rifles,” he said of these emerging foes. “They’re in offices with keyboards in front of them.”

This fall, upper-level students in IST 402 (Emerging Issues in Technology) will examine the implications of developing an application in response to a perceived threat — from budget to policy conflicts to implications for civil liberty. The focus in Graham’s class will be on homeland security.

What if, he asked, a system for border control turned out to control immigration? What are the economic implications of that, who pays and who’s impacted?

Looking ahead to the semester, he said, “I’m excited.”

Born in Nevada and raised in Harrisburg, Graham holds a bachelor of arts in architecture from Iowa State University and a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Oklahoma. He was commissioned a second lieutenant in 1981 and had a Marine Corps career that spanned 26 years. He retired from the service in 2007.

In addition to Graham’s classroom responsibilities, he works with the IST-based Center for Network-centric Cognition and Information Fusion and its developing Extreme Events Laboratory.

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Last Updated March 19, 2009