Skip to main content Skip to footer site map
USNA News Center
USNA News Center

Midshipmen Study Human Factors in Cyber Operations

  POSTED ON: Friday, June 5, 2020 3:01 PM by

The majority of 3rd class (sophomore) midshipmen majoring in Cyber Operations at the U.S. Naval Academy are continuing their virtual learning this summer with an eight-week "Human Factors in Cyber Operations" course.  

The relatively new Cyber Operations major is mostly a technical one, with courses in computing, programming, networks and physical systems. It is unique and interdisciplinary, and also requires courses that focus on the human factors of cyber operations, law and ethics in cyberspace, and policy.

This course is usually offered during the academic year but due to COVID-19, many professional summer training opportunities were cancelled and academic departments were encouraged to provide alternative solutions to keep midshipmen on track or ahead academically.

“The Cyber Science Department offered as one solution to run five sections of the ‘Human Factors’ class and, similarly, most other departments are also running additional summer school classes not normally run,” said retired Navy Capt. Paul Tortora, director of the Center for Cyber Security Studies.

The Human Factors course is a required class for all Cyber Operations majors and is coordinated by Lt. Cmdr. Joseph Hatfield, a junior permanent military professor. The class focuses on human behavior and human choices as these relate to the success of operations in cyberspace. This course not only looks at the technical aspects of cyber operations, but also examines how human psychology and ethics play a role in cyberspace. 

One of the five sections of the class this summer is being co-taught by retired Navy Capt. Paul Tortora and Navy Capt. James Caroland, Cyber Science Department Chair, both with years of experience in the cyber field. 

"Our discussion in this class is about trying to define what is ‘social engineering’ in the context of cyber-attacks using humans as the vector, and then how do you categorize them to try to identify, and perhaps defend against, such attacks," said Tortora.

"Social engineering" is the tactic hackers use to get people to fall for their attacks.  Students examined these tactics by learning about "compliance principles," which are essentially tools hackers use to take advantage of people's weaknesses and get them to comply with the attack.  This can be done by taking advantage of friendships (e.g. hacking someone's Facebook page and getting their friends to click on a link) or even social validation, using social pressure to comply.

Students discussed how hackers choose their targets and even what their end goal is, whether it is financial gain, service disruption, unauthorized access to a space, etc.  

The Naval Academy was the first institution of higher learning in the U.S. to require cyber security classes for all students. To learn more about our cyber operations major, visit their website here:

Classes for cyber operations majors will be held in the Naval Academy’s newest building currently under construction, Hopper Hall, named after Grace Hopper, an American computer scientist and United States Navy Rear Admiral. The building is scheduled to open and begin holding classes starting fall semester 2020.

Category: Academics, Research, General Interest, People