Cloud 9: Current Events Support MSIA Graduate's Idea for Virtual Network

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As Norwich University graduate Chris Steingrube prepared to receive his master’s degree, current events battled to provide the best illustration of what he has studied for the last two years.

It was June 2013, and reporters were just beginning to fill in details about the story of Edward Snowden, a Booz Allen Hamilton employee who allegedly leaked National Security Agency data on surveillance email and phone records. At the same time, Army Pfc. Bradley Manning was heading to trial, accused of funneling hundreds of thousands of classified digital documents to the WikiLeaks website.

Sitting at a table in Norwich’s Wise Campus Center, Steingrube, who was on the verge of completing his online Master of Science in Security & Information Assurance [MSIA] degree from Norwich’s College of Graduate and Continuing Studies [CGCS], was visibly frustrated by the state of the country’s information security.

“We are our own worst enemies by not safeguarding our data,” said Steingrube, who earned his bachelor’s degree in 1999 at Norwich’s campus in Northfield, Vt. “This data security is truly a national security issue.”

As an example, Steingrube spoke of how Manning allegedly removed gigabytes of information from a military database in Baghdad on simple disks. It’s a situation, he said, that begs attention and has occupied his mind for several years.

“The solution is for the U.S. to take cyber security by the reins and make it our own,” he said.

For much of his coursework, Steingrube worked with the idea of developing a cloud systems solution that would serve the military; essentially a data system with multiple tiers of defense and strict protocols for access. Called “Cloud 9,” the network would be available to the military, government agencies and contractors doing work related to national security and infrastructure. Users would be able to access Cloud 9 anywhere, but unable to save data to any type of electronic device.

A cloud-based solution offers financial, energy-efficiency and organizational advantages as well. As communication is critical, Cloud 9 would need to establish a system for providing access, labeling data and sharing information. This would, he admitted, be a complicated system but one that wouldn’t necessarily have to result in chaos.

“If it’s planned well enough and it’s funded well enough, the nightmare would be manageable,” said Steingrube.

Robert Guess, instructor for the Incident Response Team Management class, said cloud-based computing of the kind Steingrube explored was a reasonable approach for government and military. In addition to the recovery of expense and time, the solution would bring more agility and mobility to military operations.

Security is of critical importance, he added, and needs to be built into the architecture of any effective cloud solution. Guess cited recent reports warning of persistent threats to cyber security, such as Mandiant’s recent exposé of widespread data mining originating from Shanghai, China, on all manner of U.S. security and business interests. This demonstrates the timely and relevant nature of Steingrube’s work, he said.

“Our adversaries are going to exploit us and steal everything under the sun,” said Guess, who lives in Virginia where he teaches undergraduates at Tidewater Community College. He’s been teaching Norwich graduate students online since 2006.

He added that Steingrube really dug into a topic that interested him for his capstone work.

“He was very passionate,” said Guess. “Some people just want to go further. Chris is one of those people.”

Steingrube already earned a master’s degree in space systems operations from the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School in 2007, but he developed an interest in information technology and security on the job. He commissioned as an officer after leaving Norwich, serving in various positions aboard Navy vessels, and continued to work with the military doing contract assignments with civilian companies after leaving the service. Steingrube was managing information technology on a base in Bahrain in 2011 when he decided to seek his MSIA degree.

Steingrube visited campus for the 2013 Residency Conference, the final week of CGCS programs when students travel to Vermont to meet the professors and students they’ve know virtually during coursework, and connect with Norwich’s campus and culture. At the end of the week, they graduate.

Steingrube was one of 25 CGCS graduates who had received a bachelor’s degree from Norwich. A Peace, War & Diplomacy major with a minor in English, he found returning to campus an emotional experience. The building where he was interviewed had not even existed at the time of his graduation.

“Norwich has grown, of course,” said Steingrube, who lives in Lexington Park, Md., and works as a project analyst for the SAIC, a civilian defense contractor. “It’s a lot to take in.”

He already had active-duty experience in the Navy back in the late 1990s when he decided to earn a college degree. He had never heard of Norwich, but when he learned of the school’s military environment and heritage, he wanted to be part of Rookdom and the entire experience.

“I guess I was full of the military spirit,” he said.