Hacking for Defense

Hacking for Defense (H4D) is an interdisciplinary course that gives students the opportunity to work on actual national security problems. Through collaboration with the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), student teams use structured problem-solving skills and conduct interviews with DoD stakeholders to develop solutions to real-world policy challenges.

H4D students have worked with sponsors from the Army, Air Force, Marine Corps, Defense Logistics Agency, Department of Homeland Security, DC National Guard, and the Office of the Secretary of Defense on problems such as:

  • Improving Supply-Chain Cybersecurity
  • Risk Mitigation for Countering Foreign Influence
  • Dynamic Skills and Education Training
  • Institutionalizing Security Force Assistance
  • Countering Drones
  • Understanding Civilian Harm in Conflict

These students become deeply engaged in the actual policy process. Brian Pippert, with the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA), sponsored the student team that tackled improving supply-chain cybersecurity. Pippert arranged for the students to interview employees and leadership from DLA, contracting officers, an FBI agent, and experts from the DoD Cyber Crime Center. He also shared policies and training information with the students and answered lots of questions. “The students were very engaged and proposed some ‘quick win’ solutions…I was surprised at how clear their picture was of the threats and what’s at stake here.”

The student response has been enthusiastic:

  • “H4D was an opportunity for me to put together all the skills and experiences I’ve acquired over my time at UVA into one project. This is the first course I’ve taken at UVA that went beyond just teaching material and actually put the material to direct use.” – Hisham Iqbal, Computer Science and Economics major
  •  “This type of hands-on experience is extremely rare for undergraduates, and I feel lucky to have had such a great opportunity to work directly with the U.S. government before I graduate.” – Hannah Boehlert, Foreign affairs and Spanish major
  • “H4D was one of the most rewarding classes during our time at UVA. The opportunity to learn from and work with policy experts to generate impactful, real-world solutions to complex governmental problems and then to be able to present those solutions at the Pentagon was a unique adventure and highlight of our collegiate experiences. The memories, knowledge, and friendships that we’ve gained from this course are things that we will carry with us well past graduation.” – Cole Attar

H4D is part of a wider initiative at Batten’s National Security Policy Center (NSPC) to engage with the policy and defense communities directly. The course is made possible through a partnership with MD5 National Security Technology Accelerator, a DoD organization that builds new communities of innovators to solve national security problems.

For more information, please contact John Robinson at djr6nf@virginia.edu