Each year the Leahy Center for Digital Investigation offers a unique opportunity to the first year students of Champlain: the chance to apply for a digital forensics or cybersecurity internship in our lab. This isn’t a conventional intern role, students directly partake in the Leahy Center’s research and conduct large scale group projects every semester. This was no “run downstairs and grab me a coffee” style internship. What the LCDI has created is a real, hands on learning experience.
When I arrived in the fall, I applied to the program as quickly as possible. Having heard many praises from previous students, I was excited and a bit nervous to be honest. Let me tell you, if you’re at all interested in digital forensics or cybersecurity, getting the chance to work for the LCDI is an experience like no other.
My participation began in late august when an email detailing how to get involved in the program appeared in my inbox. I had heard talk about this place on my tours to campus and even got the chance to visit when I was there, yet it still managed to exceed my expectations. In order to make sure applicants are truly committed, when students apply, a few hurdles are put in place. Such things included some short notice meetings, extra application supplements, and some tight scheduling, but nothing too challenging. See, the point of this is not just for them to see who’s committed, but also for you to experience what sacrifices and quick problem solving might be required for a later job in your life.
But it was at the first official meeting when everything started to really come together. The meeting began with 30 or so of us slowly trickling into the auditorium. Around us, the sound of techno music echoed as we gathered around the stage. Atop it, stood all of the people responsible for making the LCDI happen. Among them though was Jonathan Rajewski, the Leahy Center Director, wearing some strange contraption on his head. After introducing himself, he went on to explain that the device he was wearing was one of the LCDI’s two brand new Microsoft Hololenses. With a giant projection of his vision behind, Jon explained how the headset was capable of rendering the entire room into an augmented reality environment. He then proceeded to build a put together a virtual workstation, an augmented reality computer where he could do actual forensic work on, on the go. This was the moment it really dawned on me just how cutting edge the LCDI was.
Since early fall, I have been working in a group with 13 other interns on a forensic tool evaluation project – everyone just calls it ToolEval. To explain what that means, the 14 of us all got together to research what digital forensic tools existed and what their respective purposes were. After settling on 7 tools, 5 commercial and two open source (free to anyone), we split up into pairs. We worked together to test the performance and capabilities of each forensic tool and then compare their benchmarks against one another. It was really incredible that every single one of us knew absolutely nothing about any of the tools we were going to work with. Prior to this, some of us didn’t even know they existed!
There’s only a few more weeks to complete the project and I can honestly say that the LCDI has provided me one of the most monumentally positive learning experiences I’ve ever been a part of. Most, if not all of us can now confidently and efficiently navigate each of our respective tools whenever the future may require it… and we’re all first year students! The average student wouldn’t even be getting their hands on programs such as EnCase or FTK until maybe their junior or senior years!
It hasn’t only just been a positive learning experience though. The people I’ve met here are some of the smartest and most relatable people I’ve come across. Everyone who wants to work here has somewhat similar interests. This has led to foster a very collaborative and accepting community I am happy call myself a part of. Even some of the friends I’ve met at the LCDI are now regular go-to’s for hanging out in my everyday life!
In terms of an education opportunity, I cannot recommend the LCDI enough. It’s like starting a race with a jetpack on in terms of how much it forwards your career. In terms of a social atmosphere, you’ll meet some of the coolest and smartest people that also share your interests. It’s an awesome group of people that I’m glad I can say I’m a part of. And overall, the LCDI offers an amazing gateway into the rapidly evolving fields of digital forensics, cybersecurity and technology as a whole.
Brendan Brown (BB)