Workforce Members Summer Reflections

Reflections from Champlain College students, employed at the Leahy Center for Digital Forensics and Cybersecurity.

By James Kallenbrum

The following is a combined retelling of the reflections of several Champlain College students on their Summer-time employments, at the Leahy Center for Digital Forensics and Cybersecurity. Many of our team-members choose to work at the Leahy Center over the Summer, for Champlain College’s award-winning cybersecurity training-programs. We ask our students to write reflections on their experience during these occupations. Commonly, they report: gaining confidence in their coding abilities, the support of great teamwork, and receiving immense value out of the experience. The staff and faculty who work at the Leahy Center, and who work closely with these student-teams, are (in no small part) the ones to thank for the work our students do, and the experience our students gain.

Many students, like Ben, start small when they come to us. He came to the Leahy Center, at first, with minimal capability, going all the way from small-scale jobs (setting the minimum-size of a window, for example— comparable to converting a research-paper into MLA format, in a Word document), to all-encompassing and paradigm-shifting tasks which go on to vastly improve the overall efficiency of the entire program; he reworked the code to be better-organized and allow for easier and streamlined testing, improving the training-process for future Extractionists. Overall, Ben gained invaluable expertise over the course of his time with us, and his expertise remains sharp!

Like everyone else in the world, our employed students had to tackle their work in the midst of the pandemic and lockdowns, continuing to learn and work even while completely remote, like Katie. Even when working with tools that she had never seen before (like C#, XAML, TSK Tools, E01, and AFF4), conducted the research needed to get the job done, thanks to the help of her team, with whom she was in constant communication, despite the remote setting. Even through a hedge-maze of inconvenience, our student-employees are resourceful enough to complete the tasks presented to them.

There are even cases of students, like Sam, who had absolutely zero prior training or tutelage in the C# programming-language, and nevertheless persevering and learning to use it on-the-fly, with the help of a teammate. He and his team gained such an expertise with the coding language that they completely rewrote the entire program, making it run far faster and more efficiently— tantamount to tearing down a building to its foundations, and building it back up, better than it was, before. And like any cog in any machine, the code that they improved has helped the Leahy Center run even smoother.

Other students find the work challenging for different reasons, however. Like Amor, who had not expected to work directly for external clients in a business-setting. A completely new set of challenges, for her. Despite this, and despite feeling as though learning the ropes would take entirely too long, she found herself months later with a finished project and complete files that she and her teammates had written. Amor compares how difficult she found the work, in the beginning, to how easy it is, today, and she is satisfied with her experience. She remains excited to continue her career in this field, indefinitely.

Many students have a far smoother experience— like Liam. He came into the Leahy Center to take a step into a new industry, and see what a career after college would be like.

Liam excelled especially at working with clients, where he communicated with said clients about business arrangements, negotiated with another corporation for use of their software, and worked with his teammates on coding, all the while. He created a set of programming tools from scratch— one which allows a user to insert data into one part of the website, and receive the same data (“parsed”, meaning analyzed, with relevant artifacts extracted from it) to have it automatically uploaded to a database; and another tool which automatically backs up and stores all of the information in that database, every morning. Liam, overall, was able to stretch his legs, and had a good time doing it!

Diogo had an equally-smooth go of things. Upon coming to the Leahy Center, he learned soldering and how to analyze the hardware of various devices, in the way of researching various devices from different manufacturers. In the process, and despite some poor communication between different members of the team (resulting in the repetition of already-completed tasks), at first, Diogo was able to teach some of his teammates how to perform software-extraction and verification. Diogo found the experience helpful in rounding out his skills and repertoire.

For Tom, meanwhile, working for the Leahy Center was the first time he’d ever worked in Digital Forensics, as opposed to Cybersecurity. The difference between the two is comparable to the difference between a detective or private-investigator, and a security-guard. One investigates a “cyber-crime” after it has happened, while the other works to prevent it from happening, to begin with.

Tom had previously worked as a security employed, where he monitored and worked on the security of a single ELK Stack (the digital equivalent of a security-camera that watches for unusual activity on a given computer-system or server), and he had decided that he wanted to work as a Digital-Forensics investigator. In coming to the Leahy Center, Tom found that he greatly enjoyed working directly with clients as he routinely did forensic work for them; he found that working with the people he was helping made him feel that his work was meaningful and needed. And, in the process, he learned new skills— working with mySQL, and how to do Chip-off analysis. He carries the work he did, here, and the experience he gained, proudly, to this day.

Digital-Forensics specialists, like Paul, for example, worked over their Summer employments for clients by working with an incredibly varied number of devices and looking for evidence of malignant intrusion in each of them— anything from smart-fridges, to electronic sneakers, to media-streaming devices, to wireless LED lamps, and wireless microphones. While Paul worked on all of these projects (he worked so quickly that he was left without any devices to examine for long periods), he also taught himself how to solder and how to do Chip-Off analysis. However, Paul hadn’t come into the Leahy Center completely prepared— he had to learn how to use a variety of debugging tools, as well. Through difficulty, and long stretches of time without anything to do, Paul persevered.

And of course, the Leahy Center for Digital Forensics and Cybersecurity always benefits immensely from having dedicated and intelligent team-leaders, like MW. Working here presented him with a far larger project, with a far longer lifespan, than anything he had worked on before. It was a challenge to think about whole new facets of software development, and he took to it with vigor. After only a few days of acclimatizing, he realized that testing would be top priority, and their path to success.

In communicating this to his team, he proposed a completely new class-structure by which to achieve their goal. Although this reorientation and recalibration was a challenge in itself, it led ultimately to smaller work-times spent on higher-quality tests, and thus: a faster overall timetable. Throughout it all, MW learned a myriad of new skills, and learned how better to work with a team, and is confident that software-development is the career of his choice.

So, it would seem that no matter your prior experience or inexperience, with programming, with coding, or with varied work-environments: the Leahy Center for Digital Forensics and Cybersecurity’s Summer employment program can help you succeed, and put you on a bright career-path. Like the aforementioned students and their varied difficulties, the Leahy Center is a place where students will be provided: every opportunity to test their skills, surrounded with exceptional teammates, and always given a valuable experience, either way. If you’re looking to: learn new skills, hire new talent, gain new experiences, or have a job done well, the Leahy Center can provide. Our staff-members and faculty are always open to working with new students and employees, and lending their experience to the task at hand.

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Written by James Kallenbrum ’23 // Professional Writing

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