Fall 2022 Student Internship Reflections

The following is a combined retelling of the experiences of a dozen Student Interns of the Leahy Center for Digital Forensics and Cybersecurity, as they were working over of this last Fall Semester of 2022. Over the course of their Internships, we ask our students to submit reflections about their experiences and the time spent working for us. Some of whom will speak for themselves, and some of them will have their stories told 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.

From Mitchell Biagini:

My experience as an intern at the Leahy Center has taught me a lot of technical and professional skills, as well as broadened my IT knowledge. In regards to technical skills, I have learned how to use a lot of different digital forensics programs. For instance, I learned how to examine evidence in FTK Imager, which put me ahead in my Intro to Cybercrime and Digital Forensics class, as we are only starting to learn to use the program now. There was a learning curve with using FTK Imager, however, I have a basic understanding now and the process went very well.

In regards to professional skills, I have learned just how much effort actually goes into a project at the Leahy Center. For instance, I had to copy and paste deliverables from one spreadsheet to another, which took about two hours with four people working together. I didn’t know how tedious it could be to compile the gathered information into one area, especially when there is so much information in so many places. This gave me a lot of respect for the workers at the Leahy Center.

In regards to IT knowledge, I have learned a lot about Internet of Things (IoT)  as well as general IT. For instance, my research report (which I worked on for the first three weeks of the internship) educated me on IoT at a deep level that not many other people had. I realized, when telling my friends (who had no experience at the Leahy Center) about IoT, that I am now very well versed in the subject. Also, my time at the Leahy Center has increased my general IT knowledge. Just by being there, I am able to talk to upperclassmen about their classes, tools they have used, strategies they have found most helpful, and interesting IT concepts/subjects which I would have never been educated about.

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Essentially, the environment at the Leahy Center has expanded my IT knowledge because everyone there has such vast knowledge, and tend to enjoy sharing it. Overall, my experience at the Leahy Center has been very positive and it increased my knowledge in regards to digital forensics and IT more than any of my classes have this semester. 

My experience as an intern at the Leahy Center has also not been without hiccups. Some simple things went wrong, which I easily adjusted to, and haven’t had trouble with after the first few weeks. For instance: forgetting to turn my computer off when leaving the room. After hearing some funny stories from upperclassmen about them forgetting to turn their computers off, I learned to never forget it. Some things regarding the project my team was working on were difficult as well. For instance, looking for the information regarding different devices to be entered into the spreadsheet took some time. The experience taught me better research techniques, however, as I was able to find the sites that worked best for gathering information.

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Some digital forensics tools didn’t go so well when I used them. For instance, I never fully figured out how to use DBBrowser for SQLite to examine database files. Instead, I ended up using FTK Imager to examine different types of files. I learned how to use FTK Imager instead of SQLite because of this. Some IoT devices gave me a lot of trouble when trying to use them. For instance, I am currently trying to do software artifact analysis on Amazon Echo Frames, however: I can’t get them to turn on. This taught me that no matter how much technology the devices have, they can still be troublesome with simple usage.

I believe that my time as an intern at the Leahy Center has been extremely valuable. The Leahy Center has broadened my knowledge of digital forensics tools, IT, and professionalism. My main takeaway from working at the Leahy Center has been that I have learned more about digital forensics from my time working there than in my classes this semester. Before I applied to be an intern, some upperclassmen told me that I would learn more about digital forensics at the Leahy Center than in class. I have been very pleased that the upperclassmen didn’t exaggerate, as I have found what they said to be 100% true. 

From Carson Chichester:

I have learned a lot during my internship at the Leahy Center. The things that I have most are how to create and manage Virtual Machines (VM), how the Leahy Center network works, and how to do my own research on technical topics at a professional level. Some things that I think went well during the course of this internship were the PC-designing projects, where we learned to create functioning PCs that fit specific constraints. Putting PCs together from scratch was a good lesson in how each part of a computer works together. Using wireshark to capture a three-way-handshake was another thing that went well and gave me the opportunity to learn more about networking and wireshark in particular.

Some things that didn’t go particularly well in this internship included the amount of work assigned not making up the number of required hours. This extra time with no structured curriculum allowed us to research and do things that were not part of our assignments but still relevant.

The value of this internship is unmatched. Being a freshman in college, there are not many opportunities that are easily accessible for students to get experience related to our Majors. Having such a valuable opportunity as part of the school is amazing. My takeaways from this are that internships like this are extremely valuable tools for work-experience, and gaining knowledge in a field that otherwise wouldn’t be available.

From Adra Gonzalez:

Overall, I am enjoying my internship. I have been working on the Windows 11 team, and I have been tasked with completing experiments with the goal of comparing Windows 10 to Windows 11. Some things that went well during this research project were my data-gens, reports, disk images, extracting files from the $Recycle.bin folder, and analyzing the files found in the Recycle.bin folder. All of these things listed above were new to me at the time that I first encountered them. I learned about the $Recycle.bin folder, on the fly, and how to use tools such as FTK Imager and RBCmd.exe. I also learned the importance of documentation, as I documented every step I took to complete each experiment.

Most of the things that presented difficulties were because it was a new project and we initially struggled to get started. I spent three shifts with no work assigned to me, specifically, and this pushed me to learn how to independently research. I was not given access to the complete notion board or VMs for almost two weeks. This taught me the importance of asking questions and communicating what I needed to my colleagues. I ended up completing each experiment three times.

After the first attempt, I was told that I needed to take disk images. I then learned how to create disk images, and after the second attempt: I learned that I needed screenshots in my reports. This taught me the importance of documentation and of being flexible. I also lost one of my screenshots of the final results, so I had to complete one of the experiments for a fourth time. This taught me to save each screenshot in two places, the computer, and my google drive.

I have learned a lot from this internship. I learned about important forensic artifacts that I will need to know about in the future, and so: I believe that this internship is preparing me more than adequately for my future forensic classes and career.

From Jack Leonard:

Over the course of my internship I was able to hone my skills in the role of an IT-NOC Engineer, and I learned valuable skills and lessons that will help me in the pursuit of careers in the future. I found that the dynamic of the team at the Leahy Center is an aspect of the position that I fit into, very well; I am always able to ask questions, as well as provide assistance, when needed. Extensive documentation of operations at the Leahy Center frequently helps me with my ability to execute tasks, and I am very content with my ability to add to this documentation to assist others with their tasks in the future.

Additionally, the ability to work directly with clients, outside of the field in which I work, has certainly strengthened my soft skills, and my ability to explain complicated concepts in a way that is intuitive for the average person. In addition to this, I greatly enhanced my soft skills, and I feel confident in my ability to converse with most individuals in a professional environment. Finally, I feel that my technical skills have been enhanced, specifically relating to active directory, device configuration, scripting, and simple IT management.

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During my time at the Leahy Center there were things that didn’t go to plan. One item I grappled with was the occasional lack of documentation for a given task. In these cases, I would need to research ways in which to solve the problems at hand, and then document my findings. Of course there is an upside to this, being the betterment of SOPs for employees in the future. Another item that I dealt with was a lack of understanding from individuals submitting tickets. Of course this is not the fault of these individuals, simply an aspect of the job. In these cases I found that communication with these individuals was key, and I learned skills that helped me to gain as much relevant information as possible from them.

Occasionally, I found myself pressed by an upcoming deadline coupled with a day full of tasks that were unavoidable. In these cases I learned skills that help me to budget my time and prioritize tasks in a way that is efficient and effective. On a few occasions, I found myself unable to come to work for a few different reasons. For example, one day I work up feeling very sick and was unable to come to work. In this case, I obtained permission to work remotely from my supervisor, but this posed its own challenges including configuration, testing, and general implementation of my remote environment.

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In the end, though, I was able to work through these challenges to establish a successful environment for the future. Finally, I feel that certain issues arose that we did not address until they metaphorically punched us in the face. In these scenarios I learned yet again the importance of documentation and working to get ahead of potential problems before they pose significant threats to productivity and client satisfaction.

Overall, I think that the largest value I gained from this internship was the ability to work in a hands-on environment that gave me the opportunity to gain experience in the field of my choice. Although the tasks I undertook were not directly related to the career path I wish to pursue, I feel that the skills I have acquired, both hard and soft, are certainly transferable. I think that working on a team in an environment of other teams all working on goals that align with each other has certainly opened my eyes to the idea of what these environments should look like, for the most part.

Another big takeaway from this position would be the soft skills that I have acquired. I have worked in customer service positions before, so I am no stranger to conversing with individuals I do not know to solve their problems. However, as I have previously stated, I feel that the ability to describe concepts in an intuitive manner is a skill that I will keep with me far into the future.

If I had to summarize my work experience at the Leahy Center in three terms, they would be as follows: teamwork, communication, and trial-and-error.

From Ryan Starr:

Through the internship, I feel that I have learned a lot. My introduction to the IoT IRL-team and what they do went very well. I was able to learn more about IoT and the importance of the research they do into security and vulnerabilities. 

I also felt that my acquisition of forensic skills and knowledge of forensic tools in the internship and my degree course taken concurrently was beneficial to both and that went well. There has honestly been nothing that went wrong.

Overall, I think the internship was a fantastic experience that allowed me to gain many hard and soft skills. It gave me digital forensics experience and experience in a work environment with my peers. I can also put this on my resume, making it more enticing to companies as a repertoire of work experience.

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As always: the Leahy Center stands ever-ready to help any student or industry-newcomer gain the skills and competencies they need to aptly begin a fruitful career in Digital Forensics and Cybersecurity. No matter your background or experience, the Leahy Center can offer excellent learning-opportunities and give just about anyone a great start to their careers. Our faculty and staff-members, like us, are dedicated wholeheartedly to carrying out their work with the utmost diligence, and aiding new students and professionals in having their start at the Leahy Center.

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Written by James Kallenbrum ’23 // Professional Writing

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