Reflections of the IoT IRL Team

The following are retellings of the stories and experiences of interns of the Leahy Center for Digital Forensics and Cybersecurity. These are the written words of student interns of the Leahy Center, whom are able to gain valuable work-experience in the industry during their time at Champlain College. The nature of their content is not altered or abridged, only streamlined and refined with better prose, and as such: this contains the honest truth of these students’ experiences, and the value they gained from their time at the Leahy Center.

In this installment, we shall see the reports of a group of students who worked together on the Leahy Center’s IoT IRL Team, who were tasked with finishing the process of networking a Zigbee program in time to give webinars, next semester.

From Ryan Star:

Through the internship, I have learned a lot and gained a lot of experience.  My introduction to the IoT IRL team, and what they do, went very well. I learned a lot about IoT and the importance of their research on tech-security and vulnerabilities. I also felt that my acquisition of forensics skills and my knowledge of forensic tools, in the internship and my Degree-Course, taken concurrently, was very beneficial. The internship environment, overall, was very conducive to learning and gaining experience. I really enjoyed my time working on the internship and getting used to the IoT team environment, and I hope to work on the team as a fully-fledged, paid team-member, next semester.

Very few things went wrong, although the only thing that bears mentioning is that for the final week of the internship, there was very little work to do. The IRL Team interns began our work around a week before the Zigbee project was due, so much of our work was built on that that was done by others, beforehand. Otherwise, there has honestly been nothing else that went wrong.

Hopefully, I get to work here next semester, and if I do, I think working on the Zigbee webinar would be a great way to start. Overall, I think the internship was a fantastic experience that allowed me to gain many hard and soft skills, as well as digital forensics experience and a work environment with many peers. It doesn’t hurt that I can put this on my resume, either, which will hopefully speak well of my marketability to companies.

From Lorena Castillo:

In this semester, it’s been an honor to have worked at the Leahy Center. I built progress on my soft and hard skills, being able to put to work what we have learned throughout the classes, and being put to the test. I now understand how devices operate and how their network works, not only by knowing their topologies, but seeing and learning from hands-on projects.

Throughout these few months, I’ve learned to collaborate and work with a team. The IRL Team worked on researching and understanding the Zigbee network and how it operates. At the beginning of this research, we made sure to look at past projects to give us an idea of where to start. We soon began working with home-appliances devices, like the Amazon Echo, Smart Devices, etcetera. It’s interesting to see how these devices work the way they do and connect to one another, not just as a user, but also as someone able to peek behind the curtain.

Following that, we were able to generate the data we needed to analyze and make a database. Our team leader, Thomas Claflin, and supervisor, Sarah Fornaldes, too, are to be given credit for this, as they helped me to stay on track.

From Sarah Fornaldes:

This semester interning for the Leahy Center has been great. I even received a promotion to the role of being our team’s supervisor, which gave me a chance to practice my leadership abilities, as well as my communication skills. Throughout the semester, I conducted research on Zigbee, and helped set up a Zigbee network with a wide variety of IoT devices, then analyzed the data collected by those devices. It was interesting to see how simple it was to set up a Zigbee network, and how each device interacted and connected with each other, through it— I enjoyed learning how to use the devices in order to conduct data-generation.

Thanks to my internship with the Leahy Center, I have had the chance to do things I have never done before, such as using nmap on hardware, and I even learned a bit about j-tagging from the IoT Analysis Team. I am excited for the webinars that we plan on making, next semester, and I have started a rough draft for the first one. I am eager to see where it will take us.

From Kacey Candea:

My time spent working on the IoT IRL Team at the Leahy Center has certainly had its ups and downs. However, overall, I think that the experience was invaluable to my chosen career path in law-enforcement, and I am very excited for the opportunity to continue working in the same position, next semester.

Starting out, I felt as though I were thrown into everything; picking up the Zigbee project that was already half-completed had me feeling a little nervous, and since I had relatively little experience with digital forensics save the couple weeks I had spent in a class, that semester, only amplified that feeling. There was a fun side to it as well, though. My coworkers and team leads were all extremely helpful, knowledgeable, passionate, and willing to walk me through anything I needed help with, which allowed me to loosen up and play around with devices and software that the team already had experience with, rather than devices that were new to everyone.

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When we were in the thick of it, setting up the Zigbee devices and troubleshooting proved to be very fun for me, and I loved getting paid to do the things that I’ve been doing, for free, for the better part of my childhood. I even managed to figure some things out that the rest of my team had trouble with, and I felt valued and like I had something to offer everyone.

After doing data-generation on the devices, I was taught how to extract the data and look through artifacts to build a database. Everything I was doing at the Leahy Center were things that I had either already learned, or was yet to learn in my networking and digital forensics classes, which really helped cement everything I was doing in my head, especially since all of it was hands-on. This was when I truly felt like I was on the correct career path, looking through all the artifacts, and building, as well as correcting, databases. I am a very detail-oriented person, and love looking for discrepancies, so everything about the job just seemed to “fit”, for me. I also loved attending an open house, meeting kids and parents and talking about what I love to do. It was really special, and I would honestly do it for free!

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As for the negatives of the experience: there was a lot of downtime, especially toward the end of the semester. I often had little to do other than continue researching Zigbee and learn about what the Analysis Team were doing. But, I do understand that this is to be expected, sometimes, and I didn’t mind it too much. I also understand that this semester was a bit different from others. It was disappointing to not set up a “crime” scenario like I originally thought we would. I hoped we could practice looking for evidence of cybercrimes.

Another thing that put me off, slightly, in the Leahy Center was management. When I first started, I couldn’t login to my Oracle account to submit my hours for a whole week. I couldn’t even log into any computers for the first day because my account wasn’t set up. Some of my coworkers had this problem, and some also couldn’t enter the IoT Room due to technical issues. For the final month, also, the card-reader was still being worked on. None of these were so negative that I’d want to stop working here, though. I’d just like to see some improvement, especially for the sakes of new hires, in the future.

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I learned so, so much working here in the IoT IRL position, and that is in no way an understatement. The position allowed me to experience my chosen career, and helped affirm that this is the right choice, for me. I’m really excited about next semester and possibly getting to work on a webinar, on Zigbee, for law-enforcement to use. As my goal is to one day work in law-enforcement, it would really be a special experience for me! That, and maybe working on an IoT project from scratch, I think, would be very fun, too. And even if I don’t come back, I’ll always value the experience I gained, while I was here.

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A success story, if there ever was one. A team of people with varying levels of experience came together, and continued unfinished work without error. Despite a disparate set of intended career-paths and knowledge, our student interns took up the torch delivered, on time. They all look forward to returning, next semester. Such is common for many student interns, at the Leahy Center.

The Leahy Center thanks its interns for lending their time and words to this record. We also thank our many talented and dedicated staff-members for allowing us to do the work we do. Our doors are always open to those looking to gain firsthand experience for a budding career. Or those looking to continue a fruitful one in a professional, effective environment. From myself and the Leahy Center, we look forward to hearing from you.

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Written by James ‘23  // Professional Writing

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