MITRE Cyber Interns Crack the Code for an Expanding Field

December 2015
Cyber Interns

"I had limited experience in mobile computing before the summer began," said Robert Haverkos, a master's student at Purdue University. "This summer I've gained knowledge not only in the technical sense, but also about how people use these devices in the real world."

Haverkos is just one of several MITRE interns who spent this past summer expanding his horizons—and furthering his career prospects. He was part of a cybersecurity internship program the company launched four years ago to give students the chance to advance their skills, conduct research, explore different fields, and develop professional networks. The cyber internships join a long tradition of providing students with hands-on technical experience in support of a variety of MITRE projects.

"The program not only provides depth to interns who are studying cybersecurity, but also draws more students into the field, where there's a lot of demand," says Steve Battista, who helps run the program. "Understanding how security folds into all technology areas is an important realization. Even in what you might think are unrelated disciplines, the management of data and systems are important skills."

MITRE operates the National Cybersecurity FFRDC, the only national federally funded research and development center solely dedicated to cybersecurity. We're continually working to advance the field of cybersecurity and protect national information systems. Cybersecurity is one of the core capabilities that cut across all our work for the federal government.

A Chance to Learn—and Demonstrate It, Too

MITRE's goal is to provide the cyber interns with an enriching experience while also gaining exposure to the many sub-disciplines within cybersecurity. The interns weren't limited to working on any one project or cyber specialty. Some students worked on projects specific to MITRE's internal operations, others took part in sponsor-related work, and still others focused on general areas such as mobile security and malware detection.

The co-ops and interns demonstrated their efforts at MITRE's Cybersecurity Student Showcase in August, where individuals and teams presented their projects or research results. This year's projects included an analysis of network monitoring for insider threats, studying Windows intrusion detection systems, as well as quantum-secure encryption.

"The experiences I'm getting and projects I'm working on are in line with what I'm studying in school, so it's helping my education," said Erika Strano, a cybersecurity intern and student at George Mason University. "I get to talk to so many different people and everyone here is so friendly, no one was condescending or pretentious. I've definitely learned a lot."

Connecting Over Shared Interests, Inside and Outside of Work

Strano adds, "The social environment is pretty relaxed, too."

Providing that mix of social and professional activities is one key to the success of the MITRE Student Program. There were many opportunities for students to get to know each other at work as well as outside the office or lab environment. MITRE hosted several intern specific networking events over the summer, plus social events outside of work like movie nights and even a few rounds of laser tag.

This summer, MITRE employed more than 250 interns in various departments and locations across the company; with about 100 focused specifically on cyber-related work. Occasionally students receive the opportunity to continue working on a part-time/on-call basis, and many students return to MITRE as full-time employees after they graduate.

As intended, the program broadens students' ability to approach technical problems differently now.

"The experience I gained can be applied to any challenges that I may face in the future, not just those within the realm of cybersecurity," says Robert Haverkos.

—by Emily Ready