MITRE Cyber Interns Make the Most of Summer

March 2015
Cyber Interns

What makes MITRE's cyber internship program a valuable experience? According to the students we hired last summer, it was the opportunity to conduct their own research, develop professional networks, and learn some key skills that could lead to careers in cybersecurity—perhaps even here at MITRE.

MITRE launched our cybersecurity internship program three years ago to ensure that we meet the ongoing needs of our government sponsors by nurturing the next generation of cyber talent. The co-ops and interns we hire gain important real-world cyber experience, while also providing valuable assistance on both sponsored projects and in-house initiatives.

A Learning Environment

Last summer we had nearly 80 students working on cybersecurity projects throughout the corporation. Some focused on corporate initiatives, while others were involved in sponsor-facing problems, tackling issues of national interest such as mobile security, security for the Internet of Things, and malware detection. Several even helped map out proofs of concepts for MITRE sponsors.

In addition to their specific projects, MITRE encouraged the students to develop an overall understanding of cyber threats, threat mitigation, and the many security challenges facing organizations today. In doing this, they gained a first-hand appreciation for MITRE's commitment to helping sponsors defend their IT assets.

"A main goal of the internship program is to show the students that cybersecurity plays a major role at MITRE. It also lets them see the large impact they can have here even as student employees," says Joy Haugen, who leads MITRE's College Recruiting and Student Programs along with Jessica Yu. "The program doesn't just educate students who are in cybersecurity, but it also exposes students in other fields of study to another angle of what MITRE does."

Success for Students and MITRE Alike

"I think the program has been very successful both in terms of what the students take away from the experience and in terms of what MITRE gains as a result," says Steve Battista, who runs the program together with the Corporate Student Program. "We're really building a pipeline of talented people who will have great skills when they graduate.

Many of them may end up at MITRE, which is great, but if they end up working for one of our sponsors, that's great, too. In fact, wherever they end up, the skills they learn here will enhance the public good."

These student experiences will definitely pay a return for MITRE. According to Battista, MITRE offered seven summer interns full-time employment once they graduate from college. Others have returned for repeat internships, and some continue to work on a part-time/on-call basis through the academic year, all of which puts them on track for their own job offers in the future. Even those interns who accept jobs at different organizations could still make their way back to MITRE.

"When they accept jobs outside MITRE, we still think of them for the future," says Battista. "It's entirely possible that they will remember their great experience with us and want to come back eventually. When they do, they'll have even more experience under their belt."

A Holistic Experience

One highlight of the summer was the Cybersecurity Student Project Review in July where individual interns and teams presented their projects. These included a protocol analysis for ISO standards and a secure multicast Android prototype, as well as a new look at the way adding information technology to objects, such as medical devices and appliances, affects their physical characteristics.

The annual Student Programs Intern/Co-op Project Expo in August provided another venue for co-ops and interns across the company to showcase their work. Although this event is not specifically about cybersecurity, several cyber interns, including Kevin Ford, participated. Ford, a member of the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association program, presented his work in "Reliable and Trustworthy Firmware Measurement."

"I feel like the cybersecurity internship has given me a head start for both college and an eventual career," said Ford, who at the time was a freshman at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. "I've learned a lot about computer architecture, and I've really developed my programming skills. I also gained a lot of important experience working in a corporate environment."

Social and professional gatherings were an important part of the summer, giving the students the chance to connect and bond over their shared interest in cybersecurity and more. Activities ranged from a summer program kickoff and general networking, to lab tours, community service, and game nights. For example, one evening students gathered in McLean and Bedford to play Control-Alt-Hack, a card game in which players are asked to conduct various white-hat (or ethical) hacking missions.

—by Twig Mowatt and Victoria Lynn (Editor's note: Victoria Lynn is a University of Massachusetts undergraduate who wrote this story while an intern in MITRE's Corporate Communications & Public Affairs division during summer 2014.)