Cybersecurity Engineer Discovers Expanded Horizons

February 2020
Michael Long
Michael Long

Ensuring that mission-critical information reaches soldiers in the field without creating vulnerabilities in the overall network is essential to our national security. It's also Michael Long's forte.

Long is a lead cybersecurity engineer at MITRE, where he's known for his mastery of Cross Domain Solutions (CDS)—the kind that enable one branch of the military to share information with another and across security classifications.

This is a particularly complex technical challenge. Entities and agencies in the defense and intelligence communities tend to have their own security domains. These networks are purposefully isolated to protect highly sensitive data—such as video, voice transmissions, documents, and photos—from being compromised.

But what happens when the Navy needs to share critical information with the Army?

That's where Long comes in. As a manager and lead engineer on projects for the Department of Defense and the Intelligence Community, he has a reputation for increasing security, while also saving costs. His many work achievements recently earned him a 2020 Black Engineer of the Year Award as a modern-day technology leader.

Awakening to Possibilities Outside Sports

As a high school student in Raleigh, North Carolina, Long never expected to have an award like that on his resume.

"If you had asked me then what I wanted to do with my life, it was be a basketball player," he says. "But by the time I was a senior, it was pretty obvious I wasn't going to be the next LeBron James."

That's when he attended a school counselor's talk about career options and learned that computers represented the next wave in job opportunities. Aside from playing video games and hanging out in chat rooms, he had had very little computer experience. That was about to change.

In 2004, he started college at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University (NC A&T SU), a public, historically black, research university in Greensboro as a computer science major. He studied how computers work and how to build and program them. But he learned something even more important.

"The school awakened my mind to what blacks can do, and what we can become beyond sports," he says. "I learned a lot about myself as a student and as a young person."

With his bachelor's degree in hand, Long planned to pursue his master's at NC A&T SU. But a glitch in his financial aid package seemed to derail those dreams, and he somewhat reluctantly accepted a job as a systems analyst for a utility company. One week into the new job, the Department Chair called to ask him why he wasn't in class. No one had told Long the financial issue had been resolved.

"I knew I couldn't quit after one week, and I also knew I couldn't give up the chance to earn my master's," he says. "So, I arranged to do both—full-time work and full-time study."

Taking His Expertise Where It's Needed

It was a challenging two years. But by 2010, he had earned his M.S. in computer science and become a software engineer at a commercial company. That's where he was first introduced to CDS for enabling data transfer between secure networks.

He also began hearing about MITRE through two old friends—and fellow NC A&T SU alumni—who work here as engineers. He came onboard himself in 2015.

"At the time, I thought I knew a lot about CDS, but coming to MITRE was an amazing experience," he says. "I realized I had been very narrowly focused and that CDS has much more depth and breadth than I had known. It isn't just one thing—it's a system of systems."

In exploring that depth and breadth, Long is now looking into ways to grow and expand content filtering, which is a way to restrict user access on cloud and other platforms. He's also working on ways to  combine cyber threat informed decisions with CDS.

Encouraging the Next Generation of Engineers

"MITRE leadership really supports me in stretching my wings," Long says. "They give me the encouragement I need to grow."

And he wants to be sure he is just as encouraging to the next generation of engineers—particularly those in underrepresented populations.

He speaks at elementary schools, high schools, and colleges about the ways young minds can thrive in the field of cybersecurity. He also hosts events at MITRE for high school students and works with a local nonprofit to introduce teachers and female students to STEM studies.

"I know there are many minority boys and girls who don't know they're capable of becoming something other than a sports professional," he says. "I know because I was one of them. And now I want to help these kids understand just how much they have to contribute."

—by Twig Mowatt

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