From Tracking Hurricanes to Cybersecurity

February 2017
Kyle Nolan
Kyle Nolan

In October 2016, the nation watched as Hurricane Matthew crawled up the eastern coast. The hurricane's predicted path and intensity were updated faster and more accurately than ever—thanks in part to MITRE's Kyle Nolan.

In 2014, Nolan was a software engineering intern for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA's) Hurricane Hunters, located on MacDill Air Force Base in Florida. He developed a new map-based data visualization app that meteorologists use on hurricane-hunting aircraft.

Making Better Decisions

Nolan designed and developed a software solution that integrates all the aircraft's data systems and presents that information to the onboard flight directors through a web interface. One of that web interface's supporting elements is a tile-server, which is designed for displaying multiple high-resolution maps, that Nolan configured on board the aircraft.

"Compared with what they had, the new application helped flight directors make faster, more informed decisions in the air," he says. "Before, flight directors had to consult multiple sources around the aircraft to figure out how to modify the flight track as the storm changed."

After graduating from the University of Maine with a computer engineering degree, Nolan took a job at a financial software company. But his internship at NOAA had struck a chord with him. He quickly found he missed working on projects that give back to the nation more directly.

It was this desire to help solve real-world problems for the government that led him to MITRE.

A Firewall and a Crawler

Since he came to MITRE, Nolan has worked on a variety of projects. First was an evaluation of F5 Networks' Application Security Manager (ASM), a web application firewall module, where Nolan deployed a vulnerable web application in an isolated environment and crafted a series of attacks to see what threats and evasion techniques ASM could mitigate.

Next, Nolan supported the pilot project for the Cyber Proving Ground (CPG), a collaborative effort for the Air Force. The CPG allows Air Force operators to test new tools created by industry or independent developers; and feedback from the operators can help shape the development of those tools. This initial CPG effort reviewed a web crawler created by Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI). The goal was to have the crawler scan public websites for the potential exposure of sensitive information.

"I developed a C# [pronounced "C sharp"] plug-in for the GTRI tool that could capture the web crawler output and forward it to a web risk-assessment appliance," says Nolan. "Integrating my plug-in with the original tool helped minimize the product learning curve for operators. The sponsor plans to use this project as a model for future CPG efforts."

Infrastructure Automation

Next, Nolan supported MITRE's own infrastructure team. "I built software to help streamline several development processes, using a variety of tools," he says. "It was interesting work, and a great chance to learn about infrastructure automation in an agile setting."

Most recently, Nolan has been working on cyber defense. He is researching the automated detection of advanced network threats, compromised credentials, and the presence of malicious entities.

Meaningful Contributions

Nolan emphasizes that the projects he enjoys most are those that tackle some of the nation’s leading technical problems.

"Working for a large, not-for-profit organization like MITRE takes some of the core things I enjoyed about my NOAA internship and adds a broader spectrum of opportunity on top of that. Here I can continue to learn new skillsets in evolving fields and gain a wider perspective on the technical efforts being undertaken by our government.

"It's also very rewarding to know that MITRE's focus is on supporting our country by bringing leading industry methods and technologies to our government sponsors. And it's a pleasure to work alongside talented people who are passionate about making that happen."

—by David Van Cleave and Kay Upham