Cybersecurity Awareness Month – A Year of Learning in Review

I recently marked one-year at my current role as well as the beginning of my senior year of undergrad studying information systems and security. Due to this, I like to celebrate Cybersecurity Awareness Month by discussing all that I have learned so far in my role and how it related to some of my coursework. I will be focusing more on skillsets gained rather than specific tools (minus the occasional mention), as specific products come and go, but practical knowledge stays forever.

My current position allows me to work on numerous small teams that do a variety of work, both defensive and offensive. I’ve been spending most of my time doing the defensive type of work. When I first started, I was excited as I had only focused on offensive previously, but figured I was turning myself into a “jack of all trades” so I could do a bit of everything but focus my career on offensive security. Boy, was I wrong. I absolutely fell in love with defensive security and at this current time, plan on making a career out of it. My background in offensive security, while a bit atypical for a junior, was extremely helpful for me getting my bearings when starting out and helped me ensure that I fully understood what I was implementing and why it was important. I already knew how to break into things, now it was time to learn how to make sure it can’t be broken into!

Most of my tasks involve working with a Cyber Threat Intelligence (CTI) team, an Engineering team, and a Security Operations Center (SOC). The responsibilities range from project management, research, scripting, automation, investigation, privacy, risk management, and much more. While sometimes it feels like I’m drinking from a fire-hose, every day I get something new to do so it’s quite difficult to be bored. Working for a Fortune 500 company has allowed me to get my hands on numerous different types of projects and tools. Working for such a large organization has allowed me to get a lot of experience with things I might not be able to learn in the classroom. For example, most information systems security courses don’t cover how to use powerful (yet expensive) tools like Splunk, Qualys, Forescout, Proofpoint, Azure Active Directory, or Jira to get work completed. I’ve been able to get my hands dirty with all those specific tools and more that I will need to be industry-ready after graduation. I’ve also been able to attend trainings and conferences that I would not have been able to before such as the Open Source Digital Forensics Conference or Splunk’s .Conf conference.

Having a large slew of responsibilities as well as experience from previous roles has also allowed me to have much more responsibility than what I believe would be typical within my position. In a previous role, I became very familiar with project management for technical products, specifically for training releases and penetration testing. Due to this, I am now an unofficial Scrum Master both the Engineering and CTI teams. I manage not only day-to-day tasks, but also am helping ensure that work is being tracked and completed in a timely manner for the implementation of our new Security Orchestration, Automation, and Response (SOAR) tool. Understanding Agile, Kanban, and LEAN has greatly helped my career when I genuinely thought it was a skill that would not be all that beneficial to me. Maybe there is a management role in my future?

Due to work, my classes have been quite…interesting to say the least. Sometimes, it’s difficult to stay motivated to learn, as I am already familiar with quite a few of the concepts being taught, but it makes class much more relatable to me, as I can compare what is being discussed with real-life experiences I’ve already had. For example, in my information security course, we are learning the basics of Linux. I’ve worked with Linux before, but I am no expert. While the first few weeks have been more review than learning something new, I can solidify my skills and confirm what I already know. I’ve been able to ensure I don’t make the same mistakes I’ve made previously and further memorize all the neat shortcuts and commands needed to do tasks without relying so heavily on a cheat sheet like I have before.

Overall, while this past year has made me super busy with attempting to graduate, find a job, and have a personal life outside of work and school while also staying safe during a global pandemic, I can genuinely say that these past few hectic months have absolutely confirmed my love of security, ensured that I can be successful in the field no matter what path I take, and that working with people and for a company that cares about their security posture is not only extremely beneficial for learning the most you can, but is also just overall extremely cool.

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