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UMGC Global Media CenterRSAC Security Scholar Program Gives UMUC Students a Leg Up in Their Cybersecurity Careers 

For Greg Hawkins, an early interest in computers inspired a career in cryptologic systems. One of his first jobs in the U.S. Air Force was working in cryptology on a satellite communications project. Now retired after more than 22 years of active duty, Hawkins, who graduated from University of Maryland University College (UMUC) in December 2017 with a master’s in information technology, was eager to attend the 2018 RSA Conference (RSAC) at San Francisco in April to network and consider what certifications he should get to advance his career.

Jack Britton, the son of a U.S. Marine, a Marine veteran himself and senior security engineer at Taco Bell Corporation is earning his master’s in cybersecurity at UMUC. He said he got an early leg up on his future career from his father, who forged a career as a software engineer after retiring from the military.

“I was lucky enough to grow up learning from my dad about the basics of using technology and of how systems communicate,” he said. Britton decided when a Marine that cybersecurity was the right career choice because the skillset could be used for good.

Both men were selected by UMUC’s cybersecurity faculty to participate in the RSAC Security Scholar Program based on the skills and abilities they demonstrated within the various aspects of UMUC's cybersecurity program, as well their holistic understanding of the current state of information security from their perspective as experienced practitioners.

Now in its third year, the RSAC Security Scholar Program brings together students with diverse backgrounds and interests to discover innovative approaches from academia and learn best industry practices. Students participate in a team-building exercise, learn about the latest trends and gain insights from global industry leaders, network with experts on the RSAC expo floor, and share their own expertise at an open poster exhibition.

Hawkins presented his ideas on improving security information and event management (SIEM) software for critical infrastructure. “Cyberattacks on critical infrastructure are evolving into a major concern, especially in the wake of recent events in Ukraine,” he said. “I believe that AI and machine learning may be part of the solution, and so I’m hoping to leverage my background in industrial control as well as work I did a few years ago on neural networks.”

Britton presented an idea for a "Good Samaritan" social media profile to fight sex trafficking—an idea related to the volunteer work he does for Foundation Sentinel, an organization dedicated to finding child human-trafficking victims.

His idea calls for law enforcement officials searching for human traffickers to be able to upload a picture onto a front-end web/mobile application and optionally input a name or general location.

“We would take advantage of cloud services to reduce the cost for retrieving and processing photos from ‘Good Samaritans’ friends’ and other connected profiles without compromising the privacy settings,” he said. Fingerprint/hash biometric features would then be tested against the picture that’s uploaded when a "be on the look-out" (BOLO) is issued to reduce processing workload and improve performance. “The technology could significantly reduce the time it takes to find human traffickers and save child victims,” Britton added.

For Hawkins and Britton, access to the conference and keynote speakers resulted in interest from potential employers. Hawkins received a job offer from a Fortune 50 company, which he politely declined.  “It was a great experience talking with a world-class organization and was very encouraging,” he said.

Though interest from prospective employers was a plus, Britton, who said he is happy with his current situation, also said he thought the greatest value of the RSAC Security Scholar Program was the opportunity to meet new people and learn.

The takeaway for both scholars is lasting personal connections with industry leaders. A highlight for Hawkins was talking with pioneering cryptographer Whitfield Diffie and finally meeting Bruce Schneier, author of “Data and Goliath and other books on cryptography.

Britton said he was happy to be surrounded by people committed to solving cybersecurity problems. “It was great to hear young people present their ideas because it's a peek into the future of the industry,” he said.

Learn more about the 2018 RSAC Security Scholar Program.