Cybersecurity majors reflect on securing remote networks, transitioning to online learning in COVID-mitigation campus shutdown

The coronavirus crisis couldn’t stop Norwich University’s semester. With traditional moxie, faculty and students set up at home, mastering GoToMeetings, webinar-style lessons and remote learning. The transition wouldn’t have worked without ingenuity, but it also wouldn’t have happened without technology, and the internet.

A pair of Cybersecurity and Forensics Education and Research, aka CyFER, fellows described their efforts to help open and secure the networks that enabled the semester to continue virtually. Several cybersecurity and information assurance students tell how studying digital forensics with Professor Huw Read helped smooth their digital transition.

Here are their reflections, edited for length, clarity and presentation.

Adam Fuller ’20, CyFER fellow, computer security and information assurance major

While the disruption caused by the coronavirus, aka COVID-19, put us all in an uncomfortable position, I believe it also allowed us as students to explore different approaches to learning, communicating and moving the mission forward. In these trying times, the Norwich community closes ranks and always gets the job done.

The senior CyFER fellows and I worked around the clock to support the university’s mission and goals by deploying specialist learning environments for the Computer Security and Information Assurance program. Our ability in CyFER to leverage technological tools puts the School of Cybersecurity, Data Science and Computing at a great advantage for the future. As leaders in the technology generation, we understand we must remain agile, flexible and creative as we look for solutions to the unique challenges ahead.

We transitioned into a fully online learning environment to keep up with course requirements and enable classes to continue as scheduled. We used tools such as GoToMeeting and emails and worked closely with Norwich University Chief Information Security Officer George Silowash to secure the systems to work remotely and keep CyFER operating efficiently. Under Dr. Huw Read’s leadership, Senior CyFER fellows also kept capstone courses such as Information Assurance 456 Cyberdefense Practicum going as scheduled, with little to no disruption.

Jacob Folsom, ’21 CyFER fellow, computer security and information assurance major

Moving back home to Maine midway through my junior year was certainly not how I expected this year to go. Although I was saddened by the transition to strictly online classes I am thankful to live in a time where we are able to switch to online learning quickly and relatively easily. In the first couple of weeks at home, I was able to adjust to my new learning environment and the distractions that came with it. I set up a workstation similar to what I had in my dorm and tried to stick to a routine to maintain a sense of normalcy. Time management was key to this new way of learning.

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Cybersecurity students listen to a lecture in Mack Hall in October 2019. Student fellows from the Center for Cybersecurity and Forensics Education and Research, aka CyFER, helped secure virtual private networks that helped students transition to remote learning. (Photo by Mark Collier.)

I found that finishing my schoolwork early in the week allowed me sufficient time to work for CyFER, for which I’m one of three fellows. We conducted daily phone meetings to discuss problems and next steps. Together, we offered our own office hours so students could contact us for any technical support they needed. 

Before this pandemic, my colleagues and I had begun creating ways to get on the CyFER network remotely. An important aspect of accessing this network remotely was developing the virtual private network, or VPN. With students working from home, we expanded our VPN program, which enabled students to use our work in the hopes of easing the transition into online learning. Although we are in uncharted territory as a university, I feel confident in our resources and do not foresee the quality of my learning to suffer.

Diane Baraw ’21, computer security and information assurance major

By taking Advanced Digital Forensics, under Dr. Huw Read’s guidance, I had the opportunity to use some of the digital forensics industry’s most recognized tools, go through an online training and take (and pass) a certification test. I can now call myself a Cellebrite Certified Operator. (Cellebrite is a worldwide leader in mobile forensics technology.)

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Laptops, and all manner of electronic gadgets, became essential learning portals during the spring 2020 coronavirus-triggered campus hiatus. Cybersecurity students learned the ins and outs of keeping the networks linking the machines safe for learning. (Photo by Mark Collier.)

Having this certification already on my résumé when graduating from the CSIA program will indeed be a good marketing tool and an asset to my job search. 

In Advanced Digital Forensics, I used sleuthing skills in an electronic “whodunit” via cellphone — a sort of digital game of Clue. In this fun mock disappearance case, the class split into two groups and each student was assigned a character. We used cellphones as our characters would day to day, placing calls, sending emails and text messages and using social media. At the end of the semester’s first half, the main character “disappeared” and stopped responding to the other characters. Then, we swapped phones with the other team and worked to figure out how and why the character vanished.

I would encourage any student looking to get into digital forensics to take this class. It gives you a lot of experience with the tools and operating procedures we’ll face once we graduate.

Charles Grunert ’20, computer security and information assurance major, winner Lewis E. Perry Memorial Award

COVID-19 struck as our Regimental Band returned from its long-awaited trip to Carnegie Hall, which was cut from a one-week tour to a single-day performance. On the eight-hour bus ride back, and as time went on, I watched as other once-in-a-lifetime opportunities were canceled in succession. Final aspirations for my Corps battalion, National Security Administration Cyberexercise Team, jazz band and friends flew out the window.

As a graduating computer security major, the transition to online studies was mostly easy … though, it became very easy to be complacent with work. I’ve relied on friends, libraries, and coffee shops to motivate my study sessions, but social distancing and business shutdowns hampered that. Relaxed deadlines, ambiguity with assignments, senioritis and online distractions only add to that difficulty. It’s a good thing we Norwich students are dedicated to our work! 

Our capstone project for Information Assurance 456 Cyberdefense Practicum was a cyberwarfare exercise, involving defending and attacking virtual machines. Because 90 percent of the project is done virtually, there have been minimal issues switching to online classes. Perks to our major. 

Keeley Eubank ’20, computer security and information assurance major

When I first showed up to Norwich University, President Richard W. Schneider told us he would be graduating from Norwich along with my Class of 2020. I never thought I would be finishing my time at Norwich away from school.

“I am extremely grateful to all my professors for understanding the difficulties that come with any type of remote work, especially virtually coordinating group work, like in my capstone class.”Keeley Eubank ’20, computer security and information assurance major

Having to work remotely because of the coronavirus outbreak was different than I had ever expected. I am extremely grateful to all my professors for understanding the difficulties that come with any type of remote work, especially virtually coordinating group work, like in my capstone class.

Dealing with a multitude of technological problems, family concerns, different time zone and hard deadlines is not how I saw my capstone going, but these events just make Norwich’s motto of “I will try” ring a little louder than before.

Norwich isn’t just about trying; it’s about adapting to the world as it changes around us, rather than attempting to fight the inevitable.

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