Cybersecurity expert uses hacking skills for good
Summer Lee only needs to press a few keys on her computer to break into online computer networks and potentially wreak havoc.
But the University of Phoenix® student isn’t a hacker — she just plays one to teach companies and IT professionals how to prevent computer systems from coming under cyberattack.
“You have to think like a criminal,” says Lee, who worked as a systems analyst for a company that provides IT support to small and medium-size businesses, and recently started her “dream job” as an IT security consultant for Denim Group in Austin, Texas. “Everything you do is on the sly.”
Lee, who will complete her courses online in May for her bachelor’s degree in IT with a concentration in information systems security, is a rising star in the field of cybersecurity. She helped design and implement training systems at the Pooihe Cyber Range at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.
This cyberrange is a virtual battleground where members of a “blue team,” representing a company network, attempt to protect their computers from attacks by players on a “red team,” who act as hackers. Lee worked with another University student, David Decker, to build the range’s infrastructure.
“I had a lot of late nights trying to get everything up,” says Lee, 34. “You have to create documentation for the blue team machines and then ‘injects,’ or attacks, for the red team. It’s much more challenging protecting computer networks than breaking into them. You have to track [hackers] down and understand what they are going after.”
Teams composed of military professionals, IT specialists and college students spent three days in August 2013 at the cyberrange engaged in simulated cyberwarfare, attacking and protecting networks from a variety of challenges that in real life can cripple computer systems: viruses, phishing and other types of hacker assaults.
You have to think like a criminal. Everything you do is on the sly.
“IT employees normally have to take care of the company system, but they also have to protect it,” Lee says. “In competition, the blue team is attempting to do their jobs of keeping the servers up during everyday tasks and requests while also having to protect [the servers] from the red team constantly.”
Lee mentored a team of high school students who participate in the CyberPatriot competition, a national cyberdefense game aimed at inspiring youths toward cybersecurity careers. It was created by the nonprofit Air Force Association, an independent civilian group that educates people about aerospace work.
“It’s great for the community because it builds cyberprofessionals from the ground up,” Lee says. “You can start the awareness now.”
She also has led cybersecurity training for the National Guard and U.S. Air Force, and credits her University of Phoenix studies with helping her prepare presentations and be comfortable speaking in public.
Her goal in earning a degree, she says, is “to get into the IT field and reach a higher level of IT security,” adding that University of Phoenix was one of the only schools in Hawaii offering a bachelor’s in IT security.
As an expert, Lee gets lots of questions from people wanting to make sure their personal and business computers are safe. She offers this advice: “Don’t click on links that you don’t know; a lot of the phishing emails are invites. And keep your computer updated with the most recent [software] patches.”