10 years down the line I envision myself teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts at Hogwarts!
I hail from India and finished my Bachelor’s degree in Information and Communication Technology in 2017. I’m an avid reader, a history buff, and like cooking! My fascination with Cryptography started after reading Dan Brown’s Digital Fortress and I’ve relentlessly pursued advancements in computer security ever since. I worked for 2 years to get a taste of the tech industry and the need to cultivate a security mindset strengthened my resolve to pursue a Master’s degree. Getting into Georgia Tech was a dream come true and everything since then has been one adventurous ride! I owe everything to my parents for their unflinching support; this degree is as much theirs as it is mine.
Program Highlights: I remember being excited about the curriculum knowing it had courses from three different schools. Cybersecurity is not only about the technology, it is also about the people impacted by it. The classes I took from the Policy track really helped me understand why we do what we do. I also had the chance to work with Dr. Mustaque Ahamad. His guidance helped me develop a whole new perspective of looking at challenges. The courses, in general, were very well planned and I gained a lot of technical know-how especially from the Info Sec Lab. I’m glad I got such a holistic sense of security!
Parting Advice: It’s one of the best schools! Everyone here is going to be smart and it’s easy to get intimidated. Don’t let that deter you from reaching out for help. You can make a complete fool of yourself and it’ll be okay; you’re here to learn!
What’s Next: 10 years down the line I envision myself teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts at Hogwarts! For now, I’m thrilled to step out in the real world and apply my skills. My time at Georgia Tech has taught me that we will always have new things to learn!
Maneel Manish Modi is Confident His New Cybersecurity Credentials Will Position Him Well in Industry
Born and brought up in Mumbai, Maneel Manish Modi is on the verge of completing his journey at Georgia Tech and is soon to be the proud recipient of a Master’s degree in Cybersecurity. Describing himself as an avid sports enthusiast outside the classroom, he believes that having studied alongside those focusing on other specialty areas of cybersecurity and being exposed to a diverse mix of perspectives will serve him well as he prepares to take his first full-time job.
Now 24, Maneel wanted to get school out of the way and resisted the temptation to go straight into the tech industry with his computer engineering bachelor’s credentials. He thinks he’s better prepared now to face a high-growth, fast-paced tech sector, especially that of information security, an area that he believes will challenge him for the foreseeable future.
Maneel is undeniably energized as he heads out to start his career and leverage all that he has learned. He aims to absorb as much as he can by taking on varied projects and working toward the long-term growth that the field promises. With cybersecurity professionals constantly in demand across industries, Maneel’s prospects to do exactly that look very good indeed. – JP
IN HIS OWN WORDS:
Program Highlights: The breadth of the program within the Information Security track was probably my favorite part of it. Taking a number of courses across the different subdomains of the vast sphere that is security ensured that we had a sufficient background in all of them while giving us the opportunity to pursue what we were really interested in going forward.
Another great aspect was the option to take elective courses offered primarily to students pursuing the Policy or Cyber-Physical Systems tracks. I strongly believe that taking the courses covering cybersecurity policies and privacy regulations were key to coming out of Georgia Tech with a well-rounded knowledge of the domain.
Parting Advice: You’ll do just fine! Things can get intense (especially during the Information Security Laboratory course!) but my experience with professors and classmates has been extremely positive – everyone has been really helpful and understanding. I wasn’t sure coming right after my undergraduate degree was the right choice but looking back now, I have no regrets whatsoever.
What’s Next: The last two years have been unforgettable, and I’d like to thank my family and friends for all their support and encouragement. I’m looking forward to getting out there and gaining some experience in the industry and see where that takes me. I’ve learnt a lot, both inside and outside the classroom, and hope to stay in touch with all the amazing people I’ve met on this journey. Until next time, Georgia Tech.
The same semester, she took the Security Operations and Incidents Response course – taught by former GT CISO Jimmy Lummis and where students learn about tools hackers use – and the two classes together put Jada on the path to minimizing her digital footprint. (She insists both were among her favorite courses).
Jada says that the conservative approach to her online presence is also part of her broader responsibility to the public. She works in a government agency that deals with critical infrastructure, and she understands the real-world consequences that cyber threats pose.
“Maybe when I retire, I’ll start putting more pictures online,” she jokes.
Jada has more than 20 years of public service and has constantly moved forward along with the IT field. Her new degree from the Online Master of Science in Cybersecurity degree program from Georgia Tech shows this continued commitment.
Cybersecurity seemed like a perfect fit for a career computing engineer who had already lived through Y2K and has an awareness of what is at stake in an increasingly networked world. She decided to get into cybersecurity after learning from a coworker about Georgia Tech’s online program.
Her newfound cyber skills prompted her to make a budget request at her agency for new backup servers. It worked.
“Nothing is better than backups,” she says, then laughs.
Jada is one of three women in the OMS Cyber program graduating in spring 2021. The three are the first women to graduate from the two-year-old program and, in doing so, are making Georgia Tech history. Jada is proud of this fact, but it’s not something you’ll see her sharing online anytime soon. We did that for her. – JP
IN HER OWN WORDS:
Program Highlights: I felt the level of knowledge from each professor was honestly top-notch. Every instructor is at the top of their field and this shows as you begin your coursework. Class offerings are balanced and relevant to what’s happening now in cybersecurity. I found working on projects and weekly assignments rewarding and the online platform made communication with fellow classmates and instructor’s no different than sitting in a classroom on campus.
Parting Advice: If you are considering this program at Georgia Tech, do not hesitate – enroll. You will be amazed at the quality of the program and pace. Plus, you can never go wrong having the Georgia Institute of Technology on your résumé for your education.
Women join this program and take the world by storm. Do not feel intimidated. As one of the few females in this program, I never experienced discrimination and was always treated equally in the classroom by everyone. If you enroll, you will be glad that you took this step to educate yourself at this prestigious institution.
What’s Next: I am a career government employee in the technology field. I plan on using my knowledge to protect my workplace and colleagues against cyber-related threats. Most likely I will begin studying for the Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) certification. The coursework for the OMS in Cybersecurity program at Georgia Tech has prepared me well for this certification and will exponentially enrich my contributions in the workplace.
After 20 Years of Professional Experience, Paul Konikowski Finishes Round Two at Georgia Tech
There’s a common refrain among students who make it through Georgia Tech’s classrooms and come out the other side with a degree: I Got Out. It’s a badge of honor and a shared bond among those who endure the institute’s rigorous academic demands. More than a few of those men and women choose to come back and further their education, knowing full well what awaits them. Paul Konikowski, Manager of AV Contracting at HB Communications, is one such alum. His BS in computer engineering will now share wall space with a master of science in cybersecurity, which Paul earned this spring. The master’s came 20 years after the baccalaureate.
Now 44, Paul has had the distinction of going through the Georgia Tech gauntlet both in-person and online. He is among the first graduates in the Online Master of Science in Cybersecurity, which turned two this year. Paul was part of the first 250 students who were accepted into the online master’s program. – JP
IN HIS OWN WORDS:
Program highlights: What I really liked about this program was the mix of structure and flexibility. I am the type of person who works best when I have a deadline to meet. The weekly videos, reading assignments, projects, papers, quizzes and exams, all helped to keep me on track towards the degree. At the same time, the asynchronous, online format of the program allowed me to find my own time each week for doing the work, while juggling a full-time job and freelance audiovisual installation projects.
Parting advice: If you are interested in a master’s program or any other higher education, but you think you are “too old” to go back to school, I’m here to tell you, you aren’t too old. I was really worried I wouldn’t be able to comprehend the material but was pleasantly surprised how well my brain worked after so many years away from formal education. And I’m not the only one; a large percentage of my classmates were over 40, 50, or even 60 years old. Trust me, you are NOT too old, you CAN do this, and your brain WILL work!
What’s next: I hope to leverage my experience in AV (audiovisual) and ICT (information and communications technology) and combine them with the skills and knowledge I gained in the cybersecurity master’s program. There is a growing need for security-minded individuals in the IoT industry, and I hope to be a thought-leader in the space, being the “bridge” between the technical folks and the non-technical people who are responsible for creating and enforcing the security policies within their organizations. In terms of learning, my next step is to research hardware vulnerabilities and tainted firmware attacks, maybe set up a test lab, and try to ethically hack some audiovisual devices. I really enjoy teaching others about cybersecurity, and writing articles for AV/IT/IoT industry magazines.
Becky Borrebach Hits Her Stride in a Year of Big Personal Changes
Becky Borrebach has the distinction of being one of the first three women to graduate from the Online Master of Science in Cybersecurity degree program at Georgia Tech. With her new degree and an upcoming new job (she’s headed to the Pentagon), Becky is enjoying the moment.
Previously stationed in Georgia, the U.S. Army captain remembers the first and only time she visited Tech’s campus. She and her husband Drew, a fellow Army officer, were stationed clear across the state from one another – Drew at Fort Benning in Columbus and Becky at Fort Gordon in Augusta – and had to make long weekend drives to see each other.
Becky jokes that the long Friday rush-hour road trips were like her own personal “Highway 20 Ride,” a somber country song by the Zac Brown Band. The couple eventually decided for a change of scenery and started weekend getaways to Atlanta every other weekend. They would meet in the middle – talking on the phone all the way – and then turn into tourists, visiting all the sites the city had to offer. After Becky got accepted to Georgia Tech, she added a new tourist destination to her list.
That solitary trip was during a summer, when campus is slow, and she got to loiter and hang out for a few hours. She bought everything she thought she’d need at the campus bookstore before heading out to her current duty station in Hawaii. The Georgia Tech ballcap she bought is now primarily sported by Drew, who often wears it to show off how proud he is of Becky.
On Becky’s bucket list is watching a football game at Bobby Dodd. With the Pentagon only a few hours away and her practiced road trip skills, we hope to see her soon. – JP
IN HER OWN WORDS:
Program highlights: The highlight of the Georgia Tech OMS Cybersecurity program has been the ability to continue my full time job in the military while completing the program. The flexibility of the program has allowed me to travel overseas for work, attend a three-week training exercise in Louisiana with limited connectivity, and complete my coursework from the beautiful state of Hawaii, a six-hour time difference from Georgia Tech. In addition to this, the program is constantly evolving and adding new relevant curriculum. I feel that I have been able to stay on the cutting edge of the cybersecurity field with the courses offered.
Parting Advice: Don’t be afraid to get outside of your comfort zone! The program offers multiple different tracks and each student is able to take electives outside of their selected track. I selected the Policy track and was hesitant to take the Data Analytics and Security class due to its very technical nature. I took a chance, enrolled myself in the course, and it ended up being one of my favorite courses in the program. Challenge yourself – you will not regret it!
What’s Next: Up next, I will be moving with my family to the National Capitol Region to work at the Pentagon on the U.S. Army’s new human resources system. I am excited to take what I have learned throughout my time at Georgia Tech and continue to apply it to my work!
Overseas Graduate Kristine Diomampo Never Dreamed of a Cybersecurity Career
Kristine Diomampo is farther from Georgia Tech’s Atlanta campus than most of her fellow spring graduates. Her home and job in Hong Kong is more than 8,300 miles away and a 12-hour time difference. But the Philippines native didn’t let that become a barrier to her earning an online Master of Science degree in Cybersecurity (OMS Cyber).
Kristine’s grad school experience has been like a self-feeding loop – go online for class, learn through her projects and peers, integrate that new knowledge at work, then rinse and repeat. Adding to that virtuous cycle was a promotion at her job, where she is now an IT security auditor.
Originally armed with a bachelor’s in accountancy, Kristine’s first job out of college was at an assurance and tax services firm as an IT auditor – it was the only job opening the firm had available. Her subsequent IT and business background in banking and insurance led her to Hong Kong. Now, almost five years later, Kristine has her sights set on becoming a cybersecurity analyst or consultant and then maybe a move to cybersecurity management or architecture.
Her love of learning will continue (she lives and breathes IT when not traveling or writing) with a pile of books and certifications awaiting her after graduation as she continues studying cybersecurity.
Kristine has a claim on a new part of Georgia Tech history in earning her recent degree – she is one of the first three women to complete the OMS Cyber program. All three are spring 2021 graduates. Kristine can take pause to marvel at this accomplishment and look back to where it all started with the happy accident of an accountant getting into IT. – JP
IN HER OWN WORDS
Program highlights: I always thought I had very poor technical cybersecurity skills and I wasn’t confident in what I knew. I’ve never hacked nor coded anything; all I knew about security vulnerabilities were theoretical. But through the course, I was able to work on a variety of projects that allowed me to discover on my own how to crack passwords or how buffer overflows work. The sense of accomplishment in successfully completing projects encouraged me to continue with my courses and the program. I was also able to apply what I learned from the program to my job, further solidifying what I learned in class. The program gave me the structure I needed to expand my learning, and I can use that to boost any further independent learning that I wish to pursue.
Parting Advice: It can be easy to feel isolated and alone as you tackle your projects and assignments. Afterall, the program delivery is online and your classmates are scattered all over the world. This is where you take advantage of communication tools to build connections with other people in the program. Many late night study sessions were made more fun by talking with other people, and there were those that provided much needed guidance and encouraging words (even humor) when my projects wouldn’t work. Just because the program is online doesn’t mean that meaningful friendships can’t be made. So feel free to reach out to your classmates and even find a study buddy or two!
What’s Next: I actually got promoted at work because of the program! Because I was pursuing a masters in cybersecurity, I was given the opportunity to move from being a generalist IT auditor to being an IT security auditor and working on more technical assignments. This was even before I graduated! I plan to hone my cybersecurity technical skills even more (I already have a pile of security books to go through) and to pursue security certifications. I hope to someday move into information security operations in my organization and have hands-on experience on implementing controls in the workplace.
Georgia is a leader in the cybersecurity field, home to flourishing industries in multiple regions and a headquarters for companies in priority sectors such as healthcare, fintech, agriculture, the U.S. Department of Defense, and others.
Nationally recognized cybersecurity and privacy firms call metro Atlanta home, including OneTrust and Pindrop, both cofounded and led by Georgia Tech alumni. Each recently hit significant milestones – OneTrust, which is focused on privacy compliance, saw a jaw-dropping 48,000% three-year growth rate in 2020 and Pindrop celebrated 10 years this year with a major acquisition that enhanced it as a leader in voice security. Codoxo, using AI forensics to mitigate healthcare fraud and waste, has joined its elder brethren as an alumni-led startup on the Atlanta scene and was recognized by the Technology Association of Georgia as a top 10 innovative tech company in 2021.
Georgia Tech’s newest investment in the fields materialized in the form of the first academic school at the institute in a decade. The School of Cybersecurity and Privacy officially launched in September 2020.
“Georgia Tech has earned a reputation for cutting-edge interdisciplinary research in service to society. Georgia Tech’s new School of Cybersecurity and Privacy will focus on applied research collaborations as well as translational research with the fast-growing cybersecurity industry in Georgia, meeting a critical workforce need,” said Georgia Tech President Ángel Cabrera.
Georgia’s current cybersecurity workforce includes more than 32,000 professionals, but there are 17,000 jobs, or a full one-third, of the total available in the state that are unfilled, according to Cyberseek, a tool for job market analysis supported by the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education (NICE).
The Georgia Cybersecurity and Privacy Roadmap Taskforce, a newly formed group of education experts and chaired by Georgia Tech’s Richard DeMillo, is working with industry and government officials to address this challenge. They are currently working to understand the needs of Georgia’s education system and provide a guide to fill the workforce gap by recommending a strategy for cyber education programs and training for students and working professionals.
Georgia Tech’s own OMS Cyber program has already provided a model that could potentially be a template for working professionals looking to switch careers to cybersecurity or digital privacy. More than 80% of the students enrolled, or about 800, are employed already.
“Georgia Tech’s approach to online education combines affordable, flexible access with modern pedagogy and world-class instruction,” said DeMillo, who also chairs the School of Cybersecurity and Privacy at Georgia Tech. “As we have learned from the thousands of students enrolled in our online degrees, this opens new doors to learners around the world, whether they are re-skilling mid-career or jump-starting new careers with one of the most respected graduate degrees in the world.”
To equip the workforce of the future in both cybersecurity and privacy, Georgia Tech is taking a holistic approach to teaching students about the technology, business, policy, and practice of these fields.
Technical skills in specialties such as cloud security, cryptography, cyber-physical systems, forensics, and malware are paired with learning about regulatory requirements, including those in public policy and law.
Students are able to choose from some of the most pressing applications of cybersecurity and privacy in society; election systems, social media, internet infrastructure and web security, cyber warfare, hardware security, network and communications system security, and machine-to-machine trust.
The state taskforce addressing workforce development in cybersecurity and digital privacy is holding a series of public workshops spring and summer 2021. To learn more visit https://gacybereducation.org/.
Media Contact: Joshua Preston, Research Communications Manager, College of Computing
Georgia Tech placed second in the 2020 National Security Agency’s Codebreaker Challenge and added to Georgia’s number of ranked teams, eight of which placed in the top 100 for the competition this last year.
Georgia Tech was among 452 qualifying institutions and has been in the top three ever since the competition started in 2015. The nationwide challenge provides students with a hands-on opportunity to develop skills in reverse-engineering and low-level code analysis through realistic problem-solving.
“The NSA Codebreaker Challenge is a competitive venue to assure that what we are offering at Georgia Tech is practical, influential, and builds the right skills in our students,” said Taesoo Kim, associate professor in the School of Computer Science.
“All participating students learn what NSA considers important in terms of cybersecurity skill sets and how to apply the practical knowledge that they learn in the classroom,” said Kim, whose Information Security Lab includes the challenge as part of the course.
The competition, often likened to a game of capture the flag, engages students in complex cyber challenges based on real-world scenarios.
A sampling from recent years:
Disassemble ransomware and break into a cryptocurrency ransom payment implementation to get victims’ money back (2018)
Access a secure mobile communications app being used by terrorists to plot an attack (2019)
Hack a FitBit-like fitness tracker’s data to locate a kidnapped journalist (2020). This latest challenge also required students to hack into video signals and take down a network of surveillance drones to enable a rescue mission.
The challenge this year was divided into nine tasks over a 16-week period, each task increasing in difficulty. More than 100 GT students successfully competed in the challenge.
Xuefeng “William” Wang, a full-time software engineer in Boston and student in the Online Master of Science in Cybersecurity program, solved all but one of the tasks, the last few of which were released in early 2021 while he was starting a new course in his graduate program.
“The NSA challenge covered so many things – encryption, signal processing, working with ARM-based technology, assembly languages, and more,” said Wang. “I easily spent more than 20 hours a week on the tasks.
“The experience in the course and the competition was very rewarding and after I was done, reverse engineering was not a mystery anymore.”
Haoran Wang, who started as a MS in cybersecurity student and recently switched to the Ph.D. in Computer Science program, said the codebreaker challenge did a really good job of putting students in a cybersecurity role where the stakes were high.
“The last task I solved had me tracking a victim with turn-by-turn directions in a city, trying to figure out where the journalist was being taken,” said Wang. “It was fun, but not very easy – I got to do a little bit of forensics and get information on the victim; then when I tracked him, there was a good bit of physics and math, like figuring out acceleration, speed of travel, direction changes and so on,” she said.
“What we learn in courses is sometimes small and basic problems. This really helped me connect my cybersecurity learning to the real world.”
Georgia Tech’s new School of Cybersecurity and Privacy (SCP) developed a visual analysis of top-performing teams based on the leader scoreboard provided by the NSA. University of North Georgia and Georgia Tech took first and second place, respectively, with Mercer University (#14) and Augusta University (#15) rounding out Georgia schools in the top 25.
Georgia Tech’s neighbor to the north, University of North Georgia, has also been consistent in the cybersecurity challenge and is looking to continue raising the field’s profile in the state.
“As National Centers of Academic Excellence in Cybersecurity, both UNG and Georgia Tech benefit from collaboration with other institutions in Georgia and across the country,” said Bryson Payne, director of the Center for Cyber Operations Education at the University of North Georgia.
“Part of being a CAE is sharing research and training opportunities with peer institutions, and the NSA Codebreaker Challenge is an excellent opportunity to get all 10 CAEs in the University System of Georgia engaged and active in one of the most prestigious competitions in cyber operations.”
SCP Chair Richard DeMillo is currently leading a statewide taskforce to advance a strategy for Georgia’s entire pipeline for cybersecurity and privacy education, including the CAE network.
The NSA’s Academic Engagement office will recognize students from the top three schools in the codebreaker challenge in a virtual celebration March 31.
Contact:Joshua Preston, Research Communications Manager, College of Computing
Becky Borrebach Online Master of Science in Cybersecurity (GT ’21)
Becky Borrebach has a unique opportunity to be a role model for women, especially those interested in STEM, when she officially finishes the Online Master of Science in Cybersecurity degree program at Georgia Tech in May.
The U.S. Army captain will be among the first women, if not the first, to graduate from the program, which started in 2019.
Borrebach has a penchant for challenging herself – she graduated in 2013 from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and now operates in two primarily male-dominated professions: the military and cybersecurity.
One similarity between the U.S. Army and Georgia Tech that Borrebach has seen is that both organizations want the best people, regardless of gender.
“If you show up, and you have something to contribute, people want you on the team – that’s been my experience and has allowed me to thrive,” said Borrebach.
Borrebach has had a variety of information technology jobs and postings and is now stationed in Hawaii as an information systems engineer for the 25th Infantry Division. Her next assignment will be helping modernize the U.S. Army’s central human resources infrastructure, located at the Pentagon.
The data analytics course in her graduate program was one of her favorites and she thinks it – along with her focus in the policy track – will position her well to tackle data cleaning and cybersecurity policy issues in her new assignment.
“When I was an undergrad, I always tried to think about how I would apply my education when I started my career. Now, what I learn in grad school I can apply right away on the job, whether it’s as a manager or on the technical side,” Borrebach said.
The Cornwall, New York native is currently in her OMS Cyber capstone course analyzing different cybersecurity frameworks and determining which ones apply best to cloud technology models.
“Generally, when you apply anything to a network, you have to put a policy in place and have to come up with standards,” she said.
“Lots of organizations are adopting cloud computing and shifting away from older models where a lot of IT infrastructures were localized. There’s a host of issues that come with this type of change, and one thing I’m looking at is how organizations determine who to trust and what type of agreements they make with third parties to secure their data.”
Borrebach has used the online learning format to make the most of her graduate experience and has been blown away by the level of talent among her classmates and the intellectual discussions within the study forums.
As for being that role model: “Women role models are important in the Army and for STEM too. They can be incredibly influential. If I could be a role model to someone then, wow, I think I’ve made it.”
OMS Cyber is the 3rd and latest online grad program that Georgia Tech offers, and it has enrolled more than 1,000 students to date. Georgia Tech’s new School of Cybersecurity and Privacy, in its first year, is bringing together the institute’s various degree programs in these areas and developing new degrees and training to meet the need for cybersecurity talent.
Grace Fejokwu Online Master of Science in Cybersecurity (GT ’22)
The 1993 movie Jurassic Park may have inspired a generation of scientists, but one scene in particular motivated at least one young woman to become a cybersecurity expert.
Grace Fejokwu, a security analyst with experience in the financial and telecommunications sectors, saw the possibilities for her future when watching the 12-year-old Lex, played by Ariana Richards, on the big screen restoring a security network. Lex’s computer wizardry on the park’s UNIX system kept the velociraptors from snacking on her friends. It also motivated Fejokwu from a young age to pursue technology.
Fejokwu is currently a student in Georgia Tech’s Online Master of Science in Cybersecurity (OMS Cyber) program and works full-time as a security analyst at American Express. At her job she handles a very different type of threat than the one in the movie that first inspired her.
“The most exciting part of my work is learning about different security protocols and procedures to ensure that our applications are protected from data breaches and cybercriminals,” said the Dallas-based Fejokwu. “It is very important that security professionals stay up-to-date on their skills to protect and mitigate risks to their organization.”
Fejokwu has started her own platform, Route to Security, to provide underrepresented groups information and career advice about cybersecurity.
“One motivation for me is to empower young people and minorities to succeed in their cybersecurity careers or transition to one,” she said. “Who knows, perhaps I can be like Lex in some way and inspire others to follow their dreams.”
Georgia Tech’s new School of Cybersecurity and Privacy is using the experiences of Fejokwu and her peers to help build future educational opportunities, including new degree programs, for those looking to enter or advance in the cybersecurity and privacy industries.