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Name: Joshua Fleming
College/University: University of Maryland, College Park
Major: Computer Engineering
Hometown: Germantown, MD
Why did you choose an internship with Booz Allen? When did you know you’d made the right decision?
It was the Spring of my sophomore year at the University of Maryland, College Park when one my friends, an alumnus of our cybersecurity club and full-time engineer at Booz Allen, messaged our club with an internship opportunity at his workplace. I didn't have my mind set on a summer internship, but figured it wouldn't hurt to apply so I sent in my resume with open mind and low expectations. But the fates aligned, and a few weeks later I completed an interview and accepted an internship offer. I took it, not fully aware of what I was getting myself into.
I drove to the Central Maryland office promptly at 7:30 a.m. on June 6, filled with a blend of excitement and anxiety. It didn't help that I knew no one in the office, so I bashfully kept to myself. Orientation flew by and I was soon ready to meet my team members and dive into our project. To my surprise, not only was I assigned to work with a lot of in-state students, but the same friend who referred me into the internship was one of my mentors. I felt a bit more at ease knowing there would be a lot of things our team had in common. Wasting no time, we dove head first into our challenge for the next ten weeks: Modify existing firmware of a microcontroller in order to build a custom multi-hop network.
As we made progress through the summer, we overcame challenges where we lacked experience. We faced problems in writing custom firmware and network programming – which most students do not see until their final years in college – yet we had the opportunity to dabble in these concepts. Our team dynamic grew as we taught each other skills and struggled together, while sharing plenty of laughs over a Dungeons and Dragons campaign we organized after working hours. We kept working on our project until we finally presented our hard work to the rest of the Booz Allen interns at the end-of-summer showcase. The rest was history.
Looking back on my first year as an intern, I realize that interning at Booz Allen was one of my most empowering career experiences. The mentors in my office did as much as they could to help us succeed and grow in our technical careers. It was a truly unique experience to work under a philosophy that places people first, not products. It wasn't until I pondered an offer to return the next summer that I knew my choice to work at Booz Allen was one of the best I ever made.
What skills are you hoping to build this summer through your internship? How will it affect the rest of your career?
This summer, I’m conducting a vulnerability assessment of a smart home device you can buy at most electronics stores. Our mission: Identifying ways hackers can exploit the technology.
Our team needed to be well versed on a typical Internet of Things (IoT) device. As we split up tasks among analyzing the wireless connectivity, mobile application, and physical hardware, we realized the detailed knowledge necessary to understand the devices vulnerabilities was a bit overwhelming—so we broke it down into bite-sized pieces. Each team member took on separate tasks.
Fortunately, my team is comprised mostly of returning interns, and all of us have experience in cybersecurity and embedded systems, so we're used to taking on the perspective of an attacker. While our project appeared to be straight forward, we had to learn new skills to flesh out a few possible attacks.
One of the main issues was that we had high-level knowledge of things like Bluetooth or encrypted communications but weren't really sure of how these protocols and schemes actually worked. This was a fantastic opportunity to dig deep into these technologies to find vulnerabilities.
Aside from technical skills, I learned a lot about the mindset it takes to start a project and to keep pushing through to get results. With only a few weeks left, I hope to keep gathering technical skills and an evolving attitude toward hard work and service. It can get tiring to keep pushing myself to learn more and more every day, but its highly rewarding to see what I can achieve. I know the interpersonal skills and relationships i built through Booz Allen will help me chase my dreams.
How did your work this summer help change the world? How did it change you? What are you most proud of?
Being the first team to analyze our home security system was exciting, and we hope to open avenues for other security researchers to further extend our work. The findings and lessons that come from these types of case studies can apply to future research performed on other devices. With emerging Internet of Things (IoT) devices, we can use security research to hold companies accountable for delivering safe products for public use.
I had the opportunity to experience what it feels like to be an embedded security researcher. Though I didn't have the full set of skills at the beginning of the summer, I came out of the project with enough knowledge and confidence to perform research on a new device. I was extremely thankful to work with an amazing team of interns who were willing to try new things and to persevere through difficulties until they found results. It really changed the way I view work ethic: As much as seek to push myself to do better, a great team can help you to go further.
As my internship ends, I look back and I feel most proud of our team learning so many new things and trying out a lot of far-fetched ideas. Although some of the avenues we took analyzing our product ended up as dead ends, we learned all the skills needed to get to that point. If we were to analyze a different device in the future, we'll be ready to repeat those same steps quickly and efficiently to get further in our research and to explore more new things. Even though my time as a Summer Games intern has concluded, I hope to continue in this field in the future.