Cutting Edge Interns with CyberFirst

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Since its inception in 2016, the NCSC’s CyberFirst Programme has been pivotal in helping to develop the UK’s next generation of cyber professionals. Here at Illuminate, we’ve been a proud supporter of the Program for a number of years, hosting interns and supporting them on their journey to being the cyber security experts of tomorrow. 

Illuminate is now in our third year of engaging with CyberFirst and we appreciate the access it gives us to a very high calibre of Summer students and graduates, as well as lending our support to the goals of the CyberFirst Program itself. 

Our business focuses on advanced telecom monitoring systems, addressing cyber security requirements for 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G physical and virtual networks. Just as CyberFirst interns and apprentices bring a genuine willingness to learn, in turn we offer them an insight into real-world network security challenges and how they’re managed. Our interns are thrown in at the deep end, learning about cutting edge technology and being part of teams that deal with live customer issues.   

With this year’s interns, we have as always, been blown away at the amazing work they’ve produced in their short time here. We (virtually) sat down with them to discuss their time here at Illuminate.

Tell us a bit about yourself and your experiences as a CyberFirst intern

T: “I am a computer science student about to start the fifth and final year of my degree. My main interests lie in software engineering and machine learning which are both covered extensively in my degree program.

Being on the CyberFirst scheme since my first year of university, this will be my fourth summer placement – all of which I have thoroughly enjoyed and found to be incredibly fulfilling and educational.

In previous years I have worked at a small enterprise that provides cyber security training and certification where I created tools to help automate parts of their process. I have also worked in the R&D faculty of a large company, utilizing deep learning for an internal project.”

E: “I joined Illuminate as a summer intern, between the second and third years of my integrated masters degree in computing. My first summer as a CyberFirst student, I attended a cybersecurity training program where I got the opportunity to further and practise the cybersecurity skills I had developed during my course, and network with other students.”

Why did you choose Illuminate for an internship?

T: “When exploring options for placements, I was intrigued by the work they do utilizing cutting edge data science techniques in the context of mobile network security. I felt it would be a great opportunity to develop my existing skills and also get some exposure to areas I have not worked in before.”

E: “I will admit that I hadn’t heard of Illuminate before joining the CyberFirst scheme – but after I learned of their work in the field of network monitoring and security I was very interested and began to research the company, eventually applying for an interview. During the interview process and subsequent offer everyone at Illuminate was very considerate, friendly and accommodating of my particular needs, which was especially important to me as the Covid-19 situation was just beginning to make itself known and while I was very keen not to miss out on the opportunity to work over the Summer, I equally wanted to make certain that I was doing so safely. Their proactive attitude towards safe working in this situation really confirmed to me that Illuminate was a company with their employees’ best interests at heart, and so would be the best place for me to spend my summer, so I accepted their offer.”

What are you working on?

T: “I am currently working on implementing a system to classify the quality of communication channels by inferring properties such as latency and packet loss rates. This involves applying various machine learning techniques to analyse packet captures.

Being given complete ownership of the project allows me to develop skills not only in implementation but also in surrounding aspects such as design and documentation. I get mentored by senior members of the team who are always on hand if I have a question or need help.”

E: “My project involves working with an open source software package called OpenAirInterface to simulate network traffic on 4G and 5G networks, with a focus on the radio access network component of LTE. This includes putting existing and novel attacks into practise in an entirely virtualised network, which allows us to examine how these attacks present themselves in complex and dynamic network settings, and the impact they have on the network as a whole. This provides insight into potential detection and prevention measures that could be put in place to protect the network from these threats. In particular, I have an interest in 5G networks, as Illuminate is currently working to develop new solutions for the incoming wave of standalone 5G networks that will start to appear in the next few years.”

Being given the opportunity to work in such a cutting edge field has been really exciting for me. 5G is a really fascinating topic with incredible real-world relevance. The OpenAirInterface simulator is a really educational open source project, and learning about 5G and radio access networks has been both informative and engaging for me – as someone with a strong interest in both cybersecurity and networks, this has been an ideal fit for me, and getting to see how threats present themselves in practical settings has been really fun for me.”

How has the experience developed you?

T: “The opportunity to manage a project myself has been an invaluable experience. Having a large degree of independence has helped me develop a wider appreciation of the project management process. The feedback I receive has helped me refine my skills and I am very grateful for it. The daily stand-ups and show and tells provide a way for me to improve my communication when explaining technical details.”

E: “During my placement at Illuminate, I have really developed my communication skills and understanding of the agile development process, in addition to the technical skills and knowledge that I have gained and honed over these weeks.”

What are your ambitions for the future?

T: “I hope to find myself in a similar role where I can utilize my skills in programming and data science to provide benefit to customers.  I really enjoy the challenges and finding innovative ways to tackle them when working in this industry. Learning new technologies and techniques has always been something I enjoy greatly and hope to continue doing so in the future.”

E: “After my degree, I hope to progress to a job within the field of cybersecurity, working with one of the CyberFirst partner companies, like Illuminate. I would love for my role to include similar technical elements to what I am working on currently – I have a strong interest in network dynamics and the cutting-edge nature of my project is really exciting for me.”

Would you encourage the CyberFirst program to others?

T: “I want to thank CyberFirst and Illuminate for the opportunity provided by this work placement. Everyone here has been very welcoming and helpful and my time here has been extremely beneficial in developing real world skills.”

E: “Yes, I would recommend CyberFirst to others. Not only for the obvious reasons of financial support throughout your studies and placement opportunities, but because of the network of likeminded students that the scheme has granted me access to. The placements are engaging and really helpful for developing personal and practical skills, along with enhancing your CV, and there are a huge range of events and opportunities provided by the scheme all throughout the year. So yes, if you are interested in cybersecurity, you should look into it – even if you aren’t studying computer science or cybersecurity. Some of the folks I know from the scheme are studying mathematics, physics, and more – so don’t be put off!”

Closing Words

Working with the CyberFirst program has not only been beneficial for the students that we’ve hosted but also for us as an organisation. The students who’ve joined Illuminate have brought with them new ideas and critical ways of thinking, thanks to the range of backgrounds from which they come.

At Illuminate we have loved seeing the students who we host grow both professionally and technically. It’s great seeing their drive and willingness to learn as well as their ability to contribute so well to the team and produce major deliverables during their time with us.

CyberFirst will continue to be part of our organisation’s mission to play a part in developing the cyber security professionals of the nation’s future. If you’re interested in learning more about what it means to be part of CyberFirst, the programs they offer or even applying then you can find out more on the NCSC’s website here. If you’re not on CyberFirst but would be interested in joining Illuminate you can check out our careers page for new opportunities

About Illuminate: 

Illuminate provides advanced telecom monitoring systems to address the cyber security requirements for 5G physical and virtual network infrastructure, as well as existing 2G/3G and 4G mobile infrastructure. 

The capabilities we provide are used for cyber threat detection, legal compliance for critical communications infrastructure, and for public safety. Our intelligence-led insights into mobile and data networks help pinpoint and monitor key data in the mass of network traffic, to identify and manage threats at their source. 

About Illuminate

At the forefront of technology – we deliver strategic insight and performance with products, services, and talent that evolve at the speed of data. Currently supporting clients in defense, intelligence, and telecommunications.

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