Growing up in Thomson, Georgia, Ben Benson was always interested in his information technology classes in high school.
But when one of his favorite high school teachers, Ebony Sanders, announced she was changing careers and pursuing a master’s degree in cybersecurity, it made him think twice about his own future.
“Back when I was at Thomson High School, I really started getting into technology, mainly general IT, but I wanted to do something more meaningful than handling help desk tickets,” Benson said. “For me, cybersecurity has some of those same kinds of IT interests, but it also has meaning behind it.
“Whether you’re protecting the country through cyber defense, keeping customer data safe or making sure hospital health information is secure, it’s an important role.”
October is Cybersecurity Awareness Month and the theme this year is “Do Your Part. #BeCyberSmart.” The 2021 theme is meant to empower individuals and organizations to own their role in protecting their part of cyberspace.
In May, Benson, 23, graduated from Augusta University’s School of Computer and Cyber Sciences with a Bachelor of Science in Information Technology with a concentration in cybersecurity and a minor in computer science. He is currently pursuing a master’s degree in information security management while working as a student assistant and an information security analyst at Augusta University’s Security Operations Center located inside the Georgia Cyber Center.
“We are analyzing and triaging threats from alerts that we get from our various tools,” Benson said, explaining the student assistants analyze about 100 to 150 possible network security events a day using security information and event management technology, endpoint detection and response and vulnerability scanning software. “This work is so important, especially for the security of the nation.
The U.S. Army Cyber Protection Brigade was first activated at Fort Gordon in 2014. The CPB’s mission is to defend key terrain in cyberspace, deter threats and deliver effects that ensure freedom of action for friendly forces while denying the same to adversaries.
This August, Benson proudly received a Scholarship for Service from the National Science Foundation.
“It’s a full-ride scholarship and, for every academic year that you’re getting the scholarship, you serve for a calendar year,” Benson said. “With the Scholarship for Service from the National Science Foundation, you can serve through any executive department or an agency or branch of the military. As part of that, you also get a living stipend and a professional development stipend. It’s incredible because they pay for tuition, books and fees. Basically, everything.”
While working as a student assistant at SOC, Benson said he creates and updates correlation searches for the operation center’s security information and event management technology.
“A correlation search is a scheduled search that looks for evidence of malicious activity, misconfigurations and other security concerns across all of the logs, like firewall traffic, that the SIEM collects,” Ben said. “I also help the other students with resolving and triaging alerts from the SIEM and EDR, as well as phishing emails when needed.”
In addition, he reviews requests for virtual private network access using ticket tracking software and endpoint and user information databases. He also investigates possible malware infections primarily using EDR and ticket tracking tools.
“It’s an awesome experience,” he said. “I mean, I think the thing that I like most about cybersecurity is it’s constantly changing, so there’s always something new to learn.”
In his spare time, Benson doesn’t stray far from information technology.
“I love building and configuring computers, writing anything from simple scripts to more complex web apps and learning about new attack types and how to defend against them,” he said. “I also built my desktop PC for gaming and I’m working on expanding and creating a home lab so I can do some interesting cybersecurity stuff at home, like malware analysis or network sniffing.”
When Benson is not at his computer, he’s enjoying life with his fiancé in their new home that they recently purchased in Thomson.
“We closed on a new house and our wedding is in October, so life is busy,” Benson said, chuckling and adding that he is the youngest of five children in his family. “We are all very different. I’m the only one in cybersecurity. But my family is super supportive and really happy for me because they know that I love what I’m doing.”