In honor of Cyber Security Awareness month, we had the opportunity to speak with current Cyber Forensics master’s student, Sarah Surzyn about her journey into the world of forensics.
Upon earning her bachelor’s in digital forensics and minoring in criminal justice, Sarah worked as an intern for The Walt Disney Company in IT Security. It was that internship that led to her current position as a Cyber Forensic Analyst in the Insider Threat and Risk team at General Motors. Over the course of her two year tenure at GM, Sarah has attended several conferences and courses to improve her skills, recently acquired the EnCE (EnCase Certified Examiner), and the GASF (GIAC Advanced Smartphone Forensics) certification. Even with all of these credentials, Sarah wanted to pursue her master’s degree in order to stay current in the field. She explains, “I am at the beginning of the program at Stevenson, but I'm impressed with both the faculty and staff, they have been very helpful. They always reach out with opportunities such as job openings and webinars.”
Sarah’s interest in forensics began when she was accepted to Bloomburg University with a soccer scholarship. At first, she was unsure what to study but decided on digital forensics because she enjoyed her high school computer classes. Upon visiting the campus, she learned more about the field and it sealed the deal. Sarah explains, “I never heard of computer or digital forensics before, but when I visited and met with one of the professors, he told me how he was able to pinpoint a person’s location based on the pings from cell phone towers. After that I knew forensics was for me!”
No stranger to the forensics field now, Sarah is familiar with the challenges professionals face within digital and cyber forensics. She says, “The most challenging aspect of my job is staying on task for cases. We get a good flow of cases coming in every day for us to review and sometimes it is hard to determine which case takes precedence.” Sarah continues by explaining that her team is also tasked with internal requests so it is vital for her to take good notes on cases to ensure she does not miss a beat.
Although the job can be challenging, Sarah counts herself lucky to be able to do something she enjoys and work with a great team. She notes, “I know it is called work, but it does not feel like work to me. I have the opportunity to solve all of these puzzles. The famous quote by Marc Anthony describes me so well: ‘If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.’”
To Sarah, the two most valuable lessons she has learned are self-motivation and the importance of continuing education. At GM, there are no strict deadlines, therefore each team member is responsible for setting the pace for their case turnaround time. Continuing education is vital because technology changes so quickly and it is easy to fall behind. Sarah says, “I try to read a new article, blog post, or whitepaper every week. Learning does not end when you finish school.”
Time management is also a skill that has served Sarah well in her educational and professional journeys. Although she works with computers and technology every day, Sarah describes herself as a “pen and paper kind of gal.” All of her work meetings are organized in a notebook by the date of the meeting and the topic. Along with the notebooks, during the school year she prints out monthly calendars and assignments listed on their due dates. It is her belief that if you physically write something down it helps you remember it more.
Thinking about all that she has experienced in the cyber forensics field, Sarah would advise anyone starting out to put themselves out there. She explains, “Whether that means attending a conference, studying for a certification, writing a blog post or something else. This industry is quite small and once you get to know others who are already in this field, doors just keep opening!”
Outside of cyber forensics, Sarah enjoys being active with friends playing soccer and volleyball, training at Camp Gladiator, running races, and geocaching around the U.S. She also enjoys her downtime with her boyfriend, Andrew and their dog, Skye. Sarah’s favorite place to travel is Disney World due to her love of all things Disney. She says, “There is always something new to see or experience and it never gets old to me! On my last trip, I did a Wild Africa Trek which was an exhilarating safari adventure that included crossing over a rope bridge with alligators laying below.”
Inspiration for Sarah is found in several places as she counts herself fortunate to have so many influential people in her life including; her parents, who inspire her to have great relationships, her boyfriend who inspires to be more confident in myself, and her brothers who push her to live every day to its fullest. She continues, “My Camp Gladiator trainers inspire me to be a better athlete. My coworkers and boss inspire me to be a harder worker. SANS inspires me to be a better leader in forensics. Without all these great people, I wouldn’t be who I am today and I can’t thank them enough.”