“We Deserve to Know When Our Information Isn’t Safe, or to Have Safer Information”
April 06, 2022
Meet LSU cybersecurity student Sarah Buckley.
Baton Rouge—LSU computer science senior Sarah Buckley from Mandeville, Louisiana is training to be a cyber warrior. She received a security clearance from the National Security Agency (NSA) already three years ago, to help defend the United States against cyber attacks. That was not long after she raised her hand in her first cybersecurity class at LSU to ask, “What’s a zero-day?”
“I asked because I didn’t know, and the entire class fell silent,” Buckley remembered about how she learned the most common term for a software vulnerability. “That’s when I decided to learn everything I could, as fast as I could.”
Buckley was accepted into the NSA’s most high-level internship program in 2019, but she couldn’t go. Within months, her mom went from initial diagnosis to dying from pancreatic cancer, and then Buckley got COVID-19, which developed into vascular dementia, or brain fog. She finally returned to LSU to finish her bachelor’s degree last fall, became one of about two dozen students in the LSU Applied Cybersecurity Lab—a world leader in memory forensics and malware research—and was selected for the LSU-National Science Foundation Scholarships for Service (SFS) program, which will support her through graduation this May and then onto an accelerated master’s track, also at LSU.
“Before I got involved with cybersecurity at LSU, I didn’t really know what cybersecurity was, honestly. I knew not to make my password ‘password123,’ but I didn’t understand how cybersecurity works and how important it is for us to have this expertise in Louisiana where we have so much critical infrastructure.”
“SFS will pay for the rest of my college career,” Buckley said. “It’s unbelievable. I mean, what does that? And after I get my degree, I’m guaranteed a job. Terrible, right?”
The primary focus of Buckley’s research is penetration testing. Also known as ethical hacking, a penetration test is when cybersecurity experts simulate an attack on a computer system to find as many vulnerabilities as possible, so they can be fixed before an actual attack occurs. Buckley says it’s hard to fathom just how many vulnerabilities there are. Banks and bigger companies routinely do penetration testing to protect themselves and their customers, but zero-days are everywhere.
As a cybersecurity professional, Buckley wants to help protect small businesses and regular residents.
“Before getting involved in cybersecurity, I had no idea how vulnerable we really are,” Buckley said. “We might not all be big targets, but when we’re small, we’re also helpless. Mom-and-pop shops, small credit unions. We deserve to know when our information isn’t safe, or to have safer information.”
Buckley wants to also fight social engineering, when computer users are manipulated into doing things, or sharing sensitive and confidential information.
“Before I got involved with cybersecurity at LSU, I didn’t really know what cybersecurity was, honestly,” Buckley said. “I knew not to make my password ‘password123,’ but I didn’t understand how cybersecurity works and how important it is for us to have this expertise in Louisiana where we have so much critical infrastructure.”
“Cybersecurity is highly technical,” Buckley continued. “And if I hadn’t seen other female students working in our Applied Cybersecurity Lab, I’m not sure I would have realized this could be for me—I actually came to LSU to study veterinary medicine because I love wild animals. Now, I’m very much aware that cybersecurity is for me and that the SFS program has skyrocketed my career prospects and given me a foot in the door for big-name jobs. Now, I just want my work to benefit others. I like helping people.”
Buckley recently worked as an intern at TraceSecurity in Baton Rouge, a company that helps Louisiana businesses and organizations protect themselves from cyber attacks.
“Cyber threats will only become more well-planned and harder to fight,” said Colette Burke, security services team lead at TraceSecurity. “This is why we’re extremely fortunate to have had Sarah on our team as an intern. She broke records as the fastest analyst to train and qualify on all of the technical services we provide, and then trained others. Her hard work, innate talent, and gift of gab make her a natural leader, and her unique contributions to TraceSecurity will carry forward for years to come.”
LSU Announces Strategy and Commitment to Become Leader in Cybersecurity, Military Studies (LSU)
LSU Selected to Apply for National Centers of Academic Excellence in Cyber Operations (LSU Engineering)
FIREStarter: LSU Partners with Louisiana State Police, Industry to Train Hundreds of New Cybersecurity Professionals, Deploy Cyber Range with State Support (LSU Office of Research & Economic Development)
The Hunt for New Hackers (LSU Office of Research & Economic Development)
LSU Awarded $3.4 Million NSF Cybersecurity Training Grant (LSU Engineering)
This news story was featured in LSU’s free research publication, Working for Louisiana, where you can learn more about how work on every LSU campus impacts residents and industry in the state and beyond.