Brandywine students attend cybersecurity summit in Washington, D.C.

Four students standing in front of a vendor booth in a large conference room.

Penn State Brandywine IST/SRA Club members recently attended Mandiant’s Cyber Defense Summit in Washington, D.C.

Credit: Himani Vommi

MEDIA, Pa. — Penn State Brandywine students who are members of the Information Sciences and Technology/Security Risk Analysis Club recently attended a cybersecurity conference in Washington, D.C., using the opportunity to expand both their knowledge of the field and their networking skills.

The cyber defense summit was hosted by Mandiant, a global cybersecurity company. The event included keynote speakers and breakout sessions covering topics such as malware, hacking and threat intelligence. There was also a session on women in cybersecurity leadership.

“The summit addressed rising threat activity from more sophisticated threat actors putting business and financial risk at an all-time high,” said Andy Landmesser, assistant teaching professor in information sciences and technology. “The summit provided insightful conversations, best practices and innovative ideas to protect against today’s threats and tomorrow’s risks with better safeguards and defenses.”

Himani Vommi, a senior cybersecurity analytics and operations major and president of the IST/SRA Club, found the conference very valuable for the content and the introductions she made.

“I went to a session on security validation and I think that one was my favorite because I was able to ask a question toward the end that was related to my thesis,” Vommi said. “When we were leaving the session, a vice president of Mandiant came up and said he really liked my question, so he wanted to follow up on it and we went into further discussion. I thought that was pretty great. I was able to stand out to someone, shake his hand, and connect with him. It turned out he’s also a Penn State graduate.”

Vendor displays provided another opportunity to learn and network.

“We got to meet with a lot of different partners that Mandiant works with, talking about internships, getting that networking in,” Vommi said. “We got to learn a lot about what each of these companies does and how they bring their solutions to the cybersecurity field, things they're looking for, what kind of things they specialize in that are important.”

For Lawrence Vaalburg, a junior cybersecurity analytics and operations major, this was his first conference.

“It was my first professional event to go to,” he said. “I found it rather exciting because I got to see a lot of interesting technology out there. I also got to talk with a lot of executives and personnel working for Mandiant itself, as well as a lot of the companies that they partner with, so some really interesting stuff.”

“I would say probably the most memorable experience I had was one of the keynote sessions where a malware analyst for Mandiant was presenting a piece of malware that he was dissecting and kind of reconstructing,” Vaalburg added. “Basically, it's like a USB-style worm that instead of trying to infect computers over a network, how you'd typically think an infection would happen, it actually used the USB to transmit itself from computer to computer and communicate with itself. So I thought that was really interesting to see.”

Jack Billow, an information sciences and technology major graduating in December, also thought the experience of attending a large-scale professional conference was valuable.

“I was able to make some connections and talk with the different vendors,” he said. “Just being able to be in that space and have an opportunity to talk to people that work in the industry was great. I had a great time just gabbing with the vendor people about what their company does and what I'm trying to do. I think an important thing, too, is just kind of seeing how people talk in a space that you're trying to enter, and how people carry themselves and interact with each other.”

Vommi agreed, saying, “It was just a fantastic way to get to know people and really expand my network in a way I haven't done before. There's so much you can learn just from talking to the people in industry and connecting with them, and it opens up a lot of opportunities for you, too.”