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Kelley Criddle stands in the classroom server room in Dakota State University's Beacom Institute of Technology. Criddle is a senior majoring in network and security administration at DSU. IMAGE: DSU

CybHER operator: A Q&A with Kelley Criddle, network and security administration major at Dakota State University

Editor's note: As part of our Generation Next feature, Prairie Business today interviews Kelley Criddle, a senior at Dakota State University in Madison, S.D. Criddle is majoring in network and security administration and minoring in cyber forensics, and in this interview, she talks about what drew her to the IT-related fields. 

Q. Were you interested in cybersecurity in high school?

I was not very interested in the cyber community at all in high school. My father did mention to me that DSU has a specialty in cyberops, and I said, “I'm not smart enough for that.” (laughs)

I actually came to DSU to be a teacher. But I took a class where I found out that being a teacher was not for me; and I was like, well, heck, where do I go now?

So I talked to one of my favorite teachers here at the time, Kathy Engbrecht, and I asked for her advice. She said, well, how about you try a couple of computer classes?

I said “OK.”  I took a couple of classes, got involved, and ended up really liking it.

Q. How was it different from what you’d expected?

At first, what really put me off of the cyber community was my thought that it was just a lot of men. That and the fact that as I said, I did not think I was smart enough.

But DSU has done a great job of making me feel that I belong, because all my male peers – and my peers are mostly all male – are all very nice to me. I feel like I'm “one of the guys,” pretty much. They're very respectful, and they've been very, very nice.

Q. How about your worries about the difficulty?

The big thing that I’ve learned is that we all know more about this subject than we think we do, because on a daily basis, we deal with computers all the time. We deal with wi-fi, we deal with everything.

And besides, my professors just started from the very beginning. For example, when I got into programming, I didn't even know what a program was. I didn't know what it did or why you needed one.

But I learned that a program just takes your language in which you’re describing what you want the computer to do, and translates that into the computer’s language – so it can do what you want it to do.

Like I said, it gets more complicated, and I spend a lot of time studying. So it's never been an easy major – never at all.

It takes a lot of work, but I'm not afraid of work. I think that's what makes me a good fit for the major, too.

Q. You were a mentor at the Rocket Girls CyberSpace Camp and got to visit the Kennedy Space Center.

Yes! And a lot of the girls who came on that trip are freshmen at DSU now.

DSU has a lot of other outreach activities, too, such as CybHER Security Camp. (Editor’s note: The week-long camp is supported by the National Security Agency and is the largest girls-only residential camp in the country.)

We had 125 girls, they came and they stayed at DSU, we put them through such fun activities.

I loved working at the camp; it was the highlight of my summer, and these girls are so smart. It's just amazing to see these girls who already know how to program, and they're only in 7th grade and I’m like, “My gosh. You girls are going somewhere.”

Q. You’re majoring in network and security administration and minoring in cyber forensics. What is cyber forensics?

Let's say an employee is working for you, then that employee quits and goes to a competitor. You might have a person -- a cyber forensics expert – come in and look at that person’s computer, just to make sure nothing malicious was going on and that they weren't sharing information with their new company.

This summer, I actually did my internship here in Madison at SBS Cybersecurity. I just loved it. Companies actually hired us to do a lot of things for them; for example, we might do a penetration test, which is where we’d try to find the vulnerabilities in their network.

And from there we’d be able to say, “OK, you have nothing compromised yet, but these are vulnerabilities that a hacker could exploit if they wanted to.”

Q. Have you changed your own cybersecurity habits?

Absolutely! I used to use the same password for everything, and it would be something like, “ILikeCats” – without any symbols or numbers.

Now, I’m a lot more careful. For example, there are apps out there that will encrypt your password; it would take forever for hackers to hack that. That's one of the tools I love to use.

And I lock my computer every time I leave it. I had a lot of bad habits before going into this field.

Q. These days, what goes through your head when you see how computers are portrayed in movies?

I can't help but laugh when there's a hacker sitting there, and they're trying to get into this top secret organization’s files – and within two seconds, they’re in.

I just laugh because that's not how it is. It looks really cool and it's nice for the movies, but in reality, it takes a lot of time and a lot of concentration for a hacker to do that kind of work.

I also think it's cool to see computers in older movies, because it shows how far we've come. It's amazing: We look at the computers back then, and they're as big as rooms, and now we have them in our pockets.

That's one of the things I love about this field – it's so, so fast-paced and interesting.