Published: November 08, 2023
Students Get An Insider’s Look into the Secret Service
But that’s what happened last Thursday for about 28 students involved in Root@UT, the Criminology Club and the Cryptocurrency Club, who attended an event on campus that brought together representatives from the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, the St. Petersburg Police Department and several representatives from the Secret Service.
The event offered a chance for students to interact, ask questions and learn real-world skills through hands-on stations and mock scenarios under the direction and supervision of the agents and officers.
The first station mimicked a cryptocurrency heist, which traced stolen crypto on the blockchain, a modern-day application of a little-known aspect of the Secret Service, which was created after the Civil War to stop counterfeit money.
Connor Andrews ’24 said the event was important because a lot of people don’t fully understand what the Secret Service does. Most think it’s solely to protect the president. He’s the vice president of Root@UT, which serves as a cybersecurity incubator for students to gain technical knowledge in both offensive and defensive security. The club's adviser, Louis Bobelis, part-time faculty in the Department of Information and Technology Management, aids the students with resume building and securing internships.
Andrews said he was excited for the chance to interact with the Secret Service, because “they have the best technology.”
“They have a lot behind closed doors,” he said.
The second station was a video analysis, where they highlighted what to look for in a digital crime scene cleanup. The simulated crime took place at an ATM, and the students had to write down everything they saw, even though it was pitch black. It was an exercise in hands-on data recovery, which showed how they would process data in a crime scene.
The third station, which Andrews said he was most interested in, demonstrated how to brute force a phone, a tactic that allows data to be extracted without a passcode, and which Andrews learned can take four to five months for an iPhone.
Lastly, there was a data forensics station, where they "found" a flash drive on the ground, took a copy of it and analyzed it using software similar to what is used in UT cybersecurity classes.
Angela Ramos, the co-advisor of the group and a cybersecurity lecturer, said the event came together after she met a member of the Secret Service. The agent wanted to talk to students to highlight the work the organization does. Ramos proposed the idea to the club’s student leadership, and they were all interested in the opportunity.
Andrews, who interned with an accounting firm as a business information security officer this past summer and will again in Summer 2024, said the representatives also provided career advice and recommended trainings and certifications. They reminded attendees to be smart about what they post online and to not overlook getting involved with local law enforcement.
To get involved with Root @ UT, join on Involve or show up to a meeting in ICB 210 on Fridays from 6-8 p.m., Ramos said. The group is open to all majors.