By U.S. Army Cyber CommandNovember 1, 2016
Showing a wide spectrum of talent and dedication that benefits the nation, a U.S. Army Cyber Command captain is advancing his military development, building ARCYBER capabilities, deepening Army partnerships with industry and academia, and helping to curb cybercrime, all at once.
Capt. Pete Renals is a Cyber Warfare Officer currently attending Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) as part of the ARCYBER scholarship program. To complete one of the requirements for his master's degree in information security, Renals spent his summer completing an internship program with a cybersecurity company. During his time there he learned threat intelligence skills that helped him discover information that will be used to stop more than 100 cyber criminals from spreading malware.
Renals graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. in 2008 with a degree in computer science and was commissioned as a Military Intelligence officer. After a stint with the 10th Mountain Division and deployment with the division's 1st Brigade to Afghanistan, he was assigned to the 780th Military Intelligence Brigade at Fort Meade, Md., serving as a company commander and assistant operations officer. Following that assignment he was selected to join the Cyber National Mission Force, U.S. Cyber Command, at Fort Meade. In 2015 he transferred to the newly established Cyber Branch.
After getting some hands-on cyber experience Renals wanted to expand his technical skills by pursuing a master's degree. He applied to attend CMU through ARCYBER's scholarship program, and is currently in his second year of study there. His CMU curriculum has included course work in areas such as networking, programming, host forensics, malware reverse engineering, network forensics and cyber intelligence -- and required him to complete an internship with industry.
With the approval and support of ARCYBER, the captain applied directly for an internship with a technology company that builds security solutions and often engages in dialogue with the Army to help bridge the gap between the Department of Defense and Silicon Valley.
As an intern Renals worked with the company's threat intelligence team. The team lead said one of its goals is to figure out how cyber bad guys operate and use that knowledge to improve its products. Renals was asked to look into the activities of a group that had been considered nuisance hackers.
The captain made some interesting findings, and ultimately uncovered more than 100 malicious cyber actors and isolated their infrastructure -- the websites and domains they used to carry out their activities.
"I think it's critical to note that these actors have begun registering domains that impersonate legitimate U.S. government organizations, in order to conduct fraudulent activities and support their malware," he said.
The team lead said Renals's research, and the ways he designed to find these adversaries, made the company realize that the group had evolved from a nuisance into cyber criminals. Identifying them and their infrastructure enabled the company to take proactive measures to shut down those threats and protect the Army and thousands of other customers from these types of malicious attacks.
Putting the brakes on dozens of cyber criminals is a pretty significant achievement in itself, but Renals said the time he has devoted to his studies and internship has had even further-reaching benefits for all concerned. It has strengthened the relationships between ARCYBER and the technology sector and academia; provided him with first-hand knowledge of the intern and scholarship programs that he can use to encourage other young officers to apply; and given him an opportunity to represent the Army in a positive way he hopes will encourage companies to recruit more interns from the Army's ranks.
And of course there are professional benefits for the captain that benefit ARCYBER and its partners as well. He said knowing how private industry operates is important to all Army senior leaders, and understanding the capabilities of private industry -- specifically how they track and defend against malicious cyber actors -- is critical knowledge for anyone assigned to a Cyber Mission Force team.
The intelligence team lead had high praise for Renals's talents and contributions during his internship. As a result of that success, he said, the company is planning to expand its intern program.
But perhaps the greatest benefit of Renals's internship is not easily quantifiable.
"I think the most important value I got out of this is building relationships with a world-class intelligence shop and bridging the gap between them and (the military)," Renals said.
The team lead echoed that sentiment. The private sector and the military both have a great deal of capability, recognize that they need to work together, and place great value on their partnership, he said.
Renals expects to graduate his master's program in May and will be assigned to a position within the Army to strengthen the operational force by applying the skills he has learned.
ABOUT US: United States Army Cyber Command and Second Army directs and conducts integrated electronic warfare, information and cyberspace operations as authorized, or directed, to ensure freedom of action in and through cyberspace and the information environment, and to deny the same to our adversaries.
Interested in joining the cyber team? Check out the information links for military and civilian cyber professionals on the ARCYBER home page at www.arcyber.army.mil