Jan 10, 2012
Six students currently enrolled in the School of Information Systems and Management at Carnegie Mellon University’s H. John Heinz III College have teamed up with the United States Secret Service on a capstone project that could potentially help the agency bridge disconnected investigations. The project team, guided by advisor and Heinz College faculty member Tim Shimeall, includes Master of Science in Information Security Policy and Management (MSISPM) students Rachel Douglas, Kenneth Hamlin, Luke Hogan, John Interlante, Todd Lewellen and Lynda Pillage.
Instead of writing a master’s thesis, Heinz College students complete a semester-long capstone project, during which they work closely with a real-world client to solve a problem. In this case, the Secret Service came to the students with a difficult challenge.
“We were asked to create a system that takes in computer images and finds a way to correlate them,” explains Rachel Douglas, who will graduate in May with the other team members. “The idea here is that images from different cases could be found to have similarities and the agency, utilizing this new information about file correlations, could pursue newly discovered leads or progress with its current investigations.”
The computer images the team is working with include more than picture files.
“We’re talking about hard disk images and digital evidence of any kind, whether that be on a cell phone, a desktop computer or a laptop computer,” says Todd Lewellen.
The project team was asked to deliver a working prototype with corresponding documentation and recommendations about how to implement the system at scale. Lewellen describes some difficulties faced by the team.
“Conceptualizing the design of the system was the most difficult part. We spent about three weeks just trying to figure out how this thing was going to run, what we wanted it to do and how we were going to do it,” he says.
With the semester coming to a close, the group will present their final materials to the agency this week.
“My experience working with the students was very positive,” says Ryan E. Moore, special agent with the U.S. Secret Service and client-side contact for the project. “I found the students to be extremely engaged and they took their work very seriously.”
“Throughout the duration of the project, I could see they were making steady progress toward their deliverables,” he says.
The ability to work with governmental agencies such as the U.S. Secret Service while attending Heinz College is a great opportunity for MSISPM students with career aspirations in the federal sector. Rigorous coursework combined with real-world partnerships makes for a unique academic experience.
“I would say that this project has been directly applicable to work that I may potentially be doing coming out of Heinz College,” says Luke Hogan. “To have not just academic coursework, but a hands-on experience building a real system for a real client like a federal agency is something you can’t easily duplicate in the classroom. It’s extremely valuable.”
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