Gaining Cybersecurity Experience Through a Virtual Internship: Insights from the Mastercard Program

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Gaining Cybersecurity Experience Through a Virtual Internship: Insights from the Mastercard Program

Are you thinking about entering the cybersecurity field but feel held back by a lack of experience? I totally get it. It's that classic catch-22 situation: you need a job to gain experience, but you need experience to get a job. Setting up home labs and diving into platforms like HackTheBox has been helpful to me, but I still felt like there was more I could be doing, so I kept looking.

During my quest, I remembered someone mentioning that internships could be a great stepping stone. However, having graduated years ago, I believed internships were just for students and not an option for me.

But what if there was a way around this? What if there was a virtual internship that offers projects from top companies for those like us who aren't in school anymore?

Forage is a platform that does just that. They provide hands-on experience from leading companies in various fields, including cybersecurity. From understanding what a security analyst does at MasterCard to designing IAM solutions as a TCS cybersecurity consultant, these virtual internships offer opportunities to practice different cybersecurity skills through simulated real-world challenges.

Although the platform was made for students, there's nothing stopping non-students from joining in.

The Mastercard Job Simulation

As someone who’s trying to build up my cybersecurity experience, I decided to try out Mastercard’s job simulation internship. I'm excited to share my journey through this program with you.

To sum it up, the Mastercard Cybersecurity Virtual Experience Program allows participants to develop important skills and learn what it's like to be a Security Analyst. Through simulated tasks, you get to explore cyber threats and learn how to address them. Not only does this program provide practical experience, but it also boosts your resume by giving you valuable experiences you can highlight in job applications and interviews.

Getting started was super easy! I just created an account on the Forage website and then clicked the start button on Forage's Mastercard page to begin the free program. Right away, I was given details about my first task.

Task One: Identifying a Phishing Email

For my first task, I had to spot the obvious signs of a phishing email that had been sent to some of the employees.

It was definitely a fake.

The email was sent from a Gmail account and was full of spelling and grammar errors.

As a security analyst intern at Mastercard, my job was to polish this phishing email and turn it into a convincing fake for a monthly phishing drill run by the Security Awareness team.

For my assignment, I cleaned up the spelling and grammar mistakes. I also rewrote most of the content to give the email a more professional tone, as if it were coming from the IT department. It urgently warned the recipient that their account was compromised and they needed to update their password within the hour by clicking on a disguised link. Otherwise, their account would be locked. After I finished crafting the email, the Security Awareness team sent it out across the company

Once we received the results of the drill, I was given my second task.

Task Two: Identify Vulnerable Departments and Implement Security Training

The Security Awareness team handed me a report that broke down the numbers for each department. It showed how many employees opened the email, clicked on the link, and entered their password on the linked website. My job was to dig into this data to identify the departments most at risk. Then, I got to work on designing and implementing security training for those departments.

In my security training, I covered some key questions:

  • What is phishing?

  • How can you spot phishing emails?

  • How do we (Mastercard) work to prevent phishing attacks?

I'd love to share my answers with you right here, but I don't want to reveal the answers in case someone decides to take this program.

What I will say is that as I created my slides to answer these questions, I considered my audience. I realized that not everyone might be familiar with the technical jargon, and some might not be thrilled about sitting through another training session. This insight shaped how I laid out the information—making sure it was straightforward and engaging enough to resonate with everyone, no matter their prior knowledge on the topic.

Skills I Developed During the Internship

During my virtual internship at Mastercard, I tackled two challenging tasks that stretched my abilities and helped me grow.

Communication - First, I improved my communication skills. I learned how to break down complex ideas into simple, clear explanations for everyone on our team, no matter their technical knowledge.

Data Analysis - Additionally, I concentrated on data analysis. This task involved analyzing and interpreting data to make informed decisions and offer insights about which teams might need a bit more support. It improved my analytical skills and attention to detail.

Problem-solving - I also improved my problem-solving skills. I faced challenges that required thoughtful and effective solutions. This experience showed me the value of tackling problems systematically.

Security Awareness Training - Lastly, I led a security awareness training session. It was my chance to help our team understand the best security practices and recognize potential threats. Taking on this responsibility not only broadened my understanding of security protocols but also underscored the importance of staying alert in a digital environment.

Overall, my virtual internship at Mastercard was a great journey of growth. It was a fantastic opportunity to enhance my skills in communication, data analysis, problem-solving, and security awareness. Each task brought its own set of challenges and learning moments, all of which significantly contributed to my professional development.

My Thoughts on Virtual Internships

While I don't believe that a virtual internship can completely replace an in-person one, it’s still a fantastic way to pick up unique project experiences that stand out from the usual projects. I think participating in virtual job simulations and documenting your experiences is an excellent way to demonstrate your cybersecurity skills.

For me, participating in this job simulation gave me a real taste of some of the typical tasks and everyday challenges security analysts encounter, giving me a hands-on perspective. Being part of this program was valuable—it deepened my understanding of cybersecurity with practical insights that you just don't get in a traditional education. I’m excited to explore more internships on Forage, improve my skills further, and share all about my journey. Hopefully, these experiences will expand my skill set and land me a cybersecurity job soon.

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