INTERVIEW: Casey Kahsen

My name is Casey Kahsen. I hold a Bachelor’s degree in Digital Forensic Science from Defiance College (Ohio) and a Master’s degree in Digital Forensic Science from Champlain College (Vermont). Additionally, I hold industry-recognized certifications from GIAC (Global Information Assurance Certification) in incident response (GCIH), reverse engineering of malware (GREM), and digital forensics (GCFA). I am also currently pursuing a GIAC certification in Industrial Control Systems Incident Response (GRID, expected 2 February 2018). My professional career has led me through many areas of the field. I started my career at the University of Northwestern Ohio as an instructor of digital forensics. I held this position for a number of years where I administered courses in digital forensics, incident response, network security, and intrusion detection.

In 2014 I accepted a position with Northrop Grumman Corporation as a threat intelligence analyst which brought my family to the Northern Virginia area. While still with Northrop Grumman I am now an incident response analyst supporting the NCCIC (National Cyber Security and Communications Integration Center) with the Department of Homeland Security. I am a member of a small team that deploys on-site to assist in cases involving a myriad of different cyber intrusions. We perform proactive adversary hunts and are responsible for assisting and carrying out technical investigations into federal departments and agencies and their constituents. We also respond to private industry, critical infrastructure, and other local and state entities that request our support. In addition to my “day job” I am also an adjunct instructor of digital forensics at Champlain College. I teach both undergraduate and graduate courses in digital forensics, operational security, and malware analysis. I am also actively involved in the development of graduate courses for the new Operational Security Master’s program at Champlain College. I definitely have enough on my plate to stay busy!

Work life aside, I am married and am a father of 2. I have a 13-year-old daughter and a 1-year-old son. These two definitely keep me busy during my “off the clock” hours! I enjoy the outdoors, sports, fitness, and anything related to those activities. I played baseball my entire young life, including through college and 2 years of single A ball in Texas and New Mexico. To that end, I am an avid Detroit Tigers fan!

“Was there a pivotal point when you realized what your dream was? Did your dream change as you worked toward it?”

I was a sophomore in college and had just transferred. At my previous college, I was studying to be a history major, although I enjoyed the courses I really didn’t know what I wanted to do in terms of a career. When searching for schools to continue playing baseball, I stumbled upon Defiance College based on acquaintances with players who were already there. When the coach asked what I wanted to study I said that I wasn’t really sure. He then questioned what my interests were (at the time, other than baseball there were very few!). When I finally came to the conclusion that I liked computers (based mostly on computer games at the time), he asked if I had been aware of their newly created digital forensics program (it was only a year old at the time that I started). I decided to meet with the advisor of that program to discuss the possibilities and I knew right away that it was what I wanted to do. It was one of the more profound defining moments in my life in terms of career path.

In terms of change, this field is very dynamic, so it did change (or morph) several times as I worked towards a final goal. I started off in higher education, and while that wasn’t the first choice in terms of my “dream career” the lessons that I learned while at this position most certainly paid extreme dividends later in my career (most notably was public speaking, but also the ability to train younger analysts).

“What steps of action did you have to take to accomplish your goals?”

The steps towards completing my goals are always ongoing. The field that I am in moves as fast as technology does (consider how often a new phone comes out). To that end, I am constantly studying, training, and taking certification courses to endure that I am always at the top of my game. In terms of actually “getting into the field”, it required me to make it through 80% of my master’s program. While the piece of paper certainly helps, it was the contacts that I made in the graduate program through hard work and attention to detail that netted the opportunity to submit my resume with Northrop Grumman.

“What was the hardest part of pursuing your dreams?”

It’s a cliche, but the term “nothing good ever comes easy” is most certainly true. However, it is also true that if you find something you truly love you’ll never work a day in your life. I love what I do, every day is a new challenge, and there is always something exciting going on (chasing cyber bad guys is fun right!). All fun aside, pushing through school was probably the hardest part. Some days it felt like there was no light at the end of the tunnel (almost 7 years total in school). But the wait was worth it in the end.

“Do you feel that you have achieved success in your dreams? Are you still working toward your dream or a different one?”

I would say that I have made it to the field where I want to be, but there are always new goals to push for, new promotions, new opportunities, etc. While pursuing the same field, I am always looking for the next big challenge.

“What was the best part of your journey of pursuing your passions?”

The feeling of making a difference is what drives me. Keeping our cyberspace safe from adversaries invisible to most is an awesome feeling.

“Is there any advice you would give someone passionately pursuing their dreams?”

Don’t give up! A baseball coach once told me, you never stay at the same place in a day, you either get better or you get worse. What you choose to do with your day determines that outcome. Make yourself better every day!

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