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Hayden Nolan: What I Learned from My SOC Analyst Internship at eSentire

BY Hayden Nolan

January 9, 2024 | 6 MINS READ

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This guest blog was originally posted by Hayden Nolan, who recently completed his 8-month SOC Analyst internship and is now a part-time Tier 1 SOC Analyst.

After working odd jobs for a few years, I took the opportunity afforded by the onset of the pandemic to start learning about cybersecurity, and quickly fell in love with it after attending my first CTF in 2021.

Since then, cybersecurity has become my biggest passion in life. In my second year of study, I secured an 8-month Security Operations Center (SOC) Analyst internship with eSentire, allowing me to get my first experience in the industry.

In this post, I’ll be summarizing my experience from my internship as a SOC Analyst at eSentire.

Disclaimer: these are entirely my own words and sentiments. This post was written for a class assignment that eSentire is not aware of.

Applying Knowledge

Every day at work I got to apply basic security principles learned in classes like Intro to Computer Security. Analyzing network traffic was a large part of the job, so the knowledge gained from Introduction to Networking and Advanced Networking I & II was extremely valuable. Understanding network fundamentals and common protocols made the job much easier.

Additionally, I often had to spend time analyzing malicious scripts and compromised websites, so the scripting/programming knowledge gained from the Python for IT and Web/Script Development classes also came in handy. On the non-technical side, Business Communications was a helpful course, because communicating is at least half of the job of a SOC Analyst.

But that’s just the things I learned from school. Outside of school, educational platforms like TryHackMe and HackTheBox were instrumental in preparing me for this job. It’s hard to understate how valuable these platforms are.

Taking Pride in the Work

The thing I’m most proud of about this internship is that I was able to provide value to real people. Up until now, my journey in security has been for fun and education. This was the first time I was able to apply my skills to help people.

And, not only did I get to help protect organizations, but individuals as well - a significant amount of the security incidents that you deal with as a SOC Analyst are people downloading malware on their work devices, and often that malware is designed to hurt individuals, rather than organizations - for example, banking credential stealers.

It feels good to know that on multiple occasions, I was able to spot malware and stop it before an individual could be hurt by it.

While most of us are drawn to the security field by the technological challenge aspect of the work, it’s important to remember that we really are making a difference in people’s lives. It especially helps to remember this in the SOC, where the work can often be overwhelming. Staying grounded and remembering why we do this can be a good way to prevent complacency.

Why eSentire?

The best thing about interning at eSentire isn’t really a single thing, but the general structure of the organization. There are so many horror stories about SOCs online, and they are notorious for inducing burnout in new employees. eSentire does an amazing job at the organization level of avoiding this and it’s felt in every aspect of the job.

First, the work is very collaborative - any time someone isn’t able to figure out an investigation by themselves, or simply just wants a second pair of eyes to verify their findings, people are always available to help, often with multiple people pitching in.

Additionally, they give you the freedom to learn and make mistakes as a new analyst. Nobody is breathing down your neck, forcing you to complete every investigation within X minutes. Nobody is going to get mad at you for making an honest mistake. Instead, it’s a culture of support - if someone is falling behind and has a queue of events building up, people will grab some of their older events. If someone makes a mistake, they’re provided meaningful feedback and shown how to avoid those mistakes in the future.

The potential of making mistakes was something I was rather afraid of before starting the job, but that fear quickly went away, because each time I did make a mistake (and mark my words, you WILL make mistakes), I got the reassurance needed to restore my confidence and continue working.

Another thing eSentire does to help SOC Analysts is assist us in staying up to date with our cybersecurity education. As anyone in the industry knows, there is simply too much happening on a daily basis to keep up with everything in the security world. eSentire has multiple ways of finding the information that’s most important to us analysts and distilling it down into easy to digest information so that analysts can be prepared to handle new emerging threats every day.

Finally, the company culture at eSentire is very open and friendly. Everybody is accessible and happy to talk. I often had the opportunity to interact with people on senior teams which was very inspiring and eye opening to the type of work I might get to do someday.

Advice to Aspiring Interns

My advice to any interns in the SOC (and new analysts in general) is as follows:

Learn to love taking notes

It is impossible to remember everything in your head, so don’t try! Taking good notes will save you hours and hours of work. Use something like Obsidian or Logseq and spend time setting up a system that you can navigate easily. If you like, there’s even whole communities dedicated to different notetaking techniques and frameworks.

Stay calm

SOCs are very fast-paced environments and it’s easy to get overwhelmed and burn out. It’s easy to cut corners on investigations when you have a big queue of events to work through that keeps building up. However, it’s important to always do your due diligence and stay focused on the individual task at hand.

Ask questions and don’t be afraid of looking stupid

First of all, people in security love sharing knowledge and teaching others, so you should never be afraid to ask questions in general. But especially in the SOC, you will be constantly exposed to things you’ve never seen before. Often you can make sense of things by researching on your own, but there will undoubtedly be situations where you simply are not able to figure out what you’re looking at. In those situations, it’s very important to reach out to your team and ask someone for help. Chances are someone else has seen this activity before and already figured out what it is.

Get into a routine

Each investigation will follow the same overall steps, so it helps to stick to an exact routine with each investigation. This doubles as a way of ensuring you perform due diligence. If you follow a mental list of checks for each investigation, you’ll be less likely to forget a step and miss something.

Looking to kickstart your new role within cybersecurity? Join our high-growth cybersecurity team and do work that matters as you pursue your passion, enhance your skills, and create the career you deserve. Visit our Careers page to browse open opportunities at eSentire and apply!

Hayden Nolan
Hayden Nolan Tier 1 SOC Analyst

Hayden Nolan is a third-year Networking and IT Security student at Ontario Tech University. He recently completed his 8-month SOC Analyst internship with eSentire and is now a part-time Tier 1 SOC Analyst. As a Tier 1 Analyst, Hayden’s responsibilities include triaging security alerts for our customers to determine whether or not they pose a genuine threat, and notifying the customer appropriately if the alert is determined to be a true positive.

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