Through a recent internship at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), James Bigler learned about the important role cybersecurity plays in protecting the nation. He also discovered a passion for the field.

Bigler, an undergraduate computer science major from the Tennessee Technological University in Cookeville, interned at ORNL’s Cyber Security Operations Center (CSOC) through the Higher Education Research Experiences (HERE) Program.

The CSOC team, a part of ORNL’s Information Technology Services Division, works to prevent, detect, analyze and respond to cybersecurity threats on the ORNL network.

Under the guidance of Maria McClelland, team leader for CSOC, Bigler created visualizations from the several terabytes of data processed on the ORNL network each day to quickly detect and respond to threats. He also used machine learning to predict when threats will come.

“This experience has brought about a realization of my own passion for cybersecurity,” Bigler said. “It has given me a goal to strive for and a promising career field in the future. Every day brings new challenges, which push me past my limits and make me learn.”

Bigler’s favorite aspect of the internship was the constantly evolving nature of cybersecurity operations.

ORNL Participant Profile: James Bigler

James Bigler, a participant in the Higher Education Research Experiences Program at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), helps detect and respond to cybersecurity threats on the ORNL network. (Submitted photo)

“It is a fast-paced, ever-changing environment that requires us to always be one step ahead of the worst bad guy,” he said. “If we are not proactively stopping attacks, we will fail to protect the network.”

Bigler’s contributions to CSOC have been showcased at other national laboratories and used in multiple high-level briefings to ORNL leadership and technical analysts, McClelland said.

“James seems to relish challenges and rushes to accept elements outside his comfort and knowledge levels, researching, testing and experimenting on his own many times before others can train him,” McClelland said. “He is incredibly intuitive when it comes to responding to leadership requests. He is dedicated and well-respected even by senior technical members for his skills and abilities.”

In turn, Bigler said McClelland was a “very encouraging” mentor whose drive to keep ORNL safe from attacks served as inspiration.

Ultimately, Bigler plans to pursue a master’s degree in cybersecurity and hopes to return to ORNL.

“The experience (at ORNL) is fantastic for anyone who hopes to pursue a career in this field one day,” Bigler said. “It has allowed me to see firsthand the possibilities in the field and the critical role cybersecurity plays in protecting the nation.”

The HERE program is administered by the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) for the U.S. Department of Energy.