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Fulfilling Research

March 7, 2022

Fulfilling.

That’s the word Tanner Lange uses to describe his future career in cyber defense. Whether he is employed at a federal agency or in law enforcement intelligence, he said, “both would be fulfilling careers.”

To help him on this career path, Dakota State provides an opportunity for a fulfilling research experience.

Lange received a grant for a Student Research Initiative (SRI) project on “The Current Role of Open-Source Intelligence (OSINT) in Online Child Exploitation Investigations.” OSINT is any information that can legally be gathered from free, public sources about an individual or organization.

“I very much appreciate Dakota State making these opportunities for student research,” he said. “I’m glad I got the opportunity to do this.” Tanner Lange

Preliminary research for this project showed, “There are many products and methodologies that exist to collect and analyze OSINT on a large scale,” he said, “and they are automated so that investigators don’t have to manually collect information and analyze it.”

But Lange noticed some interesting trends. He saw that there weren’t many effective methodologies or products being used to quickly and effectively investigate leads, which meant law enforcement can end up using considerable resources to follow up on leads.

“This extra effort can create a backlog of up to two years to process cases,” he said.

“This is an area where OSINT tools really need to be developed rapidly to help ease the strain on the law enforcement agencies that are trying to analyze and investigate these cases,” said Lange. He is a Cyber Operations/Network and Security Administration double major from Stillwater, MN.

“I’d love to help law enforcement as much as I can, and that, obviously, would be the end goal of the project, to try and find something that I could give to them to aid them in their investigations,” he said, “but even if I don’t use the results I find, I think the challenge of investigating this issue and trying to develop a new product or methodology is a fun challenge.”

Along with potential solutions to real-world problems, the research skills learned are an important benefit of the projects, said Lange’s mentor, Dr. Francisca Opoku-Boateng, Assistant Professor of Computer and Cyber Sciences in The Beacom College of Computer and Cyber Sciences.

“For every student, especially with an SRI, it’s not just about doing a project, it’s about the research skills they develop,” she stated.

Even basic skills such as being able to research papers are significant. “If students continue on to graduate school, they are a step ahead of people without that experience,” she said. Lange will begin graduate work soon, as he is part of the 4+1 program at DSU, in which students can receive their bachelor’s and master’s degrees in five years. 

Lange is developing these important research skills, but soft skills as well. Personal interviews are involved with his project, so he is developing communication experience as he creates and asks interview questions for law enforcement agencies. He also hopes to develop some programming skills.

He is enjoying the process so much that he’d like to start another project after this to develop a product that would address the gaps he has identified.

“I very much appreciate Dakota State making these opportunities for student research,” he said. “I’m glad I got the opportunity to do this.”

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