I was going to write about the fun weekend I had – one of my best friends from high school got married and I was honored to be part of the bridal party. She was the most stunning bride.

But then, as I checked the news, got text alerts, triple checked Twitter, and refreshed several news articles at once, I knew I couldn’t. At least, not now. This morning, one, possibly two, shooters fired at and wounded over a dozen people at the US Navy Yard in Washington, DC. As of right now, 13 people are dead. At first, there were a million conflicting stories, each news agency wanting to be first – and in doing so, wrong. There have already been comparisons to the Red Line metro crash in 2009, which killed 9 people. I was here that summer, too.

I’ve lived in the “DMV” region for 3 years now (DC-MD-VA). The kind of security here is unlike any other. It’s disconcerting to get these kinds of reminders: I live in one of the most targeted, secure places in the country. My last post was on 9/11, and there have been various incidents since then. The DC Sniper. Shots fired near the Capitol, near the White House. Is everything related? Of course not. Violence comes with living anywhere, with living in cities. But the capital of the country, of the “free world,” cannot be overlooked. And so, while it alarms me when I see security officers with M16s (or close equivalent) as well as the traditional handguns and tasers, it’s also a not-so-subtle reminder of where I am. I go about my life not overly concerned with much else besides getting out the door on time, being productive at work, making time for friends, finding good food and things to do, and getting back to my loving bed at the end of a long day. This is interspersed with reminders that, by virtue of living in an area bustling with federal buildings, political organizations, and the people who make this country’s major decisions, I am one of the targets. Did the shooter(s) have a nit with the US Navy? The US military? The US in general? Maybe. Maybe not. These mass shootings tend to have very little relevance to who the victims are – they are random, they are just people, they are just the random innocent people, so that we become scared. As we saw from 9/11, as we see from Boston Strong, and as we will see from this, we are more than that.

Still, it doesn’t do much to take the edge off when I see extra police officers keeping an eye on every metro station on seemingly random days; when the ripple effect of one incident leads to closure of several other buildings and evacuations; when, as in today, the region receives a shelter-in-place alert from both local and national police forces. When the people who spend their careers protecting us get killed in the relative safety of their home offices. The US Navy Yard ought to feel like one of the safest locations for these men and women. Today proved, again, that even the safest places have a risk.

My heart and prayers goes out to all victims today, along with families, friends, and coworkers, as it does whenever anything of this nature happens. Mother Nature has also had some things to say this week: in the midst of our wedding festivities, flooding rolled into Colorado, destroying over 1,000 homes. The “unaccounted for” number continues to decrease, but keep Colorado in your hearts as well as this other tragedy unfolds.

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Today, I went to a testing location to take my Security+ exam. I’ve been studying out of a textbook for two months to prepare for it. So what the heck is it?

Security+ is a certification by CompTIA – the Computing Technology Industry Association. They’re a non-profit that basically advocates for IT around the world, helping people to get vendor-neutral certifications and advance the workforce. Cool. They support a number of certifications, one of which is Security+. Security+ is aimed at understanding and implementing network security controls. There are a lot of aspects to this – many of which I would not have thought of at all before preparing for the exam.

Direct from the website:

CompTIA Security+ is an international, vendor-neutral certification that demonstrates competency in:

  • Network security
  • Compliance and operational security
  • Threats and vulnerabilities
  • Application, data and host security
  • Access control and identity management
  • Cryptography

CompTIA Security+ not only ensures that candidates will apply knowledge of security concepts, tools, and procedures to react to security incidents, it ensures that security personnel are anticipating security risks and guarding against them.

It’s quite extensive. And ever-changing. My textbook, though written in 2012, was already outdated (in very few things, but the point still stands). For example, there are new algorithms for encrypting communications and sending them over the Internet. These adapt and update frequently, since attackers discover vulnerabilities they can exploit to gain confidential information, take down servers, and in general create havoc. I learned how to determine if an attack is occurring and the steps to mitigate it and then preserve computer forensic evidence. It was fascinating, if very difficult. More importantly, how to do my best to make sure such an attack has a low chance of occurring. Because no risk can ever be eliminated.

I was relieved, mostly, when I learned I passed today. Focusing on studying and memorizing was really hard when my mind kept wandering to why my boyfriend broke up with me last week. What I wanted to say to him, to ask, to ponder. Healing, dealing with the fact that it was over. This morning, I meant to meditate (my new year’s resolutions have gone out the window since the breakup, but I hope to recover in February). I slept in instead, running out the door to get a little more cramming in at the office before catching a bus to the testing center. I caught the right bus, but missed my stop, so when I got out, I had to run back several blocks, knowing I had just a few minutes before the starting time. It was incredibly cold out; my lungs did not thank me for running outside like that. Once I got there and signed in, they gave me a smile and let me thaw/catch my breath before taking me upstairs to the test room.

The test was hard. I think the hardest I’ve ever done, to this point. That includes my test to become an EMT – though, I guess, to be fair I had an intense semester with lots of coaching for that. I reviewed several of my questions, and finally took the plunge to click “submit.” Then! Then they wouldn’t give me my score until after I took a demographic survey. Finally, I read the small print on the screen – I got a 784, and you need a 750 to pass. Whew!! That means I got the equivalent of 87%. I think I sat there staring at it for a minute until it processed. Then I bundled up and headed back to the office, a giant grin on my face. I did it. Without applied experience, I still managed to pass.

Things will be okay. It may take awhile for me to truly be okay, but hey – I can still accomplish things, broken heart and all!