Aura Teasley

From Real Viruses to the Cyber Kind: A Graduate Intern’s Journey

By Karina Wright

Aura Teasley’s fascination with viruses started in high school when she read a book about a fictional Ebola-like outbreak. Now a doctoral student at the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) and MITRE cyber resiliency graduate intern, Teasley focuses on detecting and disarming infections of a different kind: malware and ransomware. She shares what drew her to MITRE and what she hopes to contribute to the field.

Biology was my strength, so I first studied biomedical engineering at UTSA. My senior year capstone project opened my eyes to actually applying engineering. Before that, I just read about it. I fell in love.

So, instead of doing my Ph.D. in biomedical engineering, I decided to start over and get a bachelor’s in electrical engineering. Then I went for a master’s degree.

My professor encouraged me to join a research project with Sandia National Laboratories, where I learned about MITRE ATT&CK® [our knowledge base of adversary tactics and techniques based on real-world observations]. I’d heard of malware, but I didn’t really understand it. With Sandia, I correlated system sensors like Sysmon [Windows’ System Monitor] to the ATT&CK framework. That’s when I became engrossed in the idea of being a part of the cyber threat intelligence world and cybersecurity.

The brain power here is just amazing. I’m soaking up everything I can about cyber threats and adversary techniques and learning so much from my mentors.

Aura Teasley, UTSA, MITRE cyber resiliency graduate intern

I knew a little bit about MITRE and applied to the cyber internship program. It took three tries, and I’m super grateful to be here. I’m developing recommendations for the Missile Defense Agency on how to further strengthen its cyber resilience. That’s the ability for a system to anticipate, withstand, recover from, and adapt to a compromise.

I appreciate that anybody can learn programming languages, like Python, and write scripts to create something. But no matter how cool an app is, if it has vulnerabilities and somebody exploits them, or people put their credit card information in and it’s not secure, one compromise can cause so much mayhem. Just like a real virus—it’s a thing you can’t see but has a big effect.

Thankfully, malware is just code. If we understand some attributes of code well enough, then we can detect when an adversary is attempting to inject it into a system.

Preparing for a Career with Purpose

The brain power here is just amazing. I’m soaking up everything I can about cyber threats and adversary techniques and learning so much from my mentors. I’m enrolled in embedded security classes here, studying assembly language—basic machine code that allows direct control over every discrete action a machine takes. We also hack devices.

I’ll take that knowledge back to my research project at UTSA about hardware security. I’ve also been invited to be a peer reviewer for a paper about automation techniques.

Right now, my immediate interest is learning as much as I can, applying it, and publishing papers that contribute to the field on the potential and significance of hardware-based attacks.  

I’m a member of the CyberCorps®: Scholarship for Service program. Our goal is to encourage students to enter cybersecurity careers with the Department of Defense or Justice, or any federal, local, or tribal government, national lab, or FFRDC. These are all missions I’ll be glad to support.

I’m fortunate that each place I’ve worked has brought out a better version of myself and ignited my desire to address cybersecurity challenges. My next big step after I finish my Ph.D.? Find the best match—and keep developing my technical skills.

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