New grad says “nothing more gratifying” than hunting cyberthreats

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rep cyber jenna taer 550pxJenna Taer received her master's degree in cybersecurity from UAB in April 2023. A few months earlier, Fortune ranked the in-person degree as the No. 1 program in the country.Jenna Taer was not looking to add another degree when she attended an open house at UAB’s Computer Forensics Research Lab in 2019. She was just curious about the field of cybersecurity.

But as she listened to lab director Gary Warner explain how undergraduates help power investigations that often span the globe, she found herself drawn in. “It was during his discussion of the counterterrorism team that my interest piqued,” said Taer, who graduated with her bachelor’s degree in bioinformatics in fall 2022 and earned her master’s degree in cybersecurity this spring through UAB’s Accelerated Bachelor’s to Master’s program.

“I recognized that my language skills could be beneficial in supporting the lab’s efforts and eventually contribute to the greater good,” she said.

Researching terror and solving cybercrime

Taer was born in Birmingham and, following a childhood spent overseas, returned when it came time for college. “I was fortunate to have crossed paths with many talented and inspiring individuals who were affiliated with UAB,” she said. “As a result, I become increasingly drawn to UAB and its values of diversity, excellence and innovation.”

Soon after Taer heard Warner’s talk, she started working in the Computer Forensics Research Lab herself. And four years later, Taer says the thrill has not worn off. She is now a supervisor, overseeing a team of undergraduate analysts as they gather, review and distribute intelligence information. “There is nothing more gratifying than witnessing the tangible impact of my efforts,” she said. “Knowing that my work is contributing to the greater good is deeply fulfilling and serves as a constant source of motivation. The satisfaction of being part of a team that plays a critical role in counterterrorism efforts is unmatched.”

Cybersecurity scholarship from FS-ISAC

In August 2022, Taer was selected as a 2022-2023 Building Cybersecurity Diversity Scholar by the Financial Services Information Sharing and Analysis Center, or FS-ISAC. The industry consortium has members in 75 countries and is the “only global cyber intelligence sharing community solely focused on financial services,” according to its website. Her $10,000 scholarship also included mentorship by experts in the field and a chance for high-level networking at the FS-ISAC Summit in Denver, Colorado.

In addition to meetings with CFOs and CEOs of major corporations at the conference, Taer attended sessions that let her explore different areas of cybersecurity and expand her interests, she said: “Meeting so many like-minded individuals was inspiring and motivating.”

One of those sessions was led by a fellow Blazer, Zakari Grater, who was a student researcher in Warner’s lab from 2012-2013 and then went to work for a Warner-founded UAB startup, Malcovery Security. Today, he is a vice president at Citibank. “His presentation at FS-ISAC was about how Citi uses customer complaints to their ‘Abuse Box’ to gather intelligence to help identify and mitigate threats to other customers,” Warner said. “I am super proud of both Jenna and Zakari.”

Top cybersecurity program in the country

As she gets ready to graduate, Taer says she may enter the job market to begin her career as a cyberanalyst; but she is also considering applying to doctoral programs. Either way, the reputation of UAB’s cybersecurity master’s program will be a major asset. In January 2023, Fortune ranked the in-person degree as the No. 1 program in the country.

“The prospect of hunting down threat actors and ensuring the safety and security of others is something that deeply resonates with me,” she said.