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Computing Research Association (CRA) Fellow Yasra Chandio Takes on Mentorship and Mixed Reality

Yasra Chandio

Yasra Chandio

Mixed Reality (MR) combines the physical and virtual worlds to create a shared environment—think “smart” headsets that allow you to walk up to the virtual lamp positioned on your physical desk, reach out your hand, and turn the light on.  

While the possibilities and potential for MR are thrilling, like many other smart technologies, MR systems are emerging rapidly, and therefore vulnerable to malicious attacks. While cyber attacks are not a new threat, the difference between attacks to your personal computer and MR systems is that hacking into your computer means you will likely lose data or money. With MR, there are very real physical consequences to exploiting technological vulnerabilities. Consequences that Yasra Chandio, a third-year PhD student in electrical and computer engineering, is working hard to ensure are never exploited.  

Chandio’s research around the security of Mixed Reality involves hacking into MR systems to uncover and expose key vulnerabilities, with the aim of enhancing user safety. “My research is toward a secure mixed reality, both in terms of sensors and in terms of how a person is feeling,” Chandio says. “I am specifically concerned about coordinated attacks around the sensors because of the implications for physical danger. As part of my research, I attempt to hack the sensors, and because the data is updated every few milliseconds, I have to be extremely fast.” 

Beyond the exposing and patching of vulnerabilities in the system, Chandio is also interested in larger questions of what a sense of security means in MR. “Mixed Reality is a new and different world, one that you are fully in. I am interested in taking what we already know about security and bringing that into MR to see how it will actually work in practice.” 

Besides being a dedicated researcher, Chandio is also deeply invested in mentorship and teaching. Chandio was recently selected as a Computing Research Association (CRA) Fellow to promote computer science research and undergraduate education across North America. As part of her fellowship, Chandio will lead undergraduate mentorship workshops and help highlight exciting undergraduate research.

Chandio was also selected to participate in 2022 CRA-WP Grad Cohort for Women as a student scholar. This event brings together other computer-related researchers and professionals for two days of mentoring and conversation around a variety of relevant topics.

For Chandio, mentorship is key to her success, and she is energized by the ability to pay it forward. “I’m here today because I found very good mentors along the way,” says Chandio. “My advisor, Fatima Anwar, is a strong advocate of mentorship and has helped me find many of these opportunities, and I strive to be that mentor to others.” 

Before starting her PhD at UMass, Chandio received her Bachelor of Engineering focused on software engineering in 2014 and MS in computer science in 2019. Chandio was also a finalist in the recent UMass Amherst 3MT talk competition.