This GA sang for President Obama and analyzed cyber hacks

Every Sunday evening, the residents of Warwick in third floor in Riepe College House gather together to enjoy an Australian specialty: avocado toast.

Shaanan Cohney, a Ph.D. candidate at Penn in computer and information science, works as a graduate associate in Riepe College House. When not treating his residents to Australian delicacies, he can be found singing for the President of the United States or working on groundbreaking research papers.

This weekend, Cohney attended his first hacker convention in Washington, D.C., where he learned physical and information security skills.

“There was a room dedicated to locksport, which is competitive lock picking,” Cohney said. “And there were also session rooms that would respond to, say, the Russian hacking attempts.”

Cohney added that one of the major hacking companies that analyzed the hacks on behalf of the Democratic National Committee and the federal government was there.

Cohney was also a contributor to the paper, “A Systematic Analysis of the Juniper Dual EC Incident,” in which he and his colleagues discovered a backdoor after Juniper Networks released an update citing security concerns.

“What was discovered was what looked like an intentional flaw, a backdoor, put into this company’s product,” Cohney said. “It would allow someone who knew about the flaw and who knew a secret number to actually go in and read the contents of your communication that were meant to be private and encrypted.”

While Cohney’s research is certainly important to him, he finds true purpose in serving as a graduate associate at Penn.

“One of, I feel, the most significant things I do in my life is being a GA,” Cohney said. “At the very beginning of school, I wrote an individual message to everyone that was based on after a week of knowing them, some kind of little personal thing that I thought might help them with the year.”

Cohney remembers receiving a card from one freshman thanking him for his invaluable advice and guidance.

“Everything you give, you get back 10 times in terms of the relationships that you build and the differences you make,” Cohney said.

The freshmen residents of Warwick third floor are very fond of their GA, who hosts “avo arvo” every Sunday at 9 p.m.

Cohney prepares avocado toast for the residents of Riepe, bringing a bit of his home country, Australia, to Penn.

“His avocado toast is really nice,” College freshman Michelle Lu said. “But I think more importantly, he’s always been there for us.”

Lu remembers Cohney comforting her when she didn’t get into some of the clubs that she applied for.

“He also sings for Glee Club, which is super cool,” she added. “Riepe has cookie nights on Wednesdays, and he always sings at them.”

With Penn Glee Club, Cohney sang at a White House Christmas party two years ago. When singing “Deck the Halls” in a complex time signature to the president and first lady, Cohney remembers the president “awkwardly bopping along.”

“Because the time signature was abnormal, you can’t just rock back and forth easily,” Cohney explained. “So the President was just kind of jerking about.”

College freshman Ila Sethi described Cohney as being “one of the best GAs.”

“He talks a lot about how his squirrels eat his condoms,” she said. “He’s super chill, and he’s there if you need him.”

Lu agreed, adding that Cohney checks up on his residents regularly.

“He knows what we’re interested in, and he knows when we’re upset,” she said. “He’s made the freshman year condition a lot easier for most of us just by always being present.”


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