## Voyager: an implementation of a tracking pixel

Voyager is a software that implements what is called an invisible bit (aka, a tracking bit), that can be used to track certain activities. Voyager deploys the AWS network infrastructure, and its Data Base, the Relational Database Service (RDS). Voyager has been implemented at CI by a group of Computer Science students, as a Research & Development project for the HTTF. From AWS website:

Amazon Relational Database Service (Amazon RDS) makes it easy to set up, operate, and scale a relational database in the cloud. It provides cost-efficient and resizable capacity while automating time-consuming administration tasks such as hardware provisioning, database setup, patching and backups. It frees you to focus on your applications so you can give them the fast performance, high availability, security and compatibility they need.

For this project, we are also using the following tools: EC2, S3 and Route 53.

## Using AWS on a project in collaboration with SoCal HTTF to decrypt a password

Anyone working in the field of Digital Forensics is aware that a substantial portion of time is dedicated to reverse engineering passwords. That is, in most cases a digital forensics investigator receives a password-protected handheld device, or a laptop with an encrypted hard disk, or a Microsoft Word document which has been password protected.

It is then the task of the investigator to try to retrieve the evidence, and that in turns requires reverse engineering the password; in some cases this can be achieved by recovering the hash of the password, which is stored somewhere (the locations are often known) on the device’s memory.

In order to obtain the password from the hash, we have to run a brute-force search algorithm that guesses passwords (the guesses can be more or less educated, depending on what is known about the case). Sometimes we get lucky. There are two programs that are used extensively for this purpose: John the Ripper and hashcat.

As we have been studying methods for recovering passwords from hashes, we have been using AWS EC2 instances in order to run experiments and help HTTF with their efforts. Together with senior capstone students as well as graduate students in Cybersecurity, we have been creating a set of guidelines and best practices to help in the recovery of passwords from hashes. AWS EC2 instances are ideal as they can be crafted to the needs and resources of a particular case. For example we are currently running a `t2.2xlarge` instance on a case where we have to recover the password of a Microsoft Word document; we have also used a `p2.16xlarge` with GPU-based parallel compute capabilities, but it costs \$14/hour of usage, and so we deploy it in a very surgical manner.

## Computer Science 2nd Advisory Board Meeting

On May 10, 2018, the department of Computer Science, which is composed of four programs: Computer Science (CS), IT, Mechatronics and the masters program in CS (MSCS), held its second Advisory Board meeting. The first meeting took place on November 3, 2017.

The Advisory Board consists of leaders in the industry and public service in Ventura County, and its mission is to:

• Champion the department in the community.
• Help with placement of our students in internships and full time positions.
• Support the curriculum.
• Provide access to real world problems which can than be given to our students for senior capstones, projects and masters theses.
• Form the constituents of the department, as for example required by ABET accreditation.

The meeting started with lunch at 12:30 (Handel Evans Conference Room, Broome Library Room 2533), and welcome words from Chris Meissner (Meissner filtration, and also a member of the CI Foundation Board), who outlined a vision for the board, and has kindly agreed to take the lead of a planning committee that will develop bylaws and membership. Dennis Gaiseer has also agreed to help in this effort. Chris’ remarks were followed by two faculty presentations, Profs. Brian Thoms and Houman Dallali, who briefly showcased their various research projects and how they involve CI students.

Lunch was followed by a tour of the new labs in Sierra Hall, with detailed visits in the Robotics, Embedded Systems and Networks & Security labs. At 3pm, in Sierra 1422, we held a planning meeting that started with a presentation by Michael Soltys; here are the slides:

The talk outlined the recent successes and accomplishments, e.g., starting of Mechatronics program in the fall 2018, student programming competitions, scholarly achievements (over a dozen publications arising from research in the department), as well as the rapid growth of the students majoring in Computer Science (at 400 currently, doubled in the last 3 years). We also mentioned some of the challenges, such as the leaving of several key tenure-track faculty (moving to other universities and retiring).

We also spoke about the push toward ABET accreditation, and that the Advisory Board will be key in that enterprise, as we are required to have one in order to maintain a discussion about the Program Educational Outcomes, which comprise a vision for our graduates, and which has to be examined by the constituents (i.e., Advisory Board) of the department. The department has a working document for its implementation of an ABET assessment program: https://goo.gl/jrvHft

Following that, Ritchie LeRoy from Advancement led a discussion about the following items:

• Membership of the board
• By-Laws
• Roles and responsibilities
• Expectations

The day ended with the Capstone Showcase presentation 4-6pm in the Sierra Hall Lobby, held at the end of each term, presenting the magnificent senior projects of our students. The students were excited about the possibility of presenting their work to industry leaders.

Some shots from the Capstone Showcase:

## Cybersecurity event @CSUCI on April 20, 2018

On the evening of April 20, 2018 Assemblymember Jacqui Irwin and CSU Channel Islands president Erica D. Beck co-hosted a Cybersecurity event  in Sierra Hall, promoting regional industry partnerships. At this event we had the opportunity to showcase our work – three masters students and one senior student presented research under my supervision:

Zane Gittins spoke about his network penetration testing at HAAS: this work started as a Hank Lacayo Internship at HAAS in the fall of 2017, but since then Zane has been hired by HAAS to continue his work.

Eric Gentry spoke about the SEAKER project, a digital forensic tool that was developed with and for the High Technology Task Force (HTTF) at the Ventura forensic lab. We presented this tool at an event on August 7, 2017.

Geetanjali Agarwal spoke about the Image Recognition project, also inspired by the work done at the HTTF at the Ventura lab, where we aim to identify images from partially recovered files and compare them to a bank of images using the difference hash technique.

Ryan McIntyre presented his work on algorithms in bio-informatics. These results have been published recently in the Journal of Discrete Algorithms, and described in a blog post on March 6, 2018.

Here are the presentation slides.

I introduced the students making some remarks elaborating on president Beck’s statement about partnerships between CI and the Ventura industry. As a CI faculty, I find interdependence in the triad of Scholarship, Teaching and Industry relations. Many of our projects start by addressing a Research & Development need of the community, such as the SEAKER tool for HTTF. We use it to teach our students a hands-on approach to problem solving in Computer Science; we aim to produce quality work that advances knowledge and is publishable.

Scholarship, the first component of the triad, is really composed of three simultaneous activities: the research itself, which is laborious, time consuming, consisting of literature review and the cycle of hypothesis, testing and proving.

The funding component: labs, equipment, salaries, conferences, all these require funds, which can be secured through grants, philanthropic gifts or state support.

And finally dissemination, which is crucial as without it no one is aware of our work, and which takes place through publishing, conference presentations, blog writing, and events such as the one described in this blog. At CI we are lucky in that Advancement facilitates both fundraising and dissemination.

## Very proud to receive this recognition

The Foundation is named after Tadeusz Kościuszko, full name Andrzej Tadeusz Bonawentura Kościuszko (middle name particularly appropriate for those of us living in Ventura County), who was a military engineer and statesman, fought in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth’s struggles against Russia and Prussia (1790s), and on the American side in the American Revolutionary War. A close friend of Thomas Jefferson’s, with whom he shared ideals of human rights, Kościuszko wrote a will in 1798 dedicating his American assets to the education and freedom of U.S. slaves.

## Paper with Ryan McIntyre to appear in the Journal of Discrete Algorithms

Happy to announce that Ryan McIntyre’s masters thesis results, An improved upper bound and algorithm for clique covers (prelim), will be published as our joint paper in Journal of Discrete Algorithms.

Our paper is on indeterminate strings, which are important for their applicability in bioinformatics. (They have been considered, for example, in Christodoulakis 2015  and Helling 2017.)

An interesting feature of indeterminate strings is the natural correspondence with undirected graphs. One aspect of this correspondence is the fact that the minimal alphabet size of indeterminates representing any given undirected graph corresponds to the size of the minimal clique cover of this graph. This paper first considers a related problem proposed in Helling 2017: characterize \$late \Theta_n(m)\$, which is the size of the largest possible minimal clique cover (i.e., an exact upper bound), and hence alphabet size of the corresponding indeterminate, of any graph on $n$ vertices and $m$ edges. We provide improvements to the known upper bound for $\Theta_n(m)$. Helling 2017 also presents an algorithm which finds clique covers in polynomial time. We build on this result with an original heuristic for vertex sorting which significantly improves their algorithm’s results, particularly in dense graphs.

This work was the result of building on Helling 2017 (see this post) and of a year of research undertaken by Ryan McIntyre under my (Michael Soltys) supervision at the California State University Channel Islands.

## National Engineers Week Banquet @CSUCI

It was a great pleasure to Emcee the National Engineers Week of Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties banquet at CSU Channel Islands (CI). This was the 45th annual engineering week dinner, and the second year (in a row) that it took place at CI.

Thank you to my colleagues Jason Isaacs and Houman Dallali, and their students Adan Sanchez, Alexandra Collette and Nicole Dubin for a display of the student engineering projects at CI. We were delighted to announce that we are welcoming the first cohort of Mechatronics students in the fall of this year (2018). It was especially appropriate to welcome engineers from the local businesses and the local Navy bases at CI, as we pursue three interdependent missions:

• Scholarship
• Teaching
• Engagement in the community

The pièce de résistance event of the evening was a keynote address by  Dr. Adam Steltzner, NASA Engineer with Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Dr. Steltzer is a renowned engineer who led the team responsible for the Curiosity Rover’s successful landing on Mars (the EDL: Entry, Descent, Landing system); the famous 7 Minutes of Terror. Last year Dr. Steltzer was named to the National Academy of Engineering.

It was a great honor to meet Dr. Steltzer and listen to a first hand account of the mission.

Why is it called the 7 Minutes of Terror? In just seven minutes, NASA’s six-wheeled rover called Curiosity, must go from 13,000 mph as it enters the Martian atmosphere to a dead stop on the surface.

During those seven minutes, the rover is on its own. Earth is too far away for radio signals to make it to Mars in time for ground controllers to do anything. Everything in the EDL system must work perfectly, or Curiosity will not so much land as go splat. The team that invented the EDL system, led by Dr. Steltzer, has spent nearly 10 years perfecting it.