AWS Educate workshop at CI

Today, Friday January 24, 2020, we are hosting an AWS Educate workshop on the CSU Channel Islands campus, on Cloudifyig the Curriculum. The workshop will be held in Broome Library (easily recognizable as the only modern building on campus – here is its location on the campus map:!m/189826).

Once you are in Broome library, please go to the second floor, to room number 2330. We will be starting at 9:30am, and finishing at 3:30. We will be catering both a continental breakfast and a lunch at around 12:30pm.

The registered guests can pick up their parking passes from Placer Hall (see map below). With the passes the guests can park in any lot “A”.

AWS re:Invent, Las Vegas, 2019

I am attending my first AWS re:Invent conference, Las Vegas December 2-6, 2019.

The conference is enormous, with over 60,000 attendees who command most of the big resorts on the strip.

Yesterday I participated in a Security Certification Bootcamp (proper name AWS Certification Exam Readiness: Security – Specialty) and this morning I wrote the certification exam proper; three hours long, 65 questions, and I had 3 minutes to spare at the end. Let’s face it, the exam is hard, and requires studying. I was successful, but it required steady studying over the last 3 months. The AWS certification exams are challenging, but one does learn a lot. As an academic the hardness of the exams is a good thing as it says that this material has a legitimate role to play in academia, especially as we make it accessible to our students, and deploy it toward our research.

How did I prepare? In addition to reading the requisite white papers (such as Introduction to AWS Security Processes and AWS Best Practices for DDoS Resiliency), I was fortunate enough to have access to the Cloud Guru training in security. Their 10 to 15 minute lessons in all the topics are easy to absorb, and the summaries and quizzes are a good preparation for the exam.

I have been teaching Cybersecurity for over a decade, but the AWS security exam is not about foundations of Cybersecurity — it is about how to use AWS tools in order to achieve security objectives; this kind of knowledge arises not from learning principles or cryptography (although that does help too!), but rather from in-depth familiarity with AWS tools, such as CloudTrail, Inspector, Macie, Athena, CloudWatch, KMS, and many many others. My plan now is to incorporate this knowledge into our CI class in Cybersecurity, COMP 524, so that students will have knowledge of fundamentals as well as an understanding of security in the (relatively new) paradigm of cloud computing. COMP 524 students will have the additional benefit of covering the content of the certification

I should also say that even though foundational knowledge such as cryptography is not tested directly, it is nevertheless helpful. For example, a good portion of the exam relates to keys, specifically AWS KMS. It is much easier to remember when symmetric keys are used (e.g., S3 encryption with AES256) rather than asymmetric keys (i.e., public keys, e.g., key pairs to SSH into EC2) when one actually understand the difference between the two. Or, for example, why hashing of encrypted logs in S3 can help with data integrity measures for backups.

The Bootcamp that I took the day before was perhaps the least helpful toward success in the exam. I would suggest to take the bootcamp at the beginning of your studies toward passing the certification exam, as a quick bird-eye overview of what needs to be mastered. I sat through the bootcamp listening to what I knew already, without the possibility of going more in depth (we had 4 hours total), and without the audience being able to ask questions, as the instructor was rushing to cover the material.

Quick Tip: AWS is uncanny in its rolling out of new tools and features, most really captivating and useful. However, keep in mind that a tool or feature that is younger than 6 months will likely not make it to the exam. As I understand, the exam process is too exacting to be done quickly, and hence it take some time before new material is incorporated.

KES 2020

Excited about KES 2020, which is going to take place in Verona, Italy, September 16-18, 2020.

From the conference’s web site: The conference will be held across the Beautiful University Pole Santa Marta Campus only 1km from the historical centre of Verona. Verona is a city in northern Italy’s Veneto region, with a medieval old town built between the meandering Adige River. It’s famous for being the setting of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet”. A 14th-century residence with a tiny balcony overlooking a courtyard is said to “Juliet’s House”.

For more information visit:

KES 2019

September 4-6, 2019, we attended a very enjoyable and informative KES 2019 conference in Budapest. We presented 3 papers at the conference, co-authored with CI graduate and undergraduate students (see this post for details).

AWS Imagine edu conference

Seattle, July 8-11, 2019

AWS IMAGINE: A Better World, A Global Education Conference

I am attending the AWS Imagine education conference in Seattle. This is a conference hosted by AWS for educators who are interested in offering an AWS based Cloud Computing track at their institutions. I am happy that in the keynote by Andrew Ko, the CSU was mentioned as one of the partner university system: at CI we are offering Cloud Computing with AWS tools to our students, and we are also leveraging the resources of AWS for research. The San Luis Obispo (SLO) campus has been working with AWS tools as well (see Cal Poly Launches World’s First University-Based Cloud Innovation Center Powered by Amazon Web Services). I had the pleasure of meeting Chris Lupo, the chair of Comp Sci at SLO; other CSU campuses, such as Northridge, have also worked with AWS.

Education is built on AWS slide

Partnering with AWS: Community Colleges (CC) have already partnered with AWS in some states. At the conference we heard from Sharron Morrissey from the Virginia Community College System, where AWS was introduced comprehensively in the entire system. The Virginia CCs are able to capitalize on the fact that Amazon chose Arlington (Virginia) as the site for its 2nd headquarters, and the preponderance of data-centers in Virginia. We also heard from Monty Sullivan, the president of the Louisiana Community Colleges system, who spoke about “educational institutions are not any more in the business of furnishing diplomas, but rather they are the gateway into the job market”. Finally, we heard from Sheneui Weber who spoke about the CCs in California, and their thriving partnership with AWS: she cited a study showing that there are about unfilled 30,000 jobs in Cloud Computing in LA County and Orange County, and 5,000 of those jobs specifically mention AWS.

Amazon Fiona building

On Monday, at the Amazon Fiona building, I attended an excellent workshop conducted by the AWS Educate team on how to integrate the AWS curriculum in different degrees – my interest was to explore the possibility of introducing AWS into the Computer Science program (or the IT program) at CI. Some of the resources that AWS offers could also be deployed in our Mechatronics Engineering program (such as AWS Robomaker). At the workshop I was interested in the experience of George Mason University that partnered with Nova and AWS. Just last month this partnership announced a Bachelor of Applied Science (BAS) pathway in cloud computing.

For us at CI, the benefits of such a pathway would be as follows:

  • As we have a hands on practical degree, we are more or less ready; we would have to introduce examples of AWS tools in 3 or 4 courses, such as Networking (COMP 429), Databases (COMP 420) and Cybersecurity (COMP 424), and possibly some DevOps in our Software Engineering class (COMP 350).
  • Once approved by Amazon Educate, students would have then the ability to have educational AWS accounts with some credits, as well as access to the AWS job forum, and vouchers for AWS certification. They would also be more ready for the rapidly expanding Cloud Computing job market.

As a university we have to be technology agnostic to some extent, but since AWS is a platform, on which one can deploy practically any technology, we would not be teaching one tool. Also, we should compare and contrast the AWS offering to other solutions such as Google Cloud and Microsoft Azure. In any case, Cloud Computing is becoming the new computing paradigm, and in order to give our students the best degree possible, we need to teach it.

Rich Mendola from Emory on Building a Secure and Manageable Cloud Environment

I was keen to hear a talk on Machine Learning by Balaji Iyer, as we are currently using AWS SageMaker on a Navy Cybersecurity project. I also really enjoyed an excellent talk by Rich Mendola from Emory, on Building a Secure and Manageable Cloud Environment. It was interesting to hear about the AWS Shared Responsibility Model, a very interesting concept from the Cybersecurity point of view: AWS has built and maintains an extremely secure infrastructure, but it is up the the user to wield the tools correctly in order to maintain security.

Finally, I was excited to be for the first time in a city (Seattle) with the 5G cellular network 🙂

CI students’ research accepted at the KES2019 international conference in Budapest

KES 2019 conference in Budapest, Hungary

CI Computer Science students were successful in submitting three papers to KES 2019, the 23rd International Conference on Knowledge-Based and Intelligent Information & Engineering Systems, which this year is taking place in Budapest, Hungary, in September 2019. The papers are the following:

  • Approximating consistency in pairwise comparisons, co-authored by Chris Kuske, Konrad Kułakowski and Michael Soltys. Chris Kuske was a masters student in Computer Science at CI, and this paper is the result of his masters thesis [pdf], which was co-supervised by Prof. Konrad Kułakowski (AGH), who at the time was a Kościuszko Scholar in Computer Science at CI. Chris Kuske is a Software Lead at Teledyne Controls where he develops avionics software for commercial aircrafts. (This paper will be presented in the Invited Session IS18: Decision modeling with and without pairwise comparisons.)
  • SEAKER: A mobile digital forensics triage device, co-authored by Eric Gentry and Michael Soltys. Eric Gentry was a masters student in Computer Science at CI, and currently working at GBL Systems, and lecturing for Computer Science at CI. This paper is the result of a collaboration between Computer Science at CI and the SoCal High Technology Task Force. For more details on this collaboration please see here. (This paper will be presented in the Invited Session IS13: Cybercrime Investigation and Digital Forensics.)
  • Deploying Health Campaign Strategies to Defend Against Social Engineering Threats, co-authored by Noelle Abe and Michael Soltys. Noelle Abe is a senior student at CI, who just graduated this May with a degree in Computer Science. Noelle Abe was both a President’s Scholar at CI, and the vice-president of the Computer Science Girls Club. This paper was initiated by Noelle as part of her research as an exchange student in the UK in 2017. (This paper will be presented in the Invited Sessions IS24: Knowledge-based Learning and Education Support System: Design and Function.)


Raspberry Pi controller, the hardware for SEAKER

In the summer 2017, while I was teaching COMP 524 (Cybersecurity) at California State University Channel Islands, the students were introduced to a project based on an R&D from the SoCal High Technology Task Force (HTTF). The requirements and specifications asked for a device that could automate the search through vast amounts of data contained in portable devices (such as hard disks and thumb-drives), looking for pre-established patterns in file-names.

The students designed and prototyped a device the we christened SEAKER (Storage Evaluator and Knowledge Extractor Reader), based on a Raspberry Pi, with a custom designed version of Raspbian (the OS running on Raspberry Pis), and a bash shell script for cloning such devices. The first presentation of SEAKER took place on August 7, 2017, to an audience composed of CI faculty and students, as well as investigators from the SoCal HTTF.

As SEAKER was being developed, it was presented at various other venues, for example:

We have also published the research resulting from the SEAKER project:

  • As the masters thesis of Eric Gentry, April 2019 [pdf]
  • In the proceedings of the 2019 Future of Information and Communication Conference (FICC) [doi]
  • To appear in the proceedings of the 2019 23rd International Conference on Knowledge-Based and Intelligent Information & Engineering Systems (KES), track: Cybercrime Investigation and Digital Forensics

Last day of Stephen Cook celebration

Stephen Cook and Michael Soltys at Hart House, UofT

Today is the last day of the conference at the Fields Institute dedicated to Stephen Cook, and 50 years of Complexity Theory. Stephen Cook was my PhD advisory starting in 1997, at the University of Toronto. I had two undergraduate degrees, one in Mathematics and one in Computer Science, and a masters in Mathematical Physics. I was looking for a topic for my PhD thesis, and I after working in algorithms for my masters, I approach Stephen Cook at the department of Computer Science, and he suggested to me that I read a book on Boolean Circuits by Ingo Wegener called The Complexity of Boolean Functions; I became immediately intrigued by the topic. I remember that I was fascinated by a result of Claude Shannon contained in Wegener’s book showing that there are “many more Boolean functions than Boolean circuits of small size”, and that therefore there have to be Boolean functions that required exponential size circuits. Once Stephen Cook accepted me as one of his students, he proposed that I read Samuel Buss‘ book Bounded Arithmetic, which became my introduction to the field of proof complexity. For my PhD thesis I worked on the problem of formalizing Linear Algebra in weak theories of bounded arithmetic, culminating with my 2001 thesis The Complexity of Derivations of Matrix Identities.

Alasdair Urquhart walking to the Fields Institute

It was a wonderful experience during the last few days to see so many colleagues and friends at the conference at the Fields Institute, celebrating the legacy of Stephen Cook. The department of Computer Science has long been a center of Theoretical Computer Science, Complexity and Proof Complexity. One of my mentors, and now friend, is Alasdair Urquhart, who spanned both the department of Philosophy and Computer Science, and whom I was lucky to have on my PhD committee, and who gave me a lot of guidance during my PhD years (for example, using lambda calculus as part of my formalization of a constructive theory of matrices for my PhD thesis).