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 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).

Alfred Camposagrado at Northrop Grumman

Alfred Camposagrado is a Principal Embedded Software Engineer at Northrop Grumman. He received his Bachelor’s in Computer Science at CSUCI in 2014. He started his journey in Camarillo working as a Software Engineer for Crescendo Interactive shortly after graduation. He gained valuable experience by initially starting as a front-end developer and later promoted to a Full-Stack developer focusing on Java. His experience in Java landed him a job at Northrop Grumman. Located in Point Mugu, he supports the US Navy with various projects from software development to system integration tests. He also continues his education at CSUCI in the Masters of Computer Science Program (MSCS). http://linkedin.com/in/alfredcamposagrado

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.)

SEAKER

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

Comp Sci alum Joel Helling working as a Software Engineer at GBL in Camarillo

Joel Helling is a Software Engineer at GBL Systems Corporation and part-time lecturer at CSUCI. He started working at GBL Systems, a government contractor based in Camarillo, in 2014 working on various projects from automated website design, implementation, and testing to desktop application development. Currently, he develops Test and Evaluation tools for the Test Resource Management Center (TRMC) and supports the development of the Testing and Training Enabling Architecture (TENA) Software Development Activity (SDA) including maintaining and updating legacy applications, and designing and implementing new software tools.

Joel completed his Master’s in Computer Science in 2018. His Master’s Thesis, under the advisement of Dr. Soltys, discussed the intersection of stringology and graph theory by relating indeterminate strings with undirected graphs and proving some properties of the indeterminate string and its associated alphabet size. The paper was later published in the Journal of Theoretical Computer Science. Currently, Joel is also working as a part-time lecturer for CSUCI. See here for details.

Geetanjali Agarwal successfully defended her MSCS thesis on image recognition

My student Geetanjali (Geet) Agarwal defended her masters thesis titled Aneka – Wavelet Image Hashing Algorithm, see announcement, where the contribution is a framework of hashing algorithms for image recognition. This important work is done in collaboration with the SoCal High Technology Task Force (HTTF). Geet deployed the AWS to accomplish her results, including EC2 instances and MySQL databases used to run experiments on thousands of images. Geet’s thesis will be available after the final draft is ready.

COMP 529 Cloud Computing using AWS Cloud Computing Architecture curriculum to be offered in Spring 2019

The class will be held on Thursdays 6:00-9:00 (January 24 will be the first day of instructions), in Sierra Hall 1131.

Since this is a lab-based course, there are only 24 seats.

AWS/CSU Research in the Cloud series

It was a pleasure to speak at the AWS/CSU Research in the Cloud series. By nature I am not a strong promoter of any technology, and the browser, OS or editor “wars” frankly bore me; I sometimes use a “lesser” technology because it happens to be more convenient, or because I don’t have the time to learn a “better” technology, or many other good reasons.

However, as a researcher and teacher I am absolutely thrilled with what AWS has to offer. I regularly give tours of our computer labs at CSU CI (to local companies, prospective graduate students, CSU trustees, fundraising prospects, etc.), and I explain that three things make it possible for a relatively small and unknown campus like ours to compete in scientific & engineering output in the national and international arena:

  1. How cheap embedded systems have become; a Google Raspberry Pi is $35, and it comes with Linux and GPIO that makes it into a universal controller.
  2. How cheap 3D printing has become, and in turn this frees us to some extent from having to build an expensive manufacturing lab.
  3. And AWS: Amazon Cloud Computing Services. Instead of buying, maintaining, cooling and powering expensive servers, we can immediately utilize the required services, and pay as we go. This works very well for a university because we do not have to make up-front capital investments, and our usage is not always the same (e.g., practically no classes in the summer).

Material related to the talk

  1. Examples of AWS related projects that my students and I have undertaken over the last year: http://prof.msoltys.com/?tag=aws.
  2. AWS presentation slides.
  3. Video of the presentation (my talk start at about 12min)