Computer Science 3rd Advisory Board meeting

On November 29, we held our 3rd biannual Computer Science Advisory Board Meeting.

There were two parts to the meeting, a lunch with presentations by CI faculty and administration, and the Capstone Showcase, which takes place at the end of each term:

1:00-3:00 Lunch and Presentations

  1. Chris Meissner welcome & introductions
  2. Richard LeRoy, Advancement
  3. Amanda Carpenter, Career Development
  4. Jason Isaacs, Mechatronics with
 Alberto Venegas, Ethan Warner and Mark Getzinger
  5. Brian Thoms, ABET
  6. Zane Gittins, HAAS & MSCS
  7. Michael Soltys, Chair’s report

After Chris Meissner’s welcome, and introductions of all present,

Richard LeRoy on the mission of the board

Advisory Board 11.29.2018

Brian Thoms on ABET

Brian Thoms distributed a draft of the departmental ABET document, and  asked our board members to comment on our PEO (Program Educational Outcomes), which describe what we expect from our graduates 5 years after graduation (they are different for our 3 undergraduate programs: Computer Science, IT and Mechatronics). Please read the PEOs, and send your comments to Brian Thoms <>.

Presentation slides of Brian Thoms:


Jason Isaacs on Mechatronics


Zane GIttins on Cybersecurity


Michael Soltys Chair’s report


Pictures from Capstone Showcase

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.

Giving a talk on Computer Science at CI to the RDP-21 group on Nov 6 at 7:30am

On November 6, 2018, at 7:30am, I am giving a talk to the Regional Defense Partnership for the 21st Century (RDP-21) on Computer Science at CI. Here is the meeting location.

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:
  2. AWS presentation slides.
  3. Video of the presentation (my talk start at about 12min)

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.

Our graduates getting great jobs!

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:

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

  • Membership of the board
  • By-Laws
  • Roles and responsibilities
  • Leadership
  • 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.