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computer science

Southern is joining the nationwide effort to help the U.S. Department of Defense bolster cybersecurity in its supply chain amid concerns over the recent hack into federal agencies – including American nuclear weapons agencies.

Software produced by Solar Winds, a Texas-based company that has contracts with Fortune 500 companies and government agencies such as the Defense Department, was reported late last year to have been breached by Russian hackers. It enabled the perpetrators to “see into” the networks of clients of Solar Winds.

And just this month, a group of Switzerland-based hackers accessed footage from an estimated 150,000 surveillance cameras operated by Silicon Valley’s Verkada, Inc. The cameras operated inside of police departments, hospitals, schools, prisons and various companies, including car manufacturer Tesla.

Southern’s School of Graduate and Professional Studies has partnered with Data Intelligence Technologies of Virginia to launch a certification program this summer that will help defense contractors and subcontractors protect sensitive information.

“Security breaches occur every day, but not at the magnitude of the Solar Winds and Verkada incidents,” said Lisa Lancor, chair of the SCSU Computer Science Department. “These are huge and underscore the need to build a strong, cybersecurity workforce.”

Last year, the U.S. Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment introduced the Cyber Maturity Model Certification (CMMC), a new standard for suppliers to operate within the Defense Department’s acquisition and procurement process. All companies that provide supplies for the department’s projects operations – such as defense contractors – will need to be certified. The requirements are being phased in by Oct. 1, 2025.

Contractors have been able to merely attest they were in compliance with safety standards by conducting self-assessments. But under the new system, third-party trained professionals will assess whether those standards are being met. Southern will help Data Intelligence Technologies teach those who seek to become certified assessors and professionals.

“The Defense Department has perhaps the largest global supply chain, which means it deals with a wide array of organizations,” Lancor said. “These organizations are constantly under hacker attacks. In fact, the malicious cyber activity cost to the U.S. economy in 2016 was estimated at more than $100 billion.”

She noted that cybersecurity is an increasingly lucrative field, and this certification program should prove valuable to those pursuing a career in cybersecurity. The CMMC Accreditation Body specifies a clearly defined path through its certifications with each certificate building on the next. For example, before becoming a Certified CMMC Assessor – Level 1, (CCA-1), a person would have to become a Certified CMMC Professional (CCP).

“Currently, there are no CMMC-certified assessors who can do the assessment of companies that have defense contracts, such as Sikorsky Aircraft and Pratt & Whitney,” Lancor said. “This opens up a huge market for anyone who wants to get into CMMC as a career, helping to secure organizations from external hackers. The CCP certificate is also of interest to companies that have contracts, or sub-contracts, or sub-sub-contracts, with the Defense Department so they can better prepare for their CMMC assessments.”

Manohar Singh, dean of the SCSU School of Graduate and Professional Studies, said this initiative will benefit students, as well as the local and state economy, and the national interest.

“Southern is committed to offering innovative programs in the areas critical to national interests and community service,” he said.

Lancor said the CCP, CCA-1 and CCA-3 (Certified CMMC Assessor – Level 3) will be available at SCSU, and others will roll out as the CMMC Accreditation Body defines the standards for future assessor certificates.

CCPs and CCAs must be trained by a CMMC-approved Licensed Training Provider (such as Data Intelligence Technologies), and CMMC-Accrediting Body Certified Instructors, and then tested by the CMMC Accreditation Body. When an individual passes that test, they become certified at the level of their testing and can work for a Certified 3rd Party Assessment Organization (C3PAO) that would go out and assess contractors and all of their subcontractors, according to Lancor.

She said the partnership with Data Intelligence Technologies will enable SCSU students pursuing a Master of Science degree in computer science with a cybersecurity concentration to receive the training for free.

SCSU plans to offer the following courses:

*A primer, 8-hour, online course, “Certified Professionals Essentials,” which will describe the CMMC program in detail. This is appropriate for those wishing to learn the new requirements and is designed for a varied audience from manufacturing executives who have Defense Department contracts to compliance lawyers and IT consultants who provide support for the defense industrial base.

*A CCP course that will provide 40 hours of instruction preparing someone to take the CCP exam.

*A CCA-1 course that is a three-day hybrid (mixture of in-class and online instruction) offering.

*A CCA-3 course that is a five-day hybrid offering.

For further information, go to:  https://www.southernct.edu/cmmc

Although women comprise more than half of all bachelor’s degree recipients and represent a majority of those holding professional occupation positions, they continue to trail their male counterparts in computing jobs and degrees, according to the National Center for Women & Information Technology.

But Southern is working hard to help spark a greater gender balance in computer science – both in the classroom and in the workplace.

The NCWIT is a non-profit community chartered by the National Science Foundation that seeks to help increase the participation of girls and women in computing. The organization reports that in 2016, women made up 57 percent of bachelor’s degree recipients, but only 19 percent of all recipients of computer and information sciences bachelor’s degrees. Similarly, women hold about 57 percent of professional occupation positions, but only 26 percent of professional computing posts, according to NCWIT.

During the last four years, SCSU has been one of NCWIT’s Pacesetters, organizations that are helping lead the way toward building greater opportunities for girls and women in computing. In fact, NCWIT recently awarded SCSU a $10,000 grant to assist with those efforts.

Efforts by SCSU to spark greater interest in computing by female students also include:

*Coordination of various events and programs for pre-college students, such as a two-week coding camp for girls aged 14 to 19.

*Sponsorship and preparation of a grade 6 team at Dunbar Hill School in Hamden that competed in the Technovation Challenge. The Hamden team made it to the semi-finals, one of 134 teams worldwide to do so among nearly 2,000 teams of girls that compete to solve real-world problems using technology. The team came to the SCSU campus once a week for three months to develop their idea, code their app and pitch it.

Lisa Lancor, chairwoman of the SCSU Computer Science Department who is coordinating the university’s efforts in these projects, said SCSU is making significant strides toward increasing the percentage of women enrolled in computing at Southern.

In the fall of 2013, only 10 percent of the university’s computer science majors were women. That has increased to 16 percent as of last fall with a goal of rising to 25 percent by 2022.

“The ratio would be even higher except for the fact that we are also seeing a major increase in the number of men majoring in computer science at Southern,” Lancor said. “But we have seen the actual number of female computer science majors increase by 91 percent since 2013, and 25 percent just in the last year alone.”

Lancor recalled that it was just two years ago when out of the 70 or so incoming freshmen who declared computer science as a major, zero were women.

“Women were only coming to the major as transfer students or students who were already here and decided to change their majors – not from incoming freshmen,” she said.  “As a result, we started reaching out to local high schools and middle schools, and their school counselors, and told them about all of the opportunities in technology. This is certainly beginning to help.  We were shocked to learn that many high school teachers and counselors were not aware of computer science as a career. Many thought it was just about gaming.”

Lancor said that by bringing more women to the table, the design and development of computer software will truly be inclusive. She said the first car airbag system is a good example of failure due to lack of inclusivity. “Airbag systems were designed to protect tall, heavy passengers — mirroring the majority of manufacturers and designers at the time, who were men. Apparently, it didn’t occur to them they should be designing for people unlike themselves,” she said.

“The more diversity there is in the process of developing technology, the better technology will serve its users – all users,” she said.



mohammadImagine yourself as a law enforcement or homeland security official who could examine a hostage photo and accurately decipher the location of where it was taken to track down the culprits. Or picture yourself as a store owner who is able to analyze photos of people entering your store and be able to tell their precise ages or ethnicities to help with your marketing efforts. Or pretend you’re an anthropologist researching human migration and you are able to see who is moving to which countries or regions through the use of “big data” via thousands of pictures.

The ability to accurately do so does not yet exist, at least not on a consistent basis. Sure, photos can be analyzed for clues as to location, ethnicities of individuals and ages. And sometimes accurate assessments are made. But unless obvious markers – such as a picture of a well-known landmark like the Eiffel Tower – are in the photos, the success rate is not consistently accurate, according to Mohammad Tarik Islam, an assistant professor of computer science at Southern.

But Islam has been developing algorithms with the use of “big data” that are already showing promising results. And he is optimistic that the ability to track down locations and other information from photos will continue to improve.

“It’s a very exciting field of research,” Islam said. “We are basically teaching computers to identify patterns – in essence, to learn.”

Islam has completed a first stage of this new technology with a project called “Geo-Faces.” He had downloaded 1.8 million images of people from Flickr, though most were from the United States and Western Europe. He tested the projected locations via the computer algorithm with the actual location and found it to be 26-percent accurate. While relatively low in accuracy, it was 13 times better than chance as the computer was asked to choose from 50 cities as the location – a 2-percent chance if done randomly.

He followed up that test with a new project, “Geo-Faces X.” It again attempted to determine the location of the photo based on analyzing the faces of individuals in the pictures. But this time, it entailed gathering 40 million Internet images from 173 countries around the world. The test proved to be 22-percent accurate.

“That might not seem very impressive, but the random chance of guessing the right city is less than 1 percent with 173 choices,” Islam said. “We have a lot of work to do, but it’s an impressive start.”

Most recently, Islam has taken that data set from Geo-Faces X and began a project that tested the computer’s ability to link the ethnicity, age and gender of the individuals depicted with location. The preliminary results are encouraging. He said the computer projected the correct location 90 percent of the time using ethnicity, and 70 percent of the time using gender. Age proved not to be a significant factor, he said.

He has begun testing to see if things such as clothing, houses and trees can accurately project location of photos.

Islam, who graduated last spring with a Ph.D. in computer science from the University of Kentucky, is a former system engineer in Bangladesh. His co-authored Geo-Faces work was published last year in the EURASIP Journal on Image and Video Processing.

Women and computer science

Southern’s efforts to bolster computer science education in the region have caught the attention of the White House.

SCSU is mentioned in a White House fact sheet released Sept. 14 to highlight the efforts of schools and other organizations across the nation that expand access to computer science, particularly at the K-12 level. A summit was held on the same day at the White House to celebrate recent commitments to improve computer science education as part of President Barack Obama’s Computer Science for All initiative.

SCSU had submitted materials to the White House that showcase the university’s push. Lisa Lancor, chairwoman of the SCSU Computer Science Department, and Winnie Yu, a computer science professor coordinating this effort, were notified last Friday that Southern would be recognized.

“It is great to see this national effort to expand computer science offerings at the K-12 level – an initiative that is certainly needed,” said Lisa Lancor, chairwoman of the SCSU Computer Science Department. “We are merely tying in what we’ve been doing, and it is wonderful to see that the White House is recognizing our contributions.

Yu agreed.

“Being selected by the White House for recognition is a boost to the morale of our students and faculty,” Yu said.

The three principal SCSU projects are:

*A commitment to increase the number of women majoring in computer science at SCSU from the current 13.8 percent to 25 percent within two years. It is part of SCSU’s participation in the National Center for Women in Technology’s Pacesetters program.

*A training program for high school teachers on mobile computing so that the teachers can more effectively teach their students. Mobile computing is being taught in more than 200 schools across the country, including some in Connecticut.

*A mentoring program in which at least 10 Southern computer science students will conduct weekly, after-school mini program lessons in computer programming to 20-30 middle school students at Beecher Museum Magnet School of the Arts and Sciences in New Haven. The program began more than a year ago.

Michael Kuszpa, a middle school science teacher at Beecher, said he is excited that the mentoring program is continuing. He said his students have been learning various 21st century computer coding skills, ranging from building smart phone applications to coding simple computer programs.

“The interaction between SCSU’s students and the middle school students of Beecher has helped spark a much needed interest among our students into the field of computer science — a high demand STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) career field,” said Kuszpa, who also is a student in SCSU’s Ed.D. (Doctor of Education) in educational leadership program.

According to the White House, nine out of 10 parents would like computer science to be taught at their child’s school, but by some estimates, only a quarter of K-12 schools offer a computer science course with programming included. The need for such skills across industries continues to grow rapidly, with 51 percent of all STEM jobs projected to be in computer science-related fields by 2018, the White House said.

Furthermore, some estimates show that three-quarters of U.S. schools do not offer a single computer science course with programming, according to the White House, which adds that lack of access is even worse for communities traditionally underrepresented in computer science and other STEM fields. In fact, the White House said that only 22 percent of students who took the Advanced Placement computer science exam in high school were girls, and just 13 percent were African-American or Latino students.

“Today’s job market, research and development is hungry for computer science-related skills,” Yu said. “We are deeply committed to fostering computational thinking and analytical skills in our students, especially among women and underrepresented groups who might otherwise not consider computer science as a potential career path. To meet these needs, our mission is to provide access, as well as to build inclusive excellence.”




Although not as well known as its Surface Web cousin, the Deep Web can provide people with a wealth of information on myriad topics.

You’ve probably heard that people use only about 5 to 10 percent of their brain. (As pointed out in a previous post, that’s actually a myth. We use our entire brain.) Nevertheless, the 5- to 10-percent figure is popularly believed.

In a similar vein, only about 4 percent of the World Wide Web is part of the Surface Web (sometimes called the Visible Web), the part that is easily accessible to people. And that isn’t a myth.

Lisa Lancor, chairwoman of the Computer Science Department at Southern, points out that about 96 percent of the World Wide Web lives in the “Deep Web.” The precise percentage is impossible to calculate, but most experts believe it falls somewhere between 95 and 99+ percent.

The Deep Web includes those items that are not indexed by popular search engines, such as Google and Yahoo! It can be anything from new Web pages that an agency does not wish to go public with at the moment; to classified information from governmental agencies or other organizations; to searchable databases.

If you are using a library database, you are probably in the Deep Web. Tax collection information controlled by municipalities is another example.

Lancor says that sometimes people confuse the Deep Web with the Dark Web. The Dark Web is only a relatively small part of the Deep Web. Many illegal operations, such as “Silk Road” until it was shut down by the FBI, exist on the Dark Web. (Silk Road was an electronic marketplace for illegal drugs.) She notes that the Dark Web is rife with illegal activity. But she points out that not everything on the Dark Web is bad or illegal. For example, conversations with political dissidents by journalists or U.S. government officials, are conducted on the Dark Web as a means to try to maintain anonymity.

But the Deep Web has much in the way of valuable information that is not as easily accessible as on the surface Web. Many databases on a vast array of subjects are part of the Deep Web.

“A slew of resources are available to explore the Deep Web, including meta-search engines, semantic databases and some pay-for-search services,” Lancor says. She points to a list of Deep Web tools recently published by Online College Blog as potentially valuable to Internet users.

Other special pieces of software are also available to surf the Deep Web (including the Dark Web) with the intent of doing so anonymously. But Lancor cautioned that it is best to assume that those networks have been compromised by government intelligence operations.