Computer Science

The Specter and Meltdown Vulnerabilities: a CPU/Architecture Perspective

Posted by | Computer Science, Cybersecurity, Information Technology, Management of Information Technology | No Comments

SpecterMeltdown-Pierce-HoodCSSpecter and Meltdown, names given to a recently discovered vulnerability that affects almost every computer chip manufactured in the last 20 years. If exploited, attackers could gain access to data previously considered completely protected. The Specter and Meltdown flaws work by exploiting two important techniques used to make CPU chips execute faster, called speculative execution and caching.

Speculative execution allows a CPU to attempt to predict the future to work faster. For example, if the chip determines that a program contains multiple logical branches, it will start calculating the values for all of the branches before the program decides which branch to take. When the correct branch is determined, the CPU has already produced the values for that branch. If the CPU sees that the same function is frequently used, it might use idle time to compute that function so it has what it thinks the answer will be ready if needed.

Caching is used to speed up memory access. Random access memory (RAM) is located on separate chips and it takes a relatively long time for the CPU to access data in the RAM. There is a special small amount of memory storage called CPU cache that is built on the CPU chip itself that can be accessed very quickly. This cache memory gets filled with data that the CPU will need soon or often. Data that is produced by such speculative execution is often stored in the cache, which contributes to making it a speed booster. The problem arises when caching and speculative execution start circumventing protected memory.

Protected memory is a foundational concept underlying computer security. It allows a program to keep some of its data private from some of its users, and allows the operating system to prevent one program from seeing data belonging to another. In order to access data, a process needs to undergo a privilege check, which determines whether or not it’s allowed to see that data.

A privilege check can take a relatively long time. Due to speculative execution, while the CPU is waiting to find out if a process is allowed to access that data, it starts working with that data even before it receives permission to do so. The problem arises because the protected data is stored in CPU cache even if the process never receives permission to access it. Because CPU cache memory can be accessed more quickly than regular memory and due to the long latency associated with privilege checks, the process can potentially access certain memory locations that it shouldn’t be allowed to access. As this problem exists in the hardware there is no direct way to correct it. Software patches have been offered to mitigate the exposure but have led to some degradation in performance of the CPU. In many cases, the software patch is targeted at a specific product and installing the wrong patch can severely impact system operation.

The most immediate action security teams and users can take to protect computer systems is to prevent execution of unauthorized software and avoid access to untrusted websites. Security policies must be are in place to prevent unauthorized access to systems and the introduction of unapproved software or software updates.

Bill Pierce

*Prof. Bill Pierce, the author of this article, is an Assistant Professor of computer science at the Department of Computer Science & Information Technology at Hood College in Frederick, Maryland. He teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in Computer Architecture, Digital Logic and Switching Theory, Digital Signal Processing and Musical Computing.*

Protect Yourself in 2018 with These Cyber Tips

Posted by | Computer Science, Cybersecurity, Graduate School Highlights, Information Technology, Management of Information Technology, Uncategorized | No Comments

17_CyberSecurity_Tshirt-1Each time we use our computer or device while on campus, we become a node on the College’s computer network. Being called a “node” may sound impersonal, but in reality it is an automatic assignment of personal responsibility. When it comes to computer security, a network is only as secure as its weakest link. This means that each one of us, (each node) must exercise a great deal of responsibility when using network resources and while connected on the campus network. Here are four common cases that may compromise your personal security and impact campus network security:

#1 Never Respond to Emails Asking for Personal Information
No colleague, friend, IT support professional or vendor with whom you interact should ever ask via email for account information, credit card numbers or passwords. Under no circumstance should you ever respond to such information requests via email.

#2 Never Respond to Calls about Tech Support You Did Not Initiate
A common new scam is receiving a call from a “Helpdesk” or “Microsoft Tech Support” about your computer. Legitimate technical support organizations respond to inquiries by their users, they don’t proactively call their users to “fix” unreported problems.

#3 Ransomware
Ransomware is a special type of malware. Be suspicious of any emails trying to trick you into opening infected attachments or clicking on malicious links. Common sense is your best defense. In addition, backups are often the only way you can recover from ransomware.

#4 Scam Alert: Your Trusted Friends Can Hack Your Facebook Account
If you receive a message from any of your Facebook Friends asking for urgent help to recover their Facebook account, because you are one of their ‘Trusted Contacts,’ don’t blindly believe it. Researchers have detected a new Facebook phishing scam that can trick even an experienced technical user into falling victim to the scam, helping an attacker gain access to your Facebook account.

Any of the above may compromise your system or device (e.g. tablet, phone) or allow scammers to obtain your personal information. More importantly, any of these will make you the “weakest link” in the College’s network, putting everyone else in danger of further exploitation. Computer security is, unfortunately, one more thing we must be vigilant about. But with some common sense you can keep yourself safe and contribute to keeping the campus computing environment safe for all of us.


By Eddie F. Hamad M.S.’18 (Cybersecurity), CISSP, CEH and George Dimitoglou, Ph.D., Program Director, Cybersecurity

How a Hood graduate degree can help you get a high-paying job

Posted by | Accounting, Bioinformatics, Biomedical Science, Business Administration, Computer Science, Cybersecurity, Financial Management, Graduate School Highlights, Information Technology, Management of Information Technology, Professional Development Institute, Uncategorized | No Comments

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According to job and recruiting marketplace Glassdoor, nearly seven of ten people (68%) report that compensation is among the “leading considerations” when choosing where to work. In “25 Highest Paying Jobs in America in 2017,” physicians, software engineers and managers are among the highlighted highest paid jobs. “This report reinforces that high pay continues to be tied to in-demand skills, higher education and working in jobs that are protected from competition or automation. This is why we see several jobs within the technology and healthcare industries,” said Dr. Andrew Chamberlain, Glassdoor’s Chief Economist. Therefore, one of the crucial and initial steps to take if looking into such highly paid valued positions, is to obtain the needed education for executing them.

Whether one is looking into changing a career to IT or software architecture, getting a promotion to Software Engineer Manager or starting work in the ever-growing fields of Cybersecurity or Biomedicine, the Graduate School at Hood College is here to for those seeking advancement.

For advancement in jobs mentioned in the Glassdoor research, such as Pharmacy Manager, Information System Manager, Financial Planning and Analysis Manager, Hood’s Graduate School offers degrees in Business (Accounting, MBA, Financial Management), Computer Science (Computer Science, IT, Management of Information Systems and Cybersecurity) and Bioinformatics, Biomedical Science and Geographic Information Systems, all designed to deepen intellectual understanding and to broaden competencies for career advancement. The Graduate School is also providing graduate-level courses for non-degree-seeking individuals who wish to pursue continuing education for career growth or personal interest or to sample a particular program.

Take a first step towards your dream job at the Hood College Graduate School. Contact us at

The full list of Glassdoor’s highest paying jobs can be found at

How Hood’s Computer Science degree can help in building your career

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMatt Roberts graduated from Hood College in 2012, receiving a degree in Computer Science. Matt’s experience at Hood began in 2006 in the Computer Science Graduate department. He recalls Dr. George Dimitoglou setting up a special one-on-one class specifically aimed to help him train for a Java Certification, as he was lacking in programming experience. At the same time, Dr. Ahmed Salem took on the task of running the specialized class, which included mentoring and preparing Matt for the Java Certification exam. “With a few classes under my belt and a shiny new Java certification I was able to land a new Software Engineering position with General Dynamics as a contractor for the US Coast Guard (USCG) in Martinsburg, WV.”

After graduating, Matt got a job as a contracted Senior Software Engineer with CACI International, a multinational IT company, at Ft. Detrick, MD. He is currently working as a Lead Software Engineer, which consists of leading a large team of developers to rebuild a legacy application and essentially turn it into an Amazon-like web service for the Department of Defense. One of his most notable career accomplishments was the opportunity to represent the US Coast Guard as the technical lead during the Long Range Identification and Tracking (LRIT) meetings in London. The LRIT meetings were used to assist other countries with tracking vessels and navigating hazardous seas that could contain potential pirates or terrorists. During the meetings the technical representatives from each country gathered to discuss issues they were attempting to overcome while tracking vessels using the global LRIT system. “Since the USCG was the creator of the LRIT system, many of the technical questions fell into my lap to answer. To this day I’m proud to say I was able to work with and help each country to overcome their technical challenges.”

What would Matt like to share with our current students? “Talk with your advisors, be honest with them, they are there to help. The advisors at Hood bent over backwards to create specialized paths for to help me reach my goals. I’m sure they would do the same for you.”


Celebrating International Computer Science Education Week & Grace Hopper Week

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GraceHopper-MastheadFrom December 4 – 10 Hood College is celebrating International Computer Science Education Week. Since the Computer Science department celebrates computer science education year-round, they decided not to host any special campus activities but “Instead, computer science faculty along with undergraduate and graduate students from our programs, will share the joy and beauty of computing by visiting local schools to work with teachers and students during several Hour of Code school events.”, said Dr. George Dimitoglou, Associate Professor of Computer Science.

Hood celebrates Grace Hopper Week with an Essay Contest in her honor. Rear Admiral Grace Hopper, Ph.D. visited Hood College several times in the 1980′s, giving a departmental lecture, receiving an Honorary degree in 1983 and serving as the Commencement speaker in 1984 — inspiring women to pursue careers in the sciences. Dr. Hopper was a pioneer computer scientist, often referred to by her nickname, “Amazing Grace” due to her scientific and professional achievements. A fun fact shared by Dr. Dimitoglou – “The Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing – the world’s largest gathering of women technologists – and a U.S. Navy destroyer, the 500-foot, 7,000-ton U.S.S. Hopper, are named in her honor.” How cool is that?
If you know any high school students interested in learning and writing more about science, computing or historical figures, please encourage them to participate in our Grace Hopper Essay Contest ( Hood’s Department of Computer Science offers exciting prizes!

Outstanding Student- Computer Science

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i-H22VFMb-L As an undergraduate at Hood College, James Scott McLemore became interested in artificial intelligence.  He created a set of C++ algorithms for controlling an autonomous robot’s mobility and navigation, which ended up winning first place at the Virtual Manufacturing and Automation Challenge in the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation.   In the past few years, Scott focused on machine learning and information systems, which he put to use while working at Zeta Associates, Inc.

Outside of work and education, Scott is an avid gamer and enjoys hobbies utilizing logic and strategy. One such hobby is competing in tabletop war games where he has ranked in the top 10 in the United States.

Greater Maryland Graduate Women in Science (GM-GWIS) Spring 2017 Travel Award

Posted by | Biomedical Science, Computer Science, Environmental Biology, Graduate School Highlights, Information Technology, Management of Information Technology, Mathematics Education and Leadership | No Comments

PictureGreater Maryland Graduate Women in Science (GWIS) is the local chapter of an international organization dedicated to empowering women in science. The GWIS mission is “to build a global community to inspire, support, recognize and empower women in science. The organization strives to build a powerful international network of women scientists, mentor the leaders of today so that they can inspire the leaders of tomorrow and empower women scientists to excel in their careers.”

GM-GWIS is granting a “Travel Award” for GM-GWIS members for their participation to the DC Science Writers Association (DCSWA) Professional Development Day (PDD) on Saturday, April 8, 2017.

Professional Development Day has been DCSWA’s signature event since 2006. Each year,
100 to 150 science reporters, editors, radio and video producers, freelancers, and students gather for a fun and exciting day of networking and skill-building. This year, PDD will include six panel sessions, three interactive workshops, a plenary speaker, breakfast and lunch, all-day resume coaching, and an invitation to socialize with your colleagues following the event. See the day’s agenda at

Benefits of the conference and award include: A great day of fun, learning, and networking opportunities, and the honor of placing the award on your resume.

The Travel Award will cover the registration fee and provide an additional $10 stipend for travel expenses such as gas or Metro, as breakfast and lunch are included in the registration fee. Up to two (2) awards may be made this year. Awardees must register and attend the meeting, and then submit receipts to GM-GWIS following the event to be reimbursed immediately. All graduate students who are GM-GWIS members are eligible. To register for professional Development Day, visit

Application Process: Applicants will submit an essay of 300-500 words that explains how they might benefit from attending this event. Applications are due by Wednesday, March 22; send your essay to; include name address, phone number, graduate school and major. If you do not receive next day e-mail confirmation of your submission, call: 301-304-0140. Awards will be announced on or before Sunday, March 26.

Applicants are encouraged to review the meeting agenda and the DCSWA website before completing their essay. Applicants do not need to be majoring in journalism or science writing. Science writing is a major part of many careers, and the information and networking opportunities of this meeting should benefit many types of STEM professions.

Application and Essay evaluation criteria:
1) Applicant is a graduate student and GM-GWIS member.
2) Essay quality:
• Writing, including grammar, structure, and use of support when needed
• Content convinces reviewer of applicant’s interest in the content of the meeting, and how it might benefit the applicant whatever her future career choice
3) Applications and essays will be evaluated by a panel of 3 or more members of the GM-GWIS Executive Committee.

* Awards may not be made if there are no applications that meet the guidelines proposed here, or if an awardee registers but does not attend the event.


Hood College Graduate School introduces new courses in Musical Computing

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Last summer the Graduate School at Hood College introduced a course centered on Musical Computing. Offered by the Computer Science and Information Technology department, the course was developed in line with the graduate school’s commitment to offer the best in science and technology while maintaining Hood’s reputation in the Humanities.  It affords students with the chance to expand and improve their programming skills, and to open new career possibilities, both academic and commercial (games, film etc.).

The course was taught by Professor Rick Roth who holds master’s degrees in both musical composition and computer science from Johns Hopkins University and currently works as a cybersecurity professional while doubling as a choral director, pianist, organist, and composer.

Professor Roth said of the new course “Students who complete this course will gain an understanding of the historical context behind Musical Computing, and learn about current trends in the field. In addition, they will learn how to use the structural components of a computer program as structural components for musical composition.  For example, basic building blocks of programming like arrays and loops can be used to create the rhythmic and harmonic elements of a composition. Function calls, threads, decisions, and other elements that control the flow of program, can also be used to control the flow of a musical composition. The course is also a valuable step toward more advanced study, or work in the fields of music programming and sound design.”

All students who completed the course last summer participated in a final concert and lecture that allowed them to demonstrate their newly-developed expertise to the college community (a video presentation is available is available here).

The department plans to offer the course again this summer in addition to a follow-up course titled “Sound and Music for Embedded Systems”.  This new course will focus on combining principles of human-computer interaction (HCI), artificial intelligence (AI), mechatronics and robotics with principles of music theory and music performance.

Hood Alum shares career success

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Photo2Yashraj Sinha is a recent alumnus of Hood’s Masters in Computer Science program.  An international student from India, Yashraj completed an internship with Cisco Inc. last summer, an experience which he credits as being instrumental in landing a fulltime position after graduation. We caught up with Yashraj and he shared the highlights of his Hood experience with us. The full text of our chat is below.

How would you describe your time at Hood and in Frederick in general?

It has been one of my best experiences in life so far. Coming to Hood was the first time I traveled outside my country. I also experienced snow for the first time in Frederick.

How did the Graduate School help you? What resources did it provide you?

The Graduate School was supportive at all stages of my learning by providing me with the flexibility in coursework and allowing me to undergo an independent study in order to explore the field of study I was interested in.

What informed the decision to do an independent study?

I was interested in developing a software which could perform diagnosis of hardware. And this was made possible by the help of my supervisor, Dr. Xinlian Liu.

What did you achieve from the independent study?

It was a great experience learning and exploring new areas. It also contributed towards securing my new job.

How did you become a part of Hood’s Computer Science Advisory Board?

My prior industry experience at leading global organizations like Bosch and Cisco afforded me with the opportunity to contribute to serve as a graduate student representative on the advisory board. I was given the chance to present my ideas to industry leaders. And this ultimately helped in landing a summer internship.

How did your internship experience contribute to your job search success?

Having internship experience in a US organization is a major boost to your profile since it sends the message that one understands the American work culture. Thus, it separates you from the crowd of fresh graduates.

What is the new position?

I received offers from a number of leading organizations, but I am joining Cisco Systems.

What career/job search tips will you offer to international graduate students?

It’s a numbers game. Apply to as many open positions as possible. The more positions you apply to, the greater your chance to succeed. Until you are getting at least three responses daily (either rejects or interview calls), you should keep applying for jobs. Focus on applying at the career portals of your target companies and the popular job boards. Invest sufficient time to prepare your resume and cover letter and strive to perform better at each interview.

Graduate Women in Science Establishes Local Chapter at Hood College

Posted by | Bioinformatics, Biomedical Science, Computer Science, Cybersecurity, Environmental Biology, Graduate School Highlights, Information Technology, Management of Information Technology, Mathematics Education and Leadership | No Comments


FREDERICK, Md. — An international organization dedicated to empowering women in science is launching its 25th United States chapter Jan. 23.

The Greater Maryland Chapter of Graduate Women in Science (GWIS) will launch at 6 p.m. in the Whitaker Campus Center Commons at Hood College. The event begins with an informal mixer followed by a lecture by featured speaker Col. Andrea Stahl, deputy commander of USAMRIID at Fort Detrick. Afterward, there will be a business meeting to discuss upcoming events for this new chapter.

The GWIS mission is “to build a global community to inspire, support, recognize and empower women in science. The organization strives to build a powerful international network of women scientists, mentor the leaders of today so that they can inspire the leaders of tomorrow and empower women scientists to excel in their careers.”

The event is free and open to the public. For more information about GWIS, visit For more information about the launch event, contact April Boulton, Dean of Hood College’s Graduate School and Associate Professor of Biology, and co-founding member of the new chapter, at 301-696-3600 or