Information Technology

The Specter and Meltdown Vulnerabilities: a CPU/Architecture Perspective

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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

Outstanding Student- Information Technology

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i-Xp3pR9p-L Jeff Blake’s time at Hood College has been productive as he has tailored his educational needs to his future assignments within the U.S. Army.  Jeff enjoys tutoring his fellow students and encourages them to excel in areas of weakness.  In addition, Jeff served as an adjunct professor for the Hood ROTC program and volunteered his time on a regular basis as a teacher assistant within the Computer Science Suite.  Jeff’s current assignment is as the Information Integration officer for the United States Army Training and Doctrine Command G6 Communications Division.  His performance in the IT program has been truly exemplary—he has continually been a leader among his peers—in and out of the classroom.

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.


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


Hood College receives ABET accreditation

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Hood College’s Bachelor of Science program in computer science recently received the ABET accreditation which is a demonstration of its commitment to providing students quality education. The ABET accreditation is a voluntary peer-review process that requires programs to undergo comprehensive, periodic evaluations. The evaluations focus on program curriculum, faculty, facilities and institutional support and are conducted by teams of professionals from industry, academia and government with expertise in the ABET disciplines of applied science, computing, engineering and engineering technology.

This accreditation is noteworthy for students in our graduate programs who pay their way through school via tuition reimbursement from their employers. Several employers are only willing to reimburse students who enroll in schools with ABET accreditation. These employers see the accreditation as a measure of the quality of the programs at a school.

According to Xinlian Liu, Ph.D., co-chair of the Department of Computer Science and Information Technology, “this accreditation is expected to attract a lot more students to our programs, especially with our proximity to the I-270 technology corridor. We hope to see a lot more interest in our programs going forward”.

Find out more about the computer science department and programs, visit

New R Programming course to be offered in Spring 2017

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

Hood College’s Graduate School is offering a new course focused on R programming this spring. The course, Advanced Data Analytics with R, is being offered by the Computer Science and Information Technology department.

According to Dr. Stephen Penn, program director of the Masters in Management Information Technology program and one of the faculty members who worked on developing the course, the course is being introduced to address the rise of job postings requiring R proficiency.  Also, the R programming language is gaining in popularity according to several websites, especially KDNuggets.

Students who take this course will receive an introduction to R, become familiar with the use of R in solving problems in statistics, and by the end of the semester be able to continue to learn about R packages and advanced functionality.  Students will use R to develop decision trees, neural networks, and regression models.

Penn added that the department plans to offer the course at least once a year in the spring semester. However, initial feedback about the course has been very high and the department is considering offering the course again in the fall.

CPT/OPT Information Session

Posted by | Biomedical Science, Business Administration, Computer Science, Environmental Biology, Graduate School Highlights, Information Technology, International Students, Management of Information Technology | No Comments

IMG_20161003_153242Curricular Practical Training (CPT) and Optional Practical Training (OPT) are two important components of the academic experience for most F1 international students.  These programs allow students to gain valuable experience and earn money while working on or off campus during the academic year (CPT) or during the summer (OPT).  As part of the Graduate School’s efforts to empower students with resources that will contribute towards a successful graduate experience, an information session was held recently in partnership with the International Student Services Office and the Career Center.

This event provided an overview of the CPT/OPT process and also provided the opportunity for students to ask questions and receive immediate answers from Dr. Kiran Chadda, Director of International Student Services, Dean of the Graduate School, Dr. April Boulton and Lana Veres  of the Career Center.

The presentations covered areas such as employment options available to F1 international students, procedures for obtaining employment authorization, late stage CPT and internships as well a demo of the GoinGlobal website for job search. Students were also treated to pizza and drinks.

To view the resources shared at the session, visit this link.

Fall 2016 Computer Science and Information Technology Department Events

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This fall, the Computer Science and Information Technology Department at Hood will be co-hosting a number of exciting events here on campus. All students, faculty and staff are welcome.

Python Frederick- 2nd Wednesday Talk – Jupyter Notebook
Whitaker Commons
Thursday, September 14
6:30 p.m.

Python Frederick has a talk the second Wednesday of each month. This month:
Jupyter Notebooks ( are helpful tools for anyone working with data. Popular with scientists of all types, Jupyter Notebooks let you work with Python right from your web browser! You can easily graph data and share your findings with others.
You’ll learn how to use Jupyter Notebooks so you can learn to supercharge any research you’re involved in.

Python Frederick – 3rd Saturday Open Workshop – Python Serverless Microframework for AWS
Coblentz Hall Seminar Room
Saturday, September 17
10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.

Python Frederick has an open workshop the 3rd Saturday of each month. You can work on a common project selected for the day or bring your own project and enlist the help of others.

Hack Frederick Hackathon
Coblentz Hall Seminar Room
Saturday, October 8
10:00 a.m.

Registration is required to attend this event. Additional information is available at Interested students should contact Dr. George Dimitoglou at to form teams.

Python Frederick- 2nd Wednesday Talk – pygame
Whitaker Commons
Wednesday, October 12
6:30 p.m.

Python Frederick’s Second Wednesday talk for October will talk gaming!  We’ll discuss pygame, a Python library for making video games, with the Frederick Game Development meetup.