News @ the Beach

Does The Perfect Password Exist?

In a time when nearly five million Gmail usernames and passwords can be leaked on a Russian Internet forum, the importance of cyber-security has never been timelier—particularly since it’s National Cyber Security Awareness Month—but Mehrdad Aliasgari, a member of Cal State Long Beach’s computer engineering and computer science department, is ready with an answer.

Aliasgari and his students, working in the department’s new security lab in ECS 307, are working to build a better password manager.

“Recently, some people have begun using software called password managers,” said Aliasgari, “They are digital versions of writing down a password that serve as vaults. The problem is protecting the vault.”

Threats to the password vault abound, even from the password managers themselves who are tempted to sell the information they find for advertising. “What if the storage file is accidentally deleted? What happens if the phone is dropped in the sink? Users employ the password manager to protect more than passwords such as social security numbers or credit cards. That makes the situation even worse. All your work depends on one application. All your work is in danger,” he said.

The worth of password managers is their ability to create stronger passwords. But even a password manager needs a password. “The problem with that is that you are asking a human being to rely on one totally guessable password,” he said. “That password will be very easy to guess. We think we have an interesting solution we call `Sesame’ in honor of the password to Ali Baba’s magic cave.”

Aliasgari challenged his students to implement a solution that is secure, convenient and works on Android and, in the near future, also on iOS. He quickly noted that security and convenience don’t go hand in hand all the time.

“If anything, they are opposites,” he said. “The more you have of one, the less you have of the other. If history has taught us anything, it is that people opt for convenience. That makes it a lot easier for hackers. It is easy to breach security this way.” What his students and he came up with is free and will be available to CSULB for downloading as an application as early as this month.

The application begins with users providing the application a password or allowing the application to generate a password for each website. The application encrypts each password in a way that needs a double-encrypted key. “Each key is unique. No key is re-used. That substantially increases security,” he explained.

Users will be able to speak their way to security. “Every time a user wants to look at passwords to sites such as Facebook, they don’t have to remember anything,” he said. “Their voices grant access to the Facebook password. All the users have to do to launch the application is to say out loud `Facebook’ and their words are confirmed using voice recognition technology. And even if the user loses his or her phone, the application can be attached to multiple devices. We feel our approach helps solve the password problem. Users have convenience because the user doesn’t have to remember much.”

Biometrics are the key. “As long as users keep their voices the same, and there is a really good chance they will do that, they have full control of their passwords,” he said. “Service providers like Facebook won’t need to make any changes. Users can enjoy the luxury of having a really complicated long password that is hard to guess but they don’t have to memorize. It will be stored in their choice of storage in a provable secure fashion. We know you shouldn’t ask too much of a human being because they always will opt for convenience. All you need to remember now is your own voice.”

This new level of password security represents the wave of the future.

“All password security measures begin in frustration,” he explained. “There is plenty of frustration over how passwords have been used up to now. There was a time when a web service needed only one-character passwords. Other passwords could be as simple as 1234. New research shows that the most common password today is ‘iloveyou.’ People are really frustrated. Both in academia and industry, there has been a search for the password alternative. Biometrics are one alternative yet they have their own problems. If the biometric password is lost, it is gone forever. That is why the use of passwords has hung on. As bad as they are, they are better than the alternatives. But the frustration never goes away.”

There is no perfect password. The search for a more robust and yet practical way of authentication will go on.

“This problem is not going away but we can try to improve on it,” Aliasgari concluded. “Cyber-security is an ongoing battle. You just have to stay ahead of the curve. For authentication, passwords are not going anywhere. Their structure is becoming more demanding. Users are being asked to use symbols and weird characters. Biometrics, physical devices and words combine to create authentication. We’ll just have to keep working. You never know what the other guys are up to.”

Aliasgari earned his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Sharif University of Technology in Iran and his doctorate in computer science and engineering from the University of Notre Dame in 2013.

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CSU Candlelight of Hope Vigil to Raise Suicide Awareness

Twenty-three California State University campuses have been invited to join together on Tuesday, Oct. 21, to host a CSU-wide Candlelight of Hope vigil to raise awareness around a heavily stigmatized topic—college student suicide—which is the second leading cause of death among this age group. The CSULB event will take place from 5 to 8 p.m. near the Maxson Plaza fountain in front of Brotman Hall.

Approximately 1,100 college students die each year by suicide and many more think about it. The candlelight event will offer campus communities an opportunity to show unity and give hope to those who may be struggling through a hard time and susceptible to depression or suicidal thoughts.

Participants will be provided with a candle to turn an ordinary paper bag into an extraordinary luminaria and have the opportunity to write a message or decorate bags to remember someone affected by suicide.

First hosted by San Jose State University in fall 2012, other institutions are continuing to bring it back on campus for a third year and a couple of UCs also will be involved this year.

“This will be the second year that we participate in the CSU Candlelight of Hope. Last year, we had over 600 students, staff, faculty and administrators stop by to create their own messages of hope,” said Jane Duong, the coordinator of Project OCEAN (On Campus Emergency Assistance Network) at Counseling and Psychological Services. “There was a strong sense of community as we witnessed many students and other staff members who were once strangers come together to share conversations of similar experiences on the struggles of having a mental illness or knowing a loved one who has been impacted by suicide. The event provided a safe space for diverse members of our campus community to express support and encouragement to one another in hope for healing.

“Whether students are participating in or passing by our event, we want students to know there is hope for those who may be struggling with different forms of hardship and that there is help available on our campus,” she added. “Project OCEAN is here to support our students, staff and faculty by providing resources and increasing knowledge of issues related to mental health.”

Along with CSULB, participating universities include CSU San Bernardino, CSU Monterey Bay, Cal Maritime, San Diego State, San Jose State, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, UC Santa Cruz and UCLA.

The campuses were grantees of the 2012-14 California Mental Health Services Act (CalMHSA), Prop. 63. It is one of several Prevention and Early Intervention initiatives implemented by CalMHSA, an organization of county governments working to improve mental health outcomes for individuals, families and communities. CalMHSA operates services and education programs on a statewide, regional and local basis.

The Candlelight of Hope vigil on campus will be hosted by CSULB’s Project OCEAN, which was established in September 2008 and funded by a three-year federal grant with the mission of encouraging help-seeking behaviors and suicide prevention. Through the two-year CalMHSA Grant, Project OCEAN returned to CSULB from July 2012-June 2014. Based on the impact of OCEAN’s work on campus and student voices in supporting the continuation of Project OCEAN, CSULB has made the decision to institutionalize and fund OCEAN as a permanent program through Student Services as of July. Project OCEAN activities are designed to educate the campus on suicide prevention and promote a climate that reduces stigma associated with mental health and encourages students to seek help when needed.

For more information, visit the Project OCEAN website.

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DECLARE Campaign for Cal State Long Beach Creates Cultural Shift

California State University, Long Beach (CSULB) launched the public and final phase of its first major philanthropic campaign, DECLARE: The Campaign for CSULB, and celebrated the 20th anniversary of the university’s Richard and Karen Carpenter Performing Arts Center on Oct. 11. About 350 students, alumni, faculty, staff, donors and community leaders attended the invitation-only event, which concluded with a performance by Brian Wilson, iconic songwriter and co-founder of The Beach Boys.

Campaigns, long a tradition at private universities, are now an important source of revenue at public universities, as well. DECLARE: The Campaign for CSULB is the first comprehensive fundraising campaign in the history of the university and one of the largest in the California State University system. By attracting new investments to the areas identified as campaign “pillars” (or priorities)— Unequaled Access, Transformation and A Greater Community—the campaign will make it possible for CSULB to provide more scholarships and services, support additional research and creative endeavors, update facilities and equipment and forge new community partnerships.

“This is a historic occasion for the university and another step in the continued path of excellence that has been our tradition here at The Beach,” said Jane Close Conoley, president of CSULB. “This collective effort by our friends, alumni, supporters, the university community and the surrounding community will provide resources and additional scholarships that will help our students succeed and graduate to become meaningful contributors in their professions and in their communities, while also having a positive impact on the economy.”

More than $200 million has already been committed to the campaign, and the university is in a final push to raise another $25 million so it can reach its goal of raising a total of $225 million by the time the campaign concludes in December 2015.

The campaign represents a cultural shift for CSULB, which marks its milestone 65th anniversary this year. The launch of DECLARE signals CSULB’s maturation as a major public university and provides a platform for building “Beach Pride” by encouraging all of those on campus and in the larger community to reflect on the positive impact of the university in their lives and to participate in the campaign by “declaring” their support and appreciation for The Beach.

“The DECLARE campaign is exciting not only from a fundraising perspective but also because it gives us an opportunity to share our remarkable story with a wider audience and to draw greater attention to CSULB’s role as a major academic, cultural, and community resource,” said Andrea Taylor, vice president of University Relations and Development.

Community leaders, including former Long Beach Mayor Beverly O’Neill, have enthusiastically endorsed the campaign. “Cal State Long Beach has had such a tremendously positive effect on so many thousands of young people over the years,” said O’Neill, a CSULB alumna and the chair of the CSULB 49er Foundation. “The university is a great asset to this region. Forty-niners receive excellent life-long preparation from faculty and support from staff and then graduate, begin successful careers and contribute to the economy and social well-being of their communities.”

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Faculty Member Survey Providing Important Information for Long Beach Small Businesses

There’s a two-way communication going on between Cal State Long Beach (CSULB) and the local business community that finds its clearest expression in the Long Beach Small Business Monitor.

Overseen by marketing’s Scott Flexo, founder, owner and senior partner of Flexo and Partners, Inc. founded in 1995, the Small Business Monitor is a quarterly survey that provides an understanding of the expectations and challenges of Long Beach small businesses. The survey series is sponsored by the CSULB’s College of Business Administration and supported by community businesses and organizations.

Scott Flexo

Scott Flexo

The Monitor consists of surveys of small business owners, managers and supervisors with the goal of providing the community with an understanding of the expectations, attitudes and desires of Long Beach small businesses. The surveys are based on telephone and Internet surveys conducted by professional interviewers with the assistance of CSULB students among a randomly selected sample of small businesses in Long Beach.

“What we’re trying to do through the Monitor is to form a better connection between CSULB’s College of Business Administration and the local community,” said Flexo. “The Monitor, now in its third year, represents an attempt to understand the issues of small business and communicate those issues back to the community.”

The Monitor’s readership represents the majority of Long Beach’s working population. In the Long Beach region, more than half of those employed work for small businesses with 50 employees or less, and women and minorities are overrepresented in those small businesses, according to Flexo.

”I see this as a very important thing to do in terms of letting people know how small business is feeling and what its expectations are. What goes on with big businesses like Boeing is important but how do you give voice to thousands of small businesses? It’s a challenge met by the Small Business Monitor, he said. “I am a Long Beach resident who owns a small business here. I feel the same challenges faced by other small business owners. To be able to take my expertise and experience and use them to help small businesses gives me a lot of satisfaction.”

The data collected by the Monitor is represented by a random sample of Long Beach regional small businesses contacted by professional data collection interviewers, and a panel consisting of more than 1,000 small business owners in Long Beach who have participated in past surveys. These surveys have collected a bank of data which can be used to gauge expectations for the coming year. The Monitor reviews such topics as the impact on local business by the Affordable Care Act (ACA). In its second quarter issue, the Monitor compared the results of his local survey of the Act’s impact with a national survey.

“This enables the Monitor to place in context what is happening in the Long Beach region,” he said. “I was surprised to discover local business owners were more open to the ACA than the national average. There was great discussion about why that is the case and there is pressure to re-visit the issue at a later date.”

The current third quarter 2014 issue of the Monitor addresses digital marketing and small business. Ninety percent of California consumers go online first to check out products and services offered by small business before heading in to stores, according to a recent study. To meet the needs of today’s consumers, small businesses must be online and have an integrated Internet, social media and mobile presence. However, many Long Beach small businesses lack the time and financial resources to manage a professional digital marketing presence. Of the total, 75 percent create and maintain their Internet presence by themselves, solicit an acquaintance or family member to do it, or assign an employee to manage it part-time. Just 25 percent hire professionals to develop and maintain a firm’s digital marketing.

In response to the survey data Flexo is able to connect CSULB students with local business and organizations. For instance, Flexo pointed to recent requests from local small businesses for support with their digital marketing spurred by the release of the latest survey data.

“In one case, I helped link up our students in the College of Business Administration with a local organization called `Feed the Kids,’” he recalled. “Now CBA Marketing students are conducting a digital marketing campaign for them and I think that’s wonderful. This is an opportunity that comes directly from a real connection with the small business community the survey results provide and the work that goes into the Small Business Monitor surveys.”

Surveying local business has changed the way Flexo sees Long Beach.

“Small business contributes a significant amount to the Long Beach community and without that contribution, the vibrancy of the community is not the same,” he said. “The more small businesses we have that thrive, the more vibrant the community is. The Small Business Monitor puts these issues in people’s minds and encourages discussion. Who would have thought about digital media 10 years ago? But today, 97 percent of people looking at small businesses use the Internet. If local business is not sophisticated enough to take advantage of that, that business will have a problem.”

The latest issue is available at

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