Thursday, November 16, 2017

Tips for success: The Research Proposal

There is a “chicken and egg” problem associated with almost all research proposals. Before submitting the proposal, the student is expected to:

1) Come up with an idea of something they would like to research.

2) Conduct first level research, (also known as Google, and perhaps other, searches), looking for information related to the topic. When you fill out the research proposal this is the information that is referred to as:

Review Existing Literature.
- As you learn more, by reviewing literature, it should be possible to refine your topic idea.
-You may also discover that your initial topic has been heavily covered by material that has already been published.
-If the topic has been researched and the results published, then there may be a more focused approach to the general topic area that is not already researched and published.

Please go through this process before filling out and submitting the research proposal. With that in mind here are some tips for the remainder of the research proposal:

Discuss the literature. The template states between 2 - 5 pages. There is a danger in being wordy, your thoughts and intents may be lost. Make your first effort to explain your research topic idea in the context of existing literature in 2 pages. If you need more that is fine, but, in general, do not feel like you need 5 pages.

Identify the research question. This is where the faculty research committee that evaluates your proposal will turn first. What is the problem you are trying to solve? If you are having a hard time putting that into a paragraph, that could be a bad sign. The research question should be obvious to you and to others.

Research methods. If you have a topic and question and there is no way to conduct original research to prove or disprove a thesis, this is not a workable proposal. We understand that some of this has to be figured out as we go along, that is what research is all  about. However, it is imperative that you have a way to start. Hope is not a strategy, have a plan on how to prove or disprove your thesis.

Significance of the study. We are talking about a lot of work, let’s all agree this is worth doing before we dive in.

Proposed title. This comes last for a reason. At this point you have given this a lot of thought. They tell writers that your title is your contract with your audience. Try to avoid cute titles, you would be amazed at some of the title proposals that are submitted to the committee. Instead try to summarize the point, the thesis, in a single title. If you absolutely need a subtitle the world will not come to an end, but precise and concise is best.

Tips for success: Writing an Executive Summary

An executive summary should be included on most cybersecurity reports, proposals, analysis papers, and research papers. Points to consider when creating one include:

- Brevity and conciseness. It should rarely exceed one page.

- Supportable and defensible. While the executive summary is designed for easy reading and digestion of information, supporting data should be easily available. This could be in the form of the accompanying paper, or appendices as appropriate.

- WIIFM. Whenever we communicate from someone else, we need to answer the question What's In It For Me. The C-suite will want to be briefed on why this information is important to the business.

- Well written. If it scores below 90 on Grammarly, you have work to do. Consider the "Napoleon's Private" test, ( have someone else read it and tell you what they feel it means).

- On topic. State the topic, problem, recommendation as needed. Do not put extraneous information in the executive summary.

- No humor. This is not a place for jokes or humor, they can be misinterpreted.

- Avoid acronyms and "techo babble". As techies we speak a different dialect of English than management. Avoid writing anything that is hard for them to understand.

- Designed to be scanned or read rapidly. In general, when you produce an executive summary, it is for someone above your pay grade. Don't make them work to get the message, Make it plain.

- Readable fonts and font sizes. It is very likely your organization has a style guide. Use it. Executives are accustomed to various formats. Under no circumstances shrink the font to make the executive summary fit on one page; your audience very likely has older eyes than you do.

Change history:
Version 1.1 don't use acronyms
Version 1.2 why do I care :)

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

SANS.EDU ISE 6100 Assignment Lab Notebook component

Executive Summary: a lab notebook in this context is a record of the research component of your group project.

Context: when you are assigned a 6100 group project you will be expected to:
- Receive the assignment, meet as a group to determine a plan of attack, produce and submit a project plan to satisfy the components of the assignment.
NOTE: faculty welcomes questions about the assignment. Contact data is embedded in your assignment.

- Begin development of a report. These vary based on the contemporary real world assignment your group is given, but in general have two major components:

+ A non-technical summary of your findings and recommendations
+ A technical report on the work that you did, the lab notebook

A lab notebook historically was a composition book, or similar paper record, where researchers logged their expectations, observations, experiments and results. Today in the automated world, while paper records are still useful they tend to be electronic, often including screen shots.
Example lab notebook from the PCAP contest.

When your lab notebook is graded, the faculty will be looking for the following components:
- A logical flow of experimentation based on the problem you were assigned and the solution approach outlined in the project plan.
- Expectations, hypotheses, theses, before you begin an experiment, there should be a clear understanding of what you are testing, what you hope to achieve.
- Details of the experiment sufficient to reproduce your results. This commonly includes essential record keeping: dates, times, locations, and software versions are common artifacts.
- Results,  these can be fairly terse and informal, they will be summarized in the non-technical report
- Analysis, were the results what you expected? Do they affect the planned logical flow of experimentation.

NOTE: Unexpected results, miscalculations, surprises, happen, they are as much a part of research as expected results. Simply record what happened and your analysis. In some cases these may cause the group to update the project plan. That is not a problem, project plans are designed to be updated.

Monday, September 18, 2017

CCleaner and bestill by beating heart.

I was working on NewsBites upcoming story:

CCleaner Utility Was Infected with Malware (September 18, 2017)

Researchers at Cisco’s Talos have found that download servers used to distribute the CCleaner utility were also surreptitiously delivering malware along with the software. The legitimate, signed version of CCleaner, 5.53, included malware that gathered user information and sent it to a third party. Avast, which distributed CCleaner, estimated that the infected version of the utility had been downloaded by 2.27 million users. The infected version of CCleaner is no longer available for download.

Read more in:
Cisco Talos: CCleanup: A Vast Number of Machines at Risk

So I clicked on the link and:

Now you know and I know it had to be coincidence, but I run CCleaner so this one took a few deep breaths.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Rest in Peace Jerry Pournelle

Sci-Fi author, Byte magazine product review columnist, (Chaos Manner), but also many early pertinent observations about cybersecurity. He will be remembered as a good guy, knew how to work a party. He gets credit for one of the best tall tales, (young guy on a farm for the summer, playing with explosives, pretty much emptied the pond, that last being the part that suspended belief), I ever heard.

My copy of Footfall is in Hawaii, guess it is time for a re-read. Best obit I have seen is here.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

ISE ISM 5600 Grading Tips (yes, this one is real)

The purpose of this blog post is to provide guidance and coaching to STI students writing their leadership essay.

When the paper is submitted, the FIRST thing I do is run it through Grammarly. As a graduate student at SANS.EDU you have access to the tool; use it. As a grammar checker it is not perfect, but it can find and point out avoidable errors.

Writing mechanics is the last item on the rubric, but if your writing is sloppy, that impacts several other dimensions of the assignment. Clean and concise are two keys to victory.   If you use Microsoft Word, the green and red squiggles can also alert you to writing that can be improved.

If the submission scores below 90 on Grammarly, I tend to stop and pour a mug of hot green tea and settle in; this paper is probably going to take a while. Marginal papers require more effort to grade than exemplars.

A final note on writing quality, several of the rubric items require the reader/grader to understand what the author intended. Slapdash writing does not achieve that goal.

The assignment asks for a single aspect of transformational leadership. Rehashing the definition detracts from your message. If we ask for a focused exposition of “something”, we probably already know what that “something” is. Try to break new ground instead of repeating the fundamentals.

Your grader will also look at the literature research, or, references. The key to winning is quality. If you have thirty ill-chosen, vaguely related references you can expect a low appraisal. There is nothing wrong with using printed literature, but your grader may not have access to those items, consider at least a few Internet references that can be validated.

Speaking only for myself, I tend to grade style gently, (8.0 is neutral), If it is extraordinary, I will mark the paper higher, if it is painful to read, I choose a lower evaluation, but I am not a literary critic and know it. That said, when the rubric mentions transitional sentences at multiple scoring levels, take the time to put a few in! 

Finally, your graders are rooting for you. We want you to succeed. A day where we get to nominate a paper as an exemplar is a good day indeed. Please take the time to give this your best effort. If you shoot for the minimum passing score and miss, nobody wins.

How I grade ISE/M 5600 Leadership Essays (parody)

NOTE: this document is an attempt at humor after a long day. There is a serious version of the same basic topic on my blog.

After a string of either failing, falling, low, or lower grades, We thought it might be helpful to offer a peek behind the curtains. This is how we, at the great and powerful Oz really grade Leadership Essays.

When the paper comes in, the FIRST thing we do is flip a coin, you can check the blockchain. Heads, we run it through Grammerly. As a graduate student at SANS.EDU you have access to Grammerly; think about using it, (it even checkz spellin). It is the last item on the rubric, we do that to trick you into thinking it is not important. But if the truth be told, if your writing is sloppy, that impacts several other dimensions of the assignment such as time, height and weight. Crisp and clear are too keys two victory.  If the paper scores 95 or higher on Grammerly, I usually don't take a break, I dive right in and fill in the rubric without reading it.

If the paper scores below 90 on Grammarly, I tend to stop and pour a mug of cold beer; this one is going to take a while. Marginal papers require actual work on the part of the instructor. That is a bad situation for both you, the student and the economy, please avoid it.

A final word on writing quality. Several of the rubric items require the reader/grader to understand what the author intended. It would help if you actually intend something.

The assignment asks for a single aspect of transitional leadership. A rehash of what transitional leadership is probably detracts from your message. We have all been through re-organizations, job creation, abolishment and economic restatements. Try to break new ground instead of repeating the fundamentals.

Your grader probably won't look at the literature research, or, references. The key to winning is quantity. If you have thirty ill-chosen, vaguely related references you can expect a high score, because they don't know. One or two references is, however, a losing proposition; this isn't a book report. There is nothing wrong with using printed literature, your grader may not have access to that, consider at least a few Internet references that can be validated in the unlikely event they check.

Most graders are fairly neutral about style, 8.0 is fairly neutral and that is what you should expect to receive. If it is extraordinary, they may go higher, if it is painful too read, they may score lower, but they are not movie critics, hence, the neutral score on style. That said, HINT, when the rubric mentions transitional sentences at multiple score levels, put a few in! The key is to repeat the same word in the last sentence of one section, then use it again in the next. Consider, putting these repeated words in bold for ease of grading, as well as to make grading easier.

Finally, your graders are routing for you. We want you to succeed. We get a dollar bonus if a paper we nominate as an exemplar is approved as a nominated exemplar and posted on the nominated exemplar section of the web page.