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February 17, 2006

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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE:

 

Voter Databases Must Be Secured, Report Says
CNet (02/17/06) McCullagh, Declan

States are scrambling to comply with federal requirements that voter records be stored in central databases, but a 60-page report ACM released on Thursday warns that the databases could be vulnerable to fraud, and that states must do more to shore up security, reliability, and privacy. "Nobody's done this kind of analysis," says former ACM President Barbara Simons. "We're not out to criticize anyone. We're out to try to provide information." Simons, co-chair of the ACM Committee on Guidelines for Implementation of Voter Registration Databases, notes the committee's report highlights numerous security applications familiar to computer scientists, but likely unknown to many election officials. In accordance with the Help America Vote Act, which requires election officials to create statewide voter registration databases, 28 states have hired outside contractors to provide their election databases, and 21 have opted to develop their own. While requiring "adequate technological security," the legislation does not require encryption or any other specific method. Without sufficient security provisions, hackers could remove eligible voters or insert fraudulent names into the database. ACM is also concerned about privacy, noting that many states allow the sale of voter registration databases for both political and commercial purposes. The National Association of Secretaries of State reports that just 24 states had been expected to comply with the federal deadline of Jan. 1, 2006, though most of the rest will likely have created their databases by the fall elections. The complete ACM report, entitled Statewide Databases of Registered Voters: A Study Of Accuracy, Privacy, Usability, Security, and Reliability Issues, is available at http://www.acm.org/usacm/VRD/
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Outsourcing Is Climbing Skills Ladder
New York Times (02/16/06) P. C1; Lohr, Steve

The National Academies are expected to present a report finding that an increasing number of corporations are outsourcing basic research to countries with surging economies and solid education systems, such as India and China. Polling 200 international companies, the survey found that 38 percent expect to implement significant changes in the global distribution of research and development. While labor costs and tax structures have some influence on the decision to outsource, most companies report that it is more out of the desire to draw from the best talent in the world and form partnerships with universities in developing markets. Study author and Georgia Tech management professor Marie Thursby said that the results of the study are clear. "You have to have an environment that fosters the development of a high-quality workforce and productive collaboration between corporations and universities if America wants to maintain a competitive advantage in research and development." Many technology executives agree with IBM's Nicholas Donofrio that technology companies will go wherever the talent is. While domestic stagnation is not an automatic result of outsourcing, more companies intend to cut their research and development workforce in the United States and Europe than plan to raise employment. With research and development occupying a small portion of most companies' budgets, the number of jobs affected by this trend is not huge, though executives warn that it is a symptom of the larger problem of an educational system in decline. Also picking up on this trend have been university administrators, such as A. Richard Newton, dean of the college of engineering at the University of California, Berkeley. Newton is trying to forge partnerships with foreign universities that result in the establishment of satellite schools connected with Berkeley, making it "the intellectual hub of the planet."
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Questions Still Abound Over GPL 3
eWeek (02/15/06) Galli, Peter

This week's Open Source Business Conference in San Francisco saw continued debate about the GPL 3 draft concerning its treatment of DRM, licensing requirements, and the openness of source code. At a panel session discussing the license, questions arose about whether patent rights move downstream for companies engaged in cross-licensing agreements, as Intel's McCoy Smith noted that GPL 2 is unclear about patent licenses and rights. The Software Freedom Center's Richard Fontana notes that in addition to spelling out the interpretations that the Free Software Foundation (FSF) has made about GPL 2, the update also addresses issues that were not around when the license was last updated in 1991, such as DRM. The update also takes a closer look at software patents, formalizing the patent grant implications of GPL 2. On the subject of source code requirements, Fontana argues that Linux head Linus Torvalds has been off base in his criticism, owing largely to his philosophical differences with the FSF. Torvalds opposes the provision that requires disclosure of private keys, an issue which Fontana says is a matter for the legislators. While Fontana says the definition of a derivative work has not changed, there is still uncertainty as to whether or not two linked works constitute a derivative and if the source code must be disclosed. Questions also remain about the compatibility of GPL 3 with other licenses, such as the Eclipse Public License (EPL). The Eclipse Foundation's Mike Milinkovich is hoping that version 3 of the Lesser GPL will prove compatible with the EPL. Compatibility would "dramatically improve the status quo in our view. Unfortunately, only time will tell if this will come to pass, as the revision process for the LGPL has not even started yet," he said.
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Plan for EU Technology Body 'Is Wasteful'
Financial Times (02/16/06) P. 3; Boone, Jon

Oxford Chancellor Lord Patten criticized the European Commission's proposal for a European Institute for Technology (EIT) as wasteful, claiming that it would draw scarce funding away from existing universities already operating under constrained budgets. Lord Patten argued instead that the commission should divert the funds to established institutions to give them a better chance of competing with MIT. Attributing the budget shortage to a spike in agricultural spending, Lord Patten said that it is unlikely that the European Research Council (ERC) will have adequate funding if the proposed institution is created. The popularity of the ERC among European universities for its efforts to bolster high-end research has fueled the skepticism with which many academics view the commission's proposal. "What we actually need to see is more funding, with the allocation determined by academic researchers of the high quality work which is already being done in many fine European universities with completely inadequate levels of present support," Lord Patten said, echoing the sentiments of many other European university leaders, as well as the research advisors to the commission itself. Institute proponents argue that the EIT will help forge a partnership between academia and industry, and that it would, in fact, be compatible with the ERC in a combined effort to boost research and innovation in Europe.
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Fewer Females in Computer Science
Purdue Exponent (02/15/06) Weibel, Kristin

Purdue University's computer science department has implemented a few changes in order to attract more female students to its program. The department has created a Recruiting Committee Task Force to combat the popular stereotype of computer scientists being nerds with pocket protectors and poor social skills. The university plans to sponsor visits to high schools in Indiana to discuss the computer science program. The task force also plans to stress how varied careers are for people who obtain technical degrees. The department sponsors the Computer Science Women's Network, which offers programs that allow for networking opportunities with IT professionals, encourages female students to participate in Women in Science Programs, and has overhauled its marketing strategy. The changes come at a time when the number of female undergraduate students enrolled as computer science majors at Purdue has fallen 12 percent since the 1990-1991 school year, and Susanne Hambrusch, head of the computer science department, says the stereotype of computer scientists does not help. There are only four females in this year's freshman class of 155 students. Women account for just 6 percent of undergraduate computer science majors, says Hambrusch. For information about ACM's Committee on Women in Computing, visit http://www.acm.org/women
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USC Research Institute Sees Growth in Corporate Projects
Los Angeles Times (02/16/06) Hiltzik, Michael

Herb Schorr, director of the University of Southern California's Information Sciences Institute (ISI), sees his challenge as bridging the gap between academic research and corporate product development. While the ISI draws most of its nearly $70 million in funding from federal grants, Schorr hopes to expand its budget through increased corporate funding that could ultimately account for as much as one third of the institute's revenue. The ISI already partners with Chevron in the development of real-time sensors to link oil-fields with off-site controllers, and has spawned several commercial companies through its projects, such as the translation software venture Language Weaver. The late Keith Uncapher founded the ISI in 1972 while working with the Rand Corporation in an attempt to secure university funding through Defense Department grants, which gave the institute a prominent role in the original development of the Internet. The institute was also the home of Jonathan Postel, the Internet pioneer who helped create the domain name system. Schorr is targeting groups such as BBN Technologies and SRI International as potential revenue sources, despite the trend of declining corporate funding for basic research and development in favor of more commercial products that yield short-term revenue increases. The ISI enjoys a loose relationship with USC, employing 430 staff members who have minimal campus responsibilities, though it receives no funding from the university. Given the ISI's academic affiliation, the question remains as to how the commercial influence will mesh culturally. "Industry fits really well with academia," said ACM President David Patterson. "But development causes problems with universities as it becomes more secret and proprietary. And there's more money for development than for research."
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Microsoft Announces Recipient of $1Mln Academic Research Funding
ITNews (02/17/06)

Microsoft has awarded roughly $1 million in research funding to further its Virtual Earth application and the Trustworthy Computing curriculum to 23 recipients from around the world. After issuing a request for proposals (RFP), Microsoft awarded $300,000 to eight recipients who will work on Virtual Earth, and $750,000 to 15 winners who will advance the Trustworthy Computing projects. "We invest in innovative research, collaborate with academia and governments to advance education, cultivate next-generation IT leaders, and partner to build knowledge economies," said Microsoft's Sailesh Chutani, director of the External Research and Programs group within Microsoft Research. The Virtual Earth RFP called for digital geography research, such as computer vision, ontologies, visualization, and map user interfaces. Virtual Earth, Microsoft's mapping and local search application, provides consumers, companies, and independent developers with mapping, location, and local search services. The Trustworthy Computing RFP called for new technology pertaining to business integrity, privacy, reliability, security, and secure software engineering. Microsoft will also announce in the near future $1.2 million in research funding for the winners of its Digital Inclusion RFP, which will focus on the application of technology to health, education, and socioeconomic issues.
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Here Comes a Google for Coders
Wired News (02/17/06) Tweney, Dylan

While the promise of open-source software has always been to save programmers the trouble of reinventing the wheel, the sheer volume of available code has created a reality where very little sharing actually takes place. To help programmers navigate the proliferation of available code, Ken Krugler has developed Krugle, a search engine set to launch next month to mine open-source vaults such as SourceForge. Krugle estimates that the service will provide access to 100 million technical pages geared toward programmers, offering a far more refined search than Google, which mines roughly 11 billion pages. "This winds up being a window on all the open-source code in the world," said Krugler, estimating that Krugle will hold between 3 TB and 5 TB of code by its launch date. Unlike existing source-code search engines, Krugle will allow programmers to annotate code and create bookmarks to make retrieval easier. Krugle will also allow users to parse code and to separate the repository by language. Greg Olson, who served as an advisor to Krugler, believes that the search engine will, for the first time, make it practical to reuse source code, noting that tools such as Google are so cumbersome that most programmers find it easier to write their own code. Sun's Simon Phipps sees the utility in Krugle, though he believes that the multitude of open-source licenses could cause problems for the search engine. Krugle will be freely available to the public and make money through advertisements, and Krugler is planning to release a commercial version of the search engine in 2007.
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Proposed Law Targets China-Tech Cooperation
CNet (02/16/06) McCullagh, Declan; Broache, Anne

Rep. Christopher Smith (R-N.J.) has authored legislation proposing severe penalties for U.S. companies that compromise their ethical duty and product integrity by accommodating "Internet-restricting" policies in China and other countries. Under Smith's proposal, U.S. companies with China-based Web sites must relocate those sites, while U.S. corporations offering search services cannot comply with an Internet-restricting country's request to filter their results. Furthermore, search engine companies must provide an Office of Global Internet Freedom with a list of censored terms "provided by any foreign official of an Internet-restricting country," and Web sites with U.S. operations must frequently give the same office a list of content that is deleted or blocked in response to an Internet-restricting country's request. The bill also deems certain exports to Internet-restricting nations unlawful through a new set of federal regulations. Punishments for transgressions could run as high as $2 million in fines and five years of jail time for executives, depending on the specific prohibition that is violated, while infractions of the relocation rule would carry a one-year prison sentence. American businesses would be ill-served by Smith's bill, which would give companies based in China a competitive advantage, writes Declan McCullagh. There is also concern that the proposal is worded too broadly. Smith's bill could be introduced in Congress as soon as this week, according to politicians at a House hearing on Wednesday. Reporters Without Borders' Lucie Morillon expressed hope that the focus on American companies' interaction and compliance with Internet-censoring foreign governments will spur firms to regulate themselves, but warned that the failure of self-regulation would make legislation the only remaining option.
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Signaling New Technology for Analogue-Digital Conversions
IST Results (02/17/06)

The IST-funded Digital Alias-free Signal Processing (DASPTOOL) project aims to overcome the limitations in conventional digital signal processing by utilizing the high end of the spectrum. While high frequencies have historically created false signals through an effect known as aliasing, the DASPTOOL project employs non-uniform sampling techniques coupled with an understanding of the signals to be processed in order to access the whole spectrum. Random non-uniform sampling offers data compression and wideband operation at only a moderate increase in hardware costs. The project ended in April 2004, with the researchers having created a model for second-generation DASP containing an array of sampling models and their associated simulations. "We have developed a new technology for second-generation digital alias-free signal processing, complete with the algorithms, the tools, the simulations, and so on," said project coordinator Ivars Bilinkis. The project also developed new hardware modules, a test and measurement system for quality-assurance, and new DASP signal analyzers with the ability to handle up to 12 times the frequency ranges as conventional techniques. The researchers implemented the algorithms and sampling methods with either signal microprocessors or reconfigurable logic, creating high-frequency devices that consume minimal power, with potential uses in biomedicine, instrumentation, and data acquisition on a broad scale. Another result of the project was a multi-channel data acquisition method that could be used in a variety of fields, capable of coordinating as many as 100 input signals drawn from a variety of signal sources.
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Calling Cryptographers
Technology Review (02/16/06) Greene, Kate

In his keynote address at this week's RSA Conference in San Jose, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates outlined a holistic vision of information security, comprising a "true ecosystem" where all members of the computing industry work together to combat cyberattacks. Gates and other conference speakers argued for a multilayered security approach that, while not foolproof, would shore up hardware, software, and networks. Claiming that password protections can be easily compromised by phishing and other rudimentary schemes, Gates plugged Microsoft's InfoCard digital identity system as a worthy replacement, though Gates admitted that the move away from passwords would take at least four years to complete due to the multitude of vendors that would have to collaborate. RSA Security CEO Art Coviello outlined his company's community policing program, which would address security on a global scale. RSA's system could instantly flag an IP address associated with a fraudulent transaction and notify banks and other relevant institutions. Sun CEO Scott McNealy spoke about the steps that his company has made to improve security in server hardware and data centers, describing the elliptical curve cryptography (ECC) built into Sun's processors. The security standard, approved by the National Security Agency, employs a smaller key than conventional cryptography applications, making it suitable for smaller devices such as cell phones and censors. A panel of distinguished cryptographers reiterated the call for the creation and dissemination of new methods, as, aside from Sun's development of ECC, the industry currently uses only the RSA, and Diffie-Hellman standards of cryptography, leaving scant recourse in the event that one technique fails.
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UC Santa Cruz Computer Scientist Fights Spam on Two Fronts
AScribe Newswire (02/15/06)

In an effort to protect minors from email with offensive or adult content, Utah and Michigan have implemented a "do-not-spam" registry that began as a student project at the University of California, Santa Cruz, where researchers have also developed a technique to combat harvesters who scour the Internet collecting email addresses to expand their spam lists. Emailers will be fined $1,000 in Utah and $5,000 in Michigan for each message with adult content that they send to minors with registered email addresses. The UCSC registry, developed under the guidance of technology and information management research associate Arthur Keller, was licensed to Unspam in 2003 for commercial development. Unspam collects less than one cent per address from companies cross-referencing their mailing lists with the registry, and splits the proceeds with the State of California. While registry is a significant step toward online child protection, the Free Speech Coalition has challenged the constitutionality of the Utah law in a federal court. Despite the security concerns voiced in a Federal Trade Commission report, Keller maintains that the registry is impervious to hackers. Meanwhile, Keller has also helped launch Project Honey Pot, the initiative targeting email harvesters, providing the first meaningful enforcement of the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003. Robotic harvesting programs continuously crawl the Internet, mining for email addresses. Project Honey Pot distributed more than 250,000 Web sites with spam traps, containing a disclaimer prohibiting the harvesting of the address, and capturing information about the robot, enabling subsequent identification in the event that the email address later receives a spam message. Keller reports that 30 percent of the messages that Honey Pot receives involve some type of phishing scam, while the remainder are trying to sell a product.
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Cellphone Could Crack RFID Tags, Says Cryptographer
EE Times (02/14/06) Merritt, Rick

Weizmann Institute computer science professor Adi Shamir says a cell phone could be used to compromise the most popular brand of RFID tags. The cryptography expert recently monitored how RFID tags used power as they were being read using a directional antenna and digital oscilloscope. Speaking during a panel discussion at the RSA conference in San Jose, Shamir added that one could determine whether the tag received password bits that were correct or not. "We can see the point where the chip is unhappy if a wrong bit is sent and consumes more power from the environment�to write a note to RAM that it has received a bad bit and to ignore the rest of the string," noted Shamir. The test was done on the biggest brand of RFID tags, and it showed that the tags were not protected. "A cell phone has all the ingredients you need to conduct an attack and compromise all the RFID tags in the vicinity," said Shamir. He noted that designers have cut back on security features because of the need to lower the cost of tags to five cents each, but warned that next-generation tags will have to shore up the security issue.
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Computing Congress Offers Role Models and Networks
Fairfax New Zealand (02/15/06) Hinze, Annika

The Computing Women Congress (CWC) is underway at Waikato University in New Zealand, and female high school students from New Zealand and Austria are scheduled to present projects Wednesday during a special day for students. Through CWC, the young women have gained a better understanding of what it is like to be a computer science student. CWC is in its second year, organized by Waikato University in an effort to introduce young women to professionals in academia and the information technology industry. The event gives women an opportunity to find role models among the many graduate students, Ph.D. candidates, lecturers, artists, programmers, and analysts who attend the gathering. The women have an opportunity to get to know IT professionals, academics, and students and form networks with them, which could inspire them to pursue a technology-related career. CWC draws women from New Zealand, Australia, Germany, and the United States to attend and present courses on topics ranging from the Semantic Web and programming in Java to computer interfaces for the disabled and online theater performances.
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Opposition to ICANN/VeriSign Proposal Grows
InternetNews.com (02/15/06) Kerner, Sean Michael

Eight of the world's largest domain registrars--GoDaddy, Network Solutions, Tucows, Register.com, BulkRegister, Schlund + Partner, Melbourne IT, and Intercosmos Media Group--have sent an open letter to ICANN Chairman Vint Cerf expressing their formal opposition to the revised proposition with VeriSign for continued control of the Internet registry. The open letter from the eight domain registrars comes just days ahead of the Feb. 29 deadline for comments about the revisions, which were made to the original deal between VeriSign and ICANN in October; the registrars also opposed that deal. In their letter, the group of registrars outlined their opposition to several of the new terms, including a provision that would allow VeriSign to raise wholesale costs for .com domains in four of the next six years. According to the letter, VeriSign could execute the pricing increases "without cost justification." GoDaddy.com founder and CEO Bob Parsons commented that .com pricing should be falling, not rising, as a result of the inherent economies of scale. The other issue that the eight domain registrars have a problem with is what the letter refers to as "perpetual management rights." The letter states that "the proposed revisions would modify the renewal clauses so that the contract is essentially non-cancelable and ICANN's right to rebid is taken away." Finally, the eight registrars are concerned about "public accountability" and confirmation of the $200 million that VeriSign is supposed to be funneling into in .com infrastructure as stipulated in the new deal.
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Invented in India
InformationWeek (02/13/06)No. 1076, P. 47; Ricadela, Aaron

India is emerging as a hub for strategic research and development and a burgeoning tech-product market. IBM, Oracle, and Microsoft are developing technologies at their Indian branches, as well as outsourcing ancillary product and feature development to Indian firms. McKinsey and India's National Association of Software and Service Companies expect tech and business-process outsourcing to generate $22 billion for the fiscal year ending in March, while technology created and sold inside India should expand from an approximately $4 billion market to a $20 billion market by 2010. India's government also plans to launch 42 "special economic zones" that offer tax incentives, reduced tariffs on some imports and exports, and exemptions from certain legal provisions over the next several months; these and other various measures could ramp up India-based R&D, says Siddharth Mehta with Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe. At the heart of almost all outsourcing decisions is an essential platform technology that does not support competitive differentiation, reports Motorola VP of networks research Ken Zdunek. IBM follows an innovation strategy that blends product development for global sales with research into India-specific technology: Developers at IBM's Bangalore software lab concentrate on company products, while IBM's Delhi lab at the Indian Institute of Technology develops such things as a system capable of recognizing spoken Hindi. India-based tech development can yield intellectual property valuable in other markets where prices are very low and customer segments are small and rapidly expanding. Companies are also looking to find success in other emerging nations by developing technologies that do well in India.
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Putting a Face on the First President
Scientific American (02/06) Vol. 294, No. 2, P. 84; Schwartz, Jeffrey H.

To meet the challenge of reconstructing the face and body of George Washington at the ages of 19, 45, and 57 without the benefit of skeletal remains, University of Pittsburgh professor and physical anthropologist Jeffrey Schwartz enlisted Arizona State University's Partnership for Research in Spatial Modeling (PRISM) to three-dimensionally reproduce the first U.S. president's visage and form by combining and modifying data taken from a statue, painted portraits, a life mask, and clothing through the use of a special computer program. Jean-Antoine Houdon's life mask and bust of Washington at 53 were first scanned in three dimensions and compared to assess how accurately the subject was portrayed; then the bust was compared to a computer scan of a portrait of Washington at 40, which yielded clues for working back to the younger Washington. Important information for representations of Washington in his 45- and 19-year-old incarnations came from his dental history. By establishing the shape of Washington's jaw at 53, the researchers could restructure the jaws when they were much younger by digitally adding tooth and bone. This process began by scanning an actual healthy jaw about Washington's size and digitally adding it to the 3D scan of the bust; bone and teeth were then whittled down, after which Washington's own dentures were inserted on top of the jaw. The team could then add bone to the jaw to reconstruct the lower facial architecture of the younger versions of Washington. Houdon's statue provided reference for the president's height, while important insights about the form of his body were extracted from items of clothing he wore as well as historical accounts of him being corseted in childhood. The head was attached to the body through digital "stitching."
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A Conversation With Jarod Jenson
Queue (02/06) Vol. 4, No. 1, P. 16; McKusick, Kirk

Aeysis founder and chief systems architect Jarod Jenson concentrates on performance and scalability issues with applications, and says one of the most important tasks in his line of work is to consult with developers, deployers, and system administrators to determine their exact requirements. "People just have to learn that we don't have to be at odds if we get involved early in the development process, and if we really try to help each other understand what we're doing and how we can help each one of those groups," he explains. Jenson strongly recommends profile providing tools from DTrace, VTune, and OProfile for isolating performance problems with little overhead to the system. When isolating problems, Jenson first determines the site of potential problems, and then begins to hypothesize causes based on the type of application under examination; after using profile providers to ascertain the precise problem area, Jenson refines his theory. He characterizes the biggest problem in performance tuning as the combination of tools, garbage collection, and lack of knowledge between developers, deployers, and administrators. The most important recommendation Jenson makes is for people to keep the allocation of objects to a minimum, particularly in hot code paths. Achieving scalable performance expertise within an organization requires the assembly of what Jenson calls a go-to team by first determining where a problem is and then consulting with the person with the appropriate background. Jenson says the go-to team is somewhat akin to a SWAT team, with a generalist in charge.
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