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February 22, 2006

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Welcome to the February 22, 2006 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Princeton Professor Foresees Computer Science Revolution
EurekAlert (02/17/06) Riordan, Teresa

Princeton University computer science professor Bernard Chazelle plans to aggressively combat the declining interest in computer science among college students, and is challenging his colleagues to do the same. The top 36 computer science programs in the U.S. witnessed a nearly 20 percent decline in enrollment from 2000 to 2004, causing Chazelle to wonder, "Why is there this decline when the field has never been more exciting?" In a recent interview, Chazelle expressed his belief that computer science is much more than a technical pursuit, and that it has the legitimate potential to transform society and lead to the most significant realignment of the scientific worldview since quantum mechanics. Chazelle believes that despite the dependence on algorithms that will characterize neurobiology, proteomics, and other 21st century sciences, the discipline of computer science has yet to recover from the perceptions that technology is too uncertain a field to stake a career on that have been circulating since the dot-com collapse. Chazelle also laments the discipline's lack of an industry luminary to inspire students as they make their academic and career choices, as Stephen Hawking does for physics. Chazelle also argues vigorously against the notion that the only career open to a computer science graduate is in programming, noting that all sciences depend on computer science, and that it has caught up to math in its ubiquity and value as a language to solve scientific problems.
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A Phony Science Gap?
Washington Post (02/22/06) P. A15; Samuelson, Robert J.

While alarmist speculation that the United States faces a critical shortage of knowledge workers in science and engineering has reached a fever pitch, the debate routinely ignores the steep increase in the number of science and engineering degrees awarded by American colleges and universities. Graduate enrollment in science and engineering programs has also spiked, having risen 22 percent since 1998, with a 60 percent increase in computer science. While these numbers are partially inflated by foreign-born students attending American institutions, enrollment among native-born students, after years of decline, has been rising as well. While the figures of 600,000 and 350,000 engineering graduates produced annually in China and India, respectively, have been widely cited as evidence of emerging economic powers eclipsing the United States in technological leadership, Duke researchers found significant flaws in those numbers. Aside from including graduates from abbreviated two- and three-year programs, they also obscure the fact that taken as a proportion of total population, the United States still leads the world in graduating engineering students. Still, as India, China, and other countries take a more active role in the global economy, it is inevitable that they will produce more engineers and scientists, which will naturally erode the percentage supplied by the United States. Instead of relying on sheer numbers, it makes sense to consider some other characteristics of the U.S. technological climate, such as its acceptance of new ideas, the close relationship between universities and business, and amply-funded venture capitalists. That said, the U.S. military still requires high-level technology, and high-value research remains critical to the economy. Better pay is the simplest and surest way to draw the best minds to careers in science and technology, thereby ensuring that U.S. innovation remains vigorous.
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I.B.M. Researchers Find a Way to Keep Moore's Law on Pace
New York Times (02/20/06) P. C4; Markoff, John

Drawing on research in technologies such as advanced lenses and related areas, a team of IBM researchers has developed a technique that could lead to semiconductors with feature sizes of 30 nm, potentially breathing new life into Moore's Law, which has increasingly been threatened with expiration as scientists struggle to continue the miniaturization of the computer chip. A consensus had formed in the industry that today's photo-etching process would not be able to produce wires smaller than 40 nm, necessitating a migration to X-ray light sources or other alternative printing methods. The IBM researchers, partnering with a group from JSR Micro, used deep ultraviolet lithography (the same laser technique used to imprint circuits on chips) to create the thinnest line patterns that the industry has seen. IBM's Robert Allen hopes that the research will guide the industry toward the continued use of optical lithography, rather than X-ray light sources, which would require a dramatic overhaul of the entire semiconductor industry where optical lenses would have to be exchanged for mirrors to focus light in the manufacturing process. The research also demonstrates that argon fluoride excimer lasers, now used to create 65 nm features, will be able to continue to scale through a fluid immersion etching technique. By using a crystalline quartz lens infused with exotic immersion liquids, the researchers improved the resolving ability of the light source, though they acknowledge that their technique must still be refined before it can be considered commercially viable.
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New Frontiers in High-End Computing
Government Computer News (02/20/06) Vol. 25, No. 4,Jackson, Joab

In a recent interview, Virginia Polytechnic Institute's Wu Feng, newly hired to manage his own lab and contribute to the Center for High-End Computing Systems, discussed his work at the Los Alamos National Laboratory and his goals in his new job. Feng entered the field of high-performance computing through his doctoral work on real-time networking, concentrating on time-sensitive information delivery. When he first started at Los Alamos, Feng was working on high-performance networking, looking for ways to improve the systems software, particularly clearing the host interface bottleneck. Feng developed a protocol to bypass the operating system when transmitting information across a network, effectively cutting out the middleman. While he began with networking, Feng's interests have become more global, and he hopes to use his SyNeRGy Lab at Virginia Tech to facilitate the use of computers in a host of fields, ranging from engineering to music. While he admits that his work may be laying the groundwork for human-computer interaction, Feng notes that it first must solve more immediate problems such as enabling software to handle more system failures and other functions automatically. Feng sites Google as a successful model of this idea, as despite the hourly failures in its processing farm, Google never shuts down. By the end of the decade, Feng believes that system software could emerge that conducts fault tolerance automatically and offers the complete availability of the system, despite the unreliability of its components. Feng also laments that in the past several years, he has seen many of his colleagues leave the country to work, citing the declining portion of funding that goes to long-term scientific research.
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1-Hour Brainstorm Gave Birth to Digital Imaging
Washington Post (02/20/06) P. A9; Gugliotta, Guy

Fearful that Bell Labs would cut their funding if they did not produce an invention soon, Willard Boyle and George Smith sat down for a one-hour brainstorming session in 1969 where they developed the basic blueprint for the charge-coupled device (CCD), a new memory chip that would revolutionize the capture and storage of images. CCDs are the backbone of digital cameras, and have been used in X-rays, space exploration, and surgical procedures. Boyle and Smith will receive the $500,000 Charles Stark Draper Prize from the National Academy of Engineering this week for their breakthrough. A CCD contains a light-sensitive silicon chip capable of storing charge packets inside its capacitors. Photons unfetter electrons when they collide with the silicon, producing a charge commensurate with the intensity of light, which is then stored by the capacitors that in turn produce pixels. Voltage then passes through the device, impelling the charges to move in a controlled fashion between pixels, depositing the charge packet into a signal processor to be digitized and reformatted as the original image. After sitting on their discovery for a couple weeks, Boyle and Smith tested the first CCD, containing all of six pixels, on a metal oxide array. Successful trials heralded the end of chemistry photography, and provided the foundation for modern digital cameras that contain millions of pixels. In 1991, Kodak unveiled the first commercial digital camera, consisting of a 20 MB hard disk and a backpack to carry the required electronics. By that time, the CCD had already been widely used in astronomy, appearing in various observatories and the Hubble telescope, ushering in the era of space exploration conducted from space.
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Cashing in on Virtual Humans
Wired News (02/22/06) Hudson, John

Research in the field of virtual humans has developed practical and potentially life-saving applications for a technology once thought of as little more than fodder for big-budget animation studios. Scientists at the University of Iowa at work on the Virtual Soldier Project have created a virtual human through algorithms and motion-capture data collected from digital scans of a human volunteer. Santos, the Iowa researchers' virtual human, can be used to test products in lieu of a physical prototype. Instead of requiring costly physical production for testing, the developers can load a scaled-down digital prototype of the product into the system and command Santos to interact with it, simulating how a human would relate to it in real life. Having enlisted Santos to test the ergonomic quality and serviceability of its heavy machinery, Caterpillar might dispatch the virtual human to a task such as changing the oil on a dump truck, the whole time monitoring his simulated body functions such as heart rate, muscle exertion, and temperature. The U.S. Army also uses this technology when it develops body armor and other protective equipment for combat, using a model such as Santos to determine if the gear prohibitively impedes motion. Ongoing research in the field promises new advances for digital human modeling, such as the Visible Human project, in which researchers divide a cadaver into 0.3 mm slices, creating cellular-level resolutions that could have a major impact on fields such as accident reconstruction and forensics.
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Good Computer Interfaces Respect the Real World, Klemmer Says
Stanford Report (02/21/06) Orenstein, David

Technology designers too often ignore the real world when developing the user interfaces of computers, cell phones, and other devices powered by a computer chip, according to Stanford assistant professor of computer science Scott Klemmer. He believes that in their haste to overload devices with features and computational power, product developers often neglect the intuitions and physical control of the real world, often running counter to the manner in which users learn and interact. Klemmer has developed a set of design principles, including the belief that only a limited amount of the device's testing should be virtual rather than physical, stressing that designers must take the time to build actual prototypes, rather than relying on simulations. By way of compromise, Klemmer and doctoral candidate Bjoern Hartmann have developed d.Tools, a prototyping system that enables simultaneous design of a device's hardware and software. Klemmer also believes that product design must be guided by the understanding that the human body is capable of engaging in complex and varied interactions with the world, and that interfaces that entirely remove the physical element from human/machine interaction may not be ideal. Machines have done nothing to further the concept of visibility, where people can physically observe what their colleagues are working on and other useful information, and the paperless office remains a myth. Klemmer's design principles are meant to work in tandem with prototyping, where developers can gauge consumer response through mockups and dummies to further improve the product's functionality. With the number of computers vastly outpacing the growth of the world's population, Klemmer argues that it is more important than ever for them to mesh with the natural world and humanity's physical nature.
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Cyberinfrastructure Around the World
HPC Wire (02/17/06) Vol. 15, No. 7,Dunning, Thom; Nandkumar, Radha

The advance of scientific discovery is critically dependent on cyberinfrastructure to support the global exchange of information and instant access to resources irrespective of their physical location. Comprising cyberinfrastructure are cyberenvironments, which enable access and integration of projects across disciplines and geographies, cyber resources, which solve advanced scientific problems in a timely manner, and cybereducation, which makes the benefits of cyberinfrastructure available to teachers and students around the world. The NSF has recently released an updated version of its "Cyberinfrastructure Vision for the 21st Century," calling for international partnerships between public and private organizations to collaboratively develop the cyberinfrastructure required to enable the next generation of scientific computing technologies. In his keynote address as the recent NCSA 20th Anniversary Celebration, NSF Director Arden Bement championed the international development of cyberinfrastructure, arguing that collaborating with other nations will be critical to the United States maintaining its own position at the forefront of technology. "We should pursue more global involvement, not less. The rapid spread of computers and information tools compels us to join hands across borders and disciplines if we want to stay in the race." CTWatch Quarterly has collected articles from scientists detailing the activities of eight cyberinfrastructure programs around the world, including the Australian Partnership for Advanced Computing, India's developing national grid system GARUDA, and Japan's Cyber Science Infrastructure and National Research Grid Initiative. Other entries came from Brazil, Korea, South Africa, Taiwan, and the Pacific Rim Applications and Grid Middleware Assembly.
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Too Few Female Tech Leaders, But Efforts Under Way to Grow More
Mercury News (02/16/06) Whitney, Telle

The high-tech industry could have more females in positions of leadership soon if current initiatives prove to be successful in encouraging more women to pursue careers in technology and promoting those who are talented IT professionals, writes Anita Borg Institute for Women & Technology President Telle Whitney. Top universities are now reconsidering the way math, science, and technology are taught and learned, and leading high-tech companies are not only trying to recruit more women, but they are also focusing on retaining them and promoting them. The efforts come at a time when the numbers of women in the tech industry and pursuing technology-related studies pale in comparison to females in the labor force and on college campuses. A new report from Catalyst shows that the number of female computer science graduates at top research institutions has fallen from 37 percent in 1985 to 17 percent in 2003. The report also indicates that women account for 11 percent of corporate officers at technology companies compared with 15.7 percent at Fortune 500 companies, and hold 9.3 percent of board seats at tech firms compared with 12.4 percent at Fortune 500 firms. Not only must women be expert technologists to advance, they have to contend with a corporate culture that has not fully embraced and supported their advancement. Other factors include balancing work with family responsibilities, a lack of role models and networks, and the inability of companies to identify and develop their skills. To learn about ACM's Committee on Women in Computing, visit http://www.acm.org/women
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The Future of Mobile Phone Technology to Be Tested in Historic Georgian Bath
University of Bath (02/20/06)

The University of Bath's Cityware project will convert the center of the historic city of Bath, England, into a pervasive computing area where users will be able to access wayfinding services, interactive games, and information services on their laptops or other mobile devices. Project investigator Danae Fraser, a professor of psychology at the university, says the project will include 30 volunteers who reside in the city to track how the technology is used over the next three years. Fraser expects their feedback to inform the world's technology companies as they develop the next generation of mobile devices. "Pervasive technology that is available to everyone, everywhere, and at all times promises to be the next big leap in mobile computing technology," said project leader Eamonn O'Neill, noting that cities will see the greatest and most immediate demand for pervasive computing. One service included in the Cityware project will enable users to submit a photograph of a building and relay it to a central server, which then compares it to a database and responds to the user with specific location information. Throughout Bath, the Cityware project will use Bluetooth, Near Field Communication, and wireless networks. Due to its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Bath annually draws millions of visitors, which will provide the project coordinators with ample opportunities to track how the system is used.
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HP Labs Marks 40th With High-Tech Coffee Table
CNet (02/22/06) Krazit, Tom

HP Labs celebrated its 40th anniversary this week with an open house in Palo Alto, Calif., in which several of its consumer-oriented projects were on display, including a coffee table that featured a touch-screen display that could be used for sharing pictures, playing board games, or looking at a map. The research hub of Hewlett-Packard, HP Labs has been behind several major developments over the years, such as the thermal inkjet printer, that have helped the company become profitable. By working closely with products groups on its research projects, developments do not go unnoticed and are scrutinized for their market potential. The ranks of HP Labs consist of 600 employees, and the research arm splits its time between practical projects that will boost profits and more scientific aspirations that could be rewarding 10 years down the road. Innovative ways to automate and virtualize the data center with heavy investment in software is one focus of HP Labs. Hewlett-Packard spent about $3.5 billion on research and development last year, and the budget of HP Labs is about 5 percent of that amount.
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Researchers to Develop Technology to Extend Benefits of National Science Digital Laboratory
EurekAlert (02/21/06)

The NSF has awarded a $450,000 grant to Virginia Tech and Villanova University to improve the availability of its online library, enabling students and faculty to conduct searches directly through course Web sites. "Our goal," said project sponsor Manuel Perez-Quinones, assistant professor of computer science at Virginia Tech, "is to get content from the National Science Digital Library (NSDL) closer to its intended audience," which consists of academics involved in any area of computing. The NSDL's Web site touts the refined, targeted results that are produced by searching its collections, noting that it only seeks materials from credible academic sources suitable for educational environments. Perez notes that as its collections have expanded, the NSDL is focusing more on user services and greater functionality. Web sites are the centerpiece of the project, which will convert individual course sites into gateways to the NSDL's collections with a personalized interface, so that they could direct a professor to a course page that might contain a list of textbooks relevant to his search. Perez notes that this context-sensitive type of service will better utilize the NSDL's resources: "Users are more likely to select options right at the spot and context where they are doing their work, instead of going to a different Web site, searching for textbooks, and browsing through the list of textbooks to identify those that might be appropriate for their needs." The project will also monitor the usage habits of students and professors, seeking to better understand the effect that the Web has on academic classes in the broader context of the two universities' study of digital libraries, human-computer interaction, and personalization.
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MIT, Nokia R&D Center Aims to Prove Rare Joint Model a Success
Mass High Tech (02/13/06) Viscarolasaga, Efrain

A new lab for mobile communications research initiated by MIT and Nokia is up and running in Cambridge, Mass. Called the Nokia Research Center Cambridge, the new research and development partnership brings together 40 researchers from MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) and the Nokia Research Center in Cambridge. Working from the one-to-one model, the two organizations will focus on wireless communications and handsets, and provide solutions for bringing enhanced technology to market in the years to come. Nokia Research Center's James Hicks will serve as director of the lab, and an MIT computer science and engineering professor who goes by the single name of Arvind will be the program director. Rodney Brooks, an MIT professor who directs CSAIL, highlights the collaborative equality of the relationship. "Unlike most of these relationships, the teams will be working in close proximity to each other, which helps in getting things done," says Brooks. Arvind, founder of the semiconductor company Sandburst in Andover, adds that the lab will operate "in the open," which means students will have access to Nokia's intellectual property and will not have any problems when it comes to publishing academic work.
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ITU Eyes Role in RFID Standards
RFID Journal (02/16/06) Collins, Jonathan

The role of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) in assuring the successful adoption of radio frequency identification (RFID) and sensor technologies was the focus of a recent workshop in Geneva, Switzerland, attended by industry and academic leaders. "RFID is moving from closed systems of reader and tag to where we need a network capable of sharing the data," says Pierre-Andre Probst, who headed a number of sessions at the ITU workshop. "Billions of tags creating data to transmit over a network means a significant change in traffic for the network to handle. That will require new network capabilities, and there are specific new requirements as we move toward an Internet of things." Among the issues broached at the conference were network and service architecture, requirements for machine-to-machine communications, security, interoperability, and spectrum allocation. "Our main concern is to see the network requirements and capabilities developed to support the move from simple RFID applications toward more-complicated devices that include sensors," says Probst. Spectrum allocation will be addressed at ITU World Radiocommunication Conference scheduled for October 2007 in Geneva.
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Calls Made Over Skype Internet Service Make Eavesdropping Tougher
USA Today (02/17/06) P. 2B; Svensson, Peter

The debate over the legality of the Bush administration's warrentless eavesdropping could become a moot point if more providers follow in the footsteps of Skype, which encrypts its free Internet calls, making them almost immune to eavesdropping. Though encryption techniques for Internet communication have been around for years, most users have not felt vulnerable enough to justify the hassle of security programs such as the cumbersome email application Pretty Good Privacy. Counterpane Internet Security CTO Bruce Schneier notes that Skype's ease of use made it popular, rather than its security. Skype boasted 75 million registered users of its freely distributed software at the end of last year. Talking over the PC is free, but telephone-based communication carries a fee. Calls placed through Skype traverse the Internet encrypted with 256-bit keys, twice the length of the keys typically used to transmit credit card numbers. "It's a pretty secure form of communication, which if you're talking to your mistress you really appreciate, but if al-Qaeda is talking over Skype, you have probably a different view," said Verso Technologies CEO Monty Bannerman. Schneier says that Skype's encryption is of sufficient strength to foil the eavesdropping efforts of the National Security Administration, as even a poorly encrypted call would take hours to crack. He adds, however, that the government could still track Skype's calls, even if it could not listen in on the content. Skype CEO Kurt Sauer claims the system has no back doors to get around the encryption, though he also reports that Skype is in full cooperation "with all lawful requests from relevant authorities," declining to elaborate further.
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Driver's License or National ID Card?
CNet (02/16/06) Kawamoto, Dawn

Motor vehicle agencies will now have to link their databases together and possibly implant chips in driver's licenses in an effort to make way for a national ID card, according to American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators CEO Linda Lewis-Pickett, who made the announcement during the RSA Conference 2006. "The DMV is in differing aspects of readiness and it would need to make a quantum leap to get to the point of issuing national ID cards," said Lewis-Pickett. She also said several states need to create a method of interoperability to share information that could be used for a national ID system. The conference panel agreed that a national ID system will fail to fight terrorism, one of the goals of the Real ID Act passed last year, and is scheduled to go into effect in 2008. The panelists said a national ID system may create other security concerns other than an inability to fight terrorism, such as the potential exploitation of the information in the database, as well as the commercial harvesting of information every time a national ID card is used. "This is a rules problem, not a technology problem," said James Lewis with the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "We need rules on who has access to the information." Lewis said 100 countries currently use a national ID card, and that it has not stopped identify theft in those countries.
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Ajax Arrives for the Enterprise
CIO (02/15/06) Vol. 19, No. 9, P. 42; Lindquist, Christopher

Asynchronous JavaScript with XML (Ajax) is becoming more acceptable as developers focus on designing fast and easy-to-use Web interfaces, and the "client-free," rich Web applications Ajax can help create dovetails nicely with many future forecasts about software development. However, Christopher Lindquist recommends CIOs practice caution when considering the use of Ajax: "Take a deep breath and learn what the technologies can and can't do and what skills you need on staff to take best advantage of the tools," he writes. For the present, Ajax is optimal for creating more intuitive and useful user interfaces. However, deep proficiency in JavaScript and familiarity with the back-end database is necessary to ensure that Ajax-based applications will work; luckily, growing interest in Ajax has spurred the creation of off-the-shelf tools and open-source kits designed to streamline Ajax development. But there are other sticking points with browser-based JavaScript support, especially for those who wish to work across platforms such as Unix, Windows, and the Macintosh along with browsers such as Firefox, Internet Explorer, and Safari. Sachin Shah with the SimplyHired job-listing Web site says companies must guarantee that their Ajax features can downgrade appropriately if they intend to make their sites publicly accessible, while security is another factor to heed. Backcountry CTO Dave Jenkins notes that developers must never forget that Ajax is not an all-or-nothing scheme.
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The Transistor Laser
IEEE Spectrum (02/06) Vol. 43, No. 2, P. 50; Holonyak Jr., Nick; Feng, Milton

Milton Feng and Nick Holonyak Jr. of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign lead a team that has developed a prototype laser transistor whose switching speed overtakes that of all other transistors; the device can switch on and off over 700 billion times per second. The transistor simultaneously emits both electrical signals and a laser beam, which can be adjusted to relay optical signals at 10 billion bits per second. Feng and Holonyak predict that the transistor laser will eventually be modified to send 100 billion bits per second at room temperature. The researchers envision the use of transistor lasers as optical interconnects, which would enable the instantaneous flow of data to and from memory chips, graphics processors, and microprocessors. The transistor laser is essentially a transistor with an extremely thin additional layer known as a quantum well. Electrons are injected into the base by a voltage at the emitter, while in the well, many more electrons combine with holes than in the rest of the base, resulting in the emission of light; this light bounces off mirrors within the well, and the accumulated stimulation eventually produces a beam of laser light. Electrons that fail to recombine with holes in the well are shuttled into the collector, which exhibits a current gain. Feng and Holonyak believe the transistor laser could dramatically enhance and improve the quality of teleconferences, video cell phones, Internet searching, and supercomputer number-crunching.
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Understanding Elliptic-Curve Cryptography
Embedded Systems Design (02/06) Vol. 19, No. 2, P. 16; Lambert, Rob

Elliptic-curve cryptography (ECC) can contribute significantly to the performance of embedded systems. ECC, which is standards-based, comes with all the benefits of public-key cryptography, employs smaller key lengths, and offers more efficient implementation for both public and private operations. Because private-key cryptographic schemes assume knowledge of a shared secret key, systems that use them are hard to initialize or recover when the keys are lost or compromised. Public-key cryptography only sets up shared keys on an as-needed basis, which makes public-key systems more secure but less efficient than private-key systems. As a result, private-key and public-key schemes are often employed together to establish the private keys for encryption or to sign and confirm signatures on messages. The much smaller sizes of ECC keys mean security measures such as smaller signatures and certificates are more efficiently implemented. Increased efficiency of other ECC operations besides security can be realized through additional methods, with notable advantages to embedded systems. On systems that are flexible enough to add hardware, substantial gains in speed and power usage can be extracted from the addition of a hardware assist to carry out finite-field multiplications, which are the foundation of ECC.
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