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May 15, 2006

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Mining Data to Nab Terrorists: Fair?
Christian Science Monitor (05/15/06) P. 1; Clayton, Mark

The real value of harvesting the phone records of millions of Americans is the possibility that intelligence analysts could use the data to establish patterns and connections between people that flesh out a network of potential terrorists, according to computer experts. "From phone records you can learn who are my friends--and who their friends are -- what services I use, where I shop," says Johannes Gehrke, a Cornell University computer scientist. "Our social interactions leave a digital trail. [Phone record analysis] is government learning about human behavior from analyzing that trail." Intelligence analysts likely cross-reference phone records with numerous other data, such as Internet and credit card records, in an effort to extract meaningful relationships from the wealth of digital information available today. As it gathers steam, the data-mining program could run afoul of the law, or grow so large that it creates so many false positives that finding real terrorists actually becomes more difficult. Valdis Krebs, an expert in social networking analysis, claims that it is more effective to conduct analysis around specific persons of interest, rather than the government's method of amassing vast databases of the activities of mostly innocent Americans, where it will be difficult to conduct accurate analysis due to the sheer volume. Krebs maintains that the government is complicating the problem by taking such a broad-brush approach and that it will inevitably waste time and needlessly intrude on innocent Americans because of the myriad scenarios that could produce a false positive. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) reports that a single AT&T database contains 300 TB of information, 15 times the size of the Library of Congress. Harvard University law professor Charles Fried dismisses the allegations raised by the EFF and other civil liberties groups that the program is illegal, noting that phone records only have the narrowest legal protection.
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Sensors Without Batteries
Technology Review (05/15/06) Greene, Kate

Some technologists envision a future where tiny sensors embedded everywhere will create a kind of ubiquitous computing that provides information about key environmental factors, such as light, temperature, or motion. Absent a continuous power source, the sensors would need new batteries every few months, according to Intel's Josh Smith, who is working to develop sensors based on the battery-free technique deployed in RFID tags. Researchers have proposed powering sensors with ambient light or other environmental energy sources in the past, though it remains uncertain if the cost of integrating the technology that harnesses ambient energy into sensors can be brought down enough to facilitate widespread deployment. Intel's sensors are built from off-the-shelf components, including an antenna that transmits and receives data and draws energy from an RFID reader, and a microcontroller with sensors that only needs a couple hundred microwatts of energy to harvest and process data. An RFID reader relays its signal to the antenna, creating a voltage that activates a tag that has come within range of the reader. Through a process known as backscattering, the tag then relays data to the reader. The microcontroller provides the real-time computational ability to ensure that the information relayed is free of errors. In order to be activated, Intel's sensors currently need to be within roughly a meter of a reader, which limits the utility of the devices in certain applications. However, Smith is optimistic that his team will be able to reduce the power requirement and extend the range to around five meters. Intel has demonstrated the use of radio waves to power the second hand on a watch, where one tick uses the same amount of power required to send one bit of data.
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States Beef Up E-Voting Security After Reports on Weaknesses
E-Commerce Times (05/12/06) Regan, Keith

States that have purchased the Diebold e-voting machines recently reported to contain a serious vulnerability have been taking steps to improve security for the next elections. Black Box Voting issued a report detailing the work of Finnish computer expert Harri Hursti that discovered what one expert called the most serious vulnerability found to date in a Diebold machine. "While these flaws are not in the vote-processing system itself, they potentially seriously compromise election security," the report said. "It would be helpful to learn how existing oversight processes have failed to identify this threat." Diebold notes that hacking the machines would require physical access to them, and that the vulnerability was designed to ensure that the machines could be updated with new software to prolong their lives. Many looked to e-voting as an alternative to the outdated paper systems that created so much confusion in the 2000 presidential election, though critics are worried that the increasing reliance on technology puts too much power in the hands of manufacturers and specialists, and that verifying votes is essentially impossible in machines that do not produce a paper record. The nonprofit group Voter Action has helped voters in Arizona file a suit attempting to halt the state from purchasing e-voting machines, claiming that they would disenfranchise certain voters. Critics are concerned with the chain of custody of the machines, noting that a breach could go unnoticed for a long time because they are frequently moved around and placed in storage for extended durations. A knowledgeable programmer could infect the machines with a malicious program in minutes, according to the Black Box report. Diebold and other e-voting supporters note that there has not been a single reported case of altering an actual election, and that manipulating results from traditional machines is as simple as destroying the paper ballots. For information about ACM's e-voting activities, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm
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China Says One of Its Scientists Faked Computer Chip Research
New York Times (05/14/06) P. 10; Barboza, David

China has reported that Chen Jin, a prominent researcher and a dean of Jiaotong University, fabricated his research behind one of China's first native-developed computer chips and that he stole the technology from a foreign company. Chen has been dismissed from his government and university positions, and the government has permanently banned him from participating in any government-funded projects. A statement from the prestigious Jiaotong University read, "Chen Jin has breached the trust of being a scientist and educator. His behavior is despicable." Chen developed his three digital signal processors with the funding and support of the Shanghai government, Jiaotong University, and China's top scientific and government organizations. China has made its semiconductor industry a top priority in the face of tensions with the rest of the world over intellectual property issues, and heralded Chen's first chip in 2003 as a major scientific achievement. That chip, known as Hanxin, or China chip, is a high-speed processor for electronic devices such as mobile phones that was introduced as a milestone in China's development of a native semiconductor industry that would help break the foreign monopoly on chip design. The faster Hanxin 2 and Hanxin 3 appeared nine months later, though now Jiaotong and the government say the chips do not have the capabilities that Chen had claimed, despite having reported earlier that government appraisers had tested the chips. The government has canceled the Hanxin initiative and recalled its funding. Allegations that Chen fabricated his findings first appeared on the Internet this past winter, posted by someone naming himself as a whistle-blower.
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Fight for .XXX Not Over Yet?
Computer Business Review Online (05/12/06) Murphy, Kevin

ICANN's board has voted 9 to 5 against ICM Registry's application for oversight of a .xxx porn domain, fueling even further criticism that the organization is a puppet of the U.S. government. "We see here a first clear case of political interference in ICANN," a spokesperson for Viviane Reding, the European commissioner for information society and media, said following the vote. But ICANN President Paul Twomey says such a view paints only a fraction of the picture. ICANN received nearly 200,000 letters of complaint from people affiliated with the U.S.-based Christian right, as well as from the U.K. government and the Free Speech Coalition, which represents pornographers and feels that an .xxx domain would eventually lead to censorship. "I think that to say that this [ICANN] board, as international as it is, was somehow dancing to political intervention from the U.S. government is ill-founded and ignorant," said Twomey, noting that the most recent letter came from the U.K.'s representative to ICANN's Governmental Advisory Committee, Martin Boyle, reading, "The U.K. expresses its firm view that if the .xxx domain name is to be authorized, it would be important that ICANN ensures that the benefits and safeguards proposed by the registry, ICM, including the monitoring of all .xxx content and rating of content on all servers pointed to by .xxx, are genuinely achieved from day one." This was taken to mean ICANN would be forced to take on an enforcement role, which some board members opposed. ICM President Stuart Lawley may appeal the decision. "We've done everything that's been asked of us, we've behaved in a positive way, in a way we felt was acceptable to ICANN," he said. "We're just considering our options at this point."
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Microsoft Spotlights Futuristic Collaboration Technologies
TechNewsWorld (05/11/06) Morphy, Erika

Microsoft is showcasing the collaboration technologies under development at its Center for Information Work, a laboratory where the company is exploring cutting-edge applications to support its Office of the Future initiative. "To help our customers boost their individual and corporate productivity, we must continually increase our understanding of the demands facing information workers today as well as the trends shaping the new world of work," said Microsoft's Tom Gruver. The initiative seeks to develop smart, fun, and easy-to-use technologies to enhance personal productivity, "make information universally available across different applications and devices, and make information easier to find and share," according to the company. Microsoft also hopes that its platform will help users identify business-intelligence trends, facilitate inexpensive distributed meetings, and streamline workflows with software to automatically route approvals, alerts, and exceptions. Although Microsoft has long been known as a company fond of promoting its far-off research activities, one technology expected to reach the market next year is the Microsoft Roundtable, from the company's Unified Communications Group, a communication device that features a 360-degree camera for multiple-location videoconferencing.
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Gadget Firms Tackled on Usability
BBC News (05/15/06)

The Alliance for Digital Inclusion (ADI) has thrown its support behind an initiative that seeks to make technology easier to use. "We recognize that technology can be both a cause of and a solution to exclusion," says Heidi Lloyd, spokeswoman for ADI, whose members include Cisco, Intel, BT, Microsoft, and IBM. The group has joined the Royal National Institute for the Deaf (RNID), the Disabled Living Foundation, and the technology consultancy Scientific Generics in an effort to sign up computer, mobile phone, and TV makers for the E-Inclusion Charter, which calls for improvements in the navigation and usability of their products. "If you sign up to it, it's not just a piece of paper, it's an undertaking to bring about real change," adds Guido Gybels, director of new technologies at the RNID. Technology products should be accessible to anyone who buys or uses them, Gybels maintains, adding that everyone would benefit if high-tech firms paid more attention to the design of software and hardware. Applying the principles of usability and user testing to products and services offer business advantages, studies indicate.
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Xerox's Centre of Missed Opportunities
Financial Times (05/12/06) P. 16; Yee, Amy

Xerox's storied Palo Alto Research Center (Parc), famous for letting other companies prosper by commercializing the research that led to some of the most important innovations of the computing age, is now taking a more business-minded approach. The shift began when Anne Mulcahy took over as CEO in 2001 and began pulling the company back from the brink of bankruptcy by cutting jobs, restructuring operations, and realigning the objectives of Parc with the company's overall business goals. "In the past, creating new knowledge was enough," said Mark Bernstein, president and director of Parc. "Now, it's 'How can my work matter to the business?'" When Xerox spun off Parc in 2002 as a wholly-owned subsidiary, the center began to operate under a more focused business strategy. Long criticized for spinning off its own businesses too quickly and allowing its research to die on the vine, Parc is now aggressively pursuing strategic partnerships with governments, corporate sponsors, and research organizations as it attempts to move away from office equipment in favor of technology services. Parc now generates about $30 million in annual revenue from corporate sponsors, and has also begun incubating businesses in-house. Parc has joined up with SolFocus to research new energy-efficient technologies and the Scripps Research Institute to explore new methods for identifying cancer cells. NASA has employed Parc as a subcontractor to develop robots to explore space, and Fujitsu has signed a long-term agreement to sponsor the center's development of ubiquitous computing sensors that could be used in health care, retail, and transportation.
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Computing Behavior Key to Work
University at Buffalo Reporter (05/11/06) Vol. 37, No. 32,Keltz, Jessica

University of Buffalo computer scientist Sheng Zhong is currently researching the economic incentives that encourage computing behavior, and how to maximize individual computing behavior for the collective of users. Zhong says some wireless networks depend on contributions from users' computers to move data along. However, many users realize that their battery power and bandwidth is limited, and they are more concerned with taking advantage of the computing power of their computers for themselves, and not about improving the operation of the network for all users. "But if nobody helps others, the network just cannot be run," says Zhong. The National Science Foundation's Cyber Trust program has provided funding for Zhong's "Incentive-Combative Protocols" research project over the past three years, and his recent paper offers some theories for designing a network that would facilitate such sharing. Zhong says his research is more theoretical than experimental, and that the code he uses has not been completed. "It cannot be directly used by consumers, but it illustrates aspects of our design," he explains. Zhong also is pleased that his research has been cited 169 times by other academics since 2003.
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MS Researchers Tackle Automated Malware Classification
eWeek (05/11/06) Naraine, Ryan

At the recent European Institute for Computer Anti-Virus Research conference in Hamburg, Germany, Microsoft researchers announced their plans to develop an automated technique for identifying the thousands of varieties of malware that target Windows computers. Their approach will utilize distance measure and machine learning technologies to improve on the existing methods of classifying different viruses, Trojans, rootkits, and other forms of malware. "In recent years, the number of malware families/variants has exploded dramatically," says Microsoft's Tony Lee. "Virus [and] spyware writers continue to create a large number of new families and variants at an increasingly fast rate." The evolutionary habits of malware families make it extremely difficult to automate static file analysis, Lee said. Microsoft believes that automation would provide a faster, more objective method for malware classification that saves more information than current techniques, which rely heavily on human research and memorization. Microsoft is hoping that its new method will address all aspects of classification holistically, including knowledge consumption, representation, and storage, as well as the generation and selection of classifier models. The technique will require the efficient structuring, storage, and analysis of the classifications so that familiar patterns can be identified immediately.
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Smart Homes--An Intelligent Answer to Healthcare Challenges
University of Ulster (05/12/06)

Northern Ireland is gearing up for the fourth International Conference on Smart Homes & Health Telematics, which is being hosted by the University of Ulster. Scheduled for June 26-28, ICOST2006 will have a technological focus on intelligent environments, personal robotics and smart wheelchairs, cognitive devices, wearable sensors, medical data collection and processing, and home networks. However, the event will also cover non-technical issues related to smart homes that have a wider societal impact, such as privacy and security. Northern Ireland has a growing aging population, and University of Ulster computer science senior lecturer Maurice Mulvenna believes the health care industry should find ICOST2006 to be particularly informative. Smart homes can provide older people and those with disabilities with an opportunity to continue to live outside of health care facilities, but remain connected to their families, friends, and their health care support system in a secure environment. "Smart homes offer these kinds of facilities while promoting and maintaining the functional independence of aging people through automation," says ICOST2006 Chairman Dr. Chris Nugent. "Functions like turning heating on or off, which in turn can promote cost savings to those with limited energy budgets."
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Cricket Liu Interviewed: DNS and BIND, 5th Edition
CircleID (05/10/06)

Cricket Liu, co-author of the DNS and BIND book, often called the bible of DNS, talks here about the latest developments in the Domain Name System following an announcement of the release of the latest edition of the book, its 5th. The new edition's biggest update is a new chapter on DNS architecture, the lack of standardization of which has led to a trial and error approach by administrators. Security is given focus, with a description of vulnerabilities within Internet name servers that allow them to be exploited by "DNS amplification" attacks and how to thwart such attacks by limiting access to recursion on Web-accessible name servers. For other threats, Liu says, extensions to the DNS protocol such as DNSSEC are useful, applying asymmetric cryptography to DNS so administrators can digitally sign zones. Liu moves on to talk about the advent of Telephone Number Mapping that will make it possible for VoIP phones to complete calls over the Web without the need to convert phone numbers to URIs. Asked about IDNs, the author says the issue of identical characters in various scripts still poses a problem no one has solved yet. Liu says the move toward IPv6 is inevitable and may come even sooner than expected. Summing up, Liu says that enhancements to the DNS system will make "obsolete the traditional way of managing name servers and zone data with text-based configuration and zone data files."
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The Internet Splits Up
Newsweek International (05/22/06) Foroohar, Rana; Villeminot, Florence; Schafer, Sarah

Although the Internet has always been a uniquely bottom-up, nonhierarchical, seamless form of global communication, that is beginning to change as governments, multinational companies, and individuals battle for control of the Web. For example, China has begun tweaking the local search engine baidu.com so that users in the country who search for Falun Gong, for example, will only get state-approved, anti-Falun Gong Web sites. A number of other countries have also adopted such censorship techniques, which could undermine the global unity of the Internet. Meanwhile, nations such as Iran--who are concerned that U.S. dominance of the Internet could mean that their national domain names will someday be turned off for political reasons--have created their own alternative versions of the Internet. Although they have vowed not to make any politically motivated changes on their servers, governments and political organizations such as Germany's Open Root Server Network could create new, misleading versions of U.S. Web sites, which Internet users could be misrouted to without even realizing it. Some also worry that as nations create their own versions of the Internet, the entire system could collapse. Telecoms' plans to charge content providers such as Google, eBay, and Yahoo! higher rates to guarantee reliable delivery of their new video content have also been a threat to the unity of the Internet. Overturning the long-held principle of net-neutrality will create a two-tiered Internet, which could hamper technological innovation by increasing the cost of startups and changing the whole Web paradigm of forming companies quickly and on a shoestring budget.
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Password Security Is Her Game
California State University, Long Beach (05/06) Vol. 58, No. 5,Manly, Richard

Password security is not going anywhere, even though it may not be the most secure form of protection, according to Kim-Phuong Vu of the Psychology Department of California State University, Long Beach. Vu, a human factors expert who specializes in proactive password protection, wants to make passwords more secure and memorable. The editor of the handbook "Human Factors in Web Design" last year, Vu says many people have about six passwords, about half never write them down and have to reset their passwords because they have forgotten them, and she adds that it is not difficult to crack the average password. In fact, she has conducted research that shows 60 percent of passwords can be cracked within a few hours and some can be determined in less time. People tend to choose something that is easy to remember for their passwords, which makes them easy to crack. A password that is easy to figure out puts bank accounts, grades, Web sites, and more at risk, but people have generally embraced password security, which is affordable. Voice recognition is still not ready, and high-fidelity systems are expensive, as are fingerprint and retina scans, which the typical computer user also finds unsettling. Vu says a combination of higher or lower case letters, numbers, and special characters would make for proactive password protection, and suggests that users would have to spend more time committing passwords to memory.
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Managing SOA Metadata: Registries or Repositories?
SD Times (05/01/06)No. 149, P. 33; Weiszmann, Carol; Messenheimer, Susan

More extensive use of service-oriented architecture (SOA) implementations requires a better methodology for organizing, accessing, and managing runtime metadata. An SOA-type repository is the only way to correctly store reusable metadata, while a registry can manage runtime artifacts such as services and directories with more precision. However, repositories and registries are starting to overlap in emerging SOA deployments. IBM WebSphere product manager Sunil Murphy explains that an SOA repository must be used to store a fine-grained model of service metadata artifacts, while an SOA registry's purpose is to enable semantic annotations of service metadata to support service advertisement, rich queries, and rich classification models. LogicLibrary co-founder Brent Carlson stresses the importance of distinguishing a runtime registry from a design-time registry: The former supplies dynamic lookup functionality for SOA-based applications to recover deployed service instances, and must respond in real time to operational application loads with a restricted set of data via a programmatic interface; the latter provides contextual data about candidate service for use by application developers, and has to offer a richer set of data to developers that operate in SDLC environments accessed through a graphical user interface. Complete registry/repository solutions are those that integrate "SOA-specific Web services administration features--i.e., a registry--with features that are common to many developer-centric repositories, such as organization-specific metadata and management of reusable code fragments," according to Software AG's Chris Warner. Flashline CEO Charles Stack says SOA registry/repositories can lower the incidence of duplication, support reuse functionality, and recombine Web services to organize and reorganize business processes.
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Young Cyber-Sleuths
Government Technology (05/06) Vol. 18, No. 5, P. 30; McKay, Jim

The CyberScience Laboratory (CSL) of the National Institute of Justice's Office of Science and Technology places students in cyber-crime labs through the Embedded Intern Program. It is part of CSL's effort to offer computer forensics training and supply local and state law enforcement with personnel to investigate electronic crimes and provide technical support. "We're looking for somebody who can bridge the gap between the physical, investigative, law enforcement world and the computer cyber-world," explains Embedded Intern Program director Robert DeCarlo. He adds that demand for cyber-crime investigators will swell exponentially as the Internet and wireless devices continue to proliferate. "There aren't enough computer forensics programs available to grow people in the profession," notes National White Collar Crime Center (NW3C) computer crimes section manager Robert Hopper, who points to an international need for more trained cybersecurity workers. Finding the right person for an internship involves a penetrating examination of candidates' backgrounds, including their extracurricular activities and cover letters. DeCarlo says the CSL and NW3C programs take care to ensure that interns work on projects of significance, and that their contributions play a vital role in the agencies where they are embedded. Following the completion of an internship, CSL students are asked to furnish a report that the laboratory features on its Web site and at seminars.
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Brain Power
IEEE Spectrum (05/06) Vol. 43, No. 5, P. 24; Sarpeshkar, Rahul

Energy-efficient computing could be realized by neuromorphic engineering and biologically inspired electronics, with bionic prostheses among the likely near-term practical products. The central principle of neuromorphic engineering is low-power analog processing and digitalization, which is routinely carried out by special-purpose, interconnected biological structures such as neurons. Converting analog signals into digital bits and running digital processing algorithms on them is inefficient because it requires both high bandwidth and precise calculations, and the efficiency of biological processors lies in their ability to knit together many imprecise analog computational units by combining analog and digital mechanisms. Low-power circuits that support biological-like computing employ subthreshold transistors that have an intriguing property in common with ion channels on the surface of brain cells: The relationship between subthreshold current and the controlling voltage. A voltage-controlled chemical signal from one cell causes ion channels on an adjacent cell to open, facilitating an ion flow that triggers a change in the cell's voltage. MIT researchers have developed an analog bionic ear that electronically imitates certain aspects of the human ear's sound processing mechanism and postpones digitalization until it is necessary as well as energy efficient, as biological systems do. Several challenges must be addressed before computing systems capable of outclassing biological systems can be created. Researchers must determine how biological systems execute efficient, dependable computations with noisy, unreliable devices in large-scale systems; how such systems function at numerous timescales and across many length scales; and how to reproduce a cell's ability to process many intersecting inputs and generate output that stimulates many other cells.
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