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June 19, 2006

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Welcome to the June 19, 2006 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Data Mining Still Needs a Clue to Be Effective
Washington Post (06/19/06) P. A8; Gugliotta, Guy

Over the past two decades, the capability of data mining techniques has improved dramatically, though it remains uncertain if they have progressed to the point where they will be of significant aid to security agencies in their fight against terrorism. Data mining experts are skeptical if the NSA will be able to extract meaningful data from its repository of some 2 trillion phone call records without a meaningful lead. The most effective approach would be to trace the calls of suspected terrorists to build a web of contacts, rather than looking for suspicious call patterns by mining raw data. That strategy would almost inevitably intrude on the records of law-abiding citizens, wasting time while raising troublesome privacy concerns, experts warn. "When they look at a map of phone numbers, they have no idea what's going on," said Valdis Krebs, a data mining expert. "It might not be a bad person you find; it may be that the soccer team and the softball team are calling the same pizza parlor." At his confirmation hearing as CIA director, former NSA director Michael Hayden told the Senate that analysts use targeting to search the database, suggesting that the agency is looking for specific phone numbers of suspected terrorists to develop a communication pattern that ensnares other suspects. The strategy of starting a search with a known telephone number is very much in line with traditional police work, where investigators begin with a hard fact and work backward to find the information needed to form a case. Going in the other direction, analysts could use sophisticated computers to detect unusual patterns in a massive database to identify potential suspects, though experts warn that such a method would be likely to produce false positives. Some experts believe that pattern making can still be a useful intelligence tool, though it would require analysts of extraordinary talent to detect meaningful patterns without creating false positives.
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ICTs -- the Glue That Binds Future Research
IST Results (06/19/06)

The European Research Consortium for Informatics and Mathematics is leading the Beyond-the-Horizon project, an initiative exploring new directions for research in information and communication technologies (ICT). "ICTs provide the glue that binds together multiple themes in European research. The time to address this multiplicity of themes and their inter-relationships is now," said Dimitris Plexousakis, the project's scientific coordinator. In addition to creating a roadmap for ICT development, the project will also identify the intersection with other disciplines and explore the opportunities for cross-fertilization. Such an interdisciplinary approach can shift government and corporate policy, in addition to bringing about major technological breakthroughs in fields as far-reaching as psychology and materials science. The continued scaling of chip sizes, for instance, will require advances in both materials and chip design, in addition to alternative computing techniques, such as quantum computing, notes Plexousakis. The program is also finding models in the biological world for new methods of processing information and dealing with increasingly complex systems. The Beyond-the-Horizon project is specifically targeting high-risk, high-reward research, going further than previous ICT roadmap projects. The project divided its work into six areas of concentration: pervasive computing, nanotechnology, security, intelligent systems, software-intensive systems, and technologies inspired by the biological world. Plexousakis says the project's most important discovery has been the value of interdisciplinary research, citing the symbiotic relationship that ICT enjoys with the biological sciences. "The need for interdisciplinary research if we are to make progress is far greater than we imagined at the beginning of the project," he said.
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Research Explores Data Mining, Privacy
Associated Press (06/17/06) Bergstein, Brian

With the recent disclosure about the extent of the government's surveillance programs raising a fresh spate of privacy concerns, computer scientists are beginning to explore data mining techniques that would protect individuals' identities. Researchers claim that by using cryptography, they can protect the names and other identifying details of call records while still enabling intelligence agencies and private businesses to comb through massive databases. That way the government could use computers to compare airline passenger registries with terrorist watch lists while shielding the passengers' names from individual agents, for example. The government has been using encryption for years, though the focus has primarily been to protect classified information, rather than to conceal individual identities. Even the Pentagon's Total Information Awareness program, a highly controversial and now-defunct initiative, used anonymizing technologies, though they have since been dropped while other parts of the program are still in tact. Panels appointed to consider the implications of data mining have routinely endorsed anonymizing technologies, and researchers have been developing systems that include technologies such as record anonymization, user audit logs to keep track of who has accessed the records, and other privacy applications. Simply removing a caller's name is not enough, claims Latanya Sweeney of Carnegie Mellon University, whose research has shown that records listing birthdate, gender, and ZIP code can be used to identify 87 percent of Americans. Sweeney developed a solution with an irreversible hash function that cryptographically converts data into random letters and numbers. Sweeney designed her system to help the government track the homeless, using algorithms to ensure that one person's name would not be translated into identical code from multiple shelters.
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Joe Costello to Keynote Monday Opening of Design Automation Conference
Business Wire (06/12/06)

Orb Networks Chairman Joe Costello will kick off this year's Design Automation Conference (DAC) with a keynote address entitled "iPod or Iridium: Which One Are You Going to Be?" Costello, the former CEO of Cadence Design Systems, says the EDA industry is investing heavily in multimedia technologies, with companies working to position themselves as leading suppliers of gaming and entertainment applications. Co-sponsored by ACM/SIGDA, the DAC has traditionally focused on specific technologies and design issues, but Costello's speech will provide a macro perspective, identifying the broad consumer trends that are reshaping the industry. Costello will ask his audience if they are moving in the right direction with their own projects, challenging them to assess how attuned they are to what their customers really want. Costello will give his address on Monday, July 24, and admission will be free for all conference attendees as part of the DAC's Free Monday Program. For more on DAC, or to register, visit http://www.dac.com/43rd/index.html
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Workers Must Ensure That IT Skills Meet Business Requirements
Computing (06/15/06) Flood, Sally

Although the United Kingdom is producing nearly three times the number of IT graduates that it did 10 years ago, firms are increasingly looking to outsource graduate-level positions to overseas workers. The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) reports that China and India are both producing far more graduates in technical fields than the United Kingdom. "We are beginning to see U.K. companies saying it makes sense to source graduates internationally, particularly from China and India," said the CBI's John Cridland. "The declining numbers of U.K. students isn't yet a crisis, but it will haunt us unless we address it now." Part of the problem is that graduates from U.K. universities often lack the skills in demand among businesses, and that university education today is too general, according to Denise Plumpton, who chairs the Infrastructure Forum. Many graduates are disappointed with their own education as they find that without the necessary grounding in basic mathematics and science that it is difficult to compete with their foreign counterparts. U.K. companies report that they are less interested in a candidate's academic background than they are with practical experience and a well-rounded background. The picture for up-and-coming U.K. tech professionals is not all sour, as demand for professionals in fields such as VoIP, Linux, and Microsoft Office has been on the rise, as has the number of IT management positions, largely propelled by government projects. While salaries for strictly technical positions have dropped, demand for IT professionals with business skills has been increasing. Professionals with project management skills are also expected to be a hot commodity in the coming years, as are candidates with experience negotiating contracts. The emphasis on business skills does not entirely negate the value of technical expertise, particularly in hot fields such as wireless networking, security, and network management.
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Why We Must Protect Internet Neutrality
Wall Street Journal (06/18/06) P. A11; Wyden, Ron

In response to Steve Forbes' June 12 editorial that net neutrality regulations would stifle Internet innovation, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) writes that "net neutrality has been fundamental to the development of the Internet, and net neutrality protection is critical for the Internet to continue to meet its innovative promise." The author refutes Forbes' assertion that proof of discrimination by Internet providers is nonexistent with examples that include Cox Communications' blockage of customers' access to the competing Web site craigslist.org. Wyden also counters Forbes' claim that U.S. consumer broadband services have slipped behind other countries' offerings because of 1996 Telecommunications Act regulations that forced telecom companies to supply network access to rivals. "To the contrary, policies that spurred competition, including forcing incumbents to provide network access to competitors, are exactly what drove the rapid broadband deployment in South Korea and Japan," the congressman contends. Wyden charges that Forbes, along with many other critics of net neutrality, wrongly compare such regulations to the post office making consumers pay different rates for regular mail and overnight delivery. "Rather, net neutrality would protect the person who pays for overnight delivery from having it take five days for his package to be delivered because the person receiving it did not pay for receiving overnight delivery as well," the senator argues. "Internet providers want to prevent consumers who pay for priority delivery of data from receiving the data unless Web sites also pay for priority delivery. Net neutrality protections would prevent them from doing so."
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Web Visionary James A. Hendler Will Lead Tetherless World Research Constellation at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Rensselaer News (06/14/06)

Semantic Web pioneer James A. Hendler will leave the University of Maryland to head the Tetherless World Research Constellation at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute next year. Hendler, currently director of the Joint Institute for Knowledge Discovery and co-director of the Maryland Information and Network Dynamics (MIND) Laboratory at Maryland, will join Rensselaer Jan. 1, 2007, as senior constellation professor. The Tetherless World Research Constellation is focused on making it easier to access information at any time and place without being tethered to a specific computer or handheld device. A tetherless Web would extend the network by giving computers a better understanding of the meaning and context of words. Bringing new information resources, such as databases from Internet business or biology research, to the Web would make it more usable and searchable, Hendler says. "My research focuses on what might be called 'Web science'--understanding the Web in its full richness, exploring the underlying technologies that make it work and its social and policy implications, and developing new technologies to keep the Web growing ever more useful as it reaches further into our lives," he says. "As a simple example, imagine being able to search the Web for 'the scene where the guy throws his hat at a statue and its head falls off' and finding the right clip from the movie Goldfinger to download to your hand-held video device."
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Informatics Researchers Study Cell Phone Disruptions
Indiana Daily Student (06/15/06) Ferenc, Luke

New research from the Indiana University School of Informatics could prove to be helpful for designers of context-aware telephony. In a study of 20 cell phone users who were randomly called over a period of 10 days, informatics assistant professor Kay Connelly and computer science doctoral student Ashraf Khalil found that 57 percent of incoming calls came during improper times. However, the availability of the receiver was heavily dependent on the relationship that the individual has with the caller, according to their study. The researchers found that the cell phone users had an availability rate of 75 percent for a spouse or significant other, 68 percent for friends, 63 percent for family members, 50 percent for bosses, 47 percent for colleagues, and 39 percent for unknown calls. Designers in Europe are currently testing the Wireless Application Protocol, context-aware telephony technology that will allow people to provide availability information to callers through a phone interface. Connelly notes that cell phone users may not want to disclose their status to all callers, which may lessen the efficiency of the technology. "When people are concerned about privacy, they will selectively remove contexts from their disclosure list rather than disclose no context at all," says Connelly.
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Futuristic Optical System Tackles Image Processing
Network World (06/15/06) Marsan, Carolyn Duffy

Researchers under the direction of the University of California at San Diego and the University of Illinois are developing an IP-based optical networking system that will enable scientists to conduct visual analysis of large volumes of data distributed over multiple locations. The federally funded project, known as the OptIPuter, is aimed at applications in the earth, oceanographic, and biological sciences where researchers have vast troves of images that require analysis. "We are removing bandwidth as an obstacle in data-intensive sciences," said Maxine Brown, a project manager for OptIPuter. "With our system, the network is a backplane, not a network." Scientists in those data-intensive disciplines require guarantees for bandwidth, latency, and scheduling for their processing jobs, Brown said in a briefing on the project at the TeraGrid '06 conference in Indianapolis this week. To that end, the OptIPuter is a giant cluster of computers, with each node connected directly to a backplane by a 1 Gbps or 10 Gbps Ethernet, functioning essentially as a parallel computer. Each processor actually represents a cluster of computers, with large data repositories as memory. Delivered by numerous dedicated lambdas, conventional IP powers the OptIPuter's motherboard. Sophisticated middleware and application toolkits handle the processing over the clusters. Researchers in Illinois and California have deployed a prototype of the system on campus, municipal, and statewide optical networks.
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UNC Charlotte College of IT Seeks Diversity in Computing Industry
University of North Carolina, Charlotte (06/02/06)

Fearing a shortage of qualified U.S. IT workers, the NSF has awarded the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, a $2 million grant to help attract women and minorities to IT. A potential worker shortage is exacerbated by the perception among college students that IT is a dying industry, a myth that keeps many from pursuing IT as a career. Many women and minorities are deterred by the reputation of the IT worker as a solitary misfit who spends his life bound to a computer, staring for hours on end at a screen in glassy-eyed silence. "Not so," says Teresa Dahlberg, associate professor of computer science at UNCC. "The IT industry needs a diverse range of people with interpersonal skills, not just geeks and coders. We need people who can solve problems; people with soft skills; people who can apply social value to computing." The NSF grant comes under the agency's Broadening Participation in Computing Program, which is striving to boost interest in computing at all levels of higher education. Assisting with the program are 10 universities in the STARS (Students and Technology in Academia, Research, and Service) Alliance, which will be under the direction of UNCC. The alliance partners will be organized into five regional hubs that are collaborating on a Student Leadership Corps to serve as a liaison among faculty, students, industry, and the community. Through a variety of outreach programs, such as peer mentoring and community tech support, the corps will attempt to recruit students who would not otherwise pursue a technical course of study. "Information technology is vital to our country's success, comprising 14 percent of our nation's exports and a disproportionate 27 percent share of our GDP growth," said Janet Wylie, president and CEO of Engineous Software. "We need programs like this to inform and inspire our young people to take this path in their education and careers."
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Delivering DVDs in Seconds
Technology Review (06/19/06) Greene, Kate

Japan's NTT DoCoMo has tweaked two technologies to achieve wireless transmissions of 2.5 Gbps second to a mobile device moving at 20 kilometers per hour in a demonstration. Even if a fraction of the speed can be achieved in real-life scenarios, the prototype promises to revolutionize the use of wireless devices, heralding a day when cell phones supplant PCs, as is already occurring in some Asian nations. DoCoMo's boosted speed was made possible by multiple input, multiple output (MIMO) technology that uses multiple antennas to send and receive data and quadrature amplitude modulation (QAM), which increase the number of bits that a radio wave contains. In the demonstration, six antennas and an advanced form of QAM that adjusted the amplitude and phase of radio waves to 64 varying levels were used. But real-world use of the technology is hampered a lack of technical capabilities as well as 4G standards and an unwillingness by vendors to shell out the money until 3G's potential is reached. Analysts predict adoption, in the United States at least, is still several years away but will surely come. "Voice was the killer app for the first and second generations of phones," says Bill Krenik of Texas Instruments. "For a while we thought the Internet would be it for the third generation; now I think we're maturing as an industry and realizing that there really isn't [another] killer app--with high-speed data, it's a killer experience."
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A Logical Approach to Computer Security
Berkeley Engineering Lab Notes (06/06) Vol. 6, No. 3,Pescovitz, David

Current virus-detection software is not intelligent enough to defend against today's threats, says Sanjit Seshia, a computer scientist at the University of California, Berkeley, who is researching the application of computational logic to model behavioral patterns of viruses and detect new threats that today's technology could miss. Virus-scanning software currently matches the signature of an email attachment or an Internet download with that of known viruses. These packages rely on what is known as a syntactical approach, which scans code for specific sequences of bits. "It turns out that current virus scanners are quite easy to fool," Seshia says. "Malware writers obfuscate their code so that a signature that works today won't work tomorrow for what's essentially the same virus. So anti-virus companies are always trying to track the latest variants of viruses and worms and making sure people download the latest signatures to keep their definitions of viruses up to date." Seshia and his colleagues are developing semantic algorithms that interpret the meaning of the code to detect even well-disguised malware. "We're trying to develop a more behavioral definition of what it means to be malicious," Seshia says. "Perhaps it deletes files on your hard drive or duplicates itself and emails copies to everyone in your address book." By defining a virus's behavioral structure, the researchers created a template that can represent a wide array of programs. The algorithm compares the template with a set of unknown instruction sequences and scans for red flags. Seshia is also exploring the application of computational logic to hardware design.
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Code Breaking New Ground
Government Computer News (06/12/06) Vol. 25, No. 15,Beizer, Doug

To ensure that government agencies are using the most sophisticated encryption technologies available, the Defense Department and the National Security Agency have implemented an ongoing program called the Cryptographic Modernization Initiative. "In the encryption world--probably on a timeframe of every seven to 10 years--there's a need for new encryption algorithms," said SafeNet Chairman Anthony Caputo. "Because every year the enemy or hackers' tools are getting better, so periodically you have to increase the strength of the encryption algorithms." The main objectives of encryption are to keep data confidential, authenticate the sender of a message, and to ensure that the data have not been altered. The Advanced Description Algorithm, which has a 128-bit fixed block, has a key size of 128, 192, or 256 bits. Defense Department encryption technologies use hardware that encrypts a sender's message and then translates it for the recipient. The NSA has authorized SafeNet to develop a classified version of the SafeEnterprise Sonet Encryptor with a network speed of 10 Gbps. While typical Internet applications rely on software-based encryption, it is widely recognized in the cryptography community that hardware encryption is more secure, because hardware protects both the algorithm and the encryption key. The government requires encryption to protect sensitive information such as tax records, though some are now looking to apply the technology to e-voting systems. One of the technologies that the NSA has been encouraging companies to develop is a cryptography technology called elliptical curve, which is patterned after the algebraic structure of elliptical curves.
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Bridging Technologies for More Accessible Wireless Services
IST Results (06/16/06)

The End-to-End Reconfigurability consortium, comprised of 32 mostly European members, aims to make emerging wireless technologies interoperable for seamless communications across disparate networks at minimum cost to vendors and maximum ease for consumers. "We are working to build bridges between technologies, so that users can roam freely between services and environments they want to access, anywhere, anytime," says project manager Didier Bourse of Motorola. "The consortium is working to optimize networks' use of resources through advanced radio resource and flexible spectrum management. For example, they could move GSM or UMTS access to another frequency band, to improve efficiency," which could take 10 to 15 years to achieve. Bourse says the consortiums' work will impact the future design of radio telephones capable of automatically downloading new device management settings to upgrade configurations. The project is part of the Wireless World Initiative funded by the IST.
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Signals and Noise
National Journal (06/17/06) Vol. 38, No. 24, P. 50; Harris, Shane

The National Security Agency (NSA) has adopted many aspects of Retired Rear Admiral John Poindexter's much-maligned Total Information Awareness (TIA) program under the auspices of its Research Development and Experimental Collaboration (RDEC) project, which demonstrates similar thinking between Poindexter and former NSA director Michael Hayden, who were pursuing separate efforts to build early-warning systems to pre-empt terrorist attacks in response to the 9/11 tragedy. The focus of TIA was the scanning and mining of Americans' electronic transactions to uncover signs of terrorist activity, while the purpose of the NSA effort is to collect millions of Americans' call records and emails to facilitate warrantless communications surveillance. Both initiatives were the targets of intense criticism from lawmakers and civil liberties advocates, which led to Poindexter's resignation as TIA director and later the cessation of TIA's funding in the Defense Department budget. However, some parts of the project were allowed to continue using classified funds. NSA joined the TIA network in late 2002 when officials from both agencies conferred and realized they shared similar goals. The following year the NSA's Advanced Research and Development Activity (ARDA) started to assume control of TIA, jettisoning research into privacy protection and the establishment of audit trails, but keeping the TIA experimental network under the RDEC name. Former TIA deputy director Robert Popp acknowledges the plausibility that some of the TIA-developed tools and technologies could find roles in the NSA warrantless eavesdropping program.
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Lights Out
Federal Computer Week (06/12/06) Vol. 20, No. 19, P. 32; Robinson, Brian

Although the nation's fiber-optic network is becoming increasingly important as a communications medium for the government and much of the U.S. economy, some experts claim it is too insecure to withstand threats from eavesdroppers or terrorists. Oyster Optics CEO Seth Page says the nation's fiber infrastructure is vulnerable to hackers who can tap fiber with common maintenance tools that are available around the world. "This same equipment with modifications can be used to capture 100 percent of the voice, video, and data going across the network," Page said. "All you need to do is get access to the fiber loop serving a particular building." Page added that even if an organization encrypts data and a hacker does not have the means to decrypt it, the hacker would simply need to access the unencrypted packet headers--which contain information about phone numbers, IP addresses, and the fiber service provider--traveling on the fiber. The hacker could save the rest of the data and attempt to decrypt it later, he said. However, other experts say that while tapping fiber certainly is possible, it is not a simple job. Analyst Frank Dzubeck noted that in order for a hacker to detect light from a fiber passively, he would have to use specialty equipment that is not available on the open market. Despite the concerns of some experts, organizations such as the U.S. Cyber Consequences Unit (US-CCU)--an independent research group that advises the Homeland Security Department--do not seem to be worried about the security of the nation's fiber-optic network. US-CCU did not include the fiber infrastructure in a recent draft of cybersecurity issues checklist it gave to DHS, although it will probably investigate the issue later, said US-CCU Director Scott Borg.
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Engineering Life: Building a Fab for Biology
Scientific American (06/06) Vol. 294, No. 6, P. 44; Baker, David; Church, George; Collins, Jim

The Bio Fab Group reports that breakthroughs in electronic engineering can help cultivate the maturation of the biotechnology industry. They point to the development of a semiconductor chip "fab" system through flexible and dependable chip fabrication technology, design libraries, and standardized techniques, which allowed engineers to produce hugely sophisticated and powerful electronic devices with a wide array of applications. Biological engineers could similarly design, construct, and manage complex devices fashioned from organic components by taking a fab approach, and the Bio Fab Group is working to identify and create a "bio fab's" underlying equipment and methods. The researchers have devised releasable parallel synthesis and error correction technologies to greatly enhance the yield, reliability, speed, and affordability of DNA strand manufacturing; these technologies could, for example, enable a methodology for synthesizing DNA and novel proteins that can fight a wide array of diseases more efficiently and effectively. Bio Fab Group members are also looking for the biological equivalents of basic electronic circuit elements and collating them into a library of "BioBricks" that could be used to engineer new and more complex devices, such as a multicellular system that can sense the presence of explosives and transmit an alert. "As with semiconductor circuitry, this approach has the added benefit of allowing us to optimize interactions between parts and to anticipate bugs," says the Bio Fab Group. "This ability grows increasingly useful as the constructed systems become increasingly complex."
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