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December 11, 2006

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Welcome to the December 11, 2006 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Alloy Holds Out Promise of Speedier Memory Chip
New York Times (12/11/06) P. C4; Markoff, John

IBM scientists and partners Qimonda and Macronix today will describe a new semiconductor material at the International Electron Devices Meeting in San Francisco that they say could lead to new super high-density memory chips. The material, referred to as GS, an alloy composed of germanium and antimony, has been used to create a prototype switch that is 3 nm high and 20 nm wide and is potentially 500 times faster than current flash chips. The project aims to replace the nonvolatile memory chips used to store digital music, pictures, and video, which is currently an $18.6 billion industry. Samsung and Intel are also working on flash memory alternatives, but IBM says the GS material offer performance advantages over others in development and also offers the potential to scale downward. University of California, Berkeley electrical engineering professor Vivek Subramanian, who has read the technical paper, says, "Everybody recognizes that scaling flash is going to be a problem in the long run. This looks like a really attractive technology that is both scaleable and consumes little power." IBM says the technology could also be used in its PowerPC chips for corporate computing applications. Envisioneering President Richard Doherty describes the innovation as "a Christmas present for the industry because it shatters so many things at once. This could change the basic equation between processors, local storage, and communications."
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Traveler Data Program Defied Ban, Critics Say
Washington Post (12/09/06) P. A2; Hsu, Spencer S.; Nakashima, Ellen

The Department of Homeland Security's Automated Targeting System (ATS) has come under fire from key members of Congress and privacy advocates who claim it was developed and carried out without proper disclosure, and thus violates a congressional funding ban. The ATS, which was stepped up after 9/11 to create risk assessments of travelers crossing U.S. borders that are retained for up to 40 years, was first disclosed in some detail in a November 2 Federal Register notice, which DHS claims was an attempt to be more clear about what they planned to do. Travelers do not have access to their risk assessments, and would have to file Freedom of Information Act requests just to see the records on which the assessments are based. The Center for Democracy and Technology claims that the ATS is in violation of the 1974 Privacy Act, noting that information on travelers is shared between agencies with no notice given to the public. The DHS has stated that the funding ban only applies to programs stemming from its failed 2004 attempt to assign risk ratings to passengers on domestic flights using commercial databases, not preexisting programs such as ATS, and stands by its use of data to "detect anomalies and 'red flags.'" "Otherwise, why are we collecting the data?" asked Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff. Recent DHS correspondence has explained that ATS uses data-mining and computer algorithms to search for "potential matches" of travelers with "connections to terrorist risk factors."
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Researchers Crafting Intelligent, Scaleable WLAN Defense Through DARPA
Network World (12/07/06) Cox, John

A research project at Dartmouth College has been developing a system of algorithms and software architecture that analyzes WLAN traffic to detect and react to attacks. Though intrusion-detection systems (IDS) are currently available, Project MAP (measure analyze and protect), sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and Aruba Networks, is able to monitor the interaction of thousands of access points and clients as well as the measurement data it creates itself. Aruba security researcher Josh Wright says, "Attackers are using evasion techniques, and these are not being addressed by today's [IDS] products." The project must achieve scalability so RF sensors can perpetually track, gather, and combine large amounts of real-time information concerning a site's radio environment. Using many Aruba RF sniffers, MAP software combines that data to form an accurate image of what is going on in the air, and searches for evidence of attacks. Where other IDS systems monitor every frame to check for matches with attack signatures, MAP looks at higher-level statistics to detect patterns indicating malicious activity. Ideally, the system would develop into a dynamic WLAN security application able to watch for and adapt to attacks that are constantly being altered.
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Hewlett-Packard Labs Gets Big Victories on 1 or 2 Out of 10 Projects
Investor's Business Daily (12/11/06) P. A5; Deagon, Brian

HP Labs has been around since 1966 and has been responsible for such innovations as the pocket calculator, light-emitting diodes, and the pocket PC. VP and associate director Howard Taub estimates that one or two out of every 10 projects the lab begins "makes it big," which he thinks is a pretty good rate. Taub explains that "We have to do things far in advance before the market is ready for it or the company is ready for it," and that metrics are hard to apply to such research: "You have to make an investment and you have to believe that research will do good things for you...it can't be micromanaged." Some of the projects HP Labs is working on include a videoconferencing system that has eliminated the delays that used to make videoconferencing seem "artificial," according to Taub, who says the new videoconferencing technology allows users to "no longer think about the technology." In another project, a wearable camera is being developed that could conceivably allow someone to record their entire life. Taub says the project brings up interesting privacy issues, but notes that in a world where we are all recorded several times a day, it is becoming an individual's responsibility to prevent themselves from being recorded if they do not wish to be, using sensors or other devices.
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Informatics Scientists' 'Active Cookies' Put Bite on Cyber Crooks
Indiana University (12/07/06)

Active cookies could be a solution to fighting identity theft and other kinds of cyber attacks, according to researchers at Indiana University School of Informatics and RSA Laboratories in Massachusetts. Active cookies prevent hackers from interfering with the Domain Name System translation in an attempt to steal the coded pieces of information stored on a user's computer. "The reason is simple: Active cookies use one step that requires no translation," explains informatics associate professor Markus Jakobsson. Attackers can steal regular cookies stored on a computer and gain access to accounts with hopes of obtaining personal information that will allow them to impersonate the users, but they cannot take advantage of active cookies unless they steal the personal computer where the coded pieces of information are stored. A bank would be able to place active cookies on the home and work computers of a customer to protect the individual from phishing attacks. "And you can still log in if you travel, you might have to provide some additional identifying information then, or your bank can compare your login location with the location of your last ATM withdrawal," Jakobsson says. Jakobsson and research partners Sid Stamm, a computer science doctoral student at IU, and Ariel Juels of RSA will present their work at the 14th Annual Network & Distributed System Security Symposium in San Diego in February.
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DARPA Raises Stakes for Urban Robot Race
CNet (12/08/06) Olsen, Stephanie

After much protest from contestants, DARPA has once again been granted over $3 million to award its best performers, having earlier been denied any prize money for top-finishers in its 2007 Urban Challenge. First place will receive $2 million, second place $1 million, and third place $500,000, thanks to approval by Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics Kenneth Krieg. In addition, "track B" teams, those not receiving government funding, will now compete for the main prize money, rather than supplemental prize money of up to $150,000 as was previously announced Ninety teams will compete in the race, scheduled for November 3, 2007, that will take place in a yet-to-be-announced location in the Western U.S. The 60-mile course will present contestants with traffic laws, busy intersections, moving traffic, traffic circles, and many obstacles for their automated vehicles to negotiate. The DARPA competition is part of a government initiative requiring that 30 percent of Army vehicles be automated by 2015 in order to lessen human casualties.
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Finding Better Ways to Sleuth Software Holes
Spokane Journal of Business (12/07/06)

A logistic model that predicts when software patches would be needed in the future has been developed by Colorado State University computer science professor Yashwant K. Malaiya and doctoral candidate Omar Alhazmi. They say the initial results reveal that the approach works, considering it predicted a significant increase in defects in 2005 for Windows XP, which has seen its vulnerabilities rise from 88 that year to 173 at last count. The researchers' work also includes a comprehensive study of the process of discovering vulnerabilities in software. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Computer Emergency Readiness Team (CERT), which says about 5,200 new vulnerabilities were reported last year, has shown some interest in the project. Malaiya and Alhazmi make use of a logistic model to model the rate for detecting a vulnerability, and predict the number of defects per 1,000 lines of computer code. The logistic model could let software companies know in advance when they need to focus more on developing and releasing a new patch. "The hope is that a vulnerability gets patched before it gets exploited," says Malaiya.
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American Divided on Whether Colleges Should Beef Up Science Requirements, Poll Finds
Chronicle of Higher Education (12/07/06) Brainard, Jeffrey

A survey conducted by the American Council on Education (ACE) has found that respondents were divided over whether or not more students should study math and science to ensure the future of America's global competitiveness. Of the 1,000 registered voters surveyed, 46 percent answered that colleges and universities should require that all students take some math and science, while another 46 percent answered that these courses should not be a requirement. ACE President David Ward says that colleges as well as the council itself must improve efforts to persuade students to enroll in math and science courses and encourage schools to strive for more effective teaching techniques. He says the public has not been made aware of the critical importance of these disciplines to America's economic future, and claims that all jobs will require an increasing amount of this type of knowledge: "We've not done enough." he says. "And I do feel bad that we've not held ourselves more accountable to this issue."
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Beyond Silicon: MIT Demonstrates New Transistor Technology
EurekAlert (12/08/06) Thomson, Elizabeth

Engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have developed a prototype for transistors that are 60 nm long, and can carry 2.5 times more current than today's most capable silicon devices. The gallium-arsenide technology, known as the InGaAs quantum-well transistor, could be the future of very small transistors capable of switching and processing data at great speeds. MIT professor of electrical engineering and computer science and member of MIT's Microsystems Technology Laboratory (MTL), Jesus del Alamo, who runs the lab that produced the prototype, says that, "Unless we do something very radical soon, the microelectronics revolution that has enriched our lives in so many different ways might come to a screeching halt." While the InGaAs technology is still in its early stages and has many problems to be worked out, Intel senior fellow and director of transistor research and nanotechnology Robert Chau says, "The 60-nanometer InGaAs quantum-well transistor...shows some exciting results at low supply voltage and is a very important research milestone." The technology will be presented at this week's International Electron Devices Meeting in San Francisco.
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Battle of the Network Fabrics
HPC Wire (12/08/06) Vol. 15, No. 48, Feldman, Michael

There are now software stacks with open interconnect and protocol standards for high-performance computing clusters, data centers, and storage systems thanks to the support of InfiniBand and iWARP, but the differences in the technologies' basic architectures are making convergence difficult. Mellanox Technologies will support both InfiniBand and Ethernet fabrics with one adapter via its ConnectX multi-protocol technology, and thus facilitate development by storage and server original equipment manufacturers of systems enabled for both interconnects on a single piece of hardware. Mellanox's Thad Omura says iWARP support was not considered because of design and cost issues related to the multi-chip solution needed for iWARP's TCP offload, and also because of unanswered scalability questions. NetEffect, on the other hand, supports iWARP, and NetEffect CEO Rick Maule thinks that Ethernet is generally accepted as the true network fabric. "The thing that no one has been able to prove is that Ethernet can really do clustering fabrics on par with Myrinet or InfiniBand or whatever--until now," he explains. "Ethernet can now be a true clustering fabric without any apology." Maule believes adoption of iWARP as a cluster interconnect will fuel data centers' wider embrace of 10 GbE iWARP, while the 10 Gbps bandwidth requirement will place strain on Fibre Channel-based storage.
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Inside Microsoft's Labs
InformationWeek (12/04/06)No. 1117, P. 48; Greenemeier, Larry

Microsoft Research is excited about a number of security-related technologies that it has in development. Rich Draves, an area manager for Microsoft's R&D arm, says the Redmond, Wash., lab is developing GhostBuster, a potential standalone technology that would be used to analyze and compare system information in order to detect rootkits. In the Cambridge, England, lab, the Vigilante program is being developed to work with a network honeypot to search for red flags in data for signs of a worm attack, and warn the other computers on the network. At the Silicon Valley lab, researchers are developing XFI to work with control-flow integrity and software-fault isolation to download applications in a manner that does not expose users to content carrying malicious payloads. Meanwhile, Sharad Agarwal and Venkat Padmanabhan have developed SureMail, which notifies email users when a message has failed to reach their inbox. An anti-phishing security system, that would have a user's Web browser identify passwords and key information keyed into HTML forms on Web sites, is also in the pipeline. Draves says the "shield," a content filter that runs on a firewall or PC, would have blocked 98 percent of customer vulnerabilities over the past two years.
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UK IT Sector Losing Women
Ping Wales (Welsh IT News Service) (12/06/06)

The U.K. high-tech industry's recent efforts to recruit and retain more women continue to be ineffective, suggests a new report from e-skills UK, the sector skills council for ICT. The new research indicates that the number of women in the U.K. IT industry has now fallen to 16 percent, after experiencing steady declines over the past five years. Cultural barriers have prevented any progress in the U.K. IT sector, says Carrie Hartnell, private sector program manager at Intellect, the trade association for the U.K. high-tech industry. Minister for Women and Equality Meg Munn agrees with Hartnell's assessment, and addressed the issue of cultural attitudes in the IT industry at last week's Equalitec diversity forum. "Changing corporate culture is not easy," says Munn. "But it is an essential one if the U.K. is to develop and sustain a flexible, highly skilled workforce to cope with the twin challenges of globalization and rapid demographic change." The United States, Canada, Ireland, Hungary, Sweden, and Finland all have a greater percentage of women working in their IT industries than the United Kingdom. The report also indicates that IT women in the United Kingdom tend to hold lower skilled positions and earn less pay.
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Breakthrough in Magnetic Devices Could Make Computers More Powerful
University of Bath (12/06/06)

The ability to switch the magnetic fields in thin magnetic films could lead to the emergence of high density magnetic memory chips that would prevent computers from ever losing memory. Physicists at the Universities of Bath, Bristol, and Leeds say the commercial development of their approach would lead to the manufacture of chips that are able to run faster and store more data. The research of Simon Bending, Simon Crampin, Atif Aziz, and Hywel Roberts of Bath, Peter Heard of Bristol, and Chris Marrows of Leeds appears in a recent edition of the journal Physical Review Letters, under the title "Angular Dependence of Domain Wall Resistivity in Artificial Magnetic Domain Structures." "The results are important as they suggest a new route for developing high density magnetic memory chips which will not lose information when the power is switched off," says Bending. "For the first time data will be written and read very fast using only electrical current." A short pulse of electrical current would be used to change the direction of the magnetic fields to "up" or "down," which correspond to "1" or "0."
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Spam Choking the Internet Again
New Scientist (12/08/06)

Two years ago Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates predicted that the spam problem would be under control by 2006. However, today, spam is nowhere near under control. Spam is still a worldwide issue with IronPort Systems reporting that global spam volumes have gone up from 31 billion messages a day in October 2005 to 61 billion messages a day in October 2006. A recent study by Postini found that spam makes up 91 percent of all email messages. The reason for the massive increase is that spammers have become sophisticated and now use botnet computers to send out messages. One million botnets can send 50,000 or more spam messages at once, according to Postini. "This dramatic rise in spam attacks on corporate networks has the Internet under a state of siege," says Daniel Druker at Postini. "Spammers are increasingly aggressive and sophisticated in their techniques, and protection from spam has become a front-burner issue again." Spammers are often motivated by financial gain--they can profit by directing users to phishing sites in an effort to steal financial data or passwords. Meanwhile, image spam is increasingly being used because it is often undetected by filtering systems. Image spam made up 25 percent of all spam this past October.
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Supercomputing Equipment to Advance the Frontiers of Computational Biology
Rensselaer News (12/07/06)

An IBM Blue Gene Supercomputer has been given to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) for use in simulation technologies that aim to comprehend biological processes, while also providing enhanced opportunities for a number of disciplines. "It will allow our faculty and students to take the lead in research that will enable key nanotechnology innovations in the fields of energy, biotechnology, arts, and medicine," said RPI President Shirley Ann Jackson. Simulation technology will allow researchers to study how proteins, DNA, and other systems behave on the molecular level. The Shared University Research program, which granted the supercomputer to RPI, stated that the Blue Gene is intended to aid prototyping of medical devices using "virtual patients," which requires the most capable computing equipment available.
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Computing in a Post-Silicon World
CITRIS Newsletter (12/06) Shreve, Jenn

In order for Moore's Law to be upheld past the next two decades, researchers will most likely have to find an alternative to the traditional silicon chip. UC Berkeley professor Jeffrey Bokor says the 2005 International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors "has the final node on their transistors that are as small as six nanometers," and while the new Roadmap will most likely have even smaller transistors, perhaps four nanometers, "This is getting pretty close to the absolute limit for standard conventional transistors as we know them now." Bokor leads the Western Institute of Nanoelectronics, which focuses on spintronics. The institute is looking at many different materials for manipulating electronic spin, including silicon. Silicon is less of a possibility in the field of quantum computing, because silicon contains isotopes with a nuclear spin that would cause decoherence, when quantum states revert to classical systems. Carbon nanotubes, gallium arsenide, superconductors, and lasers that manipulate ions in the gas phase are all being experimented with, though none is a clear favorite. While silicon has not been ruled out, IBM, Intel, and HP have all created programs that will explore other substrates.
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The Phone of the Future
Economist (12/02/06) Vol. 381, No. 8506, P. 18

Guessing the future development of the phone is impossible without projecting the future of consumer technology and its personal and social ramifications. The odds are good that phones in the next 10 or 15 years will be physically distinctive from their current incarnations, or may be concealed in other objects, perhaps even within the human body itself. LocaModa's Stephen Randall thinks the phone's components--the display screen, earpiece, and keypad--will become separate elements or be supplanted by totally new technologies. The phone's primary function of making calls will also change: Onetime science-fiction writer Bruce Sterling envisions a day when the phone will become "the remote control for life," serving in numerous capacities that include "remote controls, house keys, Game Boys, flashlights, maps, compasses, flash drives, health monitors, microphones, recorders, laser pointers, passports, make-up kits, burglar alarms, handguns, handcuffs and slave bracelets." There is no doubt that future phones will have substantial computing power upgrades; Sony Ericsson CTO Mats Lindoff foresees a time when a phone will have enough storage capacity to keep a video record of its owner's entire life. Phones that serve as both mobile and stationary handsets, through the use of cellular networks when outside and fixed networks when indoors, are also expected. The use of phones as universal keychains or electronic wallets could be hindered because of privacy and security concerns, which illustrates the fundamental difficulty of accurately predicting technological acceptance without considering social implications. New phone technologies could usher in changes in the interaction between people as well as between people and objects.
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Better, Faster, More Secure
Queue (01/07) Vol. 4, No. 10, Carpenter, Brian

IBM Distinguished Engineer and chairman of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) Brian Carpenter writes that the lack of centralized Internet control is one of the reasons why it is difficult to predict future technology trends. He can recall past forecasts he made, predicting computer-supported collaborative work as a killer app, the integration and domination of Internet and IPX, and a devaluing of transaction processing--none of which have come to pass. Carpenter figures that the online security model must shift from a defensive posture (firewalls, filters, and virtual private networks) to one that stresses authentication, authorization, and accounting. Within this area lies the challenges of defining, authenticating, and maintaining the privacy of identity; creating trust relationships between arbitrary sets of parties; agreeing on cryptographic keys among such parties; shielding packet origins against spoofing at line speed; and continuing to get messages from unknown parties without receiving undesirable messages. The quality of service (QoS) of packet delivery remains challenging: Approaches Carpenter recognizes include competent design and management of a network, bandwidth overprovision, traffic engineering, and differentiated services, all of which much be seamlessly integrated by service providers. Fourteen years ago, two major Internet problems were cited in a request for comments by the IETF steering group--the depletion of IP address space, which is being addressed by IPv6 implementation, and the routing table boom, which is still unresolved. Carpenter lists the fundamental principles upon which the International Telecommunications Union's Next Generation Networks (NGN) effort is founded, which include MultiProtocol Label Switching (MPLS)-facilitated IP packet-based transport, QoS enablement, embedded service-related functions, user access to rival service providers, and generalized mobility. The author reports that the standardization of NGN around these principles is moving forward.
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