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ACM TechNews
February 5, 2007

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Study Finds Security Flaws on Web Sites of Major Banks
New York Times (02/05/07) P. C3; Stone, Brad

Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers recently discovered that banks using images as a secondary security protocol on customer accounts are providing little added protection to those consumers. Supporters of the technology, known as site-authentication images, indicate that if consumers do not see their selected image on a Web site before entering their account password, they will opt not to enter their information. Participants in the study saw a maintenance or error message on the screen where their images were usually located, though the message contained obvious spelling errors. However, only two of 60 participants in the study opted not to enter their password when their images were disabled. MIT computer scientist Stuart Schechter says, "The premise is that site-authentication images increase security because customers will not enter their passwords if they do not see the correct image. From the study we learned that the premise is right less than 10 percent of the time." The imaging technology had been adopted by Bank of America, ING Direct, and Vanguard as a way to improve online banking security after a 2005 Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council study indicated that passwords alone were not enough protection against identity thieves. Federal guidelines expect banks to develop a secondary security system and have it implemented by January 2007, but the Council has not enforced the regulations yet. Harvard research Rachna Dhamija says the study showed that site-authentication technology is fundamentally flawed and can give users a false sense of security.
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Q&A: Jeanette Wing Talks About Upcoming NSF Role
Computerworld (02/02/07) Anthes, Gary

Carnegie Mellon University computer science department head Jeanette Wing, who was selected by the NSF to lead its new Information Science & Engineering Directorate beginning in July, sat down with Computerworld to discuss her vision of the project. While her background in security and trustworthy computing made her an attractive candidate, Wing believes that she was chosen for her background in computational thinking, which she describes as the philosophy that "The ideas in computing, the abstractions we bring from CS, will pervade all other disciplines--not just other sciences and engineering--but also humanities, arts, social sciences, entertainment, and everything." She envisions algorithms created in the NSF project being applied in the future for uses that couldn't be predicted today. Wing is also an active supporter of computer science education, and believes that the public, specifically the youth, must be informed as to the "deep intellectual challenges that remain in the field." As far as gender inequality in computer science, Wing is more concerned with the overall drop in undergraduate enrollment and sees the need to show that the field is "not just geeky, nerdy types, and it's not just programming."
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Submissions Sought for 2007 Tapia Conference
HPC Wire (01/31/07)

The 2007 Richard Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing Conference is calling for submissions of papers, panels, workshops, posters, and birds-of-a-feather sessions for the three-day conference. The fourth Tapia Conference, co-sponsored by ACM and the IEEE Computer Society, is titled "Passion in Computing -- Diversity in Information" and will be held Oct. 17-20, 2007, in Orlando, Fla. The goal of the conference is to provide a supportive networking forum for under-represented groups across a range of computing and information technology. Papers are invited in the following topics: information security, intelligent systems, human-centered computing, and computational math and science, but papers concerning other topics will also be considered. Extended abstracts should be no longer than four pages, include results, figures, and references, and be submitted electronically. Panel or workshop proposals concerning increasing diversity in the field of computing must be submitted by Friday, March 30, 2007; panel proposals should be no longer than one page, and workshop proposals should be no longer than two pages. All accepted posters will be entered into the ACM Student Research Competition. Posters submitted must have a single author and abstracts must be submitted by Friday, June 22, 2007. Birds-of-a-Feather submissions are limited to 200 words and one page; the deadline is Sunday, May 20, 2007. Finally, Doctoral Consortium Submissions, for one-day workshops held immediately prior to the conference, are due on Sunday, May 20, 2007. More information can be found at www.richardtapia.org/participating.html.
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Israeli Researchers Promise a More Beautiful You
Israel21c (02/04/07) Kloosterman, Karen

Computer scientists at Tel Aviv University (TAU) have developed a computer program that can make an image of a person's face more attractive. The program is based upon a survey of 300 men and women who were asked to rank pictures of other people's faces on an attractiveness scale of one to seven. These results were correlated with exact measurements and ratios of facial features to produce an algorithm that can add desired elements of beauty to the image of a face. The program works in just minutes, and in a test conducted using large sample of volunteers 79 percent said the program, Beauty Function, made the face more attractive. TAU co-researcher Daniel Cohen-Or says, "Beauty is not in the eye of the beholder. Beauty is merely a function of mathematical distances or ratios. And interestingly, it is usually the average distances to features which appears to most people to be the most beautiful." Its creators believe that Beauty Function could become popular among plastic surgeons, or even become a "must-have" option for cameras, "just like the red-eye function is today," said co-researcher Tommer Leyvand.
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Soft Robot Project Gets Rolling
Discovery Channel (02/01/07) Staedter, Tracy

Biologists and engineers at Tufts University are working to create robots consisting of completely pliable parts. They envision "a robot that you could pick up and crumple into a ball in your hand, let it go, and watch it walk away," says co-director of the Biomimetic Technologies for Soft-bodied Robots project Barry Trimmer. Inspiration for the project comes from animals such as caterpillars and silkworms, whose lack of a skeletal structure allows a much greater range of motion than an animal with a skeletal structure. These animals require little neural power to execute such motions, so "the idea is to build a robotic control system that mimics the nervous system and muscle power of the caterpillar," Trimmer says. These robots could enter hazardous areas, help doctors explore inside a patient's body, or enter industrial pipelines. Trimmer is using genetic engineering and nanotechnology to make materials with toughness equal to spider silk. Clemson University professor Ian Walker says that several groups are working on similar projects, but that a lack of metal could mean a lack of strength. He says, "Other groups, including our own in developing 'trunk and tentacle' robots, have aimed at producing completely soft robots, but have had to settle for having at least some rigid parts. It will be interesting to see if they can get enough strength from the materials and components they plan to use."
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The Future of Engineering Education: More Questions Than Answers
EDN (02/01/07) Santarini, Michael

In her DesignCon 2007 keynote address, IEEE 2007 President Leah Jamieson posed many questions concerning the education of young engineers given the rapidly changing global and technological landscapes. "What is the university's role in thinking about what engineering careers are going to look like in the future, and what are our responsibilities in providing our students with the opportunities to have careers that are going to not only prepare them for the day they graduate but probably more importantly for the 40 years after that?" Jamieson asked. "We have to ask ourselves, will graduates have the attributes and skills that they need for careers over the next 40 years?" Curriculum changes are being motivated by the need for multidisciplinary skill sets as the overall interest in engineering is lacking. Jamieson cited a survey that shows an 18 percent drop since 1991 in the number of high school students interested in engineering. A big worry is that the half-life of an engineering education is between two and seven years, and if it drops below four years, university students will be graduating with half of what they have learned being obsolete. In order to stay relevant, some experts are suggesting that engineering students not receive accreditation until they complete a broader curriculum, or even the equivalent of a master's degree curriculum in engineering.
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Encouraging Participation in Virtual Communities
Knowledge Jolt With Jack (02/03/07) Vinson, Jack

Interaction in online communities is the focus of the article "Encouraging Participation in Virtual Communities," which appears in the February issue of the Communications of the ACM. Written by Joon Koh at the Chonnam National University, Young-Gul Kim at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, Brian Butler at the University of Pittsburgh, and Gee-Woo Bock of Sungkyunkwan University, the article says that viewing and writing are the two modes of interaction in virtual communities. However, while readers participate in the community to obtain useful information, those who contribute posts want to identify with the community and even participate in offline meetings with other members. According to the article, thriving online communities give participants a sense of identity and encourage people to get involved in their activities. Vinson writes that there may be another connection to the perceived usefulness of a community and offline meetings, or maybe the researchers did not test whether users felt they contributed to the usefulness of their community. Offline interaction may provide more of an answer.
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UI Researchers Develop World's Fastest Transistor
Daily Illini (02/05/07) Scharman, Julian

Researchers at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, are excited about the potential of their new Pseudomorphic Heterojunction Bipolar Transistor (PHBT), which they believe could be manufactured for wide-scale use in 10 years. Developed by Milton Feng, a professor of electrical and computer engineering, and a team of graduate students in engineering, the new PHBT surpasses the speediest transistor in the world by 300 GHz, making it the fastest at 845 GHz. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency sponsored the project, which took nearly a decade of research and three years of development, at a cost of about $14 million. The superfast transistor measures just 0.3 microns by 4 microns. The PHBT would offer a substantial improvement in bandwidth capability for Internet users, and would offer a number of other practical uses. Feng adds that a transistor that gets closer to one terahertz (1000 GHz) would offer advantages for security, medical, security imaging, and security identification.
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Cold and Calculated
The Engineer Online (01/29/07)

Conventional, passive cooling methods will soon be inadequate for dissipating the heat generated by electronic chips if current projections about increasing chip performance unfold as scripted. Cooling chips via inexpensive miniature refrigerators installed within PCs is a concept being pursued by British researchers at Newcastle University, which is leading a three-year, government-funded project with industrial partners. "We will have to find a way to get rid of heat on something as small as a chip by an order of magnitude," notes Dr. Brian Agnew with Newcastle's school of mechanical and systems engineering. Oxford University colleagues are collaborating with Agnew's team on the project, hoping to tap their experience in building cooling systems that boast long-term, service-free operation. Another partner on the project, London South Bank, will concentrate on addressing the system entropy challenge. The system will require an evaporator minuscule enough to fit on a chip, as well as a silent miniature pump that does not produce vibrations. "It will all be extremely small, but we are not going down to nanotechnology as the thermodynamics change when you get down to nano-systems because the molecules behave differently," Agnew says. The system's condenser could be mounted at the rear of the computer, while Agnew reports that one possibility is the use of a "double-effect" system where two refrigerators are piled on top of each other so that one system's condenser can serve as the other system's evaporator. Though Agnew admits that any new cooling system will add complexity to the PC, he says it is outweighed by the performance benefits.
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Quantum Cryptography Offers Spy-Proof Code
IT World Canada (02/01/07) Arellano, Nestor E.

University of Calgary researchers are working with quantum physics to develop a code that becomes scrambled if it is compromised. Today's code relies on algorithms and is safe unless the device that produces the key is lost or stolen, or if a global registry key is lost, but quantum cryptography would encode data into light photon particles, the state of which would be altered if the code was intercepted. Only authorized recipients would have the keys needed to access the data, so if a third party tries to intercept the code using a man-in-the-middle plot, the code would clearly show it. The system also provides a higher degree of randomness, as a result of key exchanges that can occur many times without compromising data transmission speed. University of Calgary Centre for Information Security and Cryptography physicist and principal researcher Wolfgang Tittel is working on transmitting the code key using light photons and the rest of the message via standard encryption methods. Once the key has been sent, and the recipient confirms a secure connection, the message can be sent. Tittel proposes a transmission rate of one million bits per second over 100 kilometers. Analyst James Quinn says that the deploying necessary fiber optics through desktops could be prohibitively expensive, and that hackers could get around this technology if quantum computing catches up with quantum cryptography. To these claims, Tittel responds that existing fiber networks could handle the transmission, that fiber optics could be selectively added for important personnel, and that quantum computers would not change the fact that photons would show signs of attempted interception. Tittel estimates that the technology is about 10 years from being ready for the market.
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Gates and Brown: Tech Transforming Education
silicon.com (01/31/07) Carr, Sylvia

Teachers remain the key to learning, and they must be trained to use technology and new technology must be developed for their specific needs, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates stressed during the Microsoft Government Leaders Forum in Edinburgh. Gates noted that the same things that have been said about technology's impact on education was previously said about TVs, video tapes, and software, and it has not happened. Technology will change education in that the Internet will be used to access lectures, chatrooms will be used to hold classroom discussions, and testing and accreditation will take place from anywhere in the world, he said. Microsoft said it plans to continue to focus on integrating technology into schools in the United Kingdom and 11 other countries through its Innovative Schools program. The company offers "a clear roadmap to improve operations, learning, and communication between the classroom and home through the use of technology," said Damian Allen, executive director of Children's Services at Knowsley Metropolitan Borough Council. The United Kingdom will need to encourage innovation if it is to remain competitive as the world becomes more globalized, added Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown. "The answer is not turning back the clock � but to invest more in science, technology, and creative industries," Brown said.
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Not Your Mother's Girl Scouts
Daily Texan (02/01/07) Garza, Kimberly

A new Girl Scouts program is helping introduce girls to technology in an all-female environment, which has been shown to be more effective in interesting young women in the field. Known as The EDGE, the program exposes girl scouts to science, engineering, math, and technology. "We're focused on empowering girls to become more comfortable to be able to take those kinds of electives in school, to make the choices to go that career route," says Girl Scouts technology specialist Savita Raj. "It's all about getting girls comfortable with technology." Technology-oriented classes do not appeal to most girls between eight and 17, especially when the classes are coed, but the EDGE aims to relieve the intimidation and discomfort that traditionally keeps young women from gaining an interest in the field. University of Texas graduate student Carolyn Cunningham praises the program for "changing attitudes and giving confidence to the girls." The girl scouts have also held a Lego robotics camp and an architecture camp. "It's a great way for the Girl Scouts to go," says workshop director Terry Olguin. "They're enabling these girls, giving them the tools they need for the future."
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IBM Research Projects Cover SOA, Web 2.0
InfoWorld (01/31/07) Krill, Paul

SOA, social networking, and Web 2.0 projects at various stages of completion were showcased at the IBM Silicon Valley Lab this week. IBM's Request Driven Provisioning system offers a framework to provide business systems in an SOA combining automated systems with business processes that eases end-to-end IT service delivery. "What we're doing is allowing a business unit to define its requirements for a complete SOA system that would have taken months to install and now it takes hours," says IBM's Chiu. Another SOA innovation was a Web-based capacity planning tool that allows customers to scale SOA-based workloads to comply with performance and scalability requirements. Projects presented in the realm of social networking, collaboration, and Web 2.0 included a portal-based system for organizing customer responses, a social engineering system that lets users collaborate to create automated processes on the Web, and a new internal directory for corporate social networking sites. On-demand information technologies included an enterprise search tool that helps decrease financial and technology barriers to intranet and Web search, and a tool to identify trends and patterns using analysis of customer information, both structured and unstructured. Security innovations included an intelligent analysis system for video surveillance, a tool that makes Internet transactions anonymous, and an algorithm that prevents theft of biometric data. Finally, projects in consumer technologies included an improved retail experience using 3D virtual technology, and a system that uses instant messaging to present the user with a visual layout of a phone menu.
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Schneier: In Touch With Security's Sensitive Side
Dark Reading (02/01/07) Higgins, Kelly Jackson

People's thoughts and feelings about security, as interpreted through brain heuristics, will be the focus of security guru Bruce Schneier's talk at next week's RSA Conference, whose theme is the exchange between security and psychology. "If we in the [security] industry expect to build products, we need to understand our customers," Schneier argues. He characterizes security as both reality and a feeling, with the former based on likelihood and risk and the latter based on psychological responses to risk and "countermeasures" to security threats. Schneier says neuroscience can help describe the frequent disconnect between perception of risk and reality, which he traces to a lack of interplay between the sensory processing of the amygdala and the analytical processing of the neocortex, leading to situations in which emotion overrides logic. The security expert draws a direct link between the failure of products and vendors' lack of consideration for the psychological aspects of security in the design of the user interface. "My belief is that making you aware of [brain chemistry] goes a long way" toward making better security decisions, Schneier concludes. "If you can understand you are just reacting from fear, you have a better shot at ... understanding these human biases. Hopefully you can short-circuit them and improve on them and make it so we are not slaves to this."
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Looking at Human Impact of Net
University at Buffalo Reporter (02/01/07) Vol. 38, No. 21, Fryling, Kevin

University at Buffalo communications professor Michael Stefanone studies the way people interact with computers, particularly in the areas of ubiquitous computing, human-computer interaction, and social networking. He says that as technology becomes more pervasive in our lives, he is "trying to get at the cultural shift in how people are defining their boundaries in terms of private, personal information and the potential cost of broadcasting it." With the amount of information available on the Internet today, he expects a lot of attention to be given to matters concerning the mining of customer data, such as the potential decision by a health care company to charge higher premiums for customers whose credit card transactions reveal that they frequently eat fast food. Anything sent over the Internet today should be subject to a "cost-benefit analysis," he says, because of the ease with which a transmission could be intercepted or made public. Stefanone recently worked on a Cornell project where he observed NASA researchers at two separate universities using communication tools to collaborate on complex projects. He says, "Things get progressively less rich from an experience perspective ... when you can't meet people face to face." However, he applauds such technology for allowing people who would not normally have the capacity to address large groups using the Internet.
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Goodbye Wires and Silicon, Hello Plastic Chips
New Scientist (01/27/07) Vol. 193, No. 2588, P. 24; Marks, Paul

A new line of flexible, lightweight plastic chips is on the horizon thanks to the efforts of researchers such as Plastic Logic chief scientist Henning Sirringhaus, who conceived a way of assembling polymer transistors. Plastic Logic has adopted a method in which an ink-jet printer nozzle applies a droplet of conducting polymer mixed with surfactant to a substrate. As the polymer dries, the droplet becomes water-repellent as the surfactant migrates to the surface of the droplet. The deposit of a second polymer droplet that overlaps with the first causes repulsion and alignment 60 nanometers away. Plastic chips could be embedded in virtually any object, starting with a flexible monochrome display that Polymer Vision is due to roll out in 2007. A major potential benefit of plastic electronics is the eventual development of a technique to build polymerized chips that extend over several square meters, which will facilitate the construction of cheap, large displays and solar panels from plastic. Plastic Logic has enough faith in its plastic transistor printing technology to make a $100 million investment in a German plant that will churn out flexible electronic paper for displaying the pages of e-books, newspapers, and magazines.
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Reconnecting the Connected Home
Electronic Design (01/18/07) Vol. 55, No. 2, P. 36; Hintze, Christine

Satisfying consumers' insatiable appetite for content will require the cohabitation of wired and wireless technologies in tomorrow's networked home, according to Texas Instruments' Michael Stich. How much the home is networked will depend on the content consumers access via broadband connections, and Stich projects that the success of home networking technologies will be based on a variety of elements, including network coverage and reliability, ease of installation, security, and cost. The trick is to develop a chipset that is compatible with numerous networking technologies. The most popular broadband access technology is DSL, though in the United States DSL trails behind cable. Consumers must be knowledgeable about networking if they are to take full advantage of the enormous amount of bandwidth coming into the future networked home. "Education is especially important when you have one point-to-point connection, because you have to set things up so that you really know how to get things from one point to another," says Analog Devices' Scot Robertson. The user interface that enables control of the network home must be simplified, says Arkados CEO Oleg Logvinov. "The delivery of the platform not only has to be adaptable, but pervasive throughout the whole house," Logvinov says. "We need something that not only allows delivery between point A and point B, but measures what the consumption of the content is and who the users are." The networked home of tomorrow will probably entail a scheme whereby the entire house is wired while room-to-room links remain wireless. IBM's Norman Liang says, "A lot of people are just starting to get used to the idea of digital tech. Wireless networking has only been around for about five years now. In order to innovate, we have to humanize the problem."
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Cognitive Radios Solve a Host of Problems
Portable Design (01/07) Vol. 13, No. 1, P. 8; Donovan, John

Cognitive radio can configure handsets into a network of intelligent agents that anticipate users' communication requirements via a combination of machine learning, vision, and natural language processing. Cognitive radios boast awareness of location, spectrum use, and owners' preferences and respond to changing conditions by adjusting frequency, power level, transmission mode, and modulation traits without the need for preprogramming. The result is seamless and dependable communication while keeping spectrum efficiency optimal. The underlying technology infrastructure for cognitive radio (Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, speech recognition) is already available in portable devices, and the trick lies in stitching these various technologies together in such a way that new applications of the hardware are facilitated. A cell phone makes the transition from location-aware to RF-location adaptive through programming that allows the device to change bands or transmission modes at certain locations; the move to cognitive radio is complete once the phone learns to draw connections between location, speed, and time of day so that it can proactively adjust bands, transmission modes, power level, etc., to make communication seamless. User awareness is key to the function of cognitive radio, and there are two paths to experiential learning such devices can follow: They can either learn through interaction with other cognitive radios, or they can learn by observing their operators' use patterns. Regulatory challenges need to be addressed in order for cognitive radio to be implemented on the approval of the FCC and other agencies that coordinate the allocation of spectrum. The military and public safety organizations have the biggest need for cognitive radio.
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Storm Warning
Government Executive (01/07) Vol. 39, No. 1, P. 30; Pulliam, Daniel

The government-mandated testing of cybersecurity and attack response that took place in 2006, called Cyber Storm, yielded poor results and there is little reason to believe that results will be better for the upcoming test in 2008. One reason is that the 110 government organizations, international partners, and private sector associations that took part in the first test were all volunteers who already believed in the importance of cyber security, and all the first test did was test their skills. The organizations that did not care about security were not involved and they are the ones that concern security officials the most. The test highlighted already-known weaknesses in the system--mainly a need for solid contingency plans, a training program, and for security personnel to be able to identify connections between incidents occurring across multiple infrastructures. The next test is designed to promote better coordination between public and private organizations.
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