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ACM TechNews
July 27, 2007

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Welcome to the July 27, 2007 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.


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Association for Computing Machinery's Turing Prize Raised to $250,000
AScribe Newswire (07/26/07)

ACM announced that Google will join Intel as a contributor to the ACM A.M. Turing Award prize, increasing the cash award from $100,000 to $250,000 to be shared equally between the two companies. The Turing Award, named for Alan Turing, recognizes individuals for significant and lasting contributions to the computing field and is widely considered to be the Nobel Prize of computing. The new funding from Google will help increase the visibility of the Turing Award as the premier reward for innovations in computing. "The Turing Award is the highest award in the field of computing science and recognizes achievements that push the boundaries of innovation," says ACM President Stuart I. Feldman. "This award is a significant contributor to ACM's mission--to advance computing as a science and profession." Feldman, who is also vice president of engineering at Google, says, "With the continuing financial support of Intel and the newly added contribution of funds from Google, we can significantly increase the award's cash value to better reflect the importance and prestige of the Turing Award worldwide." Feldman says that the stature of both Intel and Google in the computing field make them "perfect partners to help ACM elevate the profile of the Turing Award and to honor the contributions of its recipients."
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Senators to Abandon '08 E-Voting Paper Trail Mandate
CNet (07/25/07) Broache, Anne

Democratic senators made another push to ban electronic voting machines that do not provide a paper trail, but decided not to try to force states to do so by next year's presidential election. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the chief sponsor of the Ballot Integrity Act, which proposes such a ban, says she fears requiring all states to use voter-verified paper records in time for the next election "could be an invitation to chaos," as some primaries are only six months away. "Pushing the date back to the 2010 elections will give us more time to reach a bipartisan consensus ... to enact a new law that provides for increased accuracy and accountability at the polls without raising the specter of creating major new errors," Feinstein says. Election watchdog groups and computer scientists have long argued that paper ballots are one of the best ways for voters to be able to verify their vote was correctly recorded, particularly since touch-screen machines have proven to be vulnerable to security flaws and glitches. However, election officials and some voting machine reviewers have argued that paperless machines are not as faulty as some critics claim and that replacing them would be time consuming and expensive. Some of the provisions in Feinstein's proposal would immediately halt the purchase of direct-recording electronic voting systems that do not provide paper records, allocate $600 million for states and localities to replace or adapt paperless machines as necessary, and allow voting machine software to be inspected by state and federal authorities. For information about ACM's e-voting activities, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm
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NASA: Computer Bound for Space Station Sabotaged
USA Today (07/26/07) Halvorson, Todd

An employee at a NASA subcontractor purposely damaged a computer that was to be placed aboard the space shuttle Endeavour, which is slated for launch on Aug. 7. Among other things, the subcontractor produces sensors that are placed within space shuttle wings. The damaged computer was scheduled to be delivered to the international space station, where it would have been used as part of an engineering evaluation of space station gauges. NASA's Bill Gerstenmaier declined to comment on the motivation behind the sabotage, which is under investigation by NASA's Inspector General. The damaged computer will be repaired and placed aboard the shuttle in time for the launch, NASA officials said. The subcontractor notified NASA about the sabotage earlier this month. The damage to the computer was obvious and easy to spot, consisting of wiring that had been cut; a qualification unit at the subcontractor factory also had wiring that had been slashed.
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In Poker Match Against a Machine, Humans Are Better Bluffers
New York Times (07/26/07) P. C1; Markoff, John

In the "First Man-Machine Poker Championship," a poker competition between two professional poker players and a software program running on an ordinary laptop, the human players won, largely due to their superior ability to bluff. The contest pitted professional poker players Phil Laak and Ali Eslami against Polaris, a poker program written by a team of artificial intelligence researchers from the University of Alberta. In the past, computer researchers have focused on chess and checkers computer programs, but poker is believed to be a more difficult challenge for software designers. Poker requires computer scientists to develop different strategies and algorithms to compensate for the uncertainties introduced by not knowing the other player's cards and difficult-to-interpret, risky behaviors such as bluffing. University of Alberta computer science department chairman Jonathan Schaeffer, who initiated the poker playing research effort 16 years ago, says the advancements being made in poker software are more likely to have a real-world application than chess research. Research interest have generally shifted away from chess in favor of poker, partly because of the rapid progress being made in developing new algorithms that could have broad, practical applications in areas like negotiation and commerce, says Carnegie Mellon University computer scientist Tuomas Sandholm. Unlike chess programs, which require massive amounts of computing power to calculate every possible outcome while the game is being played, Polaris performs a lot of precomputing, running calculations for weeks before a match to build a series of bots that have different playing styles. In the first two rounds of the poker match, the program ran a single bot, but in the third round the programmers used a "coach" program that allowed them to move bots in and out, like athletes on a roster.
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Local San Diego Seniors, Youth, and K-12 Teachers to Participate in High-Tech SIGGRAPH Conference
Business Wire (07/24/07)

ACM's SIGGRAPH 2007 will open its doors to senior citizens, children, and K-12 teachers in the San Diego area in several ways. Fifteen students from the Regional Occupational Program will attend the conference. Meanwhile, senior citizens and K-6 students will perform immersive, educational exercises in the Guerilla Studio, the collaborative artist workspace. The SIGGRAPH 2007 Educators Program could be attended by nearly 100 teachers, and the event will include an in-service tutorial on design for K-12 teachers, in addition to papers, panels, workshops, QuickTakes, and forums. "The SIGGRAPH 2007 Educators Program content details how to use cutting-edge computer graphics as a teaching tool in all levels of education," says Janese Swanson, SIGGRAPH 2007 Educators Chair from The Art Apprentice and a San Diego K-6 technology teacher. "Everyone--from children to seniors--can enjoy and use technology to enhance their lives and foster creativity within themselves." SIGGRAPH 2007 takes place Aug. 5-9 at the San Diego Convention Center. For more information about ACM SIGGRAPH 2007, or to register, visit http://www.siggraph.org/s2007/
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Future of HTTP at Center of Debate
Network World (07/25/07) Marsan, Carolyn Duffy

A gathering of leading Internet engineers at an IETF conference in Chicago this week focused on whether the Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) should be completely reworked to fix well-known security flaws or merely tweaked to address the most pressing errors. Internet experts are aligning themselves on both sides of the debate. Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee, the World Wide Web Consortium, and engineers from Microsoft, Adobe, and Hewlett-Packard all believe that minimal corrections is the right approach at this time and provided some recommendations for adjusting HTTP in a document published by the IETF. "The current plan is to incorporate known errata, and to update the specification text according to the current IETF publication guidelines," the document says. Those who believe a complete overhaul is necessary say requiring authorization mechanisms for HTTP would make the system more secure and help eliminate the widespread problems of spoofing and phishing, even if it sacrifices anonymity. "We need to clean this mess up and that means facing the reality of HTTP security," says John Klensin, an email pioneer, former executive for AT&T and MCI Worldcom, and former chair of the Internet Architecture Board, an IETF oversight group. Klensin argues that fixing known errors in HTTP and its authentication weakness needs to be accomplished in parallel with each other. Participants in the IETF debate supported establishing a working group to fix HTTP's shortcomings and to create a document that outlines known security holes. The IETF has twice tried to establish a working group to fix HTTP problems and failed. "It's and interesting time for HTTP," says Yahoo engineer Mark Nottingham, who led the HTTP debate. "There have been other attempts to revise RFC 2616 ... I do think this is a unique opportunity to get it done."
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Researchers Create Search Engine to Hunt Molecules Online
Penn State Live (07/26/07) Hopkins, Margaret; Messer, Andrea

Penn State College of Information Sciences and Technology (IST) researchers have created ChemxSeer, the first publicly available search engine that is specifically designed to return information on chemical formulae. The algorithm used in the search engine can identify related chemicals with different formula representations, as well as chemicals with related substructures or similarities, says C. Lee Giles, professor of information science and technology and co-director of the IST Cyber Infrastructure Lab. "Results from our search engine are much more relevant than results returned by popular search engines," says Giles. "It is one of several cyber tools under development in our lab which will enable netter access to and sharing of information and data among scientists and scholars." Popular search engines have traditionally performed poorly when searching for chemical formulas, as search engines tend to focus on keywords while scientists would enter parts of a chemical formula. Additionally, some chemical molecules have more than one formula. For example, CH4 can also be represented as H4C, so a search run on a traditional search engine for either one would not return results on the other. ChemxSeer also is capable of searching beyond exact matches and searches for formulae with additional terms, elements, or similar structures. To create ChemxSeer, the researchers used training samples of both chemical formulae and non-chemical formulae to "teach" machines how to recognize a chemical. Future research efforts will strive to improve the reliability of identification, increase the relevance of search results, and link to molecular databases and data archiving.
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An Emotional Cat Robot
Technology Review (07/26/07) Graham-Rowe, Duncan

Scientists in the Netherlands are giving a robotic cat a set of logical rules for emotions in the hopes that introducing emotional variables to the decision-making process will lead to more natural human and computer interactions. "We don't really believe that computers can have emotions, but we see that emotions have a certain function in human practical reasoning," says Mehdi Dastani, an artificial intelligence researcher at Utrecht University. Dastani says that by giving intelligence programs similar emotions, the hope is that robots will be able to emulate emotion to reach more human-like reasoning. The robot, called iCAT, can move its eyebrows, eyelids, mouth, and head position to portray emotion, like looking confused when interacting with its human user or performing calculations. Eventually, the goal is to use Dastani's emotional-logic software to improve human and robot interaction, but for the time being the researchers will use iCAT to display an internal emotional status for the robot. The use of emotional programming should help reduce the computational workload during complex decision-making processes used when carrying out planned tasks. The emotional logic consists of a series of rules to define 22 emotions, including anger, hope, gratification, fear, and joy. Instead of being based on abstract notions of feelings, the rules are defined in terms of a goal the robot needs to achieve and the method by which the robot plans to achieve it. Although other robots have been designed to express human emotions, Dastani's focus on how emotions can be used to affect decision making makes the iCAT project unique.
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Congress: P2P Networks Harm National Security
CNet (07/24/07) Broache, Anne; McCullagh, Declan

At a congressional hearing on Tuesday, politicians said peer-to-peer networks constitute a threat to national security by their ability to facilitate the unintentional sharing of sensitive or classified documents by federal workers through their computers. Government Reform Committee Chairman Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) reported that he is considering new legislation out of concern that such documents could be accessed by foreign governments, organized crime, or terrorists. Attending the hearing was Lime Wire Chairman and Lime Group CEO Mark Gorton, who came under fire for offering his LimeWire P2P software, which has provided "skeleton keys" that allow people to access national security information, claimed one representative. Evidence that P2P networks can expose sensitive data reflects "the importance of strengthening the laws and rules protecting personal information held by federal agencies" and other organizations, declared ranking committee member Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.). Mary Koelbel Engle with the Federal Trade Commission's Bureau of Consumer Protection noted that the threat of sensitive information disclosure has less to do with P2P technology itself than how people employ the technology. Waxman said he was not pursuing a prohibition on P2P networks, which has been proposed in the past, but instead desired striking a balance that shields important federal, personal, and corporate information and copyright statutes.
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Why Are So Many Women and Girls Dropping Out of Sciences and Technology Careers?
eGov Monitor (07/23/07) Melhem, Samia

Various cultural issues create barriers for girls interested in a career in science and technology, writes Samia Melhem, a senior operations officer for the policy division of The World Bank Group. For starters, Melhem says very little of the amazing achievements engineering, science, and technology professionals accomplish is ever acknowledged, or advertised, in the mainstream media. Stories of scientific achievements play a secondary role in the news, and that attitude is reflected in academia by a lack of teaching in primary schools and low interest in science and technology in students enrolled higher education. Moreover, the list of negative labels associated with students in science and engineering in America, like nerd and geek, is lengthy. Even worse is the stereotype of a woman interested in science and technology--a lonely, unattractive woman competing in social handicaps with her male counterparts. The image of a female scientist is almost the exact opposite of the trendy, popular girl who, more often than not, openly detests science and math. Melhem asks when was the last time a sitcom established a significant female character as a computer scientist, engineer, or Web master. Melhem believes it is impossible to get children interested in science, engineering, and math when the Disney channel portrays such professions as mundane jobs filled by nerdy, socially awkward, depressed adults.
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Government Reports Cybercrime Poses National Risk
InformationWeek (07/24/07) Gaudin, Sharon

The public and private sectors are threatened by ever-increasing domestic and foreign cyberattacks on operational security and law enforcement, concludes a new Government Accountability Office report. The GAO reported that more stringent security must be employed by IT managers, while federal and commercial sectors are faced with ongoing difficulties in detecting Web-based crime. Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.) of the subcommittee on Emerging Threats, Cybersecurity, and Science and Technology said that compromised federal Web sites, classified email susceptible to unclassified networks, and infiltration of Department of Homeland Security networks are among the government's security challenges. The DHS and its CIO Scott Charbo were faced with reports during a congressional hearing that the department had experienced 844 "cybersecurity incidents" within two years. Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.) wrote that the DHS is at the forefront of cybersecurity for the nation yet department investigations have demonstrated that "'information security' has become an oxymoron." Langevin said China has been "coordinating attacks against the Department of Defense for years," and that potential malware could infiltrate first-strike attacks on U.S. computer systems. "I encourage all businesses--small and large--to take a very close look at their cybersecurity practices," Langevin said. "Though 100 percent security may be unattainable, there are many policies and procedures that businesses can implement to better safeguard their data."
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With Simple New Tools on Web, Amateurs Reshape Mapmaking
New York Times (07/27/07) P. A1; Helft, Miguel

New Internet tools are fundamentally changing the ways people use maps as professionals and amateurs alike are drawing digital maps and annotating them with text, images, sound, and videos. Such open participation is reshaping the world of mapmaking as people create maps that revolve around their interests, creating richer, more diverse, and messier maps than previously possible. Some examples of interest-based maps include maps focused on biodiesel fueling stations in New England, yarn stores in Illinois, hydrofoils around the world, detour routes around the collapsed bridge in the Bay Area, and the path of the two whales that swam up the Sacramento River delta in May. "Any time you can take data and represent it visually, you can start to recognize patterns and see where you need to put resources," says James Lamb, who started a map to track the spread of graffiti in Federal Way, Wash. People will increasingly be able to visit their favorite map service to find information on specific locations, such as the location of hotels, restaurants, crime statistics, school rankings, weather patterns, and recent area news. These maps are like wikis in that they are collaborative projects that represent the knowledge of numerous contributors, and are becoming an increasingly important aspect of how information is organized and found on the Internet. "What is happening is the creation of this extremely detailed map of the world that is being created by all the people in the world," says Google Maps and Google Earth director John V. Hanke. "The end result is that there will be a much richer description of the earth."
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Europe Approves $166 Million for Next-Generation Web
Dow Jones Newswires (07/20/07)

Germany has received the approval of the European Union to provide $166 million through 2011 to companies to conduct research on the next-generation Web. The money will fund the Theseus project, with hopes of developing "new search technologies for the next-generation Internet," including "semantic technologies which try to recognize the meaning of content and place it in its proper context." With a semantic Internet, the Web would intelligently search for and return the specific needs of the user, who would not have to click through pages for the information. SAP, Siemens, EMPOLIS, and Deutsche Thomson will lead the way on the Theseus project, and smaller firms will add on to their research and potentially pursue other areas of R&D. There are other pragmatic research projects being conducted on the semantic Web, including the Quaero project that France is pursuing. Google is more likely to use whatever version catches on with the mass market and can be used with its AdWords advertising platform, than develop a single version of the semantic Web, says analyst Trip Chowdhry.
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Sing to Computer to Download Song
ABC Science Online (Australia) (07/25/07) Cooper, Dani

RMIT University computer scientist Sandra Uitdenbogerd predicts that the next generation of search engines will enable users to find a song by simply singing it to a computer. "In the next three or four years it should be on the computer of everyone who is a music fanatic," Uitdenbogerd said at a recent Human Communication Science Network forum at Macquarie University. One way to retrieve audio by singing will have users visit a Web site and sing a tune or lyrics into a computer microphone, although the quality of the user's voice will affect the search. "The more in tune and accurate you are the less you will have to sing," Uitdenbogerd said, adding that no matter how bad someone's voice is, most people can get the "ups and downs" of a tune in the correct spots. The problem with current text-based music searches is that the same lyrics may exist in multiple songs, or as with classical music, not at all. The major problems a music search system needs to overcome are the diversity of music and the effect interference can have on the program's ability to detect notes. Uitdenbogerd said it is easier to solve retrieval problems by focusing on one genre of music, but that this could lead to a retrieval system that only searches a limited range of music. Uitdenbogerd's research team is also exploring the possibility of searching by instrument timbre and mood.
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'Smart' Traffic Sign Stops Collisions
American Technion Society (07/24/07) Hattori, Kevin

Technion-Israel Institute researchers at the Transportation Research Institute have developed a "smart" traffic sign that can help drivers make the correct decisions and avoid collisions at confusing intersections or intersections that lack traffic signals. The smart sign has two cameras mounted on a pole at the intersection. One camera faces the main road and the other faces the secondary road. A computer processes data from both cameras, and when it detects a potential collision, activates flashing lights to warn approaching drivers. Yotam Abramson, one of the developers of the system, says accidents at intersections without traffic light occur when drivers on the secondary road do not see the traffic sign and are unaware that they do not have the right of way. Accidents at these intersections can also be caused when drivers notice the traffic sign, but fail to properly internalize and respond to the information. "In both cases, the driver makes the incorrect decision," Abramson says. "The assumption is that the flashing light will draw the driver's attention to the sign and increase his alertness." The smart sign is expected to reduce the amount of accidents and near-accidents without impeding traffic flow at a four-way intersection in Tel Aviv, where the device is being tested. The researchers are also working on a "smart" traffic light that can identify when a driver is about to cross an intersection against a red light. If a driver is about to go through a red light, the light will either flash, or delay the green light in the other direction. Abramson says the system would also serve as a traffic violation camera.
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Canada to Co-Develop IT Projects With Developing Nations
IT World Canada (07/23/07) Smith, Briony

Funding for alliances dedicated to helping ICT deployments in developing countries will be provided through a partnership between the International Development Research Center (IDRC) and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC). "Our motto is 'empowerment through knowledge,' and the digital revolution is a means to empower even the poorest of the poor," said the IDRC's Laurent Elder. "By giving them access to digitization, it can help solve their development problems." Elder reported that his agency has had the most successful ICT implementations in the areas of education, livelihood, health, and government. He noted that the IDRC has done very well in terms of enhancing telecommunications policy, while other areas he thinks would be prime project candidates include disaster warning, censorship, and interoperable health systems. The researchers' partners are required to hail from the IDRC's stable of lower and middle income countries such as Uganda, Mozambique, Senegal, Kenya, Chile, Colombia, Peru, the Philippines, Cambodia, and Sri Lanka. Such partners' contributions can run the gamut from design to governance to particular requests or questions. Nine applicants will be selected and awarded $30,000, and given nearly 12 months to ready a full research proposal; just three projects will ultimately be chosen, and receive $400,000 yearly for up to five years.
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Informatics Designs Tools to Promote Health Care, Independent Living
Indiana University (07/19/07)

Researchers at the Indiana University School of Informatics will design tools that address the privacy concerns of the elderly, as information processing becomes more integrated in everyday devices around them. They will build a "living lab," and volunteers from a Bloomington retirement community will participate in studies and provide feedback on how to improve designs and the design methodology. The digital toolkit could include a sensor that would be mounted to the kitchen counter for volunteers to place a finger before making breakfast, and a sensor embedded in a TV remote control that measures the participant's heart rate each time it is used. "Our proposal addresses the acute privacy challenges of using ubiquitous computing in a home-based health care environment, where vulnerable populations risk enforced technology intimacy," says associate professor Jean Camp, who specializes in privacy issues and the impact of IT on society. They will concentrate on developing tools that will allow the volunteers and their caregivers to communicate their privacy concerns in the second year of the study, and in the third year the team will design a ubiquitous computing system for two households at the retirement community and study the interaction. The National Science Foundation is funding the project with a $821,000 grant.
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Diversity in the IT Workplace
CIO Insight (07/26/07) Chabrow, Eric

Statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) show that while the IT industry is slightly more diverse than it was at the beginning of the decade, it is still lagging behind the rest of the U.S. workforce. According to the BLS, the percentage of African-Americans in IT managerial and staff positions dropped nearly 26 percent over the past six and-a-half years, the percentage of whites increased by 2.3 percent, and employment within IT among Asians increased by more than 17 percent. African-Americans represent only 6.5 percent of IT management and staff, as compared to 11 percent of all other industry management and staff professionals. Whites are also under represented in the IT industry, with 75.2 percent of all IT employees being white while 82.1 percent of all other managers and staff professionals are white. Asians currently hold 16.3 percent of IT jobs but only 4.6 percent of managerial positions in other professions. Gina Billings, president of the National Black Data Processing Association, believes that globalization, and the outsourcing of IT jobs, is to blame for the low percentage of African-Americans in the IT industry. Billings argues that because many African-Americans entered the industry later than their white counterparts, they were the first to get fired when jobs started moving oversees, and that negative experience has caused a ripple effect. A study by Global Lead Management Consulting for the Information Technology Senior Management Forum indicates that many African-Americans are now leaving the IT industry voluntarily. Of the survey respondents, all of which were employed African-American IT professionals, 56 percent considered leaving their jobs in the previous 12 months. Nearly all of the respondents said they felt comfortable working with diverse peers, but fewer than half said they trusted their peers.
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What Can Be Done About Software Security?
SD Times (07/01/07)No. 177, P. 37; Worthington, David

Problems with project management and organizational commitment and training were traced by experts to be the most frequent root causes behind the increasing incidence of software code vulnerabilities, and tight schedules and a lack of management-defined standards were among the factors cited as contributing to software security deficiencies. SPI Dynamics co-founder Caleb Sima commented that security must be a process that encompasses the entire organization and that is embedded within the existing development life cycle, and he and other experts concurred that companies with a serious security investment must make a bigger commitment to quality assurance tooling, realize the effective use of such tools, and secure developers capable of using those tools to write vulnerability-free code. Intelligent Decisions' director of security business units Roy Stephan advised the establishment of best practices emphasizing boundaries, where applications communicate via protocols or between libraries, and also supported peer code reviews. Consultant Rex Black explained that organizations currently lack an incentive to invest more in security because they can pass the cost of security failures on to users and consumers, and he suggested that government intervention might divert the cost back to companies, spurring a corporate interest in patching security flaws. Oracle program director John Heimann aimed criticism at entry-level developers' prowess, complaining about a dearth of secure coding classes offered by university computer science and training programs. "They do good things, but this is basic knowledge that software engineers should have," he said. Heimann attested that most academics have little secure code development skill, have no desire to teach such a subject, and do not wish to be criticized for their lack of knowledge; he indicated that accreditation standards should impel program revisions that would enable qualified faculty to teach secure programming.
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