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August 20, 2007

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E-Voting Predicament: Not-So-Secret Ballots
CNet (08/20/07) McCullagh, Declan; Broache, Anne

Ohio's open-record laws, combined with the paper trails provided by Election Systems and Software voting machines, makes it possible to reconstruct when and how individuals voted, two Ohio activists discovered. Two documents, a list of voters in the order they voted and a time-stamped list of actual votes, can be acquired and combined by anyone interested. Privacy activist James Moyer and fellow activist Jim Cropcho were able to reconstruct the voting results, including how individuals voted, for a May 2006 vote in Delaware County, Ohio, to extend a property tax to fund mental retardation services. "I think it's a serious compromise," says Stanford University computer science professor David Dill. "We have a system that's very much based on secret ballots. If you have something where voters are involuntarily revealing their votes, it's a very bad practice." Patrick Gallaway, communications director for Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, says Brunner is already planning a "comprehensive" review of e-voting machines as part of a pledge she made during her campaign. Now the review will likely include a look at the ES&S privacy issue as well. ES&S spokeswoman Jill Friedman-Wilson downplayed concerns over ES&S privacy and says it would be very difficult to make a connection between the sign-in order and the voting timestamp, adding that Moyer's and Cropcho's analysis is "fatally flawed" because it does not account for time delays between signing in and casting a vote. Computer scientists say restricting the public's access to time-stamped e-voting paper trails is insufficient, and suggest deleting the time stamp, not keeping a record for what order people voted in, and adding a paper cutter and shuffler to randomize how the physical audit trail is recorded. For information regarding ACM's e-voting activities, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm.
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Next-Dimension Digital
San Diego Union-Tribune (08/20/07) Sidener, Jonathan

Attendees at ACM's SIGGRAPH conference were able to view and experience some of the most advanced graphics technologies in development. A possible future replacement for the television may be based on holographic technology that showed a small black-and-white jogger running in place inside a glass cube that people could walk around to see every side of the jogger. Another technology allowed people to place their hand in a box with multiple cameras to create a virtual copy of their hand that could be used to manipulate a 3D jack-in-the-box. A special flat-panel television that displayed 3D images, without requiring the viewers to wear special glasses, was also on display, as was a glove that gave the user the feeling of weight and resistance when manipulating objects with a robotic hand. Although cost is a big factor holding back these technologies, the creators of the holographic jogger, the University of Southern California's Institute for Creative Technologies, Fakespace Labs, and Sony, say if hardware prices continue to fall at current rates, such technologies could be available to consumers in 10 years. The holographic jogger, known as an "interactive 360-degree light field display," uses a modified digital projector firing 5,000 frames per second and a rapidly spinning mirror to create the walk-around 3D image. The researchers say the technology could be upgraded from the small black-and-white video to a larger color video easily.
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Lifting Corporate Fingerprints From the Editing of Wikipedia
New York Times (08/19/07) P. 1; Hafner, Katie

Computer science graduate student Virgil Griffith's new Web site, WikiScanner, is capable of tracking where Wikipedia article edits are made from, which has exposed the fact that many companies are involved in editing their own Wikipedia pages. For example, SeaWorld's Wikipedia page was edited last year to change the word "Orcas" to "killer whales" because it was claimed to be a more accurate term for the animals. A paragraph criticizing SeaWorld's treatment of sea animals was also removed. It has been discovered that those changes came from a computer at Anheuser-Busch, SeaWorld's owner. In 2004, someone at ExxonMobil edited information on the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, downplaying the impact on the area's wildlife and highlighting the positive impact of the compensation payments the company paid. Overall, Internet experts are glad WikiScanner is tracking article edits. "I'm very glad that this has been exposed," says University of Michigan Law School visiting professor Susan P. Crawford. "Wikipedia is a reliable first stop for getting information about a huge variety of things, and it shouldn�t be manipulated as a public relations arm of major companies." Jimmy Wales, founder of the Wikimedia Foundation, which runs Wikipedia, says WikiScanner is a very clever idea, and that he is considering some changes to Wikipedia that would help users better understand what information about them is recorded. "When someone clicks on 'edit,' it would be interesting if we could say, 'Hi, thank you for editing. We see you're logged in from The New York Times. Keep in mind that we know that, and it's public information,'" Wales says. "That might make them stop and think."
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Voting Machine Hackers--UCSB Team Breaks Into Counting Device
Pacific Coast Business Times (08/16/07) Nellis, Stephen

California Secretary of State Debra Bowen was eventually persuaded to ban the use of an electronic voting machine in state elections by a successful attempt to hack the system by a team of University of California, Santa Barbara computer scientists. The team of hackers demonstrated that with enough know-how, dedicated attackers could compromise e-voting systems and fix elections. The machine the UCSB team tested was manufactured by Sequoia, and the researchers ascertained that the device was both physically and electronically exploitable. UCSB professor Richard Kemmerer said crafting the malicious software to infect the system would take considerable skill, but very little training was necessary to launch the hacks. He added that the team was able to compromise the voting system without access to source code. UCSB doctoral student William Robertson noted that while access to the central vote-counting server is supposed to be closely guarded, "in practice, it's often the case that isn't observed." The hackers also discovered that they could modify the machines by swapping initialization cartridges with bogus cartridges without breaching seals on the edges. Not even Sequoia's recommended security protocols prevented the team from cracking the e-voting system. UCSB computer science professor Giovanni Vigna observed that such election tampering would not be detectable even with California's mandatory paper trail.
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Chipmakers Aim to Unclog Data Paths
CNet (08/19/07) Kanellos, Michael

Processor speed and transistor count has steadily increased for the past few decades, but the buses and interconnects between them advance at a much slower rate, creating data backups that slow computing speed. The fundamental limitation of a CPU is no longer performance but input/output, says Sun Microsystems' Andy Bechtolsheim. Sun is currently developing a technology known as proximity communication, which allows different chips to communicate without wires by being close to one another. Intel also announced a possible solution, an 80-core chip that uses an embedded network to link cores that the company says will be ready in five years. Conceptually similar to Intel's chip is Tile64, a 64-core processor from Tilera. Tilera's chip is available now, and although it uses conventional memory controllers, the chip consists of small, individual tiles. Each tile has a RISC processing core and a switch that can send data in four directions. The switches form a mesh network that allows the chips to communicate with each other. The mesh is divided into up to five layers, depending on the type of transaction. One layer manages cache-to-cache transfers, while another is dedicated to streaming data. Experts say that distributed networks of slower processors such as Tile64 can process tasks faster while consuming less energy than conventional chips. Tilera's Anant Agarwal says these types of chips will be used by firewalls, spam blockers, video-on-demand systems, high-definition video, security systems, and videoconferencing systems. "The processor is becoming more and more anonymous, and the system is becoming more and more important," Agarwal says. "The processor is the new transistor."
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Cognitive Science Initiative Encapsulates Expertise
EE Times (08/16/07) Johnson, Colin

Sandia National Laboratories is striving to improve the performance of soldiers through knowledge augmentation and cognitive models that will give them an advantage by predicting the enemies' strategies. "We knew that to model humans on our side or the threat side, we had to have higher fidelity in our cognitive models," says John Wagner, manager of the Cognitive and Exploratory Systems and Simulations Department at Sandia National Laboratories. "We needed models that really behaved as humans behave." Sandia says they have developed a cognitive model that can predict any person's behavior by interpreting text about them, such as their daily activities and travel records, information that can be gathered from public records, the Internet, and private databases. The cognitive models are intended to encapsulate the expertise of specialists, improve the training experience, and reduce the time required to become competent in new skills. Instead of a traditional rule-based expert system, Sandia used pattern-based artificial intelligence that uses semantic networks to store knowledge and statistics. The researchers also included simulations of fatigue and other emotions so the models would feel like humans feel. One of the first goals the initiative hopes to achieve is improving the training experience of new military recruits. "Our hypothesis is that if we build a cognitive model of a novice and we compare it to the cognitive model of an expert, then we will be able to tailor the training experiences for each individual," says Wagner.
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Net Capacity: Time to Widen the Road?
TechNewsWorld (08/17/07) Mello, John P. Jr.

The Internet's infrastructure will need upgrading in order to meet the growing demand for capacity, but that time is still a way's off, say experts. Nevertheless, as the growth in demand continues to outpace the growth in capacity, new technologies and techniques will eventually be needed. TeleGeography Research reports during 2004-2006 period worldwide Internet traffic grew at a higher rate than capacity improvements. However, capacity growth has outstripped traffic so far this year. "This tends to be the kind of thing that's very cyclical," says TeleGeography analyst Eric Schoonover. "Traffic will grow faster one year and capacity doesn't grow very fast, then the next year capacity will grow to compensate for the fast traffic growth in the previous year." Schoonover points out that 12 years ago Internet traffic was growing at a rate of 100 percent a year, but that has since dropped off to about 50 percent annually. Some analysts and organizations are still concerned that demand could still exceed capacity. "With YouTube and dozens of imitators generating over 100 million user-generated videos a day, today's Internet traffic is piling up rapidly in a non-stop 'digital rush hour' jam that could wind up in gridlock," the New Millennium Research Council stated in a report on Internet traffic and capacity. Schoonover, however, remains skeptical. "I don't foresee that," Schoonover says. "As demand increases and more high-capacity applications come online, the carriers will learn how to deal with that." Technology and techniques such as content delivery networks and traffic shaping are being deployed and giving carriers better control over traffic and how it affects the network, Schoonover adds.
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New URI Browser Flaws Worse Than First Thought
IDG News Service (08/15/07) McMillan, Robert

Security researchers Billy Rios and Nathan McFetters say they have found a flaw in Windows' Uniform Resource Identifier (URI) protocol handler technology that would allow an attacker to run unauthorized software on a victim's PC and to steal data from the computer. Rios and McFetters call such an attack a "functionality-based exploitation" because attackers simply misuse the legitimate features of software that is launched by the URI protocol handler. "It is possible through the URI to actually steal content form the user's machine and upload that content to a remote server of the attacker's choice," says McFetters. "This is all through functionality that the application provides." Rios and McFetters will not name the company responsible for the software, though they do plan on releasing the results of their research once the vendor has had a chance to fix the problem. Functionality-based exploitations may be the beginning of a new era of problems that are only just starting to be examined by security professionals. "It's a hacker's dream and programmer's nightmare," says Shavlik Technologies chief security architect Eric Schultze. "I think over the next six to nine months, hackers are going to find lots of ways to exploit standard applications to do nonstandard functions." Software developers released URI protocol names so users could launch programs from a browser, but they did not properly explore how they could be misused by attackers, McFetters says. Microsoft is working to educate users and developers about URI security problems, but Microsoft security program manager Mark Griesi says there is only so much Microsoft can do and that security is an industry responsibility and individual developers need to be more responsible.
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Wikinews Interviews World Wide Web Co-Inventor Robert Cailliau
Wikinews (08/16/07)

Dr. Robert Cailliau, who invented the World Wide Web with Sir Tim Berners-Lee, says in an interview that he did not project the indexing of data on the Internet by search engines, although he notes that "search engines do not let you find your way in the Web: they give you a reference, not a path to follow to get there." Cailliau says the international World Wide Web conferences serve as forums for the exchange of knowledge. "The conferences ... I saw as the 'state' of 'laymen'; you had freedom of expression and could propose the most wild schemes," he recalls. Cailliau doubts that the Web has changed much fundamentally since the 1990s, but he thinks the Web explosion transpired too quickly with too many developers going off on too many tangents. "It would have been better if we had more time to build on our ideas before letting the beast loose," Cailliau says. He believes most average Web surfers will not employ grid computing, and is concerned that most people do not bother to back up their data and only use their computer as a tool for accessing the Internet, when in fact it is vital that people know how their data is managed, by whom, where, and with what assurances. Cailliau says he is not comfortable with having data controlled by unregulated private companies. He sees Wikipedia as a valuable resource, commenting that many complaints about the online encyclopedia are borne out of jealousy and intolerance. Cailliau has issues with the Semantic Web concept because he feels such a framework opens up the potential for abuse and misleading. "I would like to have a good semantic Web," Cailliau says. However, he believes that it's "a little early to use intelligent machinery. Before we reach artificial intelligence we need to cross the desert of the half-witted machines. And you have no idea how 'half witted' machines can be." Although Cailliau says he is concerned that the future of the Web could turn into the "The Matrix," he says the Web 2.0 is a good trend that demonstrates its biggest strength.
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Some Day, We May Compute With Atoms
Baltimore Sun (08/19/07) P. 1F; O'Brien, Dennis

National Institute of Standards and Technology researchers, lead by Nobel Prize-winning physicist Bill Phillips, have built a laser-cooled atom chiller with magnets and a vacuum-sealed chamber. The atom chiller allows the researchers to superchill and manipulate thousands of atoms, creating a primitive information exchange that could be a precursor to quantum computing. Researcher Ben Brown calls the atom chiller a "rat's nest" of wires that looks like a science fiction prop and Phillips proudly calls the machine "a monstrosity." Brown says researchers are taking multiple approaches toward the development of quantum computing, including manipulating particles of light and working with electrons. Every approach uses two properties unique to quantum mechanics: That quantum bits of information, or qubits, can exist in a "superposition" state, acting as both a 1 and a 0, which makes it possible to perform multiple calculations; and that when two or more qubits become entangled their properties link up. Achieving linked qubits, known as entanglement, is difficult and so far it has been impossible for entangled particles to survive long enough to perform calculations. When qubits near each other, it becomes harder to manipulate one without affecting any qubits nearby and breaking the entanglement. NIST's breakthrough is the latest development in a six-year-old effort to use lasers to trap and control atoms as a first step toward a quantum computer. In the next step of the project, the NIST researchers will try to improve the process and separate the entangled atoms so they can be manipulated individually. "It's analogous to making a transistor," says Patricia J. Lee, a co-author of the NIST paper on the project. "There is a tremendous potential, but we don't know what the end product will look like, or how long it will take to get there."
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Teen Girls Play With Technology at IBM Camp
eWeek (08/17/07) Nobel, Carmen

Participants in IBM's EX.I.T.E. (Exploring Interests in Technology and Engineering) program say recruiting efforts continue to improve. The recent camp in Cambridge, Mass., drew 45 applicants for 30 spaces. Like the other 52 EX.I.T.E. programs around the world, including 15 more in North America, the Cambridge event is designed to pique the interest of girls in seventh and eighth grade in information technology through various activities during a week-long day camp that exposes them to what it is like to work in the industry. The girls made "binary bracelets," used a PC and light detectors to program Lego robots, learned about project management by playing a team-building game in the Second Life virtual world, and made bubble gum and learned how to market it globally. Girls are unlikely to be drawn to technology for the sake of technology, so the program tries to incorporate activities that show them how technology can make a difference for humanity, says IBM's Cathleen Finn. The girls gain a mentor for the upcoming school year who will keep in touch via email and continue to fuel their interest in technology. Wendy Page, a software manager at IBM Rational in Lexington, Mass., who has served as a mentor, says the prospect of global travel can help entice some girls to pursue a technology career. "You have to get them where their interests lie," says Page.
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NCAR Adds Resources to TeraGrid
University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (08/09/07) Drummond, Rachael

The National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) has made its 2048-processor BlueGene/L system available to the TeraGrid, the nation's most comprehensive and advanced infrastructure for open scientific research. NCAR plans to provide up to 4.5 million processor-hours annually to researchers with grants from the National Science Foundation. "We are excited to be at a point where all our hard work and preparation pays off, and to provide the TeraGrid community with access to this valuable collaborative resource," says NCAR TeraGrid principal investigator Richard Loft. NCAR will also test several experimental systems and services on TeraGrid, including wide-area versions of general parallel file systems, and a remote data visualization capability based on the VAPOR tool, an open source application sponsored by NSF and developed by NCAR, the University of California, Davis, and Ohio State University. NCAR's BlueGene/L system will be the second BlueGene/L system on the TeraGrid network. With the new addition, the TeraGrid will have more than 250 teraflops of computing power and more than 30 petabytes of online and archival data storage with the ability to rapidly access and retrieve data over high-performance networks.
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3D Models Provide Virtual Approach to Plant Optimisation
EUREKA (08/07/07)

Currently, farmers and commercial nurseries are required to grow crops in real time to experiment and find the optimal growing conditions through the manipulation of irrigation, spraying temperature, and nutrients, but a new computer model that combines computer science, biochemistry, and horticulture provides a much faster and more exact model of plant behavior and growing conditions. The computer model is the result of the EUREKA E! 2544 PLANTS project, run by EUREKA, a European network for market-oriented industrial research, development, and innovation. The computer model will allow farmers to make better use of resources, produce better and less expensive food, and learn more effective crop management. "Plants use simple principles of component behavior and they interact by competing for internal and external resources," says Dr. Lubo Jankovic from the project leader InteSys. For the project, an analog computer model was developed using data from the growth of real plants; two parameters, temperature and radiation, were selected to be the focus of the study. The result is a 3D model that allows the researchers, and farmers, to see the effect changing one of the parameters would have on the plant. The next step of the project will be to create a model for "open-air" crops, specifically potatoes and sugar beets. Janneke Hadders of Dacom Plant-Service, a partner in the project, says the group expects to have results within one or two years.
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Phishing Researcher 'Targets' the Unsuspecting
Network World (08/13/07) Vol. 24, No. 31, P. 26; Brodkin, Jon

Indiana University professor and cybersecurity researcher Markus Jakobsson launches innocuous attacks on unsuspecting Web surfers as part of an effort to discover what scams people are prey to and determine potential new phishing tactics. He argues that such experiments are valuable in figuring out what phishing countermeasures are and are not effective, and anticipating trends by discovering as-yet unexploited human vulnerabilities. It is critical to Jakobsson's experiments that his research subjects remain unaware of their participation to make the results as authentic as possible. Victims of online attacks frequently disclose sensitive information or have their computers hijacked by hackers, and one of Jakobsson's tests revealed that efforts to educate the public about the hazards of online attacks are inadequate. One of his findings indicated that people are willing to respond to bogus emails if the hacker correctly identifies the first four digits of their credit card numbers. In another experiment, in which email addresses were targeted from a social networking site that listed political affiliations, Jakobsson observed that people on the far right and far left were more susceptible to phishing emails than people in the middle. Some of the people and institutions Jakobsson has used as guinea pigs, such as eBay, appreciate the insights he has uncovered and applied them toward the improvement of their security protocols. Jakobsson and colleagues also launched a phishing attack on unsuspecting students at IU. The results of this experiment can be found in the October 2007 issue of Communications of the ACM.
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Can a Government Remotely Detect a Terrorist's Thoughts?
New Scientist (08/11/07) Vol. 195, No. 2616, P. 24; Marks, Paul

The U.S. Homeland Security Department's Project Hostile Intent (PHI) has the ambitious goal of projecting "current or future hostile intentions" among the 400 million people who enter the country each year through remote behavior analysis systems, according to DHS representative Larry Orluskie. He explains that PHI intends to identify physical markers (blood pressure, heartbeat, facial expressions, etc.) associated with hostility or the desire to deceive, and apply this knowledge toward the development of "real-time, culturally independent, non-invasive sensors" and software that can spot such behaviors. Such sensors could include infrared light, heart rate and respiration sensors, eye tracking, laser, audio, and video. For four years, the U.S. Transportation Security Administration has been using the Screening Passengers through Observation Techniques (SPOT) program to detect suspicious people through study of micro-expressions--involuntary facial telltales that indicate attempts to deceive--but the process is costly and arduous, and is not something a baggage screener or customs official can do in addition to their regular duties. The automation of the SPOT program, with computers instead of people screening for micro-expressions and other suspicious bodily indicators, is the impetus behind PHI. Experts doubt that such capability could be accomplished by the end of the decade, if at all, and are skeptical that such systems could identify hostile micro-expressions in a potential terrorist, given the lack of knowledge about and complexity of such expressions. Another unknown factor is whether such signs could be spotted hours or even weeks before a terrorist incident. There is also the danger that innocents who are highly emotional or aggravated due to stress might be flagged as potential terrorists.
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Cracking the Cube
Science News (08/11/07) Vol. 172, No. 6,

Northeastern University computer scientist Daniel Kunkle has developed computer algorithms demonstrating that a Rubik's Cube in any configuration can be solved in 26 steps. He says the methods he worked out with advisor Gene Cooperman "can be applied to any combinatorial problem that you want to solve." Such problems could range from ascertaining how proteins will fold to scheduling air flights to playing checkers or chess. The results of Kunkle and Cooperman's work were detailed at the International Symposium on Symbolic and Algebraic Computation in Ontario. Their method involved brute-force calculations by a supercomputer, and Kunkle and Cooperman devised techniques to store data in exactly the order the system would later need it, enabling the computer to read the data off the drive without performing a search. It is the researchers' ambition to reduce the maximum number of steps needed to solve a Rubik's Cube to 25, although many researchers believe that a Rubik's Cube can be solved in just 20 steps, but no one has proved that yet.
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Translation Tools: New Approaches to an Old Discipline
Computerworld (08/13/07) Vol. 41, No. 33, P. 30; Anthes, Gary

Language translation software can greatly enhance productivity with the right combination of discrimination and preparation, and researchers say new translation strategies are augmenting tool performance enormously. Since Ford Motor started using machine translation software nine years ago, it has translated 5 million automobile assembly instructions into multiple languages. The process involves the writing of English instructions by engineers and then the parsing of those instructions by an in-house AI program into unambiguous directions, which are stored as a record in a translation database. The Systran software uses rules-based translation, which utilizes bilingual dictionaries mated with electronic style guides featuring rules for usage and grammar, along with "translation memory" databases of previously translated text represented by source and target sentence pairs. Meanwhile, statistical machine translation "trains" software on collections of documents and their translations. Large amounts of documents are necessary for statistical machine translation, but grammatical rules, bilingual dictionaries, and translation memories are unnecessary. "The new direction in the research community is to see how you can combine these purely statistical techniques with some linguistic knowledge," says Microsoft researcher Steve Richardson. "It's modeling the rules with the statistical methods." Automated translation software is most suitable in situations where translations are adequate rather than perfect, and Richardson believes practical translation milestones will be accomplished through the creation of systems that are embedded within the workflows of user organizations. An increase in translation system sophistication and complexity is being facilitated by the combination of complementary rules- and/or statistics-based machine translation and translation memories, according to researchers.
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