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August 27, 2007

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


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UICU Prof to Head Team Studying Advanced Multimedia
Campus Technology (08/27/07) McCloskey, Paul

ACM's special interest group on advanced multimedia applications will now be headed by Klara Nahrstedt, a computer science professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UICU). In her new position, Nahrstedt plans to press for multimedia and networking technology improvements for the humanities, arts, sciences, and medicine. "We are living in exciting times when digital video and audio are becoming available via different platforms, in multiple size and shapes," Nahrstedt says. "I plan to energize the multimedia community to make the multimedia technologies pervasive across many boundaries." Multimedia technologies are still not ubiquitous and pervasive. Nahrstedt also serves as the head of UICU's Multimedia Operating System and Networking Group, a project that involves the development of tele-immersive, 3D multi-camera room environments that are able to facilitate distributed physical activities such as physical therapy and entertainment.
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UM Study: Password Protecting Your Wireless Network Is Not Enough
University of Maryland (08/22/07) Corley, Missy; Copeland, Rebecca

Password protecting a wireless network may not provide enough security for home networks and is definitely insufficient for larger organizations' networks, according to a new by the A. James Clark School of Engineering at the University of Maryland. Wireless users that routinely look for access to any network available create a significant security risk as these wireless "parasites" can expose the network and all of the computers on it to a variety of security breaches. The problem gets even worse when someone authorized to use a wireless network adds an unauthorized wireless signal to increase the main network's signal strength, as these access points are particularly vulnerable and are often completely unprotected. Frequently, employees will set up their own wireless network, linked to the official network, to boost signal strength in their office, creating an unmanaged wireless access point. "If these secondary connections are not secure, they open up the entire network to trouble," says UM assistant professor of mechanical engineering and leader of the study Michel Cukier. "Unsecured connections are an open invitation to hackers seeking access to vulnerable computers." Cukier suggests network administrators limit signal coverage and disable Service Set IDentifier broadcasting so it cannot be detected outside the office or home. Additionally, Cukier suggests using either Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) or Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) encryption and regularly changing the encryption key.
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With Software and Soldering, AT&T's Lock on iPhone Is Undone
New York Times (08/25/07) P. B1; Stone, Brad

Several software and hardware techniques have been developed to allow iPhone users to recalibrate the device to work on any network instead of exclusively on AT&T. George Hotz, a 17-year-old from Glen Rock, N.J., spent about 500 hours unlocking two iPhones, which can now operate on any network thanks to a little soldering and some software tools. "This was about opening up the device for everyone," says Hotz. Hotz described his technique in detail on his Web site in the hopes that someone may be able to simplify the process. Meanwhile, a group called iPhoneSimFree has developed a software update that allows users to install the software and switch the phone's SIM card with one from another carrier to unlock the phone. The group says it has been working on the software since June, and plans to sell it to anyone interested in unlocking large numbers of iPhones, though a price has not been announced. Another company called Bladox, based in the Czech Republic, recently started selling a device called Turbo SIM that would allow users to attach another carrier's SIM card and insert it into the iPhone to trick the iPhone into thinking it is running on the AT&T network. Last fall, the Librarian of Congress issued an exemption to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act that allows individuals to unlock their cell phones, but the ruling does not apply to companies and individuals such as Hotz who distribute or sell unlocking tools and techniques. AT&T and Apple could sue such distributors, arguing that people sharing modifications to iPhones are interfering with the business relationship between Apple, AT&T, and their customers.
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Software Coordinates 19 Mirrors, Focuses James Webb Space Telescope
NASA News (08/24/07) Gutro, Rob

NASA researchers have successfully tested a series of algorithms and software programs, known as the "Wavefront Sensing and Controls," that will control 19 mirrors in the James Webb Space Telescope so all the mirrors act as a single, highly sensitive telescope. After launching in 2013, the mirrors aboard the telescope will bring light from the universe into focus. The software will calculate the optimum position for the 18 primary mirrors and the secondary mirror. "It's critical that all 18 mirror segments be aligned in position so that they act as one smooth surface, and the secondary mirror be placed exactly right," says NASA systems engineer Bill Hayden. "This will allow scientists to clearly focus on very dim objects that we can't see now." The telescope works by taking a digital picture of a star. The image is then processed through mathematical algorithms to calculate the mirror adjustments needed to focus the image. NASA says that when properly aligned, the mirrors will allow the Webb Telescope to capture dim light from objects at the edges of space and time with extraordinarily sharp clarity.
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Professor Seeks Way to Replicate Brain Patterns
News-Gazette (08/26/07) Kline, Greg

University of Illinois professor Todd Coleman is working to understand and mathematically model dynamic sensory information, or brain activity. Coleman hopes that mathematical models of brain activity could be tested and eventually replicated in engineered systems such as computers or other devices designed to operate in a similar fashion. "Not only is it interesting for pure science, but it has practical applications," Coleman says. Coleman's research could also lead to brain-controlled products such as video games or prosthetic devices for people with physical disabilities. To examine how the brain functions in set situations, Coleman uses electroencephalography (EEG) to capture electrical signals from volunteers as they perform computer tasks. Coleman says finding the brain's mode of operation is difficult, even on simple, known tasks, because brain activity is dynamic and brain structure is changeable. Coleman says researchers can investigate individual systems by using a reductionist approach, or by changing individual variables to see what happens to get a unique result. By collecting enough individual results, researchers can develop a larger picture. Coleman's interest in computational neuroscience started in graduate school at MIT when friends urged him to apply his communications research to bioscience. In addition to his neuroscience research, Coleman also works on developing techniques to improve communication methods by making them simpler and more reliable.
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America's Hackable Backbone
Forbes (08/22/07) Greenberg, Andy

By hacking into a nuclear power station, IBM researcher Scott Lunsford demonstrated to the plant's initially skeptical owners exactly how vulnerable their supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) software was to attack. SCADA systems are employed nationwide to manage infrastructure such as natural gas and oil pipelines, water filtration, and trains. Moreover, the system's flaws are increasingly linked to the Internet, exposing a large swath of national infrastructure to any hacker with a laptop. Tipping Point security researcher Ganesh Devarajan has notified SCADA software manufacturers about the weaknesses he has found, adding that though the bugs are simple, they are perilous. One such vulnerability enables hackers to insert their own commands, which would enable the insertion of false data. Still, the overwhelming complexity of critical infrastructure systems may be preventing criminals from controlling SCADA systems. However, over the past two years, threats have come in from hackers demanding ransom and claiming to have broken into SCADA systems, says Allan Paller of the SANS Institute. The dearth of security features in SCADA systems can be attributed to their age, as most were created before infrastructure systems were linked to the Internet. In addition, many SCADA software developers fail to provide security patches, or make it hard to install such patches. Jim Christy of the Department of Defense believes SCADA systems are in need of regulation by the government so that changes are made to increase security to at least a minimum standard.
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Student's Work Is Robo-Handy
Beaverton Valley Times (OR) (08/23/07) O'Rourke, Leann

Yale Fan won the 2007 Davidson Fellow Laureate for his quantum computing research. Fan, a 15-year-old sophomore at Catlin Gabel, combined binary algorithms to boost the processing speeds of next-generation computers. He received a $50,000 scholarship for his work, and only four other students in the United States were awarded the fellowship in early August. Fan was mentored by Marek Perkowski, an expert in logic and quantum computing who is a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Portland State University. Fan met Perkowski two years ago in an effort to find an internship that would assist him with his eighth grade science fair project. "I was drawn in by quantum computing, figuring I could learn some physics in the process," says Fan. His skills prompted Perkowski to extend an offer to attend his graduate-level seminars, and he eventually presented his work to the university students. Fan, who volunteered at PSU's robotics lab this summer and has built a robotic arm, won a third-place grand award in computer science at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair.
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IBM Award to Help Establish Multicore Supercomputing Center at UMBC
University of Maryland, Baltimore County (08/23/07)

The University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) will create a high-performance computational test laboratory based on the Cell Broadband Engine (Cell/B.E.), as a result of a partnership with IBM. Supercomputing research in aerospace and defense, financial services, medical imaging, and weather and climate change prediction will be the focus of the Multicore Computing Center (MC2). Cell processors can act as engines for image and video-intensive computing tasks such as virtual reality, simulations, and imaging; and also have applications for building very complex physics-based computer models, and for bringing high-definition TV and high-speed video to wireless devices. "Cell processors are groups of eight very fast, independent but simple PCs with their own tiny memory all on a single chip each with its own leader," says Milt Halem, a computer science professor at UMBC who will serve as director of MC2. Researchers will have to find a way to make all the chips work efficiently in parallel. "It's like a distributed orchestra with 224 musicians and 28 conductors connected with head phones trying to play Beethoven's Fifth Symphony together," explains Halem. MC2 is scheduled to be operational this fall.
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Institute Addresses Computational Challenges Posed By Economic Models
Argonne National Laboratories (08/22/07) Taylor, Eleanor

Argonne National Laboratory computer scientists and University of Chicago economists worked together at the Institute on Computational Economics conference to bridge the gap between the two fields and teach young economists how to use advanced software and computational models. Economic models are critical to policy analysis, but frequently economists do not understand the mathematical theories used to create the models. Additionally, economists are often unaware of improvements in computational science that advance their industry. At the conference, more than 50 economics graduate students, postdoctoral researchers, and junior faculty from the United States and Europe were shown how to use new computational tools to find answers to economic policy questions. "We put great emphasis on helping these young scholars apply cutting-edge software and techniques in computational science to actual economics research problems," says Sven Leyffer, Argonne computational mathematician and co-chair of the workshop. The conference held tutorials on new analytical and numerical methods such as dynamic programming, stochastic modeling, structural estimation, and optimizing problems with equilibrium constraints. Other sessions allowed participants to view software presentations and gain some hands-on practice applying new software to challenging economics. "ICE2007 provided an exciting opportunity to raise the level of sophistication in economics by creating an interface between economists and computer scientists so that they can address the computational challenges posed by modern economic models," Leyffer says.
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Clicks on Sponsored Links Lower Than Previously Reported But Show Growth Potential
Penn State Live (08/22/07) Hopkins, Margaret

A Penn State study of a search engine's transaction log found that consumers click on sponsored links fewer than two times out of every 10 searches, indicating that consumers prefer organic, or non-sponsored, links. Penn State assistant professor in the College of Information Sciences and Technology and lead author Jim Jansen says the study is one of the first-ever academic studies of sponsored-link click through using actual search engine data. "While the click through was only about 16 percent, I interpret this as being a real boon for search engines," says Jansen. "Even at 16 percent, sponsored search is already a multi-billion-dollar market, and this study shows there is plenty of upside growth potential." The study found that 35 percent of searchers do not click on a link because they either found what they were looking for on the search-results page or because they believed there were no relevant links on the page. When searchers did click, 84.2 percent of clicks were on organic links and only 15.8 percent were on sponsored links. Prior to this analysis, Jansen performed a study that suggests users are suspicious of sponsored links. In that study, users were asked to select a link on a page of results from a fictitious search engine. Jansen theorizes in his current study that because of consumers' prejudice against sponsored links, search engines may actually be doing users, and businesses that invest in sponsored links, a disservice by separating sponsored and organic links.
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Why Don't Tech Savvy Students Study IT?
ITPro (08/23/07) Kobie, Nicole

Today's students are widely considered to be the most technologically competent generation, which makes the fact that fewer and fewer students, particularly girls, are interested in studying computers and technology all the more baffling. Quocirca analyst Rob Bamforth argues that because today's students have grown up with easy-to-use consumer technology products that they actually are not tech savvy at all. "They're not aware of technology, it's so regular and normal to use it they don't consider it," Bamforth says. Computers used to be complicated devices that required specific knowledge to use, but now training is no longer necessary and young people no longer need to know how the technology works to use computers. Bamforth also suggests that students lack role models and inspiration. "I'm sure there are some business and industry figures who could be made more accessible and become an inspiration for new generations," Bamforth says. Jeff Brook, chair of the Recruitment and Employment Confederation's IT and Comms sector group, agrees and adds that the IT sector does not have the same energy it once did. "There's a perception problem with parents, teachers, and school kids themselves about the IT industry," says British Computer Society director Mike Rodd. "It's seen as a poor career choice, contrary to employment rates." Jeannette McMurdo, who organizes IT courses for women at Bradford College and works for the UK Resource Center for women in the technology industry, says women-only classes could help boost female participants. "Look at how many girls do it as a single-sex school, which produce engineers in greater numbers than mixed schools," says McMurdo.
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A New Method to Detect Software Theft
Informationsdienst Wissenschaft (08/23/07)

Comparing the behavior of software programs is one way for companies to determine whether their software has been incorporated into other programs. Researchers at Saarland University in Germany have developed a tool, API Birthmark, which allows users to run their own program and a foreign program, analyze their behavior, and find similarities. A high degree of similarity detected by API Birthmark would suggest that code theft likely occurred, and that further investigation should be considered. The approach is different from other detection methods that focus on the code of the program, which can be easily obfuscated without destroying it, making it difficult to prove in court that software theft occurred. However, it would be difficult to change the behavior of a program without breaking it, similar to a birthmark. David Schuler, Valentin Dallmeier, and Christian Lindig have written a paper on the birthmarking technique, which was accepted for the Automated Software Engineering (ASE 2007) conference in Atlanta.
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Hacktivism Attacks May Rise, Homeland Security Official Warns
Network World (08/22/07) Marsan, Carolyn Duffy

When discussing implications of the Estonian cyberattack, Michael Witt, deputy director of the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team, shies away from the term "cyberwarfare" and stresses the importance of preparation. The Estonian attacks showed the world the importance of cybersecurity, says Witt. Because the attacks involved financial targets, nations have realized that cybersecurity is not just essential to protecting critical infrastructures, but also homeland security and economies. Industry experts also noted that the attack was somewhat alleviated because Estonia's ISPs offered bandwidth greater than the size of the DoS attack. Witt notes that the U.S. critical infrastructure has "a more robust type of backbone" than Estonia's critical infrastructure. That fact, combined with years of planning, means the U.S. would react differently to a similar attack, says Witt. Witt acknowledges that the country is not completely secured from such an attack, but adds that plans have been established to handle attacks. Witt asserts that political attacks do not rank within the top three threats for U.S. security networks. Rather, phishing and other socially engineered attacks are a major risk. Network operators should also be aware of the activity assailing their networks and firewalls, and should be aware of what is essential on the network and what the consequences will be if it is removed. Witt emphasizes training, noting that technical personnel must have enforceable policies in place in order to respond to attacks. Future U.S. CERT cybersecurity exercises include Zenith in 2007, which will be done with the Defense Department, and Cyberstorm II, which will take place in March 2008 with the Department of Homeland Security. Cyberstorm II is an exercise at the national level, and will involve critical infrastructure representatives from across the country as well as from international governments.
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Attracting Women to IT
IT Strategy Center (08/23/07) Macavinta, Courtney

Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology President Telle Whitney says the recent media focus on IT outsourcing has convinced many women, and parents of college-aged students, that IT does not have a solid future, which is partly to blame for women's lack of interest in IT careers compared to men. Perceptions of what an IT career involves also are dampening women's interest in the field. The Information Technology Association of America reports that the number of women in IT declined 20 percent from 1996 to 2004, and the National Science Foundation says women received just 28 percent of computer science bachelor's degrees in the United States in 2003, compared to 38 percent in 1985. "If you ask both genders to identify what an IT professional looks like, the answer is still that it's a man with a pocket protector and glasses," says Whitney. "And there is a belief that you spend all of your time in front of a computer and don't work with people, but the reality is quite different." Experts say a few changes can attract more female workers to the IT industry. First, IT needs an image makeover. People need to know that IT careers involve more than programming and engineering, and that IT careers can be flexible and include working with customers and offer creative contributions. The image makeover is particularly important for exposing "tween" and teenage girls to opportunities in IT, Whitney says. CIOs can support the makeover by encouraging staff to talk to the community about their careers. Companies also need to emphasize the necessity for workers with skills that women are generally stronger in, such as working in teams. CIOs can also send their female employees to conferences like those hosted by the Anita Borg Institute so they can meet mentors and learn more about IT career paths.
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Library School to Lead Team That Will Preserve Virtual Worlds
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (08/21/07) Lynn, Andrea

A team from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign's Graduate School of Library and Information Science (GSLIS) will lead a two-year project to preserve virtual worlds such as those found in early video games, electronic literature, and Second Life. The project, called "Preserving Virtual Worlds," will also be worked on by partners at the Rochester Institute of Technology, Stanford University, the University of Maryland, and Linden Lab, the creator of Second Life. GSLIS faculty member and lead investigator of the project Jerome McDonough says interactive media is at a "high risk for loss as technologies rapidly become obsolete." He says the goal is to develop "mechanisms and methods" to preserve digital games and interactive fiction. "In particular, we will be looking at the metadata and knowledge management problems involved in preservation of highly interactive digital works," McDonough says. The Library of Congress is funding the project with a two-year, $590,000 grant through the "Preserving Creative America Initiative," the most recent initiative of the National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program. The first phase of the project, which is set to begin in January, will attempt to identity information needed to ensure any preservation strategy is successful. In the second phase the team will try to develop XML stands for encoding information so it can be included in digital repositories. The final phase of the project will focus on testing the preservation technologies the team developed in early phases.
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IU Research Labs Receive $1.9 Million for Polar Grid Research
Indiana University (08/20/07) Siefert-Herron, Daphne

Indiana University researchers have received a $1.96 million award from the National Science Foundation to create a cyberinfrastructure to help scientists better understand the current and future state of polar ice sheets. The "Polar Grid" will span both poles using rugged laptops and clusters deployed in the field in the polar regions, as well as a 17 teraflops cluster at IU and a 5 teraflops cluster at Elizabeth City State University for detailed data analysis. The clusters will use Web 2.0 and portal approaches to be highly accessible and easier to use. "The Polar Grid project will transform U.S. capabilities in ice sheet research," says Geoffrey C. Fox, director of Pervasive Technology Labs' Community Grids Lab and IU professor of informatics. "With this technology, it will be possible to collect, examine, and analyze data--and then use the results of such analysis to optimize data collection strategies--all during the course of a single expedition." In addition to advancing polar grid research, the project advances Fox's existing efforts to provide greater access to cyberinfrastructure to institutions that primarily serve minority students. Elizabeth City State University is a historically black university in North Carolina. The Polar Grid project will provide ECSU with a high-performance computing cluster and access to IU's cluster through a high-speed network connection. Linda Hayden, co-principal investigator from ECSU, says the technology will support student leaning by expanding ECSU's existing polar science efforts and by providing better access to high performance computers.
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Heterogeneous Processing in the Age of Nanocore (Part I)
HPC Wire (08/24/07) Vol. 16, No. 34,

Monolithic and monothreaded scalar processors can no longer deliver steadily expanding computing performance as the age of many-core processing moves forward, writes the High-End Crusader. Reasons for this include the depletion of instruction-level parallelism. "With a thousand cores on a die and a hundred threads per in-order multithreaded core, someone or something had better master thread-level parallelism (TLP)," notes the author. The High-End Crusader explains that parallel computing needs to be reinvented with the participation of both the elite and mainstream parallel computing communities, given the close connection between these approaches' outcomes. "For a nanocore-die's memory-bandwidth walls, we need engineering solutions to increase all of the following: 1) the nanocore-die pin bandwidth, 2) the local (memory) and global (network) interconnect bandwidths, and 3) the aggregate hardware DRAM bandwidth per gigabyte," the author writes. "For a nanocore's memory-bandwidth walls, we need to increase the hierarchical on-chip-network bandwidths." He cites the need for sensible hierarchical caches that lower bandwidth requirements, are not wasteful of bandwidth, and facilitate exploitation of on-chip "spatial" dependence locality. "We need to reinvent heterogeneous processing because, quite apart from useful-scalability imperatives, there are many distinct types of heterogeneity, even many distinct types of processor heterogeneity, and we will need to make intelligent choices about the type (or types) of heterogeneity our applications need," the author concludes.
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