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October 12, 2007

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Welcome to the October 12, 2007 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.


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Hackers Could Skew US Elections
New Scientist (10/09/07) Marshall, Jessica

Security experts at the recent APWG eCrime Researchers Summit at Carnegie Mellon University warned that hackers are likely to use the Internet to deceive U.S. voters in an attempt to affect the outcome of elections. Although election deception is nothing new, security experts say it could be much more difficult to uncover the perpetrator as the Internet creates far greater anonymity. The Internet could be used to spread misinformation such as the location of voting sites, voting times, and candidates' positions on issues through spam, botnets, and Internet phone calls. Internet-based telephone attacks are more difficult to trace than those using landlines, notes Rachna Dhamija of the Harvard Center for Research on Computation and Society. Such attacks could employ botnets, which would make them even harder to trace and potentially much larger. Candidates may also be attacked, either directly through their Web site, as John McCain was when a picture on his Web site was changed stating he had altered his position on an issue, or through typo domains such as hillaryclingon.com or muttromney.com, which could be used to collect fraudulent donations or spread malware. In 2004, a fake John Kerry Web site stole campaign contributions and users' debit-card numbers. Fraudulent campaign sites can also be used to expose users to phishing and malware attacks as it is difficult to know what the official site of a candidate is. "The fact is that all of the technology for all of these things to happen is already in place," says Indiana University's Christopher Soghoian. "I'm not sure this will happen in 2008, but it will happen."
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Software Overcomes Major Problems for Scientists Who Operate Research Tools Over the Internet
Ohio State University Research News (10/10/07) Gorder, Pam Frost

Ohio State University researchers are developing Remote Instrumentation Collaboration Environment (RICE), software to help scientists remotely operate powerful equipment such as special microscopes and telescopes over the Internet more efficiently and safely. Demand for the Internet-based operation of powerful research tools is growing, largely due to the cost of research, says OSU doctoral student Prasad Calyam, a senior systems developer at the Ohio Supercomputer Center. Calyam and other researchers are developing the software in collaboration with materials scientists at OSU's Center for the Accelerated Maturation of Materials. The Internet has made it common practice for distant institutions to share the use, and expense, of high-tech research instruments, but Internet traffic congestion can make the process slow, frustrating, and even dangerous. Video delays could cause the researcher to be unable to see what is happening and cause expensive pieces of equipment to crash into one another. To prevent such accidents, RICE displays three windows, one with a list of researchers logged in, another for text messaging, and one with a video feed of the object being studied and buttons to control the equipment. The primary researcher controls the experiment, but is capable of transferring control to another researcher if necessary. RICE uses algorithms to block commands from the researcher when bandwidth availability drops, preventing the researcher from mistakenly believing the equipment is not responding and entering more commands. During tests of the software, CAMM engineers were able to successfully operate a microscope without incident from various distances, including in the room, in the same building, and from two miles away. RICE will be presented at the ACM Immersive Telecommunication conference (IMMERSCOM 2007) conference in Verona, Italy, on October 11, 2007.
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Students to Test Programming Skills in Robotics Competition
HPC Wire (10/08/07)

At the 2007 Richard Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing Conference, to be help Oct. 14-17 in Orlando, Fla., five teams of university students will compete in the Robotics Competition, the first time the competition has been held at the conference. The student teams, representing four universities in the United States and Canada, will guide their robots in simulated search and rescue missions. "Because each team is starting with virtually the same hardware, the Robotics Competition comes down to being a test of programming skills, and how well the students can design an integrated robot system that can maneuver around a number of obstacles to reach certain objectives," says Brown University assistant professor of computer science Chad Jenkins. The robotics competition is based on a class taught by Jenkins in which students program robots to perform different types of search-and-rescue missions. The teams include two teams from the University of Alabama, two teams from the Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, and one team from Harvey Mudd College. To qualify for the competition the teams had to program virtual robots to seek out objects in a simulated disaster environment. In the final competition, the students will field robots equipped with a camera and touch sensors. The conference is organized by the Coalition to Diversity Computing and sponsored by ACM and the IEEE Computing Society. For more information on the conference, visit http://www.richardtapia.org/2007/
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Quantum Cryptography to Secure Ballots in Swiss Election
Network World (10/11/07) Messmer, Ellen

Swiss officials plan to use quantum cryptography technology to protect ballot information in an election in the Geneva region of Switzerland on Oct. 21, the first time such advanced encryption will be used for an election. "We would like to provide optimal security conditions for the work of counting the ballots," says Geneva state chancellor Robert Hensler. "In this context, the value added by quantum cryptography concerns not so much protection from outside attempts to interfere as the ability to verify that the data have not been corrupted in transit between entry and storage." A quantum encryption system will be used for the point-to-point encryption of ballot information sent over a telecommunications line from the central ballot-counting station to the government data center. "Protection of the federal elections is of historical importance in the sense that, after several years of development and experimentation, this will be the first use of the 1 GHz quantum encrypter, which is transparent for the user, and an ordinary fiber-optic line to send data endowed with relevance and purpose," says University of Geneva professor and quantum cryptography researcher Nicolas Gisin. He says "this occasion marks quantum technology's real debut." The use of quantum cryptography in the election marks the start of the SwissQuanum, a project managed by Gisin that aims to set up a pilot communications network throughout Geneva that supporters compare to the first Internet links in the United States in the 1970s.
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62 Days + Almost 3 Billion Pinks + New Visualization Scheme = The First Internet Census Since 1982
USC Information Sciences Institute (10/08/07)

University of Southern California Information Sciences Institute researchers recently completed and plotted a comprehensive census of every allocated address on the Internet--more than 2.8 billion. The researchers say it is the first complete census of the Internet since 1982, when there were only 315 allocated addresses. "An Internet census is just that: every single assigned address in the entire Internet was sent a probe," says IS project leader John Heidemann. Over the course of 62 days, almost 3 billion Internet Control Message Protocol echo request packets, or "pings," were sent. The majority of pings, 61 percent, received no response at all, while many others got a "do not disturb" or "no information available" response that is frequently built into routers and firewalls. However, millions of sites did respond, some positively and some negatively, and a unique atlas of the Internet was formed. The atlas is numeric, not geographic, and builds on the mathematical structure of the Internet address system, with similar addresses being grouped together. Heidemann says the Internet census serves several purposes as it can help improve Internet security as well as provide more information on how long before every Internet address is taken, which some experts believe could happen as soon as 2010. The researchers now hope to push beyond the "snapshot" of the Internet produced by their census to create a "dynamic movie" of Internet evolution by repeatedly pinging the Internet to uncover and monitor trends.
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Panelists Cite Threats to U.S. Computer Networks
CongressDaily (10/10/07) Kreisher, Otto

The United States' ability to protect its electronic networks from cyberattacks is hampered by "policy restraints" and a dearth of coordination, a panel of experts said Tuesday. "Cyberspace has become a really big deal," says Lt. Gen. Robert Elder, commander of the Air Force's Cyberspace, Global Strike and Network Operations command. "We do our banking, our commercial activities over the Internet." However, the country's interconnected electronic networks are under constant attack, analysts say. The military Web and computer networks are attacked thousands of times each year, reports military analyst Rebecca Grant. In June 2007, one such attack brought some of the Pentagon's unclassified computer systems to a halt and interrupted the Defense Secretary's office email system. The major denial-of-service attack that paralyzed Estonia's government and commercial communications for weeks further revealed the capacity of a cyberassault. Because the U.S. Air Force uses cyberspace to transmit satellite and aircraft data and convey global communications, the Air Force has designated cyberspace as one of its "warfighting domains." Elder plans to use Air National Guard staff to develop a force of "cyberwarriors" who can safeguard America's networks and, if needed, bring down an enemy's systems. Elder plans to establish a cyber security unit in every U.S. state within one year. In addition, Elder and other Air Force officials believe the country needs to adopt a comprehensive policy on cyberwarfare operations.
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Generating 'Oohs' and 'Aahs': Vocal Joystick Uses Voice to Surf the Web
University of Washington News and Information (10/08/07) Hickey, Hannah

University of Washington associate professor of electrical engineering Jeffrey Bilmes is developing the Vocal Joystick, software that enables people with disabilities to control a computer cursor using their voice. "There are many people who have perfect use of their voice who don't have use of their hands and arms," says Bilmes. The Vocal Joystick only requires a microphone, a computer with a standard sound card, and a user capable of producing sounds. The Vocal Joystick can detect sounds 100 times per second and instantly turn sound into movement on the screen. Different vowel sounds such as "ah," "ee," "aw," and "oo" control movement, while hard clicking sounds such as "k" and "ch" activate a mouse click. "A lot of people ask: 'Why don't you just use speech recognition?'" Bilmes says. "It would be very slow to move a cursor using discrete command like 'move right' or 'go faster.' The voice, however, is able to do continuous commands quickly and easily." Preliminary tests show that an experienced user could have as much control as someone using a handheld device. In addition to controlling a computer, Vocal Joystick can also control a robotic arm and Bilmes believes it could be adapted to control an electronic wheelchair.
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Four Added to GENI Science Council
Computing Research Association (10/11/07)

The Science Council for the Global Environment for Networking Innovations (GENI) has been expanded to include four additional members. The new members are Joan Feigenbaum, the Henry Ford II Professor of Computer Science at Yale University; James A. Hendler, Tetherless World Senior Constellation Chair at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; Michael Kearns, National Center Chair in Resource Management and Technology at the University of Pennsylvania; and Larry Peterson, Chair of Computer Science at Princeton University. Edward Lazowska, chair of the Computing Community Consortium (CCC) Council, says the new members will give the GENI Science Council research expertise in different areas of computing. CCC partnered with the National Science Foundation to create the GENI Science Council in March. The group will provide guidance on the direction researchers should take in addressing key issues for communications, networking, and distributed systems.
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Universal Avatars Bestride Worlds
BBC News (10/11/07)

IBM and Linden Lab are teaming up to develop new open tools that will allow people to move between different virtual worlds. The partners hope to raise the profile of virtual worlds at a time when they are becoming more popular. More than 30 virtual worlds will be featured at this year's Virtual Worlds conference, which is scheduled for Oct. 10-11, in San Jose, Calif., but only nine were widely known at the time of the inaugural event in early 2006. IBM and the creator of Second Life also have plans to develop a universal character creation system that would allow people to create a single avatar that can travel between such cyberspaces, including games and other systems such as Second Life. Although the appearance of a virtual character may change because of where it is taken, basic characteristics such as looks and underlying personal data would remain the same. "It is going to happen anyway," says Colin Parris, IBM vice president of digital convergence. "If you think you are walled and secure, somebody will create something that's open and then people will drain themselves away as fast as possible."
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Program Puts Far-Out Technology Into Use Today
Investor's Business Daily (10/10/07) P. A5; Howell, Donna

The Center for Commercialization of Advanced Technology (CCAT) is intended to quicken the development and deployment of small robots capable of performing tasks on their own. CCAT Defense Department liaison Stephen Lieberman, who is also head of technology transfer at the Space and Naval Warfare Center (SPAWAR), says the government realizes that a lot of innovation is occurring at small companies and universities and CCAT tries to improve communication between these organizations and the government and shorten the innovation development time by providing funding. Since its launch in 2001, CCAT has received about $28 million in funding, supporting 145 projects at 131 companies and universities. CCAT founder and program manager Barry Janov says robots have become a focus at CCAT, which is working with the Navy's SPAWAR SSC San Diego robotics program to identify technologies that will advance military robots to the next generation. Although thousands of robots are in use in Afghanistan and Iraq, they are not "tele-operated," and thus need to be controlled by a nearby soldier, who in turn needs to be protected by other team members. However, Janov says soldiers could remain at safer distances if robots were better at knowing their own positions, where to go, and what to look for. He says CCAT, the SPAWAR robotics lab, and several firms are collaborating to develop technology to enhance robots currently used by the military, including technology that would allow robots to map the surrounding areas, identify their position, triangulate the location of dirty bombs, and be able to detect sounds such as someone removing a gun from a holster.
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Fixing Our Fraying Infrastructure
CNet (10/11/07) Kleeman, Michael

The Internet's architecture was not designed for widespread public use and should not be expected to handle the demands being placed on it, particularly as bandwidth demand is growing rapidly, writes Michael Kleeman, a senior fellow at both the University of California at San Diego and USC's Annenberg Center for Communication. Kleeman says the average home today uses as much bandwidth as a major office park did a few years ago. The popular YouTube video "The Evolution of Dance" was downloaded 54 million times, equaling an entire month's worth of traffic of data on the network in 2000. In addition to using the Internet for more demanding tasks, users also expect fast and uninterrupted connections. Over the past five years, the U.S. dropped from fourth place to 15th place on the broadband ranking list kept by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. In order for the U.S. to be competitive in the next Internet age, broadband penetration and quality needs to improve drastically, Kleeman argues. A national broadband policy is essential if the U.S. is to maintain the competitive edge that it gained in the past. High-speed Internet access should not be viewed as a luxury, but as a necessity for members of a developed country, and should be pursued by the government as aggressively as other national infrastructure necessities. Kleeman says possible ways of improvement include creating more advanced core routers, greater use of compression and network triage, and more expansion of network capacity.
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Technology Would Help Detect Terrorists Before They Strike
University at Buffalo News (10/05/07) Goldbaum, Ellen

University at Buffalo computer and behavioral scientists are developing automated tracking systems that monitor people's faces, voices, body movement, and biometrics and automatically compare it to tested behavioral indicators to provide a quantitative score on the likelihood of the subject being a terrorist. "We are developing a prototype that examines a video in a number of different security settings, automatically producing a single, integrated score of malfeasance likelihood," says UB professor of computer science and engineering Venu Govindaraju. The project will focus on developing an accurate baseline of indicators specific to an individual during extensive interrogations as well as clues during faster, routine security scans. The system will also be able to learn from subjects during the course of a 20-minute interview, an important feature according to Govindaraju, because many behavioral clues to deceit are unique to each individual person. "As soon as a new person comes in for an interrogation, our program will start tracking his or her behaviors, and start computing a baseline for that individual 'on the fly,'" Govindaraju says. The UB researchers expect to have a working prototype ready in a few years.
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Computer Science, Art & Technology Team on NSF Grant
Stevens Institute of Technology (10/02/07)

The National Science Foundation has awarded a grant to researchers at the Stevens Institute of Technology who plan to develop a transderivational search engine. The project is inspired by the way artists and designers are able to find analogies in diverse artifacts and ultimately pull them together in a coherent and novel manner, says computer science professor H. Quynh Dinh. Dinh will work with Ebon Fisher, a professor from the Department of Art, Music, & Technology, to develop a search engine that can be used to find connections in text, 1D audio, 2D images, 3D geometry, and 4D motion data. "We will develop a transderivational search engine in the context of designing interactive, mixed-media installations and in a brainstorming application for artists and designers to help them make mental associations in design tasks such as gathering media artifacts for a thematic installation from an archive in media samples," Fisher says. The researchers describe a transderivational search engine as transformative technology that brings together art, computer graphics, machine learning, cognitive psychology, and human-computer interaction. They plan to make their algorithms available to others under an open source license.
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Scavenger Champion
UBC Reports (10/04/07) Vol. 53, No. 10, Chan, Lorraine

University of British Columbia director of the Laboratory of Computational Intelligence (LCI) Jim Little specializes in the integration of robotics and vision systems and is working on improving robotic vision, comprehension, and response. Little says the process of seeing and perception involves multiple steps and problems for computers. "We're attacking the whole problem of how robots move around, how they identify objects, and how they decide which visual information is important," says Little. Recently, a LCI robot called Curious George won the "Semantic Robot Vision Challenge" at the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence conference. The LCI researchers wrote a program for Curious George that enabled the robot to search the Internet for images that matched each item on a scavenger hunt list. Curious George was able to find seven out of 15 objects while the other robots were unable to find more than three objects. The LCI robot also used software previously developed by LCI researchers to detect images and verify certain visual similarities, as well as an invention of Little's known as stereo-vision mapping that uses two cameras to help robots see with greater depth perspective. Little hopes that the technologies used in Curious George can be applied to creating assistance technologies such as wheelchairs that can navigate obstacles, remember appointments, and record travel routes, or a smart house that can remind owners to turn off the stove.
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From Stick Figures to Artificial Intelligence
ExpressNews (University of Alberta) (10/04/07) Necheff, Julia

University of Alberta computer science PhD student Brian Tanner is researching reinforcement learning in artificial intelligence in an effort to "make computers smarter." Tanner says much of the work being done on artificial intelligence is fragmented and focused on practical applications for achieving specific tasks, such as when an online store makes suggestions based on a customer's recent purchase. Tanner is developing procedures that will enable a computer to automatically learn how to make its own decisions, ultimately resulting in a computer program that can successfully manage a variety of artificial intelligence problems. "The more a computer can make its own decisions, the more it 'learns,'" he says. "The more it learns, the more powerful a tool it becomes and the more it can be used for real-life problems."
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Robots May Aid Aging Japanese Population
Associated Press (10/04/07) Tabuchi, Hiroko

Care technology was on display at this week's home care and rehabilitation convention in Tokyo. Secom showed off its My Spoon feeding robot, a spoon- and fork-fitted swiveling arm that the elderly and disabled will be able to maneuver using a joystick. The National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology has developed a wheelchair that recognizes voice commands such as "forward" and "back," and "right" and "left," and the Kanagawa Institute of Technology has developed a full-body robotic suit that nurses will be able to use when lifting patients in and out of their beds. Analysts say care technology will become increasingly important to Japan in the years to come as its population continues to age. About 22 percent of the population has reached 65 years of age, and more elderly people are not being cared for by their children and grandchildren in their golden years. "We want to give the elderly control over their own lives," says Secom developer Shigehisa Kobayashi.
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ORNL's SensorPedia Targets National Security Mission
Oak Ridge National Laboratory (10/04/07)

The Oak Ridge National Laboratory is developing a writeable Web site that will enable emergency responders and decision-makers to share data from different kinds of sensor networks in near-real time. Current sensor systems that detect radiation, chemicals, and biological agents are unable to offer such access because there is not a single standard for making interoperable sensor networks. ORNL calls its system SensorPedia because it is based on the underlying technology of Wikipedia, but it differs from the online encyclopedia in that it links to near-real-time data for streaming data, supports interactive "mashups" of information, and limits written contributions to approved personnel. The federal government will initially use SensorPedia, which is being built with existing tools and resources. SensorPedia will be hosted on a Wiki-enabled ORNL server that controls credentials and authentication. "Our system simplifies sensor information sharing while preserving the integrity, security, and authenticity of sensor information," says Bryan Gorman of ORNL's Computational Sciences and Engineering Division. Interoperability is the key to effective sensor networks, adds Gorman.
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Smart Sheets Let Gadgets Talk Through Their Feet
New Scientist (10/06/07) Vol. 196, No. 2624, P. 32; Marks, Paul

For a group of researchers at the University of Tokyo in Japan, ubiquitous computing in the home would make use of smart sheets embedded in tables, walls, and floors that could provide spontaneous connections and exchange data when gadgets are placed on them. "This allows devices resting on surfaces to discover each other and communicate," says Chris Wren, a ubiquitous computing expert at Mitsubishi Electric Research Labs in Cambridge, Mass. "This could become the magic wiring that plugs all our devices together." Takao Someya, Tsuyoshi Sekitani, and colleagues have sent information between two tiny robots at 2 Mbps via a flexible, 21-centimeter-square sheet, which is filled with plastic transistors and copper wires, and is ink-jet printed, which would make it affordable. Still, the researchers must find a way to shrink the computer on the edge of the sheet that moves data between devices, as well as get separate sheets to communicate. The system has the potential to be more secure and robust than Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and other wireless technologies. The researchers will discuss the project at the International Electron Devices meeting in Washington, D.C., in December.
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Career Watch: What to Do About Women's Under-Representation in IT
Computerworld (10/08/07) Vol. 41, No. 41, P. 48; Eckle, Jamie

Eileen Trauth, interim associate dean for diversity, outreach, and international engagement at Penn State's College of Information Science and Technology, believes it is important to bring more women into the IT workforce to break through the societal barriers currently barring women from the industry and because the United States puts itself at a serious disadvantage by disenfranchising half of its working population. Trauth, who has received a National Science Foundation grant to interview women IT professionals about the issues they have encountered in their careers, says that a variety of complex reasons are responsible for the low number of women in IT, including cultural definitions of femininity, historical associations of technology, and gender stereotypes. The situation continues to perpetuate itself as decreasing numbers of women in IT make it more of a men's club, and, with fewer female professionals in the field, young women will be less inspired to enter the industry. To increase the number of women in IT the industry and academia first need to recognize that it is not a "woman's problem" but a societal problem that needs to be solved by people of all genders, Trauth says. She says steps include teaching both men and women gender issues and creating better strategies for equality and accountability when harassment and exclusion occurs.
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