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ACM TechNews
December 14, 2007

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Welcome to the December 14, 2007 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.


HEADLINES AT A GLANCE:

 

'We're All at Risk' of Attack, Cyber Chief Says
Technology Daily (12/11/07) Viana, Liza Porteus

Greg Garcia, the Homeland Security assistant secretary, spoke to the New York City Metro InfraGard Alliance on Tuesday regarding the importance of cybersecurity. InfraGard is an alliance between the private sector, the FBI, and local law enforcement striving to safeguard key infrastructures, including technology systems. Garcia pointed out that over 85 percent of the nation's critical infrastructures are owned and operated by private industry, which "means the federal government cannot address these cyber threats alone." Though roughly $6 trillion passes through the U.S. financial system on a daily basis, major companies continue to leave their networks vulnerable to data theft and infiltration. The federal government depends on organizations such as InfraGard and information-sharing centers to drive industry to take cyber safety measures. The collaborations are becoming increasingly valuable as hackers grow more sophisticated and as the market for cybercrime surges. On the government end, the Homeland Security Department's Einstein network scans systems for intrusions or irregularities and distributes threat data within hours. Currently, 13 agencies use Einstein, but Garcia urges all agencies to participate. Garcia also advises industry to take into consideration the physical threats, such as a pandemic flu outbreak, that could impact networks, and to incorporate such scenarios into their contingency network plans. In March 2008, the department will administer Cyber Storm II, an exercise to rehearse synchronized responses to simulated strings of cyberattacks involving all levels of industry and government.
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'Combinatorial' Approach Squashes Software Bugs Faster, Cheaper
NIST Tech Beat (12/12/07) Stein, Ben

Computer scientists and mathematicians from the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the University of Texas, Arlington are developing an open-source tool that catches programming errors using an emerging approach called "combinatorial testing." The tool, scheduled for release early next year, could save software developers significant time and money. While it is known that the majority of software crashes are caused by interactions between two variables, the researchers studied applications in which failures could result from interactions of up to six variables and designed a method for efficiently testing different combinations of those variables. The technique is similar to combinatorial chemistry in which scientists screen multiple chemical compounds simultaneously. The new tool generates tests for examining interactions between multiple variables in a given program. The researchers are currently inviting developers to beta test the tool, which is expected to be particularly useful for e-commerce Web sites and industrial process controls, which often contain numerous interacting variables.
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Submissions Sought for RSSI'08
HPC Wire (12/12/07)

The fourth annual Reconfigurable Systems Summer Institute (RSSI'09), which takes place July 7-10, 2008, at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications, is expected to bring together domain scientists and technology developers from industry and academia to discuss new developments in field-programmable gate array technologies for high-performance reconfigurable computing (HPRC). Submissions for the event are being solicited in a variety of topics related to HPRC, including the architecture of HPRC devices and systems, HPRC languages, compilation techniques, and tools, libraries and run-time environments for HPRC. Two types of submissions are being accepted--full-length papers up to 12 pages, and short poster papers up to four pages. Submissions will be reviewed by at least three reviewers and authors of accepted full-length papers will present their work at one of the technical sessions. The best papers at RSSI'08 will be considered for a special issue of the ACM Transactions on Reconfigurable Technology and Systems journal.
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Communicating With Plastic
Technology Review (12/12/07) Bullis, Kevin

University of Tokyo researchers have developed a plastic pad that allows electronic devices placed on it to communicate with each other, providing a more secure and energy efficient alternative to short-range wireless communications. Professor Takao Someya says the first application might be an intelligent table that allows multiple devices to communicate without being physically connected. The ultimate goal it to develop a system that would allow thousands of devices to be connected, Someya says. The plastic pad uses a combination of extremely short-range wireless communication and wires. The sheet, only one millimeter think, is made by inkjet-printing various insulating and semiconducting polymers and metal nanoparticles to make transistors, plastic microelectromechanical (MEM) switches, communications coils, and memory cells. The communication sheet is made of an eight-by-eight-inch grid of cells. Each cell has a coil for transmitting and receiving signals and plastic MEM switches for turning the coils on and off and for connecting to neighboring cells. When two electronic devices are on the sheet, sensors register their location and a control chip at the edge of the sheet maps a route for the signals from each device. The technology is part of an effort to develop inexpensive, large-area electronics.
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Virtual Reality Solves Real Life Problems
Golden Gate X Press (San Francisco State University) (12/13/07) Tabatabai, Ali

At San Francisco State University's Center for Computing in Life Sciences (CCLS), students and professors work on solving some of California's most troubling problems, including health and the environment. "We're dealing with things like California health care, ecology, economy, and using a lot of collaborative science to deal with what's happening around us," says CCLS staff researcher Michael Wong. CCLS is an offshoot of the school's computer science department, but it brings together biologists, chemists, and other scholars from the College of Science and Engineering to perform research and find practical solutions. "It's a great launching point for students," Wong says. "They further their plans and really make a contribution to science and society in California." Wong is using is background in game theory to create a computer game to help train future nurses and reduce the state's nursing shortage. The lab developed a multiplayer role-playing game that puts student nurses in a virtual hospital with virtual patients. The game was made with the help of actors from the drama department who portrayed ailments and emergencies, while Wong and his team wrote the code and made the game competitive. Another research project developed software so the biology department could track a species of invasive ants that threatened California's ecosystem. The researchers captured the ants on video, allowing biologists and software engineers to trace patterns in their behavior and discover how certain movements were related to the ants' genetic makeup. A high-powered, gene-tracking computer cluster was used to help the biologists analyze the ants' behavior.
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NY School Opens Lab for Serious Games
Associated Press (12/13/07) Long, Colleen

The Parsons design school has established the first research lab devoted to the development of so-called "serious games," video-based tools that niche markets use to train public officials, students, and professionals in various fields. For example, the U.S. military has modeled terrorist attacks, school hostage crises, and natural disasters for serious games to help prepare its personnel for such situations. The effort of Parsons The New School of Design's PETLab could increase the popularity of serious games, says director Colleen Macklin. "Our goal is really to create intersections between game design, social issues, and learning," she says. In addition to creating models for new games or interactive designs that address social issues, PETLab will conduct interactive research to determine the potential of serious games as a catalyst for positive social change. The MacArthur Foundation has provided a $450,000 grant, and the lab is also working with Microsoft to determine whether the Xbox can be modified to create socially conscious games.
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Microsoft Leads Accessibility Effort
eWeek (12/10/07) Taft, Darryl K.

Assistive technology vendors, IT companies, and key nongovernmental organizations have formed the Accessibility Interoperability Alliance (AIA) in an effort to improve the interoperability of existing technology for disabled users. AIA will also develop new software, hardware, and Web-based products, work to improve developer guidelines, tools, and technologies, and lower development costs. Consistent keyboard access, interoperability of accessibility APIs, user interface automation extensions, and accessible rich Internet application suite mapping through user interface automation will be the initial focus of the collaboration. "Today, developers must work across divergent platforms, application environments, and hardware models to create accessible technology for customers with disabilities," says Rob Sinclair, director of the Accessibility Business Unit at Microsoft. "The AIA is an opportunity for the entire industry to come together to reduce the cost and complexity of accessibility, increase customer satisfaction, foster inclusive innovation, and reinforce a sustainable ecosystem of accessible technology products."
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HP Teams Up With UMass CASA
Daily Collegian (12/10/07) Sabin, Tim

Hewlett-Packard will join the industrial advisory board of the Center for Collaborative and Adaptive Sensing of the Atmosphere (CASA) and assist the National Science Foundation-sponsored initiative in its efforts to improve weather analysis and prediction. The University of Massachusetts is the lead institution involved in CASA, which conducts research, develops technology, and installs prototype-engineering systems based on distributed adaptive sensing networks. CASA is better able to understand and predict atmospheric hazards because of the networks. "HP has a good handle on traditional utility computing applications, and we believe that utility computing will involve other classes of applications in the future," says HP's Rich Friedrich. "The relationship enables HP to closely work on and understand a new class of applications represented by CASA." Within a decade, CASA expects to develop a network of low-cost and low-power radars that can be placed on cell phone towers and rooftops.
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Q&A: PC Pioneer Chowaniec Looks Back at the Amiga
Computerworld (12/12/07) Gaudin, Sharon

Adam Chowaniec, chairman of Liquid Computing Corp., joined Commodore only a year after the Commodore 64 was launched 15 years ago. Chowaniec's task as vice president of technology at Commodore was to build the Amiga, the C64's successor. The first Amiga was built with a custom chipset, had highly advanced graphics for the time, and ran a 16-bit processor. Chowaniec says joining Commodore right after the release of the C64 was a significant challenge because the C64 was the end of an era. "With the Commodore 64, you finally had a machine that was priced for the general market," Chowaniec says, "Personal computing was really created in those years." He says there does not seem to be the same passion and excitement in the computer industry today as there was in the 80s. "There's been less innovation than we saw back in the 80s. The industry consolidated, and it's basically dominated by a small group of very large companies," Chowaniec says. "As companies get bigger, innovation gets slower. It's just the way it is." Fortunately, Chowaniec says the industry is cyclical and has stabilized since the tech bubble collapsed in 2000. He says the industry is ready for another wave of innovation. "Technology never stands still. In five or 10 years, I think there will be new approaches to computing," says Chowaniec, who adds that his biggest problem with today's technology is that it is too difficult to upgrade software and maintain computer efficiency, and that the experience should be simpler and more user friendly.
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Rise of the Machines
Cleveland Free Times (12/12/07) Vol. 15, No. 32, Gupta, Charu

Project EVEREST (Evaluation and Validation of Election-Related Equipment, Standards, and Testing) is a sweeping review of the Diebold, Elections Systems and Software, and Hart InterCivic electronic voting systems in use in Ohio that was authorized by Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner. The impetus for the project was the lack of security and reliability that has dogged the systems, even though they were certified according to federal guidelines. But the federal testing process did not catch exploits such as the "Husti hack," which could compromise e-voting systems. Compuware ran a test of e-voting systems for the state of Ohio prior to an expensive deployment, and its findings were reviewed by a member of Brunner's recently organized Voting Rights Institute. He wrote that while Compuware "produced valid findings," the scope of its investigation was very limited, and many of its fixes depended on improved policies and procedures from elected officials that "are not magic solutions that can resolve all problems." Project EVEREST will involve the assessment of e-voting systems by two private labs--SysTest and Microsolved--and three teams of academic computer security experts from Pennsylvania State University, the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of California-Santa Cruz. Hackability testing and source-code review are just a few of the areas to be probed, but SysTest's involvement is controversial, given how deeply rooted it is in the questionable federal testing and certification structure that led to Ohio's current e-voting woes. Brunner says hackability tests will not be assigned to SysTest, which rules out one potential area of dispute.
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How the Next Billion Will Reshape the Internet
Toronto Star (12/10/07) Geist, Michael

While most of the media coverage of the annual Internet Governance Forum in November focused on domain name issues, Michael Geist says a more important topic is how the next billion Internet users will reshape the Internet. With more than a billion people accessing the Internet worldwide, doubling the number of Internet users, which should happen within the next decade, this could have a dramatic effect on the network, technology, computer software industry, and how Internet users access information and interact with their online environment. Understanding how the Internet will be affected requires understanding where the new Internet users are coming from. While some new users will be from North America, Europe, and other developed countries, most new users will reside in developing countries. China is already the second-largest Internet-using country in the world, behind the United States, and is likely to become the largest Internet-using country within the next year or two, adding 250 million Internet users within 10 years. Countries such as India and Brazil are expected to add another 200 million Internet users, while countries in Africa will experience the fastest rate of growth. Most new Internet users will not speak English as their first language, which will create increasing pressure to accommodate different languages on the same domain name system, and many new Internet users will have different cultural and societal beliefs on issues such as free speech, privacy, and copyrights. The new generation of Internet users may also change the hardware industry, as flashy, big-screen laptops with fast DVD players give way to sturdy, reliable, energy-efficient laptops. Methods for accessing the Internet may also change, as widespread broadband may be too expensive for small developing communities, which may rely more on wireless and satellite-based connectivity.
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Supercomputing for the Masses
BusinessWeek (12/13/07) Ricadela, Aaron

The computer industry is positioned to experience a major transformation due to the spread of supercomputing technology into corporate data centers and even desktop PCs, providing an unprecedented amount of power to average computer users. Technology companies are recruiting computer scientists and looking to inject their most advanced technology into consumer products. The major obstacle preventing supercomputers from becoming household items is not hardware, but a lack of affordable, off-the-shelf software. Such sophisticated machines require equally sophisticated, and often customized, software. To solve this problem, Microsoft is building a brain trust and giving schools research funding to study how supercomputer-type programming can be used in personal machines. Creating new markets for widespread supercomputing may be a trap, however, as interest in such powerful machines may not be present in the average consumer. "Is this whole infatuation with performance something that has moved beyond what the vast majority of users really care about?," asks Intel chief technology officer Justin Rattner. "Are there really a set of applications that require 10, 100, 1,000 times the performance we have today?"
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The Rise of Parallelism (and Other Computing Challenges)
International Science Grid This Week (12/12/07) El Baz, Didier

Parallelism is no longer restricted to high-performance or high-speed computing, as it is used in PCs, cellular phones, and numerous other electronic devices, writes Didier El Baz, head of the Distributed Computing and Asynchronism team, LAAS-CNRS. El Baz says the arrival of grid computing and parallelism have raised numerous questions in computer science and numerical computing. The combination of parallel and distributed computing could potentially change the nature of computer science and numerical computing. To ensure efficient use of new parallel and distributed architectures, new concepts on communication, synchronization, fault tolerance, and auto-organization are needed and must be widely accepted. Manufacturers agree that future supercomputers will have massively parallel architectures that will need to be fault tolerant and well suited to dynamicity, which will require some type of auto-organization as controlling these large systems efficiently will not be possible entirely from the outside. Parallel and distributed algorithms will also have to be more adapt at coping with the asynchronous nature of communication networks and the faults in the system. These problems are attracting more and more attention, particularly from scientists working on communication libraries, and will need to be addressed to find solutions and drive the evolution of computing.
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How Do We Preserve Scientific Data for the Future?
New Scientist (12/08/07)No. 2633, P. 28; Marks, Paul

Scientific research produces a vast amount of data, which raises questions about how this data will be preserved for future generations. For example, CERN's Large Hadron Collider is expected to yield 450 million gigabytes of data over its 15-year duration, and CERN does not know if it will have the money or technical assets to preserve this data following the project's conclusion. "The data needs to be stored in a digestible form and be available forever," says CERN's deputy director general Jos Engelen. "But we just don't have a long-term archival strategy for accessing the LHC data." Open-source software is considered to be problematic for archivists because the software is so mutable, which means that there is no assurance that data produced by an experiment that uses open-source programs will be accessible on the Web later on. The National Science Foundation intends to spend $100 million on the establishment and operation of up to five trial repositories for publicly-funded research data, and to investigate new digital preservation methods. The project's researchers will also examine ways to transfer huge data sets between different storage media, while another focus of the initiative is developing best practice guidelines so that hot-button issues such as privacy are addressed. In Europe, a lobby group called the Alliance for Permanent Access plans to pressure lawmakers to apportion about 2 percent of each research grant for long-term archiving.
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NIST Looks to Cook Up a New Hash
Government Computer News (12/10/07) Vol. 26, No. 30, Jackson, William

The National Institute of Standards and Technology has launched a competition for a new crypto algorithm for digital signatures and message authentication, and is accepting submissions for what will become the Secure Hashing Algorithm-3. The algorithms currently in use, SHA-1 and SHA-2, have not been broken, but weaknesses are starting to appear, says NIST security technology group manager William Burr. The two current standards likely still have several years of use left, and Burr says it is prudent to find a new algorithm. Developing a new algorithm that meets the requirements will be difficult, as it needs to be at least as secure as the algorithms in use but more efficient regarding speed and computational resources required to run it. The new algorithm must also be similar enough to SHA-2 that it can directly substitute for it in any application, but must be different enough that a successful attack against SHA-2 will not affect the new algorithm. The selection process will be radically different from previous secure hashing algorithm development and selection, which tool place behind close doors. NIST will examine and test algorithms, but submissions will also be made public so outside evaluators can test the submissions for weaknesses.
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Development in 2027
eWeek (12/03/07) Vol. 24, No. 37, P. D3; Taft, Darryl K.

CodeGear's David Intersimone outlined his vision of what programming will look like 20 years from now during a keynote presentation at the recent EclipseWorld show. Intersimone's vision includes virtual software teams and collaborative infrastructure. To reach such an advanced level of programming, Intersimone said developers will need to overcome many of today's development obstacles, including disparate, nonintegrated systems and teams and the lack of cohesive software reuse strategies. Intersimone suggested creating a new way of approaching software development by capturing developer intent through application factories, which would foster "application-driven development" in which the "structure, evolution, and logic behind developing an application is part of the application." The components and the application could be shared with other developers as reusable software assets, which would be platform-neutral, framework-agnostic, and relevant beyond Java and Eclipse. Intersimone is promoting a way of annotating and building templates that would enable better maintenance of applications and allow developers to build new applications based on the templates and reusable software assets. Intersimone also addressed concurrent and parallel programming, outlining ways of dealing with both types of processing information such as wait-free and lock-free synchronization, transactional servers, rethinking the sequential programming model, and possibly using more functional programming.
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