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February 1, 2008

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Welcome to the February 1, 2008 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.


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More Foreign Science and Engineering Grad Students Flock to U.S., New Survey Finds
Chronicle of Higher Education (01/30/08) Goodall, Hurley

The number of first-time foreign students in graduate science and engineering programs rose by 16 percent in 2006, and the total number of international students in those programs grew by 1.7 percent, reports the National Science Foundation (NSF). The findings in NSF's "Survey of Graduate Students and Postdoctorates in Science and Engineering" report were in line with those of the annual "Open Doors" report from the Institute of International Education in 2007. "The NSF numbers parallel ours, and it shows that we've mostly rebounded from the dips after 9/11," says Peggy Blumenthal, executive vice president of the institute. "Back then, the word was out that visas were hard to get, and people were being turned away." The NSF report says that first-year foreign enrollment rose 23 percent in engineering, 11 percent in mathematics, and 21 percent for computer science. Although the number of first-time U.S. students fell nearly 7 percent for computer science, science and engineering graduate schools saw a 2.3 percent increase in female students, a 1.6 percent increase in black students, and a more than 3 percent increase in Hispanic students.
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Behind the Scenes of Internet2
Network World (01/30/08) Brown, Bob

Internet2 network operations manager Chris Robb is responsible for managing a new research and educational network with an initial capacity of 100Gbps nationwide. The new Internet2 network is a hybrid network that combines the best of IP and optical networking to allow users to dynamically establish circuits as their applications require. "Today, setting up large inter-domain circuits can be very labor intensive with coordination across multiple providers, across countries," Robb says. "One of our immediate goals is to implement an automated system that creates all the monitoring hooks that are needed for network operators to troubleshoot in minutes or less." A technology still in its infancy, according to Robb, is the Dynamic Circuit Network, a circuit-based network cloud that is directly driven by its users, which allows them to request an end-to-end circuit between two points on the network. "In the future, through the use of a new Web-based interface, users will be able to reserve their bandwidth for a set period of time, transfer their data using their protocol of choice, and then 'hang-up' the circuit for the next researcher to use," Robb says. "The Internet2 Dynamic Circuit Network we believe will be the next big disruptive technology both from a user-experience standpoint, and an operations standpoint."
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Statistician's New Method Will Test Election Outcomes
University of California, Berkeley (01/31/08) Sanders, Robert

The California primary will provide the first test of a new procedure for conducting hand tallies to see if election outcomes are accurate, which could give election officials a reliable way to verify the accuracy of the cote count. Fewer than half of all states require audits, and many of the 19 that do, including California, require a hand count of a flat percentage of precincts selected at random in each county. "Despite the fact that these audit laws have been on the books, the laws haven't really told election officials what to do when they find problems," says University of California, Berkeley statistics professor Philip Stark. A new method developed by Stark could help election officials be more accurate and make better decisions. "My method is the first that, given discrepancies you observe in the sample counted by hand, tells you whether you need to sample more or not, until eventually you get to the point where you can be, for the sake of argument, 99 percent confident that a full recount wouldn't give you a different outcome," Stark says. Three counties will test Stark's method during the California primary on Feb. 5. If the method proves viable it may be tested more broadly in the June 3 direct primary, and could even been use statewide in the general election on Nov. 4.
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Trains, Bloggers Are Threats in US Drill
Associated Press (01/31/08) Bridis, Ted

For five days in February 2006, the Homeland Security Department--with help from the State Department, the Pentagon, the Justice Department, the CIA, the National Security Agency, and others--held a war game called "Cyber Storm" to test the nation's hacker defenses. During the simulation, anti-globalization hackers conducted three different types of attacks against the technology industry, transportation lines, and energy utilities: computer attacks, physical attacks, and psychological operations. The participants--including government officials from the U.S., England, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, as well as executives from leading technology and transportation companies--had to quickly respond to attacks that came seemingly all at once. Among the simulated incidents were electronic attacks on computers at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, hacker break-ins at an airline, and computer failures at border checkpoints. According to documents released by the Department of Homeland Security, the companies and governments participating in the simulation worked successfully in some cases, though some key players did not understand the role of the National Cyber Response Coordination Group, a little-known U.S. organization that is responsible for preventing major cyberattacks. Another simulation, called Cyber Storm 2, will take place in March.
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The LAN Turns 30, But Will It Reach 40?
Computerworld (01/31/08) Wood, Lamont

LAN technology has been around for 30 years, and its presence is nearly ubiquitous, but some analysts say the technology's future is problematic. "Comparing the present environment to our original vision, the temptation is huge to say that we foresaw all this," says Polaris Venture Partners general partner Bob Metcalfe, one of Ethernet's inventors. Metcalfe says Ethernet was developed at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center in the early 1970s as a way to connect personal computers to each other and to laser printers. He says that about 100 nodes were operational by the time a groundbreaking technical paper he co-wrote describing Ethernet was published in the July 1976 "Communication of the ACM." The first commercial Ethernet LAN installation took place in December 1977 at Chase Manhattan Bank in New York. However, after 30 years, Ethernet's future could be limited. Forrester Research analyst Robert Whitley says the LAN will become obsolete through a process he calls de-perimeterization. "We are already seeing 20 or 30 of the largest global firms doing it in isolation, and in five or 10 years it may reach critical mass," Whitley says. Firms are skipping cabling and going directly to wireless networks, and soon they will give each machine a direct Internet connection, with appropriate security technology, and skip the LAN entirely. "The two major barriers are performance and reliability," Whitley says. "Reliability is easier to overcome since the Internet is getting more reliable ... as for performance, accelerator technologies are popular now, and in a few years they will be baked into the infrastructure or the operating systems."
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The Tech Industry, H-1B Visas and Ageism
IT Business Edge (01/24/08)

University of California, Davis computer science professor Norman Matloff says the shortage of qualified tech workers widely reported in the press is false, citing a lack of hiring bonuses and relatively flat salaries. "Just look at the major tech firms that have admitted to replacing Americans by H-1Bs and L-1s, and then forced the Americans to train their foreign replacements," Matloff says. "Clearly, it's the Americans who have the skills, not their foreign replacements." He says loopholes in the H-1B program allow firms to hire qualified workers at salaries less than the prevailing wage. "The legal definition of prevailing wage is based on the job, not on the worker," he says, which allows companies to establish a low base salary for positions and then hire more qualified candidates later for less money. He says the same strategy works for hiring people based on their skill sets. "Maybe you'd prefer to hire someone with XML experience, but it's not an absolute necessity," Matloff says. "Then you can hire an H-1B who knows XML but pay her a wage that doesn't take XML into account, again in full compliance with the law." To fix the problem Matloff endorses a bill introduced by Senators Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) that would establish prevailing wages for specific jobs without regard to experience level, which he says would also address the age problem.
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Shape-Shifting Robot Forms From Magnetic Swarm
New Scientist (01/29/08) Simonite, Tom

Carnegie Mellon University researchers are developing robots that use electromagnetic forces to group together. The objective is to create swarms of microscopic robots capable of morphing into almost any form. Project leader Seth Goldstein is using simulations to develop control strategies for futuristic shape-shifting, or "claytronic," robots. The control strategies are being tested on small groups of prototype, pocket-sized machines that use electromagnetic forces to move, communicate, and even share power. Some of the claytronic prototypes are cylindrical, wheeled robots with a ring of electromagnets around their edge that can be used to grab onto one another and roll around by switching the electromagnets on and off. The wheels are not powered, so the magnets are responsible for moving the robots around. The latest prototypes are boxed-shaped robots that have six plastic arms with star-shaped appendages at each end that can be used to attach to one another. The U.S. Air Force Research Lab's Rob Reid is working with the Carnegie Mellon researchers to develop even smaller robots. Software could be the biggest challenge for researchers working on this, and other, swarm robot projects. "Right now we just don't know how to design a system that produces a higher overall intelligence form a group of simple agents," says Bristol Robotics Laboratory researcher Alan Winfield.
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University of Virginia Engineering School Student Probes Facebook's Vulnerabilities
University of Virginia (01/30/08)

University of Virginia computer science major Adrienne Felt is leading a research project focusing on privacy issues surrounding the Facebook social networking site, and is investigating the information sharing that takes place when users download a Facebook application. Although the applications add variety to a Facebook user's profile page, they also increase the user's vulnerability. Anyone with a Facebook account can create and distribute an application. While the applications appear to be part of Facebook's platform, they are actually running on the developer's server. When a user installs an application, the developer is capable of seeing everything the user can see, including names, addresses, friends' profiles, and photos. "Since all applications receive access to private information," Felt says, "this means that 90.7 percent of Facebook's most popular applications unnecessarily have access to private data." There are currently no restrictions on what applications, and their developers, can do with user information, and while Facebook's "Terms of Use" warn developers not to abuse the data they have access to, there is no way for Facebook to enforce this rule, Felt says. "An application developer could easily acquire personal information for millions of users," says U.Va. computer science professor David Evans. Felt's goal is to close this privacy loophole with a privacy-by-proxy system she developed that will allow Facebook to hide user information while still maintaining the applications' functionality.
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Tech Off Radar in '08 Race
EE Times (01/25/08) Merritt, Rick

So far in the presidential primary race most candidates have not addressed the technology issues that are driving the global economy or the United States competitiveness in the global market. Candidates need to do more to articulate their plans for handling issues such as global warming, the research funding gap, and the subpar state of math, science, and engineering education in the United States. Outsourcing, immigration, and patent reform are major issues in the tech community during this election year, as are federal research spending, education, energy, and broadband policy. For example, both Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Barack Obama (D-Ill.) have called for doubling government spending on basic research, although neither candidate has offered much detail, while Republican candidates have not addressed the issue directly. Most presidential candidates support bringing in more foreign skilled workers, but most of the candidates have not thoroughly discussed patent reform. Some industry leaders have called for a formal dialogue among the candidates on technology issues.
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Smart Badges Track Human Behavior
Technology Review (01/30/08) Greene, Kate

MIT researcher Ben Waber and professor Sandy Pentland have developed advanced name badges that can be used to track how convention participants interact. The badges use infrared sensors to gather information on face-to-face interactions, an accelerometer to track motion, and a microphone to monitor speech patterns. A wireless radio is used to send the collected data to a central computer, which can produce a real-time visualization of the event's social graph. The smart badges illustrate the increasing popularity of sociometrics, a discipline that uses sensors to collect data during social interactions and software to process and illustrate the interactions. Waber says his badges can also help make events more efficient by monitoring movement and activity, helping organizers plan for more help at certain times during the event. Some experts believe that within a few years everyone will always carry similar monitoring devices. "We think that eventually everyone will have a smart badge with them all the time: their cell phone," says Accenture researcher Alex Kass. "Cell phones will transmit some kind of identity or interesting information to the people around you; you'll decide certain aspects of your identity that you want to broadcast in public."
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Getting CERIAS About Security
Network World (01/31/08) Kabay, M.E.

At Norwich University, a meeting of ACM's Special Interest Group on Security, Audit and Control (SIGSAC) student chapter has been a weekly lunchtime ritual for several years. M.E. Kabay writes that the vast collection of research and educational letters, documents, and links available from the Center for Education and Research in Information Assurance and Security (CERIAS) at Purdue University is an excellent resource for meeting material. CERIAS developed out of the Computer Operations, Audit, and Security Technology (COAST) project in the Computer Sciences Department at Purdue in 1991, under the direction of professors Eugene Spafford and Samuel Wagstaff Jr. In 1999, COAST became part of CERIAS, considered one of the world's leading centers for research and education in information security critical to the protection of vital computing and communication infrastructure.
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Paper Outlines Methods for Beating Anonymity Technology
Dark Reading (01/30/08) Wilson, Tim

Stephen Murdoch, a doctoral candidate at the University of Cambridge's Computer Laboratory, has published a dissertation that shows that observing the behavior of users of "covert channels," especially anonymity systems, may be enough to discover their intentions, or even their identity. In the 140-page paper, Murdoch says the approach is similar to how card players in a game of bridge are able to determine cards by observing the behavior of other players, and adds that collusion between two partners can make the process easier. The strategy can be applied to TCP/IP environments and the simple traffic analysis of an "anonymous" network such as Tor. His findings are not very different from those presented by a group of researchers at the Black Hat conference last August. Murdoch says that anonymizing technologies might offer protection from casual scans or monitoring, but they are unlikely to withstand the intense and careful scrutiny of truly dedicated attackers, researchers, or law enforcement officials. "[There is] a wealth of practical experience in covert channel discovery that can be applied to find and exploit weaknesses in real-world anonymity systems," the paper says.
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Where in the World
University of Bristol News (01/30/08) O'Hare, Dara

University of Bristol researchers have tested the ability of children between the ages of three and seven to orient themselves in the outdoors, showing that global positioning systems technology can be used by children as young as three to find their way around. The tests took place in a park where the children had to remember where an object was hidden. The children observed a sticker being placed underneath one of four buckets, sometimes the same color. After the sticker was hidden, the children were blindfolded and spun until they lost their orientation. The blindfold was removed and the children were told to find the sticker. The children could only find the correct bucket if they used landmarks for reference. Performance was measured by attaching GPS receivers to the children to track their movements. All age groups performed better than if they had simply searched at random, indicating they used natural landmarks. "Using GPS to study these abilities is a novel approach and shows that there's more to sat-nav than helping you find the right exit off the motorway," says professor Dr. Alastair Smith from Bristol's Department of Experimental Psychology, who worked on the study with the school's Department of Computer Science. " It could be a powerful tool in exploring how we all interact with the world around us."
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Prof Aims to Improve Internet Security
Wisconsin State Journal (01/26/08) LaRoi, Heather

University of Wisconsin-Madison computer scientist Paul Barford and his colleagues have developed a new approach to detecting network intrusions by focusing on a slight vulnerability in malicious traffic. When installed by network service providers, Barford's technology is able to be specific and more general at the same time when detecting and identifying malicious signatures, which will prevent benign traffic from being labeled as malicious, reducing the false positives that can cripple security systems. The technology can also use a single signature to detect classes of attacks, a feature other systems do not offer, Barford says. "If an attack is similar to something we've already seen, we're going to catch it," he says. "That's our mechanism for staying ahead." UW-Madison's Office of Campus Information Security's Jeffrey Savoy says the key to Barford's technology is its ability to reduce false positives. "Sometimes false positives can lead you to a better understanding of your network," Savoy says. "The problem is if you have hundreds of false positives and you have to weed through every one, the chance of you missing a real one is greatly increased." Barford says countering botnets is mostly a matter of damage control. "The attackers only have to find one means of attack," he says. "The defenders have to defend against all means of attack."
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New Policy Aims to Curb Web Site Name Abuse
Washington Post (01/30/08) Krebs, Brian

ICANN unanimously voted last week to enforce a 20-cent surcharge for registering a domain name, even if the domain is returned during the add-grace period. The new policy is designed to prevent "domain tasters" from registering millions of domains without paying for them. Under the current rules, registrars can sample domains for five days without committing to purchase them. This was originally implemented to allow people who made a mistake to get their money back, but some registrars have built a multimillion-dollar industry off of registering millions of domains and only paying for those that earn enough money through pay-per-click advertising. The new regulation means that for every 100,000 domains bought, registrars will owe ICANN $20,000. VeriSign estimates that the top 10 domain-tasting registrars were responsible for 45.4 million of the 47.8 total domains deletes in January 2007. The Public Interest Registry, which manages .org names, previously implemented a similar policy that caused registrars to stop domain tasting. In addition to eliminating millions of domains from the open market, many domain tasters have also been accused of typo squatting. Google has been accused of aiding in domain tasting, because its Adsense program allows the tasters to make money off of Internet searches. ICANN expects the new policy to take effect as early as this summer.
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The Number of African Americans Employed in Computer-Related Jobs Rose 10.3 Percent in 2007
CIO Insight (01/25/08) Chabrow, Eric

Although IT employment for African Americans rose 10.3 percent to 267,000 jobs in 2007, the total remains below the decade peak of 296,000 managerial and staff positions in 2001, when the dot-com bubble burst and the economy went into a recession. According to an CIO Insight analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data, only 229,000 blacks held jobs in the IT industry in 2002. Gina Billings, president of the National Black Data Processing Association, says the number of blacks in the IT industry is down because of globalization, adding that those who lost their jobs became discouraged and took employment opportunities in other fields. Meanwhile, IT employment among Asian American rose 18.1 percent to 638,000 last year, and employment among whites rose 6.8 percent to 2,791,000. Whites now hold 74.3 percent of IT positions, the lowest percentage ever. Asians account for 17 percent of IT managers and staff employees, and blacks represent 7.1 percent.
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Carmen Study Unites Computer Science With Neuroscience
Computer Weekly (01/25/08) Saran, Cliff

Twenty research teams are working on Carmen, a four-year project examining how computer science can help neuroscientists manage the massive amounts of data used in their research. "The main problem is data deluge," says Paul Watson, director of research at the University of Newcastle, one of the participating schools. "Neuroscientists will create 100 terabytes of data from experiments over the next few years." Such data is expensive to obtain, but rarely shared in proprietary formats or locally described. "Each laboratory collects its own data, which is then stored in its own data format. So there is no way to share research," Watson says. The goal of Carmen is to enable the sharing and collaborative exploitation of data, analysis code, and expertise. "The architecture we've used is based on cloud computing," Watson says. "Rather than store data on your own computer, we store it on the Internet." Based on previous e-science projects, Watson is encouraging users to create and share their own computer programs, which can be combined to run data analysis. Carmen provides a graphical interface that allows users to treat web services like building blocks, chaining them together to make more complex data analysis systems. "Over time, we will build up a library not just of data, but also of these building blocks, so encouraging sharing and re-use," Watson says.
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Google Book Search: The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly
Campus Technology (01/08) Vol. 21, No. 5, P. 32; Schaffhauser, Dian

Google Book Search offers advantages to scholars, but there is an element of crudity to the effort, which suggests that the project is mainly about the volume of books being digitized rather than the quality of those books. The University of California system comprises more than 34 million volumes distributed across 10 campuses, and UC signed a six-year contract with Google in which it agreed to supply at least 2.5 million volumes for digitization. "UC is trying to meet the needs of the contract it's signed," says former director of data acquisitions for UC's California Digital Library Robin Chandler, who acknowledges that there is less emphasis on selection of the volumes to be scanned. The technical aspects of the scanning operations, as well as the site of Google's scanning facility, are kept secret. Google has apparently rejected the use of book scanning equipment from Kirtas Technologies, though Kirtas executive Linda Becker, who claims to be privy to Google's digitization techniques, insists that its methods are not superior to her company's products in terms of scanning speed, digitization speed, or quality control. "If you were to go to the Google site, you'd see that one out of every five pages is either missing, or has fingers in it, or is cut off, or is blurry," she says. Google also maintains a lot of secrecy over the book project's search mechanisms, with participants such as Google engineering director Dan Clancy preferring to concentrate on search outcomes. He says Google has only begun to scratch the surface in terms of establishing links to books, and speculates that authors will eventually be allowed to represent "not just the conclusions and assertions they're making, but also the data upon which they base those assertions."
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