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ACM TechNews
September 29, 2008

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Welcome to the September 29, 2008 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.


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U.S. Urged to Go on Offense in Cyberwar
United Press International (09/29/08) Waterman, Shaun

The United States needs to do more to develop its offensive cyberwar capabilities rather than focus solely on defending its networks from attack, says Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.), the chairman of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Emerging Threats, Cybersecurity, and Science and Technology. Langevin called on the White House to declassify more of its Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative and said the Department of Homeland Security should be relieved of its lead role in defending the nation's computer networks. "Never again will we see major warfare without a strong cyber component executed as part of it," he says. Langevin's call to cyberarms highlights a debate in government surrounding how best to address the complex challenges posed by the U.S.'s dependence on the Internet and other computer networks, which could provide an exploitable vulnerability. A major issue analysts emphasize is the difficulty in determining the origins of cyberattacks. Former White House cybersecurity official Paul Kurtz has said that until the U.S. is better able to identify the origin of an attack, it is going to be very difficult to contemplate a military option and to respond appropriately. Another issue is that for any offensive capabilities to be a deterrent for adversaries, the U.S. military's cyberwar capacities would have to be made public. "As part of an overall doctrine and strategy in cyberspace, we need to consider what are the deterrent factors," says former assistant deputy director at the National Security Agency John Nagengast.
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DARPA's Math Quiz: Model the Brain, Find Biology's Laws, Solve Number Theory 'Holy Grail'
Wired News (09/26/08) Shachtman, Noah

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) plans to sponsor new projects to develop a model of the brain, solve the Holy Grail of number theory, and determine the fundamental laws of biology. The research proposals are part of 23 mathematical challenges that DARPA recently issued. DARPA is in last-stage negotiations with HRL Laboratories to lead the Systems of Neuromorphic Adaptive Plastic Scalable Electronics program, which would develop an electronic chip that mimics the "function, size, and power consumption" of a cat's cortex over the next 10 years. The Army is studying synthetic telepathy as a way to translate the brain's electrical activity into computer code, and a new report from the Defense Intelligence Agency suggests that neuroscience could help the military gain control of the minds of its enemies. Researchers have a year to submit their full proposals for DARPA's math challenges.
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Conference Will Key on Improving Internet Security
New Brunswick Business Journal (Canada) (09/29/08) Shipley, David

The Sixth Annual Conference on Privacy, Security and Trust (PST), which takes place this week in New Brunswick, Canada, will bring together security experts from around the world to discuss ways of improving Internet privacy, security, and trust. Co-hosted by the University of New Brunswick (UNB) and the National Research Council, the PST conference will focus on finding innovative ways of ensuring that information is secure and private. "The more new technology, particularly in the information, communications, and technology sector (ICT), and the more information we process over this ICT infrastructure, the more we have to deal with the security of that infrastructure and the security of information on that infrastructure," says UNB professor and PST 2008 conference chair Ali Ghorbani. Ghorbani says that although some security systems have improved, dealing with IT-based security and privacy is a never-ending battle. Threats on the Internet are as diverse as the Web itself, and increasingly includes national governments looking to engage in a new form of warfare. "This is going to be part of any bad guy's agenda in the future because it can be done in anonymity," Ghorbani says. "It is something that should be a concern." The PST conference will cover such topics as network and wireless security, anonymity and privacy versus accountability, and critical infrastructure protection.
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Professor Wins Global Tech Award
Turkish Daily News (Turkey) (09/27/08) Stevens, Kristen

Reyyan Ayfer, chair of the computer technology programming department at Bilkent University in Turkey, was named one of the three recipients of the Anita Borg Change Agent Awards for 2008 by the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology. The Anita Borg Institute says Ayfer is a true pioneer and that her participation will help unite women technologists in the United States and around the world. Ayfer has dedicated herself to making careers in technology more appealing and accessible to young women. The ratio of women in computing in Turkey is 20 percent in higher education, far above the world average. Selecting a career in computing is not very appealing to many girls, Ayfer says, but it is no more difficult than a career in medicine or law, both of which have huge ratios of women professionals in Turkey. As founder and coordinator of BITS Bilkent Instructional Technology Support, Ayfer started helping colleagues and students across campus by running workshops and tailoring their technology to suit their specific needs. Ayfer is also Team General Coordinator and Turkish Ambassador for ACM-Women, and is leading the students at Bilkent University who have formed the first international ACM-W student chapter.
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Robots, the Bizarre and the Beautiful
ICT Results (09/29/08)

The European Network of Robotic Research (EURON) has developed a wide variety of robots, from the bizarre to the beautiful to the truly inspired. "Nature is a rich source of design ideas," says EURON robotics researcher Bruno Siciliano. "Nature has already solved a lot of the problems that robotics researchers encounter, so it is a good place to go for ideas." Biomimetrics is a popular approach among European roboticists, which has resulted in a variety of unusual designs. For example, the Robot Fish, developed by researchers at the University of Essex, looks like a real carp and is often mistaken for one. The fish can move 20 inches per second, and at slower speeds has a battery that will last five hours. Although the Robot Fish was built as an attraction for the London Aquarium, a similar Robot Fish could be used to explore the seabed, study pipelines for leaks, or be used for intelligence gathering. The Robot Fish can avoid obstacles and swim independently. "Sure, it would be possible to design a standard submarine robot to do similar jobs, but by replicating the designs from nature, researchers can use the advantages of that design," Siciliano says. "As the design of robot fish improves, it will approach that level of efficiency." Meanwhile, the Anna Konda, another robot inspired by nature, uses hydraulics to fit through small spaces. The robot, designed by SINTEF in Norway, is extremely flexible, allowing it to reach otherwise inaccessible areas.
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Giving Computers the Gift of Sight
Washington Square News (09/22/08) Sattar, Kaivan

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the New York University Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences are developing computer vision technologies that will enable machines to view and interpret visual information. Courant professor Rob Fergus is developing a system that will record visual information and identify images based on color values and positions. Fergus says that computer vision systems will be able to determine what a car, an animal, or a person looks like, and identify such objects without relying on a text label. Such technology could be used in a variety of applications. For example, airport security terminals would be able to quickly scan all boarding passengers and detain potential terrorists. Vision problems could be corrected through computer sight technology as developing these systems requires an intensive study of the brain's ability to process visual signals, helping researchers learn more about sight itself. In medicine, an automated program could be used to search through thousands of x-rays, MRIs, and CAT scans to determine if patients have bone fractures, tumors, glaucoma, or other health problems.
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Graphical Search Engine Will Cheer Sports Fans
New Scientist (09/24/08)No. 2674, P. 24; Marks, Paul

Pennsylvania State University computer scientists Lee Giles and Prasenjit Mitra, working with chemist William Brouwer, have developed a system capable of extracting information from illustrations in research papers. The system can turn graphs and charts back into their original raw data. "Academics frequently report important findings in graphs," Brouwer says. "We want to see the data liberated from these images." The researchers have developed a Linux-based open source program capable of crawling through a database of papers to look for the salient features of two-dimensional plots containing combinations of lines, curves, data points, axes, and caption text. Once a plot has been recognized, the algorithm determines the units on the axes and obtains the data from the graph, presenting it to the user as a table. Brouwer is using the system to obtain data on molecular structures from nuclear magnetic resonance spectra, and the researchers hope other scientists will find more applications for the system. For example, Mitra says a sports fan could use the technology to make a spreadsheet using data from a Web page where statistics for a player or team are published in graphical form. The system also could be used to determine statistical similarities between data sets, helping investigators catch anyone trying to pass off falsified scientific research or plagiarized work.
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Researchers Decode Thought
The Tartan (09/22/08) Mehalek, Keith

Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) researchers have developed a computer-based model that decodes the patterns of neural activity within the human brain by differentiating between a person's perceptions of different physical objects and predicting the brain activation patterns associated with new, untested objects. CMU professors Tom Mitchell and Marcel Just have spent the past six years leading a team dedicated to researching how thoughts are represented within the brain. The knowledge gained from this research could lead to an increased understanding of certain neurological conditions. The computer model determines the characteristic distribution of neural activity across the brain observed in conjunction with specific words by analyzing brain images provided by functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). After developing the computer-based model to classify brain images, the team entered fMRI data obtained from test subjects as they were shown a set of concrete nouns, either as pictures or as words. Once the model was able to correctly categorize objects approximately 90 percent of the time, the team worked on determining the effect that viewing an object as a picture had on a person's brain activation patterns. The team is currently exploring methods of collecting brain image data, and has started collecting fMRI images using multiple-word phrases to determine how the neuronal activation patterns for phrases differs from patterns for individual words.
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A Quantum Leap
University of Calgary (09/25/08)

University of Calgary (UC) researchers have developed a unique way of testing quantum devices to determine their function and accuracy, which they say could help pave the way to the creation of a new generation of supercomputers, unbreakable codes, and ultra-fast and secure communication networks. "Building quantum machines is difficult because they are very complex, therefore the testing you need to do is also very complex," says UC professor Barry Sanders. "We broke a bunch of taboos with this work because we have come up with an entirely new way of testing that is relatively simple and doesn't require a lot of large and expensive diagnostic equipment." Finding ways of accurately determining the properties of individual quantum components is necessary to ensure that all of the components in a device work together properly. The UC researchers developed a highly accurate model for analyzing quantum optical processing using standard optical techniques involving lasers and lenses. UC researcher Mirko Lobino says their technique is a completely different approach to quantum characterization that is capable of telling if a quantum component is working correctly, which could lead to a quantum certification process.
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Wi-Fi Infantry
National Journal (09/20/08) Vol. 40, No. 38, P. 30; Freedburg Jr., Sydney J.

The primary goal of the U.S. Army's Future Combat System (FCS) is to establish a massive and powerful digital network so that all soldiers in the field can receive real-time reconnaissance imagery from any robotic drone or human comrade who is on the network. Battlefields lack the fixed infrastructure that enables wireless networking. The FCS involves approximately 44 "critical technologies," of which more than half have a direct connection to the network's operation; just two sets of technologies were rated "fully mature" by the Government Accountability Office in March 2008. For the moment the program is focused on outfitting the light infantry with FCS technologies to reduce their casualties in war zones. Foot soldiers are using Land Warrior kits, wearable systems that provide a digital map that displays the user's location and that of friendly units on a movable eyepiece, while a handheld controller allows the soldier to designate locations digitally. There are restrictions to the current networks used by the Army in battle, such as the inability to transmit reconnaissance images from aerial drones or digital camera photos from soldiers. Power and weight requirements have also limited the technology's use to vehicles. Four different programs are currently developing equipment to facilitate the establishment of the FCS network, and these efforts much eventually be synchronized if the components are to work together effectively.
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Spoofing GPS Receivers
Cornell News (09/19/08) Ju, Anne

Cornell University researchers have shown that global positioning system (GPS) technology is vulnerable to spoofing, or transmitting fake signals that receivers believe are authentic. At a meeting of the Institute of Navigation in Savannah, Ga., the researchers presented a paper that described how a phony GPS receiver was placed near a navigation device, and tracked, modified, and retransmitted the signals from the system of satellites circling the Earth. The navigation device eventually mistook the false signals as real signals. The team says a GPS attack would have a serious impact considering how ubiquitous the technology has become. "Our goal is to inspire people who design GPS hardware to think about ways to make it so the kinds of things we're showing can be overcome," says Cornell professor Mark Psiaki. The U.S. government described seven countermeasures for a GPS attack in a December 2003 report, but the Cornell team says they would not have foiled its reprogrammed receiver. "We're fairly certain we could spoof all of these, and that's the value of our work," says Cornell researcher Todd Humphreys.
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Better Best Before Dates
EurekAlert (09/23/08)

The University of Manchester is using sensor technology to monitor the food supply chain in an effort to create more scientific and meaningful best-before dates. "By integrating our collaborative knowledge with the data we collect, we can better understand the whole supply chain of fresh food and start to reduce wastage," says Bruce Grieve, director of Manchester's Syngenta Sensors University Innovation Center (UIC). The project involves the use of printed sensors that will be based on radio frequency identification tags, and will have battery-free data storage. Transmitters will move data via pulses of energy, which allows for small and affordable devices. UIC plans to work with fruit and vegetable import companies and food processors to test the concept in a real supply chain, and plans to license and make the devices available next year. In addition to providing early detection for spoiled food, Britain's Sensors & Instrumentation Knowledge Transfer Network believes sensor technology could be used to identify toxins and monitor water and nutrient concentration in the soil. "New developments in sensing technology are helping to improve the efficiency of everyday processes, reduce costs, and benefit the environment," says Phil Cooper, director of the network.
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New Bluetooth System Orients Blind and Sighted Pedestrians
University of Michigan News Service (09/18/08)

University of Michigan researchers have developed Talking Points, a Bluetooth-based urban orientation system designed primarily for blind people that can tell pedestrians about points of interest as they approach and pass by landmarks. "Blind people can get from point A to point B. They learn to count steps if they have to, but they miss the journey because they don't always know what they're passing," says Talking Points system developer James Knox. "Talking Points can be viewed as a first step in the direction of an audio virtual reality designed for people with blindness and very useful to the sighted community as well." To sighted people, Talking Points could provide information on the specials or sales at a store or restaurant, along with on-the-go customer reviews. The system could provide the same information to blind people, but also could help fill in the gaps by helping them find public restrooms, police stations, public transportation, and restaurants with Braille menus, for example. Jason Stewart, a master's student in the School of Information and a participant in the project, says if the system caught on it would be an effective way to tag the whole world, and anyone with a reader could use it to find more information on where they are. Similar systems exist, but Talking Points is the first to use Bluetooth, and to cater to both the sighted and visually-impaired.
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Software Randomizes Airport Patrols
Security Management (09/08) Straw, Joseph

University of Southern California (USC) researchers have developed Assistant for Randomized Monitoring Over Routes (ARMOR), a new software program that could help security forces avoid becoming predictable. ARMOR has a decision-making algorithm that enables the program to create random routes for security patrols while still maintaining the desired coverage. ARMOR was developed based on Praveen Paruchuri's 2007 doctoral thesis, which analyzed how to apply game theory to multi-agent systems, specifically an environment is which agents, adversaries, and technology interact. In the thesis, Paruchuri used the example of a humanitarian relief mission guarded by an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). The mission's geography is divided into standard grid squares, and each one, including supply routes and storage warehouses, is assigned a risk value. By using a randomization algorithm that incorporates risk data, the UAV could autonomously patrol the area, with the algorithm directing the vehicle to monitor risky areas more frequently. The software has since been customized for the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). Miling Tambe, Paruchuri's advisor at USC's Viterbi School of Engineering, notes that ARMOR is intended to act as an assistant that recommends scheduling and locations and is not intended to dictate patrol scheduling. A six-month pilot program at LAX ended earlier this year, and the software is now a permanent part of the airport's security.
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Touching the Future
Economist Technology Quarterly (09/08) Vol. 388, No. 8596, P. 11

Touch-screen technology has been around for a long time, but it has only just recently begun to achieve mainstream acceptance, with its incorporation as a standard element of computer interfaces perhaps not far off. Touch screens' initial rollout in markets that include point-of-sale equipment and public kiosks was primarily driven by the technology's ruggedness and ease of use, with experts such as University of Toronto professor Bill Buxton noting that a lack of elegance was an inhibitor. The iPhone is considered to be the breakout touch-screen product with its combination of visual appeal, seamlessness, and visual intuitiveness, and especially with its use of multi-touch technology that allows more than one finger to be sensed at once. Perceptive Pixel founder Jeff Han notes that it is only recently that desktops' computational muscle and graphics capabilities became sufficient for practical and elegant touch-screen interfaces. Operating systems' lack of support for touch-screen technology has acted as another barrier, but that is poised to change with Apple and Microsoft adding multi-touch support to their OSes. The incorporation of gesture-based controls to touch screens comes with its own challenges, including the risk that an excess of standards will emerge and that specific gestures will carry different meaning to different devices. But touch screens will probably follow the same path as mouse-based interfaces, and eventually common rules will emerge. PCs, rather than handhelds, may ultimately be the biggest beneficiaries of touch-screen technology given touch screens' ability to manipulate rather than input information, and PCs equipped with both touch screens and keyboards would be flexible enough to allow users to select the input technique best suited for the task at hand.
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