Welcome to the February 6, 2009 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Fighting Tomorrow's Hackers
American Friends of Tel Aviv University (02/05/09)
The development of quantum computing threatens to expose the security of digital information as the technology could be used to bypass the current cryptographic systems used by businesses and banks. "We need to develop a new encryption system now, before our current systems... become instantly obsolete with the advent of the first quantum computer," says Oded Regev, a professor at Tel Aviv University's Blavantnik School of Computer Science. Regev has proposed a secure and efficient system that is backed by a mathematical proof of security and believed to be the first solution safe from quantum computers. Regev combined ideas from quantum computation with research from other leaders in the field to create a system that is efficient enough for real-world applications. Regev first presented his work at the ACM Symposium on Theory of Computing, and it will appear in the Journal of the ACM. The work also will become the foundation for other cryptographic systems projects at the Stanford Research Institute, Stanford University, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Regev's proposed system could have a variety of real-world applications, including banking transactions, online auctions, and digital signatures.
ACM Names 37 Distinguished Members for Advances in Computing Technology
AScribe Newswire (02/05/09)
ACM has named 37 of its members as Distinguished Members in recognition of their contributions to the practical and theoretical aspects of computing and information technology. The Distinguished Members are being honored for their individual achievements that have significantly advanced computing technology and science, engineering, business, and many other areas as a whole. "These prominent men and women originate from many parts of the computing field, but they have in common a commitment to technology and a passion for progress," says ACM President Dame Wendy Hall. "Their respective contributions to computing drive innovations that determine the economic and social developments that, in turn, sustain competitiveness in the global arena. Their achievements touch virtually every industry in the world, and we celebrate their entrepreneurial and creative spirit for the way it has changed our lives." Nineteen of the recipients are from the high-technology sector, and their achievements have resulted in a variety of innovations, including data mining, systems engineering requirements analysis, memory and storage systems, processor designs, artificial intelligence, mobile services platforms, electronic commerce, usability research, process management technology, Web searching, and optical networking protocols. New Distinguished Members from academia were recognized for achievements in a variety of areas, including optimization techniques, programming languages, software engineering, artificial intelligence, computational complexity theory, design automation, grid computing, and computational electromagnetics.
Google and Amazon to Put More Books on Cellphones
New York Times (02/06/09) P. B6; Helft, Miguel
Google has made 1.5 million books accessible on mobile devices such as the iPhone and the T-Mobile G1. The titles are the public domain books Google previously made available for free on PCs. Meanwhile, Amazon says a similar move is planned for the roughly 230,000 titles that are available on its Kindle electronic book reader. Although Google's Book Search for PCs displays scanned images of book pages, mobile phone users will only see the text, which will allow them to download printed material quickly over wireless networks. Mobile phones offer quick access to reading materials, but analysts do not expect them to replace dedicate e-book readers such as Kindle, which have screens that make printed material easier to read and have a longer battery life. However, improvements in these areas could lead more consumers to use mobile phones for reading. "Consumers will trade a certain amount of quality for convenience and cost," says analyst Michael Gartenberg.
Intel's New Breed of Chips
Technology Review (02/05/09) Greene, Kate
Intel researchers will present several papers at next week's International Solid State Circuits Conference, including new system-on-chip (SoC) designs. Some of the SoC designs feature wireless radios capable of using multiple communications standards and operating at high speeds, integrated graphics processors for mobile devices that are more efficient than those used in desktops, and built-in sensors to monitor the chip's condition. Although Intel has generally concentrated on increasing the number of transistors on a chip, the focus on SoC highlights a new goal of adding complexity to the chips. Components on SoC chips will be as small as 32 nanometers. "This is a new era of scaling in a SoC world," says Intel's Mark Bohr. "As you reduce the size of transistors, the price per transistor goes down. It enables unprecedented complexity as we scale down to 32 nanometers." Intel has more than 15 SoC projects underway, including a chip code-named Canmore, expected to debut later this year, which will integrate computing, graphics, and audio-video capabilities for portable devices. Intel also is developing a SoC radio that can wirelessly send and receive data at rates up to 3 gigabits per second, says Intel's Soumyanath Krishnamurthy.
Innovation: Speech Prediction Software
New Scientist (02/03/09) Marks, Paul
Japanese researchers have developed speech-completion software that is capable of completing half-formed words or sentences. Researchers at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, Tsukuba, used a voice-controlled jukebox to demonstrate the software, which is currently limited to the Japanese language. Similar to the applications that cell phones use to predict text, the speech-completion software takes the fragments of words and filler sounds into consideration as it searches for the next phrase. "Although the concept of completion is widely used in text-based interfaces, there have been no reports of completion being effectively applied to speech," the researchers say on their Web site. The technology could be used to improve the speed and accuracy of speech-recognition software, as well as to help drivers make musical selections or request destinations for their GPS systems.
CHI 2009 Will Showcase Technologies That Bring Digital Life to Reality
CHI 2009, sponsored by ACM's Special Interest Group on Computer-Human Interaction, will showcase technologies, designs, and ideas that bring digital life to reality. The conference will offer a diverse program that includes a video showcase, job fair, and design vignette demos, as well as world-renowned experts on innovation in computer user design. Research highlights to be presented at the conference include designing digital games for rural children in India; effects of personal photos and presentation intervals on perceptions of recommender systems; a tool that increases Wikipedia credibility; home computer power management strategies; privacy concerns in everyday Wi-Fi use; and improving users gaming experience. University of California, Irvine professor Judith Olsen, a pioneer in human-computer interaction and computer-supported cooperative work, will open the conference, and Kees Overbeeke of Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands, a psychologist who works with designers, will close the event with a presentation on "Dreaming of the Impossible." February 15 is the early registration deadline for CHI 2009, which takes place at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston, MA, on April 4-9. For more information and to register, click on http://www.chi2009.org.
Fingerprints and Faces Can Be Faked, But Not Brain Patterns
ICT Results (02/05/09)
The European Union-funded HUMABIO project is combining new types of biometric recognition systems with the latest sensor technologies to develop better security applications. HUMABIO researchers have developed sensorial and connectivity hardware for specific biometric applications, as well as new software to extract the biometric profile of individuals, which is based on physiology and behavior characteristics. HUMABIO's biometrics include using electrocardiograms to record heart rhythms and electroencephalograms to record brain patterns. The project has developed a prototype headgear system that uses two electrodes to take both readings. The technology is still in the proof-of-concept stage, but project coordinator Dimitrios Tzovaras says the researchers are very pleased with the results so far. "This is the first time this type of biometrics has been used for identification, and it solves most of the problems other biometric systems face," Tzovaras says. The project has been working on other types of biometrics that are much closer to commercialization, including gait or walking analysis, and analyzing a person's seated posture. The project also has been working on improving facial- and voice-recognition systems, and combining multiple biometric techniques into a multimodal biometric identification system that is more secure than individual biometric techniques.
Hospitals With Better IT Have Fewer Deaths, Study Shows
Computerworld (01/30/09) Mearian, Lucas
Patients have better outcomes in hospitals that make greater use of technology, concludes a collaborative study involving multiple universities and healthcare systems. The study, which involved more than 167,000 patients in 41 hospitals, measured the amount of medical care automation with a Clinical Information Technology Assessment Tool, a survey-based metric that analyzes automation and the ease of use of a hospital's information system. Study author Dr. Ruben Amarasingham, associate chief of medicine at Parkland Health & Hospital System and an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, says "hospitals with automated notes and records, order entry, and clinical decision support had fewer complications, lower mortality rates, and lower costs." By comparing in-patient death rates, medical complications, length of stay, and costs, the study found that hospitals with the most automation saved up to $1,729 per patient for various procedures. The study explored four common medical conditions--heart attacks, congestive heart failure, coronary artery bypass grafting, and pneumonia--and how technology could be used to automate part of the treatment process. The survey measured the automation of four procedures and asked doctors to describe the systems' effectiveness and ease-of-use on a 100-point scale. A 10-point increase in the automation of medical notes and patient records was associated with a 15 percent decrease in patient deaths, and better automation order-entry systems were associated with a 9 percent decrease in the risk of heart attack and a 55 percent decrease in the need for coronary artery bypass grafts.
European Fusion Computer Comes to Julich
Julich Research Center (01/29/09) Schinarakis, Kosta
The European Fusion Development Agreement has given the Julich Research Center in Germany the task of constructing and operating a new supercomputer that will be used to understand the complex physical effects that take place inside the planned ITER fusion reactor. The Bull High Performance Computing for Fusion (HPC-FF) supercomputer will offers speeds of up to 100 teraflops, and will be specifically designed to run the fusion scientists' simulation programs. Fusion researchers will use the Bull HPC-FF to better understand the mechanisms occurring within the fusion matter. The researchers will develop computer simulations that can reproduce important physical effects more realistically than is currently possible. Bull HPC-FF will consist of 1,080 computing nodes and 8,640 processors, each with a clock rate of 2.93 GHz, and will be able to access approximately 24 terabytes of total main memory. The total computing power of 100 teraflops per second would make the supercomputer the 30th most powerful machine on the current list of the world's fastest supercomputers. ITER will go into operation in 2018 and will be the first fusion reactor to generate at least 500 megawatts of excess power, creating the opportunity for future fusion power plants and contributing toward creating a carbon-dioxide-free energy supply.
Wi-Fi Networks Offer Rich Environment for Spread of Worms
Government Computer News (01/30/09) Jackson, William
Malicious software code could infect an entire city in a period of several weeks by traveling over Wi-Fi networks that overlap each other, concludes a study by Indiana University computer scientists and researchers at the Complex Networks Lagrange Laboratory at the Institute for Scientific Interchange in Turin, Italy. The study found that the malicious code was able to spread over the networks because Wi-Fi hardware uses interoperable standards. Compounding the problem is the fact that many Wi-Fi users do not set up the security features on their routers and access points. However, the study noted that no hacker has yet taken advantage of the weaknesses of Wi-Fi to unleash a virus on an entire city. This is because the density of Wi-Fi networks has only recently reached the point where an epidemic outbreak would be possible, and because of the difficulty involved in writing malicious code for Wi-Fi routers. The study's authors note that hackers could be prevented from transmitting malicious code via Wi-Fi networks altogether if Wi-Fi users used strong passwords and Wi-Fi Protected Access technology instead of Wired Equivalent Privacy protocols. If these security measures were implemented in just 60 percent of Wi-Fi routers, malicious code could be stopped before it spread through an entire ecosystem.
GP Software 'to Prevent Heart Disease'
University of Nottingham (02/04/09) Thorne, Emma
QResearch, a not-for-profit partnership between the University of Nottingham and healthcare provider EMIS, has developed QRISK2, software that will help general practitioners more accurately assess which patients are the most at risk of developing heart disease. QRISK2 uses a new cardiovascular disease (CVD) equation based on 15 years' worth of primary care data to estimate an individual's risk of developing heart disease over the next 10 years. EMIS created a database of anonymous data collected from the health records of more than four million patients. Researchers from the universities of Edinburgh and Queen Mary, and Bristol and Medway Primary Care Trusts, were also involved in the project. QRISK2 accounts for the higher risk of developing CVD in patients from deprived areas and certain ethnic groups. QRISK2 also accounts for other risk factors, such as whether the patient already suffers from another pre-existing condition such as diabetes. "It will arm doctors with all the information they need to decide how best to target patients with preventative measures such as lifestyle advice and cholesterol-lowering treatments," says Nottingham professor Julia Hippisley-Cox. "We believe this formula has the potential to save many thousands of lives, by helping clinicians to more accurately predict those at risk of developing cardiovascular disease."
It's The Network: Penn Researchers Examine Behavior, Consensus Building Influenced By Network Structure
University of Pennsylvania (01/28/09) Reese, Jordan
University of Pennsylvania computer scientists are researching the political, social, and economic conflict between individual self-interest and the need to build a consensus. The researchers found that depending on the ability of individuals to interact in a network and the number of connections they have to other network participants, certain network structures can generate the global adoption of minority viewpoints. The researchers also found that individuals with extreme behaviors, or a greater awareness of the incentives of others, may improve the collective performance of the group. Professor Michael Kearns demonstrated in 81 experiments that network structure alone can affect outcomes, relationships, and behavior. In the experiments, 36 human subjects were arranged in a variety of virtual worlds, with each experiment altering the number of neighbors each participant could see, with no participant having a global view of the entire network. Participants were tasked with getting the group to agree on a topic, specifically the color red or blue, with consensus resulting in a financial reward. However, each participant stood to earn more from one color than the other, leading to disagreement. Of the 81 experiments, 55 ended in a payout for reaching a universal consensus. The study found that not only could minority groups override the majority, but they also could facilitate global unity easier than a network that was evenly divided. Kearns also found that the more aware participants were of their neighbors' opposition, the more likely they were to reach a consensus.
Software Could Save Organizations 13,000 Pounds Each Month
University of Liverpool (02/05/09) Spark, Kate
Wasted computer power has prompted systems experts at the University of Liverpool to develop PowerDown, software that automatically shuts down computer systems after usage. At the Liverpool library, for example, 1,600 PCs were wasting 20,000 kilowatts (kW) each week. Liverpool's Lisa Nelson, who developed the software, says a PC left on 24 hours a day but used only 40 hours a week uses about 17 kW of electricity and wastes 13 kW. "That figure does not take into consideration other costs such as in air-conditioned buildings, where additional cooling is required to remove the heat created by active computers," Nelson says. The software automatically shuts computers down when they are left unused for half an hour. "PowerDown is simple to install and staff can choose to opt out if, for example, they are running particular software on a machine overnight without a user being logged in," she says.
'Snowman' Software Developed at UB Helps Keep Snow Drifts Off the Road
University at Buffalo News (01/29/09) Goldbaum, Ellen
Researchers led by University at Buffalo professor Stuart Chen has developed SnowMan, software that can generate cost-effective solutions on how highway designers and maintenance crews can manage snow drifts. SnowMan helps transportation engineers design roadways that are less likely to be affected by snow drifts and helps maintenance crews more precisely position snow fences to reduce snow drifts on existing roads. "The SnowMan software will significantly advance the implementation of passive snow-control measures both within New York state and nationwide," says Joseph F. Doherty, senior civil engineer at New York's Department of Transportation, which backed the program's development. Snow fences can interrupt the blowing and drifting of snow, but knowing where to place those snow fences is not an exact science, Chen says. A more precise approach would require maintenance crews to obtain climate data for the area to determine how much snow and wind the area experiences during the winter, and run a series of calculations to determine the best height and placement for a snow fence. Chen says SnowMan provides those capabilities automatically for both minimizing the effects of a specific blowing and drifting problem or designing a new roadway.
White House to Assume Key Role in Cybersecurity
Federal Times (02/02/09) Vol. 44, No. 45, P. 4; Carlstrom, Gregg
U.S. President Barack Obama has announced that he will keep his campaign promise to create the position of national cyber adviser. Under Obama's plan, the national cyber adviser will report directly to him and will be responsible for developing a national cyber policy and coordinating the federal government's cybersecurity strategy. The coordination of the government's approach to cybersecurity had previously been the responsibility of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). It remains unclear who Obama is considering to fill the new position. Allan Paller, the director of the Maryland-based SANS Institute, says that whoever the adviser is will have to face the dual challenges of prioritizing the many steps that need to be taken to shore up the nation's cybersecurity and keeping the various federal agencies that are involved in the effort focused. Meanwhile, other efforts are being made to improve the nation's cybersecurity. For instance, Obama has declared the national cyberinfrastructure a strategic asset, and the designation means that the nation's IT networks will receive high-level attention from the White House. In addition, Homeland Security secretary Janet Napolitano has asked for a review of her department's cybersecurity efforts as part of a larger review of DHS programs.
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