Welcome to the February 23, 2009 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Proposed Law Might Make Wi-Fi Users Help Cops
IDG News Service (02/20/09) Lawson, Stephen
Congressional Republicans have introduced the Internet Security Act, legislation in the U.S. House and Senate that would require Internet service providers (ISPs) and possibly Wi-Fi router owners to store and retain information on their users for at least two years to aid police investigations. The law would require Internet and email service providers to retain "all records or other information" about anyone using a network address temporarily assigned by the service. The retention requirements would apply to any provider of "an electronic communication service or remote computing service," and anyone who receives the content and recipient list of email messages that it "transmits, receives, or stores." The law would require ISPs to retain subscriber records similar to the records retained by telecommunications carriers, though civil liberties advocates point out that phone records are not kept for use in investigations. Carriers and ISPs are already required to retain information related to specific communications on their networks that are involved in a criminal investigation, notes Electronic Frontier Foundation attorney Kevin Bankston. Center for Democracy and Technology president Leslie Harris says the Internet Safety Act would amount to ISPs storing personal information on their customers just in case they are later accused of a crime. Bankston says the law could impose a heavy burden on private citizens and enterprises that operate wireless networks, and that it could mean Wi-Fi routers would need hard drives to store data on every user on the network.
Analysis: Women in IT Still Hit Glass Ceiling
ITPro (02/19/09) Knights, Miya
Despite the growing role of women in the United Kingdom's information technology industry, there are signs that a glass ceiling still exists. A recent survey found that 58 percent of women believe that being a woman makes it harder to succeed in an IT career, and 55 percent believe they do not earn as much as men in similar jobs. The third annual Perceptions of Equal Pay Survey, by networking portal womenintechnology.co.uk, found that the pace of change, opportunity, and working with cutting-edge technology are the most positive aspects of the IT industry for women. Many survey respondents said that women are held to a higher standard than male IT workers, and skills that would be considered excellent in men are expected skills in women. Women also experience greater pressure to overachieve, affecting their work-life balance. About a third of respondents said they would be put off taking a career break or maternity leave. A report by the National Skills Forum urges the industry to find new ways of encouraging young women to enter science, engineering, and IT roles. Research by psychologist Penelope Lockwood found that women need to see female role models more than men need to see role models. "Let’s create new role models and make sure that whenever the question 'who are the leading women in tech?' is asked, that we all have a list of candidates on the tips of our tongues," says consultant Suw Charman-Anderson, former executive director of the Open Rights Group.
Exploring a 'Deep Web' That Google Can't Grasp
New York Times (02/23/09) P. B1; Wright, Alex
Google recently added the one trillionth Web address to its list of indexed Web pages, and yet that represents only a small portion of the entire Web. Beyond the one trillion pages is an even larger Web of data, including financial information, shopping catalogs, flight schedules, medical research, and all other kinds of data that is largely hidden to search engines. This so-called Deep Web represents a major challenge to large search engines and prevents them from providing meaningful responses to many queries. Search engines' crawlers, which collect information by following hyperlinks, work well for pages that are on the surface of the Web, but fail to penetrate databases. To collect meaningful data from the Deep Web, search engines must be able to analyze users' search terms and determine how to direct those queries toward databases, but the wide variety of database structures and possible search terms makes this a daunting challenge. "This is the most interesting data integration problem imaginable," says Google's Alon Halevy. Google's Deep Web strategy involves using programs to analyze the contents of every database the search engine encounters. The search engine analyzes the results of each database and creates a predictive model of the database's contents. Meanwhile, University of Utah professor Juliana Freire's DeepPeep project is attempting to index every publicly available Web database. Freire has developed an automated process for querying databases that she says retrieves more than 90 percent of a database's contents. Experts say that Deep Web search technology could become a more efficient and less expensive approach than the Semantic Web to interconnect Web data. "The huge thing is the ability to connect disparate data sources," says computer scientist Mike Bergman.
Conference to Call for More Research Into the World Wide Web
University of Southampton (ECS) (02/23/09) Lewis, Joyce
The Web Science Research Initiative and the Foundation for the Hellenic World are organizing the first European conference on Web science, which will take place in Athens on March 18-20. The "Society of the Web"-themed conference will be the first to unite computer scientists and social scientists in an effort to explore the human behavior and technological design that determine the Web's structure and use. The conference will feature keynote speakers Noshir Contractor, Joseph Sifakis, and Sir Tim Berners-Lee. Web Science Research Initiative research director and University of Southampton professor Nigel Shadbolt will discuss the need for additional research on the powerful machine that is the Web, particularly as the Web moves toward a greater fulfillment of Web 2.0 technologies and the Semantic Web. "The sheer abundance of information on the Web means that we will see the emergence of real serendipitous reuse of information--often in new and unexpected contexts," Shadbolt says. "The Web connects humanity and can perform lots of initiatives that individuals alone couldn't do, from developing cures for cancer to decoding ancient manuscripts." Additional information on the Web Science '09 conference and the key conference speakers will be released at a press briefing in London on March 12.
Does Better Security Depend on a Better Internet?
Computing Community Consortium (02/21/09) Lee, Peter
The New York Times' recent article, "Do We Need a New Internet?," by John Markoff, has sparked debate in the research community over whether creating a secure Internet will require creating a new Internet. In the article, Stanford University's Nick McKeown says that unless today's Internet is changed, a public catastrophe is likely. In a blog post, Eugene Spafford, executive director of Purdue University's Center for Education and Research in Information Assurance and Security, writes "the Internet itself is not the biggest problem. Rather, it is the endpoints, the policies, the economics, and the legal environment that make things so difficult." University of California, San Deigo's Stefan Savage agrees. He says the network is the smallest part of the security problem, and that on a technical level the security problem is an end-host problem in combination with an interface issue. "At a social level it's a human factors issue," Savage says. The Washington Advisory Group's Peter Freeman says although technical improvements are needed, a major part of the security issue comes from people, not technology. However, Freeman says that reinventing some networking aspects is still an important research goal. As director of the National Science Foundation's computer science division, Freeman helped launch the GENI Project in 2004 with the goal of developing an experimental platform for exploring reliable and high-capacity networks. The GENI Project has made significant progress, and a version of the testbed will be available for early testing in a few months, which will enable researchers to investigate core networking research questions.
Stimulus Bill Includes $7.2 Billion for Broadband
CNet (02/17/09) Condon, Stephanie
The $787 billion economic stimulus package U.S. President Obama recently signed into law includes $7.2 billion for broadband grant and loan programs. Under the bill, $4.7 billion of the funding will be distributed through the Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), which will use the money to fund broadband projects in all parts of the country, including rural, urban, and suburban areas. In addition, the legislation states that the NTIA can give grants to wireless providers, wireline providers, or any company offering to build last-mile, middle-mile, or long-haul facilities so long as that provider is the best company for serving a particular area's needs. The legislation also states that at least $200 million must be used to fund competitive grants for programs that encourage the adoption of sustainable broadband, while another $350 million must be used to fund the Broadband Data Improvement Act's efforts to develop a broadband inventory map and provide funding for certain grants. The remaining $2.5 billion will be distributed through the Agriculture Department's Rural Utilities Service to fund broadband projects in rural areas. Supporters of universal broadband access said they were pleased with the funding provided by the stimulus package, though some expressed concern that the use of two separate federal agencies to distribute the money may not be the most efficient approach to funding broadband projects.
Gaming Experts Talk With Vietnamese Students
VietNamNet Bridge (02/20/09)
Gaming specialists from the United States are visiting Vietnam to discuss with students a number of issues that are important to their industry. During a stop at the port city of Da Nang, more than 1,000 students showed up for a conference on game developers and their techniques. Donald Marinelli, a professor of Drama and Arts Management at Carnegie Mellon University who co-directs the Entertainment Technology Center, led the panel, "The Achievements of the Game Developers." Marinelli and the other gaming experts also discussed how games impact real life during an event for students from Van Lang University in Ho Chi Minh City. The Entertainment Technology Center is a partnership between Carnegie Mellon's School of Computer Science and the College of Fine Arts that focuses on digital arts and entertainment. A training cooperation program between Carnegie Mellon and the Software Engineering Group of Vietnam is sponsoring the trip.
For a Poisoned Internet, No Quick Fix
Forbes (02/19/09) Greenberg, Andy
A large number of Domain Name System (DNS) servers have still not been patched to prevent hackers from exploiting that vulnerability security researcher Dan Kaminsky found last summer. According to an analysis of roughly 200,000 DNS servers by researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology, between one-fifth and one-third of those servers have not been patched for the vulnerability, which can be used by hackers to launch DNS cache poisoning attacks. In those attacks, users looking for legitimate Web sites are redirected to fraudulent sites without their knowledge. The analysis also found that roughly 2 percent of those servers had been attacked by cybercriminals trying to take advantage of the vulnerability. In the wake of the release of the analysis, Kaminsky is urging IT administrators to patch their DNS servers to correct the flaw. However, he notes that the Internet will not be completely safe from DNS cache poisoning until DNSsec is more widely used. That technology authenticates the destination to which Internet traffic is being sent instead of simply redirecting it. The researchers, led by Georgia Tech professor David Dagon, presented their findings at the recent Black Hat security conference. Dagon says every server must be patched to stop the attacks. "In most cases when a fix goes out, 90 percent of the Internet is patched within a year. So we're still ahead of schedule," he says. "But given the size of the risk here, the rate of patching is still discouraging."
The Journey from Jar Jar to Sign Language - Motion Capture Opens the Door to a New Way to Communicate
Dalhousie University (Canada) (02/16/09)
Dalhousie University professor Aaron Newman, the Canada Research Chair in Cognitive Neuroscience, is using motion capture technology to develop a more thorough understanding of sign language and other forms of gesture-based communication. A major challenge in studying the effects of sign language on the brain is that human gestures are frequently aided or affected by other stimuli such as facial expressions. To eliminate these other indicators, Newman prepared short videos that removed everything but the most basic movements. The videos were shown to study participants connected to an EEG system that monitors brain activity. "We can see instantly how people react, within milliseconds," he says. "We want to know where and when symbolic communication crosses the threshold into full-blown language in the brain." To achieve a high level of clarity in the videos, Newman connected student volunteers to dozens of fiber-optic sensors and recorded their movement. Overall, 20 students were used to make more than 80 short video clips using the motion capture data. During the next few months, Newman will test the videos on both sign language users and people who do not know sign language, and he is already creating a second set of motion capture data that he plans to turn into another set of animations.
Improved Sensor Technology Could Someday Keep Tabs on Terrorists by Remote Control
Rochester Institute of Technology (02/12/09) Gawlowicz, Susan
Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) scientists are developing new optical sensors for use in unmanned air vehicles and surveillance drones that could track suspects that have been identified as a threat. RIT professor John Kerekes was awarded a $1 million Discovery Challenge Thrust grant by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research to design sensors that use multiple techniques to track an individual or vehicle. The sensor will collect necessary data, assess the situation and choose the best sensing mode. The sensor creates two strands of information, one of the target and one of the background environment, to maintain a connection and negate any camouflage effects. The sensor collects a black-and-white image of a target to record the shape and uses hyperspectral imaging to plot the object's color as it appears in multiple wavelengths. The hyperspectral mode can lock onto the unique material properties of a target object. "These are all complementary pieces of information and the idea is that if the object you are tracking goes into an area where you lose one piece of information, the other information might help," Kerekes says. Other members of Kerekes' team are working on a variety of projects, including modifying astronomical optical sensors, designing tunable microelectronics devices to collect specific wavelengths, and developing algorithms to track a target and pick the right imaging mode based on the scenario. The researchers are testing preliminary models using generic scenarios in a simulated world similar to Second Life.
ICANN Responds to GTLD Plan Comments
IDG News Service (02/19/09) Gross, Grant
ICANN has pushed back the date it will begin accepting applications for its new generic top-level domains (gTLDs) from September until December. The move comes as ICANN tries to respond to public comments about its proposal to create new gTLDs, including gTLDs written in non-English characters and extensions that include words or proper names. Among those concerned about ICANN's proposal are trademark holders, who worry that they will have to register dozens of additional domain names in each new gTLD and buy gTLDs representing their company names in order to protect their brands. In response to these and other concerns, ICANN has released a document called the gTLD Draft Applicant Guidebook, which seeks to address the problems with the gTLD proposal that were raised in some of the public comments. For instance, the document says ICANN is considering several proposals to protect trademark holders, including developing a "white list" of domain names that cannot be registered. ICANN has been praised by some for releasing the document, though it has also been criticized by others who say the document did not provide enough detail on how the organization will deal with trademark protection issues. "This documents the thinking on what is going to be a historic and innovative change," says ICANN's Paul Levins. "People expect us to be thoughtful and responsive to their concerns, and this is us doing just that."
Bus Left You Waiting in the Cold? Use Your Cell Phone to Track It Down
University of Washington News and Information (02/10/09) Hickey, Hannah
University of Washington (UW) doctoral students Brian Ferris and Kari Watkins have developed OneBusAway, a free service that enables bus riders to check the arrival status of buses using a cell phone or computer. "To people who didn't even know this data was out there, they're like, 'This is amazing.' It really changes the way they use the bus," Ferris says. Watkins says research shows that removing uncertainty significantly reduces peoples' frustration with using public transportation. "When people have to wait, they think that twice as much time is passing," she says. "If I know ahead of time, I can grab that cup of coffee and be back out in time to catch my bus. And that kind of information makes taking public transit so much more livable." OneBusAway is based on MyBus, a program created in the mid-1990s by UW professor Daniel Dailey that allows people to enter a bus route and stop number and receive anticipated arrival times. MyBus combines odometer readings from each bus, relayed through dispatch, and route information to estimate a bus' current position. Ferris and Watkins say OneBusAway makes MyBus more user-friendly and accessible to people away from their computers. Ferris recently added a new feature to OneBusAway that tracks canceled buses to prevent people from waiting for buses that will never arrive.
The Expanding Mind
Seed (02/09) No. 20, P. 121; Estep, Pete
A "remarkable synergy" between the advancement of brain-computer interface (BCI) technology and innovations in computers, digital storage devices, software, and storage technologies is observed by the Innerspace Foundation chairman Pete Estep. This synergy fuels speculation that cognitive BCI could be used to augment the human mind and realize perfect memory and more efficient learning, to name a few benefits. Although such advances are unlikely to be immediately facilitated, Estep notes that the challenge may be workable, for reasons that include a perceived mechanistic and physiological similarity between sensorimotor functions--which most BCI experiments focus on--and cognitive functions. He acknowledges that experts are vexed on how to tackle this challenge because "we possess far less obvious feedback by which we can monitor performance in order to extend and close the 'cognitive loop.' " But Estep points out that evolution successfully closed this loop via natural selection. Notable experiments contributing to cognitive BCI development include a project that aims to give people who suffer from "locked-in" syndrome control of an outboard speech synthesizer; a University of Southern California initiative to produce an artificial hippocampus; and a Georgia Tech demonstration of "synthetic learning" by computer training of living neuronal networks that direct robot behavior. Also of importance is the use of functional magnetic resonance imaging in studies to deduce or predict what is in a person's mind, which suggest that the reconstruction of memories, sensory experiences, and other cognitive processes is achievable.
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