Welcome to the June 15, 2009 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Privacy May Be a Victim in Cyberdefense Plan
New York Times (06/13/09) P. A1; Shanker, Thom; Sanger, David E.
The U.S. Obama administration's cyberdefense strategy includes the formation of a new Pentagon cybercommand that critics warn may end up compromising personal privacy in order to fulfill its objective to monitor the myriad daily assaults on U.S. security systems. Pentagon and military officials say there is no way to effectively run computer operations without penetrating networks within the United States, where the military is banned from operating, or traveling electronic pathways through countries that are not themselves U.S. targets. Officials say the interception and analysis of some email messages may be necessary to guard against computer viruses or potential terrorist action, and supporters say the procedure could eventually be accepted as a digital version of customs inspections. Maren Leed with the bipartisan Center for Strategic and International Studies says there needs to be a broad debate "about what constitutes an intrusion that violates privacy and, at the other extreme, what is an intrusion that may be acceptable in the face of an act of war." U.S. Gen. James E. Cartwright with the Joint Chiefs of Staff admitted in a recent speech that the military's legal establishment of an early warning system for cyberattacks remains an unresolved issue. Leed notes that although the U.S. Defense Department and related intelligence agencies are the only organizations capable of cyberattack protection, they are not the best-equipped entities to assume such duties "from a civil liberties perspective." The expectation is that the new cybercommand will be helmed by a four-star general who also will direct the National Security Agency in an effort to heal the rift between the spy agency and the military over who has authority to conduct offensive operations.
Secret War on Web Crooks Revealed
Financial Times (06/15/09) P. 18; Palmer, Maija
Three times a year, leaders from the world's major technology and communications companies meet to discuss strategies for preventing the Internet from becoming overrun with attacks, spam, viruses, and hackers, though the specifics of these meetings is often kept secret. "Some people might get nervous if they knew all the things we talked about," says Messaging Anti-Abuse Working Group (MAAWG) chairman Michael O'Rierdan. "It's our job to make the Internet safe, but we don't want to put people off using the Web." MAAWG participants also are nervous about being targeted by the criminals they are trying to stop. Most of the spam and hacking online is now perpetrated by organized crime. Within the United States, retaliation against MAAWG generally comes in the form of lawsuits, but in other countries organized criminals in Russia and the Ukraine use more violent methods. MAAWG founder Steve Linford has been advised by the police not to open any unexpected packages. The MAAWG conferences attract approximately 270 delegates from 19 countries, and although the press has usually been kept out of the conferences, that trend is starting to change as participants feel the industry needs to reach out to consumers and get them to help fight spam and cybercrime. Nearly 90 percent of spam is sent from computers that have been hacked and are remotely programmed to send spam. More than 9.4 million computers have been hijacked for this purpose, and cleaning up all of these machines will be impossible without the public's help.
New Coalition Pushes for 'Big' Broadband
IDG News Service (06/11/09) Gross, Grant
A new report from the Schools, Health and Libraries Broadband (SHLB) Coalition says that schools, libraries, and healthcare providers in the United States need broadband speeds of 100 Mbps to 1 Gbps to adequately serve their customers' needs. The SHLB Coalition, which features 28 members, including the New America Foundation, the American Library Association, Internet 2, and Educause, is urging U.S. federal, state, and local governments to seriously consider the needs of libraries, schools, and healthcare providers when developing broadband deployment plans. "High-speed broadband is the key infrastructure that K-12 schools, universities, libraries, hospitals, clinics, and other healthcare providers need to provide 21st-century education, information, and health services," says SHLB coordinator John Windhausen. The institutions are core elements of communities, and affordable, high-speed broadband will help both their immediate customers and surrounding neighborhoods through shared networks, says New America Foundation Wireless Future Program director Michael Calabrese. "The most promising public investment, given limited resources, would be high-capacity fiber networks connecting community anchor institutions in every local jurisdiction," Calabrese says. "By becoming both technology hubs and bringing fiber deep into every community, schools, libraries, and healthcare providers will [bring] affordable broadband access to everyone."
Experts Say Chinese Filter Would Make PCs Vulnerable
New York Times (06/13/09) P. A6; Jacobs, Andrew
Computer security experts say the filtering software that China has required for all new computers is so technically flawed that it would be easy for hackers to infiltrate a machine and monitor Internet activity, steal personal data, or insert harmful and dangerous viruses. "It contains serious vulnerabilities, which is especially worrisome given how widely the software will be adopted," says University of Michigan professor J. Alex Halderman, who examined the filtering program. "What we found was only the tip of the iceberg." Called Green Dam-Youth Escort, the software must be preinstalled on all personal computers sold in China by July 1. The Chinese government says it will pay for the software for at least a year as part of a campaign against "unhealthy and vulgar" content on the Web. Computer manufacturers outside of China have asked Chinese officials to reconsider the new rules. They argue that there are too many unanswered questions about the software, including whether it could damage operating systems. Human rights advocates and China's Internet users say Green Dam is really a thinly veiled attempt to expand censorship. "Their goal is to limit the access of information, not just pornography," says Beijing rights lawyer Li Fangping. "I feel like, as a citizen, my right to know has been violated." Opponents of the software hope that its technical deficiencies will delay its release, or even completely destroy the program. Halderman says the program is so poorly designed that in only a few hours he and his students were able to infiltrate a Green Dam-loaded computer and force it to crash.
46th Design Automation Conference to Offer Nine Workshops
Business Wire (06/02/09)
The 46th Design Automation Conference (DAC), co-sponsored by ACM and supported by its Special Interest Group on Design Automation, offers a lineup of nine in-depth workshops. A workshop on design for manufacturing and manufacturing interfaces will address a new equation-based design rule checking approach, while system-level design will be the focus of three workshops. A workshop on new and emerging technologies will discuss bio-design automation, and applying Programmable Electrical Rule Checking (ERC) technology to quickly correct ERC violations will be the subject of the physical verification workshop. The 14th annual Workshop for Women in Design Automation will weigh a technical career path against the management track, and a general interest workshop will discuss academia as a career. "DAC workshops allow attendees to stay current in focused technology areas, to learn about new topics from world-class experts, and to network with others who share similar interests," says Andrew B. Kahng, general chair of the 46th DAC executive committee. "We hope that this year's workshop lineup will provide high value to attendees and successfully continue the trend of expanding DAC beyond what can fit into the technical sessions, panel sessions, and tutorials." DAC, which takes place July 26-31 in San Francisco, also will offer nearly 60 technical sessions and an Exhibition and Suite area.
NASA: Robots Critical to Endeavour's Mission on Space Station
Computerworld (06/12/09) Gaudin, Sharon
The U.S. space shuttle's current mission, one of the most technical ever attempted by NASA, would not be possible without the use of robotics, says Holly Ridings, the lead space station flight director for the Endeavour mission. "We have learned a lot about robotics and about working together with a robot," Ridings says. "Robotics is really one of the things that NASA has a lot of experience in and it's allowing us to do some wonderful things on the space station." After docking with the space station on the morning of June 15th, the Endeavour crew will take the mission's first spacewalk, assisted by two robotic arms. Ridings says that while the astronauts work outside the space station, a robotic arm will lift a 4-ton piece of the Japanese complex out of the shuttle's payload bay. The piece, which will be attached to the outside of the Japanese module, is designed to hold its own payloads and host experiments that need to be conducted in outer space. In addition to the station's two main robotic arms, which will hand off the new piece between them several times during the mission, a third robotic arm, attached to the Japanese module, will be used for the first time in about a week. The third arm, installed in June 2008, will pick up and move payloads to the new piece. The robotic arm's software features several redundancies and five to seven things would have to go wrong for the arm to let go of the space station and drift away, Ridings says.
Elijah Mayfield to Present Research in Singapore
UMM News (06/13/09) Hamberg, Ruth
Elijah Mayfield from the University of Minnesota at Morris will be among the students presenting papers during the Student Workshop for the 47th Annual Meeting of the Association for Computational Linguistics. His paper, "Sentence Diagram Generation Using Dependency Parsing," relied on a computer program to convert linguistic graphs into sentence diagrams using an analysis of the relationships between words. "I felt that I was working at a graduate level, and [my paper's acceptance at the conference] confirms that belief," says Mayfield. The largest conference in the field of computational linguistics is scheduled for Aug. 2-7, 2009, in Singapore, and is paying for his trip. Mayfield's research builds off of his work for a capstone project for the university's honors program. "He's been fun to work with in large part because of his independence and imagination, both of which contribute to his success so far in computational linguistics," says professor Janet Schrunk Ericksen, who advised Mayfield on principles of grammar and sentence diagramming. Mayfield, who has served as the ACM Club President for Morris, plans to attend graduate school at the Language Technologies Institute at Carnegie Mellon University next year.
Innovation: Looking Forward to the Smarter Smartphone
New Scientist (06/12/09) Barras, Colin
Cutting-edge research suggests there are major changes in store for smartphones. For example, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Brandon Taylor and Michael Bove are building pressure sensors into phones, enabling them to detect the exact position of a user's fingers. Such devices could change their function based on the user's grip, allowing the user to hold the device like a camera to take pictures, like a phone to make calls, or in another grip to play games or listen to music. Another idea is to put the touch screen on the back of the device, which would eliminate the problem of a user's fingers hiding the icon or button he or she is trying to select. A Microsoft Research team in Cambridge is working to completely remove the interface from the device. Microsoft researcher Alex Butler's team added infrared sensors to a phone to enable it to detect the position of a user's fingers up to 10 centimeters away when the phone is placed on a flat surface. Butler's system, called Sidesight, could be used to interact with objects onscreen without touching the phone and could be used as a handset to control another device, such as a robot or TV. Meanwhile, Nokia is working on a prototype that gathers energy from mobile antennas and TV masts to improve the device's battery life.
DOE Researchers Test Limits of Visualization Tool
HPC Wire (06/10/09)
U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) researchers recently ran a series of tests to see whether the VisIt visualization application could extract scientific insight from massive datasets. Visualization researchers from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) ran the application using 8,000 to 32,000 processing cores to manage datasets ranging from 500 billion to 2 trillion grid points. The researchers confirmed that VisIt could leverage the growing population of cores powering the world's most advanced supercomputers to address problems of unprecedented proportions. To run these tests, the researchers began with astrophysics simulation data, and then expanded it to generate a sample scientific dataset at the desired dimensions. This strategy was chosen because the data sizes reflect future problem sizes, and because the main goal of the experiments is to better comprehend the problems and limitations that might be confronted at extreme levels of concurrency and data size. "These results are the largest-ever problem sizes and the largest degree of concurrency ever attempted within the DOE visualization research community," says Berkeley Lab's E. Wes Bethel. ORNL researcher Sean Ahern says the degree of grid resolution created for the experiments is expected to be prevalent in the near future. Another objective of the experiments was to ready the establishment of VisIT's credentials as a Joule code that has demonstrated scalability at a large number of cores. A series of such codes is being set up by DOE's Office of Advanced Scientific Computing Research to function as a metric for tracking code performance and scalability as supercomputers are built with extremely high numbers of processor cores.
5 Cool Cloud Computing Research Projects
Network World (06/10/09) Brown, Bob
The HotCloud conference on cloud computing in San Diego will showcase a number of research projects. One such project is a Trusted Cloud Computing Platform developed by researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Software Systems that "enables Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) providers such as Amazon EC2 to provide a closed box execution environment that guarantees confidential execution of guest virtual machines (VMs)." The platform would guarantee customers that their data has not been interfered with by service providers while also allowing service providers to secure data even across many VMs. Meanwhile, University of Washington researchers are exploiting the fact that Web services and applications will be very closely situated to develop CloudViews, a common storage system designed "to facilitate collaboration through protected inter-service data sharing." University of Minnesota researchers have outlined a way to form nebulas from distributed voluntary resources that could provide greater scalability, more geographical dispersion of nodes, and lower cost than traditional managed clouds. Researchers at the University of California Santa Cruz, NetApp, and Pergamum Systems are considering the trade-offs between storing data and recalculating results as needed in an attempt to boost the efficiency of cloud computing. They write in a paper that "recomputation as a replacement for storage fits well into the holistic model of computing described by the cloud architecture. With its dynamically scalable and virtualized architecture, cloud computing aims to abstract away the details of underlying infrastructure. In both public and private clouds, the user is encouraged to think in terms of services, not structure."
VCU Professor Co-Authors Report on Aviation Security
VCU News Center (06/08/09) Porter, Mike
Research conducted at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found that airport passenger security screenings can be conducted more efficiently without sacrificing security. Since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, every passenger is viewed as a potential security risk, but the researchers say that screening all passengers is inconvenient, slow, and expensive. "We set out to find a real-time screening methodology that considers both available screening resources and the necessity of being robust in assessing threat levels," says VCU professor Laura A. McLay. The researchers developed methods to quickly determine the risk levels of specific passengers and screen them accordingly. McLay, along with Illinois professor Sheldon H. Jacobson and visiting scholar Alexander G. Nikolaev, considered a risk-based model in which passengers are classified as selectees (high-risk) or non-selectees (low-risk). Each classification has its own screening procedures, with selectees undergoing more rigorous screening. The model's objective is to use passenger risk levels for determining the best policy for screening passengers to detect threats without overextending airport security's limited resources.
If at First You Don't Succeed, Let the Search Engine Try
Penn State Live (06/05/09) Spinelle, Jenna; Messer, Andrea
A Pennsylvania State University researcher has analyzed the way Web surfers reformulate their Web searches, and believes his research could lead to improvements in the design of search engines. Professor Jim Jansen studied nearly 1 million Web searches to uncover patterns in the way users change their search terms. He found that the search terms were changed in 22 percent of queries, but users did not often seek assistance from systems for finding the desired information. "The implication is that system assistance should be most specifically targeted when the user is making a cognitive shift because it appears users are open to system intervention," he says. Jansen also created models to predict how people change search terms to offer a more precise query, which could be helpful for designing more advanced search engines. "Given that one can predict future states of query formulation based on previous and present states with a reasonable degree of accuracy, one can design information systems that provide query reformulation assistance, automated searching assistance systems, recommender systems, and others," he says.
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