Welcome to the July 8, 2009 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Weakness in Social Security Numbers Is Found
The New York Times (07/06/09) Markoff, John
Carnegie Mellon University researchers have demonstrated that Social Security numbers (SSNs) can be predicted based solely on an individual's date and location of birth using statistical techniques. They describe their research in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences as "an unexpected consequence of the interaction between multiple data sources, trends in information exposure, and antifraud policy initiatives with unintended effects." The discovery makes the U.S. Social Security numbering system vulnerable to fraud, with the researchers noting that it is now possible to regularly reconstruct sensitive personal information from the kind of online postings often found on social networking sites and other online sources. The researchers used an algorithm on 500,000 publicly available records in the Social Security Administration's Death Master File to successfully identify statistical patterns that then allowed extrapolation to the living U.S. population, making it possible to identify millions of SSNs for individuals whose birth date and location were a matter of public record. The researchers' sample showed that it was possible to identify in a single attempt the first five digits for 44 percent of deceased individuals who were born after 1988 and for 7 percent of those born from 1973 to 1988, while the identification of all nine digits for 8.5 percent of those born after 1988 was possible in less than 1,000 tries. The prediction system's accuracy rose for smaller states and for individuals born after 1988 on account of rules that led increasingly to the designation of Social Security numbers at birth. Mark Lassiter with the Social Security Administration has downplayed the significance of the researchers' conclusions, calling their findings "an exaggeration."
Researchers Unite to Distribute Quantum Keys
Institute of Physics (07/07/09)
Scientists from 41 European research and industrial organizations recently sent secure, quantum encrypted information over an eight-node, mesh network. By creating a network with an average link length of 20 to 30 kilometers, with the longest link being 83 kilometers, the researchers say they have broken all previous records and taken a major step toward the practical implementation of secure, quantum-encrypted communication networks. Launched in late 2008, the quantum key distribution (QKD) demonstration involved secure telephone communications and videoconferencing, as well as a rerouting experiment that demonstrated the functionality of the SEcure COmmunication network based on Quantum Cryptography (SECOQC). "In our paper we have put forward, for the first time, a systematic design that allows unrestricted scalability and interoperability of QKD technologies," the researchers write in their recent journal paper "The SECOQC Key Distribution Network in Vienna." The paper describes the operation of the network and offers an initial estimate for the maximum number of keys that can be exchanged on a QKD network.
CU-Boulder, NASA Test New 'Space Internet' Protocols on International Space Station
University of Colorado at Boulder News Center (07/06/09) Scott, Jim
The University of Colorado at Boulder (CU-Boulder) is collaborating with NASA on the development of a new Interplanetary Internet currently undergoing testing on the International Space Station. Disruption Tolerant Networking (DTN) technology is designed to extend the terrestrial Internet into outer space and the solar system so that NASA and other space agencies around the world can better communicate with international spacecraft fleets that will be used for lunar and Martian exploration. "Highly automated future communications capabilities will be required for lunar habitation and surface exploration that include passing information between orbiting relay satellites, lunar and planetary habitats, and astronauts on the surface," says Kevin Gifford with CU-Boulder's BioServe Space Technologies. "But existing Internet protocols, where Internet hosts and computers are always connected, do not work well for many space-based environments, where intermittently connected operations are common." NASA's Adrian Hooke says the new system eliminates the problem of delays caused by spacecraft moving behind planets or solar storm disruptions because data packages, rather than being jettisoned, are stored as long as needed until an opportunity to transmit them comes up. "By improving data timeliness associated with robotic and human-tended missions, NASA is reducing risk, reducing cost, increasing crew safety, improving operational awareness, and improving science return," Gifford says. "There also are intriguing applications of the DTN technology on Earth. They include the tracking of livestock and wildlife, enhancing Internet 'hot spot' connectivity in remote rural areas in Third World countries, and tactical operations support for the U.S. military."
Beyond--Way Beyond--WIMP Interfaces
ICT Results (07/08/09)
The European Union-funded OpenInterface (OI) project explored the use of touch screens, motion sensors, speech recognition, and other systems to create an open source development framework capable of supporting the design and development of new user interfaces by combining different types of input devices and modalities. "These devices and modalities have been around a long time, but whenever developers seek to employ them in new ways or simply in their applications, they have to reinvent the wheel," says OpenInterface coordinator Laurence Nigay. The OI project created a framework that enables designers to rapidly prototype new input systems and methods. The OI framework consists of a kernel, a graphical tool for assembling components that is built on top of the kernel, and a repository of components. The framework enables developers to explore different interaction possibilities in less time, allowing for the creation of more iterations of a new interface to achieve usable, multimodal user interfaces. The kernel is a component-based platform that manages distributed heterogeneous components based on different technologies, including Java, C++, Matlab, Python, and .NET, and allows for the integration of existing interaction modalities written in different languages. The graphical OpenInterface Interaction Development Environment component of the framework allows designers to assemble components in order to create a "pipeline" for defining certain multimodal interactions. The framework currently includes several interaction devices and modalities.
SIGGRAPH Announces Stereoscopic 3D Cinema and Home Theater Trends
Business Wire (07/07/09)
ACM's SIGGRAPH 2009 conference will take a comprehensive look at how stereoscopic 3D will impact the movie industry as well as the home theater in the years to come. "The Computer Animation Festival programming aims to give the attendees, whether they have a technical or a general entertainment interest in 3D, a full view of what is happening with the genre, both artistically and technically as it evolves," says Carlye Archibeque, executive producer of the festival. "Stereoscopic filmmaking is a technology that is going to go from the cinema experience to the home theater environment faster than we expected, and this content will provide the information needed to understand what's coming in the very near future." Sony's Peter Lude will provide an overview of the issues involved in bringing stereoscopic content to the home, while Bob Whitehill of Pixar Animation Studios will discuss how 3D is used as a visual storytelling device. And the Sony Pictures Imageworks production team will discuss and demonstrate some of their work related to the film "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs." The festival also will offer a behind-the-scenes look at this year's 3D films, and provide additional programs on stereoscopic gaming, scientific and biomedical research, and the evolution of 3D standards for film, broadcast, and the home. SIGGRAPH 2009 will take place Aug. 3-7 in New Orleans.
XHTML 2 Language Dumped in Favor of HTML 5
InfoWorld (07/02/09) Krill, Paul
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) will no longer develop XHTML 2, an XML-based version of HTML that would have provided capabilities for mobile systems and internationalization. Instead, the W3C will focus on HTML 5, the specification for Web application development that offers capabilities such as multimedia for browser-based applications. HTML 5 offers bigger markets and could be a strong rival to existing browser plug-in technologies such as Adobe Flash. "HTML 5 is the language of Web pages," says W3C's Ian Jacobs. With its increased resources, the HTML working group will offer an XML formulation of HTML 5. Community confirmation of its existing work could be sought as part of a "last call" phase with HTML 5 later this year, and could lead to a candidate recommendation phase and development of a test suite. "What the [HTML] group has said is they expect the process of getting implementations [of the specification] to work together is going to be a long process," Jacobs says.
Twente Researcher Develops Self-Learning Security System for Computer Networks
University of Twente (07/01/09) Bruysters, Joost
University of Twente researcher Damiano Bolzoni has developed SilentDefense, an anomaly network intrusion detection system that could lead to a new generation of network security systems. There are two types of network intrusion detection systems. The first uses a database of all known attacks to identify signatures of commonly used methods, but these systems have difficulty stopping new attack methods. The second uses anomaly detection, essentially learning how the network is normally used and searching for any deviation from the standard pattern. Bolzoni says anomaly detection is not widely used because truly effective systems are not commercially available, but he says SilentDefense will rectify this shortcoming. SilentDefense is based on self-learning algorithms, which significantly improves the accuracy of the system and reduces the odds of false positives. Bolzoni says the ideal network intrusion detection system is not one type or another but a combination of the two. However, before such a system can be created, he says a better anomaly detection system needs to be developed.
'Toy Universe' Could Solve Life's Origins
Space.com (07/02/09) Mullen, Leslie
The EvoGrid envisioned by Bruce Damer and a group of international advisers is a simulation of the primordial soup that they intend to use to gain insights about the development of life on Earth by studying the interaction of virtual particles with specific physical properties. "We will be constructing a model of a 'toy universe,' which has approximate properties of the early oceans on Earth," Damer says. The EvoGrid would be comprised of a massive virtual ocean of interacting numbers that would simulate the time prior to the emergence of complex organisms, and the program would seek persistent patterns within the data to detect the occurrence of self-organization. The EvoGrid is being devised as an adaptation of GROMACS, an open source molecular dynamics simulator originally developed at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands. The simulation is designed to have volunteer computers function as part of an interconnected grid for maximum processing capacity. Damer hopes to eventually have 1 million computers connected to the grid. He imagines two possible versions of the EvoGrid--an Origins version that would run by itself without interference, and an Intelligent Designer version in which people could modify the simulation. Damer speculates that "in its ultimate incarnation, a much more powerful EvoGrid would allow us to pose the question: Where in this universe or others might life exist and at what level of complexity?" He says that eventually the organisms created in the EvoGrid could be replicated chemically, while even further out might be the generation of cyber-physical life forms used for terraforming or space colonization achieved through the pairing of more advanced EvoGrids and "ChemoGrids."
A Sophisticated Semantic Search Engine to Speed Up Administrative Procedures
Universidad Politecnica de Madrid (Spain) (07/06/09) Martinez, Eduardo
The Universidad Politecnica de Madrid (UPM) School of Computing's Ontology Engineering Group has developed an ontology-based semantic search engine for government procedures. Citizens can use the search engine to find information on completing such tasks as renewing a driver's license, paying fines, registering their name in a census, or completing tax returns. The search engine is designed to be able to interpret the search query, making it more powerful and accurate than standard search engines. The engine was built by extracting information from public databases to generate ontologies, which model the body of knowledge on Spanish public administration procedures. The researchers were able to gather substantial quantities of metadata, which enables the search engine to provide an optimized service for users by automating and simplifying the search, reducing search times, and offering more refined results. The researchers say the technology developed for the search engine could be applied to other branches of knowledge, and follows a trend to provide citizens with fast and practical information on public services.
Darpa's Smart, Flat Camera Is Packed With Beady Eyes
Wired (07/09) Hambling, David
Southern Methodist University professor Marc Christensen, backed by funding from the U.S. Defense Department's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, has developed Panoptes, an ultra-slim camera technology that combines images from numerous low-resolution sensors to create a high-resolution picture. Panoptes can be used to create powerful, lightweight cameras that are only five millimeters thick. The technology could be employed in miniature unmanned vehicles or helmet-cams for soldiers, Christensen says. The technology features tiny imagers, which are cameras operated by a microelectro-mechanical systems-controlled micro-mirror. A central processor combines the smaller images into a single image. The system is capable of identifying areas of interest and concentrating the sub-imagers on important areas. Christensen provides an example of when the Panoptes system photographed a building in a field. "After a first frame or two was collected, the system could identify that certain areas, like the open field, had nothing of interest, whereas other areas, like the license plate of a car parked outside or peering in the windows, had details that were not sufficiently resolved," he says. "In the next frame, subimagers that had been interrogating the field would be steered to aid in the imaging of the license plate and windows, thereby extracting the additional information." The system also is capable of combining the overlapping images to eliminate the noise that is common in low-resolution imagers such as camera phones while still maintaining a frame rate of approximately 30 to 60 frames per second.
Video Tool to Zoom in on Criminals
Indo-Asian News Service (India) (07/01/09)
Researchers at Tel Aviv University (TAU) have developed software that enhances the resolution of raw video images and improves the quality of the images. TAU professor Leonid Yaroslavsky and colleagues used specially designed algorithms to build a video perfection application that works with cameras and video analysis equipment. The tool stabilizes images, which otherwise would appear distorted due to variations in the air. These atmospheric changes can affect the sight of a camera. "This enhancement of resolution can be a critical factor in locating terrorists or identifying criminal suspects," Yaroslavsky says. He says the software can improve images from security cameras, military binoculars, and personal video cameras. The new tool can work with live video or with recordings that are in color or black and white.
Building a Crash-Proof Internet
New Scientist (06/29/09) Daviss, Bennett
The Internet's susceptibility to earthquakes, accidents, and other disruptions appears to be greater than people originally assumed, and a great deal of the Net's physical infrastructure is badly outdated, with upgrading challenged by high costs and technical obstacles. Stanford University computer scientist Nick McKeown has identified the router as the key to making the Internet more resilient, and with colleague Guru Parulkar is working on a system that can modify a router's control software on the spur of the moment while also providing a safe testbed. McKeown hopes that the adoption of the OpenFlow system will allow the Internet to adapt to shifting loads, dynamically tweaking routes to contend with increases in traffic, and making the ride smoother for Web surfers regardless of disruptions. OpenFlow also could facilitate the inexpensive and rapid implementation of a virtual Internet in which thousands of researchers can test and refine novel concepts concurrently. OpenFlow enables software engineers and developers to create their own routes for data packets by writing the algorithms on a regular computer and transmitting them through a secure link to the router, thus allowing the partitioning of a network into any number of isolated sections where researchers can experiment with their ideas. The deployment of new ideas should be accelerated thanks to the open source nature of OpenFlow's software, McKeown says. One of OpenFlow's key advantages could lie in its ability to change the way that data packets travel across the network, as the system could enable competing multipath schemes to be tested on the same network to qualify the benefits they offer. The system also could allow network operators to alter their router's rules so that specific kinds of data are transmitted along specific routes, while network security could be enhanced by OpenFlow because it could enable the testing of more secure versions of router code on existing systems without impeding traffic.
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