Welcome to the March 3, 2010 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
US Plan to Make Hacking Harder Revealed
Financial Times (03/03/10) P. 4; Menn, Joseph
The Obama administration has declassified part of its plan to improve the security of cyberspace in an attempt to cultivate greater collaboration between government and civilian groups. More cooperation between the private sector and the U.S. National Security Agency is the centerpiece of the Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative (CNCI). The declassified abstract of the plan reveals that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security will operate a new security system, called Einstein 3, that analyzes email and other data traffic into and out of federal networks. CNCI also urges merged oversight of federal spending on research and development in cybersecurity, with a particular focus on "leap-ahead" technology. Although the initiative acknowledges that traditional security approaches "have not achieved the level of security needed," it says the federal government is now outlining "grand challenges" for the research community to help solve the most difficult problems.
Skills Experts Bemoan Poor IT Teaching
V3.co.uk (03/02/10) Marshall, Rosalie
Information technology (IT) needs to be taught a different way in schools if the industry is to deepen its talent pool, experts in the United Kingdom said during a recent e-Skills event. British Computer Society CEO David Clarke says that although young people are more connected than anyone else in society, they view IT as boring in school because it is taught in a secretarial manner. Students are trained to copy the teachers' instructions, but they prefer to learn in groups and work on practical tasks, Clarke says. The Confederation of British Industry's (CBI's) Lizzie Holman says the same problem exists at the degree level. CBI statistics show that 64 percent of science, high technology, and IT employers believe students do not receive relevant content for the workforce. Europe faces a potential shortage of 384,000 information and communication technology practitioners by 2015, according to the European Commission.
The Interpreter in the Laptop
Karlsruche Institute of Technology (02/25/10) Zuber-Knost, Elisabeth
Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) scientists will demonstrate several research projects at the upcoming CeBIT conference. In KIT's language-to-language translation device, automatic language recognition is combined with automatic translation and language synthesis technologies. The system serves as an automatic interpreter of lectures and parliamentary debates. It recognizes and translates language in real time and can be read as a continuously output text or heard over loudspeakers or smartphones. KIT researchers also have developed a system, based on the principle of electromyography, which enables people to speak soundlessly and still to be understood by a conversational partner. Meanwhile, the KIT Institute for Cryptography and Security developed a system that enables mobile users to generate a joint secret that can be used for encoding communications. The system creates a "joint key" for communication partners from the interferences of the radio transmission channel. KIT researchers also have developed Semantic Media Wiki, an extension of the Media Wiki software that enables users to typify cross references within a Wiki.
Striving to Map the Shape-Shifting Net
New York Times (03/01/10) Markoff, John
Some researchers who study the architecture of global networks believe that peering is fundamentally transforming the Internet's configuration, with far-reaching ramifications for the Web's stability and security. Arbor Networks' Internet Observatory Report found that the bulk of Internet traffic by volume flows directly between major content providers such as Google and consumer networks such as Comcast, while 30 percent of all traffic is produced and consumed by 30 "hyper giant" portals such as Microsoft, Facebook, and YouTube. The edge of the Internet is getting thicker due to the emergence of massive peering fabrics, which may be fortifying the network's resilience. "The rise of these highly connected data centers around the world is changing our model of the Internet," says Cornell University researcher Jon M. Kleinberg. However, he notes that the advent of giant distributed data centers as part of the development of cloud computing services is enlarging the dark Internet, compounding scientists' difficulty in constructing a complete model. "The Internet as we know it is pretty much vanishing, in the sense that much of the traffic is being routed through lots of new layers and applications, much of it wireless," says Albert-Laszlo Barabasi, director of Northeastern University's Center for Network Science.
Software Sniffs Out Criminals By the Shape of Their Nose
University of Bath (03/02/10) Just, Vicky
University of Bath scientists have developed a biometric system for identifying people based on their nose shape. The researchers used a photographic system called PhotoFace to scan the three-dimensional shape of volunteers' noses and used software to analyze them according to six main nose shapes. The researchers focused on the ridge profile, the nose tip, and the section between the eyes at the top of the nose. The researchers say their system offers a good recognition rate and a faster rate of image processing than whole face recognition techniques. "The technique is able to achieve a level of detail that is beyond current competing technologies and can be extended to a myriad of other applications, ranging from industrial surface inspection to cosmetics," says University of West England professor Melvyn Smith. The researchers plan to build a larger database of noses to test the software to see if it can identify individuals from a bigger group of people or from blood relatives.
What's Next for High-Performance Computing?
UCSD News (02/24/10) Zverina, Jan
The fusion of high-performance computing (HPC) and high-performance data (HPD) could potentially result in the generation of robust systems that are at least one order of magnitude faster than anything the HPC community currently uses for certain applications, says San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC) interim director Michael Norman. Last November, SDSC announced plans to construct Gordon, a data-intensive supercomputer that is expected to read latency-bound files at 10 times the speed and efficiency of current HPC systems with the help of flash memory solid state drives. Ultimately, Gordon will possess 245 teraflops of total compute power, 64 TB of digital random access memory, and 256 TB of flash memory. Gordon also will assist in the integration of HPC and HPD because it is designed for data-intensive predictive science as well as data-mining applications.
Bio-Inspired Computer Networks Self-Organise and Learn
ICT Results (02/26/10)
Researchers working on the European Union-funded PERPLEXUS project have developed a computing platform inspired by biological systems in which a self-configuring wireless network connects several modules to enable them to operate as a coherent group. PERPLEXUS is based on the ubidule, a purpose-designed module that can take information from the environment, share data wirelessly, and adapt its behavior to different circumstances. In large networks, ubidules can evolve to specialize in a certain task, which other ubidules then delegate to them. The researchers say that ubidules can model grid-based problems in the physical sciences, as well as more challenging biological and social sciences problems. Another branch of the PERPLEXUS project involved a fleet of all-terrain robots equipped with ubichips. The researchers developed a strategy known as collective robotics, in which groups of robots communicate with one another to perform a task and are more effective than the same robots acting individually.
3D Display Made of Flying Pixel-Copters in the Works
New Scientist (02/25/10) Barras, Colin
Flying pixels have the potential to offer a more immersive three-dimensional (3D) viewing experience than 3D television sets, according to engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The engineers describe their unique 3D display, called Flyfire, as a flock of tiny aircraft carrying multicolored light-emitting diodes (LEDs). The pixels can hover in front of a viewer and form an image, but they also can change their position to add greater depth to the image. "It's a 3D display with a dual aspect--it can show an image like a traditional display, but then those pixels can move and transform into another shape," says MIT's E. Roon Kang. The initial proof-of-principle experiments used quad-rotor helicopters more than 10 centimeters across, and the precise control of their altitude was within three centimeters. Kang says it could take at least five years to make a display with 1,000 or more of the small flying pixels. MIT's Emilio Frazzoli says onboard controls and a central control system also will be needed to coordinate pixel movement.
Nanomachinery Lights Up
Royal Society of Chemistry (02/25/10) Brindley, Lewis
Nagoya University researchers have developed a light-activated switch to turn nanomachines on and off. The team used tiny triggered tweezers made of DNA to open and close in response to ultraviolet (UV) and visible light. "We are designing DNA nano-robotics that are mechanically operated by light rather than chemical fuel," says Nagoya researcher Hiroyuki Asanuma. The researchers focused on a loop of DNA that looks like a hairpin with two arms. At the end of each arm, azobenzene groups are integrated into the DNA sequence. Under visible light, the azobenzene groups adopt the trans isomer, allowing the base pairs to join together. When UV light is applied, the azobenzene groups switch to the more sterically-constrained cis isomer. The system is fully reversible, allowing it to have great potential to be applied to other nanotechnologies that use DNA. "To be able to switch biomolecular conformational changes is of considerable interest for many applications in biomedicine and bionanotechnology," says Technical University of Munich's Friedrich Simmel.
Making Sense of Mountains of Data
Technology Review (02/25/10) Naone, Erica
Microsoft Live Labs researchers have developed Pivot, a tool designed to visually organize large data sets. Pivot presents data in the form of several images accompanied by textual data. Users can zoom into the images to study individual pieces of data, or zoom out to see items grouped according to certain criteria. Data collections can contain a few images with static data attached, or they can be large and connected to a feed of changing data. Pivot is based on Microsoft's Seadragon, software designed for manipulating large amounts of visual information. Users can make their own collections of data by converting images to the Deep Zoom format used by Seadragon, and annotate them using a format based on extensible markup language. Pivot also could provide a better way to sort through Internet search results, because users could sort through thousands of results visually, instead of just looking a list of the top 10 search results.
Deluge of Scientific Data Needs to Be Curated for Long-Term Use
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (02/24/10) Ciciora, Phil
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign professor Carole Palmer says data curation is an important part of supporting and advancing research. "This is especially important in data-intensive science, where the power of discovery lies in applying computational approaches to large, aggregated data sets," Palmer says. She says researchers need to plan around data-management requirements from the beginning of their projects, and to think in terms of a data set's lifecycle. The biggest hurdles to overcome in collecting, curating, and managing data over a long period of time involve cost and labor. Even with the Internet and search engines, data stored online does not last nearly as long as data preserved in print. "We're just beginning to do the research needed to guide how we build large-scale, multidisciplinary data repositories and collect and manage data in ways that add value and promote sharing and integration across laboratories, institutions, and disciplines," Palmer says.
Attack Unmasks User Behind the Browser
Dark Reading (02/23/10) Higgins, Kelly Jackson
Vienna University of Technology researchers have developed the "deanonymization" attack as a way to reveal the identity of Internet users based on their interactions in social networks. The attack uses social networking groups as well as traditional browser history-stealing tactics to single out specific users. The researchers focused on Germany's Xing business social network and Facebook and matched stolen browsing histories with social network group members to identify users. "It is the combination of history stealing and group information that is novel," says Vienna University post-doctoral researcher Gilbert Wondracek. Criminals could use the deanonymization method for targeted attacks, which only requires that the victim visit a malicious Web site that contains the attack code. There is no fix for the attack, but users can turn off their browsing history or use a private-browsing mode to minimize the risk.
The Grill: Tom Mitchell
Computerworld (02/22/10) Mitchell, Robert L.
Tom Mitchell, head of Carnegie Mellon University's Machine Learning Department, says that advances in machine learning could bring about a transformation in psychology and neuroscience. Mitchell says that his group has trained an algorithm to study functional magnetic resonance imaging scans of a person's brain activity and determine what object they are thinking about. "We can look inside your brain when you see the color red, and we can look inside my brain when I see the color red, and we can ask, 'Is it or is it not the same pattern of neural activity?' " he notes. Mitchell speculates that people could conceivably be networked to exchange information so that one person can tell what the other is thinking. He observes that a number of researchers are developing brain-computer interfaces that can enable the decoding of a person's thoughts. This could be particularly useful for "locked in" patients who are speech- and mobility-disabled.
Researchers Envision High-Tech Applications for 'Multiferroic' Crystals
Florida State University (02/11/10) Ray, Barry
Florida State University (FSU) researchers have discovered four crystals that possess properties which could lead to the development of a new generation of computer chips and other information storage devices. "We identified these four crystals as 'multiferroic,' meaning that they are simultaneously ferromagnetic and ferroelectric in nature when cooled to a specific temperature," says FSU professor Naresh Dalal. Multiferroic crystals could be used to create high-powered computer memories that could hold far more information than is currently possible, says FSU professor Sir Harold Kroto. "Theoretically, it might be possible to design devices that are much smaller and faster than the ones we use today to store and transmit data," Kroto says. The researchers say that electronic devices using multiferroic crystals would have far less environmental impact than devices used today. "The four new multiferroic crystals that we have identified all substitute other, less toxic metals for lead, which is a potent neurotoxin," Dalal says.
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