Welcome to the April 7, 2010 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
After Google-China Dust-Up, Cyberwar Emerges as a Threat
Computerworld (04/07/10) Vijayan, Jaikumar
Recent cyberattacks originating in China against Google and other tech firms highlight concerns about adversaries' ability to launch a full-fledged cyberwar against the United States. Many see the hacks as an indication that the United States is already engaged in an undeclared cyberwar--and losing. Such worries are spurring action in the form of a pair of cybersecurity bills, one of which would link U.S. financial aid to a nation's willingness to combat cybercrime, while the other would bolster domestic cybersecurity and mandate that the president work with private industry on responding to a cybercrisis. Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department is mulling the establishment of a cybersecurity ambassador for the United Nations--a key issue, as no settled definition of cyberwar exists and various countries are already trying to determine the implications, declaration protocols, and counter-strategies of a cyberwar. Amit Yoran, former director of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's National Cyber Security Division, says there increasingly appears to be a point of connection between perpetrators of cybertheft and cyberespionage.
Court Rules for Comcast Over FCC in 'Net Neutrality' Case
Washington Post (04/07/10) P. A1; Kang, Cecilia
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit has ruled that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) does not have the authority to enforce network neutrality, or require that Internet service providers treat all Web traffic equally. The decision could impede other efforts, such as the Obama administration's agenda to implement a nationwide deployment of broadband Internet service. Additionally, the ruling could spur the FCC or Congress to write new rules or legislation to more solidly entrench the agency as an Internet services regulator. The commission could impose new rules on broadband providers by placing them within the same category as phone operators. Former FCC chairman Michael K. Powell warns that imposing net neutrality rules would damage broadband network investments. Telecom lawyers say the opaque power the FCC has over Internet access has complicated the agency's transition from phone- and broadcast-era regulation.
Computer-Enhanced Vision Adds a 'Sixth Sense'
Agence France Presse (04/06/10)
Engineers and scientists at the inaugural Augmented Human International Conference in France unveiled cutting-edge research on improving human perception with information from the Internet, customized databases, and biofeedback systems. For example, scientists from the Telecommunications Research Center in Vienna altered an eye-tracking device and connected it to the Web. The system trains one camera on the user's eye and another on the scene being observed. The cameras are connected to a smartphone with a built-in compass and global positioning system, which enables the system to track the user's orientation and location. The system also features sensors to show whether the user is looking up or down. By closing their eyes for two seconds, users trigger a request for information about the location in view. A remotely accessed computer then scans geo-referenced databases, such as Google Earth, and forwards the results to the user's cell phone.
Visual Artists to Sue Google Over Vast Library Project
New York Times (04/06/10) Helft, Miguel
Google's library project is facing a new legal challenge, as groups representing visual artists plan to file a class-action lawsuit asserting that the company's efforts to digitize millions of books infringes on their copyrights. The groups suing Google include the American Society of Media Photographers, the Graphic Artists Guild, the North American Nature Photography Association, and the Professional Photographers of America. The complaint claims that Google's widespread copying efforts infringe on the rights of photographers and other creators of graphic works. "We are seeking justice and fair compensation for visual artists whose work appears in the 12 million books and other publications Google has illegally scanned to date," says American Society of Media Photographers general counsel Victor Perlman. The lawsuit includes Google's "partner program," under which some publishers allow Google to include their books in the company's book search service. The suit is not expected to delay or affect Google's copyright settlement with authors and book publishers, which is awaiting court approval.
Carnegie Mellon Student Uses Skin as Input For Smart Phones and Other Mobile Devices
Carnegie Mellon News (04/06/10) Spice, Byron
Carnegie Mellon University Ph.D. student Chris Harrison and Microsoft researchers Desney Tan and Dan Morris have developed Skinput, technology that combines bio-acoustic sensors and machine-learning programs to enable people to use parts of the body as touchpads to control mobile devices. The researchers say Skinput could help people take advantage of the computer power that is currently available in compact devices that can be worn or carried. "With Skinput, we can use our own skin--the body's largest organ--as an input device," Harrison says. In a prototype, acoustic sensors, which capture sound generated by actions such as flicking or tapping fingers together, are attached to the upper arm. The researchers found that the tap of each fingertip produces a unique acoustic signature that machine-learning programs could learn to identify. In a test involving 20 subjects, the system was able to identify inputs with 88 percent accuracy. The prototype armband features a sensor array and a small projector that can superimpose buttons onto the user's forearm, as well as create a keypad on the palm of the hand.
Haptic Solution for Modelling Industrial Designs
ICT Results (04/05/10)
European researchers have developed SATIN, a system that combines touch-sensitive haptic technology with three-dimensional digital modeling and computer-aided design (CAD) to enable designers to feel and shape their work physically and virtually. The researchers say that SATIN could save companies time and money by raising designers' productivity and improving the quality of new products. "Haptics is far from a mature technology, and this project was one of the first to build a haptic system for industrial designers," says Politecnico di Milano professor Monica Bodegoni. SATIN consists of two haptic devices, which position and rotate a robotic spline. The spline is fitted with actuators and sensors, which enable it to automatically twist and bend to the shape of a digital representation of the product uploaded by the designer into the system. "The spline both responds to inputs made to the digital model on the computer and outputs changes made by the designer to the physical interface," Bodegoni says.
Researchers Trace Data Theft to Intruders in China
New York Times (04/05/10) Markoff, John; Barboza, David; Bajaj, Vikas
Over the past eight months a team of U.S. and Canadian researchers have spied on a gang of intruders that stole sensitive information from the Indian Defense Ministry and traced them to China. A report from the researchers indicates that the ring extensively employed Internet services such as Twitter, Yahoo! Mail, and Google Groups to automate the control of computers once they had been commandeered. The investigators gained access to the control servers used by the gang to monitor the theft of a broad spectrum of material, and traced the attacks to intruders that appeared to be based in Chengdu. Among the stolen material were documents related to the travel of NATO forces in Afghanistan, which demonstrated that many nations can be put at risk of exposure by a single computer security hole. "An important question to be entertained is whether the [People's Republic of China (PRC)] will take action to shut the Shadow Network down," the report says. "Doing so will help to address long-standing concerns that malware ecosystems are actively cultivated, or at the very least tolerated, by governments like the PRC who stand to benefit from their exploits though the black and gray markets for information and data."
Daksh Is Cynosure of All Eyes
Sakaal Times (04/05/10) Kulkarni, Sushant
Scientists from India's Research and Development Establishment (RDE) have developed Daksh, a robot designed to detect and dispose of hazardous objects. Daksh features a master control station that enables users to control it from a distance of 500 meters and through seven thick walls. An X-ray attachment is used for the detection of improvised explosive devices. The robot also features a water jet disrupter, which fires water at the speed of sound and can pierce thick surfaces. The battery-powered robot, designed by a 10-member team led by RDE's Alok Mukherjee, can run for four hours and features four cameras for navigation.
iPhone Application to Scan for Food Allergens
Deakin University (03/31/10)
Researchers at Australia's Deakin University are developing an iPhone application that would enable consumers to scan packaged food products' barcodes and receive detailed allergen information. Viewing information on wheat, egg, peanuts, and shellfish on an iPhone would enable consumers to make quick and informed purchasing decisions. "When you read a label the product information is often so small you can barely read it, nor understand it," says Deakin professor Caroline Chan. "We wanted to really harness all this information on the bar-coding system and team it up with detailed product information provided by Nestle to give consumers a tool that had the potential to improve their health and raise public awareness." Chan says the application could be expanded to provide detailed information to consumers who have special diets or specific nutritional needs.
A Grand Unified Theory of AI
MIT News (03/30/10) Hardesty, Larry
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) research scientist Noah Goodman has developed Church, a programming language that combines a rules-based artificial intelligence (AI) system with probabilistic inference systems. "What's brilliant about this is that it allows you to build a cognitive model in a fantastically much more straightforward and transparent way than you could do before," says University College London professor Nick Chater. In testing, the Church program behaved almost exactly like a human subject and did a significantly better job of modeling human thought than traditional AI algorithms. Although Chater says Church is currently too computationally intensive for use in general-purpose mind simulators, he says getting the system to run is a significant achievement.
Genesis Climbs a Mountain to Prove Wireless Internet Can Deliver Advanced Telecoms
Celtic Genesis, a European research project, recently demonstrated that Voice over Internet Protocol technology, transmitted over WiMAX high-speed wireless broadband networks, can provide rural communities with reliable service for telephones, video, and other multimedia applications. The main focus of the Genesis project was ensuring compatibility between wired and wireless networks. Genesis provided a seamless use of a high-quality services, plus access to various Internet-based applications, says project coordinator Mark Roddy of Lake Communications. The researchers built and tested the system at the Instituto Tecnologico de Aragon, which also coordinated the integration of platform elements. The system was then given a real-world test in the high mountains of northeast Spain. "Having real users at that stage of research is not so common, and it is easy to lose sight of how products can be used in real situations," says Telefonica's Santiago Martin.
Silicon Cockroaches, 'Dirty' IPv4 Addresses and Other Internet Oddities
Network World (03/31/10) Marsan, Carolyn Duffy
A few surprising Internet trends were detailed at the recent Internet Engineering Task Force conference, including an expected flood of silicon cockroaches, a term used to describe Internet-linked devices such as radio-frequency identification-powered asset trackers that run free of human control. Internet Research Task Force chairman Aaron Falk said that silicon cockroaches are a key variable in the Internet evolving into a network of things, and he warned that such devices could create naming, security, and management problems for network operators. Another topic discussed was the predominance of "dirty" IPv4 address space, which refers to unapportioned prefixes used by various organizations to number their internal networks. The concern is that if a network operator begins broadcasting one of these "dirty" IPv4 prefixes, users will be blocked from sites and networks that employ that prefix internally. Meanwhile, Yanick Pouffary, an IPv6 Forum Fellow, said the European Union will be unable to fulfill its promise of having a quarter of its Internet users migrating to IPv6 by May, although a positive development is an increase of European carriers running trials of IPv6.
Making Voting Systems Open Source Could Forever Change Election Technology
Government Technology (03/30/10) Collins, Hilton
The nonprofit Open Source Digital Voting (OSDV) Foundation is developing a suite of open source election software that allows users to see and tweak the underlying computer code, which advocates say enables a global expert community to assess the code's security and make positive changes. OSDV's Greg Miller says that eight U.S. states are engaged in the foundation's Trust the Vote project, and custom, modular tools might be necessary to address different jurisdictions' various requirements and needs. Customization will be built into the OSDV's suite, which could prove essential in the extremely scattered voting system market. Miller says the foundation's goal is to have all of its election elements in place and a system that is ready for federal certification by the time of the general election in 2016. ODSV developers already have built an online open source voting registration tool, and a series of Web-based data management services are either deployed or in the prototype phase.
Electroactive Polymer Design Opens Door to 'Full Screen' Displays for the Blind
NCSU News (03/29/10) Shipman, Matt
North Carolina State University (NCSU) researchers are developing a display system that would allow the blind to utilize the Web and other applications. "The last 20 years of computer technology have been relatively inaccessible--and today's common mobile computing devices, from smart-phones to digital navigators and iPads, have been completely nonexistent--to blind people, because the display technology for the blind has not kept pace," says NCSU researcher David Winick. The researchers have developed a concept called a hydraulic and latching mechanism that would allow the development of a full-page, refreshable Braille display system. The system also could translate images into tactile displays, allowing the full-page Braille display to represent the images as raised dots. The mechanism would be made of an electroactive polymer that is resilient and inexpensive. "We hope to have a fully functioning prototype of the mechanism within a year, and that could serve as the functional building block of a full-screen refreshable display," says NCSU professor Neil Di Spigna.
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