Welcome to the June 17, 2011 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Tech Executives See Paths for Women, Especially Geeks
Wall Street Journal (06/16/11) Amir Efrati
Google executives Susan Wojcicki, Jen Fitzpatrick, and Marissa Mayer agree in an interview that despite the lack of women in senior positions, the emergence of social media companies seems to be drawing more women to the technology field. Mayer says the population of women in tech will grow and a greater balance of genders in senior roles will be established if the United States can produce more computer scientists in general. The women observe that Facebook, Twitter, and other social media companies are sparking interest in technology among young girls. Wojcicki says that modern kids are well versed in mobile technology, and this "does pave the way for the next generation, which will start to see it as a cool and good career." Wojcicki also notes that certain myths need to be debunked in order to clear a path for women in tech, such as the myth that one must be rigorously technical to achieve success. "You have to understand technology but you don't have to be the person who wrote every line of code," she stresses. Wojcicki also says that having peers and friends in one's job is more important than having mentors. "That sort of thing is especially important for women where confidence tends to get in their way, especially in the early years," Fitzpatrick notes.
NSA Allies With Internet Carriers to Thwart Cyber Attacks Against Defense Firms
Washington Post (06/16/11) Ellen Nakashima
The U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) and Internet service providers (ISPs) are collaborating to foil cyberattacks against U.S. defense firms by deploying a new generation of tools to monitor digital traffic. The effort depends on sophisticated NSA data sets to recognize malware inserted into the flow of Internet data feeding to defense contractors. The program was initiated in May on a voluntary, trial basis, and deputy defense secretary William J. Lynn III says the pilot "could serve as a model that can be transported to other critical infrastructure sectors, under the leadership of the Department of Homeland Security." The Center for Democracy & Technology's James X. Dempsey says that restricting NSA's role to sharing data is an elegant solution to the challenge of tapping the agency's expertise while avoiding domestic government surveillance. The pilot does not entail direct government monitoring of the contractors' networks, according to officials. The program employs NSA-developed malware signatures and sequences of suspicious network behavior to screen the Internet traffic streaming to major defense firms, permitting ISPs to disable the threats before an attack can breach a contractor's servers. NSA technology can only screen for known threats, and the program does not defend against insider threats or hackers who have compromised security software.
New Tools to Help Objects to Communicate via the Net
Research Council of Norway (06/17/11) Geir Aas; Else Lie
Norwegian researchers are working on standardized tools and distribution platforms for the Internet of Things through the Infrastructure for Integrated Services (ISIS) project. The platform they have created includes the Arctis programming tool for developers and the ISIS Store Web site for downloading applications. Norwegian University of Science and Technology researcher Frank Alexander Kraemer says Arctis will help ease the generation of new apps, their adaptation to existing apps, and the updating of software on an as-needed basis. The Telenor Group's Reidar Martin Svendsen says the ICE Composition Engine will facilitate communication between objects, and his company aims to become an Internet of Things operator by functioning as a connection between developers and end users. Through the App Store, end users can purchase and download apps published by developers based on their own needs and preferences, while the Puzzle software enables downloaded apps to be combined as needed. The ISIS project's success hinges on the willingness of people to pay for the apps, and Svendsen notes that app prices will be determined by developers. "If your system needs updating or you require a service, it is an advantage to be using a reputable, recognized operator," he says.
New Software Improves the Maintenance and Management of Forests
Forests could receive better maintenance and management using new software developed by a team at the Polytechnic University of Valencia (UPV). The software is designed to generate maps of forest areas with information on timber volume, biomass, or the height of trees. UPV researchers designed the software to integrate the Light Detection And Ranging (LiDAR) data treatment process from the generation of digital terrain models, feature extraction, and model estimation of forest variables to produce the final maps. The researchers also developed the LiDAR technology used by the software. The position and coordinates of the recorded points are registered, therefore measuring terrain, vegetation, buildings, and other elements in three dimensions, and the final point cloud data can be processed and analyzed for different applications. "From airborne LiDAR data and software application, we generate maps that can improve knowledge about the evolution of a forest, how its structure and characteristics change, as well as its potential to absorb CO2 and its wood volume," says UPV researcher Luis Angel Ruiz. "All this has positive effects on its maintenance, fire prevention, or sustainable use."
Let Software Choose the Soundtrack to Your Pictures
New Scientist (06/15/11) Jacob Aron
Researchers have developed an algorithm that automatically suggests a soundtrack for a user's photo slideshows and videos. Saarland University's Aleksandar Stupar and Sebastian Michel trained Picture Categorization for Suggesting Soundtracks (PICASSO) about what makes a good soundtrack by having it analyze existing movies. For example, PICASSO learned that fast-paced techno music often accompanies a high-speed car chase, or classical music is often featured with a quiet walk in the country. When fed new images, PICASSO will compare them with movie stills in its database to find the top 10 closest matches, look at the soundtracks that accompany the movie images and search for similar music, and then suggest the 10 best tracks for the images. PICASSO currently is limited to a few hundred copyright-free tracks. Stupar and Michel plan to develop an iPhone app that enables smartphone users to pick music from their own MP3 collections. "We hope to have it up and running in a month so people can try the system," Stupar says. The researchers also tested the suitability of PICASSO's soundtrack selections on humans.
IBM's New Future: Quantum Computing
Computerworld (06/16/11) Patrick Thibodeau
Over the next 20 years, the potential of quantum computing could lead to a development boom in chip and hardware design similar to what Silicon Valley experienced in the 1980s. Following Moore's Law, and then shrinking by another factor of 10 from the leading-edge processors of today, quantum-based transistors will be so small that "you cross into a quantum mechanical regime of operation--there's no precedent for that," says Bernard Meyerson, IBM's vice president of innovation. IBM researchers have studied quantum theory for years, and recently have experimented with the concepts, says Bill Gallagher, IBM's senior manager of quantum computing. "It's one of our most significant fundamental research projects now, and may be one of the largest fundamental ones," Gallagher says. Quantum computers could provide a big boost to technologies that are problematic for conventional computers, such as machine learning, artificial intelligence, and logistics. Some researchers are worried that quantum computers could be able to break cryptographic protection, but Security Innovation has developed a public key algorithm, NTRUSignTM, that the company claims is resistant to quantum computing attacks.
Nanomagnetic Computers Are the Ultimate in Efficiency
Wired News (06/14/11) Lisa Grossman
Nanomagnetic computers would break the second law of thermodynamics if they used any less energy, according to new calculations from a team led by the University of California, Berkeley's Brian Lambson. The team estimated how magnetic fields would change during computation, then calculated the energy required to make those changes to determine how little energy nanomagnetic chips might consume. The results were close to the theoretical limit set by physicist Rolf Landauer. He argued in 1961 that altering a single bit of energy always produces a tiny amount of heat and that there would always be an accompanying transfer of energy no matter how a computer is built. "Magnetic systems are unique in that they have no moving parts," Lambson says. "Moving parts are really what dissipate a lot of energy in physical systems, whether it's moving electrons or physical material." Although such computers are still semi-theoretical and nanomagnetic chips are still in their infancy, machines that run on chips made from tiny magnets could one day be used in deep oceans or deep space, where energy efficiency is at premium.
There's a Mouse in the Maze
UCSD News (CA) (06/15/11) Ioana Patringenaru
Robotic mice designed by teams from eight universities competed to solve a maze in the first-ever Southern California robotic mouse contest hosted by the University of California San Diego (UCSD) Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. The robots are fully autonomous, and their objective is to reach the center of the labyrinth as quickly as possible. They usually employ a microcontroller and infrared sensors reflecting off the walls, while some also utilize a wireless interface to send debugging data back to their team's laptop. All of the robots map out the maze, return to the starting point, and make a run for the center, using the quickest route they have determined. However, the individual mice use different methods to find the center of the labyrinth. Some map the maze in its entirety and then plot a path to the center, while others map the maze only until they have ascertained the center's location, and then make a run. The competition was won by a UCSD team, whose robot solved the maze in 39 seconds.
What Gamers Want: Researchers Develop Tool to Predict Player Behavior
NCSU News (06/14/11) Matt Shipman
A new method for accurately predicting the behavior of players in online role-playing games has been developed by a team at North Carolina State University (NCSU). The tool is able to predict what a player will do based on previous behavior, with up to 80 percent accuracy, says NCSU's Brent Harrison. The team developed the data-driven predictive method by collecting data on 14,000 World of Warcraft players and the order in which they earned their task-based achievement badges, identifying the degree to which each individual achievement was correlated to every other achievement, and using the data to identify groups of achievements or cliques that were closely related. The cliques could be used to predict future behavior, and the gaming industry could use the tool to develop new content. "This research can help researchers get it right, because if you have a good idea of what players like, you can make informed decisions about the kind of storylines and mechanics those players would like in the future," says NCSU professor David L. Roberts. The tool also could be used to help steer players to the parts of a game they would enjoy most or to content that is suited to their gaming style.
Protecting Medical Implants From Attack
MIT News (06/13/11) Larry Hardesty
Although millions of people worldwide have implantable medical devices, recent research has shown that these devices are vulnerable to attack, such as an attacker instructing a device to deliver lethal doses of medicine or electricity. Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Massachusetts-Amherst have developed a system to prevent such attacks. The system involves the use of a second transmitter to block unauthorized signals in an implant's operating frequency, which prevents everyone but authorized users from communicating with it. The jamming transmitter would be small enough to wear as a necklace or a watch. The researchers experimented with implantable defibrillators taken secondhand from Boston-area hospitals and programmable off-the-shelf transmitters to simulate the shield. They developed a technique that enables the shield to send and receive signals in the same frequency band at the same time. "I think that's what people liked about it, that you could do it with existing devices, and that you did not have a lot of the overhead that it would take to come up with an entirely new thing," says University of California, San Diego professor Stefan Savage.
European Cloud Projects Center Stage in Timisoara
HPC in the Cloud (06/13/11) Jose Luis Vazquez-Poletti
The Second Workshop on Software Services: Cloud Computing and Applications based on Software Services showcased several European cloud initiatives, says University of Madrid professor Jose Luis Vazquez-Poletti. Of note was the Haifa Research Lab's VISION Cloud project, which is pursuing the construction of a scalable and flexible infrastructure for data-intensive storage services and enablers. The StratusLab project from France's Laboratoire de l'Acclrateur Linaire Centre Scientifique d'Orsay devises and supplies an open source cloud distribution that permits data centers to expose their computing resources as an infrastructure as a service-type cloud. Meanwhile, the REMICS project of Norway's SINTEF is creating a tool-supported model-driven methodology for migrating legacy applications to compatible service cloud platforms. Emergence Tech's gSLM effort concentrates on service level management and service delivery management with the goal of bringing experiences and strategies from commercial information technology service management and providing ways to deliver them in the grid and e-infrastructure domain. Other projects are focusing on cloud service level architectures and management, including Atos Research and Innovation's Cloud4SOA.
Usenix Researchers Tackle Building a More Resourceful Cloud
IDG News Service (06/14/11) Joab Jackson
Investigating new strategies in scheduling workloads in the computer cloud that could work to the advantage of both cloud providers and users was the focus of the first round of papers presented at the Usenix HotCloud 2011 Workshop. Under discussion by researchers was how to define cloud computing jobs by the required hardware, and how to instill more flexibility into pricing. "The physical resources to actually implement a cloud are incredibly expensive, and so, having built it, you want to pack in as much work as possible into that infrastructure," says Microsoft Research's David Maltz. "Hence scheduling becomes really important." The researchers proposed that two types of machines should be assigned to each cloud--a set of core node servers committed to basic tasks, and a set of accelerated nodes that can be added on a temporary basis to assist with performing the more computationally heavy workloads. Users would submit jobs to a cloud driver that would apportion the appropriate number of nodes to the chore. Institute of Science and Technology Austria researcher Damien Zufferey says that cloud computing services should account for other factors, such as if the client wants a job conducted quickly or at the lowest possible cost, or some combination in between.
Computer Security: Is This the Start of Cyberwarfare?
Nature (06/08/11) Sharon Weinberger
The emergence of the Stuxnet worm signals that groups or nations could launch a cyberattack that targets critical infrastructure and threatens to cause physical damage, and reflects the inadequacies of society's current cyberdefenses. Investigators say that Stuxnet provided a template for future attackers to learn from and perhaps upgrade. One obstacle for academics studying cybersecurity is a lack of access to the malicious programs that they must safeguard against. "If you're doing research into biological agents, it's limited groups that have them and they are largely unwilling to share; the same holds true for malware," says Anup Ghosh, a scientist at George Mason University's Center for Secure Information Systems. Herb Lin with the U.S. National Research Council's Computer Science and Telecommunications Board also cites a skittishness about cyberweaponry among academics, who are concerned about turning students into hackers. A 2010 JASON study found that the field of cybersecurity was "underdeveloped in reporting experimental results, and consequently in the ability to use them." Meanwhile, Carnegie Mellon University computer scientist Roy Maxion points to a lack of scientific rigor in cybersecurity, and he sees a pressing need for computer science and security curricula to feature courses in traditional research techniques, such as experimental design and statistics.
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