Association for Computing Machinery
Welcome to the September 14, 2011 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE


Computer-Based Attacks Emerge as Threat of Future, General Says
Washington Times (09/13/11) Bill Gertz

Future computer-based combat will likely involve electronic strikes that cause widespread power outages and the physical destruction of machinery, predicts Keith Alexander, commander of the new U.S. Cyber Command and director of the National Security Agency. Cyber threats on computer networks and the Internet are evolving from large-scale theft of data and strikes designed to disrupt computer operations to more lethal attacks that destroy entire systems and physical equipment. "That's our concern about what's coming in cyberspace--a destructive element," Alexander says. He notes that the destructive potential of cyberattacks is outranked only by weapons of mass destruction. In developing cyberwarfare strategies, the United States will respond to computer-based attacks in the same way it does to other attacks, with an active defense strategy designed to improve the readiness of computer networks to react to the attack, according to Alexander. The Pentagon's cyberdefense strategy calls for treating cyberspace as equal to the air, land, sea, and outer space domains, and for using U.S. technology to improve cyberdefenses for government and the private sector. Alexander also notes that the current technology conducting offensive cyberoperations is far from adequate and more research is needed before entertaining offensive strategies.


Spare CPU Cycles to Be Used to Further Radio Astronomy
Computerworld Australia (09/13/11) Tim Lohman

PC users around the world were recently asked to contribute spare central-processing unit cycles to the SkyNet project, an effort to advance the science of radio astronomy. SkyNet, which is being run by the International Center for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) in conjunction with Curtin University and the University of Western Australia, wants to use thousands of donor PCs to create a source finder. The donor PCs will form a distributed computing engine to analyze data from telescopes and search for sources of radiation at radio wavelengths similar to those emitted by objects in the universe. The researchers will compare the results of SkyNet with those from the Parkes telescope to prove that the SkyNet data is scientifically credible, accurate, and reliable. SkyNet includes social media and gaming aspects, such as contributors being awarded points and trophies for achieving certain posting milestones. "Announcements and achievements, if the user chooses, will flow on to their social networks and people will see that the person is contributing to the SkyNet project and we will hopefully pick up more users that way," says ICRAR's Pete Wheeler.


Koomey's Law: Computing Efficiency Keeps Pace With Moore's Law
InfoWorld (09/13/11) Ted Samson

Jonathan Koomey recently led a study proving that computers have doubled in energy efficiency at about the same rate as processing power, staying in line with Moore's Law. The researchers examined the energy efficiency of computing devices dating back to the 1940s, when the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer (ENIAC) was first revealed. The researchers developed a graph showing that since ENIAC's inception, computing efficiency has steadily doubled every 1.57 years. The computing industry has been able to maintain this pace by continually building more efficient power supplies and smaller transistors that use less power. "At this juncture, continuing the historical trends in performance (or surpassing them) is dependent on significant new innovation comparable in scale to the shift from single-core to multi-core computing," according to the study. The researchers say that developers must write code that is more efficient and that takes better advantage of underlying power-management features within the hardware.


SAFEPED Helps Cities Fix Dangerous Intersections
American Friends of Tel Aviv University (09/12/11)

Tel Aviv University (TAU) researchers have developed SAFEPED, a computer simulation that integrates robotics and statistics on driver and pedestrian behavior to determine the environmental features that lead to black spots, which are intersections that experience a high incidence of traffic accidents. SAFEPED enables traffic engineers to analyze dangerous intersections so that they can be modified to improve safety. SAFEPED considers each car and pedestrian an autonomous agent that can reason and react based on how other agents are behaving. "With this program, we can model a real intersection in the simulator, and make modifications to the environment or traffic regulations to see how they impact the safety of the junction," says TAU Ph.D. student Gennady Waizman. The researchers based their simulator on James J. Gibson's visual perception theory, which states that when humans move through a given environment they analyze their optic flow as they move, taking into account their anticipated time of collision with other objects or people. With SAFEPED, all the agents move and think individually, and they can determine their actions based on the movement of other agents in the system.


Researchers Find Way to Measure Effect of Wi-Fi Attacks
NCSU News (09/12/11) Matt Shipman

North Carolina State University (NCSU) researchers have developed a way to measure how badly a Wi-Fi network would be disrupted by different kinds of attacks. "This information can be used to help us design more effective security systems, because it tells us which attacks--and which circumstances--are most harmful to Wi-Fi systems," says NCSU professor Wenye Wang. The researchers studied two generic Wi-Fi attack models. One model involved persistent attacks, which continue nonstop until they are identified and disabled. The second model involved intermittent attacks, which block access periodically, making it more difficult to disable. The researchers compared how these attacks performed under differing scenarios, such as with different numbers of users. The researchers developed order gain, a metric that measures the impact of the attack strategies, comparing the probability of an attacker having access to the Wi-Fi network to the probability of a legitimate user having access to the network. The researchers found that countermeasures should focus on continuous attacks on networks with many users, because that scenario has the largest order gain.


In Plane View
MIT News (09/12/11) Jennifer Chu

Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor John Hansman and colleagues have developed an airline health detection tool that identifies flight glitches without knowing ahead of time what to look for. The method uses cluster analysis, a type of data mining that filters data into subsets to find common patterns. Flight data outside the clusters is labeled as abnormal, enabling analysts to further inspect those reports to determine the nature of the anomaly. The researchers developed a data set from 365 flights that took place over one month. "The beauty of this is, you don't have to know ahead of time what 'normal' is, because the method finds what's normal by looking at the cluster," Hansman says. The researchers mapped each flight at takeoff and landing and found several flights that fell outside the normal range, mostly due to crew mistakes rather than mechanical flaws, according to Hansman. "To make sure that systems are safe in the future, and the airspace is safe, we have to uncover precursors of aviation safety accidents [and] these [cluster-based] analyses allow us to do that," says the U.S.'s National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Ashok Srivastava.


Ferroelectrics Could Pave Way for Ultra-Low Power Computing
UC Berkeley News Center (09/12/11) Sarah Yang

University of California, Berkeley researchers have demonstrated that is it possible to reduce the minimum voltage necessary to store a charge in a capacitor, which could reduce the power draw and heat generation in conventional electronics. "The key to having a fast microprocessor is to make its building block, the transistor, more energy efficient," says Berkeley graduate student Asif Khan. The researchers took advantage of the unique characteristics of ferroelectrics, such as the ability to hold both positive and negative electrical charges, holding an electrical charge even when there is no voltage applied, and reversing the electrical polarization in the presence of an external electrical field. The researchers showed that in a capacitor made with a ferroelectric material paired with a dielectric, the charge accumulated for a given voltage can be amplified. "If we can use this to create low-power transistors without compromising performance and the speed at which they work, it could change the whole computing industry," says Purdue University professor Supriyo Datta. The Berkeley researchers suggest modifying current transistors to utilize ferroelectric materials, which could potentially generate a larger charge from a smaller voltage, allowing engineers to make a transistor that dissipates less heat.


Intelligent Systems Seek to Simulate the Migration Processes
RUVID (09/09/11)

Researchers at Group Information Technology and Artificial Intelligence of the Polytechnic University of Valencia (UPV) and Boeing Research and Technology Europe are conducting a project analyzing the phenomena present in migrations. The project is using multi-agent technology to simulate the social behavior of people during and after a crisis, including natural disasters, economic crises, political upheaval, and health scares. The researchers have implemented an artificial economy to represent the influence of labor and financial markets over the flow of people on certain migratory routes. Multi-agent systems can be used to study complex systems because they incorporate the interactions between agents and the properties that emerge at higher levels, says UPV researcher Vincente Botti. "Among the most important for our study are the study and analysis of patterns of human behavior and different animal species," Botti says. The researchers say the agent technology contributes to defining complex behaviors of the entities involved in each scenario, modeling the processes and activities at individual and organizational units in each stage and simulating the behavior of the models.


Google to Unveil 'Dart' Programming Language
eWeek (09/09/11) Darryl K. Taft

Google plans to introduce a new programming language called Dart at the upcoming Goto conference. Dart is described as a structured Web programming language, and Google engineers Lars Bak and Gilad Bracha are scheduled to present it at Goto, which takes place Oct. 10-12 in Aarhus, Denmark. Bracha is the creator of the Newspeak programming language, co-author of the Java Language Specification, and a researcher in the area of object-oriented programming languages. Bak has designed and implemented object-oriented virtual machines, and has worked on Beta, Self, Strongtalk, Sun's HotSpot, OOVM Smalltalk, and Google's V8 engine for the Chrome browser. In 2009, Google introduced the experimental language Go in an attempt to combine the development speed of working in a dynamic language, such as Python, with the performance and safety of a compiled language such as C or C++.


New Forensics Tool Can Expose All Your Online Activity
New Scientist (09/07/11) Jamie Condliffe

Software developed by researchers from Stanford University can be used to bypass the encryption on a personal computer's hard drive to find what Web sites a user has visited and whether any data has been stored in the cloud. The team launched the Windows-based open source software, Offline Windows Analysis and Data Extraction (OWADE), at the Black Hat 2011 security conference. Most sensitive data on a hard drive, including browsing history, site logins, and passwords, uses an algorithm to generate an encryption key based on the standard Windows login. Elie Bursztein and colleagues discovered how to decrypt the files a year ago. OWADE combines their knowledge of how this system works with existing data-extraction techniques into a single forensics package. "We've built a tool that can reconstruct where the user has been online, and what identity they used," Bursztein says. Law enforcement would be able to use the tool to track sex offenders, but people who want to remain anonymous could potentially exploit the software and develop new ways of avoiding being caught.


Rice Breakthrough Could Double Wireless Capacity With No New Towers
Rice University (09/06/11) David Ruth; Jade Boyd

Rice University researchers have developed technology that could enable wireless phone companies to double their network's throughput without adding new cell towers. Full-duplex technology enables wireless devices to both talk and listen to cell towers on the same frequency, an ability that normally requires two frequencies. The Rice researchers used the full-duplex system to set new performance records with a real-time demonstration of the technology that produced signal quality at least 10 times better than any previously published result. The researchers were able to make the full-duplex system work by using an extra antenna and several computing tricks. They used multiple-input multiple-output antenna technology for the full-duplex system. Rice is planning to roll its full-duplex innovations into its wireless open-access research platform (WARP), according to Rice professor Ashutosh Sabharwal. WARP is a collection of programmable processors, transmitters, and other technologies that make it possible for wireless researchers to test new ideas without building new hardware for each test.


NSA Extends Label-Based Security to Big Data Stores
IDG News Service (09/06/11) Joab Jackson

The U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) recently submitted Accumulo, new label-based data store software, to the Apache Software Foundation, hoping that more parties will continue to develop the technology for use in future secure systems. "We have made much progress in developing this project over the past [three] years and believe both the project and the interested communities would benefit from this work being openly available and having open development," say the NSA developers. Accumulo, which is based on Google's BigTable design, is a key/value data store, in which providing the system with the key will return the data associated with that key. Accumulo also can be run on multiple servers, making it a good candidate for big data systems. The system's defining feature is the ability to tag each data cell with a label, and a section called column visibility that can store the labels. "The access labels in Accumulo do not in themselves provide a complete security solution, but are a mechanism for labeling each piece of data with the authorizations that are necessary to see it," the NSA says. The new label-based storage system could be the basis of other secure data store-based systems, which could be used by healthcare, government agencies, and other parties with strict security and privacy requirements.


The Intelligent Face of Surveillance Systems
Australian (09/06/11) Jennifer Foreshew

Queensland University of Technology (QUT) researchers are developing techniques for using soft biometrics, such as height, weight, skin, and hair color to identify people in video footage. The researchers can take a physical description of a person and "convert it into an algorithm to actually data mine video networks to search for a person of that description," says QUT professor Clinton Fookes. He says the QUT intelligent surveillance technology could allow for a more rapid response in an emergency situation. The researchers have developed a prototype system that is integrated with radio-frequency identification (RFID) scanners. "In this prototype, the soft biometric features of a person can be acquired and matched over time and compared with the RFID tags to improve baggage reconciliation, for example, to ensure the right passengers are carrying the right baggage," Fookes says. The researchers are currently trying to improve the system's accuracy and robustness. "In the next 12 to 24 months, we are looking at doing some testing in live environments with operational systems," Fookes says.


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