Welcome to the October 28, 2011 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
IT Pros in Demand, Though Worker Confidence Low: Technisource
eWeek (10/26/11) Nathan Eddy
Technisource's IT Employee Confidence Index has fallen to its lowest level in more than two years. The decline from 56.2 to 47.3 in the third quarter of 2011 comes as a surprise because Technisource sees strong growth in new technology jobs and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the industry added 115,000 jobs through June 2011. The index indicates that only 13 percent of U.S. tech workers believe the economy is improving, down from 16 percent in the second quarter. Fifty-six percent of respondents believe fewer information technology (IT) jobs are available, while only 11 percent are confident that more jobs exist. Still, 40 percent of IT professionals are confident in their ability to find a new job, 32 percent are likely to look for new jobs while in their current position, and there was only a two percentage point difference in job security confidence from the second quarter.
When Users Resist
Though most organizations have policies to protect their information systems, research shows that employees often neglect to comply with the guidelines. "Even if the policies are mandatory, individual perceptions, interpretations, and behavior vary within the process of complying," says Virginia Tech professor France Belanger, who led a study on the attitudes of individuals faced with a required information technology security change. The study, which was based on a sample of 425 Virginia Tech undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, staff, and administrators, looked at the participants' reactions to being required to change their passwords as the university attempted to solve recurring security problems. The study found that user awareness of the security change can influence user attitudes toward the change. "Our results suggest that organizations should also consider a number of other factors that can affect user attitudes towards the change and, in turn, their resistance behavior," such as user perceptions about the usefulness and ease of the information systems, their vulnerability to the security threat, the influence of their social network, and their technical competence, according to Belanger.
Lack of Confidence as Professionals Spurs Women to Leave Engineering, Study Finds
Chronicle of Higher Education (10/25/11) Dan Berrett
Women who start college aiming to become engineers are more likely than men to change their major and choose another career because they lack confidence, according to a recent American Sociological Review paper. The researchers say women lack professional role confidence, which touches on a person's confidence that he or she has the right expertise for a given profession and that the corresponding career path meshes with his or her interests and values. "The more confident students are in their professional expertise, the more likely they are to persist in an engineering major," says Stanford University researcher Erin Cech. Surprisingly, the researchers found that men were more likely than women to leave engineering if they had plans to start a family. The researchers say that engineering programs should consider engaging in more explicit discussion about professional roles, expertise, and career fit, and provide more opportunities for internships that put students into real-world engineering projects, where students can see the applicability of a broader set of skills such as teamwork.
Can Software Patch the Ailing Power Grid?
Technology Review (10/26/11) Kevin Bullis
A consortium providing the technology for a large-scale smart grid project says the software is nearly complete. IBM's Ron Ambrosio expects the system to be operational by this time next year. The system will power the $200 million initiative to connect the fragmented grid infrastructure across five U.S. states and 11 utilities, including 95 smaller efforts to cut power consumption and manage the delivery of electricity to homes and businesses. In a smaller test in Washington state from 2005 to 2007, the technology enabled utilities to communicate with smart thermostats and other equipment in homes, reducing peak electricity demand and responding to fluctuations in supply from intermittent resources. The researchers say that a large-scale, smart system could save billions of dollars. The project will enable utilities to take advantage of renewable energy, accommodate electric cars, store power from the grid, and establish microgrids that could survive on their own during a power outage. Ambrosio says the goal is to be able to run transmission lines at 95 percent to 97 percent capacity.
New Technology Pinpoints Anomalies in Complex Financial Data
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (10/25/11) Frances White
Battelle researchers at the U.S. Pacific Northwest National Laboratory have developed Anomalator, analytical software designed to recognize anomalous information that can help regulators, investors, and advisers better manage their investment and savings portfolios. The researchers say the software could be used to fraudulent activity such as Bernie Madoff's Ponzi scheme in the future. "The Anomalator provides the unbiased, fact-based analysis needed to identify those problematic practices and help protect the nation's economy," says Battelle researcher John McEntire. Anomalator uses algorithms to identify the atypical data in databases, creating a line graph representing the progress of anomalous funds or managers. Battelle recently licensed the technology to V-INDICATOR, which tested the software on Madoff's financial data. "There's virtually nobody who duplicates Madoff's straight line and that could or should have been a dead giveaway to anybody who was looking at the data," says V-INDICATOR's Burton Sheppard.
Quantum Computer Components 'Coalesce' to 'Converse'
National Institute of Standards and Technology (10/25/11) Chad Boutin
U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) researchers have shown that it is possible to take photons from two disparate sources and render the particles virtually indistinguishable, suggesting in principle that they can connect different types of hardware devices into a single quantum information network. The research also demonstrates that a hybrid quantum computer could be built from different hardware types. The researchers connected single photons from a quantum dot with a second single-photon source that uses parametric down conversion, which could be used to connect different parts of the computer. "We manipulate the photons to be as indistinguishable as possible in terms of spectra, location, and polarization--the details you need to describe a photon," says NIST researcher Glenn Solomon. "The results prove in principle that a hybrid quantum network is possible and can be scaled up for use in a quantum network."
Shih-Fu Chang Sees New Angles in Visual Search
Columbia University (10/25/11) Beth Kwon
Columbia University professor Shih-Fu Chang develops algorithms designed to identify and index data as well as techniques and software systems to help users manage multimedia information. He has recently been developing technology that enables users to adjust the importance of certain aspects of a search. As the user moves the cursor toward different search terms, those terms gain importance, and search results that emphasize those terms rise to the top of the results list. Another research project enables users to upload a specific image they want to match with other images on the Internet. Chang says his research could be applied to the medical field, allowing technicians to find a spot in an ultrasound film that could help make a diagnosis. Chang also is working with Columbia professor Paul Sajda to develop a device that monitors brain activity as a subject looks at pictures. The device uses an electroencephalogram machine to capture the moment of recognition, and a computer analyzes the recognition patterns to identify similarities with other pictures. "The machine does what it’s best at, and the human does what he or she is best at in the most natural way," Chang says.
University Professors Combine 'Robotics With Theater'
Red and Black (10/25/11) Lisa Glasser
The University of Georgia offers an interdisciplinary program that combines theater studies with robotics. The program is part of the university's Ideas for Creative Exploration (ICE) research initiative in the arts. ICE director David Saltz, who teaches the Interactive Media and Live Performance course, worked with Georgia professors Chi Thai and Walter Potter to develop the class, which asks students to create a performance using a robot called ZeebZob. "If you’re excited in robotics, just how many ways there are to think about even just the concept of robotics, the mathematics, the science, the philosophy, the art, the performance behind it, there's many different ways to approach it," says Georgia graduate student Brandon Raab, who is enrolled in the class. Saltz hopes that the robot can be used in other classes and for additional projects in the future. "[We’re] trying to create something that isn't just interesting as an academic exercise or as an engineering exercise, but is really, really fun to watch," Saltz says.
Cyber Workshop at Sandia Labs Seeks Potential Responses to Cyberattacks
Sandia National Laboratories (10/25/11) Neal Singer
Sandia National Laboratories plans to increase cybersecurity research over the coming year as part of a new Cyber Engineering Research Institute that will more closely coordinate with industry and universities. "The paradox is that even as we rely increasingly on computers to run our utilities, banks, and basic security measures, the possibility of an adversary seriously damaging the increasingly complex programs that run these concerns has increased," says Sandia's Rob Leland. Sandia researcher Ben Cook recently led the University Partners Cyber Open House and Workshop, which focused on increasing awareness of Sandia as a research and educational partner. One proven effective method to develop new security innovations is to hold prize competitions, says the U.S. National Science Foundation's Carl Landwehr. One possible security competition could be better security for smart electric meters. Sandia researcher Kevin Nauer recently introduced a cyberforensics network training environment, which is designed to build a stronger virtual community of cyberdefenders through team-building competitive exercises.
XML Encryption Cracked, Exposing Real Threat to Online Transactions
Government Computer News (10/24/11) William Jackson
Ruhr-University Bochum researchers have demonstrated a technique for breaking the encryption used to secure data in online transactions, posing a serious threat on all currently used implementations of XML encryption. The attack can recover 160 bytes of a plain-text message in 10 seconds and decrypt larger amounts of data at the same pace, according to the researchers. The attack exploits weaknesses in the cipher-block chaining (CBC) mode of operation that is commonly used with many cryptographic algorithms, making it possible to also use the attack against non-XML implementations. "I would not be surprised to see variants of this attack applied to other protocols, when CBC mode is used in similar context," says the World Wide Web Consortium's (W3C's) Thomas Roessler. The researchers recommend fixing existing CBC implementations or developing secure new implementations without changing the XML Encryption standard. Roessler says such a change should be simple because the XML Encryption standard is not specific to any algorithm or mode of operation. He notes that W3C's XML Security Working Group is developing a set of mandatory algorithms used in XML Encryption to include use of only non-CBC modes of operation.
FBI Official Calls for Secure, Alternate Internet
Associated Press (10/24/11) Lolita C. Baldor
The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation's Shawn Henry warns that critical utility and financial systems face a growing threat from terror groups seeking to launch cyberattacks, and the solution is to build a highly secure alternative Internet. He maintains that jihadist militants can enlist organized crime groups who are willing to sell their services to assault critical computer systems. "We can't tech our way out of the cyberthreat," Henry says. "The challenge with the Internet is you don't know who's launching the attack." He notes that a key step would be to devise networks that do not support anonymity and are accessible only to known and trusted employees. Meanwhile, U.S. Cyber Command director Gen. Keith Alexander says the Pentagon and intelligence agencies need to make a greater effort to safeguard their computer systems and coordinate with private companies to protect public networks. He also stresses that when a computer network is tainted with malware, someone should be able to sever the connection. The U.S. Department of Defense is finalizing policies to determine what the military's options are in the event of a cyberattack, according to Alexander.
Wholesome Data: Using IT to Promote Healthy Behaviors
CITRIS Newsletter (10/19/11) Gordy Slack
Edmund Seto, a researcher at the University of California, Davis' Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society develops censor and cell phone technologies to connect people to relevant, real-time data about themselves and their environments. The research is part of the CalFit project, which is creating applications that help users live healthier lives. Seto has been working with University of California, Berkeley professor Ruzena Bajcsy to develop a device that combines an Internet tablet, a mobile global positioning system, an accelerometer, a heart-rate monitor, and a radio transmitter. Users wear the device, which records the heart rate and type of activity being performed, informing the user about how many calories are being burned. Seto also is using CalFit-like applications to see how people who live near or pass by different kinds of environments actually use them for exercise. The research could help communities take control of their own environmental monitoring. In addition, as part of the Make Air Quality project, Seto recently held six workshops at a San Francisco-area high school, helping the students develop a less expensive air-pollution monitor.
Flight Control Software to Help Pilots Stick Landings Aboard Carrier Decks
Office of Naval Research (10/20/11) Grace Jean
New flight control software could change the way U.S. Navy pilots land aircraft on ships. Using a new algorithm, the software would augment the landing approach by tying movement of the pilot's control stick directly to the aircraft's flight path. Pilots currently must constantly adjust their speed and manipulate the aircraft's flight control surfaces to maintain the proper glide path and alignment to the flight deck for an arrested landing. The complicated process requires aviators to keep their eyes on a set of lights located on the left side of the ship. The fresnel lens signals whether pilots are coming in too high or too low. The software would work in tandem with an experimental shipboard light system and accompanying cockpit heads-up display symbols, and pilots would maneuver the aircraft to project a dotted green line in the heads-up display over a target light shining in the landing area. "It is almost like a video game," says the Naval Air Systems Command's James Denham. The Navy is testing the software in a flight simulator and, if successful, it could be integrated into existing and future aircraft.
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