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Welcome to the February 1, 2012 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE


Apple Fuels Silicon Valley Hiring Amid Bubble 2.0 Concern
Bloomberg (01/30/12) Heather Perlberg

Silicon Valley companies are in the midst of a hiring boom not since the late 1990s as nearly 50 U.S. technology companies with a market value of more than $100 million increased employment by more than 50 percent in the last two years, according to Bloomberg. In addition, 74 companies in the software and services industry with at least $100 million in market value expanded their workforce by at least 10 percent over the last three years, more than any other industry Bloomberg measured. Meanwhile, some small and midsized businesses boosted payrolls by almost fivefold. Apple, Google, and Amazon were among those companies that increased their workforce by at least 50 percent in the last two years. The growth has led Silicon Valley companies to consider more workers from nontechnical backgrounds and extend their recruiting efforts nationwide. The trend is not showing signs of slowing down, as many companies, including Amazon and Facebook, plan to add thousands of jobs in 2012. Some companies are expanding their operations away from their traditional Silicon Valley homes, as Facebook and eBay plan to open offices in New York.


Political Borders Don't Stop Cyberattacks, But They Prevent Defense, Study Finds
Government Computer News (01/30/12) William Jackson

Real-world political borders are hindering the defense of cyberspace, according to McAfee's new Cyber Defense Report. The study points to a dearth of common standards of behavior, objectives, and language in discussing cyberspace's inherent challenges. McAfee's Phyllis Schneck warns that "we've made a lot of progress, but our enemies are a lot better and faster than we are." The report revealed the results of a stress test applied to 21 countries, based on a cybersecurity maturity model devised by former U.S. deputy assistant secretary Robert Lentz. Included in the model are five stages of resilience against attacks, and none of the assessed nations achieved a rating of five stars. The U.S. received four stars based on contributing factors such as the government Computer Emergency Response Team, which has a contingency plan for cyberevents and participates in cybersecurity exercises. Overall, pessimism prevailed among the McAfee report's contributors that an international pact could supply a framework for cooperation. The study recommends establishing cyberconfidence building measures between nations as a substitute for a global treaty, or at least as an interim measure. Included would be agreements on "expectations about state behavior," says the Center for Strategic and International Studies' James A. Lewis.


White House Office Studies Benefits of Video Games
USA Today (02/01/12) Greg Toppo

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy has assigned senior policy analyst Constance Steinkuehler to study video games for 18 months to determine if they have significant value as educational tools. The Entertainment Software Association estimates that almost 66 percent of U.S. households play video games, and since 1999, the percentage of gamers older than 50 has increased more than threefold. Last March President Obama said he wanted to create "educational software that's as compelling as the best video game." Steinkuehler says her mission is to develop "big, save-the-world games" across a wide range of subject areas and platforms. Another focus of her research is how well current games operate and which agencies already employ games. A highly lauded educational gaming experiment is Foldit, developed at the University of Washington's Center for Game Science. The game challenges players to learn about the shapes of proteins and compete online to fold them into configurations that boast maximum efficiency, and the solutions they arrive at could help researchers devise cures for various diseases. "It has basically shown that it is possible to create experts in a particular domain purely through game play," says Foldit co-creator Zoran Popovich.


DARPA Announces Proposers Day for New PERFECT Program
CCC Blog (01/31/12) Erwin Gianchandani

The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's (DARPA's) Microsystems Technology Office announced that it will hold a Proposers Day to launch the Power Efficiency Revolution for Embedded Computing Technologies (PERFECT) project. The event is designed to introduce the research community to PERFECT's vision and goals and facilitate interaction and coordination between prospective technology developers. The PERFECT program seeks to provide the technologies and techniques to overcome the power efficiency barriers that currently constrain embedded computing systems capabilities and limit the potential of future embedded systems. The PERFECT program will address five primary areas of technical research--Architecture, Concurrency, Resilience, Locality and Algorithms--as well as Simulation and Verification, which are support areas. DARPA plans to publish the PERFECT program's Broad Agency Announcement prior to the scheduled Proposers Day on Feb. 15.


Industry Group Makes Fresh Push to Fight Phishing
IDG News Service (01/30/12) Jeremy Kirk

Companies including Facebook, Google, and PayPal are supporting the widespread use of Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting & Conformance (DMARC), a new technical specification designed to prevent phishing attacks. DMARC, which builds on DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM) and Sender Policy Framework (SPF) systems, allows domain owners to ask receiving mail servers to discard mail that fails authentication tests. DMARC also enables organizations sending email to indicate whether they are using one or both of two security technologies to authenticate the sending of email messages. In the past, it has been difficult for email receivers to always authenticate messages sent with SPF or DKIM because of the use of third-party service providers, according to DMARC.org. The DMARC group wants the specification to become an industry standard and plans to submit a draft of the specification to the Internet Engineering Task Force. "Industry groups come and go, and it's not always easy to tell at the beginning which ones are actually going to generate good solutions," says Google's Adam Dawes. "When the right contributors come together to solve real problems, though, real things happen."


Tripping the Light Fantastic
Economist (01/28/12)

Casio recently unveiled a prototype for a smartphone that can transmit data using light. The phone's screen flickers with varying intensity to transmit data to another device. The flickering is so slight that it is imperceptible to the human eye, but the camera on another phone can sense it at a distance of up to 10 meters. The technology is the basis for a fast and inexpensive wireless-communication system known as Li-Fi. To turn a light into a Li-Fi router involves changing its output to carry a message, and linking it with a network cable to a modem that is connected to a telephone or cable-broadband service. The University of Edinburgh's Gordon Povey notes that Li-Fi takes advantage of light-emitting diodes (LEDs), which are more efficient than incandescent bulbs and fluorescent tubes. The Edinburgh researchers have transferred 130 megabits of data per second over about two meters using LEDs. Povey says that adapting existing LEDs to work with the sensors and light sources already found in smartphones and other devices will be the fastest way to bring Li-Fi to market. He notes that as light bulbs are gradually replaced by LEDs, every home, office, and public building could become a Li-Fi hotspot.


DARPA-Funded Hacker's Tiny $50 Spy Computer Hides in Offices, Drops From Drones
Forbes (01/27/12) Andy Greenberg

U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency security researcher Brendan O'Connor has developed the Falling or Ballistically-launched Object that Makes Backdoors (F-BOMB), a sensor-equipped surveillance-capable computer that can be assembled for less than $50. The Linux-based F-BOMB is designed to be placed into an irretrievable position to collect data and send it back to the owner over any available Wi-Fi network. "If some target is surrounded by bad men with guns, you don't want to have to retrieve this, but you also don't want to have to pay $400 or $500 for every use," O'Connor says. The F-BOMB comes in various versions, including one that affixes to the Parrot Drone, siphoning power from the drone's rechargeable battery and allowing the user to hover over a target, land it on a roof, or drop the F-BOMB from a hook attachment on the drone. A version of the F-BOMB that runs on a module of AA batteries also is available for situations in which power is unavailable. O'Connor says a major advantage to using off-the-shelf parts is that the F-BOMB can be left behind without its components revealing who built it.


Jumpstarting Computers With 3D Chips
Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (01/27/12) Sarah Perrin

Research on new 3D chips that promise to make computers faster and more efficient will be presented in a keynote presentation at the 2012 Interconnection Network Architectures Workshop. Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL) scientists have developed a chip that is composed of three or more processors stacked vertically and connected together by several hundred very thin copper pillars. The wires pass through tiny openings made in the core of the silicon layer of each chip. "This superposition reduces the distance between circuits, and thus considerably improves the speed of data exchange," says Microelectronics Systems Laboratory researcher Yuksel Temiz. Until now, chips have been assembled horizontally via connections along their edges. The results of the research should allow for increased multitasking, more memory and calculating power, better functionality, and wireless connectivity. "It's the logical next step in electronics development, because it allows a large increase in terms of efficiency," says lab director Yusuf Leblebici. EPFL plans to make the technology available to academic researchers for further development before focusing on commercialization.


New Center Developing Computational Bioresearch Tool
University of Chicago (01/27/12) Steve Koppes

University of Chicago researchers led by professor Gregory Voth are developing a technique that might lead to a new and simpler way to predict molecular motion inside a cell. The research is backed by a $1.5 million grant from the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF), which is being used to launch the Center for Multiscale Theory and Simulation. "What's impressive about Greg's team is the variety of theoretical and computational tools that it brings to bear," says NSF's Katharine Covert. The tools include a theoretical and computer simulation capability for describing biological systems at interconnected multiple scales. "This is what we call the multi-scale problem, and probably nowhere in the natural world does the multi-scale problem manifest as dramatically as in the biology regime," Voth says. The center will use an extensive new cyberinfrastructure network, which will provide a wide range of computational equipment, software, and techniques to support its work. One of the center’s most important computational tools is a technique called coarse-graining, which is a way of simplifying a complex problem in a mathematically precise way, with real-world physics built in.


Apps for Day-to-Day Work
Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft (01/27/12)

Fraunhofer Institute researchers are developing several smartphone applications, including one designed to help farmers organize their harvest and one that provides support for business travelers. The farming application will help farmers keep track of how large their fields are, how much time the workers need, and which seed and pest controls they should use. The app also will describe the technological services that harvesting machinery provides and where mobile devices can be effectively used. The researchers tested the application at different times, which helped them design it to the farmers' specifications, says Fraunhofer's Ralf Carbon. Another Fraunhofer-developed application is designed to simplify the management and recording of business travel expenses. When travelers arrive at their place of employment, the app is activated and the smartphone stores the data, time, and location, while assigning the data to the correct business trip. Normally travelers must save all their receipts from public transportation and meals. However, the app enables users to take pictures of their receipts, and then it automatically assigns and stores the photos.


Visual Nudge Improves Accuracy of Mammogram Readings
Washington University in St. Louis (01/26/12) Diana Lutz

Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis and Rochester Institute of Technology have developed subtle gaze direction technology for use in interpreting mammograms and other visual search tasks. To direct the gaze, the researchers changed the brightness of an area in the peripheral field of view to draw the viewer's focus to that area. However, the stimulus was subtle because the viewer's gaze is monitored in real time by an eye-tracking device and the modulations to the peripheral vision are terminated before the eye fixates on them. In their study, the researchers used a database of mammograms that included both images and text files that contains coordinates of abnormalities and their size. Rochester professor Reynold Bailey hired an expert to view and mark 65 images from the database, and his scanpath was recorded using an eye-tracking system. The expert's gaze direction then was used to guide a group of novices, while a control group viewed the mammograms without gaze manipulation. The novices who were guided were significantly more accurate than the control group. Gaze manipulation also could be used to improve tumor-recognition software.


Smarter Password Checker Lets You Compare With Others
New Scientist (01/27/12) Jacob Aron

Researchers at INRIA and Ruhr University have developed a system designed to rate passwords relative to those already stored in a Web site's database, rather than follow rules for password strength. The password strength checker can tell users if their password is among the weakest 5 percent on a site and encourage them to choose a stronger alternative. Existing password strength checkers might offer vague strength messages based on the length or number of special characters, but the researchers' system focuses on each sequence of characters within a password and compares them to a site's database to see how often those sequences occur in other passwords. However, experts note that comparing a password to others could be risky. The researchers say it never uses an entire password for comparisons, only sequences of a certain length, and adds that a certain amount of noise is included in sequences to make it difficult for database-stealing hackers to reconstruct a valid password.


System Predicts Angina Pectoris Risk
RUVID (01/26/12)

The University of Valencia's Intelligent Data Analysis Laboratory (IDAL) has assisted the Hospital Clinic's cardiology service in developing a tool for assessing the risk of angina pectoris. Patients often come to the emergency department suffering from chest pain of unclear origin, and acute myocardial infarction sometimes is not suspected. Doctors will be able to use the system for making daily decisions on whether patients are suffering from the condition. The tool predicts angina pectoris risk on the basis of the standard clinical assessment results of emergency rooms and takes into account chest pain and data related to patient's medical records. The success rate for cases of patients not suffering from angina pectoris is 92 percent, which tops the clinical standards to apply these methods. The researchers say the Web interface makes the tool easy to use and enables it to be consulted from any emergency point that has Internet access. The IDAL research group specializes in developing systems based on computational intelligence to draw information related to different science and engineering fields.


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