Welcome to the March 21, 2012 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Study: Including Ads in Mobile Apps Poses Privacy, Security Risks
NCSU News (03/19/12) Matt Shipman
North Carolina State University (NCSU) researchers recently conducted a study on the privacy and security risks associated with mobile application advertisements. The researchers found that out of 100,000 apps in the Google Play market, more than 50 percent contained ad libraries. In addition, 297 of the apps included aggressive ad libraries that were enabled to download and run code from remote servers, which poses significant privacy and security risks. "Running code downloaded from the Internet is problematic because the code could be anything," says NCSU professor Xuxian Jiang. The ad libraries pose a threat because they receive the same permissions that the user granted to the app itself when it was installed, regardless of whether the user was aware of granting permission to the ad library. The researchers found that one out of every 337 apps used ad libraries "that made use of an unsafe mechanism to fetch and run code from the Internet--a behavior that is not necessary for their mission, yet has troubling privacy and security implications," Jiang says. He says ad libraries offer a way for third parties, including hackers, to bypass existing Android security systems.
Community Colleges Should Urge Women to Pursue Science and Math Careers, Report Says
Chronicle of Higher Education (03/20/12) Jennifer González
Not enough women at community colleges are studying for careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), which are among the U.S.'s fastest growing fields, according to a recent Institute for Women's Policy Research report. The report calls on community colleges to encourage female students to pursue careers in STEM fields, particularly low-income students and those with children. The report suggests actively recruiting women into STEM programs by emphasizing the economic value of occupations in those fields. Although women make up nearly half of the labor force, only 25 percent of STEM jobs are held by women, according to the report. Employment in STEM-related fields is projected to increase by 10 percent between 2008 and 2018, and, in some subspecialties, that growth is projected to be up to 30 percent, the report notes. Community colleges could be key to boosting the number of women in STEM fields because they enroll a disproportionate number of low-income women, many of whom also are parents, according to the report, which also notes that those students tend to pursue lower-paying careers.
To Detect Cheating in Chess, a Professor Builds a Better Program
New York Times (03/19/12) Dylan Loeb McClain
University of Buffalo professor Kenneth W. Regan is researching the problem of using computer programs to cheat in international chess tournaments. Regan's research, and that of others who also are investigating this field, has great potential value, says University of Alberta professor Jonathan Schaeffer. "What he is doing, what these people are doing, is they are trying to model how people make decisions," Schaeffer says. For example, the technology could be used by online retailers to customize their offerings or to personalize medical treatment. Regan designed a program in single-line mode that enables it to quickly select a possible move and then run through a sequence of moves to evaluate its soundness. Regan also developed multiline modes for his program, which take much longer, but can identify where and why the programs changed their evaluations. Regan has so far analyzed almost 200,000 games in single-line mode and between 6,000 and 7,000 games in multiline mode. To test a player for cheating, Regan runs that player's relative skill ranking, known as an Elo ranking, against the comparative model. He notes that his models cannot yet prove that someone is cheating, but they can be used to support a cheating allegation.
A Camera That Peers Around Corners
MIT News (03/21/12) Larry Hardesty
Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers have developed a system that can produce recognizable three-dimensional (3D) images of objects located around corners and outside of the camera's line of sight. The researchers say the technology could lead to imaging systems that enable emergency responders to evaluate dangerous environments or vehicle navigation systems that can handle blind turns. The system works similarly to a periscope, but instead of using angled mirrors to redirect light, it uses walls, doors, and floors. The system utilizes a femtosecond laser, which emits extremely short bursts of light that enables the system to gauge how far the light bursts have traveled by measuring the time it takes them to return to the detector. In a recent experiment, Andreas Velten at the Morgridge Institute for Research used the technology to fire femtosecond bursts of laser light at an opaque screen, which reflected the light onto objects suspended in front of another opaque panel standing in for the back wall of a room. The data collected by the sensors were processed by algorithms that produced recognizable 3D images. The researchers say the problem of looking around a corner is similar to using multiple antennas to determine the direction of incoming radio signals.
U.S. Accelerating Cyberweapon Research
Washington Post (03/18/12) Ellen Nakashima
Former and current U.S. officials say the Pentagon is ramping up projects to develop next-generation cyberweapons that can disrupt enemy military networks even when they have no Internet connection. "To affect a system, you have to have access to it, and we have not perfected the capability of reaching out and accessing a system at will that is not connected to the Internet," says former Information Operations Institute director Joel Harding. In 2011, former Deputy Defense Secretary William J. Lynn III and former Joint Chiefs of Staff vice chairman Gen. James Cartwright allocated $500 million over five years to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's budget to accelerate cyberweapons and defensive technology development. DARPA also launched new cyber development projects that include a fast-track program. "We need cyber options that can be executed at the speed, scale, and pace" of other military weapons, says DARPA's Kaigham J. Gabriel. Meanwhile, Pentagon officials are devising an approach to fast acquisition of cyberweapons that can keep up with technology and threats. U.S. officials note that current cyberweaponry can potentially disable elements of a weapon system without destroying it.
Computer Science at the World Economic Forum
CCC Blog (03/18/12) Erwin Gianchandani
Several academic computer scientists were invited to participate the recent World Economic Forum sessions known as Idea Labs, which were organized around a single theme and institution. Tomaso Poggio and Alex Pentland participated in a session titled Worms, Machines and Brains With MIT, while Justine Cassell, Pradeep Khosla, Tom Mitchell, and Manuela Veloso participated in the Leveraging Human-Machine Collaboration With Carnegie Mellon University session. Stephanie Forrest spoke in the session titled Managing Complexity With the Santa Fe Institute. The event also gave scientists the opportunity to speak in specialized sessions and panels on related topics. For example, Poggio was one of two speakers in The Mind and the Machine session, and Forrest was a panelist in the Risks in a Hyperconnected World session. Forrest's remarks on biological models for software security drew questions from an immunologist, the chief of Europol, a vice president of the European Commission, and the CEO of a large multinational corporation. Although the participants were familiar with the economic and legal issues of cybersecurity and cyberattacks, there was little talk of the increasing role of cybersecurity issues in international relations or the rise of Internet censorship.
DARPA Challenge Doesn't Go Viral on Twitter
InformationWeek (03/19/12) Elizabeth Montalbano
The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) recent ended its Cash for Locating and Identifying Quick Response Codes (CLIQR) challenge without anyone successfully completing the contest's full task, providing new insights into the effectiveness of social networks compared to more traditional forms of online communications and media outreach to spread information. The contest challenged participants to find seven posters that appeared in U.S. cities bearing the DARPA logo and a quick response code. The goal of the challenge was to get people to respond quickly to simulate how citizens might mobilize for aid and relief during a time of crisis. Contestants had just two weeks to find and submit the codes to DARPA, and although the winner of the $40,000 CLIQR Quest prize took just 18 hours to find three of the seven codes, no one person found all of the posters. DARPA used Twitter to announce the challenge and encouraged participants to use their own social networks to find the posters, instead of relying on DARPA's usual outreach strategy. "With CLIQR Quest, we sought to test the opposite end of the spectrum--zero excitation through public agency announcements," DARPA's Kaigham Gabriel says.
Computer Viruses Could Cross Frontier Into Biological Realm, Researchers Say
IDG News Service (03/19/12) Loek Essers
Security researchers at the recent Black Hat Europe conference discussed how computer hackers could create malicious software that acts like human viruses and could spread dangerous epidemics. The comparison between computer and human viruses was meant to give researchers a better understanding of why the human immune system is so much better in battling viruses than antivirus software. Computer and human viruses behave in basically the same way, including coding information for parasitic behavior inside a host system, notes Fortinet's Guillaume Lovet. For example, a denial of service attack can be compared to HIV because both aim at overloading a system, says Fortinet's Ruchna Nigam. The researchers also speculate that human and computer viruses could converge in the future. They note that some people already have several electronic devices in their body, and when those devices communicate with an external machine, they become vulnerable to computer viruses. "Seeing that the infamous Stuxnet virus, in 2010, was able to creep through a uranium enrichment plant, seize control of its [programmable logic controller], and destroy its centrifuging gear, one could reasonably think that a virus infecting the computers sporting DNA databases is not outside the realm of possibility," Fortinet's researchers say.
Free Apps Eat Up Your Phone Battery Just Sending Ads
New Scientist (03/18/12) Jacob Aron
Free versions of Android apps use up to 75 percent of their energy serving up ads or tracking and uploading user data, says Purdue University's Abhinav Pathak. Moreover, the free apps can drain a smartphone's battery in approximately 90 minutes, Pathak and colleagues say. The Purdue researchers developed software to analyze the energy usage of apps. The software found that popular apps such as Angry Birds, Free Chess, and NYTimes spend only 10 percent to 30 percent of their energy powering their core function. For example, Angry Birds uses only 20 percent of its energy displaying and running the game, but 45 percent on finding and uploading the user's location with global positioning systems, then downloading location-appropriate ads over a 3G connection. Another 28 percent of the app's energy is consumed on "tail energy" from the 3G connection staying open for about 10 seconds, even if data transmission is complete. Pathak says inefficiencies in the third-party code used to generate profit for the apps is the reason for the energy leakage.
Australia's First National Cyber Security Competition Launched
Computerworld Australia (03/19/12) Hamish Barwick
Australia has launched a national cybersecurity competition in an attempt to bring greater attention to its need for information security specialists. The Cyber Defense University Challenge is open to all undergraduate Australian students who are studying computer science and related degrees. Scheduled for April 3-4, 2012, the cybersecurity competition will test the problem-solving skills of teams of information and communication technology (ICT) university students over the course of 24 hours in a virtual computer network scenario. Australian ICT undergraduates have an opportunity to win a trip to the Black Hat 2012 Conference in Las Vegas in July. The challenge will "raise awareness of the importance of cybersecurity, particularly in the university and business sectors, while also showcasing career opportunities for ICT graduates," says Stephen Conroy, Australia's minister for broadband, communications, and the digital economy. "The need for greater awareness of cybersecurity issues and for more highly skilled ICT graduates were two of the key themes to emerge from the public engagement process associated with the government's Cyber White Paper, due for release later this year."
A Path Forward
EMSL News (03/19/12) Bert DeJong
The U.S. Department of Energy's Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory (EMSL) recently added the Barracuda computing cluster, which will enable closer collaboration between teams of domain and computer scientists. "The ultimate goal, of course, is to further optimize how we use computations to predict the properties of matter," says EMSL researcher Karol Kowalski. He says Barracuda will focus on calculating the properties and structures of molecules involved in strategic chemical reactions, such as those related to energy innovations, environmental protection, national security, and human health. Barracuda uses both central processing units and graphics processing units (GPUs), and is part of a decade-long quest to achieve exascale computing. GPU computing can bring about significant increases in overall speed, using its advantages to handle the most computationally intensive tasks and remove data bottlenecks during calculations. EMSL researchers are using Barracuda to develop a GPU extension of NWChem, an overhaul that adds many new functions, such as improving the accounting methods for instantaneous interactions between electrons and methods designed to treat very large systems. "We’re taking NWChem to the next level, to harness the power of GPUs for studying molecular systems," says EMSL researcher Sriram Krishnamoorthy.
Georgia Tech Researchers' NCAA Hoop Picks Looking Good So Far
Network World (03/19/12) Bob Brown
Georgia Tech's computerized ranking system has picked Kentucky's men's basketball team to win the NCAA tournament. The Logistic Regression Markov Chain (LRMC) system, developed by Georgia Tech professor Joel Sokol and colleagues, predicts that Kentucky will defeat Ohio State for the title, and that Michigan State and Kansas will be the other Final Four teams. LRMC made the selections before the tournament began, after analyzing teams based on factors such as scoreboard results, home court advantage, and margin of victory. Georgia Tech has publicly released LRMC's predictions over the past few years. Ohio State was its pick last year, and the eventual winner, Connecticut, did not make its Final Four. LRMC picked two No. 1 seeds and two No. 2 seeds, and North Carolina State is its only upset pick that has survived. The Georgia Tech team says LRMC has correctly picked more NCAA tournament games than other ranking systems since 2003.
Q&A: The Origami Geometer
Nature (03/15/12) Vol. 483, No. 7389, P. 274 Jascha Hoffman
Computer scientist Eric Demaine has advanced computational geometry and produced art by harnessing the principles of origami, and the results of his research include an algorithm for folding any three-dimensional (3D) shape out of a single sheet of paper. One project he is engaged in seeks an algorithm that can generate any 3D shape using a method in which the material is pulled into the shape naturally by the force of the creases. "We have devised a grid-based crease pattern that would allow a microscopic sheet to self-fold into any shape, in theory, by making cubes that stack together like 3D pixels," Demaine notes. He says he is currently exploring origami configurations with curved creases, in collaboration with his artist father. Demaine notes that the creation of the physical models involves paper scoring by a robotically controlled laser, while the final folding is always done manually. One focus of Demaine's research is balloon animals, which he says could be perceived as outlining the edges of a flat-sided 3D solid. This notion led to the discovery of an algorithm that provides the number of balloons needed to construct a given solid.
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