Welcome to the May 30, 2012 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Presidential Panel Urges More Flexible Use of Spectrum
New York Times (05/25/12) John Markoff
A new President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) report urges President Obama to adopt a computer technology policy that makes better use of the large section of radio spectrum currently controlled by federal agencies. The report calls for a tiered system in which different users would have different priority. The move would relieve spectrum congestion caused by the proliferation of smart devices, and generate more revenue for the federal government than auctioning spectrum to two wireless carriers, according to the report. Using the spectrum in a more efficient way would allow for more services, more competition, and possibly lower prices for consumers. The PCAST report says the U.S. government should electronically rent or lease spectrum for periods of time as short as seconds using newly available computerized radio technologies. The report is based on a recent European study, which found that freeing 400 megahertz of radio spectrum to be shared using new technologies would be equivalent to an economic financial stimulus of 800 billion euros. The report also notes the radio spectrum could be used as much a 40,000 times as efficiently as it is today.
Cybersecurity Experts Needed to Meet Growing Demand
Washington Post (05/30/12) Alexander Fitzpatrick
Demand for cybersecurity professionals far outweighs supply, with the U.S. government needing to hire at least 10,000 experts in the near future and the private sector requiring quadruple that amount, says Trend Micro's Tom Kellermann. Experts say the U.S. government needs more "white hats" in its arsenal to prepare itself for cybersecurity events, but the pool of qualified digital specialists is small. A 2009 Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce study found that less than 6 percent of all college graduates were earning degrees in computers and math, while only 2 percent of that number earned a degree directly related to cybersecurity. Booz Allen Hamilton's Edwin Kanerva says students who major in computer science are often drawn to fields outside of security, because they have more appeal and can be more lucrative. He says students must be exposed to more science, engineering, technology, and math education, and some cybersecurity training should be added to high school curricula. "What I'd like for kids to see is that cybersecurity is intellectually stimulating; it's a great field," says the U.S. National Science Foundation's (NSF's) Janice Cuny. NSF plans to fund 10,000 computer science classes in public high schools by 2016.
Mass. and MIT Launching Big Data Initiatives
Boston Globe (05/30/12) D.C. Denison
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is hosting two new initiatives designed to help make Massachusetts a global center for the study of big data. MIT unveiled the Intel Science and Technology Center for Big Data at the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), and bigdata@CSAIL, an industry-sponsored research group that will help more than 25 MIT professors and researchers collaborate. Massachusetts officials also recently revealed several state programs aimed at supporting an emerging cluster of big data research. "This is about the realization that big data is a very promising growth area," says Massachusetts state secretary Greg Bialecki. He says the Intel Center, bigdata@CSAIL, and the new state initiatives represent the promise for growth in this burgeoning technology sector. The state also plans to form the Big Data Consortium, a committee led by Massachusetts academia and industry leaders. The consortium and the nonprofit Massachusetts Technology Collaborative will develop a grant program for big data projects. In addition, Bialecki says the Massachusetts Green High Performance Computing Center, a $163 million facility scheduled to be completed by the end of the year, will be designated as a resource for big data research in the state.
21st Century Computer Architecture
CCC Blog (05/29/12) Erwin Gianchandani
The Computing Community Consortium (CCC) has released "21st Century Computer Architecture," a white paper developed by members of the computer architecture research community designed to guide strategic thinking. The paper also aims to complement and synthesize other recent documents. The paper notes that information and communication technology (ICT) is transforming the world, including the fields of healthcare, education, science, commerce, government, defense, and entertainment. Evidence suggests that ICT innovation is accelerating with many compelling visions moving from science fiction toward reality, the paper adds. The combined effect of technology and architecture has provided ICT innovators with exponential performance growth at near constant cost, the paper concludes. In addition, the paper says higher performance has both made more computationally demanding applications feasible and made less demanding applications easier to develop by enabling higher-level programming abstractions. The paper also describes the current inflection point in ICT as well as the opportunities the community has in the years ahead.
Mind-Reading Robot Teachers Keep Students Focused
New Scientist (05/29/12) Niall Firth
University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers have developed a robotic teacher that monitors students' attention levels and mimics the techniques human teachers use to hold their pupil's attention. The researchers, led by Bilge Mutlu and Dan Szafir, wanted to determine whether a robot could use human teaching techniques to improve how much information students retain. "We wanted to look at how learning happens in the real world," Mutlu says. The researchers programmed a Wakamaru humanoid robot to tell students a story and then tested them afterwards to see how much they remembered. The robot monitored the students' brain patterns with an electroencephalogram sensor. If the brain signals fell below a certain threshold, the system sent a signal to the robot to trigger a cue, such as a raised voice, or arm gestures. The researchers found that students learning from the robot answered an average of nine out of 14 questions correctly, compared to 6.3 correct answers when the robot gave no cues. "The vision of automatically measuring student engagement so as to build a more interactive teacher is very exciting," says Stanford University professor Andrew Ng.
Researchers Propose Way to Thwart Fraudulent Digital Certificates
eWeek (05/24/12) Brian Prince
Security researchers Moxie Marlinspike and Trevor Perrin say an extension to the transport layer security (TLS) protocol could help address spoofing attacks on the Secure Sockets Layer certificate ecosystem. They have proposed an approach called Trust Assertions for Certificate Keys (TACK), which enables a Web site to sign its TLS server's public keys with a TACK key. Clients can pin a hostname to the TACK key without requiring sites to make changes to their existing certificate chains or limiting their ability to deploy different certificate chains on different servers or change certificate chains at any time. Marlinspike and Perrin note that inside the TACK is a public key and signature. "Once a client has seen the same [hostname, TACK public key] pair multiple times, the client will 'activate' a pin between the hostname and TACK key for a period equal to the length of time the pair has been observed for," the researchers say. "This 'pin activation' process limits the impact of bad pins resulting from transient network attacks or operator error." The browser will reject the session and alert the user when it comes across a fraudulent certificate on a pinned site.
Is That Smile Real or Fake?
MIT News (05/25/12) David L. Chandler
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers have developed software that is more successful at differentiating between smiles of frustration and delight than people are. The research could lead to computers that better assess the emotional states of their users and respond accordingly, or be used to train those who have trouble interpreting expressions. "The goal is to help people with face-to-face communication," says MIT graduate student Ehsan Hoque. The researchers found that test subjects presented with a task that caused genuine frustration smiled 90 percent of the time. Still images showed little difference between these frustrated smiles and the smiles brought on by a video of a baby, but video analysis showed that the progression of the two kinds of smiles was very different. Happy smiles often built up gradually, while frustrated smiles appeared quickly and then faded fast. When test participants tried to interpret images of the real responses, they were correct about 50 percent of the time. "While pain researchers have identified smiling in the context of expressions of pain, the MIT group may be the first to implicate smiles in expressions of negative emotion," says University of Pittsburgh professor Jeffrey Cohn.
Tongue Analysis Software Developed at MU Uses Ancient Chinese Medicine to Warn of Disease
MU News Bureau (MO) (05/24/12) Timothy Wall
University of Missouri researchers have developed software that combines ancient Chinese medical practices, known as zheng, with modern medicine using an automated system that analyzes images of the tongue. “Our software helps bridge Eastern and Western medicine, since an imbalance in zheng could serve as a warning to go see a doctor," says Missouri professor Dong Xu. "Within a year, our ultimate goal is to create an application for smartphones that will allow anyone to take a photo of their tongue and learn the status of their zheng." The software analyzes images based on the tongue's color and coating to distinguish between tongues showing signs of "hot" or "cold" zheng, which Xu says refers to a suite of systems associated with the state of the body as a whole. During testing, the researchers analyzed the tongues of 263 gastritis patients and 48 healthy volunteers. "Our software was able to classify people based on their zheng status," says Missouri professor Ye Duan. “Eventually everyone will be able to use this tool at home using Webcams or smartphone applications.”
Using Live Video from Phones, U-Md. Plans to Offer Virtual Safety Escorts to Students
Washington Post (05/27/12) Matt Zapotosky
University of Maryland researchers led by professor Ashok K. Agrawala have developed Escort-M, a smartphone application that links public safety personnel to real-time video and audio from users' phones. Escort-M enables users to get an instant, virtual escort at any time while walking around the University of Maryland campus. The real-time video and audio approach can provide public safety officials with an immediate and accurate picture of on-going emergencies, Agrawala says. The recorded video can be used to broadcast descriptions of suspects, or to give dispatchers a sense of how serious a situation is. The system also can be used to locate users in the exact building and room from which they are calling. "The number of applications are primarily limited by our imagination," Agrawala says. The researchers also are developing a system to enable dispatchers to drag and drop the live videos directly into police cruisers. "I just think it’s generally a great way for police to use technology to interact with students and at least start making a dent in public safety on the technology front," says Maryland student Zach Cohen.
Cable Show 2012: Stanford Team Wins 'App Challenge' With Bandwidth-Priority System
Multichannel News (05/23/12) Todd Spangler
A Stanford University student team recently won the National Cable & Telecommunications Association's Imagine App Challenge real-time hack-a-thon competition in Boston. An app that enables broadband users to set bandwidth priorities for content and applications garnered the $10,000 grand prize for Yiannis Yiakoumis and Te-Yuan Huang. The goal of their My Home app is to let users give priority to any content providers or applications. The app enables users to set preferences for traffic prioritization in their home network. "[Internet service providers] provide best-effort traffic delivery today," Yiakoumis says. "This shows as long as you give the user the control over prioritizing traffic ... there are ways [for operators] to make money out of it by exploiting infrastructure better." Application Developers Alliance president Jon Potter organized the App Challenge, which gave teams from five colleges 48 hours to develop an idea and build a prototype app. A Massachusetts Institute of Technology team came in second, developing a social media app that can determine when someone is watching a live sporting event, and then let TV viewers chat with friends, take polls, and share "signs" sketched out on an iPad such as "Go Red Sox!"
A New Imaging System Produces 3-D Models of Monuments Using Unmanned Aircraft
University of Granada (Spain) (05/23/12)
A new three-dimensional (3D) imaging system developed by researchers at the University of Granada uses data from an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) to reproduce realistic architectural models. The system combines the use of UAVs, image-based 3D modeling technologies, and virtual representations of models. The Granada team wanted to find a way to obtain a 3D model of the facade of a historical building, such as a cathedral, without human intervention. The researchers note their method costs less than other technologies currently available, scans in record time and without the need for scaffolding and cranes, and operates with as much or a higher precision than 3D scanners. UAVs can get within a few inches of the object to obtain a greater level of detail. The team focused on facade 3D imaging in an attempt to prove that the technology could be used for any type of architectural model. Buildings, monuments, and other objects are digitized in vertical parameters and are geolocalized. The researchers say 3D digitization technologies can supply a realistic simulation of 3D objects from images captured by sensors, stereoscopic cameras, and multiple geolocated images acquired from various angles.
Duolingo Translates the Internet for Free
CNet (05/22/12) Dan Farber
Carnegie Mellon University professor Luis von Ahn says the Duolingo free language-learning service, which also functions as a crowdsourced text translation platform, will become open to the public on June 19. Duolingo users learn a language by following a step-by-step instruction process, and they are concurrently translating Web sites and other types of Internet-available information. The service began with lessons for English speakers to learn German and Spanish, and for Spanish speakers to learn English. Von Ahn says his aim is to get 100 million people to translate the Internet into every tongue, and he says the platform surmounts two obstacles--the dearth of bilingual speakers and the lack of motivation to get people to contribute to the translation initiative. "Learning a language for free while simultaneously translating the Web is as accurate as professional translators," von Ahn says. Duolingo can boost accuracy by comparing translations from multiple people taking the same lesson. The platform also will boast interactivity by furnishing activity streams, enabling users to contact each other and write on their stream.
Malware 'Licensing' Could Stymie Automated Analysis
Dark Reading (05/22/12) Robert Lemos
A major problem for many security firms and researchers is that encrypted malware, such as the Flashback Trojan, makes automated malware analysis much harder. "Flashback is the first widespread threat we've seen that employs an analysis-resistant technique to evade malware analysis by making execution of the sample dependent on the unique properties on the host that it infects," says Georgia Tech researcher Paul Royal. Meanwhile, server-side polymorphism has reduced the ability of antivirus scanners to detect new attacks. Royal and his colleagues have identified two possible methods that could significantly slow down analysis, including host-identify-based encryption (HIE) and instruction-set localization. HIE uses information found on the infected system to create a key that is used to encrypt, and therefore bind, some of the attack code to the system. Meanwhile, instruction-set localization can use information about the network location to create an interpreter that can decrypt commands sent by a command-and-control server. "As the crimeware industry has grown, you see them moving toward active analysis as well, and asking, 'How are the defenders going to try to detect us?'" says ThreatGrid's Dean De Beer.
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