Welcome to the June 1, 2012 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Obama Order Sped Up Wave of Cyberattacks Against Iran
New York Times (06/01/12) David E. Sanger
Interviews with current and former U.S., European, and Israeli officials, as well as outside experts, have shed new light on the use of the Stuxnet worm that was used to attack the Iranian nuclear program's computers. The effort to carry out the cyberattacks, code-named Olympic Games, began in 2006 under then-President George W. Bush. The U.S. National Security Administration worked with a secret Israeli intelligence unit to develop Stuxnet, which was designed to attack computers used to control centrifuges used in Iran's Natanz nuclear facility. Once introduced into the computers by engineers, maintenance workers, and others at Natanz in 2008 via thumb drives, some of the centrifuges began spinning out of control, thereby damaging them. Centrifuges that were not damaged were carted away, as the attacks caused the Iranians to believe their technology was faulty. President Obama opted to continue and even accelerate the attacks, the last of which knocked 1,000 of Iran's 5,000 centrifuges offline. The attacks continued even after Stuxnet spread beyond the Natanz facility in 2010, thereby allowing computer security experts to analyze it and determine that it had been the work of the U.S. and Israel. The Olympic Games program remains active.
UN Regulation of Internet: 'The Threat Is Real'
Government Computer News (05/31/12) William Jackson
The Obama administration and U.S. industry officials recently told lawmakers that the Internet's freedom is being threatened by proposals to expand international telecommunications regulations to cover the Internet. "The Internet’s success has generated a worrying desire by some countries’ governments to create new international rules that would jeopardize the network’s innovative evolution and its multifaceted success," says Google vice president and ACM President-Elect Vint Cerf. An upcoming United Nations conference to renegotiate the International Telecommunications Regulations (ITR) has led to unanimous opposition in the United States to giving the International Telecommunications Union regulatory control over the Internet. A majority of countries agree with the United States that regulations for legacy telecom technologies should not be applied to the Internet, according to U.S. State Department official Philip Verveer. However, several countries have proposed controls outside the ITR that would cover how information moves across national networks and how Internet addressing is controlled. A bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers has introduced a nonbinding resolution expressing the House’s support for the status quo in Internet regulation, which is to promote a global Internet free from government control and preserve and advance the successful multi-stakeholder model that currently governs the Internet.
With Plan X, Pentagon Seeks to Spread U.S. Military Might to Cyberspace
Washington Post (05/31/12) Ellen Nakashima
Boosting U.S. cyberwarfare capabilities as well the country's ability to launch effective cyberstrikes and survive the probable retaliation is the goal of Plan X, a five-year, $110 million U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency research effort that seeks assistance from the private sector, academia, and computer game companies. "If they can do it, it's a really big deal," says the National Research Council's Expert Herbert S. Lin. "If they achieve it, they're talking about being able to dominate the digital battlefield just like they do the traditional battlefield." Items on the Plan X agenda including plotting out the whole of cyberspace on a self-updating map so commanders can identify and disable targets using computer code delivered through the Internet or other means. Experts say a massive amount of upfront intelligence work is needed to realize the digital map. Also part of Plan X is the development of a robust operating system that can launch attacks and withstand counter strikes. “Other countries are preparing for a cyberwar," says former U.S. National Security Agency official Richard M. George. "If we’re not pushing the envelope in cyber, somebody else will.”
Cisco: Global 'Net Traffic to Surpass 1 Zettabyte in 2016
IDG News Service (05/30/12) Grant Gross
Global Internet Protocol traffic will reach an annual rate of 1.3 zettabytes in 2016, predicts Cisco Systems. "It is just a staggering amount of growth facing global networks," says Cisco's Doug Webster. Cisco also predicts that, in 2016, Internet traffic will reach 110 exabytes per month, which is 10 times the rate in 2008. In addition, 18.9 billion devices will be connected to the Internet in 2016, up from 10.3 billion connected devices in 2011. Cisco also predicts there will be 3.4 billion Internet users in 2016, about 45 percent of the world's population, and about 2.3 billion people will have fixed broadband service, up from 1.7 billion last year. About 3.7 billion mobile users are expected in 2016, including those without data plans. Webster says the average fixed broadband speed will rise to 34 Mbps in 2016, and video traffic will be a major area of growth, with mobile device users expecting a similar quality as they get on wired PCs or TV sets. The United States, with 22 exabytes per month, will be the highest traffic-generating country in 2016, followed by China, with 12 exabytes per month.
Revenge of the Nerds: Tech Firms Scour College Campuses for Talent
Wall Street Journal (05/30/12) Spencer E. Ante
The recent technology boom has created a severe shortage of engineers and software developers, and the technology industry has responded by identifying promising students and wooing them with large salaries and nice perks to leave college and join the professional ranks early. Starting salaries at leading companies for average computer science graduates from top schools range from $75,000 to $100,000, plus signing and relocation bonuses worth $5,000 to $15,000. New hires also can receive small equity grants, with top performers getting additional cash bonuses or larger grants worth as much as one percent of the company. Smaller startups also are boosting their recruiting efforts. Companies often take students to expensive restaurants to discuss internships and jobs, and provide free limo rides to bars, $500 cash giveaways, and raffles for iPads, says Brown University senior computer science major Stephen Poletto. Although it may make sense for some students to take a leave of absence from school to join a startup, most students are better off getting their degrees, says Carnegie Mellon University School of Computer Science assistant dean Mark Stehlik. "Many companies are trying to seduce students because they really need them," Stehlik says. "For many of them they are better off finishing."
Researchers Find Clues in Malware
New York Times (05/30/12) Nicole Perlroth
Kaspersky Lab researchers believe Flame, a data-mining virus designed to steal information from computers across the Middle East, was written by a different group of programmers from those who created other malware directed at computers in the Middle East, such as Duqu and Stuxnet, but commissioned by the same larger entity. Flame appears to be part of a state-sponsored campaign that spied on and eventually set back Iran's nuclear program in 2010. Since Stuxnet and Duqu were written on the same platform and share many of the same fingerprints in their source code, researchers believe both were developed by the same group of programmers. Flame can grab images of users' computer screens, record emails and instant-messaging chats, remotely turn on microphones, and monitor keystrokes and network traffic. The Kaspersky researchers have detected Flame on hundreds of computers and predict that the total number of infections could be more than 1,000. Symantec researchers say Flame references a specific file previously associated with a separate virus, called Wiper, which Iranian officials said had erased data on hard drives inside its oil ministry in April. Researchers are trying to determine if Wiper was not a virus but one of Flame's command modules.
Why Google Will Soon Answer Your Questions Directly
New Scientist (05/30/12) Jim Giles
Google recently launched its "knowledge graph," which displays facts and services in response to search queries. The graph is the most recent step in a process in which search engines are changing into vast brains that respond directly to natural language questions. Google and Microsoft have been compiling vast knowledge databases to help them provide direct answers to search terms. The databases have been built up from publicly available information, such as Wikipedia pages, as well as prices from retail Web sites and user reviews. Google's graph contains 500 million entities linked by tens of thousands of different types of relationships, according to Google researcher Shashidhar Thakur. "Search does a good job of returning pages," Thakur says. "But we can go beyond that and return knowledge." Microsoft's knowledge graph, known as the Satori database, contains 350 million entities, according to Bing Search director Stefan Weitz. Microsoft's Snapshot service will use its knowledge graph to display links to services associated with the search item. Weitz says Snapshot's aim is to guess the real-world action that a user is interested in when they search and to return links that enable them to carry out those actions.
Researchers Have Created Glasses That Indicate Obstacles to Patients With Visual Handicaps
Carlos III University of Madrid (Spain) (05/28/12)
Carlos III University of Madrid (UC3M) researchers have developed virtual reality goggles designed to enable people with acute visual impairments to move around their surroundings by detecting the distance and shape of objects in the visual field. "This device is aimed at people who would bump into everything that they fail to see because of their loss of visual field," says UC3M professor Ricardo Vergaz. The system features a head-mounted display device, which includes two cameras attached to a small computer. The system determines the distance and outline of the objects and communicates the information to the user in real time, highlighting the silhouette of the elements in the scene and varying the colors according to their distance. "The information regarding depth is what is most missed by patients who use this type of technical aid," Vergaz says. The researchers plan to improve the ergonomics of the device so that users aren't inconvenienced while carrying the lightweight electronic mechanism. The researchers also are developing a virtual magnifying glass. "The main novelty lies in the type of algorithm that has been developed, which will help the user to get lost less frequently while reading a text," Vergaz says.
Gender Stereotyping and ICT: a Fresh Perspective
CORDIS News (05/25/12)
European researchers recently presented the findings from the Strategies of Inclusion: Gender and the Information Society (SIGIS) project, which focused on finding factors that motivate women to join the information and communications technology (ICT) field. SIGIS involved 48 studies conducted by more than 20 researchers that analyzed different strategies to get women into ICT. SIGIS aimed to shift the focus of the discussion from factors dissuading women from entering the ICT field to those attracting them to it. For example, SIGIS examined the Norwegian University of Science and Technology's (NTNU's) Women and Computers Project, a large-scale initiative to increase the percentage of women enrolled in study programs in computer science, communications technology, and information science. The project found that women studying computer and information science did not appreciate stereotypes that described women in ICT as manly. The SIGIS researchers advise against using strategies that enhance gender stereotypes. "Many efforts to include women are driven by commercial considerations--companies want to reach more women--but it is still common to market products as if they were made for 'all women' or 'all men,'" notes NTNU's Knut Holtan Sorensen.
ARM Gets Behind Accelerator Programming Project
HPC Wire (05/29/12) Michael Feldman
ARM Holdings and seven other academic and industrial partners recently launched the Correct and Efficient Accelerator Programming (CARP) project, which is developing hardware-independent programming tools around OpenCL, the industry standard parallel computing environment for graphical processing units (GPUs) and other accelerators. Although the CARP project is designed to last three years, the participating researchers expect the software and tools developed under the project will be adopted more generally in the field. The CARP project is geared toward mobile and embedded applications, and is focused on boosting power efficiency and performance. However, the development effort also could apply to high-performance computing applications such as medical imaging and scientific visualizations. CARP researchers plan to map domain-specific languages to OpenCL, using a translation layer called the portable intermediate language. After the OpenCL code is created, the applications should be able to run on any GPU or accelerator with the appropriate driver and compiler support. The CARP technology initially will be applied to real-time eye-tracking algorithms, which are designed to determine people's emotions by analyzing their faces.
Artificial Intelligence: What Happened to the Hunt for Thinking Machines?
TechRepublic (05/25/12) Nick Heath
Enthusiasm for creating a human-like artificial intelligence (AI) that can pass the Turing Test, or fool human judges into thinking that they are talking to a real person, has waned in recent years for a variety of reasons. The fact that the improvement of chatbots participating in the Loebner Prize competition, which seeks to encourage the development of a program that can solve the Turing Test, has been "glacial" is one reason behind the dearth of progress in this area, notes contest coordinator and inventor Hugh Loebner. Another factor is the lack of interest in achieving this milestone among technology giants and computer scientists, who are more concerned with AI research that has immediate applications, says Hawaii Pacific University professor Sam Joseph. "There's more than enough work to be done solving the component problems," he says. Loebner Prize competitors tend to be small groups of enthusiasts or individual hobbyists, whose time and funding are limited. In the 22 years of contests Loebner has overseen, no chatbot has come close to convincing half the judges that it is human. "There's no logical reason why one shouldn't be able to reproduce the complexity of human thought in a digital form, it's just a question of time," Joseph notes.
S'pore Develops Chipset for Fast Data Transfer
ZDNet Asia (05/24/12) Ellyne Phneah
A microchip developed in Singapore can transmit data 1,000 times faster than Bluetooth. The integrated, low-power 60 GHz chipset consists of an antenna, a full radio-frequency transceiver developed at Nanyang Technological University (NTU), and a baseband processor developed at the Agency for Science, Technology, and Research's Institute of InfoComm Research. The chipset makes use of wireless millimeter-wave (mm-wave) technology to transmit large volumes of data while consuming little power. NTU researchers connected the antenna to a transceiver, which filters and amplifies the signals and passes them along to the baseband processor, which comprises nonlinear analog signal processing, digital parallel processing, and the decoder architecture necessary for lower power consumption. "The mm-wave integrated circuit technology will enable new applications such as wireless display, mobile-distributed computing, live high-definition video streaming, and real-time interactive multi-user games," says principal investigator Yeo Kiat Seng. The microchip can transmit large packets of information at 2 Gbps, which means smartphones and tablets will be able to transmit and receive data between electronics such as projectors and TVs without the need for cables.
Automated Image Analysis Arises From Handcraft and Machine Learning
Aalto University (05/24/12)
Aalto University researcher Ville Viitaniemi is developing image-analysis tools that are based on the detection of visual categories. Viitaniemi notes that for a computer to know how to recognize and interpret images, it is useful to dissect them into prescribed categories. His method involves choosing the right categories and combining them, which enables the contents of images to be increasingly more accurately described. Viitaniemi's three-step method includes feature extraction, detection of features, and the fusion of the results of the detection. The images are first extracted of certain features such as colors, textures, and shapes. The detection system then uses machine learning to determine the features in the images, and afterwards the results are fused. To extract visual features, a single image is broken down into as many as 300 meaningful locations, making up a "neighborhood" in which each location is given a specific visual description. Each neighborhood results in a histogram of the directions of its surrounding gradients, which allows a useful feature to be put together. Viitaniemi says that if the system is given enough features, the machine will know what the image is.
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