Welcome to the July 13, 2012 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Exascale Computing by Decade's End
EE Times India (07/12/12) Dylan McGrath
Parallelism and technology scaling will make exascale computing possible by the end of the decade, says Intel Fellow Shekhar Borkar. By about 2018, engineers are expected to create an exascale supercomputer, and about 10 years later the technology will likely find its way into PCs and eventually into mobile systems. Still, exascale computing would consume vast amounts of power if current trends hold true, Borkar notes. A key challenge will be to build an exascale computing system that consumes only 20MW of power, and engineers would be able to use the same technology to significantly reduce the power consumption of lower performance systems. Borkar says improvements must be made in both energy per transistor and energy per compute operation. He notes that scaling down supply voltage boosts energy efficiency, but the side effect of this is leakage power not declining as much as total power consumption, which makes leakage power a higher percentage of total power consumption. Borkar makes several other observations, such as the importance of local computing due to the issue of power consumption. "Clearly, data movement energy will dominate the future," he says.
Tridium's Niagara Framework: Marvel of Connectivity Illustrates New Cyber Risks
Washington Post (07/12/12) Robert O'Harrow Jr.
Security vulnerabilities have been found in the Niagara Framework, an application developed by Tridium that enables users to link a wide variety of systems to the Internet and control them. In fact, in the last two years Niagara has been used to link at least 11 million devices and machines in 52 countries to the Internet. However, security researchers Billy Rios and Terry McCorkle say Niagara contains a vulnerability that would enable an attacker to carry out a directory traversal attack. Rios says he was able to alter the Web address of the Niagara Framework to command it to perform several tasks, including providing him with access to a configuration file that contained usernames, passwords, and other sensitive information. Although the passwords contained in the configuration file were hashed, automated tools can easily crack hashed passwords. Tridium is aware of the vulnerability, which it said was caused by an employee error and misconfigurations in the systems of Niagara Framework users. The company plans to move the configuration file so that it is more difficult for an attacker to find, change the framework's default security settings so that it is harder to make a mistake, and strengthen password hashing.
Computer Science Continues Growth on College Campuses
U.S. News & World Report (07/12/12) Ryan Lytle
After falling to its lowest level since the 1970s in 2005, computer science enrollments at U.S. universities have been rising for the last three consecutive years, according to the Computing Research Association. At Stanford University, more than 220 students declared a computer science major during the 2011-2012 school year, a 25 percent increase over the previous high, which took place during the 2000-2001 school year. Stanford professor Mehran Sahami says it’s only been the last five years that have seen the enrollment numbers take off. Meanwhile, employment of computer scientists is expected to grow by 19 percent through 2020, according to U.S. Department of Labor statistics. Some of this growth can be attributed to the economy and the job market in technology fields, which are "still seen as pretty strong despite the fact that the broader economy may be perceived as weak," Sahami says. However, many computer science programs face a shortage of qualified computer science faculty to meet student demand, notes Florida Southern College professor Gwen Walton. Although some schools are dealing with budgetary restraints, Sahami says institutions should invest more resources into computer science programs.
DARPA Seeks 'Radical Innovation' in Data Analysis
InformationWeek (07/10/12) Patience Wait
The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is interested in novel ways to identify people, places, objects, and activities in visual and geospatial images. DARPA is seeking participants for a project called the Innovation House Study, which will have research teams work in a "short-fuse, crucible-style environment." Teams will be given access to unclassified data, including aerial and ground-level video, high-resolution light detection and ranging of urban and mountainous terrain, and unstructured amateur photos and video, in addition to public data from open source and commercial repositories, the Web, and mobile phones. DARPA is emphasizing collaboration among participants, and teams also will have access to experts from academia and defense and intelligence agencies. George Mason University will host the project, and teams will design and demonstrate proof-of-concept software capabilities during the first four-week session in September. Teams that advance will develop functional software in the second four-week session in November. DARPA will announce the selected teams in August. "If this model proves to be as successful as we believe it could be, it represents a new means for participating in government-sponsored research projects," says DARPA's Michael Geertsen.
DOE Primes Pump for Exascale Supercomputers
HPC Wire (07/12/12) Michael Feldman
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) recently awarded two-year, multimillion-dollar grants to Intel, Advanced Micro Devices (AMD), NVIDIA, and Whamcloud to develop exascale computers as part of the FastForward program, which will focus on developing future hardware and software technologies capable of supporting such machines. The program is being contracted through Lawrence Livermore National Security as part of a multi-lab consortium that includes Argonne National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, and Sandia National Laboratories. "While DOE’s extreme-scale computer requirements are a driving factor, these projects must also exhibit the potential for technology adoption by broader segments of the market outside of DOE supercomputer installations," says a FastForward statement. Intel's FastForward processor research will be based on the company's Many Integrated Core architecture, which is designed for the supercomputing market. AMD will be basing its FastForward processor research on its Accelerated Processing Unit product line and the related Heterogeneous Systems Architecture standard. NVIDIA will base its FastForward research on its Echelon design.
New System Developed for Early Diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease
Canal UGR (07/11/12)
University of Granada researchers have developed a computerized system for the early diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease as part of the Alzheimer's Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI) project. The system's software automatically classifies nuclear magnetic resonance scans of healthy subjects, patients with mild cognitive impairment, and patients with Alzheimer's disease. The software is based on 1,350 scans collected from the ADNI database, including 443 scans of healthy subjects, 448 scans of those with mild cognitive impairment, and 459 scans of patients with Alzheimer's disease. The software was developed using the Discrete Wavelet Transform for the collection of scan features, Primary Component Analysis for the reduction of the features, and several methods for the selection of features. The results have a sensitivity and specificity of 98.7 percent for the distinction between healthy subjects and those with Alzheimer's disease. The research shows that advanced image-analysis techniques can be used to diagnose patients that could develop dementia in the future, leading to a more efficient control of the evolution of the disease.
Toward Achieving 1 Million Times Increase in Computing Efficiency
Northwestern University Newscenter (07/10/12)
Complementary metal-oxide semiconductors (CMOS) give off more heat as more transistors are added, which makes CMOS incapable of supporting tomorrow's high-powered computer systems. Northwestern University researchers say they have developed a new logic circuit family based on magnetic semiconductor devices that could result in logic circuits up to one million times more power-efficient than CMOS-based systems. Northwestern's "spin-logic circuits" utilize the quantum physics phenomenon of spin, a fundamental property of the electron. "We are using 'spintronic' logic devices to successfully perform the same operations as conventional CMOS circuits but with fewer devices and more computing power," says Northwestern professor Bruce W. Wessels. The spin-logic circuits are created using magnetoresistive bipolar spin-transistors. Although the goal of one million times increased power efficiency is optimistic and could take up to 10 years to reach, "we think this is potentially groundbreaking," says Northwestern's Joseph Friedman.
Searching Genomic Data Faster
MIT News (07/10/12) Larry Hardesty
Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard University say they have developed an algorithm that drastically reduces the time it takes to find a specific gene sequence in a database of genomes. In addition, the more genomes it searches, the faster it works, which means that its advantages will compound as more data is generated. The algorithm is similar to a data-compression algorithm. "Our insight is that if you compress the data in the right way, then you can do your analysis directly on the compressed data," says MIT professor Bonnie Berger. The algorithm utilizes the fact that there is a lot of overlap in the genomes of closely related species, and some overlap in the genomes of distantly related species. The researchers developed a way to mathematically represent the genomes of different species so that the overlapping data is stored only once. The researchers compared their algorithm to the Basic Local Alignment Search Tool in analyzing 36 yeast genomes, and found that their algorithm was four times as fast. "Their approach is really going to shine when you have many closely related organisms," says Princeton University professor Mona Singh.
Addressing Gender Imbalance in the IT Industry: Kaylene O'Brien
Computerworld Australia (07/10/12) Rebecca Merrett
To address the gender imbalance in information technology (IT), the industry needs to rid its "geeky kind of boy's job" image and better promote the diversity of IT careers to attract women into the industry, says Deloitte Consulting's Kaylene O'Brien. She says there is still a gender imbalance in the industry because "we've allowed a situation to occur where the image of what an IT career means is way too narrow and isn't representative of the breadth of the exciting and interesting sorts of careers." People that can be more business-focused in their role, or more creative, frequently end up succeeding in an IT career, O'Brien notes. The lack of flexibility is another reason to why women might not be moving toward careers in IT. O’Brien points out the proportion of women at entry levels, particularly in IT, are very low and the gender (im)balance tends to worsen as they become more senior. Nevertheless, she notes there has been some recent positive responses from women in the industry who volunteer their time to support and encourage other women to take IT up as a career.
'Clonewise' Security Service Helps Identify Vulnerable Code
Dark Reading (07/09/12) Robert Lemos
Deakin University researchers have developed Clonewise, a service for finding common code in programs, which could help find vulnerable libraries built into larger bodies of code. The service focuses on finding patterns of source code in the Ubuntu Linux distribution. "Every time there is a vulnerability in [the graphics libraries] libpng or libtiff, we are looking at a lot of major programs that could potentially be vulnerable," says Deakin University's Silvio Cesare. The researchers found a total of about 400 libraries or embedded packages that could be built into any of the more than 10,000 packages in a common Linux distribution. "Static libraries and other reusable code chunks should definitely be a concern for application developers but the risk is often ignored because until the last few years it was difficult to tackle the problem cost effectively," says Veracode's Chris Wysopal. With homegrown applications built using enterprise languages such as Java and .NET, there is no standard way to monitor and maintain the third-party code that frequently finds its way into the programs, according to WhiteHat Security's Eric Sheridan. Cesare says software developers who use open source code in their projects need to establish a process to track and manage vulnerabilities in third-party components.
Internet2 Readies 100G OpenFlow SDN for Big Data
Network World (07/09/12) Jim Duffy
Internet2 has nearly completed its OpenFlow-enabled 100G Ethernet software-defined network (SDN) for testing service delivery of applications for Big Data compilation and research. The 100G Ethernet OpenFlow-enabled routers will allow for programmatic control of the Innovation Platform from an open source controller to facilitate scale and intelligent service delivery, according to Internet2. The Innovation Platform is designed to advance education, university business, and global Big Data collaborative research outcomes, which should lead to new research initiatives and new cycles of global economic development, according to Internet2. "The Internet2 community sees software-defined networking as much of the same transformative opportunity that we saw with the original Internet," says Internet2's Rob Vietzke. "We're making a fairly big investment in building this new nationwide SDN environment as a platform for software development." He says the Innovation Platform will enable member institutions to keep up with the exponential growth of Big Data generated by scientific research from U.S. labs and universities.
Researchers Develop New Facebook App to Detect Pedophiles and Criminals
Parents will be able to protect their children on Facebook from criminals and pedophiles with one click by using Social Privacy Protector (SPP), a privacy solution developed by undergraduate students at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. The researchers note that SPP offers multiple levels of protection, but its key component involves reviewing a user's friends list in seconds to identify those with few or no mutual links and potential fake profiles. The app analyzes friends, providing each with a connectedness score, then flags lowest scores as suspicious and asks whether to restrict their access to personal information. "While Facebook encourages connecting with as many people as possible, we advocate limiting users, and have, for the first time, provided an algorithm to scientifically determine who to remove from friend lists," says Ben-Gurion's Michael Fire. "Predators rely on people friending anyone, and with teens now allowed to have Facebook accounts, we believe that our solution can provide necessary protection for all users." SPP also is designed to notify users about apps on their profile that could threaten their privacy. SPP is available for free as a Facebook app for all browsers and as an add-on for Firefox.
Robot Vision: Muscle-Like Action Allows Camera to Mimic Human Eye Movement
Georgia Tech Research News (07/05/12) Sarah E. Goodwin
Georgia Tech researchers have developed a method for replicating the muscle motion of the human eye to control camera systems in a way that could improve the operation of robots. The key to their system is a piezoelectric cellular actuator, which uses a biologically inspired technology to enable a robotic eye to move more like a human eye. "The actuators developed in our lab embody many properties in common with biological muscle, especially a cellular structure," says Georgia Tech Ph.D. candidate Joshua Schultz. Georgia Tech professor Jun Ueda says the technology could lead to new research projects that analyze systems with a large number of active units operating together. "Successful integration relies on the coordinated design of control, structure, actuators, and sensors by considering the dynamic interaction among them," Ueda says. The system involves a lightweight, high-speed method that includes a single-degree of freedom camera positioner that can be used to illustrate and understand the performance and control of biologically inspired actuator technology. "We are presenting a mathematical concept that can be used to predict the performance as well as select the required geometry of nested structures," Ueda says.
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