Welcome to the July 25, 2012 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Internet Voting Systems at Risk
USA Today (07/25/12) Martha T. Moore
Online voting systems set up by many states are vulnerable to hacking when they allow voters to return ballots online, via email, or Internet fax, according to a new report from the Verified Voting Foundation and Common Cause Education Fund. The report says all states should require overseas ballots to be mailed in because even faxed ballots cannot be independently audited. The report also rates states based on their ability to accurately count votes. The report found that Colorado, Delaware, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina are the least prepared in terms of handling voter problems, while Minnesota, New Hampshire, Ohio, Vermont, and Wisconsin are the most prepared. "The security environment is not what it needs to be to cast ballots over the Internet," says the Common Cause's Voting Integrity Campaign's Sussanah Goodman. West Virginia launched a pilot program in 2010 to enable troops overseas to vote via a secure Web site. The program boosted voter participation for absentee ballots from 58 percent to 76 percent.
UC Berkeley to Offer Free Online Classes Through edX
Los Angeles Times (07/24/12) Larry Gordon
The University of California, Berkeley announced that it will join edX, an online education Web site founded by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that offers free, not-for-credit courses to students worldwide. Berkeley initially will offer one course in software engineering and one in artificial intelligence. The courses will closely follow the on-campus versions, although without contact with professors and the in-depth research projects that Berkeley students normally complete. The not-for-profit, non-commercial edX platform, which has an initial $60 million in funding, matches the university's "mission and values," says Berkeley chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau. Although Berkeley is not contributing any money to edX, it will allow the system to use some open source technology developed by Berkeley professors, according to edX officials. "Berkeley is an extraordinary public institution known not only for its academic excellence but also for its innovativeness," says edX president Anant Agarwal. "With this collaboration, edX is now positioned to improve education more rapidly both online and on-campus worldwide."
Stuxnet Thwarted by Control Code Update
BBC News (07/24/12)
Siemens has developed a fix to remove loopholes in industrial software exploited by the Stuxnet worm. The update involves the Simatic code in programmable logic controllers, which are used in many industrial facilities to automate production processes. Stuxnet targeted software that oversees the running of those devices, and the motors connected to a controller infected by the worm typically run out of control and burn out. Investigations into malfunctions at many industrial plants and factories resulted in the discovery of Stuxnet in 2010; Iranian plants used for nuclear enrichment were hit hard by the worm. The creator of Stuxnet still is not known, but security researchers believe only a nation would have the resources to develop such a complex and tightly targeted program. Several malicious programs are similar to Stuxnet in that they were created to attack industrial control systems, and there is speculation that many were created to disrupt Iran's nuclear enrichment project. Meanwhile, F-Secure recently received an email from a scientist at Iran's Atomic Energy Organization that says plants at Natanz and Qom have been hit again by a worm.
Software Detects Motion That the Human Eye Can't See
Technology Review (07/24/12) Conor Myhrvold
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers have developed the Eulerian video magnification process, a set of software algorithms that can amplify certain aspects of a video and reveal what is normally undetectable to the human eye. The process deconstructs the visual elements of each frame of a video and reconstructs them with the algorithm. "Just like optics has enabled [someone] to see things normally too small, computation can enable people to see things not visible to the naked eye," says MIT's Fredo Durand. He predicts the primary application will be for remote medical diagnostics, but it also could be used to detect any small motion. Durand notes that any video footage can be deconstructed, although the outcome of using the program varies according to the footage's quality. "What's really nice about this technique is that it can just take standard video, from just about any device, and then process it in a way that finds this hidden information in the signal," says University of California, Berkeley professor Maneesh Agrawala.
Half of Technology Leaders Are Bullish on Big Data
NextGov.com (07/20/12) Joseph Marks
About 50 percent of technology leaders are optimistic that the collection and analysis of big data will yield huge societal benefits, while about 40 percent have a more pessimistic outlook, according to a study from the Pew Internet and American Life Project. The optimists say big data innovation will generate a more predictable economy, subtler healthcare diagnoses, and more intelligent business decisions. However, skeptics voiced concerns about governments and corporations' retention of most big data and associated analysis tools, the outcome of which could be commoditization rather than improvement of people's daily lives. "If big data could be used primarily for social benefit, rather than the pursuit of profit [and the social-control systems that support that effort], then I could 'sign on,'" says University of Pennsylvania professor Oscar Gandy. Also worrying skeptics is the possibility that conclusions derived from big data would too frequently be incorrect and founded on poor assumptions about causation. Still, the U.S. government is investing $200 million in new research and development focused on big data mining, processing, and storage.
Study: Twitter Analysis Can Be Used to Detect Psychopathy
Wired.co.uk (07/23/12) Olivia Solon
Researchers at Florida Atlantic University, the Online Privacy Foundation, and Kaggle recently invited 113 teams of computer scientists to develop models that can identify psychopathy, narcissism, and Machiavellianism (known as the "dark triad") through people's Twitter usage. Each of the 1,071 models analyzed more than three million tweets from 2,927 volunteer participants in 80 countries. The models examined profile information, the number of tweets sent, re-tweets and replies, the user's Klout score, and the words in the tweets. The participants also were asked to take a personality test that rated them for eight traits, one of which was the dark triad. The researchers generated psychopathy scores based on a checklist created by University of British Columbia professor Del Paulhus. Of the 2,927 participants, the researchers found 41 certifiable psychopaths according to the personality test. The results show there are "a number of statistically significant correlations between an individual's darker personality traits and their Twitter activity," says Florida Atlantic researcher Randell Wald. The researchers believe they could potentially use analytical tools to identify potential troublemakers at public events.
First GraphLab Workshop on Large-scale Machine Learning
CCC Blog (07/20/12) Carlos Guestrin
The recent First GraphLab Workshop on Large-scale Machine Learning brought together industry and academic professionals to explore the state-of-the-art on the development of machine-learning techniques for working with huge data sets. The GraphLab Workshop included about 320 participants and 15 talks and demonstrations on systems, abstractions, languages, and algorithms for large-scale data analysis. GraphLab is particularly suited to problems with dependencies in the data, which cannot be easily or efficiently separated into independent subproblems. The workshop also included the release of GraphLab 2.1, an updated abstraction that increases the scalability of GraphLab and GraphChi, which is able to solve Web-scale problems on a single personal computer. Several of the workshop's talks included announcements on new big data developments, including Intel's Ted Wilke's announcement of the development of GraphBuilder, which uses Hadoop to overcome the gap between unstructured data and the formation of the data's graph of dependencies. The workshop also featured several short discussions led by participants from Yahoo!, Twitter, Stanford University, Netflix, Pandora, IBM, and One Kings Lane.
New Lab Working on Security Shoe Sole to ID People
Associated Press (07/23/12) Kevin Begos
Carnegie Mellon University researchers are developing shoe insoles that can help monitor access to high-security areas. Sensors in the "bio-soles" check the pressure of the wearer's feet, monitor their gait, and use a computer to analyze the patterns to identify a person. The shoe will send a wireless alarm message if the patterns don't match. "It's part of a shoe that you don't have to think about," says Marios Savvides, director of Carnegie Mellon's new Pedo-Biometrics Lab. The Institute of Intelligent Machines also is researching gait biometrics, and is reportedly developing systems in which a floor monitors footsteps without people's knowledge. The bio-soles also could have medical uses, as several recent papers suggest changes in how the elderly walk can provide early warnings of dementia. "I must admit I find this news very exciting," says podiatrist John DiMaggio, who agrees that it makes sense to use feet as a biometric identification source. However, others warn that such systems could have privacy issues. "Any biometric capture device is a potential tracking device, just like every iPhone is a potential tracking device," cautions the Electronic Frontier Foundation's Lee Tien. He warns that bio-soles could secretly be implanted into people's shoes.
Hawking Launches Supercomputer
University of Cambridge (07/20/12)
Stephen Hawking launched Europe's most powerful shared-memory supercomputer during the recent Numerical Cosmology 2012 workshop at the University of Cambridge's Center for Mathematical Sciences. SGI manufactured the COSMOS supercomputer, which will help expand understanding of the universe. "Cosmology is now a precision science, so we need machines like COSMOS to reach out and touch the real universe, to investigate whether our mathematical models are correct," Hawking says. He notes that significant advances have been recently made in cosmology and particle physics, pointing out that finding an ultimate theory in principle would enable researchers to predict everything in the universe. "Even if we do find the ultimate theory, we will still need supercomputers to describe how something as big and complex as the universe evolves, let alone why humans behave the way they do," Hawking says. COSMOS is part of the Science and Technology Facilities Council DiRAC High Performance Computing facility, which serves Britain's cosmologists, astronomers, and particle physicists, as well as non-academic users. The current research program of the COSMOS consortium focuses on advancing understanding of the origin and structure of the universe.
Government Calls on Academia to Train Tomorrow's Cyber Security Experts
Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council (07/20/12)
The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) has invited universities to apply for grants to run two new dedicated Centers for Doctoral Training (CDTs), which will train postgraduates to maintain the U.K.'s security against cyberthreats. The CDTs will enhance Britain's academic capability across all aspects of the field and are part of the U.K. government's National Cyber Security Program, which aims to create a stable, secure, and open cyberenvironment in which Britain's interests and businesses can operate and be preserved. "The Centers for Doctoral Training are a key component of achieving the skills blend the U.K. needs and I would like to encourage novel responses to the call that reflect well on the innovation of the discipline as a whole," says Universities and Skills minister David Willetts. The EPSRC wants proposals for the CDTs to focus on technological issues as well as the human element of cybersecurity. "We believe these centers will make an important contribution to further enhancing our world-class cybersecurity academic and research community here in the U.K.," says Cyber Security minister Francis Maude.
UMass Amherst, Harvard Experts Say Better Systems Needed for Medical Device Cybersecurity
University of Massachusetts Amherst (07/19/12) Janet Lathrop
Researchers at Harvard Medical School and the University of Massachusetts Amherst recently found that after analyzing decades of U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) databases, established mechanisms for evaluating device safety might not be suitable for uncovering security and privacy problems. The researchers suggest a more effective reporting system for medical device cybersecurity should be established to catch security problems that otherwise could spread. Federal surveillance strategies should "rethink how to effectively and efficiently collect data on security and privacy problems in devices that increasingly depend on computing systems susceptible to malware," say Amherst's Kevin Fu and Harvard's Daniel Kramer. The researchers evaluated product recalls and adverse event reports in three publicly available FDA databases, including its own weekly enforcement reports of device recalls, its database of Medical and Radiation Emitting Device Recalls, and the Manufacturer and User Facility Device Experience database. The researchers found that the current classification methods in these databases are not well suited to new types of device malfunctions. They also note that it can take as long as nine months for a vulnerability to be made public.
'Rattle Memory,' New Computer Memory Thanks to Nanotechnology
Eindhoven University of Technology (Netherlands) (07/16/12)
A computer memory based on moving bits of magnetized areas has the potential to be faster, use less electricity, and have much longer life than standard hard disks. Researchers from Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands and the FOM Foundation call the new computer memory a magnetic domain-wall ratchet memory. They used concentrated ion bundles to influence the magnetic wires the bits move through, and have successfully controlled bits at the nanometer scale. The scientists demonstrated that bits can be transferred without the information they contain being lost. A repeating, saw-tooth-shaped energy landscape is created by varying how the ions are fired across a nanowire, which forces a domain wall, the boundary between bits, to move in a single direction under a variable magnetic field. The use of a circular magnetic wire enables the domain wall to always rotate and the bits are retained, and the one-way traffic movement is comparable to that of a rattle or ratchet. The team plans to focus on a next-generation ratchet based on new effects, such as the use of spin currents generated in neighboring non-magnetic layers or the use of electric fields to influence the domain or movement.
New Social Network for Debating Medical Cases
Technical University of Madrid (Spain) (07/11/12) Eduardo Martinez
Technical University of Madrid researcher Albert Moreira has developed SANAR, an online platform designed to facilitate the exchange of information among medical practitioners from different parts of the world. The SANAR platform enables physicians to hold medical discussions in a Web-based environment and overcome the organizational problems of arranging group sessions or the cost and infrastructure hurdles of videoconferencing meetings. The platform also implements several security protocols and procedures to guarantee secure information and image management. "It is planned to evolve SANAR by building a module to better support case studies in an academic environment," Moreira says. He notes SANAR can be used for image-processing analysis, software engineering, software engineering experimentation, intelligent virtual environments, and data mining, among other applications. “This movement will be the groundwork for building and accepting key platform contents," Moreira says. "From here, we will be able to open up the system to the whole medical community, including nurses, pharmacists, physiotherapists, dentists, etc."
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