Welcome to the September 5, 2012 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Sweden Tops Tim Berners-Lee's Web Index
BBC News (09/05/12)
Sir Tim Berners-Lee's World Wide Web Foundation has released a global index evaluating the state of the Internet in 61 countries based on both the social and political impact of the Web. The index ranked Sweden, the United States, and the United Kingdom as the top three countries. The index also indicates that although one in three people are using the Web globally, just one in six people use the Web in Africa. Analyzing data from the past five years, the index ranked nations in seven categories, including communications infrastructure, education and regulation, Web content, Web use, political impact, economic impact, and social impact. Iceland has the greatest Web use, with 95 percent of its population online, and Ireland gained the highest score for economic impact. "By shining a light on the barriers to Web for everyone, the index is a powerful tool that will empower individuals, government, and organizations to improve their societies," Berners-Lee says. According to the index, about 30 percent of countries face moderate to severe government restrictions on access to Web sites. "Growing suppression of free speech, both online and offline, is possibly the single biggest challenge to the future of the Web," Berners-Lee says.
Secrecy Surrounding 'Zero-Day Exploits' Industry Spurs Calls for Government Oversight
Washington Post (09/02/12) James Ball; Ellen Nakashima
A barely regulated industry for zero-day exploits sold by researchers has sprung up, and even certain insiders believe this trade should be subject to more stringent regulation, according to analysts. They note demand for such tools is stoked by their potency and unpredictability, and this worries experts, who are urging greater government oversight. There is a precedent for regulating an industry such as zero-day exploits, as the U.S. Commerce Department oversees the sale of software, exploits associated with cryptography, and some penetration-testing software. One of the few nations to tightly regulate exploits is Germany, which has outlawed the free distribution of such exploits as well as the domestic sale of exploits. The debate on regulation partly hinges on whether computer code counts as free speech and thus should be exempted from limitations. The zero-day trade is extremely secretive, with most sales conducted through intermediaries who protect their client list and require the researchers who sell for them to sign nondisclosure agreements. "The big issue is really the fact that researchers are put in this position to either make $50,000 doing the thing that doesn't help anyone, or do something for free that helps people," said former U.S. National Security Agency staffer Charlie Miller.
Quantum Chip Breakthrough to Be Unveiled
Financial Times (09/03/12) Ling Ge; Clive Cookson
University of Bristol researchers say they have developed a quantum chip that will lead to the creation of completely secure mobile phones and super-fast computers that are much more powerful than today's devices. The researchers currently are applying the technology to safe communications for mobile phones and computers. They say their research is an important step toward miniaturizing optical quantum computers. Although the chip is made from silicon, unlike conventional silicon chips, which work by controlling electrical current, the quantum chips manage photons to perform calculations. Since the technology uses the same silicon manufacturing techniques as conventional chips, it will be easier for manufacturers to mass produce quantum chips. The chips also are compatible with existing optical glass fiber infrastructure used in broadband communications because they operate at the same wavelengths. "The global communications network, including the Internet, is powered by fiber optics, which use light to move information at high speeds between countries, cities, and buildings," says Bristol's Mark Thompson. "Our devices are directly compatible--in a sense they talk the same language."
Researchers Find Most BitTorrent Users Being Monitored
Phys.Org (09/05/12) Bob Yirka
Birmingham University researchers have found that users who frequently access BitTorrent file-sharing sites are more vulnerable to having their Internet Protocol (IP) address logged by monitors within three hours of accessing the site. Led by Birmingham's Tom Chothia, the researchers found the extent to which monitors are tracking users on file-sharing sites by monitoring activity themselves over a two-year period. Users who go to BitTorrent sites generally become aware of blocklists, which are lists of the IP addresses of known monitors. However, the researchers found that these lists include many false positives and negatives, making them almost useless in preventing monitoring. In order to determine which clients were real users and which were monitors, the researchers identified several characteristics of monitors that make them stand out. The researchers found that monitors are much busier and more active than users who generally tend to only log on when they want a certain file.
Tech Jobs Are All Across America
CCC Blog (08/31/12) Erwin Gianchandani
The Bay Area Council Economic Institute recently released a report that combines data from multiple sources, including the biennial U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and presents a county-by-county picture of how high-tech jobs are distributed throughout the United States. The report shows that since the dot-com bust jobs in the high-tech sector have performed better than for the private sector as a whole. For example, the report says 61 percent of counties had at least some high-tech jobs in 2011. Metro areas with the fastest growing high-tech jobs are geographically and economically diverse, according to the report. In 2009, more than 72 percent of counties had at least one new business establishment in the high-tech industry. Finally, the report notes that high-tech startups have held steady during the economic downturn, despite the fact that new businesses across the private sector have declined during the same period.
Making Web Applications More Efficient
MIT News (08/31/12) Larry Hardesty
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers have developed Pyxis, a system that automatically streamlines Web sites' database access patterns, making the sites up to three times faster. Pyxis currently works with programs written in Java, but the researchers note that adapting it to other languages only requires changing the code that translates programs into graphical models. Pyxis automatically divides a program between application server and database server in a way that can be mathematically proven to not disrupt the operation of the program. Pyxis also monitors the central processing unit load on the database server, increasing or decreasing the application logic needed to execute depending on its available capacity. Pyxis transforms a program into a graph in which the nodes represent individual instructions in a program, and the edges represent the amount of data that each instruction passes to the next. Pyxis also aims to find a placement of nodes on two different servers that minimizes the total cost of the program. "Our tool is able to dynamically switch between them based on the current load on the server," says MIT's Alvin Cheung.
Austrian Programmers Build Free Bridge to Internet
Voice of America News (08/31/12) Rick Valenzuela
Austrian researchers have developed FunkFeuer, which they says is a low-cost system of spreading Internet access across communities that uses conventional technology to create a wireless mesh network that can transmit data from person to person without involving companies or governments. FunkFeuer provides wireless network access across large areas using the same open radio spectrum as Wi-Fi. However, unlike traditional Wi-Fi, the FunkFeuer network operates over much bigger distances. The system relies on having enough users to put routers and antennas out in the open, so that every user becomes another provider. "It's very hard to shut them down, because you have to go after each single node, every single node owner," says FunkFeuer founder Aaron Kaplan. The researchers say the technology also could be used to help facilitate innovation, as all of the plans and technical memos are available for free online.
'Magic Carpet' Could Help Prevent Falls
University of Manchester (09/04/12) Daniel Cochlin
University of Manchester researchers have developed a smart carpet equipped with optical fibers that bend when people walk on it and map their walking patterns in real time. The optical fibers act as sensors and relay signals to a computer, where they are analyzed to show the image of the footprint and identify changes in walking behavior. The researchers say the technology could be used to put smart carpets in care homes and hospital wards. The imaging technology also could be used as an early-warning system to detect the presence of chemical spills or fire. The technology involves a tomographic technique that maps two-dimensional images by using light coming from under the surface of the smart carpet. "The carpet can gather a wide range of information about a person’s condition; from biomechanical to chemical sensing of body fluids, enabling holistic sensing to provide an environment that detects and responds to changes in patient condition," says Manchester researcher Patricia Scully. Manchester professor Chris Todd says the technology "represents a unique collaboration between scientists from different backgrounds working together to identity a smart solution to an important problem for our country and indeed all over the world."
Visible Light Communication Could Simplify Car Electronics
The Engineer (United Kingdom) (08/30/12) Stephen Harris
Warwick University researchers are studying replacing the wiring inside cars with devices that communicate via light signals. The researchers, led by Warwick professor Roger Green, have demonstrated how visible light communication (VLC) could simplify and lighten the electronic systems in cars. VLC is a method of encoding data with light from a light-emitting diode that switches on and off faster than can be detected by the human eye. "There is a lot of weight and a lot of work required to transfer signals around a vehicle," Green notes. "But there are also lots of spaces that light signals could be sent through: Air-conditioning ducts, hollow doors, and engine compartments that could be illuminated." The researchers note that VLC is better than radio frequency wireless technology because light signals are not affected by electrical interference and are not subject to telecommunication regulation, which means that multiple light frequencies could be used to transmit high volumes of information. "We need to think about what happens to the light when it reaches a corner and how much it is reflected, what colors of light we need to use depending on the coating inside the pipe," Green says.
Web-TV: A Perfect Match?
CORDIS News (08/30/12)
European Union-funded researchers have developed NoTube, a set of technologies that combine the Web, social media, and TV to enhance user experience and interactions across media. "'Our prototypes show that the 'Web+TV' experiences that most benefit viewers and users will be those using open standards and that work across different hardware, software, and service providers," says VU University Amsterdam researcher Dan Brickley. NoTube is based on linked data, in which information about a user is stored in the cloud. "The concept of linked data allowed the NoTube team to set reference standards for online publishers," Brickley notes. "This made it possible, for example, for broadcasters to create personalized news environments and online program guides, showing users what they most want to see." The researchers say they focused on the development of cross-platform solutions. "We developed a prototype recommendation engine and sharing system which solves this problem and which can be deployed on any media platform," Brickley says. The researchers also developed N-screen, a Web application that can help small groups decide what to watch. N-screen enables users to share programs with each other in real time and change the channel using drag-and-drop motions.
Smartphone App Can Track Objects on the Battlefield as Well as on the Sports Field, Says MU Researcher
MU News Bureau (MO) (08/30/12) Timothy Wall
University of Missouri (MU) researchers have developed software that uses a smartphone's global positioning system (GPS) and imaging abilities to determine the exact location of distant objects as well as monitor the speed and direction of moving objects. The researchers say the software could have a wide range of applications, including being used by soldiers on the battlefield to target the location of their enemies, golfers to judge the distance to the green, and biologists to document the location of a rare animal without disturbing it. The researchers, led by MU's Qia Wang, developed the software to locate and track targets of known size, targets of unknown size, and moving targets. "For example, on the battlefield, a soldier needs a rangefinder, compass, GPS, and other tools to do reconnaissance before calling in an air strike," Wang notes. "With our software, the soldier can have all those instruments in one device that can be purchased off the shelf." Although the software is currently limited by the smartphone's hardware, Wang says that improvements in GPS accuracy, battery life, and camera resolution will enable the program to make even more accurate observations.
Shifty, but Secure Eyes
Saccade eye movements could serve as an alternative source for secure biometric identification, according to Finnish researchers. The University of Tampere's Martti Juhola and colleagues are developing a biometric security system based on tiny, but rapid involuntary eye movements. The researchers say the pattern of saccades is as unique as an iris or fingerprint but easier to record. Saccades are the fastest eye movements and can be easily triggered by asking an individual to look at one target and then another on a computer screen. "Saccades are probably the simplest eye movements to detect with signal analysis," the researchers say. Moreover, an individual's pattern of saccades is much more difficult to spoof than it is to emulate the iris with contact lenses or fingerprints with patterned silicone pads. The researchers note that the advent of high-quality video cameras and Web cameras has made the use of such a dynamic biometric possible. Preliminary tests indicate verification could be undertaken in as little as 30 seconds as 30 to 40 saccades are recorded, yielding accuracy of close to 100 percent, according to the researchers.
Harness Unused Smartphone Power for a Computing Boost
New Scientist (08/29/12) Jacob Aron
Technical University of Braunschweig researchers have found that smartphones can be joined together in a network, which when connected via Wi-Fi, can carry out increased numbers of megaflops. The researchers joined six low-powered phones and found they could carry out a combined 26.2 million calculations per second. Although that performance figure is low when compared to the processing power of a modern desktop computer, the research suggests that larger smartphone clusters could be useful. The system would be most powerful when there are large groups of phones charging at the same time. "The more people show up, the more computer power you potentially have available," says University of Bristol researcher Simon McIntosh-Smith. A business model could be developed to provide incentives for users to join, such as receiving subsidized phones for users who contribute time to the cluster, says Braunschweig researcher Felix Busching.
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