Welcome to the December 7, 2012 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Vint Cerf Urges Computer Science to Be Included in EBacc
Computer Weekly (12/06/12) Kayleigh Bateman
Google vice president and ACM president Vint Cerf is backing the British Computer Society's (BCS) recent call for computer science to be included in the English Baccalaureate (EBacc). The EBacc will replace the current GCSE examination system in English, math, a science, a foreign language, and one from either history or geography in 2015. However, the BCS recently released a report, titled "The Case for Computer Science as an Option in the English Baccalaureate," which Cerf strongly supports. The BCS report shows how some of the new GCSEs in computer science require greater intellectual depth to achieve a C grade, when compared with some physics GCSEs. "If new computer science GCSEs are developed that meet high standards of intellectual depth and practical value, we will certainly consider including computer science as an option in the EBacc," says secretary of state for education Michael Gove. Computer science needs to be included in the EBacc, or all of the work that has been done to ensure the subject is included in the curriculum could be at risk, according to BCS and Computing at School. "This will help headteachers realize that computer science is as important for the future success of their students as other scientific subjects such as math or physics," Cerf says.
House Approves Resolution to Keep Internet Control Out of UN Hands
The Hill (12/05/12) Pete Kasperowicz
The House has unanimously passed a resolution that calls on the U.S. government to oppose a United Nations (UN) effort to control the Internet. The World Conference on International Telecommunications is meeting this week to update an international telecom treaty, but critics say the proposals of many countries could allow UN regulation of the Internet. "The 193 member countries of the United Nations are gathered to consider whether to apply to the Internet a regulatory regime that the International Telecommunications Union created in the 1980s for old-fashioned telephone service," says U.S. Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) Walden warns that some countries want to "swallow the Internet's non-governmental organizational structure whole and make it part of the United Nations." The House resolution is the same one passed unanimously by the Senate in September. The White House also opposes UN control of the Internet. "We need to send a strong message to the world that the Internet has thrived under a decentralized, bottom-up, multi-stakeholder governance model," says Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.). The resolution states that it is "the consistent and unequivocal policy of the United States to promote a global Internet free from government control."
In MLB.com Challenge, College Students Pitch Tech Ideas
InformationWeek (12/06/12) Michael Endler
The MLB.com College Challenge, a competition cosponsored by the Syracuse University's School of Information Studies and Major League Baseball Advanced Media, offers participants a chance to solve some of MLB.com's real-world tech challenges, and an opportunity to pitch solutions to MLB representatives. The challenge encourages students from varied backgrounds to participate, serving as a model for helping students find jobs, as well as encouraging technological innovation to flourish in more places. In a previous competition, the winning project presented a way to merge all of the social media documents that a single game might produce, including smartphone photos, tweets, and Facebook status updates, into a single interface. This year's competition, which recently completed its third edition, focused on how MLB.com could harness the trend of "gamification" to engage fans. The winning project was a novel approach to fantasy baseball with gamification elements and competitive social challenges to share the experience with friends. Syracuse professor Jeffery Rubin, one of the competition's organizers, notes the hackathon is an interdisciplinary challenge. "It's not the most technical project that wins--but the best idea," Rubin says.
Q&A: Intel Tech Chief Rattner Peers Into the Future
Wall Street Journal (12/04/12) Eva Dou
Intel chief technology officer Justin Rattner says the company's research focus is undergoing "fundamental change" as a result of the changes taking place in the computer industry and the way that users approach technology. "One thing we think is going to be very important in the future is this notion of having information devices that are contextually aware," Rattner says. "These devices will have the ability to know you as an individual and then anticipate your needs." For example, he says a person's car "will use its hard sensors--geopositioning, time, temperature, compass, elevation--as well as soft sensors--your calendar, your social network, your favorites, and your likes and your dislikes" to choose the best possible route. Rattner says advances in human-interface technology will help make the transition to contextually aware devices possible. He also notes that Intel is developing "free me," which "will hopefully eliminate all the physical connections, all the wires and cables you have to drag with you everywhere," including wireless power. Rattner expects that wireless charging will be available in the next several years.
Mobile Browsers Fail Georgia Tech Safety Test
Georgia Tech News (12/05/12) Michael Terrazas
Georgia Tech researchers have found that mobile Web browsers are so unsafe that even cybersecurity experts cannot detect when their smartphone browsers have landed on dangerous Web sites. "We found vulnerabilities in all 10 of the mobile browsers we tested, which together account for more than 90 percent of the mobile browsers in use today in the United States," says Georgia Tech professor Patrick Traynor. The main issue is graphic icons known as secure sockets layer (SSL) or transport layer security (TLS) indicators, which alert users when their connection to the destination Web site is secure and that the Web site they see is actually the site they intended to visit. Due to the small screen associated with most mobile browsers, there is not enough room to incorporate SSL indicators as with desktop browsers. Displaying a graphical indicator that a site is secure in a Web browser's URL field is on the security guidelines recommended by the World Wide Web Consortium for browser safety. "Research has shown that mobile browser users are three times more likely to access phishing sites than users of desktop browsers," says Georgia Tech researcher Chaitrali Amrutkar.
Syria Outage Sheds Light on U.S. "Kill Switch" Concerns
eWeek (12/05/12) Robert Lemos
Syria and as many as 60 other countries are at a severe risk of being disconnected from the Internet because of lack of redundancy in their telecommunications connections to the outside world, according to a recent Renesys report. However, the report rated the United States, Canada, and many Western European nations as "resistant to risk," while other countries were rated at "significant" or "low risk" or being disconnected. The analysis found that concerns that an Internet "kill switch" could cut people off are unwarranted in the United States, says Renesys' Earl Zmijewski. "Syria is not the U.S., it is not Canada, and it's not Western Europe," Zmijewski says. "There is no way to simply shut down connectivity." The analysis of the relative resistance of a country's network to disconnection is based on the number of providers that connect to the outside world, not the number of physical connections. Renesys' James Cowie notes that comments on the study indicate that most people were concerned about their country's vulnerability to being disconnected. "It's interesting that most people who are suggesting modifications to (our) model believe that their country is much more vulnerable to disconnection," Cowie says.
New '4-D' Transistor Is Preview of Future Computers
Purdue University News (12/04/12) Emil Venere
Researchers at Purdue and Harvard universities have developed a transistor that consists of three nanowires made out of indium-gallium-arsenide. The three nanowires are progressively smaller, resulting in a tapered cross section that resembles a Christmas tree. The researchers say the transistors could enable engineers to build faster and more efficient and compact integrated circuits that generate less heat than existing devices. New research has shown that a device's performance can be improved by linking the transistors vertically in parallel. "Stacking them results in more current and much faster operation for high-speed computing," says Purdue professor Peter Ye. "This adds a whole new dimension, so I call them 4D." Ye says silicon-based transistors have shrunk to about 22 nanometers, but size reductions beyond 10 nanometers and additional performance improvements are likely not possible using silicon. He notes creating smaller transistors also will require finding a new type of dielectric layer that allows the gate to switch on and off. Ye says the new transistors are coated with a composite dielectric that enables the researchers to create transistors made of indium-gallium-arsenide with 20-nanometer gates.
The Rise of Voice Biometrics for Mobile Phones
Technology Review (12/05/12)
University of Colorado at Colorado Springs researchers have developed Vaulted Voice Verification, an approach to voice identification that can be used for voice biometrics in mobile phone-type security systems. Voice biometrics has limitations in that people's voices can change dramatically when they are ill or in a hurry, and it is relatively easy to record a voice during authentication and use it to break the system. The researchers' approach has users set up accounts by recording a large number of words and phrases, which would be sent in encrypted form to a bank and would serve as a template for verifying the user. Rather than have the bank's server ask for and transmit voice data, the bank sends two encrypted versions of each word or phrase to a mobile phone, one being in the user's voice and the other spoken by a different person. The software on the mobile phone compares the user's voice with both files and decides which one is authentic, then sends back the answers instead of transmitting the voice recording. The researchers say Vaulted Voice Verification provides secure authentication and preserves the privacy of the user.
GPU Monster Shreds Password Hashes
HPC Wire (12/06/12) Tiffany Trader
Speaking at the recent Passwords^12 Conference, security researcher Jeremi Gosney presented a custom-built graphics processing unit (GPU) cluster that is able to go through 348 billion password hashes a second. The system includes five 4U servers equipped with 25 AMD Radeon-based GPUs connected via SDR InfiniBand. As part of the demonstration, Gosney used the OpenCL framework over a Virtual OpenCL platform to run the Hashcat password-cracking algorithm. He says that with this combination of hardware and software, passwords protected with weaker encryption algorithms are essentially obsolete. "I always had these dreams of doing very simple and very manageable grid/cloud computing," Gosney says. "It really is the marriage of two absolutely fantastic programs, which allows us to do unprecedented things." The researchers have been able to scale the application beyond the 25-GPU system to support as many as 128 AMD GPUs.
Noel Dickover's TechCamps Gaining Speed
Federal Computer Week (12/04/12) Frank Konkel
A U.S. State Department initiative to build the digital capacity of grassroots organizations is in high demand, according to Noel Dickover, senior new media advisor for the department's Office of eDiplomacy. Dickover won a 2012 Federal 100 award for organizing and leading a number of TechCamps around the world. The interactive, two-day event offers successful, local non-governmental organizations the opportunity to gain training on adopting tech-centric approaches to issues such as democracy, economics, disaster response, and youth and women empowerment. "We've gotten so much interest from the TechCamp approach, people are coming out of the woodwork to do these," Dickover says. "We ended up doing a lot more than originally intended." Surveys conducted after events show an increase in digital literacy, and participants are taking advantage of low-cost technology. The program does not have a high price tag, is managed by a small staff of five people, and the cost of running a camp is often paid for by overseas embassies or other entities. The first TechCamp was held in November 2010, and the 19 events so far have attracted more than 1,100 civil-service organizations from 81 countries.
U.S. Government Needs Cybersecurity Doctrine, Experts Say
Computerworld (12/04/12) Grant Gross
A comprehensive cybersecurity policy could play a critical role in improving security vulnerability, according to a group of experts from technology and science think tanks. The experts have written "#Cyberdoc No Borders--No Boundaries," a book they hope will start a dialogue on U.S. cybersecurity doctrine. The book argues that the current patchwork of policies inhibits efforts to work with other countries, and provides little deterrence for groups that attack the country. The Battelle Memorial Institute's Timothy Sample, co-author of the book, says the U.S. will "lurch from crisis to crisis" without a doctrine that details the government's response to cyberthreats. A doctrine could address how the government will respond to attacks, what kinds of attacks it will respond to, ways to safely use the Internet, and other aspects of cybersecurity, says book co-author Michael Swetnam, chairman of the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies. The Potomac Institute Cyber Center's David Smith notes that U.S. officials say the country's networks are attacked thousands of times a day, and the government should be concerned about the volume of economic espionage that happens during cyberattacks. Smith also suggests that computer forensic methods could help identify attackers in many cases.
Why Google's Ingress Game Is a Data Gold Mine
New Scientist (11/29/12) Hal Hodson
Google spinoff Niantic Labs recently released Ingress, the beta version of an invite-only Android game that uses ubiquitous and accurate augmented reality (AR) technology. The game has players annotate real-world objects with a virtual layer of information that is displayed on a smartphone's camera as they move around the game's environment. Ingress is tied to the real world using the phone's global positioning system. The combination of physical and virtual reality, using accurate location data to tie them together, places Ingress somewhere between an interactive map and true AR. Meanwhile, a detailed record of where all of the Ingress players go is a data gold mine for Google to use to improve its location-based services. Users in less well-covered areas can suggest that landmarks of interest to them should become new game portals by snapping a geotagged photo with their smartphones. Google "may get information about new monuments, and that actually helps them generate more interesting search results, because these are the things that local people say are interesting," says Georgia Tech professor Blair MacIntyre. The photos also could help current AR apps become more accurate, notes University of California, Santa Barbara professor Tobias Hollerer.
Increasing Control Over Release of Information Leads People to Divulge More Online, Carnegie Mellon Researchers Find
Carnegie Mellon News (PA) (11/28/12) Ken Walters
When users think they have more control over their personal information, they tend to increase their willingness to disclose sensitive information that allows them to be personally identified, according to a Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) study. The study examined how users respond when given control over their personal information, enabling them to choose how much they reveal about themselves. The researchers found that users given more privacy controls share more sensitive information with larger and riskier audiences. "People who felt more in control of their information took more privacy risks more often," says CMU professor Alessandro Acquisti. The researchers say the finding has important public policy implications. "Our research shows that such self-regulation may still leave users vulnerable to privacy risks," says CMU researcher Laura Brandimarte. The research included three studies with a total of 600 participants across several populations. All three studies found that increasing perceived control over the release or access of personal information can cause people to experience an illusory sense of security.
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