Welcome to the August 2, 2013 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Military Considers Sharing Radar Frequencies With Wireless Networks
Technology Review (08/02/13) David Talbot
U.S. Navy researchers want to share rarely used wireless military frequencies so that new services can be developed. The Navy is planning a test involving a powerful system that normally scans for incoming missiles and bombers. When the system is turned on, visiting academic and corporate researchers will tune portable wireless transmitters to the same frequency to see what happens. "We will be running an LTE signal and understanding the impact of radar on that LTE signal," says Virginia Tech researcher Jeff Reed. The test could pave the way for 4G LTE networks that institutions such as hospitals or public safety agencies could set up without relying on the major carriers. Policymakers and researchers hope the radar bands could lead to another way to provide long-range Wi-Fi with only small modifications to existing small-cell transmitters that support existing LTE and Wi-Fi. After the test, the researchers say they will have a better idea of the precise conditions under which the spectrum sharing is feasible. The next step will be for the U.S. Federal Communications Commission to formally define a rule, which could take at least a year.
Gaming the System to Beat Rush-Hour Traffic
The Wall Street Journal (08/01/13) David Wessel
Stanford University computer scientist Balaji Prabhakar is applying humans' appreciation of incentives and friendly competition to improving rush-hour congestion. His system offered people commuting to work at Infosys Technologies by chartered bus in Bangalore, India, credits if they made efforts to arrive at the office before 8:30 a.m. Accumulating more credits improved their chances of winning between $10 and $240 in a weekly lottery drawing, and the average bus rider's commute, because it was earlier, shrank significantly. Prabhakar's next project involved promoting walking among Accenture's U.S. employees by using pedometers to accrue points used to play a game that generates cash prizes. Roughly five weeks into the project, the researchers enabled participants to compare their step count to that of their friends via a Facebook-like friends list and online news feed. "Money gets the ball rolling, but we know from the data that having friends has a big effect," Prabhakar says. The game model also was applied to Stanford in an attempt to cut rush-hour traffic through a federally financed experiment, with the result that approximately 15 percent of the trips taken by participants have moved away from rush hour.
Black Hat: Elliptical Curve Cryptography Coming as Smarter Algorithms Threaten RSA
Network World (08/02/13) Tim Greene
NCC Group's Alex Stamos told Black Hat attendees that the obsolescence of the RSA public key cryptography algorithm is a foregone conclusion, and that it could be superannuated within five years due to the growing efficiency of math for cracking encryption algorithms. Stamos says the most probable current alternative option is elliptical curve cryptography (ECC), which is more complex mathematically to decipher than RSA. He advises businesses to act immediately to facilitate an orderly transition to the stronger scheme by using ECC certificates wherever possible, spurring vendors to support TLS 1.2 and ECC directly, polling their exposure to RSA reliance so they are familiar with the scope of the potential problem, and activating elliptical curve ephemeral Diffie-Hellman perfect forward secrecy. Mathematicians have taken major steps toward rapid RSA decryption in the past six months, and consultant Tom Ritter says if RSA were to become obsolete today, most end-to-end encryption would be imperiled. He also says the appeal of working on these faster algorithms will likely grow among researchers. RSA may still stumble along for a time but would have to use 16,384-bit keys, versus the current recommendation of 2,084 bits.
NSA Chief Asks a Skeptical Crowd of Hackers to Help Agency Do Its Job
Washington Post (08/01/13) Robert O'Harrow Jr.
U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) director Gen. Keith B. Alexander attempted to solicit the hacker community's help in fulfilling his agency's mission at the recent Black Hat conference, but was greeted by doubt and skepticism. Alexander's participation seems to be part of the NSA's efforts to better explain its operations and oversight to the public and defect sharp criticism over its role in recently disclosed citizen surveillance programs. Alexander told conference attendees that they could help the NSA communicate the facts of the program to others, in particular agency employees' agenda to hunt down and monitor terrorists and not regular Americans. Alexander disputes assertions that NSA analysts regularly monitor ordinary citizens' communications records, noting "we can audit the actions of our people, 100 percent, and we do that." He also stresses that the system for collecting digital records from Internet companies is completely auditable. Although Invincea founder Anup Ghosh says Alexander and NSA need the backing of the hacker community now more than ever, the chasm between the government's claims about surveillance and lingering doubts about what is actually happening is "making distrust a bigger and bigger issue."
Hadi Partovi's Code.org Ramps Up With 3.5M Students
Vator News (07/31/13) Bambi Francisco Roizen
Code.org CEO Hadi Partovi says about 90 percent of U.S. schools lack computer science programs due to a shortage of funds and teachers. "There are over 40,000 high schools in the U.S. About 2,300 teach AP computer science," Partovi notes, and less than 10,000 high schools are estimated to teach introductory computer science. In an effort to help students learn coding skills, Code.org in the last six months has helped 3.5 million students try four different online coding courses. To broaden its reach, the nonprofit has partnered with nonprofit Technically Learning and nonpartisan advocacy coalition Computing in the Core, which ACM founded in 2010 with the backing of Microsoft, Google, the Computer Science Teachers Association, and the National Center for Women and Information Technology. Approximately 13,000 schools have already approached Code.org for assistance in adding computer science to their curriculum. Code.org must overcome several obstacles in its mission, including a severe shortage of computer science teachers and the fact that states classify computer science as a vocational elective rather than a core field of study. There currently are fewer than 3,000 AP computer science teachers, compared to more than 20,000 AP calculus teachers, Partovi notes. He says that Code.org wants to bring computer science to more schools, get more states to set policies that are favorable to computer science, and grow awareness of computer science education broadly at the national level.
Georgia Tech Uncovers iOS Security Weaknesses
Georgia Institute of Technology (07/31/13) Jason Maderer
Two security weaknesses that allow malware to be installed onto Apple mobile devices have been discovered by researchers from the Georgia Tech Information Security Center. Research scientists Tielei Wang and Billy Lau used different approaches involving seemingly innocuous applications and peripherals. Wang's approach hides malicious code during the Apple review process, and it can be instructed to carry out tasks once it is installed on a user's device. His team developed a proof-of-concept attack called Jekyll, and successfully published a malicious app and used it to remotely launch attacks on a controlled group of devices. "Our research shows that despite running inside the iOS sandbox, a Jekyll-based app can successfully perform many malicious tasks, such as posting tweets, taking photos, sending email and SMS, and even attacking other apps--all without the user's knowledge," Wang says. Lau's team developed a proof-of-concept malicious charger called Mactans using a small, inexpensive single-board computer. Mactans, which can be constructed to resemble an iPhone or iPad charger, can stealthily install a malicious app. The charger installed arbitrary apps within one minute of being plugged into the latest Apple devices.
Throwing a Lifeline to Scientists Drowning in Data
Berkeley Lab News Center (07/31/13) Linda Vu
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) researchers say they have developed computational techniques that could help scientists manage massive amounts of data. The researchers have developed a method, called distributed merge trees, to streamline the analysis of enormous scientific datasets using the same techniques that make complex subway systems understandable at a glance. "The growth of serial computational power has stalled, so data analysis is becoming increasingly dependent on massively parallel machines," notes Berkeley Lab's Gunther Weber. "To satisfy the computational demand created by complex datasets, algorithms need to effectively use these parallel computer architectures." Once a massive dataset has been generated, scientists can use the distributed merge tree algorithm to translate it into a topological map. The algorithm scans the entire scientific dataset and tags interesting values, and merges points or connections in the data. Weber says distributed merge trees take advantage of massively parallel computers by dividing topological datasets into blocks, and then distributing the workload across thousands of nodes. "By reducing the tree size per node while maintaining a full accurate representation of the merge tree, we speed up the topological analysis and make it applicable to larger datasets," he says.
A Sneak Peek at the Next-Gen Exascale Operating System
HPC Wire (07/31/13) Nicole Hemsoth
The Department of Energy recently invested $9.75 million in the Argonne National Laboratory for a multi-institutional project called Argo that aims to develop an operating system to power next-generation exascale computers. The operating system can address exascale computing issues such as power management, massive concurrency as well as heterogeneity, and overall resiliency, says Argo chief architect Pete Beckman. Power control and management can be optimized at the core operational and workload level using a pared-down operating system designed for high-performance computing. Massive concurrency needs will be met with a hierarchical power and fault management framework, and a beacon mechanism that lets resource managers and optimizers communicate and control the platform. The researchers describe the hierarchy as "enclaves," each of which represents a set of resources dedicated to a specific service. Using a Linux core, Argo will be a platform-neutral, global operating system that runs across the machine. The team hopes that part of the chip will run the Linux kernel for basic functions such as control systems, booting, and debugging, while “for the [high-performance computing] part, we can specialize and have a special component that lives in the chip," Beckman says.
ANU Launches Australia's Largest Supercomputer
Computerworld Australia (07/31/13) Byron Connolly
The Australian National University (ANU) recently unveiled Australia's largest supercomputer, the 1.2-petaflop Fujitsu PRIMERGY cluster, or Raijin. The machine is capable of completing 170,000 calculations for every human on earth every second. The supercomputer is housed at the ANU National Computational Infrastructure (NCI) performance computing center. After several months of performance testing, Raijin has been in production since mid-June, with about 30 percent of its processing power being used for calculations in earth system science. However, research in this area will account for about half of the machine's processing power once the Bureau of Meteorology ramps up to full speed. "The rest is used [in the areas of] physical sciences, advanced materials, the biosciences, in particular in modeling molecular dynamics--a whole range of uses," says NCI director and ANU professor Lindsay Botten. He notes that all but 50 cores of the 57,472 Intel Xeon Sandy Bridge 2.6 GHz processor cores are currently in use, while Raijin also comes with 160 TB of main memory and 10 PB of disk storage.
Networked Cars Are Coming, but Their Hacks Are Already Here
Discover (07/30/13) Lisa Raffensperger
Concurrent with a new push for connected-vehicle technology to facilitate collision avoidance is an emphasis on its potential security vulnerabilities. The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board has called on federal agencies to establish a foundation for all highway vehicles to eventually be outfitted with this technology, which would tap the vehicle's onboard computers to transmit data such as its orientation, speed, and location anonymously to all other vehicles in a certain range through Wi-Fi-like signals. A prototype of this system reportedly is undergoing testing in Michigan, but white-hat hackers Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek have disclosed their success in attacking critical automotive systems in the Ford Escape and Toyota Prius via the vehicles' computers. Although they executed these attacks with a laptop that was physically wired into the car's system, previous research has demonstrated that remote access is possible through existing car communications systems. Researchers successfully breached vehicles' systems using Bluetooth and cellular phone networks two years ago, and they warned that "an adversary could use such means to compromise a vehicle's systems and install code that takes action immediately (such as unlocking doors) or in response to some environmental trigger (the time of day, speed, or location as exported via the onboard [global positioning system])."
Study: Online Tools Accelerating Earthquake-Engineering Progress
Purdue University News (07/29/13) Emil Venere
Researchers at Purdue University's Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation (NEES) have found that online tools, access to experimental data, and other resources provided through cyberinfrastructure are helping accelerate progress in earthquake engineering and science. NEES includes 14 laboratories for earthquake engineering and tsunami research, all of which are tied together with cyberinfrastructure to provide information technology for the network. The cyberinfrastructure includes a centrally maintained, Web-based science gateway called NEEShub, which houses experimental results and makes them available to researchers, practitioners, and educational communities. The NEES cyberinfrastructure provides a place for researchers to upload project data, documents, papers, and dissertations containing important experimental knowledge. "It's a good example of how cyberinfrastructure can help knit together distributed communities or researchers into something greater than the sum of its parts," says Purdue professor Thomas Hacker. The resources also are curated. NEEShub contains more than 1.6 million project files housed in more than 398,000 project directories and has been shown to have at least 65,000 users over the past year. "We have a curation dashboard for each project, which gives the curation status of the information so that users know whether it's ready to be cited and used," Hacker says.
Quantum Boost for Artificial Intelligence
Nature (07/26/13) Devin Powell
Quantum computers that encode data in fuzzy quantum states that can be 0 and 1 at the same time might help advance artificial intelligence (AI) significantly, according to a series of studies by Massachusetts Institute of Technology researcher Seth Lloyd and colleagues. A quantum version of machine learning developed by Lloyd's team could support a exponential jump in machine-learning task speed, using a simple algorithm for solving systems of linear equations. Quantum computers can compress the data and carry out calculations on select features extracted from the data and plotted onto quantum bits (qubits). Data can be divided into groups or searched for patterns, thus allowing vast volumes of information to be manipulated with a relatively small number of qubits. "We could map the whole Universe--all of the information that has existed since the Big Bang--onto 300 qubits," Lloyd observes. Such quantum AI methods could drastically expedite tasks such as image recognition for comparing photos on the Web or for enabling self-driving automobiles. The practical applications of quantum machine learning will be a tougher challenge, as Lloyd estimates that just a small-scale demonstration would require 12 qubits.
20 Great Years of Linux and Supercomputers
ZDNet (07/29/13) Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols
In the culmination of a steady rise to dominance over the past 20 years, Linux is now the operating system used on 95.2 percent of the world's 500 fastest supercomputers, according to the most recent Top500 supercomputer rankings. Linux debuted on the Top500 list in 1998, consistently dominated the top 10 over the past decade, and has accounted for more than 90 percent of the list since June 2010, according to the Linux Foundation. "Linux [became] the driving force behind the breakthroughs in computing power that have fueled research and technological innovation," says the Linux Foundation. The foundation attributes Linux's popularity in supercomputing to the fact that researchers can easily modify and optimize Linux for unique, cutting-edge supercomputer designs. In addition, Linux offers access to free support and developer resources. "By isolating RMax [a supercomputer's maximum achieved performance on the Linpack benchmark] by operating system using the past 20 years of Top500 data, it's clear that Linux is not only responsible for supporting the majority of supercomputers today, but is a driving force behind the disproportionate growth in supercomputing capacity over the past decade," says the Linux Foundation. "In continuing to drive progress and innovation in computing, Linux is also helping to explore the mysteries of the universe and solve our toughest problems."
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