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Welcome to the June 4, 2014 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE


Automating Cybersecurity
The New York Times (06/03/14) Kenneth Chang

The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is holding a two-year competition with a $2 million first prize to the programming team that enables computers to detect intruders, the flaws they exploit to breach the network, and to automatically repair those flaws without human involvement. DARPA Information Innovation Office director Daniel Kaufman says the aim of the contest is to bring cybersecurity closer to physical security. "If nothing else, we will have eliminated easy attacks and raised the cost to [hackers] of any attack," he says. Overseeing the competition is DARPA's Michael Walker, who expects the cybersecurity challenge to spur collaboration between hackers and academic researchers, and lead to advances. The contest is based on the hope of automating an analysis-and-defense system in which machines analyze software to spot flaws that could grant intruders access to information while devising defenses to ward off attacks. Each competitor will be given a suite of software programs with hidden, deliberate vulnerabilities that execute certain tasks on a closed computer network. The automated systems must guarantee these workaday programs continue to run as they defend themselves.
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Apple's New Programming Language, Swift, Will Lure More Developers
Technology Review (06/03/14) Rachel Metz

Apple recently unveiled Swift, a new programming language it says offers a faster, easier way to build software for the company's products than its existing predecessor, Objective-C. Developers say Swift will be especially helpful for inexperienced coders who may have resisted developing iPhone apps in the past. Swift is simpler than Objective-C and enables developers to see their code in real time, rather than having to run it through a compiler. Swift also is compatible with Objective-C code, which means it will work with apps already in Apple's App Store. Swift "just lets you play around a little more without having to load it on the phone and try something new every time," says Yahoo Labs researcher Frank Bentley. Another factor that could help encourage new developers to build software for iOS is that Swift is very similar to other modern programming languages. "I know people, even in our shop, that are getting up to speed on iOS, coming from a Ruby or JavaScript or Python background; all of the overhead of Objective-C gets rather confusing," says Yeti president Tony Scherba. "I think Swift is going to make that a lot easier." He also says Swift is better suited to developing games and apps with three-dimensional graphics and will make coding clearer and more concise.


New Proactive Approach Unveiled to Detect Malicious Software in Networked Computers and Data
Virginia Tech News (06/04/14) Lynn A. Nystrom

Virginia Institute of Technology researchers say they have found the causal relations among computer network events, a breakthrough that effectively isolates infected computer hosts and detects in advance malicious software. The researchers used causal relations to determine whether or not network activities have justifiable and legitimate causes to occur. "This type of semantic reasoning is new and very powerful," says Virginia Tech professor Danfeng Yao, who led the research effort, which also included Virginia Tech professor Naren Ramakrishnan and graduate student Hao Zhang. "The true significance of this security approach is its potential proactive defense capability," Yao says. "Conventional security systems scan for known attack patterns, which is reactive. Our anomaly detection based on enforcing benign properties in network traffic is a clear departure from that." The research was funded by a $530,000 U.S. National Science Foundation CAREER Award to develop software that differentiates human-computer interaction from malware. Yao also received a three-year, $450,000 U.S. Office of Naval Research grant to quantitatively detect anomalies in Department of Defense computers, mobile devices, command-and-control servers, and embedded systems deployed on U.S. Navy ships. Yao will present the research this month at the ACM Symposium on Information, Computer and Communications Security in Kyoto, Japan.


PRACEdays14 Concludes With 3 Awards
PRACE (06/02/14)

More than 200 participants from academia and industry attended the recent Partnership for Advanced Computing in Europe (PRACE) Scientific and Industrial Conference 2014 (PRACEdays14) in Barcelona, Spain. Highlights of the conference included keynote speeches by well-known academic scientists and industrial researchers from the United States and Europe, and by high-level representatives from the European Commission and industry. Satellite events included an open session of the PRACE User Forum and a Workshop on Exascale and PRACE Prototypes. The final panel brought together the keynote speakers for a discussion of the economic and scientific impact of collaboration between science and industry. Teodoro Laino of IBM Research in Zurich received the PRACEdays14 Award for Best Scientific Presentation for his presentation "Shedding Light on Lithium/Air Batteries Using Millions of Threads on the BG/Q Supercomputer." The award for Best Industrial Presentation went to Mathis Bode of RWTH Aachen University in Germany for his presentation "High Fidelity Multiphase Simulations Studying Primary Breakup." Kannan Masilamani of the University of Siegen in Germany received the Award for Best Poster for the poster "Simulating and Electrodialysis Desalination Process With HPC."


Computer Scientists Develop Tool to Make the Internet of Things Safer
UCSD News (CA) (06/02/14) Ioana Patringenaru

Computer scientists at the University of California, San Diego have developed a tool that enables hardware designers and system builders to perform security tests, which they say could improve the safety of the Internet of Things (IoT). Embedded systems that remain vulnerable to attack are proliferating in conjunction with the growth of the IoT. Based on the researchers' Gate-Level Information Flow Tracking (GLIFT) research, the tool tags and tracks essential parts of hardware security systems. For example, the tool can ensure that a cryptographic key does not leak outside a chip's cryptographic core. The tool can detect timing channels that compromise security by allowing hackers to crack cryptographic keys based on the amount of time required to encrypt information. GLIFT also can detect integrity threats in which a noncritical subsystem endangers a critical subsystem within a device. The team is using a $150,000 U.S. National Science Foundation grant to commercialize the technology and continue its research with a focus on medical devices, vehicle electronics, and military applications.


UA Researchers Develop a Device for Moving Industrial Vehicles Without Drivers
RUVID (05/30/14)

Researchers at the University of Alicante's (UA) Research Group in Signals, Systems, and Telecommunication have developed a low-cost device that enables driverless industrial vehicle transportation designed to move materials in warehouses where making a continuous passage of goods between different points is necessary. The researchers designed the device to enable the vehicles to be programmed to travel independently, localizing and mapping the environment via sensors such as laser and machine-vision systems. Automatically guided vehicles are directed by painted lines or lasers, but their flexibility is constrained and they cannot contend with unexpected situations. The UA device is intended to "convert any manually driven vehicle into a high-performance mobile robot to suit the working environment where it is going to operate, rather than having to adapt the environment to the vehicle, with the associated high costs," says UA's Tomas Martinez Marin. The research has resulted in technology and algorithms that enhance process mapping, association, and the location of robots over conventional Simultaneous Localization and Mapping methods. The device is adaptable to conventional vehicles, while a virtual reality simulator has been developed to visualize the technology's application in specific tasks and facilities.


Navy Puzzle Challenge Blends Social Media, Cryptology
Government Computer News (06/02/14) Kathleen Hickey

The U.S. Navy has announced the winners of its Project Architeuthis cryptology puzzle game challenge, designed for Navy cryptology technicians. The challenge involved daily clues posted on Facebook that asked participants to perform tasks such as analyzing encrypted electronic communications and interfering with enemy radar signals. The game called on participants to interact with fictitious characters and social media profiles on the Project Architeuthis Facebook page through posts that offered information and provided clues when participants were stuck. In a similar effort, the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Crowd Sourced Formal Verification program last December launched a portal that uses crowdsourcing to complete formal software verification more rapidly and less expensively than traditional methods. The portal provides fun, intuitive games that involve formal verification problems in which players help software verification tools complete formal verification proofs. "We're seeing if we can take really hard math problems and map them onto interesting, attractive puzzle games that online players will solve for fun," says DARPA program manager Drew Dean. "By leveraging players' intelligence and ingenuity on a broad scale, we hope to reduce security analysts' workloads and fundamentally improve the availability of formal verification."


Bake Your Own Robot
MIT News (05/30/14) Larry Hardesty

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers recently introduced the concept of "bakable robots." In two papers, the researchers describe printable robotic components that fold into predetermined three-dimensional (3D) configurations when heat is applied. One paper centers on creating two-dimensional patterns for self-folding plastic to follow to create 3D shapes based on a digital specification such as a computer-aided design file. The second paper discusses the development of electrical components, such as resistors and actuators, using self-folding laser-cut materials. The work expands on previous MIT research into adapting origami to create reconfigurable robots. Critical to the new work is a method for precisely controlling the angles at which a heated sheet folds, says MIT postdoctoral research associate Shuhei Miyashita. The researchers place a sheet of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) between two films of stiff polyester with slits of varying widths. The PVC contracts when heated, causing the slits to close and the PVC to deform where the edges of the polyester film press against one another. Creating the pattern of slits is challenging, involving a complicated global control that moves every edge in the system at the same time, says MIT professor Daniela Rus.


University Researchers Test Cyber-Defense for Nation's Power Grid
CSO Online (05/30/14) Antone Gonsalves

Researchers at North Carolina State University (NCSU) and the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill have developed a prototype software-based system that would coordinate the activity of networked computers during a cyber attack. The computers would be part of an infrastructure of control centers that work together to run the U.S. power grid. The researchers propose a complex electrical network that is divided into sections, some of which are as large as California. The researchers currently are testing their distributed computer system, which could operate across centers, regardless of which geographic section they are located in. If one center was compromised, its portion of the grid would automatically be distributed to the systems in other centers. The researchers say this process could be accomplished with specialized software running across multiple virtual machines that form a cloud computing-type network, which would overlay the grid. "You have to have a very robust communication system," says NCSU professor Aranya Chakrabortty. He says new security mechanisms also would have to be implemented to protect the distributed system, which would reach across the whole power grid.


Multidimensional Image Processing and Analysis in R
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (05/29/14) Linda Vu

Talita Perciano, with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory Computational Research Division's Visualization Group, says she is updating the R Image Processing Analysis (RIPA) tool to operate on massively parallel clusters at the National Energy Research Scientific Computing facility and execute advanced image-processing tasks. Perciano says the latest RIPA iteration enables users to perform some essential image processing in parallel, but the next version will conduct more complex image-processing chores. It will feature new algorithms for pattern recognition and feature extraction, and it will accommodate three-dimensional images. Perciano created RIPA as a contribution to a community effort to create R, an esoteric, open source statistical analysis language, and says it was originally designed for satellite image analysis. She notes the update dovetails with Berkeley Lab's need to manage larger and more complex experimental and simulated scientific datasets. Disciplines where R has found use include astronomy, genomics, and drug development, and its open source nature enables users to quickly share methods with other users, and to replicate and reuse the techniques they have discovered. "[RIPA] was perfect because R is the lingua franca for statistical analysis and RIPA gave us many image-processing capabilities inside R," says Berkeley Lab researcher Daniela Ushizima.


'Beam Me Up, Data'
Delft University of Technology (05/29/14)

Researchers at the Delft University of Technology's (TU Delft) Kavli Institute of Nanoscience say they have succeeded in teleporting information between qubits in different computer chips. They say their breakthrough is a key step toward the development of a quantum network for communication between future ultra-fast quantum computers, which will be able to solve more important challenges than today's supercomputers. Moreover, the researchers say a quantum Internet will enable information transfer to be completely secure. The scientists involved in the project used entanglement to achieve teleportation. The method is 100-percent guaranteed to work and has the potential to be 100-percent accurate, says TU Delft professor Ronald Hanson, who led the research effort. The quantum bits were just three meters away from each other, but Hanson is planning to repeat the experiment this summer over a distance of 1,300 meters, with chips located in various buildings on campus. His group is striving to be the first to realize a 'loophole-free Bell test,' considered the Holy Grail within quantum mechanics.


DARPA's Micro-Tech Office Returns to Its Roots
Federal Computer Week (05/29/14) Mark Rockwell

The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's (DARPA) Microsystems Technology Office (MTO) is refocusing on its original mission to advance cutting-edge communications and computing technologies after spinning off several biotechnology-based research projects. MTO plans to examine spectrum use and ways to extend Moore's Law and currently is focused on emerging microelectromechanical systems (MEMS), quantum devices, low-power electronics, and chip-scale sensors, among other technologies. Although the increasing commercialization of advanced technologies has made military systems more affordable, this trend also has enabled advanced electronics to proliferate in the global environment, according to DARPA. "MTO's goal is to enable a whole new class of technology-driven capabilities for national security, as opposed to creating a single end-point solution," says MTO's Bill Chappell. The agency also wants to study how to more effectively use congested electromagnetic spectrum, address the end of Moore's Law, and find affordable computing and communications solutions.


How DARPA's Augmented Reality Software Works
The Atlantic (05/27/14) Alexis C. Madrigal

In an interview, four experts at Applied Research Associates discuss the augmented reality system they created for the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Six years ago, DARPA created its Urban Leader Tactical Response, Awareness, and Visualization (ULTRA-Vis) program with the goal of helping soldiers overlay digital tactical information on the physical world. As the lead contractor for the program, Applied Research Associates developed the ARC4 software for the ULTRA-Vis system, which is a lightweight, low-power holographic see-through display with a vision-enabled position and orientation-tracking system. The ULTRA-Vis system helps soldiers visualize the location of other forces, vehicles, hazards, and aircraft in the local environment even when they are not visible to the soldier. The tool also communicates tactically significant information such as imagery, navigation routes, and alerts. ARC4 represents a significant advance in augmented reality, a field in which previous technologies have leaned disappointingly toward information display, says senior scientist Jennifer Carter. "You see icons overlaid on your real world view that are georegistered. And they are in your look direction in your primary field of view," Carter says. "We think we're getting to that point where what we think of as augmented reality is going to become something that people see in the real world," says senior scientist Dave Roberts.


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