Welcome to the June 11, 2014 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
UN Unveils Big Data Climate Change Challenge
InformationWeek (06/10/14) Jeff Bertolucci
The United Nations (UN) is hosting the Big Data Climate Challenge (BDCC), a global competition designed to facilitate the use of big data to address issues related to climate change. The BDCC focuses on published or implemented projects that use big data and analytics to show the economic impact of changing climate patterns, as well as ways to manage their impact. The BDCC works with the UN Secretary-General's Climate Change Support Team, which aims to gain "fresh evidence that strengthens the economic case for action on climate change to show where such action is feasible, affordable, and effective," according to the UN Global Pulse website. The UN wants to increase public awareness of how big data can provide insights for reducing human-generated emissions. "We're confident that data-driven climate solutions exist around the globe--we just have to find them. And the Big Data Climate Challenge seeks to unearth and highlight the best examples out there," says UN Global Pulse chief scientist Miguel Luengo-Oroz. "The impressive submissions that the Challenge has already received demonstrate both the relevance and importance of bringing the big data and climate communities together." The contest is part of the Secretary-General's Climate Summit, which takes place Sept. 23 at UN Headquarters in New York City.
Genes in the Cloud: Google Steps Into Autism Research
The Wall Street Journal (06/09/14) Shirley S. Wang
Google and Autism Speaks recently announced an arrangement in which the two organizations will house the sequencing of 10,000 complete genomes and other clinical data of children with autism and their siblings and parents with the goal of accelerating research on the disorder. The database will be part of AUT10K, the Autism Speaks genome-mapping program. The program's organizers expect to have an easy-to-use portal for researchers within a year. The project's organizers say putting the information and analytical tools on cloud servers allows for more seamless collaboration between researchers and provides access for researchers from institutions that do not have the technology to conduct genomic studies on their own. In addition, using cloud-computing methods will help overcome storage issues, while accuracy, security, and confidentiality also are concerns. AUT10K will be available to researchers who agree to abide by a standard research agreement, according to Autism Speaks chief science officer Robert Ring. Google wants to use its cloud technology to help Autism Speaks and others in genomics generate results "better, faster, and cheaper," says Google's David Glazer. "Cloud computing is the great leveler," says Duke University director of research computing Mark DeLong, who isn't involved in the partnership.
FCC Chief Plans Action on Wi-Fi in Schools
The New York Times (06/10/14) Edward Wyatt
Although the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) spends $2.4 billion a year to equip schools and libraries with high-speed Internet connections, none of that funding has gone to pay for Wi-Fi connections. FCC chairman Tom Wheeler reportedly is planning a proposal to promote Wi-Fi in schools, with the goal of getting the issue on the agenda for the FCC's July 11 meeting. However, the agency currently is bound by rules governing the E-Rate fund, the program that subsidizes the installation of high-speed Internet connections in schools. The current rules prioritize bringing connections to schools that have none over improving networks already inside schools. Now, as most schools have received some kind of Internet connection, the FCC wants to use the E-Rate fund and other resources to pay for new Wi-Fi connections. "Today we have the technology to expand to laptops or tablets on every student's desk," Wheeler says. The expansion of Wi-Fi will need to coincide with schools upgrading their broadband connections. To move this process along, the FCC plans to reallocate $2 billion in an E-Rate reserve account to pay for additional broadband. The FCC also can provide 10 million students with Wi-Fi access using money saved by phasing out obsolete technology, such as pagers and directory assistance.
Data, Data Everywhere
Inside Higher Ed (06/10/14) Carl Straumsheim
The MOOC Research Initiative on Monday released the results of 22 projects pertaining to massive open online courses (MOOCs), with participants noting the challenges of working with MOOC data. The researchers devoted significant time and resources to converting MOOC data into a usable format. "We spent about 80 to 90 percent of our time on fundamental data transformation," says California State University System Office of the Chancellor academic technology and analytics program manager John Whitmer. He says MOOCs should improve data collection practices and be invested in the researchers' efforts. Problems with data prevented University of Pennsylvania researchers from submitting a manuscript of their research, says project leader Laura W. Perna. For example, the team could see when students accessed a lecture or took a quiz, but had to match that data to what actually took place in the course. The University of Pennsylvania project found only about one in every 10 students made it to the final week in the school's 16 Coursera courses in the 2012-13 academic year. Perna says she wanted to provide foundational research to support the prevailing beliefs about MOOCs. Some research results challenged existing perceptions about MOOCs, with Whitmer's project, for example, showing answers to an entry survey about demographics and persistence were not statistically significant in terms of predicting student engagement in a course.
Efficient Processing of Big Data on a Daily Routine Basis
The German Research Foundation is funding a priority program called Algorithms for Big Data to help meet the processing challenges posed by the large volumes of data generated by proliferating computer systems. The Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) is involved in several of the program's projects. "The algorithms known so far are not designed for processing the huge data volumes associated with many problems," says KIT professor Henning Meyerhenke. "The new priority program is aimed at developing theoretically sound methods that can be applied in practice." KIT researchers are developing solutions to improve the efficiency of routine computing processes, such as Internet search queries. KIT's Rapid Inexact Combinatorial and Algebraic Solvers for Large Networks program addresses complex problems encountered in large networks, with tasks motivated by biological applications. The new processes help lower the calculation cost of data classification. The Scalable Cryptography project seeks to improve the security of big data as the number of accesses and users rises. KIT's Clustering in Social Online Networks aims to develop algorithms to leverage the economic and political value of data generated by social networks, while the Text Indexing for Big Data project is exploring optimization options.
NSF, Intel Labs Partner on Cyber-Physical Systems Security and Privacy
CCC Blog (06/06/14) Helen Vasaly
The U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) and Intel Labs recently launched a partnership to support novel, transformative, multidisciplinary approaches that address the problem of securing current and emerging cyber-physical systems, the infrastructures they form, and those integrated with them. The partnership aims to facilitate a long-term research community designed to advance research and education at the intersection of cybersecurity, privacy, and cyber-physical systems. "Unlike small, single-sourced embedded systems, modern cyber-physical systems incorporate components from different providers using explicit interface standards that specify communication protocols, physical operation characteristics, real-time sensing and human operators informed by real-time data from the cyber-physical sensors," according to the joint NSF/Intel solicitation. The program includes an Ideas Lab that aims to help foster a community of researchers at the intersection of cyber-physical system, cybersecurity, and privacy. "The Ideas Lab process entails participation in an intensive five-day residential workshop, including the development of multidisciplinary collaborative proposals through a real-time and iterative review process," the solicitation says.
The Complex Mathematics of Robot Wrestling
Technology Review (06/06/14)
Researchers at Utsunomiya University in Japan have written a mathematical model for the sport of wrestling, which they have tested in a numerical simulation. The model defines wrestling as a system of two mechanical agents connected through actions such as contact and collision, with the objective being for one agent to knock over the other while maintaining its balance. The robot wrestlers are depicted as inverted pendulums on a cart that can move backwards or forwards, linked to each other by a spring that can stretch and retract. The researchers examine how best to design an intelligent controller that outperforms its opponent, with its action limited to moving the cart backwards or forwards. The team found 17 parameters that influence wrestler behavior, such as pendulum mass and length, cart mass, and acceleration due to gravity. The controller must determine how to move to maintain the upright position of its own pendulum while exerting a turning force to unbalance the other player. Given the researchers' parameters, the controllers were unable to simulate solutions successfully and winners were essentially selected at random. The team resolved this by adding a short delay to calculations, which prevents controllers from attaining levels of complexity that interfere with solutions. In the future, the researchers would like for the controllers to compete in a human versus machine contest.
China Driving Development of 'Internet of Things'
Agence France-Presse (06/09/14)
The market for an Internet of Things (IoT) is quickly reaching a critical mass in China due to the government making IoT development a top priority, according to a GSMA Association report. The number of machine-to-machine connections via mobile networks has risen by 35 percent annually over the past four years and now accounts for more than 3 percent of total mobile connections. China accounts for 40 percent of total mobile machine-to-machine connections, which is more than the United States and Japan combined. Connecting machines via mobile networks has led to the deployment of systems that enable real-time monitoring of the location of buses, systems that direct drivers to free parking spaces, and energy meters that report consumption automatically. "A rapidly developing and urbanizing country, China is looking to use information and communications technologies to make its fast expanding cities smarter and enable a better quality of life for their citizens," the GSMA report says. The Chinese government plans to invest more than $600 billion in the sector through 2020, and the number of mobile machine-to-machine connections is expected to hit 242 million by the end of this year.
Demand for Software Developers Remains High
CIO (06/06/14) Sharon Florentine
Employers continue to focus on the need for foundational technologies and core systems as they look for software developers. People with knowledge of JAVA/J2EE, .NET, C++, C#, Senior, SQL, HTML, C, Web and Linux are the most sought-after candidates, according to a Dice.com survey of its candidate database. Such skills are essential for any company, regardless of industry, notes Dice.com president Shravan Goli. The statistics show the highest volume of searches, but Dice.com also considered where technology is headed to determine the hottest new skills. Goli says the hottest skill sets are for candidates with Hadoop and/or big data experience, and familiarity with mobile technology and the Android operating system, wearable technology, the Internet of Things, and robotics. "Some of these skills are going to take the market by storm, just like mobile and big data did," Goli says. "It's important not just to focus on core foundation technologies, but also emerging tech so that companies can either attract and retain this talent or identify and grow those skills internally before it gets too expensive."
With New Hack, Cellphone Can Get Data Out of Computers
Times of Israel (06/09/14) David Shamah
A cellphone can be used to engage in air-gap network hacking, according to researchers at Ben Gurion University (BGU). The researchers say a hacker could use an email-phishing attack to get an unsuspecting cellphone user to install the right kind of malware onto their device. Once the cellphone is within one to six meters of a system, a hacker on the other side of the world will be able to remotely access any data they want, and no Internet connection is needed. Once the malware is on the phone, it scans for electromagnetic waves, which can be manipulated to construct a network connection using FM frequencies to install a virus onto a computer or server. A team led by BGU Cyber Security Lab director and professor Yuval Elovici has demonstrated how the technique is done with computer video cards and monitors. Elovici considers air-gap network hacking via cellphone to be a major security risk because currently there is little that can be done to prevent it other than turning off a phone. He expects the risk to grow as news of the attack technique spreads among hackers.
Passwords? Soon You May Log In Securely Without Them
UAB News (06/03/14) Katherine Shonsey
University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) researchers are developing an easy-to-use, secure login protection method that eliminates the need to use a password. The researchers' zero-interaction authentication scheme works by verifying the user's security token using an authentication protocol over a short-range, wireless communication channel, removing the need for passwords and reducing the security risks associated with them. However, conventional zero-interaction authentication systems are vulnerable to relay attacks, in which a hacker succeeds in authenticating to the terminal on behalf of the user by colluding with another hacker who is close to the user at another location, says UAB professor Nitesh Saxena. "The goal of our research is to examine the existing security measures that zero-interaction authentication systems employ and improve them," Saxena says. The researchers found sensor modalities used in combination provide added security to zero-interaction authentication systems. "Our results suggest that an individual sensor modality may not provide a sufficient level of security and usability," Saxena says. "However, multiple modality combinations result in a robust relay-attack defense and good usability."
Bring Your Body Into Action in Tomorrow's Digital World
Umea University (Sweden) (06/03/14) Ingrid Soderbergh
Farid Abedan Kondori, a student in the Department of Applied Physics and Electronics at Umea University, is studying how to use media technology to put human bodies back in motion since so many people spend much of their daily life in front of a computer. Kondori has worked on developing theories and techniques for exploring interaction methods beyond the keyboard and mouse, utilizing the human body. He also has investigated different approaches for human motion analysis, focusing on the head and hands because they are the most frequently used body parts for interacting with computers. Kondori has developed an active motion estimation system that can accurately perform in real-time applications and has utilized new three-dimensional sensors to present a direct motion estimation method. "My thesis gives an insight into the technical challenges, such as motion complexity, motion resolution, rapid motion, and uncontrolled environments and provides new perspectives and robust techniques for providing bodily interaction methods," Kondori says.
Using Computers to Influence the Law
Columbia University (06/02/14) Holly Evarts
Researchers at Columbia University and the University of Maryland recently released a study on the potential legal impact of machine-learning technology on searches, warrants, and privacy issues. In the past, police have not been required to obtain search warrants before tracking a person's location on the premise there is no expectation of privacy in public movements. However, courts have upheld the "mosaic theory" of the Fourth Amendment, which maintains a sizable data collection is significantly more revealing than individual points. The ruling opens questions as to how much data collection is acceptable without a warrant. "Computer science can provide an answer," says Columbia University professor Steven M. Bellovin. "The basic idea is very simple: when machine-learning techniques--the same sorts of tools that let companies like Amazon and Netflix make accurate recommendations, based on your past history--can make accurate enough predictions, you have a mosaic." The study shows how machine learning can provide data compilation and analysis that offer Fourth Amendment insights regarding long-term surveillance. The threshold is about one week, says Bellovin, noting a reasonably accurate portrayal of a person's life can be revealed in this time frame. The researchers intend to explore the creation of a privacy metric that is "mathematically sound, technically useful, and legally relevant."
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