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Welcome to the September 12, 2014 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE


The Challenges and Threats of Automated Lip Reading
Technology Review (09/11/14)

Mu'tah University researcher Ahmad Hassanat is studying visual speech recognition, or automated lip reading. However, Hassanat and other visual speech recognition researchers often encounter several problems associated with the field. During speech, the mouth forms between 10 and 14 different shapes, known as visemes. However, speech contains about 50 individual sounds known as phonemes, which means that a single viseme can represent several different phonemes. In addition, a speaker's lips are often obscured so that on average, a lip reader only sees about 50 percent of the spoken words. Visual speech recognition systems must measure the height and width of the lips, the shape of the ellipse bounding the lips, the amount of teeth in view, and the redness of the image, which determines the amount of tongue that is visible. Ascertaining the precise contour of the lips is problematic due to the relatively small difference between pixels showing face and lips. "We argue that it is not necessary to use all or some of the lip's contour points to define the outer shape of the lips," Hassanat says. His experiments with his own achieved visual speech recognition system realized an average success rate of 76 percent, suggesting there is potential for visual speech recognition systems in the future.


So You Want to Hack Apple Pay?
The Washington Post (09/10/14) Craig Timberg

Security researchers say Apple's new payment service could usher in a new era in transaction security and put an end to the recent rash of data breaches that have hit major retailers. The key to Apple Pay's security is the way it is tied to the company's iPhone and the fact that it requires users to verify their purchases. To make a payment with Apple Pay, a user has to have access to their iPhone so they can verify the purchase by scanning their fingerprint using the device's Touch ID sensor. Although this biometric sensor has proven relatively easy to defeat and it is possible to spoof the radio signals used by the iPhone to send transaction data, either attack still requires a potential attacker to have access to or be near a given iPhone if they want to make purchases. Experts say this is much more difficult than the current strategy of compromising massive databases of credit card information. "It's likely this Apple Pay thing isn't bullet proof," says Christopher Soghoian, a security expert and principal technologist for the American Civil Liberties Union. "But it's still a million times better than what we have now."
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Cutting Congestion on the Data Network Highway
CORDIS News (09/11/14)

The European Union (EU) is betting that millimeter-wave (mmW) radio technology will be the foundation of future mobile data networks and is seeking to ensure Europe stays at the forefront of these technologies through its MIWAVES project. MIWAVES was launched in January 2014 and is partially funded by the European Commission's FP7 Program as a farsighted attempt to prepare for the future of mobile technology. The use of smartphones and other devices that tap into mobile data networks is growing, along with the bandwidth demands of the devices themselves. The EU expects the new millimeter bandwidth provided by mmW radios will be the answer to this growing need and will likely form the basis of the as-yet undefined fifth generation (5G) of mobile network standards. 5G is not expected to come online until sometime after 2020, but the EU is looking to be prepared. MIWAVES is not only funding research into mmW radio technology, but also laying the groundwork for its commercialization, bringing researchers and industry together to make sure the technology can be introduced as soon as it is ready. The three-year project supports the development of future network infrastructures that will enable faster flows of information and interoperability between mobile, wired, and wireless broadband network technologies.


Where to Grab Space Debris
MIT News (09/10/14) Larry Hardesty

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers have developed an algorithm for gauging the rotation of objects in zero gravity using only visual information. The researchers tested the algorithm using two small satellites deployed to the International Space Station through MIT's SPHERES project, which aims to develop hundreds of volleyball-sized robotic satellites that could assist human crews on future space missions. During testing, the algorithm was very accurate except when measuring the distribution of an object's mass in real time. However, its estimate could still be adequate for many purposes, according to the researchers. The algorithm uses a probabilistic approach to simultaneously calculate all of its estimates. "If you're just building a map, it'll optimize things based on just what you see, and put no constraints on how you move," says former MIT graduate student Brent Tweddle, who is now at the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The researchers found the natural log of the ratio between moments of inertia around the different rotational axes of the object could be modeled by a Gaussian distribution. "Gaussian distributions have a lot of probability in the middle and very little probability out at the tails, and they go from positive infinity to negative infinity," Tweddle says.


Rice Wireless Experts Tap Unused TV Spectrum
Rice University (09/09/14) Jade Boyd

Rice University researchers have developed a multiuser, multiantenna transmission scheme designed to make use of the unused portion of the UHF radio spectrum that has historically been reserved for TV broadcasts. The researchers say the scheme combines several proven technologies that already are widely used in wireless data transmission. One technology is multiple-input, multiple-output (MIMO), a scheme that employs multiple antennae to boost data rates without the need for additional channels or transmitter power. "Imagine that the Wi-Fi access point in your home or office sends data down a 100-lane highway, but it's only one mile long," Rice graduate student Narendra Anand. "For UHF, the highway is 100 miles long but only three or four lanes wide." The system, which is based on the wireless open-access research platform, enabled the researchers to perform a side-by-side comparison of multiuser MIMO for UHF and for both 2.4 gigahertz and 5.8 gigahertz Wi-Fi. "Based on over-the-air experiments in a range of indoor and outdoor operating environments, we found that UHF-band multiuser MIMO compared favorably and produced high spectral efficiency as well as low-overhead wireless access," says Rice professor Edward Knightly. The researchers presented their findings this week at ACM's MobiCom 2014 conference in Maui, HI.


A System That Facilitates Malware Identification in Smartphones
Carlos III University of Madrid (Spain) (09/09/14)

Carlos III University of Madrid (UC3M) researchers have developed DENDROID, a tool that helps security analysts protect users from malware. The researchers say the system enables a large number of smartphone apps to be analyzed in order to determine the malware's origins and family. UC3M's Guillermo Suarez says the tool enables users to find the malware's origins "in any type of device, ranging from traditional cell phones to today's smartphones, and even in our washing machine." Suarez notes the development of malware specifically designed to attack smartphones has become a large industry that incorporates code reuse methodology. "They don't create a program from scratch, but rather they create a new sample," he says. DENDROID enables security analysts to study a large quantity of apps to determine the origins of a malware sample and the family to which it belongs. The tools also create a phylogenetic tree to determine the malware's possible ancestors. "The developers generally reuse components of other malwares, and that precisely is what allows us to construct this genetic map," Suarez notes. He says DENDROID will help analysts protect markets and ensure that users will not need to completely depend on detectors in smartphones.


Carnegie Mellon's Smart Headlights Spare the Eyes of Oncoming Drivers
Carnegie Mellon News (PA) (09/09/14) Byron Spice

Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) researchers have developed a smart headlight that senses and tracks oncoming drivers, blacking out only the small parts of the headlight beam that would normally shine into their eyes. The smart headlight also tracks individual flakes and drops during snow or rain showers, reducing glare for the driver. "With our programmable system, we can actually make headlights that are even brighter than today's without causing distractions for other drivers on the road," says CMU professor Srinivasa Narasimhan. The system uses a Digital Light Processing projector, which divides the light into a million tiny beams, each of which can be independently controlled by an onboard computer. System latency is between 1 and 2.5 milliseconds, which means that in most cases the system does not have to employ algorithms to predict where an oncoming object will be by the time the headlight system responds. "Our system can keep high beams from blinding oncoming drivers when operating at normal highway speeds," Narasimhan says. Although the current prototypes are larger than standard headlights, the smart system could be used in trucks and buses.


Computer Scientists Launch Kickstarter for Video Game That Teaches Kids How to Code
UCSD News (CA) (09/10/14) Ioana Patringenaru

Researchers at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) are developing a new and improved version of CodeSpells, a first-person player game that teaches users how to program. "It is the goal of CodeSpells to provide a rich experience of computer science education to students who may not have access to an educator," says UCSD Ph.D. student Sarah Esper. The researchers hope the new version will be more attractive and more fun to play. CodeSpells users can modify the world around them using Blocky, a visual programming language created by Google, or JavaScript. The researchers want players to develop their own spells and quests, transforming the game into a vibrant online community. Players have the tools to create a wide range of modes, including multi-player magic-based sports for playing with other users. The researchers have set up a Kickstarter campaign to help fund the development of the game, including enhancing its multiplayer functions. "We want the game to be educational, but our biggest goal is to make sure it's fun," says UCSD Ph.D. student Stephen Foster.


New Software Training Computers to Understand Language of Musicians
Birmingham City University (09/09/14)

Birmingham City University researchers have developed the SAFE project, software designed to reduce the time and cost of creating music while also giving musicians more intuitive control over the music they produce. The software trains computers to understand the language of musicians when applying effects to their music. It uses artificial intelligence to enable a computer to perceive sounds like a human being, using keywords to process sounds rather than technical parameters. SAFE project users also can group sounds together to further strengthen the searches that musicians make when searching for specific types of sounds. For example, the software can computationally define words such as "dreamy" so computers can find a sound or set of sounds that should match with what a "dreamy" sound would be like. "Musicians can often spend their whole lives mastering their instrument, but then when they come to the production stage, it's very difficult for them to produce a well-recorded piece of music," says Birmingham City University senior lecturer and lead researcher Ryan Stables. "The SAFE project aims to overcome this and gives musicians and music production novices the ability to be creative with their music."


Why Global Contributions on Wikipedia Are So Unequal
The Conversation (09/08/14) Mark Graham

A team of researchers from Oxford University is seeking to understand what factors contribute to the uneven distribution of geographical information about different countries available on the online encyclopedia Wikipedia. Their analysis of geotagged articles on the website found an abundance of geographical information about Western European countries, but a pronounced dearth of information about countries in the Middle East and North Africa. They examined the differences between the countries in the two regions and found three major determining factors: Population size, the availability of broadband Internet, and the number of edits originating from those countries. The first two components are fairly self-evident, as countries with fewer people and fewer people connected to the Internet will be home to fewer people able to write and edit articles about their country on Wikipedia. The third factor, however, seems to be a two-sided cultural issue. On the one hand, it seems that the societies of these countries themselves are not as open to the open information-sharing ethos of Wikipedia, and even comparably wealthy and highly connected countries such as Qatar and the United Arab Emirates are woefully underrepresented. Another factor is the culture of Wikipedia itself, which research suggests is biased towards the editing of existing articles over the creation of new ones.


Popular Android Apps Fail Basic Security Tests, Putting Privacy at Risk
IDG News Service (09/08/14) Jeremy Kirk

Many Android applications fail to take basic precautions to protect user data, putting the privacy of upwards of 1 billion people at risk, according to the University of New Haven's Cyber Forensics Research and Education Group (UNHcFREG). The researchers used traffic analysis tools to examine what data was exchanged when certain actions were performed, which revealed how and where apps were storing and transmitting data. Their study found that Facebook's Instagram application leaves images sitting on its server, unencrypted and accessible without authentication, as did OoVoo, MessageMe, Tango, Grindr, HeyWire, and TextPlus when photos were sent from one user to another. The services store content with plain "http" links, which were then forwarded to recipients, but there is no authentication to keep someone else from accessing this link. The researchers say the apps should either ensure images are quickly deleted from their servers or restrict access to authenticated users. The researchers also found that many apps do not encrypt chat logs on the device, which poses a risk if someone loses their device, and many either do not use SSL/TLS or use it insecurely. "What we really find is that app developers are pretty sloppy," says UNHcFREG director Ibrahim Baggili.


Mapping Could Help Stop Ebola's Spread
KTH Royal Institute of Technology (09/03/14) David Callahan

Researcher Lars Skog at Sweden's Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) is one of several experts in geoinformatics that are developing mapping systems that can help arrest the spread of disease. Skog is working to develop a mapping method that can help combat the Ebola outbreak currently underway in West Africa. Skog previously investigated how geography affected the spread of diseases such as the Black Death, the Russian flu pandemic of 1889, and the swine flu outbreak from several years ago. Skog says his method will enable health workers on the ground to report and share information about the current state of a pandemic, to predict a disease's spread, and to identify high-risk areas before the disease arrives. In the case of Ebola, Skog says he is working to integrate information about the fruit bats that are believed to be the disease's primary carrier. Information about fruit bat populations, migrations, and factors that may affect either can help Skog predict where the disease may spread next. He says combining this information with data about how the disease is spread from information gathered in the field in real time will help support efforts to contain the spread of Ebola.


Social Net, Working
The Economist (09/04/14)

A new organization is hoping to help harness the data available on social networking services to further social science research, while avoiding potential ethical issues such as those that flared up in June over an experiment to tweak people's emotional responses on Facebook. The Digital Ecologies Research Partnership (DERP) is a collaboration of image and video storage site Imgur, news and community sites Reddit and Fark, survey site StackExchange, and video-streaming service Twitch, as well as 18 academic fellows from various institutions. One of the fellows is Stanford University's Tim Althoff, who co-authored a study on online altruism that examined a long-standing discussion thread on Reddit in which users asked others to buy them pizza. Althoff says finding the proper way to obtain all the data for the study, so it contained as much information as possible while still respecting Reddit users' privacy, was a major part of the study's success. The goal of DERP is to streamline that process and make it easier for researchers to obtain such data. Working as an intermediary between social networks and researchers, DERP hopes to become a clearinghouse for data like that used in Althoff's study. The organization says initially it will focus on obtaining data about how and why content goes viral and the ways people trade and gift virtual currencies.
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