Association for Computing Machinery
Welcome to the October 10, 2014 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

Please note: In observance of the Columbus Day holiday, TechNews will not be published on Monday, Oct. 13. Publication will resume Wednesday, Oct. 15.

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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE


Cyberattacks Trigger Talk of 'Hacking Back'
The Washington Post (10/10/14) Craig Timberg; Ellen Nakashima; Danielle Douglas-Gabriel

The continuing cyberattacks on U.S. corporate networks is spurring talk among some executives and government officials of going on the offensive, or "hacking back," against those that try to infiltrate their systems. The measures under discussion usually are limited to efforts to track and or destroy stolen data. One idea involves tagging sensitive data with a beacon so it could be tracked if stolen and potentially located and deleted before it is misused. However, the major problem is that any such efforts would be, by their nature, illegal. The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation has reported a tacit acknowledgement that some companies or their network administrators occasionally engage in illegal hack back activities that investigators choose to ignore. More than one in three security professionals polled at the Black Hat USA conference in 2012 said they had engaged in retaliatory hacking on at least one occasion. However, the potential liabilities involved in such activities are considerable, and it is unlikely major companies would ever openly adopt them as part of their security policies for that reason, according to Greg Garcia, the executive director of the Financial Services Sector Coordinating Council.
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High-Tech Pay Gap: Minorities Earn Less in Skilled Jobs
USA Today (10/09/14) Jessica Guynn

Hispanics, Asians, and blacks are not receiving equal pay for equal work in the high-tech industry, according to a recent American Institute for Economic Research (AIER) report. "What this tells us is that race and ethnicity matter, and they matter a lot," says AIER's Nicole Kreisberg. "Simply increasing diversity is not enough. We also have to talk about money." The study examined several factors, including education, occupation, age, geography, gender, citizenship status, marital status, and children in the home. Recent figures from some of the largest technology companies show blacks, Hispanics, and women are underrepresented in Silicon Valley. Analysts say this trend can be attributed to an unconscious bias. However, Silicon Valley companies are studying the issues. "We are regularly looking at our diversity metrics so that we can understand the current situation, target problem areas to address, and have a baseline to track the results of change," says Twitter's Janet Van Huysse. The AIER report counters the industry's reputation as a meritocracy, where anyone with intelligence, ambition, and hard work can make it, regardless of gender, race, nationality or class. "The lesson is not that companies shouldn't adopt merit-based practices, but that the pursuit of meritocracy is more difficult than it first appears," says Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Emilio Castilla.


Gartner Lays Out Its Top 10 Tech Trends for 2015
Computerworld (10/07/14) Patrick Thibodeau

Gartner analyst David Cearley presented the firm's annual list of strategic technologies for the year ahead during its annual Symposium/ITxpo. The list focuses on merging the real world with the virtual one, and the implications for analytics and the type of information technology (IT) that has to emerge to manipulate it. Gartner sees computing everywhere, or ubiquitous access to computing capabilities, as a top trend, and Cearley notes companies may need to acquire new expertise in this area. The firm also expects to see more intelligent screens and connected devices, and in many different forms, sizes, and interaction styles. Moreover, Cearley says Gartner foresees major applications for the Internet of Things (IoT), and he encourages IT managers to experiment and empower people to develop uses for connected devices and sensors. Cearley notes with IoT, small sensors could be used to detect early problems in equipment, which could save businesses thousands of dollars. Gartner's list for 2015 also includes three-dimensional printing; advanced, pervasive, and invisible analytics; context-rich systems; smart machines; cloud and client computing; software-defined applications and infrastructure; Web-scale IT; and security, with particular emphasis on application self-protection.


Computer Engineering Degrees Pay Off Big Time
Network World (10/08/14) Brandon Butler

Students who graduate with engineering degrees in a variety of fields are rewarded with high-paying jobs and have strong earnings potential throughout their career, according to a Brookings Institution report. Computer engineering currently ranks as the fourth-highest earning degree, with majors earning an average of $2.02 million throughout their career, while the top 10 percent of computer engineering majors earn more than $3.55 million. The report provides detailed data related to how much money graduates make just out of college, throughout different points of their career, and over their lifetime. "Engineering has reliably been a high-paying major dating back as far as the 1960s and 70s," notes Brookings researcher Brad Hershbein. The data showing that computer engineering and computer science is a lucrative major comes as colleges and universities around the country are noting increased interest in computing majors. The Computing Research Association reported enrollment for computer science programs rose 22 percent in 2013, according to the 123 departments across the United States. Hershbein also found computer engineers have an average starting salary of $49,200 a year, while in later years they earn $102,700 annually on average.


Tim Berners-Lee, Web Creator, Defends Net Neutrality
The New York Times (10/08/14) Mark Scott

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, speaking at a technology conference in London on Wednesday, says harnessing the full potential of the Internet and Web technology in the future will require the codification of network neutrality into law. The battle over network neutrality is approaching a major inflection point with the U.S. Federal Communications Commission poised to issue a final decision on new net neutrality rules later this year, possibly allowing for Internet service providers to charge for improved access to bandwidth at the same time the European lawmakers pass laws guaranteeing open and equal access to online content for everyone. Berners-Lee says erosion of network neutrality would inevitably degrade the innovation the Internet has enabled over the last several decades. "It's all predicated on a neutral network," he says. Berners-Lee also addressed the need for citizens to have greater control over and insight into how governments and companies gather and use their data. He particularly pushed back against comments made by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerburg about how most people are content to surrender their privacy for access to online services. "The idea that privacy is dead is hopelessly sad," Berners-Lee says. "Privacy is really important."
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LAUSD Announces Sweeping Expansion of Computer Science Course Work
The Los Angeles Times (10/08/14) Howard Blume

The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) and Code.org are collaborating to launch a sweeping expansion of computer science coursework, according to officials. The three-year effort involves training LAUSD teachers to help students at all grade levels learn about how computers work, enabling them to eventually teach advanced computer coding at the high school level. "It's important to know what's behind the applications and how they're developed," says LAUSD's Todd Ullah. Code.org is training a cohort of Los Angeles educators to pass skills onto their colleagues. Some of the training and part of the curriculum is online, while Code.org also is contributing course materials. "Teaching students how to code enhances their relevant skills, no matter what academic or career path they eventually choose," says LAUSD superintendent John Deasy. "Coding is, by any measure in a digital-age economy, an essential skill, and is something that all students should have the opportunity to learn." LAUSD's computer curriculum currently is used in 41 schools, reaching 3,000 students a year. "Our focus is about access and equity to kids in urban settings," Ullah says. He also notes many students in urban school systems lack exposure to technology at home as well as in school.


Paper: Great Promise for Online Voting If Security, Verification Challenges Met
FierceGovernmentIT (10/08/14) Dibya Sarkar

Security, privacy, and verification protocols will need to be improved in order for online voting to gain broad adoption, according to a new paper by Peter Haynes at the Atlantic Council's Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security. The paper discusses the pitfalls and advantages of online voting. Haynes says technology has the potential to make voting easier and more accessible, improve turnout, and reduce costs. However, he notes lost votes are unacceptable and electronic votes cannot be rolled back or easily recounted. An online voting system should offer anonymity and verifiability, but Haynes says those goals are largely incompatible with current technology. "Online voting...is predicated on privacy, anonymity, and freedom from outside influence or coercion--but also on the absolute auditability that is necessary to guarantee the principle of 'one person, one vote' and to verify that each voter's intent is reflected in the election's outcome," Haynes says. He emphasizes new approaches that improve integrity, security, and anonymity of online voting systems as a potential game-changer. For example, Haynes says cryptographic technology "verifying that votes have been recorded, counted, and declared accurately could be implemented separately from the computer hardware and software that is actually collecting the votes."


Robotic Solutions Inspired by Plants
CORDIS News (10/03/14)

The European Union is funding a project that is using plant models to design a robotic solution. The PLANTOID project has developed a prototype based on the properties of plants, and the researchers believe their work could inspire a new generation of information and communications technology hardware and software. The prototype demonstrates bending capabilities, with one root responding to input from sensors at its tip, and the other functional root demonstrates growth. The robot grows by building its own structure and penetrates the soil. The trunk houses a microcomputer and is connected to the roots, and the leaves include sensors that can assess environmental conditions, including temperature, humidity, gravity, touch, and chemical factors. The researchers say plant-like robots could be used to detect and assess pollutant concentrations, to map and monitor conditions in terrestrial soils, to perform delicate surgeries, and to search for survivors after a disaster. "Plants are very efficient in terms of their energy consumption during motion, and this suggests many approaches that are muscle-free and thus not necessarily animal-like for the world of robotics," says PLANTOID project coordinator Barbara Mazzolai.


Young Israeli Cyberwarriors Learn to Duel in the Dark
The Washington Post (10/08/14) William Booth; Ruth Eglash

The Israeli government is pushing hard to make the country a leader in the field of cybersecurity. The effort is partly out of necessity: at a recent cybersecurity conference, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel faces constant cyber assaults by hacktivists and state-backed enemies such as the Syrian Electronic Army. During its recent offensive in Gaza, Israel was targeted with attacks on its electricity infrastructure and its military. Its own cyber units carried out attacks on Hamas, crashing its website as Israeli ground forces entered the Gaza Strip. Israel is relocating its military intelligence and telecommunications corps to the city of Beersheba where they will share a high-tech industrial park with students and entrepreneurs in hopes this will encourage military cyber unit veterans to form new startups such as Check Point Software Technologies, one of the country's largest companies. Israel also is expanding initiatives to educate its younger students about cybersecurity with efforts to establish cyber-learning programs at 100 Israeli high schools over the next five years. Other efforts to teach cybersecurity skills to students include after-school programs for rural children and "cyber summer camps."
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Smartphone Understands Gestures
ETH Zurich (10/08/14)

ETH Zurich researchers have developed an app that enables users to use hand gestures to operate their smartphones. The app is based on an algorithm developed by the researchers that uses a smartphone's built-in camera to register its environment. The app registers the shape of hand gestures and the parts of the hand to receive commands. The program then executes the command associated with the gestures it observes. The program also can recognize the hand's distance from the camera and warn users if their hand is too close or too far away. ETH Zurich professor Otmar Hilliges says the app's minimal processing footprint means it also could be used in smart watches or in augmented-reality glasses. The program currently recognizes six different gestures and executes their corresponding commands. "To expand its functionality, we're going to add further classification schemes to the program," Hilliges says. The researchers aim to keep the gestures as simple as possible to make operating the devices easier for users.


Microsoft's RoomAlive Turns Your Room Into a Holodeck
CNet (10/06/14) Michelle Starr

Microsoft recently unveiled RoomAlive, a proof-of-concept prototype the company's researchers say transforms any room into an immersive, augmented entertainment experience. "Users can touch, shoot, stomp, dodge, and steer projected content that seamlessly co-exists with their existing physical environment," the researchers say. RoomAlive is based on Microsoft's IllumiRoom, a program that sought to expand gaming beyond the screen, projection-mapping animated environments onto walls using Kinect sensors to create a more immersive experience. RoomAlive builds on the IllumiRoom concept, but it goes beyond serving as an extension to what people see on their screen to a system that transforms the entire room into a projection-mapped, augmented-reality experience. RoomAlive relies on a projector depth-camera unit, known as a procam, which consists of a wide field of view projector, a Kinect sensor, and a computer. Each procam unit is capable of auto-calibration and self-localization. The sensor maps the room and tracks what is in it, while the projector is used for the display. "RoomAlive enables game designers to create projection-mapped games independent of the particular room that the content is displayed in," says Microsoft researcher Brett Jones. "All the content in RoomAlive is driven in real time and dynamically adapts to the exact color and geometry of the user's living room."


New Paper Examines the Significant Social Strategies in Human Communication
Notre Dame News (10/06/14) William G. Gilroy

University of Notre Dame researchers are conducting a study with the potential to help understand the social principles underpinning the highly connected world. The researchers say knowing the social strategies in networks offers significant prospects for understanding the evolution and dynamics of social networks. "The key aspect of our work is that just with the knowledge of the structure of the social network, we are able to accurately infer social strategies and demographic information such as age and gender," says Notre Dame professor Nitesh Chawla. The researchers developed a WhoAmI method to predict a user's gender and approximate age. "Compared with the traditional machine-learning algorithms where only the correlations between demographics and attributes of each user are considered, the WhoAmI method can also model the structural correlations between different users," Chawla says. The study found young people are active in broadening their social circles, while seniors tend to keep small but close connections. In addition, the researchers found people's attention to opposite gender connections quickly disappears after age 35, while the insistence and social investment on same-gender social groups lasts for a lifetime. "The discoveries characterize the properties of human communications regarding the demographic profiles and further show us how the social strategies change over time across one's lifespan," Chawla says.


'Data Smashing' Could Unshackle Automated Discovery
Cornell Chronicle (10/02/14) Syl Kacapyr

A new principle devised by computing researchers at Cornell University could help improve results for raw data fed into a data analysis algorithm. The data-smashing principle targets the use of human experts to determine relevant data for comparison. The use of experts is a major weakness because they are not keeping up with the growing amounts and complexities of big data. The researchers call for a new way of comparing data that does not involve human intervention and access to the data sources. They propose algorithmically "smashing" data streams to "annihilate" the information in each other, and then measuring the remaining information following the collision. The more information remains after the collision, the less likely the streams originated in the same source. The team demonstrated the principle on real-world problems, such as classifying astronomical objects from raw photometry, disambiguating electroencephalograph patterns from epileptic seizure patients, and detecting anomalous cardiac activity from heart recordings. The researchers report the method's performance was equal to the precision of specialized algorithms and heuristics of experts. They say data-smashing precepts may enable comprehension of increasingly complex observations, especially when experts do not know what to look for.


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