Welcome to the March 18, 2015 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Researchers Find Same RSA Encryption Key Used 28,000 Times
IDG News Service (03/17/15) Jeremy Kirk
Researchers at Royal Holloway, University of London have found that several million Internet hosts are still vulnerable to the FREAK flaw in the Secure Sockets Layer/Transport Security Layer (SSL/TLS) encryption protocol disclosed earlier this month. As many as a quarter of the hosts on the Internet, about 23 million, were thought to be vulnerable to FREAK when its existence became public on March 3. The Royal Holloway researchers say that when they scanned the entire IPv4 address space last Friday, about 2.2 million hosts were still accepting the 512-bit encryption keys that are the crux of the FREAK flaw. The 512-bit keys are vulnerable because it is relatively easy to factor them using the kind of computing power that is readily available today. The researchers also found that many of the hosts, possibly servers or other Internet-connected devices, accepted duplicate 512-bit public keys used by multiple hosts. In one case, nearly 28,000 routers running an SSL virtual private network module were using the same 512-bit public RSA key. In total, 664,336 of the vulnerable hosts identified by the Royal Holloway researchers were using duplicate keys. The researchers say they are attempting to contact the owners of the at-risk hosts.
Germany Moves Away From U.S.-Dominated IoT Standards Groups
The Wall Street Journal (03/18/15) Friedrich Geiger; Archibald Preuschat
Deutsche Telekom, Germany's largest telecommunications firm, this week announced it is joining with German business software firm SAP to develop a software standard for Internet of Things (IoT) devices. The field already is crowded with nascent IoT standards. For machine-to-machine communication, the Industrial Internet Consortium, founded by AT&T, Cisco, General Electric, and IBM, has the lead. The group's members include several German firms, including SAP, as well as several universities. Competing standards come from the Open Interconnect Consortium and the AllSeen Alliance. However, all of these efforts are primarily American-led and Deutsche Telekom says German companies have different requirements, largely centered around data privacy standards. The impetus for the new standard came from German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who last year called on leading German firms to develop an IoT standard with German interests in mind. Deutsche Telekom board member Reinhard Clemens says the new standard is not meant for exclusively German use and the company hopes it will spread and become "a de-facto standard." To facilitate this, Clemens says Deutsche Telekom and SAP will move quickly to establish pilot projects showcasing the new standard. SAP executive board member Bernd Leukert says additional German partners in developing the new standard will be announced next month.
Google Backs Three-City Program for Black, Latino Techies
USA Today (03/16/15) Jessica Guynn
Google announced it is supporting a new pilot program from CODE2040 to foster tech startups led by minority entrepreneurs in three cities. CODE2040 is a nonprofit organization founded in 2012 with a focus on increasing the participation of African Americans and Hispanics in the tech workforce. Google is backing CODE2040's new program, which will provide office space, funding, and other support to three minority tech entrepreneurs in Chicago, Austin, TX, and Durham, NC. Google awarded $775,000 in grants to the effort last month. The money will provide the entrepreneurs with free office space in tech hubs in the three cities, as well as $40,000 in seed funding. The entrepreneurs also will be flown to Google headquarters in Mountain View, CA, attend meetings with investors, and have access to mentoring and other resources through the Google for Entrepreneurs program. CODE2040 cofounder and CEO Laura Weidman Powers says the project serves a dual purpose: helping to give minority tech entrepreneurs a hand up, but also helping to spur the development of new technology hubs around the country. She says the hubs will help create new power centers in the tech world in places where a lack of diversity has not yet become entrenched the way it has in Silicon Valley.
Real-Time Holographic Displays One Step Closer to Reality
University of Cambridge (03/16/15) Sarah Collins
Researchers from the University of Cambridge have developed a new type of pixel element that enables far greater control over holographic displays at the level of individual pixels. They say the breakthrough could make three-dimensional holographic displays possible. Normally, devices that use plasmonic optical antennas are passive, meaning their optical properties cannot be switched post-fabrication, which is essential for real-world applications. Through integration with liquid crystals, in the form of typical pixel architecture, the team was able to actively switch which hologram is excited and which output image is selected. "Optical nanoantennas produce a strong interaction with light according to their geometry," says Yunuen Montelongo, a Ph.D. student in the Cambridge engineering department who co-wrote a paper on the research. "Furthermore, it is possible to modulate this interaction with the aid of liquid crystals." Scaling up the pixels would give a display the ability to encode switchable amplitude, wavelength, and polarization information.
Data Structures Influence Speed of Quantum Search in Unexpected Ways
UC San Diego News Center (03/17/15) Susan Brown
Although intuition says searching for data in a network would be fastest in a highly connected database, this logic does not hold for quantum computing, according to research by Tom Wong, who recently earned a Ph.D. in physics from the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) and is now at the University of Latvia, and UCSD professor David Meyer. The researchers used the example of searching for a particular cafe in a city. How quickly the cafe can be found depends on the layout of the city and the location of the cafe within the city. Conventional logic says the more connected the city is, the easier it is to move around, and the easier it is to find the cafe. "Searching with a quantum particle, we showed the opposite, giving an example where searching in a city with low connectivity yields fast search, and an example where searching in a city with high connectivity yields slow search," Wong says. "The quantum world is much richer than our classical intuitions might lead us to believe."
Google's Eric Schmidt Downplays Fears Over Artificial Intelligence
The Washington Post (03/16/15) Matt McFarland
Google chairman Eric Schmidt suggested fear over artificial intelligence (AI) is overblown during a keynote address Monday at South by Southwest with author Walter Isaacson and U.S. chief technology officer Megan Smith. Schmidt said we are still in the beginning stages of understanding AI, noting he would not be worried about anything in the next 20 to 30 years. "Stuff beyond that is, at this point, really speculation," Schmidt said. "I'm not a dystopian." Schmidt said tremendous progress has been made in AI, and he highlighted benevolent uses such as Google Voice and Google's translation services. He also said machine learning has the potential to help solve every problem. "I can't think of a field of study, a field of research--whether it's English, soft sciences, hard sciences, or any corporation--that can't become far more efficient, far more powerful, far more clever," Schmidt said. "I think that this technology will ultimately be one of the greatest forces for good in mankind's history simply because it makes people smarter."
Seven Strategies for Keeping Women in STEM Fields
Reuters (03/16/15) Randi Belisomo
The 28-member Initiative on Women in Science and Engineering Working Group has developed a seven-point plan for achieving gender equity in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. The group wants to ensure that women not only enter STEM fields, but remain, compete, and thrive in their careers. Women make up half the college-educated U.S. workforce but only 28 percent of the science and engineering workers, according to the National Science Board. The panel suggests flexible family care spending awards that could enable travel to meetings and conferences, as well as grants to pay for assistance in the office, laboratory, or home. The panel also makes three suggestions that it says fall under the "Psychological and Cultural Strategies" heading. The panel says institutions should incorporate implicit bias statements and gender-balanced external review and speaker-selection committees, and focus on education as a tool. The Initiative also recommends instituting gender-equity report cards and searchable databases of women in STEM fields, which would make it easier for search committees and conference organizers to identify eligible females. "Leadership at the highest levels of research institutions should be aware of these challenges and opportunities," says Lasker Foundation president Claire Pomeroy.
Pitt, CMU and UPMC Hope to Remake Healthcare via New Big Data Alliance
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (03/16/15) Bill Toland
The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC), the University of Pittsburgh, and Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) announced the formation of the Pittsburgh Health Data Alliance, which aims to revolutionize healthcare and wellness by using data to detect potential outbreaks and create healthcare innovations. The clinical goal is to redesign healthcare so it is more computerized and more personalized, using millions of gigabytes of accumulated health records to predict and treat patients' health issues. If the alliance meets its goals, it could rival the scope of the U.S.'s largest university-led data-sharing projects and its biggest artificial intelligence projects. The partnership has the potential to unleash "the next generation of healthcare, the next generation of IT, and the next generation of Pittsburgh," says UPMC president Jeffrey Romoff. Initially, the alliance will be broken up into the Center for Machine Learning and Health, led by CMU professor Eric Xing, and the Center for Commercial Applications of Healthcare Data, led by Pittsburgh professor Michael Becich. "The major difference-maker here is the computer science and machine-learning capabilities of CMU and Pitt," says Curate.Health CEO Paul Alexander Clark. "Application of [machine] learning to a specific healthcare population is the biggest leap--more significant than simply the 'big data' part."
MIT Launches Three-Pronged Effort to Thwart Cyberattacks
Network World (03/13/15) Tim Greene
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is working to address cybersecurity from a variety of perspectives with a trio of initiatives. The first is a joint effort of the school's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) and private industry partners, including BAE Systems and Raytheon, which will tackle the technical challenges of cybersecurity. The partnership already is yielding several promising projects, including a means of enabling computers to compute encrypted data, a Web-authoring language immune from cross-site scripting attacks, and a new processor architecture that would be immune from a whole class of attacks. Next is the MIT Cyber Security Policy Initiative, which aims to develop quantitative metrics and qualitative models for cybersecurity. The initiative will draw on input from CSAIL, MIT's Sloan School of Management, and experts from several other MIT departments. The final initiative is the Interdisciplinary Consortium for Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity (IC3), which will focus on managerial, operational, and strategic ways of addressing cybersecurity. In particular, IC3 will develop new ways for critical infrastructure and industry to react to cyberattacks, in part by applying methods it developed to improve the performance of community emergency readiness teams.
New Technology May Double Radio Frequency Data Capacity
Columbia University (03/13/15) Holly Evarts
Columbia University researchers have invented full-duplex radio integrated circuits (ICs) that can be implemented in nanoscale complementary metal-oxide semiconductors to enable simultaneous transmission and reception at the same frequency in a wireless radio. "This is a game-changer," says Columbia professor Harish Krishnaswarmy. "By leveraging our new technology, networks can effectively double the frequency spectrum resources available for devices like smartphones and tablets." Krishnaswarmy says although other research groups have demonstrated the theoretical feasibility of simultaneous transmission and reception at the same frequency, the Columbia invention marks the first time nanoscale ICs have been built with this capability. "Doing this in an IC is critical if we are to have widespread impact and bring this functionality to handheld devices such as cellular handsets, mobile devices such as tablets for Wi-Fi, and in cellular and Wi-Fi base stations to support full duplex communications," he says. The team faced many challenges in developing the technology, the biggest of which was canceling the transmitter's echo. "Transmitter echo or 'self-interference' cancellation has been a fundamental challenge, especially when performed in a tiny nanoscale IC, and we have found a way to solve that challenge," Krishnaswarmy says.
Pagerank Algorithm Reveals World's All-Time Top Soccer Team
Technology Review (03/13/15)
Methodius University researchers have used Google's Pagerank algorithm to create an all-time ranking of the world's national soccer teams using results from the 20 World Cup tournaments that have occurred since 1930. The Pagerank algorithm works by counting the links to a website and the importance of the sites where those links originate. First, the researchers examined the results of the more than 7,000 games played between 210 countries since 1930, during which more than 20,000 goals were scored at an average of 4.3 per game. The researchers then created a network in which teams are nodes and a link exists between them if they have played against each other. The weight and polarity of the link depends on which team won and by how much. Finally, the researchers applied the Pagerank algorithm over several iterations to determine each country's ranking. The researchers found the top ranked team is Brazil, followed by Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, and Argentina. There are significant differences between the Pagerank list and the list compiled by FIFA, soccer's international governing body. For example, the Netherlands are ranked eighth on the FIFA list but fourth on the Pagerank list, and Denmark is ranked 25th on FIFA's list but 17th on Pagerank's list. The researchers note the same approach could be used for any other sport.
Robots Take Over the Ironing
CORDIS News (03/13/15)
Researchers funded by the European Union have developed a state-of-the-art robot capable of organizing fabrics, textiles, and garments, and then folding them neatly. The CLOPEMA project faced the difficult task of building a robot that can manipulate objects that do not retain their shape, which requires a new way of receiving and processing information. One of the novel challenges has been designing a robot from mainly off-the-shelf components. Various components were assembled and integrated into one operating system, such as a special built-in camera that enables the robot to see fibers close up, and differentiate light fabrics from dark and starchy materials from more flexible ones. The team created a database of 80 color images with corresponding horizontal and vertical disparity maps to help the robot perceive and manipulate garments in three dimensions via an active binocular robotic vision system. The researchers say the robot potentially could be used to sort through fabrics in industrial settings, with human assistance.
Students Create Open Source, Cross-Platform Memory Scanning Tool
Help Net Security (03/16/15) Zeljka Zorz
Computer science students from Argentina have created an open source, cross-platform tool for inspecting the content of the memory of a system and detecting threats. The team developed the tool as part of a project for Mozilla, which plans to turn it into a module for the Mozilla InvestiGator (MIG), a cross-platform endpoint security system. "MIG can inspect the file system and network information of thousands of hosts in parallel, which greatly helps increase visibility across the infrastructure," says Julien Vehent with Mozilla's Operations Security team. "But until recently, it lacked the ability to look into the memory of running processes, a need that often arises during security investigations." Mozilla wanted a less invasive and more lightweight alternative to popular memory inspection libraries. Called Masche, the tool "focuses on searching for regexes and byte strings in the processes of large pools of systems, and does so live and very fast," Vehent notes. The tool can run on Linux, OS X, and Windows.
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