Welcome to the June 22, 2015 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Coding Camp Movement Shows Spike in Graduates and Schools in 2015, New Survey Says
Tech Republic (06/22/15) Erin Carson
The trend toward using coding camps as a means to quickly gain technology skills is rising steadily and gaining increasing significance in 2015, according to a new Course Report survey. The survey found coding camps will produce 16,000 graduates this year, up from 6,740 in 2014. By comparison, four-year U.S. undergraduate computer science programs will produce an estimated 48,700 graduates this year. The survey also found the average tuition for a coding camp is about $11,000, which means the projected tuition revenue from coding camps will be $172 million in 2015, more than double the tuition revenue from 2014. The rising popularity of coding camps can be attributed to several factors. In the past year, The White House launched its TechHire Initiative, which encourages the coding camp model as well as the message to tech companies to be more inclusive in their hiring practices. In addition, TechHire has motivated many camps to move into cities beyond the traditional technology hubs, as there are now coding camps in 51 cities, according to the survey. "As technologies advance, in some cases, faster than the talent to actually execute--coding camps may be effective in ramping up talent so they can quickly implement these skills within organizations," says Robert Half Technology's John Reed.
How Encryption Keys Could Be Stolen by Your Lunch
IDG News Service (06/22/15) Jeremy Kirk
Israeli researchers from Tel Aviv University have developed a device that can be concealed within pita bread and has the ability to deduce encryption keys by sniffing the electromagnetic leakage from a computer. The device is an example of a side-channel attack, which relies on the tiny bits of information that leak from computers as they perform computations. The device, dubbed PITA (Portable Instrument for Trace Acquisition) by the researchers, was designed to target a laptop encrypted using the GnuPG 1.x encryption tool. The device consists of a copper unshielded loop antenna and a capacitor designed to pick up the frequencies at which encryption key information leaks. PITA sends out multiple ciphertexts to the targeted computer and then monitors the computer's electromagnetic emissions as it decrypts the ciphertexts. The signals are collected on an internal microSD card for offline analysis, which can deduce the key from the data in a matter of seconds. Such side-channel attacks can be very difficult to defend against and hardware solutions are unlikely to appear due to their cost. A more likely method of defending against them would be modifying software so the information leaked when it runs will be of no use to an attacker.
Brown University Unveils 3D Virtual Reality Room
The Boston Globe (06/20/15) Amanda Katz
Last month, Brown University unveiled its Yurt Ultimate Reality Theater (Yurt), a $2.5-million immersive three-dimensional (3D) virtual reality (VR) room that is one of the most advanced of its kind. Yurt is a type of Cave Automatic Virtual Environment (CAVE), and it builds on an earlier, less advanced CAVE at Brown from 1998. Six years ago, when Brown professor David Laidlaw and his team began Yurt's design, they did not imagine that today VR technology would be a major trend. Yurt could be a key site for the exploration of a wide range of fields, as well as the potential of VR itself. Yurt features a domed ceiling, curved walls, and a thick, clear acrylic floor lined with screens. These surfaces transmit about 100 million pixels of bright, high-resolution 3D computer graphics, beamed by 69 stereo projectors powered by a cluster of computers. Although VR devices' ultimate functions have yet to be determined, "from a mass-market, cultural perspective, I think that there will be many more applications of VR discovered and refined over the next decade," Laidlaw says. In the short term, the Brown researchers want Yurt to simply accelerate science.
Toshiba Working on Unbreakable Encryption Technology
The Wall Street Journal (06/22/15) Takashi Mochizuki
Toshiba has announced plans to commercialize a quantum encryption system that it has been developing for several years. The quantum-cryptography system employs photons transmitted over custom-made fiber-optic cables not connected to the Internet. Due to the quantum nature of the photons, any effort to spy on the cables would change the data being transmitted, alerting its users to the spying attempt. Toshiba says its system can transmit data down a fiber-optic cable up to 100 kilometers without the need for a repeater. The company says it will launch a two-year-long test of the new system in August in cooperation with Japan's Tohoku University. If the test proves successful, Toshiba says it will proceed with efforts to commercialize the technology over the next one to two decades, with the goal of making it available first to governments and enterprises around 2020 and then consumers several years after that, once costs have come down. However, there are several obstacles still to overcome. The system is very expensive (servers alone cost upwards of $80,000) and, because photons are vulnerable to vibration and heat, the system still has difficulty operating over significant distances.
Data Mining Reveals How Human Health Varies With City Size
Technology Review (06/18/15)
Luis Rocha at the University of Namur in Belgium and colleagues have used data mining to examine the link between the size of a city and the health of its population. Researchers have been investigating the relationship between body size and shape for more than 100 years, and modern experts who view cities as living entities have begun to apply this science, called allometry, to cities. Rocha's team examined how health scales as cities get bigger, using health-related data about city dwellers in the U.S., Brazil, and Sweden. The research yielded some interesting results, such as people in larger cities are more likely to catch the flu but less likely to die of a heart attack. However, interpreting relationships once they are found is a key issue because some are not clear at all. "The most important limitation of this methodology is that we are unable to make causal relations between population size and health outcomes," the researchers say. Still, bigger data sets will improve analysis and help explain why many aspects of city life do not scale linearly with the size of a city.
New Security Technology for the 'Internet of Things'
Ruhr-University Bochum (Germany) (06/18/15)
New technology developed by researchers in Germany could offer high-level security to household appliances connected to the Internet. The researchers say PHYSEC is a fast and energy-efficient system that combines digital encryption and analog communication technologies. Based on a random number generator, the system grants two parties conducting wireless communication access to a synchronized sequence of random numbers, and cryptographic keys can be derived from this sequence. The researchers note that only the communication partners, not all devices within a network, share the keys. The approach by the team at Ruhr-University Bochum solves the problem associated with having all devices within a network share a single key. As a result, an attacker would not be able to hack an entire factory after stealing and analyzing a small sensor. Moreover, many sophisticated attacks will lose their effectiveness because the key changes regularly. New appliances can be added to the secured network using the PHYSEC system's mobile phone app. "This is how future cyber-physical systems are connected to the network in a secure and user-friendly manner," says researcher Christian Zenger. "The entire process is very intuitive and does not have to be handled by an IT expert."
Web-Based Services that Store Too Much Personal Data
Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (06/19/15)
Researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne's Distributed Information Systems Laboratory (LSIR) have developed PrivySeal, a tool that lets users know exactly what data they are agreeing to share when they accept the permissions of Internet apps. "We want to let users know the risks they take when using these services and give them a better way to assess these risks," says LSIR Ph.D. candidate Hamza Harkous. LSIR researcher Rameez Rahman notes the permissions an app requests before giving a user access often cover a much broader array of data than the services require to function. The researchers analyzed more than 70 apps that are offered on two cloud platforms, and found almost 50 percent of them had this type of privacy problem. The researchers created a website for PrivySeal, which they say provides clear, step-by-step guidance, enabling users to determine exactly what they have authorized their apps to do and access. The personalized results are displayed in graphical format, including different-sized circles showing the people, places, and organizations with which the users have the most contact. The website also provides details on the consequences of various types of permission requests.
Amplifying Small Motions in Large Motions
MIT News (06/16/15) Larry Hardesty
Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the Qatar Computing Research Institute say they have developed a new version of an algorithm that can amplify small motions even when they are contained within objects executing large motions. Canceling the large motions means determining which pixels of successive frames of video belong to a moving object and which belong to the background, a problem that becomes particularly acute at the object's boundaries, says MIT professor Fredo Durand. The new motion-amplification algorithm detects variations that are invisible to the naked eye. However, changes of color at an object's boundaries could be interpreted as motions requiring magnification, so the researchers assign each boundary pixel a weight corresponding to the likelihood it belongs to the foreground object. The algorithm then uses these assigned weights to randomly discard some and keep others so that, on average, it will disrupt any patterns of color change that could be mistaken for motion. After the algorithm has identified the pixels correlating to a single moving object, it corrects for the object's motion and performs the same motion magnification procedure the previous versions did. Finally, the algorithm reinserts the magnified motions back into the original video stream.
New App Sheds Light on Phone Usage
Northwestern University Newscenter (06/17/15) Amanda Morris
Northwestern University Ph.D. student John Rula and his adviser, professor Fabian Bustamante, have developed an application dubbed AppT that enables users to monitor and analyze their mobile device usage. AppT runs every time the phone's screen is on, and every 1.5 seconds it records which app is in the foreground and then displays visualizations to show which apps have been used, how frequently, and for how long. Because AppT has very low demands and does not run when the screen is off, it does not drain the phone's battery. Rula used AppT for a year and found he used a chat and messaging app more than 11,000 times over that period, averaging about 23 times a day. "This constant distraction was terrible for my productivity," he says. AppT helps people monitor their own behaviors, but Bustamante and Rula believe the tool also can be used to potentially improve future applications and mobile devices. "Knowing my usage patterns, my phone could prepare my next app to use, so I don't have to swipe 10 screens to get to it," Bustamante says. "Users could pre-load what those apps need over the network or delay updates perhaps knowing that I will walk into my home Wi-Fi shortly."
Indiana University Scientists Create Computational Algorithm for Fact-Checking
IU Bloomington Newsroom (06/17/15) Kevin Fryling
Indiana University (IU) researchers have developed a computational method that can exploit any body of knowledge to help human fact-checkers. The computational fact-checker assigns truth scores to statements concerning history, geography, and entertainment, as well as random statements taken from Wikipedia. In several experiments, the system consistently matched the assessment of human fact-checkers in terms of their certitude about the accuracy of the statements. "Our experiments point to methods to abstract the vital and complex human task of fact-checking into a network analysis problem, which is easy to solve computationally," says Giovanni Luca Ciampaglia, a postdoctoral fellow at IU's Center for Complex Networks and Systems Research. The researchers used factual information from Wikipedia to build a knowledge graph with 3 million concepts and 23 million links between them. They then applied the algorithm to answer simple questions related to geography, history, and entertainment. The researchers also tested the algorithm against human fact-checkers, and found a positive correlation between the truth scores produced by the algorithm and the answers provided by humans. "With increasing reliance on the Internet as a source of information, we need tools to deal with the misinformation that reaches us every day," says Filippo Menczer, director of IU's Center for Complex Networks and Systems Research.
Carrying a Table Together With a Robot
Bielefeld University (06/19/15)
Seven European Union (EU)-based research teams are working on the cognitive compliant interaction in motion (CogIMon) project to teach robots how to interact with humans and work together to accomplish tasks. The researchers, coordinated by Bielefeld University professor Jochen Steil, are developing humanoid and industrial robots. "The goal of CogIMon is to teach robots to understand the forces during the movement of objects and how to appropriately react to changes in weight or contact with the object while carrying it," Steil says. He notes there currently is little theory to help explain how robots can move objects together with humans, therefore CogIMon project partners in Italy and Great Britain are conducting basic research using interaction experiments with humans. Meanwhile, Steil is leading a team of researchers in developing new controlling and programming methods for the robots. The researchers are relying on the COmpliant huMANoid platform (COMAN), which was developed at the Italian Institute of Technology. COMAN measures 95 centimeters (about 37 inches) tall and weighs 31 kilograms (about 68 pounds). The CogIMon researchers want to increase COMAN's size by 25 percent so it can interact with humans, and they also are planning to develop an additional application for industry using a KUKA lightweight robot.
Is Your Tablet a Risk to Hospital Care?
Concordia University (06/16/15) Clea Desjardins
Doctors and nurses can use a portable electronic device such as a tablet computer without posing a danger to others as long as they adhere to the hospital's designated minimum separation distance (MSD). Researchers from Concordia University report Wi-Fi devices would pose a very small interference risk to electronic medical equipment and patients. Health-care workers increasingly are using the devices to gain instant access to patient records, so the Concordia team wanted to study the risk of electromagnetic interference. The high cost of determining and computing electromagnetic field strength was an obstacle, so the team developed a tool to estimate the likelihood a particular field would affect a given medical device. They also used a new mathematical model to account for the roaming nature of transmitters as medical staff moves around a patient's bed. "Hospitals need to be vigilant that staff members obey the MSD rule," says Concordia professor Christopher Trueman. "The nature of the problem is that there can never be zero risk, but by complying with MSD, the risk can be reduced to a low enough value that it's very unlikely there will be interference."
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