Welcome to the November 4, 2016 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
More Computations for Less Energy
Electronic Specifier (11/03/16) Enaie Azambuja
EUROSERVER, a leading European Union-funded research project, is clearing a path toward lower energy consumption in data centers. EUROSERVER combines the concept of chiplets, where multiple silicon subsystems are mounted in an integrated device, and a new system architecture to enable more energy-efficient servers. The project has yielded system architecture and runtime software innovations that include sharing of peripheral devices, access to system-wide memory, data compression to better use memory, and lightweight hypervisor capabilities. The growing capacity and number of data centers is accompanied by increasing financial and environmental impacts of their energy consumption. EUROSERVER will develop a new type of server derived from efficient and scalable ARM processors and the flexibility of a system-on-chip (SoC) design. "The SoC architectures and advanced packaging solutions being developed bring us one step closer to scalability and power efficiency in data centers," says EUROSERVER coordinator Isabelle Dor. "We are also delighted that two startups have been created to leverage innovations from the project." The startups include KALEAO, which has rolled out a unique generation of Web-scale, true-converged server appliance with physicalized resource sharing, OpenStack virtualization services, and extreme core density, supporting low energy consumption and significant computing capabilities.
Mobile Subscriber Identity Numbers Can Be Exposed Over Wi-Fi
IDG News Service (11/04/16) Lucian Constantin
Researchers at the U.K.'s University of Oxford have demonstrated a method for tracking the identity and location of mobile users with a simple Wi-Fi hotspot. They showed for the purposes of tracking only, Wi-Fi networks can be leveraged to fool mobile devices into revealing their international mobile subscriber identity (IMSI) numbers. Researchers Piers O'Hanlon and Ravishankar Borgaonkar exploited protocol and configuration weaknesses in mobile data offloading technologies such as automatic Wi-Fi connections and Wi-Fi calling, which are supported on mobile devices running iOS, Android, Windows Mobile, and Blackberry. Most Wi-Fi Auto Connect deployments are set in a default "liberal" peer mode, where they will always respond to requests for their IMSI. An attacker can therefore establish rogue access points and simply request their IMSI for authentication. O'Hanlon and Borgaonkar say correcting the problem is a daunting task, as encrypted Extensible Authentication Protocol authentication methods that work over Transport Layer Security must be supported in both mobile operating systems and operators' systems. Wi-Fi calling can be disabled on the device by users, but Auto Wi-Fi can only be disabled when such a network is in range.
From Dinosaurs to Crime Scenes--How Our New Footprint Software Can Bring the Past to Life
The Conversation (10/31/16) Matthew Robert Bennett; Marcin Budka
Using three-dimensional (3D) technologies, law enforcement can digitally capture the data in a footprint left at the scene of a crime and subject it to detailed forensic analysis. Footwear evidence can provide valuable insight into a crime's sequence of events and could possibly link suspects to multiple crime scenes. Although 3D imaging tools exist, traditional photography and casting are the preferred methods for forensic analysis. Researchers from the U.K.'s Bournemouth University have created an integrated freeware product that enables crime scene officers to create 3D images of footwear impressions using a digital camera, which can then be visualized, analyzed, and compared. The DigTrace software suite is powered by digital photogrammetry, which identifies common pixels in images and triangulates the pixels to define their location in space. The result is a 3D pixel cloud that can be scaled and transformed. With help from the U.K.'s Home Office and National Crime Agency, DigTrace is freely available to police forces and forensic services. The software also can be used by geologists and archeologists to study dinosaur or ancient human footprints. The researchers now are working to develop tools that can create 3D models from video and closed-circuit television footage.
Wearable Devices That Could Heal Themselves When They Break
The New York Times (11/02/16) Steph Yin
University of California, San Diego (UCSD) researchers are developing ink that includes magnetic particles, which could be used to help materials and devices printed with the magnetic ink to reassemble themselves if they are broken or ripped. The technology works because the magnetic ink particles attract one another and close the gaps created by broken materials. The researchers report the self-healing ink can repair multiple cuts up to 3 millimeters long in just 50 milliseconds. "Just like the human skin is stretchable and self-healing, we wanted to impart a self-healing ability to printed electronics," says UCSD researcher Amay Bandodkar. The ink includes ground neodymium magnets, which are found in hard drives and refrigerator magnets. "We basically just pulverized these magnets into microscopic particles and incorporated them into the ink," Bandodkar says. Compared to previous approaches for creating self-healing materials, this method is simple, fast, and does not require adding heat, light, or other chemicals, says Stanford University professor Zhenan Bao, who was not involved in the project. Going forward, the researchers will determine the optimal ratios of ink ingredients for specific applications.
Machine Learning to Help Physicians
New software from researchers at Germany's Fraunhofer Institute can aid physicians who must visually judge medical images to determine the course of cancer treatment. The researchers say the program, which consists of modular processing components, is unique in that it uses deep learning to facilitate this task and reveal changes in images. Existing computer segmentation programs seek clearly defined image features, but this can often lead to errors that must be corrected by physicians, a process that can be time-consuming. Fraunhofer researchers trained the software with computed tomography liver images from 149 patients and found the more data the program analyzed, the better it could automatically identify liver contours. They say the new deep-learning approach should improve results and save physicians time. "Our program package increases confidence during tumor measurement and follow-up," says Mark Schenk at the Fraunhofer Institute for Medical Image Computing. "The software can, for example, determine how the volume of a tumor changes over time and supports the detection of new tumors."
New Automatic Forest Fire Detection System by Using Surveillance Drones
Technical University of Madrid (Spain) (11/01/16)
Researchers from the Technical University of Madrid (UPM) in Spain are developing the Forest Fire Detection Index (FFDI) to detect forest fires using a new color index based on methods for vegetation classification. FFDI is designed for environmental surveillance systems using drones, and the researchers developed a new line of study focusing on surveillance systems based on the imaging processing for their application to different phenomenon that have impacts on the environment. In terms of deforestation, the researchers developed various algorithms that enable them to detect the fire and smoke generated during a forest fire as well as their fundamental characteristics, such as area and wind direction. The algorithms have high accuracy in real time, and they show low computational load, which enables them to address the problem quickly; the technology also lets the researchers implement the algorithms in autonomous systems and perform continuous monitoring. The researchers say FFDI could result in more cost-effective outcomes than conventional systems implemented using helicopters or satellites. "We carried out diverse detection tests using commercial drones and the results confirm the utility, efficiency, versatility, and low cost of the developed algorithm, becoming an efficient tool for surveillance and monitoring of such events," the researchers say.
UCLA Computer Scientists Develop Data Integrity Method to Prevent Tampering
UCLA Newsroom (10/31/16) Matthew Chin
A "non-malleable commitment," the electronic equivalent of a locked box, is a secure way to protect data being sent between two parties, according to researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). The researchers demonstrated this technique using new mathematical proofs they developed. They say a sender can "lock" their message in a virtual box, and only later provide a key to open it. An interceptor, or a party who does not know the key, would have no idea what message is inside the box and would not be able to come up with a new virtual lockbox that hides a related message. UCLA professor Amit Sahai and colleagues say this is the first solution supported by such mathematical proofs that requires only two rounds of one-way communication from the sender to the recipient. They say the concept of a non-malleable commitment could be used in situations in which guaranteeing data integrity is important. For example, several companies could use the technique to find out if they have been victims of the same cyberattack without revealing the specific attacks.
Researchers Build Undetectable Rootkit for Programmable Logic Controllers
IDG News Service (11/01/16) Lucian Constantin
A new malware attack detailed this week at the Black Hat Europe conference in the U.K. targets industrial programmable logic controllers (PLCs) by exploiting architectural shortcomings in microprocessors while circumventing detection measures. The exploit changes the configuration of the input/output (I/O) pins comprising the interface used by PLCs to communicate with other devices. One version of the attack entails the injection of malware that switches an I/O pin's configuration from output to input or vice versa without tipping off the PLC's operating system (OS) or programs. There are no hardware disruptions for pin configuration in the systems on a chip used in PLCs, so the OS will receive no error from the processor when trying to write to a pin reconfigured as input, says attack co-developer Ali Abbasi at the University of Twente in the Netherlands. Abbasi and Majid Hashemi from France's Quarkslab deployed their attack method in a rootkit serving as a loadable kernel module. They say this enables them to bypass existing host-based intrusion detection and control-flow integrity tools for embedded systems. A second attack method employs existing PLC runtime features to reconfigure the pins, which can be implemented by exploiting any memory corruption bug that permits loading malware directly into dynamic memory.
Computer Science/STEM Leaders Explain How to Spark STEM Interest in Youth
HPC Wire (11/01/16)
With discrimination discouraging women and minorities from pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), the time is ripe to encourage interest in today's youth, according to scientists leading the ACM/IEEE-hosted SC16 international conference, which takes place Nov. 13-18 in Salt Lake City, UT. Students@SC16 chair Jeanine Cook from Sandia National Laboratories says a lack of diversity in STEM leadership "adds up to a steady drumbeat that can drive people out of science study and work." Nevertheless, STEM careers promise to be both lucrative and rewarding. Interest in them is being sparked by the growth of coding clubs, robotics classes, and other hands-on experiences. The Obama administration also has led a national effort to prioritize STEM education and prepare 100,000 STEM teachers over the next decade. SC16's leaders suggest parents can nurture STEM interest in their children by first recognizing and rejecting any outdated norms about their own experiences with science, math, and academic achievement. Another suggestion is to overcome personal biases and read to their children about science, math, and technology, and encourage and reward them for being curious from a young age. Parents also should enroll their children in after-school enrichment programs, find STEM mentors and teachers for them, and always encourage them despite any difficulties they might encounter.
UNM Researchers Create Technology to Detect Bad Bots in Social Media
UNM Newsroom (10/31/16) Kim Delker
University of New Mexico (UNM) researchers have developed DeBot, a program that identifies bots designed to sway public behavior. "Good" bots are just sharing news and not trying to impersonate other people with the intent to sway public opinion, while "bad" bots are created to impersonate someone under a fake identity, or those that are created to influence public opinion. "[Bad bots] are being created so quickly and are so hard to detect that they are going undetected," says UNM professor Abdullah Mueen. He notes DeBot solves this problem by listening to keywords, indexing and picking up on suspicious words, monitoring suspicious users, and clustering suspicious users to find highly-correlated user accounts. Since the researchers started tracking bots in October 2015, they have detected about 700,000 of them. In addition, Mueen says about 1,500 are created every day, some of which are legal and some of which are not. Mueen notes DeBot is identifying bots at a higher rate than Twitter is suspending accounts. "There are 313 million active Twitter users, and Twitter only provides us 1 percent of the data, but of that data, we've been able to detect thousands of bad bots," he says.
Making Energy-Harvesting Computers Reliable
Carnegie Mellon University (10/28/16) Krista Burns
A Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) team says it has developed the first programming language designed to build reliable software for intermittent, energy-harvesting computers. Periodic power failures and unreliable behavior are concerns for such computer systems because their harvested energy sources would be weak, says CMU professor Brandon Lucia. Known as Chain, CMU's programming language asks an application developer to define a set of computational tasks that compute and exchange data through a novel way of manipulating the computer's memory. Lucia says computational tasks in the program would use a channel-based memory abstraction that ensures tasks complete without error despite arbitrary power failures. Channels ensure that a computational task always has an intact version of the data it needs when power resumes. Early next year, software written in Chain will run onboard two tiny, postage stamp-sized satellites in a low-Earth orbit. "Chain provides important reliability guarantees in a familiar and flexible programming interface that is well-positioned to be the foundation for today's and future energy-harvesting applications," Lucia says.
Glasses Make Face Recognition Tech Think You're Milla Jovovich
New Scientist (11/01/16) Timothy Revell
Carnegie Mellon University researchers have designed eyeglasses with patterned frames that can obscure the identity of the wearer to facial-recognition algorithms. The team says the glasses were developed to mislead facial-recognition programs that use neural networks, which focus on pixel coloration and make comparisons with other, similar images to identify the subject. If a small area of the face has been altered, the system's ability to read the pixilation can be disrupted. The glasses' patterns change how the system interprets the wearer's face by overlaying the face with additional pixels and causing the software to misidentify the person as another face in its database. For example, a white male researcher was able to pass for actress Milla Jovovich, and a south Asian woman successfully impersonated a Middle Eastern male, tricking the facial-recognition software Face++ 90 percent of the time. As facial identification systems become more prevalent, the researchers say technology such as the patterned glasses could help protect an individual's privacy, but they also warn it also could lend itself to aiding criminals committing identity fraud.
Learning Morse Code Without Trying
Georgia Tech News Center (10/27/16) Jason Maderer
Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) researchers have developed a system that teaches people Morse code within four hours using vibrations felt near the ear. Participants learned Morse Code by wearing a Google Glass headset and playing games while feeling the taps and hearing the corresponding letters. The taps represented the dots and dashes of Morse code and passively "taught" users through their tactile senses. In a few hours, participants could key a sentence that included every letter of the alphabet with 94-percent accuracy, and were able to write codes for every letter with 98-percent accuracy. The taps were created when the researchers sent a very low-frequency signal to the headset's speaker system, which was sensed as a vibration. Half of the participants in the study felt the vibrations and heard a voice prompt for each corresponding letter. The other half served as the control group and felt no taps to help them learn. This study shows "that [passive haptic learning] lowers the barrier to learn text entry methods--something we need for smartwatches and any text entry that doesn't require you to look at your device or keyboard," says Georgia Tech professor Thad Starner.
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