ACM TechNews


Welcome to the February 15, 2019 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

Please note: In observance of the U.S. Presidents' Day holiday, TechNews will not be published on Monday, Feb. 18. Publication will resume Wednesday, Feb. 20.

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It shows Avigilon video analytics. Parkland School Turns to Experimental Surveillance Software That Can Flag Students as Threats
The Washington Post
Drew Harwell
February 13, 2019


Florida's Broward County Public School system will deploy an experimental artificial intelligence network to monitor students and flag potential threats. The Avigilon installation from Motorola Solutions combines 145 surveillance cameras and software so security officials can track students based on their appearance, and it can automatically alert a school-monitoring officer when it senses events "that seem out of the ordinary" and people "in places they are not supposed to be." The deployment has raised concerns from students, parents, and educators about Avigilon's accuracy, invasiveness, and efficacy. Particularly disconcerting is the fact that the public has received no clarification on how the network's algorithms operate, while technology and civil liberties experts cite the camera software's unproven track record for preventing school violence. Motorola Solutions' Mahesh Saptharishi said the accuracy rate of Avigilon's "appearance search" feature varies widely, depending on variables such as lighting and time of year.

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Software Pirates Use Apple Tech to Put Hacked Apps on iPhones
Reuters
Stephen Nellis; Paresh Dave
February 13, 2019


Software pirates have hijacked technology from Apple to distribute hacked versions of popular apps on iPhones. Security researchers have long warned about the misuse of enterprise developer certificates, which act as digital keys that tell an iPhone a piece of software downloaded from the Internet can be trusted and opened. They are the centerpiece of Apple's program for corporate apps and allow consumers to install apps onto iPhones without Apple's knowledge. Last month, Apple briefly banned Facebook and Alphabet from using enterprise certificates after they used them to distribute data-gathering apps to consumers. Reuters found distributors of pirated apps are using certificates obtained in the name of legitimate businesses, although it is unclear how.

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An invisible figure wearing a guard’s uniform Technology Could Make Hard Border Disappear, but at a Cost
The Economist
February 12, 2019


“Hard” borders could potentially become invisible within a few years amid technological advancements, but practical applications could carry high costs and intrusive electronic surveillance. Nevertheless, a number of borders around the world are being modernized; for example, Switzerland hopes to digitize its border procedures with the European Union fully by 2026, using its DaziT program to establish a central online portal for all customs services. Blockchain technology will likely shield the security of such systems. Singapore and other ports are already using IBM/Maersk's blockchain-based TradeLens process to access electronic data for tracking shipping containers and their contents for importers, freight forwarders, port operators, and customs authorities. Even with electronic security measures, authorities will still require physical safeguards to prevent smuggling. At the Swedish-Norwegian border, for example, equipment like automatic license-plate recognition cameras is used to check passing vehicles.

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Girls Get Tech. They Just Need Others to Believe It.
The New York Times
Maya Salam
February 12, 2019


A survey of 2,900 girls and boys ages five to 17 (along with their parents) by the Girl Scout Research Institute on how access to smartphones, tablets, laptops, and gaming devices found girls on equal footing with boys in terms of technology, or exceeding them in some respects. More than 80% of boys play video games for fun, according to the survey results, while just 72% of girls said the same. In addition, 40% of girls surveyed were found to read books and articles on devices, versus 28% of boys. Girls also were found to be more inclined to use technology to create something new, to discover a new talent or interest, or to connect to social issues. Despite those findings, the survey also indicated boys were more confident in their tech skills than girls. Said Girls Who Code CEO Reshma Saujani, "By teaching our girls to code, we're not just preparing them to enter the workforce—we're preparing them to lead it."

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The 20 Hottest Job Skills in 2019 That Will Get You Hired
CNBC
Barbara Booth
February 12, 2019


The latest quarterly list of the 20 most sought-after skills in the U.S. job market from freelancing platform Upwork found 17 are technology-related; surprisingly, 75% of the skills are new, which Upwork CEO Stephane Kasriel said highlights the value of reskilling. Among the hottest skills on the list are proficiency in genetic algorithms, computational linguistics, app store optimization, and app usability analysis. Major labor market trends include growing investments in big data solutions, especially in the services of freelance Hadoop specialists. With consumers spending more time on smartphones, businesses also are doubling down on mobile initiatives, fostering demand for app store optimization and app usability analysis. Furthermore, the importance of security skills is on the rise as cybercrime incidents mount, and corporate pushes to improve customer experience are becoming key to successful digital transformation.

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A tablet that controls the smart lights Your Smart Light Can Tell Amazon, Google When You Go to Bed
Bloomberg
Matthew Day
February 12, 2019


Amazon and Google want smart home device manufacturers to have smart appliances transmit a continuous stream of customer information to data hubs by modifying their code. The companies said they collect the data to make it easier for consumers to manage home electronics, although some device makers say such data collection doesn’t give users enough control over what data they share, or how it can be used. Park Associates' Brad Russell said, "You can learn the behaviors of a household based on their patterns." One smart device maker, Logitech, is trying to partly fulfill this mandate: instead of telling smart speakers what each device connected to Logitech's Harmony remote controls are doing, the company reports back with broad descriptions, specifying that a user is watching TV, rather than passing on information about their choice of channel, for example.

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You Know Kilo, Mega, Giga. Is the Metric System Ready for Ronna, Quecca?
Science Magazine
David Adam
February 14, 2019


A proposal before the International Bureau of Weights and Measures (BIPM) in France recommends the adoption of new names—specifically ronna and quecca—as prefixes for 1027 and 1030, respectively. They would be joined by their microscopic counterparts, ronto for 10-27, and quecto for 10-30. If approved, the new terms could be formally introduced in 2022, marking the first prefixes added since 1991. The planned update is a response to the massive growth in global data storage, which by the early 2030 is projected to reach 1 yottabyte (1024), currently the top of the scale. Without new prefixes, computer scientists will have no way to officially talk about larger amounts of data. Said Richard Brown at the U.K.'s National Physical Laboratory, "Where there is a need that is not met, there is also a risk that unofficial units can take hold, and that can cause confusion."

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The free, online curriculum showing its graphics and animation exercises Carnegie Mellon CS Academy Launches Free High School Coding Curriculum
Campus Technology
Dian Schaffhauser
February 13, 2019


Carnegie Mellon University's Computer Science Academy has launched CS1, a free online curriculum to help high school instructors teach programming skills using graphics and animations. The Academy was started to address requests from secondary school teachers and principals who wanted to fill the demand for computer science (CS) education, but were confronted with a lack of teaching resources and a shortage of trained teachers capable of teaching the lessons. The curriculum is targeted at ninth grade, although it also is applicable to the wide range of introductory CS materials available for grades K-8, and the Advanced Placement courses students might take later in high school. CS1 is currently being used in 40 schools, primarily in Pennsylvania, and testing shows while the curriculum is not easy, students in pilot schools have had notable success.

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A robot that can navigate as well as tiny desert ant Robot Attempts to Navigate as Well as Tiny Desert Ant
IEEE Spectrum
Evan Ackerman
February 13, 2019


Researchers at Aix Marseille University in France have developed a robot equipped with desert ant-inspired navigation tools. The AntBot can wander around, and still find its way home without global-positioning systems, simultaneous localization and mapping, or anything more complex than its vision system. Desert ants navigate via "path integration," which involves keeping track of distances and directions traveled over time, then calculating the most direct path back to the starting point. AntBot aims to replicate this method to determine how well an autonomous system could use it for navigation; the machine uses an array of sensors, including a bio-inspired optic flow sensor, and an insect-inspired celestial compass. The researchers found AntBot was able to repeatedly wander around randomly over a distance of about 14 meters, then successfully return to its starting point.

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President Barack Obama giving out a Nobel prize Pioneering Black Scientist to Win 'Nobel Prize of Climate Change'
Popular Science
Marlene Cimons
February 12, 2019


Retired National Center for Atmospheric Research scientist Warren Washington will receive the Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement, referred to as the environmental Nobel Prize, with fellow climate researcher Michael Mann at Pennsylvania State University. Washington performed pioneering research on atmospheric science, and collaborated on the earliest computer climate simulations, in addition to serving as climate change adviser for six U.S. presidents. In partnership with Japanese researchers in the 1960s, Washington was one of the first to generate atmospheric models using the laws of physics to predict future climate conditions. His accomplishments as an African American also are significant. Said Mann, "[Washington] is one of our most distinguished alumni. He is such a great role model, who speaks to the fundamentally important contribution that diversity plays in advancing science."

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Software Reads Cardiac Data, Can Predict Risk of Heart Disease
The Economic Times
February 14, 2019


Researchers at the University of Birmingham Dubai in the United Arab Emirates have developed open source software that can predict the risk of potentially deadly heart maladies. Said the university’s Kashif Rajpoot, "By using novel data analysis strategies we have developed, this software will provide a deeper understanding of heart diseases, particularly the mechanisms underpinning potentially lethal arrhythmia." The heart's electrical behavior can be gauged via optical mapping, which up to now has lacked data processing and analysis software to encourage widespread use. The University of Birmingham's Davor Pavlovic said, "The new software can detect, map, and analyze arrhythmic phenomena for in silico, in cellulo, animal model, and in vivo patient data."

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Researchers Hide Malware in Intel SGX Enclaves
ZDNet
Catalin Cimpanu
February 12, 2019


Security researchers have developed an exploit of Intel Software Guard eXtensions (SGX) enclaves for hiding malware from security software, allowing the crafting of "super-malware." All modern Intel central processing units (CPUs) feature SGX, which enables developers to isolate applications in secure enclaves; they operate in a hardware-isolated section of the CPU's processing memory, where apps can run operations that manage sensitive details like encryption keys, passwords, and user data. The new exploit uses return-oriented programming to ‘piggyback’ on Intel Transactional Synchronization eXtensions, enabling the malicious enclave to access a wider set of commands than those to which it is normally entitled. Said the researchers, "We bypass [address space layout randomization], stack canaries, and address sanitizer. We demonstrate that instead of protecting users from harm, SGX currently poses a security threat, facilitating so-called super-malware with ready-to-hit exploits."

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New Tool Tackles Reproducibility Crisis in Science
UChicago News (IL)
Emily Ayshford
February 12, 2019


University of Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory researchers have developed a software platform that allows scientists to share the data of each of their publications in a searchable way. The Qresp software is designed for curating, discovering, and exploring reproducible scientific papers, by guiding users through the process of organizing and sharing their data, including datasets and charts. All fields are customizable, so users can curate their data in the best way according to the paper they have written. Within Qresp, researchers do not upload data, but rather host their own curated data and decide what they want to share; this lets the platform provide a scalable solution to sharing data. Said Argonne's Marco Govoni, "We want to raise the bar for reproducing scientific results, and we want to move beyond publishing PDFs and into sharing research that is much more interactive and useful."

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Pentagon Drafts AI to Fight Wildfires
The Wall Street Journal
Doug Cameron
February 12, 2019


The Pentagon has launched a program to use artificial intelligence (AI) to analyze data collected by drones to improve how wildfires are fought. The program is one of two efforts unveiled by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) reflecting the agency's new AI strategy to work with academia and industry to fast-track adoption of advanced data-management techniques. One project uses algorithms to assess still photo and video imagery to predict the paths of wildfires and improve efforts to contain them. The second project uses data from sensors on helicopters used by special-operations forces to predict when the vehicles might require maintenance. Future initiatives will include cyberspace-related problems, and addressing labor-intensive back-office functions, as part of broader efforts to improve efficiency at DoD.

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