ACM TechNews

Welcome to the September 21, 2018 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Wifi router on a table New Security Flaw Discovered in Wi-Fi Routers
University of California, Riverside
Holly Ober
September 20, 2018

University of California, Riverside researchers have found an irreparable flaw in all modern Wi-Fi routers. Researchers Zhiyun Qian and Weiteng Chen say the vulnerability exploits the interaction of transmission control protocol (TCP) and Wi-Fi, taking advantage of a fundamental Wi-Fi design decision that is extremely difficult to change. TCP divides information into sections that can be transmitted between computers over the Internet, with each packet receiving a number within a sequence unique to a specific communication. The first number of the initial sequence is random, but the ensuing numbers rise predictably so the receiving computer can arrange them correctly. To intercept this communication, an attacker must pretend to be the sender and guess the next number in the sequence. Because wireless routers can only transmit data in one direction at a time, there is a time gap between a request and a response, giving the attacker an opportunity to guess the sequence and hijack the communication. The attacker can then insert a different copy of the webpage into the browser cache using a tactic known as web cache poisoning. The flaw can be exploited to spread fake news, steal sensitive data, carry out espionage, and interfere with critical activities managed via wireless Internet. To fix the flaw, routers would need to be redesigned to operate on different frequencies for transmitting and receiving data.

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David Patterson in room of servers Patterson Says It's Time for New Computer Architectures, Software Languages
IEEE Spectrum
Tekla S. Perry
September 17, 2018

University of California's David Patterson, also a RISC pioneer and Google engineer, says Moore's Law is over and computer architecture is on the cusp of a new era. Patterson, who served as ACM President from 2004 to 2006 and was co-recipient of the 2017 ACM A.M. Turing Award, said, "Revolutionary new hardware architectures and new software languages, tailored to dealing with specific kinds of computing problems, are just waiting to be developed. There are Turing Awards waiting to be picked up if people would just work on these things." In software, for example, Patterson says rewriting Python into C can increase performance 50-fold, and optimization techniques can boost speed even further. He believes it would be feasible "to make an improvement of a factor of 1,000 in Python." Applications do not all require the same level of computing accuracy, he says, adding that some could use lower-precision floating-point arithmetic instead of the commonly used IEEE 754 standard. Machine learning, he says, is "ravenous for computing" and offers the greatest area of opportunity for applying new architectures and languages. "This is a golden age for computer architecture," Patterson says.

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Researchers Managed to Prevent the Disappearing of Quantum Information
University of Turku
September 13, 2018

Researchers at the University of Turku in Finland and the University of Science and Technology in China have demonstrated how to control the flow of information from a qubit into the environment. The researchers also proved that the disappearance of quantum information can be prevented in some cases. The University of Science and Technology of China's Chuan-Feng Li says if a photon serving as a qubit has been initialized into the right state, it is possible to arbitrarily control how the information carried by the qubit disappears or is retrieved. This means individual photons can be used to simulate the behavior of several other quantum-mechanical systems, including magnetic spin systems. In addition, the results provide fundamental information on the behavior of open quantum systems in different environments.

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USC Electrical Engineering Ph.D. Graduate Receives Prestigious Award
USC Viterbi School of Engineering
Joshua An
September 19, 2018

Longbo Huang of Tsinghua University in China has received the 2018 ACM SIGMETRICS Rising Star Research Award, which recognizes a junior researcher who demonstrates outstanding potential for computer and communication performance research. Huang received the award for his work in stochastic network optimization, exploring the fundamental benefits of online learning and prediction in network control. He aims to clarify how data and learning can impact algorithm design and performance in networks, and raise the intelligence of existing systems by improving algorithms. Because algorithms have many applications, Huang's research is broad and interdisciplinary. He says he interacts with colleagues and people in industry to understand what the important issues are; "then, I can sit down and try to create algorithms that can be used to optimize networks in the specific areas where I feel they are needed." Huang hopes his work helps solve problems and motivate others to create their own algorithms, saying his primary goal is "to contribute something novel and impactful to the field."

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How AI Can Help Stop Cyberattacks
The Wall Street Journal
Adam Janofsky
September 18, 2018

German research institute AV-Test GmbH says more than 121.6 million new malware programs were discovered in 2017, about 231 new malware samples every minute. Although artificial intelligence (AI) is not a perfect solution, most cybersecurity experts believe the technology can help significantly to counter cyberattacks. For example, AI can detect malware, including zero-day malware that traditional security systems do not catch. By parsing millions of malware files, machine learning can identify common attack characteristics. Combined with biometric data, machine learning can also ensure that only authorized users can access systems by analyzing voices, fingerprints, and typing styles. In addition, AI can sift through the tens of thousands of security alerts an organization might receive daily, prioritize them, and automate responses. Experts say machine learning can help determine who launched cyberattacks by mining and analyzing information on registries and online databases. This can yield clues about the infrastructure used by criminals, including domain names and IP addresses. IBM Security’s Koos Lodewijks said AI is “absolutely not” a “silver bullet” for dealing with malware; rather, he said, “It’s a new tool in our toolbox.”

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Woman using fingerprint scanner on an iPhone Cyber Sleuths Find Traces of Infamous Spyware 'Pegasus' in 45 Countries
Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai
September 18, 2018

Researchers at the University of Toronto's Citizen Lab have developed a scanning technique to identify systems used by governments that have purchased surveillance firm NSO Group's Pegasus spyware. The researchers used the new method to identify 1,091 IP addresses that matched their fingerprint for the spyware. The team clustered the IP addresses into 36 separate operators with traces in 45 countries where government agencies may have been conducting surveillance operations between August 2016 and August 2018. In some cases, the researchers were unable to determine if the traces of spyware they found indicated infection, meaning one country might have been hacked by another country or an operator. Citizen Lab researcher Bill Marczak says that he hopes the research will cause "potential investors to think twice about the inherently risky business of selling spyware to dictators."

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Pepper-Picking Robot Demonstrates Its Skills in Greenhouse Labor Automation
September 17, 2018

A team of European Union-funded researchers have developed a sweet pepper-harvesting robot that can help farmers reduce their costs. The SWEEPER robot is an autonomous mobile platform with a robotic arm bearing an end effector for fruit harvesting. The robot is designed to operate in a single stem row cropping system, with a crop having non-clustered fruits and little leaf occlusion. Preliminary tests showed that by using a commercially available crop modified to mimic the required conditions, the robot can harvest ripe bell peppers in 24 seconds with a success rate of 62%. The researchers plan to add a conveyor belt and harvest trolley to the SWEEPER system, and to automate post-harvest fruit and vegetable picking logistics.

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3d printed sculpture of a person running Creating 3D-Printed 'Motion Sculptures' From 2D Videos
MIT News
Rachel Gordon
September 18, 2018

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's (MIT) Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) have developed an algorithm that can take two-dimensional (2D) videos and turn them into three-dimensionally-printed (3D-printed) "motion sculptures" that show how a human body moves through space. The MoSculp system could enable a more detailed examination of motion for professional athletes, dancers, or anyone who wants to improve their physical skills. Since the motion sculptures are three-dimensional, MoSculp users can navigate around the structures and see motion-related information from different viewpoints via the computer interface. The system takes an input video and automatically detects 2D key points on the subject's body, such as the hip, knee, and ankle; it then takes the best possible poses from those points to be turned into 3D "skeletons." After combining the skeletons, the system generates a motion sculpture that can be 3D-printed.

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City map with pin pointers Mathematicians Calculate the Safest Way Home
Cardiff University News
September 18, 2018

Researchers at Cardiff University in the U.K. have developed a mobile app that guides pedestrians along the safest, rather than the quickest, route to their destination. The system can provide a score for the safety of an area, and predict the likely number of road casualties. The algorithm accounts for factors such as the number and types of crossings, the type of street, the possibility of jaywalking, and the speed limits of each road in a given area. The system has been tested in 15 U.K. cities, of which Liverpool was found to have the most unsafe roads, while Bath had the safest. The app could help city planners and developers determine how changes to a city's infrastructure could impact road safety, such as the pedestrianizing of roads or the changing of speed limits, the team says. Cardiff University researcher Padraig Corcoran says the technology "could definitely save lives."

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Number of Women Studying Computer Skills in U.K. Falls by a Third
Information Age (United Kingdom)
Andrew Ross
September 17, 2018

The number of female students in the U.K. who took the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) in computing or information and communications technology (ICT) fell from 52,835 in 2014 to 35,103 in 2018, according to an analysis by the Joint Council for Qualifications, an organization representing the seven largest educational qualification providers in the U.K. This decline in female students mirrors the decline of women as professional software developers in the U.K., which fell in number for the first time this decade from 308,000 in 2016 to 292,000 in 2017. In response to these declines, coding training provider Makers launched a new apprenticeship program designed to be as inclusive as possible, aiming to train hundreds of women in the coming months. Makers' COO Ruben Kostucki says, "Diversity can't be an afterthought in the digital economy, and it is never too late to learn to code and consider a career switch."

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ASU Researcher Shifts Big Data Computing Into High Gear
Arizona State University
Monique Clement
September 17, 2018

A consortium of interdisciplinary researchers led by Arizona State University's (ASU) Ming Zhao has developed the Energy Efficient Big Data Research System, called GEARS, a computing infrastructure that aims to turn social media data into useful data sources. GEARS can also leverage data from sensors and the Internet of Things. To meet performance and efficiency goals, Zhao turned to heterogeneous computing, using multiple processor and storage types. In addition to central processing units, GEARS uses graphics processing units and field-programmable gate arrays, while integrating a deep hierarchy of storage tiers. This heterogeneous hardware enables GEARS to tackle challenging big data problems, while often requiring less power. GEARS incorporates software that optimizes the use of the various processor and accelerator types and storage resources. The researchers are developing extensions to popular data analytics platforms such as Apache Spark to allow data scientists to develop applications as they normally would and then apply them to the GEARS infrastructure. GEARS has helped with several interdisciplinary projects, including efforts related to neuroscience, sustainability, medicine, aerospace, botany, and geography. Zhao says, "Essentially, anything that requires big data could potentially benefit from GEARS."

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AI-Human 'Hive Mind' Diagnoses Pneumonia
IEEE Spectrum
Megan Scudellari
September 13, 2018

Researchers at Stanford University have shown that eight radiologists interacting through Unanimous AI's "swarm intelligence" technology were better at diagnosing pneumonia from chest X-rays than individual doctors or a machine learning program alone. The findings suggest that instead of replacing doctors, AI algorithms might work best alongside them in health care. Using the Swarm AI system, each doctor in the study controlled a small icon that enabled them to push the group consensus toward their opinion. Every X-ray was examined in real time, with doctors simultaneously contributing opinions. As the doctors gave their opinions, AI algorithms monitored the behavior of each participant, inferring how strongly each felt about their choice based on the relative motions of their icon over time. Then, the algorithms combined those preferences into a specific choice. The researchers found the Swarm AI system was 33% more accurate at correctly classifying patients than individual doctors, and 22% more accurate than a different machine learning program called CheXNet.

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