Association for Computing Machinery
Welcome to the June 26, 2009 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.


IBM Claims Privacy Breakthrough for Cloud, Data (06/25/09) Goldman, Alex

A lattice approach could be used to develop fully homomorphic encryption solutions, says IBM researcher Craig Gentry, a Stanford University Ph.D. candidate. Gentry's research, which was recently published in the Proceedings of the 2009 ACM International Symposium on Theory of Computing, describes the technique as using an encryption scheme that can evaluate its decryption circuit. A fully homomorphic encryption system could potentially offer unlimited mathematical operations for analyzing encrypted information, compared with the limited operations of normal lattice encoding. Such operations conducted on encrypted text would be more efficient and affordable. Data security, cloud computing, and antispam efforts all stand to benefit from the ability to manipulate data while leaving it encrypted. "This is ... one of the most remarkable crypto papers ever," says PGP cryptographer Hal Finney. "I have to go back to Godel's and Turing's work to think of a comparable example."

Metro Control System Fails Test
Washington Post (06/26/09) P. A2; Sun, Lena H.; Glod, Maria

Federal investigators with the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) say a train control system, which should have prevented the deadly Washington, D.C., Metrorail accident on June 22 in which nine people were killed, failed in a test conducted on June 25th. In a simulation performed by the NTSB investigators, a train was positioned in the same location as the train that was rear-ended. The system failed to detect the position of the parked train. Investigators did not say what caused the malfunction or whether the system failure was the cause of the crash. However, the test results confirm earlier findings of "anomalies" in an electrical track circuit in the crash area. The results of the simulation indicate that the oncoming train may not have received information that a train was stopped ahead. The steel rails show evidence that the operator of the moving train activated the emergency brakes before the crash. If the train protection system is working correctly, when one train enters a buffer zone between trains the computer will deploy the breaks on the train and force it to stop. During the past decade Metro has had problems with components in its signal system. In 1999, the agency discovered that critical relays were failing prematurely. The relays transmit the signals that automatically control speed, braking, and switches. All Metro trains will be operated manually, instead of by the onboard computers, until an inspection of all 3,000 track circuits has been completed, which could take several weeks.
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Intel's Mukherjee Wins ACM Award for Advancing Reliability of Computer Architecture Design
ACM (06/23/09) Gold, Virginia

ACM's Special Interest Group on Computer Architecture presented Shubu Mukherjee with its 2009 Maurice Wilkes Award on June 23 during the International Symposium on Computer Architecture in Austin, Texas. The annual Maurice Wilkes Award was created to honor individuals who have made significant achievements in computer architecture. Mukherjee, an Intel principal engineer and director of the company's Simulations and Pathfinding for Efficient and Reliable Systems Group, has helped make microprocessors and other silicon chips more reliable by introducing a method of computing soft error rate (SER) that identifies prime candidates for error protection. The technique also makes it easier for chipmakers to determine whether structures need protection to maintain reliability. Mukherjee's work cleared the way for cost-effective solutions for weighing a processor's SER against performance, power, and area. The award comes with a $2,500 prize.

Molecular Typesetting--Proofreading Without a Proofreader
University of Leeds (06/23/09)

Computer scientists at the universities of Leeds and Bristol have modeled how the body builds proteins correctly. A protein is created by copying a gene on a human's DNA to a template, known as RNA, and RNA polymerases carry out the copying process by acting as an old-fashioned newsprint typesetter. Serving as a molecular machine, RNA polymerase constructs RNA by reading the DNA and adding new letters to the RNA one at a time, says Netta Cohen at the University of Leeds' School of Computing. A letter is not always incorporated at the right spot, but RNA polymerases operate intelligently in that they will remove the last few letters when they detect an error. The new model provides insight into a copying process that has only recently been linked to the building of proteins. "In fact, there is more than one identified mechanism for ensuring that genetic code is copied correctly," Cohen says. "The challenge now is to find out--through a combination of experimental biology and modeling--which mechanism is dominant."

One-Stop Shop for Grid Computing
ICT Results (06/26/09)

The European Union-funded Phosphorus project aims to make accessing grid computing easier by bridging the networking and grid worlds through the development of protocols and software that allow users to obtain a scheduled or immediate high-performance grid connection using a quick and inexpensive network. "Large grids with enormous processing power connected via high-bandwidth optical networks are essential to many scientific applications today, but establishing dedicated connections to those resources on demand can be a costly process in terms of both time and effort," says Artur Binczewski, from the Poznan Supercomputing and Networking Centre in Poland. The Phosphorus project uses a Network Service Plan to ensure interoperability between existing network resource provisioning systems, such as ARGON, DRAC, UCLP-ARGIA, and GMPLS, to access the local resources of autonomous network domains in multiple countries. The project also developed Grid-enabled GMPLS, a new, advanced version of the ASON/GMPLS connection management architecture and protocols. Binczewski says the Phosphorus approach makes it easier to find, allocate, and provide network and grid resources, whether scheduled in advance or on demand. "It is an entirely new model in which network and grid resources make users aware of their availability, whether for five minutes or several days," he says. The approach has been successfully tested in four trials involving data-intensive applications.

Iranian Protesters Avoid Censorship With Navy Technology
Washington Times (06/26/09) Lake, Eli

Some Iranian protestors dissatisfied with their government's response to the disputed election are using The Onion Router (TOR), an Internet encryption program originally developed by the U.S. Navy, to bypass Iran's censorship efforts. Designed 10 years ago as a way to secure Internet communications between ships at sea, TOR has become an important proxy for Iranians looking to access blocked Web sites. The system of proxy servers that disguise a user's Internet traffic is currently run by the nonprofit Tor Project, which says that TOR connections have jumped 600 percent since the mass protests in Iran started following the election. Iran, with more than 20 million Internet users out of a population of 70 million people, has a well developed blogosphere. TOR has enabled Iranians to visit government-banned Web sites and avoid detection by the authorities. The Tor Project provides the service by routing Web requests through several different computer servers around the world. While other proxy servers are available, TOR is considered the best because it is an encrypted network of multiple nodes, with each node unlocking encryption to the next node. editor Noah Shachtman says TOR is different from other methods of evading Internet censorship because it is "all but impossible for governments to track Web sites a TOR user is visiting. TOR is a great way to give Ahmadinejad's Web censors headaches."

Community Colleges Mobilize to Train Cybersecurity Workers
Chronicle of Higher Education (06/26/09) Vol. 55, No. 40, P. A17; Parry, Mark

Some experts project that the Obama administration's cybersecurity push will expand two-year colleges' role in supplying cybersecurity workers to government agencies, but among the challenges they must overcome is the struggle to train and hold onto qualified cybersecurity educators. Obama's proposed 2010 budget includes $64 million in funding for the National Science Foundation's (NSF's) Advanced Technological Education program, whose projects include the establishment of a platform for cybersecurity education at community colleges. "The time is really ripe for community colleges' role in this area of technology to expand, be recognized, to get the kind of support that it needs," says NSF program director Corby Hovis. "All of the stars, I think, are aligned for this." Colleges are offering cybersecurity courses in anticipation that digital forensics and other cyberdefense areas will be a major source of future career opportunities. The NSF-supported CyberWatch consortium was established to build up the information-security workforce, and most of CyberWatch's 27 member colleges offer degree programs in technical assurance. One CyberWatch member, Anne Arundel Community College, developed a curriculum with National Security Agency representatives and other advisers that has been partially or completely adopted by nine colleges in the Washington, D.C., area. Consultant Daniel G. Wolf has advised companies to look to community college students for their cybersecurity needs, but University of Tulsa computer scientist Sujeet Shenoi says most community college cybersecurity education programs leave a lot to be desired.

New Internet2 CTO Pushes Multicast, IPv6
Network World (06/23/09) Marsan, Carolyn Duffy

Randy Frank has been appointed chief technology officer of the Internet2 university consortium. He says in an interview that the Internet2 functions as an academic network with which institutions can "experiment with all the technologies that we're no longer able to drive adoption on the commodity network." Frank says that Internet2 collaborates with leading organizations around the world to construct a global research network, and he cites the Dynamic Circuit Network (DCN) currently establishing dedicated high-performance connections through alliances with sister European and Asian networks. "With DCN, you can build a network where one is able to dial up--figuratively speaking of course--a sustained amount of bandwidth for a short period of time without the expense of dedicated circuits," he says. Among the initiatives Frank champions is multicasting, which Internet2 is enabled for. "We can send a single stream across the Internet and not replicate anything unnecessarily," he notes. Frank also is a heavy supporter of IPv6, and he stresses that organizations similar to Internet2 need to increasingly push the benefits of IPv6. Frank points out that unlike network address translation, IPv6 will not lead to situations in which multiple people use the same address space during mergers and acquisitions. He also praises Internet2's Shibboleth middleware technology, which builds a model to permit cross authentication so that campuses can verify the trustworthiness of other campuses' authentication model.

Simpler Data Visualization
Technology Review (06/25/09) Greene, Kate

Stanford University researchers have developed Protovis, a set of tools that simplifies the process of building complex data visualizations. Although Protovis requires some programming knowledge, it is designed to be easy to use for someone without significant programming experience, says Stanford professor and Protovis creator Jeff Heer. He says the level of programming needed for Protovis is only slightly higher than HTML, but lower than JavaScript. A major benefit of Protovis is that it is structured so that people who think in terms of visualizations first and then data should find the tools easy to use, Heer says. Protovis enables users to create simple building blocks, such as the colors and shapes they need in the visualization, and piece the blocks together to create a complete picture. Protovis is currently in an alpha release, but has been adopted by the Mozilla foundation and will be used in an upcoming version of the Thunderbird email client to help users visualize email data, Heer says. "With Protovis, you think first and foremost in visual marks on a page," he says. "It is our belief that this would make visualizations easier to learn and easier to modify."

Pattie Maes on Interfaces and Innovation
Mass High Tech (06/19/09) Connolly, James M.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) professor Pattie Maes, who leads human-computer interface research at MIT's Media Lab, says in an interview that current computers and interfaces are not ideal for information access. She describes the Media Lab as an interdisciplinary center of development into new technologies designed to empower people, and notes that her work aims to develop specific products as well as inspire other people to incorporate her insights into other products. The lab gets most of its funding from industry and involves close industry collaboration, and Maes points out that "with all the development that has happened in the last 10 to 15 years, there's new appreciation for people to see themselves as creative consumers and producers." She sees the do-it-yourself movement gaining momentum, as well as innovation in the hardware space with advancements such as the Apple iPhone and the Microsoft Surface table. "This is really the first time in 40 or 50 years that we are venturing out of the typical interface of a mouse and a keyboard and a screen," Maes observes. "It's encouraging that in the commercial area there is now some interest in thinking beyond the form factor of the typical computer." Maes sees less innovation in the software space.

Scars, Marks, and Tattoos: A Soft Biometric for Identifying Suspects and Victims
SPIE (06/15/09) Jain, Anil; Lee, Jung-Eun

A variety of biometric systems capable of matching fingerprints, faces, and irises are already in use by law enforcement agencies to identify suspects and victims. However, there are numerous situations in which primary biometric traits are either unavailable, are difficult to capture, or where the quality of the image is too poor. In such situations, "soft" biometric traits such as height, sex, eye color, ethnicity, scars, marks, and tattoos can help identify a person. Tattoo patterns are regularly cataloged when booking suspects. Based on an ANSI/NIST-ITL (Information Technology Laboratory) standard, each image is manually labeled into one of 70 categories and stored with a suspect's criminal history record. Unfortunately, matching tattoos is a time-consuming, subjective process, and the simple class descriptions do not include all the semantic information present in an image. SPIE has developed an automatic tattoo matching system called Tattoo-ID, which uses content-based image retrieval based on tattoo features, such as color, shape, and texture, instead of labels or keywords. Tattoo-ID provides users with a group of images that most closely resemble the queried tattoo. User feedback, based on the retrieved images, can be used to refine feature extraction and the matching capabilities. Tattoo-ID also uses class and subclass labels so users can specify the tattoo image and ANSI/NIST categories, to keep the system compatible with current law enforcement practices.

Researchers Mull STEM Gender Gap
Education Week (06/17/09) Vol. 28, No. 35, P. 1; Viadero, Debra

Studies indicate that although U.S. women have achieved parity or near-parity with men on science and math achievement tests, the top levels of many such fields still boast more men than women. A number of studies over the past several years are starting to imply that there may be a simpler underlying explanation for this gender gap than people have assumed, such as women's desire to have careers compatible with family life and a lack of interest in science and math. "One of the things that has to be filtered into the mix is that those girls, who, at a young age, have high quantitative scores are more likely to have high verbal scores than boys are," notes Cornell University psychologist Stephen J. Ceci. He and two colleagues determined in a study that women earn almost 50 percent of all doctoral degrees in certain fields such as biological sciences, but their numbers are far lower in other science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) disciplines. One reason for this disparity is that women leave STEM careers at two times the rate that men do, and Ceci speculates that this trend may be partly attributable to the fact that more women than men classify themselves as "home-centered" as opposed to "careerist." "Women tend to look for careers where you can combine work and family," says Meredith College economist E. Ann York. Experts say that women also tend to gravitate toward compassionate fields such as healthcare and environmental studies, where the focus is on making a difference in people's lives. Some experts, such as University of Colorado professor Margaret A. Eisenhart, believe that bridging the gender gap requires addressing the issue that girls receive little relative exposure to careers in STEM fields.
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