Association for Computing Machinery
Welcome to the May 25, 2012 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

Please note: In observance of the Memorial Day holiday, TechNews will not be published on Monday, May 28. Publication will resume Wednesday, May 30.

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U.S. Tech Worker Shortage Looms, Study Warns
InformationWeek (05/23/12) Paul McDougall

If the U.S. does not adjust its immigration policies to make it easier for foreign-born technology workers to reside in the country, it could fall behind the rest of the world in growth and innovation, according to a recent Partnership for A New American Economy study. The study found that just 4.4 percent of U.S.-born undergraduates are enrolled in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields, compared to 33.9 percent of students in Singapore, 31.2 percent of those in China, 12.4 percent of those in Germany, and 6.1 percent of those in the United Kingdom. These statistics will result in a shortage of more than 200,000 high-tech workers by 2018 in the United States, according to the study. The study's authors say that Congress and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services need to establish a new visa category for foreign entrepreneurs trying to launch startups, to designate more H-1B visas and green cards for foreign students enrolled in STEM programs and U.S. institutions, and to offer tax breaks for U.S. tech workers who have moved abroad to encourage them to return to the United States.

Government Teams Up with Intel to Make London Smart (05/24/12) Rosalie Marshall

The British government announced a partnership with Intel that will result in the deployment of a sensor network in London to monitor factors such as noise levels, pollution, wind speed, and energy use. Researchers at Imperial College London and University College London also will be involved in the project, which is being funded by Intel. "The collaboration will take all of the data produced by the city ... to make life in the 21st century easier for people," says British chancellor George Osborne. Intel also recently launched the Collaborative Research Institute for Sustainable Connected Cities, a new academy that will support the project. Once the sensors have been deployed, the next 18 months will serve as a testbed to determine how the data can be used, says Intel's Martin Curley. Intel plans to use London as the first of many worldwide cities to utilize this type of sensor network, notes Intel's Justin Rattner. "As leaders around the world look to the future, without the adoption of truly sustainable practices across many aspects of society, we are really going to be in trouble," Rattner says.

Internet Voting Still Faces Hurdles in U.S.
Agence France-Presse (05/24/12)

More than two dozen states will accept some form of electronic or faxed ballots in the U.S. 2012 elections, according to the Verified Voting Foundation. However, computer security experts contend that any system can be hacked or manipulated, which poses a big threat to online voting systems. "You have computer systems such as those of Google, the Pentagon, and Facebook, which have all fallen victim to intrusion," notes University of Michigan computer scientist J. Alex Halderman. Meanwhile, other countries are moving forward with Internet voting plans. For example, French citizens living abroad this year will be able to vote on the Internet in a parliamentary election. In Estonia, a record 25 percent of voters cast Internet ballots in 2011. In the United States, election officials are examining the costs of the technology while struggling with how to make voting more accessible, says Ohio deputy election administrator Matt Masterson. He notes online voting can help boost participation and address the issue of voters who cannot get to a polling station. The U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology recently concluded that Internet voting systems cannot currently be audited with a comparable level of confidence in the audit results as those for polling stations.

Robotics: Gesturing for Control
A*STAR Research (05/23/12) Lee Swee Heng

Researchers at the A*STAR Institute for Infocomm Research say they have developed a system that recognizes human gestures quickly and accurately, and requires very little training. The researchers, led by A*STAR's Rui Yan, developed a cognitive memory model called a localist attractor network to create a system that recognizes gestures. "Since many social robots will be operated by non-expert users, it is essential for them to be equipped with natural interfaces for interaction with humans," Yan says. The researchers tested the software by integrating it with ShapeTape, a special jacket that uses fiber optics and inertial sensors to monitor the bending and twisting of hands and arms. During testing, the researchers used the ShapeTape jacket to control a virtual robot through simple arm motions. The researchers found that 99.15 percent of the gestures were correctly translated by the system. The researchers now want to improve the system to enable humans to control robots without the need to wear special devices. "Currently we are building a new gesture-recognition system by incorporating our method with a Microsoft Kinect camera," Yan says.

Researchers Take Virus-Tracking Software Worldwide
Ohio Supercomputer Center (05/22/12) Jamie Abel

Researchers at Ohio State University (OSU) and the Ohio Supercomputer Center are expanding the reach of SUPRAMAP, a Web-based application that synthesizes large, diverse datasets so researchers can better understand the spread of infectious diseases across hosts and geography. The researchers want to use SUPRAMAP to reconfigure the server so that other researchers and public safety officials can develop front-end applications that draw on the logic and computing resources of SUPRAMAP. "Our software allows public health scientists to update and view maps on the evolution and spread of pathogens," says OSU professor Daniel Janies. The original implementation of SUPRAMAP was built with a single client that was tightly coupled to the server software. "We now have decoupled the server from the original client to provide a modular Web service for [ (POY)], an open source, freely available phylogenetic analysis program," says the American Museum of Natural History's Ward Wheeler. The researchers developed GEOGENES, a client application that demonstrates the POY Web service. "Unlike in SUPRAMAP, in which the user is required to create and upload data files, in GEOGENES the user works from a graphical interface to query a curated dataset, thus freeing the user from managing files," Wheeler says.

Data Mining Your Desktop
Technology Review (05/23/12) Jessica Leber

Hewlett-Packard (HP) Labs has created the Collective Project, a workplace social network that tracks internal documents created or opened by about 10,000 company employees. The Collective Project assigns topic words to each document by mining its content, and then creates knowledge maps and family trees centered on employees and subject areas by computing their similarity. The project aims to show how people within large organizations can automatically be connected based on "inferred expertise," providing a resource that staff can tap into to get answers to queries. "You don't have to update a profile, you don't have to declare your interests or expertise, you don't have to search," says HP Labs Israel director Ruth Bergman. "The tool makes knowledge instantly accessible, rather than being a laborious process of discovery and input." HP employees who use the Collective Project can search keywords and see results that recommend useful documents and employees closely connected to those files. The researchers say that this type of data mining could encourage connections between coworkers working in different countries at extremely big organizations. Users can customize permissions to share the full content of some documents, but prevent its retrieval by others.

Google Funds Computer Teachers and Raspberry Pis in England
BBC News (05/23/12)

Google is partnering with the Teach First charity to train and fund British teachers specializing in computer science. Additional funds will be provided for teaching aids, such as Raspberry Pis or Arduino starter kits, notes Google chairman Eric Schmidt. He says the United Kingdom has been throwing away its great computing heritage by focusing on how to use software instead of how to make it. "Put simply, technology breakthroughs can't happen without the scientists and engineers to make them," Schmidt says. "The challenge that society faces is to equip enough people, with the right skills and mindset, and to get them to work on the most important problems." Teach First puts exceptional graduates on a six-week training program before sending them to schools where they teach for a two-year period. The Google funds will be used to train more than 100 first-rate science teachers over the next three years, with the majority focused on computer science. "It's vital to expose kids to this early if they're to have the chance of a career in computing," Schmidt says. Each of the 100 teachers will be given a budget to buy equipment related to their teaching.

iPads Could Pick Up on Unique Biological Traits in Individual Hand Gestures (05/22/12) Dawn Lim

Polytechnic Institute of New York University (NYU-Poly) researchers have developed technology that can biometrically authenticate users' hand gestures with multi-touch sensors. The researchers plan to create an iPad app that replaces the use of text passwords with strokes that a hand can make on a keyboard. The researchers, led by NYU-Poly doctoral student Napa Sae-Bae, developed an algorithm to detect individuals' unique biological traits, such as the shape of their hands, how their fingers move in relation to one another, and the length of their fingers. During testing, the system achieved a 90 percent accuracy rate in verifying that gestures belonged to the individuals who made them. The researchers note the technology could lead to new ways to authenticate users into government systems and to detect malicious attackers. Sae-Bae says this type of authentication strategy may be preferable to retina scanning because it uses sensor technologies widely available on the market, such as those on iPads and Android touch tablets. In the future, the researchers will explore how stable and accurate an individual hand gesture is over time, taking variations such as fatigue into account.

Spy Agency Seeks Cyber-Ops Curriculum
Reuters (05/22/12) Tabassum Zakaria

The U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) has launched a new cyber-ops program at selected universities in an effort to broaden U.S. cyberexpertise needed for secret intelligence operations against adversaries on computer networks. The cyber-ops curriculum is designed to provide fundamental education for intelligence, military, and law enforcement jobs so classified they will only be disclosed to some students and faculty, who must pass security clearance requirements. "We're trying to create more [quality cyber operators], and yes they have to know some of the things that hackers know, they have to know a lot of other things too, which is why you really want a good university to create these people for you," says NSA's Neal Ziring. He notes the mindset 15 years ago was that of computer systems seldom being hacked and of security hardening being sufficient to ensure protection. "What we've realized these days is ... that systems are under attack constantly," Ziring says. Just four of the 20 universities that applied were certified this week as Centers of Academic Excellence in Cyber Operations. NSA says two of the 10 requirements on the curriculum—courses on reverse engineering and cellular communications and mobile technologies—were most lacking at many schools.

A Robot Learns How to Tidy Up After You
Cornell Chronicle (05/21/12) Bill Steele

Cornell University researchers have developed a robot that can survey a room, identify all its objects, and determine where they belong and put them away. "Our major contribution is that we are now looking at a group of objects, and this is the first work that places objects in non-trivial places," says Cornell professor Ashutosh Saxena. The robot's algorithms enable it to consider the nature of an object in deciding what to do with it. In testing, the robot was as much as 98 percent successful in identifying and placing objects it had seen before. First the robot surveys the room with a Microsoft Kinect three-dimensional camera. Various images are combined to create a general perspective view of the room, which the robot's computer splits into blocks according to discontinuities of color and shape. The researchers trained the robot by feeding it graphic simulations in which placement sites are labeled as good and bad, and it builds a model of what good placement sites have in common. The robot then generates a graphic simulation of how to move the object to its final location and carries out those movements.

'Father of the Internet' Warns Web Freedom Is Under Attack
The Hill (05/21/12) Andrew Feinberg

Governments around the world are trying to use intellectual property and cybersecurity issues to control the Internet, says Google vice president and chief Internet evangelist Vint Cerf. "Political structures ... are often scared by the possibility that the general public might figure out that they don't want them in power," Cerf says. He speculates that the International Telecommunications Union will likely become the global Internet cop, and expects the group to try to lock in mandatory intellectual property protections as a backdoor for easy Web surveillance. The public should view even good-faith efforts at Internet policymaking skeptically because balancing freedom and security "isn't something that government alone is going to figure out," Cerf says. He is concerned about the U.S. Cybersecurity and Intelligence Protection Act passed by the House, because it does not offer enough limits on how information about cyberthreats would be used. Still, Cerf expresses optimism that resourceful engineers will find a way around hostile government attempts to restrict access.

Cell Network Security Holes Revealed, With an App to Test Your carrier
University of Michigan News Service (05/21/12) Nicole Casal Moore

University of Michigan researchers have found that popular firewall technology designed to improve security on cellular networks can reveal data that could help a hacker break into Facebook and Twitter accounts. The researchers, led by professor Z. Morley Mao and doctoral student Zhiyun Qian, also have developed an Android app, called Firewall Middlebox Detection, that alerts users when they are on a vulnerable network. The researchers were able to demonstrate how an attacker could hijack a Transmission Control Protocol Internet connection by taking advantage of publicly available information on smartphones and network firewall middleboxes, which block data bundles that do not appear to be part of the flow of information traffic. The researchers detected middleboxes on 32 percent of the networks they tested. "Most vendors and carriers that deploy such firewall middleboxes still believe they are safe and we want them to be aware of this design flaw," Qian says. The research shows a susceptibility in the sandboxing safety mechanism that smartphone platforms use. "What's surprising here is that this shows how malware can, in a sense, reach out of its sandbox and tamper with other legitimate apps such as your browser," Qian says.

Why Rumors Spread Fast in Social Networks
Saarland University (05/21/12)

Saarland University researchers have mathematically proved that information spreads in social networks much faster than in networks in which everyone communicates with everyone else, or networks that have a totally random structure. Tobias Friedrich of Saarland's Cluster of Excellence on Multimodal Computing and Interaction and colleagues demonstrated their findings through the successful combination of persons with many contacts and persons with only a few contacts. "A person who keeps only a few connections can inform all of these contacts very fast," Friedrich says. Moreover, among these few contacts, there is always a highly networked person who is contacted by many people in the social network. "Therefore everybody in these networks gets informed rapidly," the researchers note. They used preferential attachment graphs as a basic network model, and assumed new members of a social network would more likely connect to a person maintaining many connections than to a person with only a few contacts. The foundation of in-network communication is the model that every person regularly shares all information with his or her contacts, but never speaks to the person contacted in the previous communication round.

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