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Welcome to the September 10, 2014 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Research Finds No Large Scale Heartbleed Exploit Attempts Before Vulnerability Disclosure
Threatpost (09/09/14) Dennis Fisher

A multi-institutional study of the impact the OpenSSL Heartbleed bug had on the Internet since it was disclosed in April uncovered no evidence that anyone attempted to exploit the vulnerability on a large scale prior to its public disclosure. "We estimate that 2 million HTTPS hosts were vulnerable two days after disclosure," the researchers note. They examined Web traffic logs for the weeks and months leading up to the disclosure, as well as data from the weeks immediately following the announcement. The traffic was compiled from passive taps at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the International Computer Science Institute, the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center, and a honeypot established on Amazon's EC2 system. "For all four networks, over these time periods our detector found no evidence of any exploit attempt up through April 7, 2014," the researchers report. "This provides strong evidence that at least for those time periods, no attacker with prior knowledge of Heartbleed conducted widespread scanning looking for vulnerable servers. Such scanning however could have occurred during other time periods." The study results also do not eliminate the potential for an attacker or attackers to have been conducting targeted reconnaissance on specific servers or networks.

Crowdsourcing Competitions Encourage Malicious Behavior, Study Finds (09/08/14) Daniel A. Medina

Crowdsourcing competitions have become a popular way to harness the distributed insight and talent of the masses and have been used for everything from redesigning a major brand logo to pursuing innovative military technology. However, a new study by researchers from the University of Southampton and the National Information and Communications Technology Australia has found they also produce some of the worst competitive tendencies in people. The researchers examined several recent crowdsourcing competitions, analyzing participants' behavior using the concept of the "Prisoner's Dilemma," an element of game theory that shows how two people with a common interest may often fail to cooperate with one another. Southampton researcher Victor Naroditskiy says they found crowdsourcing competitions were often affected by malicious behavior such as sabotaging one or more participants' progress or submitting misinformation. Malicious behavior was especially noticeable in competitions in which one participant would ultimately claim a prize. One example from the study is a U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency contest to identify the content of shredded documents, in which the eventual winner was subjected to coordinated attacks designed to thwart their progress throughout the competition.

DARPA Targets Complex Software Algorithm Vulnerabilities
Network World (09/08/14) Michael Cooney

The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) wants to develop software that can find faults in algorithms used to anchor programs that implement hash tables or conduct password checks. "As new defensive technologies make old classes of vulnerability difficult to exploit successfully, adversaries move to new classes of vulnerability," the agency says. DARPA's Space/Time Analysis for Cyber Security (STAC) program is focused on vulnerabilities inherent in algorithms, some of which enable adversaries to mount algorithmic-complexity or side-channel attacks. "Although resource usage vulnerabilities also occur in software written in other languages, the fundamental nature of these vulnerabilities is not language-specific, and focusing on a narrow language selection will make the effectiveness of the new techniques developed in the STAC program more easily comparable," DARPA says. STAC aims to develop two main advances in scale and speed, referring to the need for analyses that can consider larger pieces of software, and the need to increase the rate at which human analysts can analyze software with the help of automated tools, respectively. "While entirely manual solutions may be too slow for our purposes, and fully-automated analyses too inaccurate, combined semi-automated analyses may offer a solution," DARPA says.

Where History Meets Smart Technology: Greenwich Launches Sound and Vision Scapes
University of Greenwich (09/08/14)

Researchers at the University of Greenwich, in collaboration with the BBC and The Center for Advanced Spatial Analysis at University College London, have launched Sound and Vision Scapes, a program involving more than 100 places and objects of historic importance in the United Kingdom that are equipped with smart location technologies such as Bluetooth beacons. The project will enable visitors to access audio and video clips, as well as add their own writings, memories, and photos, explaining what the historic sites mean to them personally and leaving a permanent record for future generations. "Our research identified an important gap in visitor experiences of important cultural heritage attractions," says Greenwich senior lecturer Ralph Barthell. "We thought there was a need to widen participation, so people from across the world cannot only learn more about these sites, but add their views and form some sort of huge 'collective memory' of these places, in a way that has never been done before." Barthell also is working on the Greenwich Connect project, which focuses on the university's vision for bringing innovation to its teaching and learning. His research on the Internet of Things involves human-computer interactions in areas such as digital empathy, informal learning, and second-hand retail.

Researchers Advance Artificial Intelligence for Player Goal Prediction in Gaming
NCSU News (09/09/14) Matt Shipman

North Carolina State University (NCSU) researchers have developed artificial intelligence (AI) software that greatly improves the technology's ability to predict player actions in video games, which they say is a key to enhancing player experiences in both recreational and educational games. NCSU Ph.D. student Wookhee Min says current AI software is able to correctly guess players' intentions 48.4 percent of the time, slightly worse than random chance. However, the new software has an accuracy rate of 62.3 percent. The researchers accomplished this by incorporating deep-learning techniques similar to those used in computer-vision and natural-language processing; these techniques enable the software to make sense of massive data sets of player activity logs tracking a player's actions over time. As a result, as a player plays a game more the software's ability to predict their goals will improve, to a point. The researchers developed the software for use in educational games and tested it in an educational game called Crystal Island, using it to track and predict the actions of 137 players. "This is a key step in developing player-adaptive games that can respond to player actions to improve the gaming experience, either for entertainment or--in our case--for education," says NCSU professor James Lester.

NTT Tests 400Gbps Optical Technology for Internet Backbone
IDG News Service (09/05/14) Tim Hornyak

Researchers at Nippon Telegraph and Telephone (NTT), NEC, and Fujitsu have successfully tested technology for optical Internet backbone connections that can transmit 400 Gbps on a single wavelength, verifying it for distances of several thousand kilometers to 10,000 kilometers. A single wavelength of light can carry four times the capacity of previous systems. Each fiber can carry multiple wavelengths, and many fibers can be bundled into one cable. The researchers say the approach could more than double the existing capacity of fiber-optic lines. NTT researchers developed digital backward propagation signal processing with an optimized algorithm in order to offset distortions along the fiber, which can help reduce network electricity consumption. The digital coherent optical transmission technology could be used in the next generation of backbone links, which aggregate calls and data streams and send them over the high-capacity links that go across oceans and continents. The fiber in the network would stay the same, but the equipment at either end would need to change. Such links have a current capacity of up to 8 Tbps per fiber, but the new technology would make it possible to have a capacity of 24 Tbps per fiber, which corresponds to sending the data equivalent of 600 DVDs in a second.

Google Glass Can Now Track Your Stress Level
Technology Review (09/05/14) Rachel Metz

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the Georgia Institute of Technology say they have developed a new method for using Google Glass to track a user's stress level and provide instant fitness feedback. The method involves accurately measuring the Glass wearer's head movements using the built-in gyroscope, accelerometer, and camera. The researchers say the project, called BioGlass, could lead to biometric-tracking apps for the Google Glass platform. BioGlass uses Google Glass' sensors and camera to track the user's ballistocardiogram, a mechanical signal measuring the tiny body movements that result from the heart pumping blood. In a study of 12 participants, the researchers were able to estimate the heart and breathing rates almost as well as with U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved sensors for tracking the same signals. MIT Media Lab researcher Javier Hernandez says the outcomes for heart-rate estimation were off by less than one beat per minute and respiration by less than a breath per minute. The researchers also developed an Android app that captures data from the Glass' accelerometer, gyroscope, and camera. They currently are developing several other apps using the sensor data, as well as a way to capture and analyze the signals in real time.

The Technology Industry Needs More Women Innovators, Stanford Expert Says
Stanford Report (CA) (09/09/14) Clifton B. Parker

Stanford University scholar Vivek Wadhwa says the technology industry is handicapping itself by erecting barriers to entry that make it hard for women to succeed in the field, if they even bother to enter it in the first place. Wadhwa's new book, "Innovating Women," draws from the personal experiences of hundreds of women in the tech industry. Wadhwa says the ways that women are stymied on the road to success in the technology industry are legion, and start with social norms that say tech, and especially fields such as engineering and computer science, are for men, meaning few women even try to pursue a career in tech. Even after women continue to pursue tech careers, Wadhwa says they are treated to an educational and then professional environment that is highly male-dominated, and often unwelcoming if not outright hostile to women. In professional settings this is most damagingly seen in a preoccupation among potential employers and venture capitalists with a woman's personal life and holding women to a higher standard than men. Wadhwa says although he has encountered hostility from some for bringing up the issue of women's struggles in tech, he sees a broad-based shift in tech sector to acknowledge women's potential and remove barriers to their advancement.

No Need to Leave Home: New System of Tele-Medical Assistance for People With Mobility Problems
AlphaGalileo (09/08/14)

A remote healthcare system designed to help with the rehabilitative therapy of spasticity sufferers has been developed by Autonomous Metropolitan University of Mexico researcher Yadira Alatriste. The eSpasti system combines computer and video technology to issue personalized medical treatment and enable spastic patients to receive care and rehab exercises without requiring the presence of a physical therapist in the hospital. "The eSpasti system is broadly useful at monitoring those affected, allowing physicians and specialists to advise therapy patients at home, who can send the results, either through video or by rating scales," Alatriste says. Initial results of the system's evaluation point to a significant lessening of stress for both patient and therapist. Alatriste says the use of a Web platform to merge the contents of a graphic user interface enables patients and specialists to contribute to treatment customization, as the rehab physician and physiotherapist give indications to both the patient and the caregiver regarding which steps to follow for each session. A pilot program in Barcelona, Spain, is testing the eSpasti system at a local hospital.

Smartphones Pioneered for Use in Parkinson's Disease Detection
IT Pro (09/08/14) Caroline Donnelly

Smartphones are being used to monitor degenerative diseases, and researchers at Aston University are working to make it possible to use smartphones to collect information on how the symptoms of degenerative diseases change on an hourly basis. The team from Aston's Nonlinearity and Complexity Research Group (AUNCRG) plans to focus on conditions such as Parkinson's disease and Friedrich's Ataxia, a rarer genetic illness. For example, one study is designed to gather data on the movement and speech patterns of Parkinson's sufferers using smartphones. The devices are set up to track the individual's movements, how frequently they speak to another person, and how their voice changes over time. Smartphones could potentially enable patients to self-manage their conditions, according to AUNCRG's Max Little. "Physicians may be able to use data collected by their patients' smartphones to prescribe medications to help control the progress of neurodegenerative conditions," Little says. The AUNCRG team also believes smartphones could be used to help diagnose degenerative conditions. "[Parkinson's] is hard to diagnose, with specialists having to take a detailed history of peoples' symptoms and analyzing them for physical signs of the disease," Little notes. "Using smartphone data may help to make this process much easier."

Researchers Develop New Program to Evaluate Prominent Individuals' Personalities
Phys.Org (09/02/14)

Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) researchers have developed a program that automates computational personality, a field that relates to the classification of individual personality traits. The computer-supported methodology for personality profiling uses vector semantics, which involves constructing several vectors representing personality dimensions and disorders and measuring the similarity with texts written by the human subject. The BGU researchers used the program to compare President Barack Obama's State of the Union addresses from 2009 and 2014. "Both State of the Union speeches are 'assertive' and 'organized' as expected from a political leader," says BGU professor Yair Neuman. "However, the main difference in the 2014 speech is the 'loner' personality trait that appears. This dimension reveals a type of withdrawal from painful social interaction." The researchers also analyzed Khaled Mashal, the leader of Hamas. "According to the computational personality results, a man like that won't be significantly affected by injury to innocent citizens or the destruction of infrastructure because he lacks the ability to empathize," Neuman says. "For his adversaries, any attempt to simulate empathy, or to try and appeal to his emotions is a strategy doomed to fail." He notes the methodology can be applied to any leader with available texts and speeches.

KBase Harnesses Gene Data for Researchers
Federal Computer Week (09/05/14) Mark Rockwell

A large-scale computational platform developed by the U.S. Department of Energy's national research laboratories will make complex analysis of gene data more efficient and less time-consuming. The Systems Biology Knowledgebase (KBase) is an open software and data platform designed to pull available data on plants and other biological entities into a centralized repository that is more accessible for researchers. The pooled data, computational tools, and shared resources will enable researchers to conduct database searches that previously took months, and they will not need to learn how to write their own software. The cooperative environment facilitates sharing and feedback among researchers so the programs, tools, and annotation of datasets can improve with other users' input. The labs are moving KBase from a scientific pilot phase to a production phase and will gradually expand from the limited functionality available now. Officials are encouraging researchers to upload their data and programs to KBase so other users can mine them. "KBase allows research groups to share and analyze data generated by their project, put it into context with data generated by other groups, and ultimately come to a much better quantitative understanding of their results," says the Brookhaven National Laboratory's Sergei Maslov.

China Develops Facial Recognition Payment System With Near-Perfect Accuracy
ZDNet (09/08/14) Liu Jiayi

The Chinese Academy of Science (CAS) plans to unveil a face-recognition payment application with near-perfect accuracy next year. The app is designed to link with a bank account or credit card, and takes only one second to identify the payer, according to CAS Chongqing Green Technology Research Institute director Zhou Xi. Consumers will be able to use the app for online shopping, but the research institute also is working to develop similar face-recognition devices for physical payments made at brick-and-mortar retailers. The app will make use of the world's largest database of Asian faces, which has more than 50 million records. Zhou says the app's data-collecting technology can simultaneously gather facial information from 91 different angles. He also notes the system scored the highest accuracy, 99.8 percent, according to a Carnegie Mellon University international standard, surpassing its predecessor's high of 97.6 percent. The facial-recognition system already has been used at border controls and attendance machines. Zhou says the algorithm will be very reliable, and can identify scanned faces as either real ones or a held-up photo or video. The system also features online learning abilities, and will automatically study the subject's shifting characteristics, thus preventing weight changes from affecting the results, for example.

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