Welcome to the September 7, 2016 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
A Proactive Approach to Ensuring Long-Term Cybersecurity
CORDIS News (09/06/16)
As the cybersecurity threat landscape continues to evolve, the European Union is funding two projects devoted to developing new security paradigms, architectures, and software. Secure Hardware-Software Architectures for Robust Computing Systems (SHARCS) and Post-quantum cryptography for long-term security (PQCRYPTO) have exposed weaknesses in current security practices, including public-key algorithms (RSA) and elliptic curves, when protecting data stored on quantum computers. Hacking experts demonstrated this threat by using the Flip Feng Shui (FFS) technique to alter the memory of a cloud-based virtual machine, which would enable an attacker to crack the virtual machine's keys or install malware undetected. A server also can be ordered to install malicious software and allow logins by unauthorized users. Researchers used the FFS method to weaken one host's public keys with only one bit and install malware presented as a software update. To mitigate FFS and other threats, SHARCS is designing, building, and testing secure applications and services capable of achieving end-to-end security, while the PQCRYPTO team is working on cryptographic systems that are secure against long-term threats presented by quantum computing.
NSF Awards $13 Million Toward Research in Cyber-Physical Systems
National Science Foundation (09/06/16) Aaron Dubrow
The U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) on Tuesday announced three five-year Frontier awards, totaling more than $13 million, to advance cyber-physical systems (CPS) integrating computational and physical elements to improve productivity, efficiency, and the quality of life. The projects will focus on developing technologies to track and ameliorate urban noise pollution, rapidly spot and address problems in manufacturing environments, and enhance autonomous vehicle capabilities. The Sounds of New York City project will apply its $4.6-million NSF grant toward a noise-monitoring CPS by merging the latest in machine learning, big data analysis, and public participation in scientific research. Meanwhile, the $4-million Software-Defined Control for Smart Manufacturing Systems project seeks to improve manufacturing security and operational efficiency by computer-modeling a physical system for fault detection and remediation/adaptation. The third award allocates $4.6 million to the Verified Human Interfaces, Control, and Learning for Semi-Autonomous Systems project, to combine research on formal methods, control theory, robotics and perception, cognitive science, machine learning, security and privacy, and human-machine interfaces to create a human CPS that performs complex tasks. The Frontier awards center on multidisciplinary alliances between computer scientists, engineers, and scholars in urban planning, materials science, music, and other non-traditional domains.
Towards the Workplace of the Future--With Virtual Reality
Bielefeld University (Germany) (09/06/16)
Business and academic experts this week will present the latest developments and research on augmented and virtual reality at the Cluster of Excellence Cognitive Interaction Technology (CITEC) conference at Germany's Bielefeld University. "With virtual reality, we can generate spaces and situations that help people learn to perform occupational duties," says CITEC organizer Thies Pfeiffer. Among the research featured at CITEC is ICSpace, a virtual training environment in which a virtual character coaches users on sports exercises. Meanwhile, the Adamaas project spotlights data glasses that help cognitively challenged wearers complete daily tasks. Studies on virtual and augmented reality presented at the conference will include the concept of a hardware/software-testing reality simulator, which can aid application programmers in both small- and large-scale settings. A key CITEC event will be the "Virtual and Augmented Reality for the Workplace of the Future" contest, with competing teams each providing a research prototype to be evaluated by an expert jury. "Training in 'reality' would require considerable resources, and students need a lot of space," Pfeiffer says. "In virtual reality, however, students and trainees can practice at their own pace until the processes become second nature."
Rumor Patterns on Social Media During Emergencies
Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (Israel) (09/06/16)
Postdoctoral researcher Tomer Simon at Israel's Ben-Gurion University of the Negev developed a methodology to track and address rumors during emergencies. Simon mapped 13 distinct rumors shared during an operation by Israeli emergency teams and the Israel Defense Forces to locate three abducted Israeli youth, and found 69 percent of the rumors were true. In addition, the study found the dissemination of the rumors was helped by journalists, the military, and emergency personnel. Simon notes social media and chat applications have dramatically accelerated the speed of rumor dissemination during emergencies. "The research was conducted in real time to identify the rumors that had spread on WhatsApp in Israel, but mainly to trace their source and the people disseminating them," he says. The study found the public preferred using WhatsApp--which is seen as more private and a more trustworthy source than Facebook--for rumor proliferation. With more than 40 percent of these users exposed to at least one rumor during the operation, Simon drew recommendations for first responders and official agencies. His recommendations include to search for rumors and other shared pieces of information to understand the public's information gaps, push accurate related information to personnel, establish virtual operations support teams to monitor social media during emergencies, and avoid using gag orders.
'Hello Human, How Are You?' When Robots Observe Their Operators
Deutsche Welle (Germany) (09/02/16) Fabian Schmidt
Researchers at Germany's Fraunhofer Institute for Communication Information Processing and Ergonomics (FKIE) have developed a system in which robots observe humans, setting up an air traffic controller training simulator as a potential application. Trainees are watched by computer via an infrared eye tracker, which studies the target of their gaze at any given moment. The eye tracker produces data that is used to monitor the air traffic controller's behavior, and it also can detect when an operator gets tired after long hours of monotonous work. "The frequency and time of eyelid closure are good indicators to detect tiredness," notes FKIE's Jessica Schwarz. Other equipment used to monitor operators includes a chest belt that constantly supplies information about the controllers' vital signs. "It includes a sensor unit, which can measure physiological indicators such as heartbeat, breathing frequency, body temperature, and even their posture," Schwarz says. The combined eye tracker/sensor belt data enables the computer to detect various indicators that signal the level of stress or weariness the operator is under. Project director Sven Fuchs says the purpose of the initiative is to determine whether computers can make the right decisions when humans fail.
STEM Research Cloud, Co-Created by UTSA, Has Launched
UTSA Today (09/01/16) Joanna Carver
Jetstream, a cloud-based advanced computing system first announced by the U.S. National Science Foundation last year, was created to help researchers without computer science expertise analyze big data. The project stems from a partnership between Indiana University and the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA), and will enable thousands of researchers to access advanced computing tools on a cloud-based platform. Jetstream users interact with a system of virtual machines on a computer or tablet via a user-friendly interface, which will be personalized by discipline as the project continues to develop. "The intent of this machine is for scientists to have a national resource to aid in their research," says Paul Rad, director of the UTSA Open Cloud Institute. "Not every scientist is a computer scientist, and with Jetstream they no longer have to be to utilize big data in their research." The UTSA Open Cloud Institute was established in 2015 to support cloud computing and big data research in the international business community through open source technologies. Other partnering institutions include the University of Texas at Austin Texas Advanced Computing Center, the University of Chicago, the University of Arizona, Johns Hopkins University, Cornell University, Pennsylvania State University, the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, the University of Hawaii, and the University of North Carolina Odum Institute.
Friends Help Friends on Facebook Feel Better
Carnegie Mellon News (PA) (09/06/16) Byron Spice
Personal interactions on Facebook are associated with improvements in users' psychological well being and satisfaction, according to a study by Carnegie Mellon University and Facebook researchers. Previous research on the subject was based on one-time user surveys and indicated a link between time spent on social media and a greater likelihood of depression and loneliness. The new study uses Facebook activity logs to examine participants' Facebook activity over a period of three months and distinguishes between different types of activity. Participants also took a monthly survey to supplement the collected data. Sixty personalized comments or posts from close friends within a month were associated with increases in user happiness as significant as those associated with major life events. The results indicate Facebook interactions can predict improvements in satisfaction with life, happiness, loneliness, and depression. "This suggests that people who are feeling down may indeed spend more time on social media, but they choose to do so because they've learned it makes them feel better," says Facebook researcher Moira Burke. "They're reminded of the people they care about in their lives."
Measuring Exposure to Pollution
MIT News (09/01/16) Peter Dizikes
A study led by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers suggests a finer-grained perspective of urban pollution exposure could be obtained using cellphone data to track peoples' movements. The study, which concentrated on data about New York City collected in 2013, found exposure levels to particulate matter (PM) differed significantly in 68 of the city's 71 districts when accounting for the daily movement of 8.5 million inhabitants. Carlo Ratti, director of MIT's Senseable City Lab, says traditional pollution measurement emphasizes ratings from only a few stations, and he argues, "if you quantify exposure, you also need to know where people are." The researchers analyzed 121 days of data from April through July 2013, using various wireless devices from diverse providers, and integrating the phone data with pollution information from the New York City Community Air Survey. Ratti says the analysis yielded "two different maps" of PM exposure, with one displaying the exposure of a static, home-based population, and the other showing the actual exposure levels from a moving populace. The researchers not only suggest the study is relevant to future population health evaluations, but also could enhance transportation system analysis and planning in cities.
Plastic Crystals Could Improve Fabrication of Memory Devices
Hokkaido University (08/31/16) Naoki Namba
Plastic crystals with ferroelectric properties developed by researchers at Japan's Hokkaido University could accelerate the development of additional flexible and cost-efficient materials for use in electronic devices. Ferroelectricity is the property in which a material's atoms switch the direction of polarization when placed in an electric field. These materials are often used to store binary data in memory devices, but organic ferroelectric crystals are unsymmetrically polarized and can fracture at high temperatures. Hokkaido's new plastic crystals are ferroelectric above room temperature and transition into a more pliable, deformable state at higher temperatures. The molecules can then be aligned in one direction by applying an electric field as the crystal cools, returning it to a ferroelectric state. As a thin ferroelectric film, the material can help non-volatile ferroelectric random-access memory devices maintain memory when the device's power is turned off. The Hokkaido researchers believe further exploration of the crystal's properties could lead to the discovery of more ferroelectric materials, while chemical alteration of the molecules' constituent ions also could enhance their performance.
Artificial Intelligence: Are We Facing a Future of Robots Running Wild?
USC News (08/31/16) Marc Ballon
The University of Southern California's (USC) new Center on Artificial Intelligence (AI) for Social Solutions is dedicated to studying AI as a way to address problems ranging from climate change to homelessness. The center combines computational game theory, machine learning, and automated planning and reasoning techniques with traditional social work strategies. In partnership with Los Angeles social workers, USC computer scientists have previously created an algorithm that determines how to best encourage homeless young people to get tested for HIV by identifying the people who are most likely to influence their friends to be tested. "Wicked social problems such as homelessness are incredibly complicated," says USC professor Eric Rice. "AI provides us the opportunity to address them in new ways and yet provide concrete strategies for tackling these problems." The researchers say the center will continue USC's research by blending the fields of social work and engineering and fostering partnerships between researchers and the greater community. "Technology has been enabling the solution of increasingly more difficult problems," says USC Viterbi School of Engineering dean Yannis C. Yortsos. "We strongly believe that now is the time to also focus it toward great societal challenges."
DHS Asks for Help Designing the Cyber Testbed of the Future
FedScoop (09/01/16) Shaun Waterman
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on Thursday issued a Request for Information (RFI) asking for input "from industry, academia, and other interested stakeholders" about what it would take to set up and maintain a new cybersecurity lab called the Cyber Experimentation for the Future (CEF) Testbed. DHS also wants to know what organizational arrangement might best facilitate "the development of new [research and development] tools by industry, academia, national labs, international researchers, etc., for the CEF testbed." The RFI says the request is based on a 2015 report sponsored by the U.S. National Science Foundation, which "produced a roadmap for developing an accessible, broad, and multi-organizational cybersecurity experimentation capability that supports tomorrow's research." The study recommended multidisciplinary experimentation, incorporating human activity for real-world experiments, support of extensibility via open interfaces, reusable experiment designs for hypothesis testing, and infrastructure usability and research community cultural changes. However, DHS already has deployed the widely used Cyber Defense Technology Experimental Research Laboratory (DETERLab). The University of Southern California's Clifford Neuman says DETERLab can "model the Internet so that we can understand how our systems will respond in the real world."
McMaster Engineer Working With NASA to Improve Deep Space Medicine
McMaster University (Canada) (08/31/16) Sarah Anstett
Researchers at Canada's McMaster University are working with the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to determine what medical training and technology astronauts need to save a life in space. The researchers will work to create new protocols and intelligent systems for telemedicine, which would enable a medical expert on Earth to connect with an astronaut crew member in space and guide them through a situation. However, the communication link may have time delays, limited bandwidth, or there may be no link at all. The researchers will create an International Space Station (ISS) simulator and work to develop better guidelines for conducting telemedicine and better tools to accomplish it. They say tools such as handheld devices can assist with crew peak performance monitoring and informing medical diagnosis. The researchers will test the newly developed procedures by simulating emergencies that have to be addressed with the equipment on the ISS. They note the goal is to develop a simulator to create and test better guidelines and tools to support astronauts. McMaster professor Tom Doyle's experience with telemedical support and education provides rare insight into overcoming the challenges of real-time remote medical care, simulation, and education in austere environments and under bandwidth limitations.
Researchers Find Vulnerabilities in Cars Connected to Smartphones
New York University (08/31/16) Damon McCoy
Researchers at New York (NYU) and George Mason universities have found vulnerabilities in MirrorLink, a system of rules that enable vehicles to communicate with smartphones. MirrorLink, created by the Connected Car Consortium, is the leading industry standard for connecting smartphones to in-vehicle infotainment (IVI) systems. However, some automakers disable MirrorLink because they chose a different smartphone-to-IVI standard, or because the version of MirrorLink in their vehicles is a prototype that can be activated later. The researchers found MirrorLink is easy to enable, and when unlocked can allow hackers to use a linked smartphone to control safety-critical components, such as the anti-lock braking system. People or companies that customize automobiles, known as "tuners," might unwittingly enable hackers by unlocking insecure features, the researchers warn. "Tuners will root around for these kinds of prototypes, and if these systems are easy to unlock they will do it," says NYU professor Damon McCoy. The researchers used publicly available instructions to unlock MirrorLink on the in-vehicle infotainment system in a 2015 vehicle they purchased from eBay for the experiment.
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