Welcome to the May 17, 2017 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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A Remote home control system mounted on kitchen wall Scientists Propose Better Battery System for Smart Home Use
May 17, 2017

Researchers at the University of Science and Technology Beijing in China have proposed a novel programming solution to optimize power consumption in batteries for use in smart homes. The researchers used adaptive dynamic programming to develop a system in which batteries can learn and optimize their power consumption. Their programming method breaks down the dilemma of how best to use batteries in smart home systems into smaller, more manageable problems. The answer to each of these small problems contributes to the answer to the larger problem, and as circumstances change, the system can analyze all of the small answers to determine how the bigger picture evolves. The algorithm learns which inputs lead to which output, and uses this information to understand when it is best to charge and discharge in order to limit power consumed from the grid. The researchers next plan to examine how the damage caused by frequently switching between charging and discharging modes can be avoided.

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The Bizarre Quantum Test That Could Keep Your Data Secure
Sophia Chen
May 16, 2017

Researchers at the Ludwig-Maximilian University of Munich (LMU Munich) in Germany have been testing the existence of quantum entanglement for several years, and scientists theorize these Bell tests could prove vital to the function of future quantum technologies. For example, an in-development quantum system from Google employs entangled particles to conduct computing tasks. Quantum computers could run certain algorithms much faster because entangled particles can store and use exponentially more data than regular computer bits. The difficulty of controlling entangled particles means engineers can use Bell tests to confirm entanglement. "It's an elementary test that can show that your quantum logic gate works," says LMU Munich's Harald Weinfurter. The University of Toronto's Aephraim Steinberg also thinks Bell tests could contribute to data security, as they could be used to detect attempts to hack a cryptographic key encoded in entangled quantum particles, as well as identifying defects in the key itself.

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A fishing hook hooked onto a credit card Under Cyberattack: UH Researchers Look at How to Catch a 'Phisher'
University of Houston News
Sara Tubbs
May 16, 2017

Researchers at the University of Houston are studying why phishing attacks are so successful in an attempt to develop the next generation of email filters to better identify and defend against this type of cyberattack. The researchers used publicly available emails from Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin as they looked for characteristics of phishing emails and traits of the email users to determine what factors contribute to successful attacks. They also employed natural-language generation to create fake phishing emails from real emails, a tactic often used by hackers to execute "masquerade attacks," in which they pretend to be authorized users of a system by replicating the writing styles of the compromised account. The study found 52 percent of volunteer email users accurately detected the real emails. The researchers presented their findings last month at the ACM Asia Conference on Computer and Communications Security (ASIACCS 2017) in the United Arab Emirates.

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HPE Debuts Its Next-Gen Computer--Sans Much-Anticipated Memristors
Scientific American
Larry Greenemeier
May 16, 2017

HPE has unveiled a prototype of a next-generation computer, the Machine, with 1,280 high-performance microprocessor cores that perform in parallel using 160 terabytes of memory and with optical fibers to pass data between elements. The Machine's memory is provided not by still-under-development memristors, but by dynamic-random access memory (DRAM). HPE selected DRAM because it enabled it to include a large volume of memory for testing the Machine's controllers, photonic interconnects, and microprocessors, says HPE fellow Kirk Bresniker. He says the system has "the world's largest memory array and is running a breakthrough application requiring sophisticated mathematics that allows this architecture to shine." Bresniker notes the demo app is designed to detect security threats in a simulated corporate environment by using data about device access requests to distinguish between routine and abnormal patterns. HPE plans to evolve the Machine's memory from DRAM to phase-change RAM, and later memristors, in coming years.

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A laptop with a ransom note on screen How the WannaCry Attack Will Impact Cybersecurity
[email protected]
May 16, 2017

The "WannaCry ransomware attack sends a message that action is needed for all stakeholders "to get the fundamentals finally in place to enable us to withstand robustly this type of a crisis situation when the next one hits," says Northeastern University professor Andrea M. Matwyshyn. She and University of Maryland professor Michael Greenberger agree the attack emphasizes the importance of security researchers' efforts and diligent software updating by organizations. Matwyshyn says the incident gives urgent credibility to Microsoft's call for a "Digital Geneva Convention," a formal and international digital security agreement to address the problems of differentiating between public- and private-sector vulnerabilities. Matwyshyn such an agreement could act as a deterrent to cyberattacks directed by rogue governments and address "the problem of reciprocal security vulnerability." Greenberger says government mandates on security updates are essential as well, and Matwyshyn warns of "a rudimentary understanding of the scope of the problem."

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Why Quantum Computers Might Not Break Cryptography
Quanta Magazine
Mark H. Kim
May 15, 2017

Researchers suggest in a new paper that quantum computers may not necessarily crack RSA cryptography, which has been a major concern for security experts. The researchers imply that although a quantum system running Shor's algorithm is faster than a classical computer, the speed of the RSA algorithm is even faster, a difference compounded when the size of the RSA key is enlarged. They calculate that attacking a terabyte-size key using Shor's algorithm would require a vast number of quantum operations similar to the total number of bacterial cells on Earth. "RSA is not entirely dead even if quantum computers are practical," says University of Pennsylvania professor Nadia Heninger. The researchers say it takes about five days to produce a terabyte-size RSA key and execute the encryption-decryption process. However, the University of Texas at Austin's Scott Aaronson notes terabyte-sized keys are difficult to work with and "vulnerable to even a modest improvement in algorithms or hardware."

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Message thread between human and a chatbot Facebook Wants to Merge AI Systems for a Smarter Chatbot
Technology Review
Will Knight
May 15, 2017

Facebook's newly-released ParlAI platform offers a way for researchers to build conversational artificial intelligence (AI) systems and integrate different dialogue components, leading to smarter chatbots that are less confused by unexpected questions. ParlAI features more than 20 built-in natural-language datasets, and works in combination with Amazon's Mechanical Turk so scientists can enlist people to help educate their dialogue systems. A long-term goal of ParlAI is advancing cutting-edge natural-language research. Facebook thinks the commercial use cases for smarter dialogue systems are many, and ParlAI could help in the effort to realize them. "A complete question-answering system requires a lot of different components, which this framework looks to provide," says Salesforce's Richard Socher. "The community will benefit immensely from a larger dataset testing platform like this." Allen Institute for AI director Oren Etzioni agrees ParlAI "isn't a breakthrough, but it should be a helpful enabling technology."

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How to Make Fully Homomorphic Encryption 'Practical and Usable'
Network World
Bob Brown
May 15, 2017

The U.S. Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity has awarded Galois a $1-million contract to make fully homomorphic encryption (FHE) available to programmers by making the technology "practical and usable," according to Galois' David Archer. The company is working to achieve this breakthrough with the New Jersey Institute of Technology under the Rapid Machine-learning Processing Applications and Reconfigurable Targeting of Security initiative. Archer describes FHE as a step up from somewhat homomorphic encryption, an approach to protecting data while it is being computed on. He believes FHE, if trusted by both parties, could enable researchers to use data without actually viewing the original information. The researchers currently are constructing a prototype that lets analysts using the Julia language write programs that run operations on FHE data as they would any other programs, while also tagging these functions to contend with encrypted data. Archer says their work could be released as open source.

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The Cybersecurity Risks U.S. Election Systems Face Heading Into the 2018 Elections
Route Fifty
Dave Nyczepir
May 16, 2017

In the wake of the "WannaCry" ransomware attack, cybersecurity experts are warning of U.S. voting systems' vulnerability to similar threats going into the 2018 midterm and 2020 presidential elections. "Come 2020, we're going to be sitting ducks," says University of Michigan professor J. Alex Halderman. He notes diversifying and decentralizing voting technology and disconnecting machines from the Internet will not prevent hacks, as the election management system that programmed ballot design can still be exploited. In addition, a disproportionate number of counties with aging voting systems do not back them up with a paper ballot and mandated, risk-limiting final-vote audits. Experts also predict backdoor access to state tabulators will be available for purchase on the dark Web by the midterm elections. "Twitter will continue to be the main distribution vector, and the most successful vector, for all of this stuff," says James Scott at the Institute for Critical Infrastructure Technology.

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Technology Edits Voices Like Text
Princeton University
May 15, 2017

Researchers at Princeton University have developed software called VoCo that can replace words in human-voice audio recordings by editing a transcript and automatically synthesizing new words in the speaker's voice. VoCo employs a user interface that visualizes the audio track's waveform and a set of cut, copy, and paste editing tools. VoCo also enhances the waveform with a text transcript of the track and enables users to replace words or insert ones that do not already exist in the track by typing in the transcript. VoCo then updates the audio track, generating the new words by patching together snippets of audio from elsewhere in the narration. The software uses an optimization algorithm that mines the voice recording, selecting the best potential combination of phonemes to construct new words in the user's voice. The researchers will present their work in July at the ACM SIGGRAPH 2017 conference in Los Angeles, CA.

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Helicopters flying in formation over ocean Virtual Top Hats Allow Swarming Robots to Fly in Tight Formation
Georgia Tech News Center
Jason Maderer
May 15, 2017

Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) have created a team of autonomous flying robots that do not collide or undercut each other. The system includes five swarm quadcopters that move back and forth in formation and then change behaviors based on user commands. The robots are designed to fly within a two-foot space, avoiding collisions with their neighbors. The researchers also built autonomous blimps that recognize hand gestures and detect faces, enabling people to direct the machines with movements. The machine gathers information about its human operator, identifying a range of data including hesitant glares and eager smiles. The goal is to better understand how humans interact with flying robots. "Roboticists and psychologists have learned many things about how humans relate to robots on the ground, but we haven't created techniques to study how we react to flying machines," says Georgia Tech professor Fumin Zhang.

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MKLab Will Present Their Work on Learning to Detect Misleading Content on Twitter and YouTube to ICMR 2017
Multimedia Knowledge and Social Media Analytics Laboratory
April 6, 2017

Researchers at the Information Technologies Institute's Multimedia Knowledge and Social Media Analytics Laboratory (MKLab) in Greece have developed a machine-learning algorithm that rates the credibility of tweets. The team trained the algorithm on a dataset of tweets annotated as real or bogus. The algorithm follows a semi-supervised learning model, in which two independent classifiers make forecasts on unseen tweets, and then the predictions that align with each other are used to retrain the classifiers. The researchers found this method, in conjunction with ensemble learning when training the classifiers, made substantial progress in the classification accuracy of tweets posted in the context of unseen events. The team also built a Web-based interface in which users can enter a tweet ID and receive a credibility analysis of their tweets. The MKLab team will present its research next month at the ACM International Conference on Multimedia Retrieval (ICMR 2017) in Bucharest, Romania.

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Emerging Research on K-12 Computer Science Education
Education Week
Benjamin Herold
May 2, 2017

The latest research on K-12 computer science (CS) education has revealed six trends, including the need to better communicate a rationale for promoting universal CS education. Other studies note efforts to make CS education culturally relevant are positively affecting student engagement, and there is evidence, although limited, that disabled students can benefit from CS education with appropriate and unfettered access to technology in the classroom. A fourth trend suggests students initially learn more CS via "block-based" programming, but more long-term success may be found with exposure to text-based coding. Meanwhile, early research indicates computational thinking can be taught without computers, using verbal commands and "embodied" physical activities as substitutes. Finally, evaluating educational programs' success has to go beyond simply writing successful software, and should involve attitudinal polls, open-ended tests, and other measures to fully explore the educational process students follow.

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