Welcome to the July 25, 2018 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Wall of servers How Facebook Configures Its Millions of Servers Every Day
Ron Miller
July 19, 2018

Facebook is now running the daily configuration of its millions of servers with an improved configuration delivery process, replacing a more limited open source tool for distributing configuration data. Location Aware Delivery (LAD) is designed to keep configuration data from the distribution mechanism, have a latency time of less than five seconds, and support 10 times the file volume of the open source Zoo Keeper solution. LAD is comprised of a proxy that sits on every machine in the Facebook family and sends configuration files to any machine that wants or needs them. It also has a distributor to deliver configuration information by checking for updates, then generating a distribution tree for the set of machines needing an update. Among LAD's achievements are boosting a 5MB update limit to 100MB, and raising a 2,500-user limit to 40,000 users.

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Reversing Cause and Effect Is No Trouble for Quantum Computers
Center for Quantum Technologies (Singapore)
July 18, 2018

An international team from the University of California, Davis and the Center for Quantum Technologies (CQT) in Singapore has developed computational models that can entirely mitigate causal asymmetry, the memory overhead needed to reverse cause and effect. The researchers found that a quantum model forced to emulate the process in reverse-time will always outperform a classical model simulating the process in forward-time. "If causal asymmetry is only found in classical models, it suggests our perception of cause and effect, and thus time, can emerge from enforcing a classical explanation on events in a fundamentally quantum world," says CQT's Jayne Thompson. In addition, removing the classical overhead for reversing cause and effect could improve the efficiency of quantum simulation.

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IBM Watson IoT Center Munich IBM's AI Watermarking Method Protects Models From Theft and Sabotage
Kyle Wiggers
July 20, 2018

IBM has developed a process that facilitates the watermarking of machine learning models using unique identifiers embedded within the neural networks. "For the first time, we have a [robust] way to prove that someone has stolen a model," says IBM's Marc Stoecklin. The two-step technique permits apps to confirm the ownership of neural network services with application programming interface queries, which Stoecklin cites as vital for safeguarding against adversarial attacks. The researchers devised three algorithms to produce three watermark types: one embedding "meaningful content" with the algorithm's original training data, a second embedding irrelevant data samples, and a third embedding noise. Inputting data associated with the target label to networks to which the algorithms were fed activated the watermark.

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China's Nanjing Launches $1.5-billion Blockchain Fund
Cho Mu-Hyun
July 23, 2018

Nanjing City has launched a $1.48-billion blockchain investment fund to cultivate the token economy and public blockchain projects in China. The goal of the fund is to foster blockchain technologies for cross-border platforms, content, healthcare, energy, intellectual property, and environmental protection. Zhongguancun Blockchain Industry Alliance chairman Yuandao predicts industries embracing blockchain technology will spawn more chains, which will lead to more technological breakthroughs. Wang Xiaohui with Tsinghua University's Internet Industry Research Center said the blockchain economy's future success will hinge on global cooperation, convergence with industries, agreement, and autonomy. Oh Kap-soo with the Global Finance Society of South Korea said the blockchain has broad applications in education, science, and finance, and that Chinese-South Korean collaboration in this area can expedite technological development.

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Diffy: A Triage Tool for Cloud-Centric Incident Response
Help Net Security
Zeljka Zorz
July 20, 2018

The Netflix Security Intelligence and Response Team (SIRT) has released an open source triage tool that enables digital forensics and incident response teams to rapidly locate compromised hosts during a security breach of cloud architectures. The new tool, Diffy, is programmed to identify and highlight differences between instances that might signal a compromise for human investigators. "More importantly, Diffy helps an investigator avoid wasting time in forensics against hosts that don't need close examination," according to the Netflix SIRT's Forest Monsen and Kevin Glisson. For now, Diffy employs a functional baseline method, in which osquery table output representing system state is accrued from a single newly-deployed instance and stored for later comparison. When an incident occurs, output is collected from all instances in an application group, and both outputs are compared, with security-relevant differences tagged.

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Guided robot swarms Robots Working as a Group Are Able to Determine the Optimal Order of Their Tasks
Nanowerk News
July 19, 2018

Researchers at the Brussels School of Engineering in Belgium have demonstrated that robots can arrive at collective decisions about the optimal order in which they should complete their tasks. The IRIDIA laboratory's Mauro Birattari and Lorenzo Garattoni modeled this scheme on swarm robotics, enabling a robot team to execute three actions in sequence without knowing the correct order in advance. The machines had to move to three different spatial points, where they were to conduct a simple task; only after the tasks were done would they learn whether the order was correct. To tackle this challenge, some robots gradually form a chain between the three points, which others use for reference as they test the various possible combinations by following directives from the chained robots. The machines eventually ascertain the correct sequence via collaboration. The research paves the way for applications in which robots can solve problems on their own.

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NIST Developing Guidelines on Mobile App Testing, Vetting
SC Magazine
Doug Olenick
July 23, 2018

The U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) released a revised draft and call for public comment for Special Publication 800-163, Vetting the Security of Mobile Applications, meant to give organizations basic guidance on app security. The document contains the basics on how organizations can create and implement an in-house app vetting process, develop security requirements for mobile apps, identify appropriate tools for testing apps, and determine whether an app is acceptable. These requirements came from cybersecurity experts and are based on several existing standards. The report suggests organizations start with basic steps before considering physical issues like verifying whether an app has flaws that have been reported to the U.S. National Vulnerability Database. "Although app vetting processes may vary among organizations, each instance of the process should be repeatable, efficient, and consistent," according to NIST.

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UO Internet Architect Honored With International Award
University of Oregon
July 19, 2018

The Internet Society, a global nonprofit dedicated to the open development, evolution, and use of the Internet, this week presented the University of Oregon's Steven Huter with the Jonathan B. Postel Service Award in recognition of his years of work helping to bring the Internet and computer networks to more than 120 countries. Huter was chosen for the award, which includes a $20,000 honorarium, because of his leadership and personal contributions to the Network Startup Resource Center (NSRC), where he led the development and implementation of programs that provide technical training, equipment, and expertise across Africa, the Asia-Pacific region, Europe, North America, and South America. Said Huter, "The most important thing I learned from...the NSRC is to cultivate a culture of network operators who help each other via technical exchange and resource sharing; this is an effective way to empower more network engineers and enable continuous progress for a community of peers in all regions of the world."

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City with wireless communication network illustration Toolkit for Building a Smart City Plan
Government Computer News
Matt Leonard
July 20, 2018

The Smart Cities Council has rolled out a Web-based portal to help cities gather and organize the data they require for smart city project planning. The Smart Cities Project Activator starts with users answering questions about a project addressing the city's specific needs, the challenges it wants to tackle, previous attempts, and partners with which the city is engaged. The questions are designed to help cities structure all the information they need in a single location. The portal then supports 27 distinct modeling tools to help cities ascertain whether they have sufficient data for a business case analysis or to issue a request for proposals. Said Smart Cities Council managing director Philip Bane, "We've reached this point where we understand that the market is beyond just talking, beyond just reading, but the cities want to be able to accelerate their progress toward delivering benefits."

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The Pentagon Wants to Bring Mind-Controlled Tech to Troops
Jack Corrigan
July 17, 2018

The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is selecting research teams to develop a neural interface that would allow soldiers to link their brains to military systems so those systems could send data directly to their minds. DARPA's Next-Generation Non-Surgical Neurotechnology (N3) program aims to provide users with the ability to control, feel, and engage with remote machines as if they were extensions of their own bodies. N3 will follow two research tracks: non-invasive interfaces external to the body, and minutely invasive interfaces in which users may need to ingest chemical compounds so external sensors can interpret their brain waves. Both tracks involve bidirectional interfaces that read brain activity as well as write new data back to users. Said DARPA’s Al Emondi, "As we approach a future in which increasingly autonomous systems will play a greater role in military operations, neural interface technology can help warfighters build a more intuitive interaction with these systems."

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Computer Science Training Summit at IU Draws Teachers Nationwide
Indianapolis Business Journal
Anthony Schoettle
July 20, 2018

Indiana University-Bloomington was the site of last week's inaugural Pathfinders Summer Institute, a seven-day education and training camp for mostly rural K-12 educators seeking knowledge about computer science instruction. A total of 575 teachers from 45 states attended the Infosys Foundation USA-hosted institute. "This program is unique in breadth and scale, covering 19 curriculums for K-12," said Infosys Foundation USA's Lauren Hasenhuttl. "Through this, we are empowering these kids not only to be consumers of technology, but to be creators of technology." Hasenhuttl emphasizes that the event aligns with the foundation's mission "to bridge the digital divide, and as part of that, we want to do what we can to assure students have access to high-quality computer science education." She notes the Institute incorporated "maker education" as part of its curriculum, to help teachers educate students on the use of computational skills and creativity "to make and create things."

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World-First Program to Stop Hacking by Supercomputers
Monash University
July 19, 2018

Researchers at Monash University in Australia have developed a first-of-its-kind algorithm which, they say, will be able to foil hacks from quantum-based supercomputers in the future. The Lattice-Based One Time Ring Signature (L2RS) features augmented security and privacy-preserving mechanisms for facilitating large transactions and data transfer without risk of hacking by quantum systems or privacy infringement by unauthorized users. Explains Monash's Joseph Liu, "The L2RS deploys cryptographical techniques to protect the privacy of users. It allows any user to hide his identity among a group of users. The transaction amount will be hidden as well." Liu also describes the algorithm as “post-quantum secure,” in that it can maintain security and user privacy "even in the existence of the future powerful quantum computer."

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Distribution electric substation with power lines and transformers Toward a Secure Electrical Grid
The Current
James Badham
July 19, 2018

University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) researchers have proposed a new method for protecting the electrical grid from a cyberattack. The grid's ever-increasing complexity requires sensors monitoring a range of factors. These precise, high-resolution measurements require phase measurement units (PMUs)—devices that are aligned with the atomic clocks used in global positioning systems (GPS). However, PMUs are extremely vulnerable to GPS spoofing attacks, leading to the possibility that someone will hack the system and cause a catastrophic failure. As a result, said UCSB's Joao Hespanha, “What you need is a control system that can process the information to make good decisions. The system has to keep hypothesizing that what it is reading is not real.” Such a system could resist an attack and remain effective even if as many as a third of all sensor nodes were compromised, he said. "This is an enabling technology that will be needed to make a lot of this control come online. And it will be needed soon, because the system gets more complex all the time and is therefore more susceptible to attack.”

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Using Machine Learning for Music Knowledge Discovery
Tech Xplore
Ingrid Fadelli
July 17, 2018

Researchers from Spain’s University of Pompeu Fabra and the Technical University of Madrid, along with colleagues from Cardiff University in the U.K., collaborated on the use of machine learning algorithms to gain new insights about the history of music. The researchers tested natural language processing (NLP) approaches that could help scientists uncover new hypotheses and identify interesting patterns in archived historical documents. The team applied automatic linguistic processing to large collections of music-related texts. Their study relied on data from a variety of sources, including Wikipedia, DBpedia, and MusicBrainz, focusing on flamenco, Renaissance music, and popular music. Using NLP, the researchers "extracted directly from the data which are the most influential flamenco and Renaissance artists, and discovered migratory tendencies of composers between European cities in the 15th and 16th century," explained Pompeu Fabra's Sergio Oramas.

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The Sparse Fourier Transform
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