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Welcome to the July 31, 2019 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Capital One Logo Capital One Data Breach Tied to Cloud Computing Vulnerability
The Washington Times
Dan Boylan
July 30, 2019

Experts attribute the Capital One data breach to exploitation of a vulnerability in the firewall of Amazon Web Services (AWS), which the bank used to store its data trove. The breach compromised the personal information of about 106 million customers in the U.S. and Canada, including 140,000 Social Security numbers, and 80,000 bank account details from Capital One applicants. Capital One acknowledged the attacker, who previously worked for AWS, exploited "a misconfigured security firewall." Privacy experts warned the incident highlights cloud computing platforms' tenuous balance between security and efficiency. Cloud services provider CEO Marty Puranik said financial institutions must consider inside information a security threat, because exploiters "know the intricate details of the architecture and how to exploit the small nooks and crannies for any weaknesses."

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Senator Mark Warner Calls Mount to Ease Big Tech's Grip on Your Data
The New York Times
Steve Lohr
July 25, 2019

A growing number of academics, economists, technologists, and lawmakers are working—sometimes on different paths—to reimagine the current environment in which a few large technology companies, like Google and Facebook, have overwhelming control of their users' data. Some people have done research to put a value on personal data, while others propose recognizing such data as a tradable asset in order to create an efficient market. The rising calls for a better data bargain between companies and users come during an intensifying backlash against Big Tech and its handling of user data around the world. Last month, Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) co-sponsored a bill that would require big Internet companies to regularly inform users of what personal data they collect and to disclose the value of that data.

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Stanford Camera Can Watch Moving Objects Around Corners
Stanford News
Taylor Kubota
July 29, 2019

Stanford University researchers have developed a camera system that can reassemble scenes and detect moving objects hidden around corners, by analyzing the reflections of individual light particles. The researchers hope such solutions could help boost the safety of autonomous vehicles and robots. The camera's hardware, scanning/image-processing speeds, and imaging style already can be found in many self-driving car vision systems. A powerful laser scans a wall opposite the scene of interest at four frames a second, causing light to bounce off the wall, strike objects in the scene, and bounce back as specks to the camera sensor. The sensor captures each speck and transmits it to an algorithm, which untangles them to reconstruct the concealed scene. Said Stanford’s David Lindell, “With this hardware, we can basically slow down time and reveal these tracks of light. It almost looks like magic.”

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Computer-generated images 'Deepfakes' Trigger a Race to Fight Manipulated Photos, Videos
The Wall Street Journal
Abigail Summerville
July 27, 2019

As fears grow that deepfakes will be used to sow discord ahead of the 2020 U.S. presidential election, startups, government agencies, and academics are working to develop a method to combat doctored videos and photographs. This is a difficult problem to solve because the technology needed to manipulate images is advancing quickly and getting easier to use. In addition, the ubiquity of smartphones equipped with cameras and the ever-increasing popularity of social media has turned individuals into broadcasters, leaving companies that run those platforms unsure how to regulate them. Said Matt Turek, who runs the media forensics program in the Defense Department's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, "I don't think there's one silver bullet algorithm or even technical solution. There probably needs to be a holistic approach."

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U.S. Army Tests Smart-City Communication Tools
Government Computer News
Stephanie Kanowitz
July 26, 2019

Researchers at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL) are studying how the Internet of battlefield things (IoBT) environment can be applied to a dense urban environment. The researchers tested the capabilities of a commercial networking protocol, the long-range wide-area network, to determine how that system would perform in an urban environment where tall buildings can obstruct transmission. The team attached different combinations of connected devices to the roof of a vehicle and drove the vehicle around Montreal, Canada. The devices transmitted the vehicle's GPS coordinates, and the data showed the maximum transmission distance across the city's central business district was five kilometers (about 3.1 miles) from the receiver. The researchers also applied the data to coverage gap analysis and data rate coverage. ARL's James Michaelis said that from the perspective of the IoBT, "The notion of a smart city is really just a general way to categorize underlying scientific and engineering challenges that involve smart device/system technologies."

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CWI Researcher Designs Award-Winning Cryptographic Lottery Algorithm
Centrum Wiskunde & Informatica (Netherlands)
July 29, 2019

Benjamin Wesolowski, a researcher at Centrum Wiskunde & Informatica (CWI) in the Netherlands, has developed a component for cryptographic lottery machines. Virtual analogs of lottery machines play an important role in decentralized systems such as cryptocurrencies. The number of parties involved in such systems can be very large, and reaching a consensus on an unbiased random number can be a challenge. In 2016, Wesolowski proposed a solution involving voluntarily slowing the process of generating randomness using a verifiable delay function (VDF), an operation designed to be slow to compute. At the time however, there was no satisfying construction of a VDF, a key ingredient to designing secure blockchain protocols that do not consume massive amounts of electrical power. Since then, Wesolowski and IST Austria’s Krzysztof Pietrzak each developed new VDF constructions, and a paper on Wesolowski’s solution received the Best Young Researcher Paper Award at the Eurocrypt 2019 conference.

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A cop walking past a car The Fastest Growing U.S. City for Tech Pros Is Not Where You Think
Eileen Brown
July 29, 2019

Talent acquisition company iCIMS analyzed the U.S. cities with the highest year-over-year growth in jobs for technology professionals, and learned that Raleigh, NC, was the top U.S. city for tech job growth, at 56.9%. Omaha, NE, came in second in the rankings with 56.6% year-over-year job growth, followed by Austin, TX, with 46.4%. In terms of moving to other cities to find tech jobs, Provo, UT, had the highest number of job candidates wanting to relocate elsewhere. Said iCIMS chief economist Josh Wright, "Some tech roles are especially hard to fill, so those are better bets for beating the odds and moving out of town. Many employers struggle to find app developers, information security analysts, information system research scientists, and database administrators."

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Smoother 3D Prints
July 23, 2019

Researchers from Inria, the French research institute for digital sciences, have developed software for the three-dimensional (3D) printing of curved surfaces. The software incorporates the CurviSlicer algorithm, which helps 3D printers avoid the "staircase effect" by dividing the shape of the part to be printed into curved slices so the deposition follows the surfaces naturally. This method allows users to perform deposition along smooth curved surfaces using a conventional fused filament 3D printer. The algorithm optimizes the trajectory of the printing nozzle and the material depositions, accounting for constraints such as the presence of gentle slopes, the shape of the nozzle head, and the risk of the 3D printer colliding with material already deposed. Said Inria's Sylvain Lefebvre, "We wanted to make it easier for anyone to manufacture slightly rounded objects using a filament printer."

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A baby lion with a bird 'The Lion King's' VR Helped Make a Hit, Could Change Movie Making
The Los Angeles Times
Ryan Faughnder
July 26, 2019

Disney's remake of "The Lion King" used game engines and virtual reality (VR) to produce realistic characters and scenes, and the film's creators suggest these techniques could transform filmmaking. The movie was shot with largely traditional production tools in a three-dimensional virtual environment. The filmmakers partnered with the Magnopus visual effects technology firm to develop a VR-filming technique that mimicked a multiplayer videogame; VR headsets allowed director John Favreau and others to enter virtual scenes to make alterations and direct camera action. Favreau said the technology "allows people with a live-action film background to collaborate on a virtual production." Visual effects supervisor Adam Valdez said the addition of VR and other innovations can reduce production costs, save time, and help to better plan how to shoot film and TV scenes whether computer-generated imagery is being incorporated into them or not.

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AI's New Workforce: The Data-Labeling Industry Spreads Globally
Financial Times
Madhumita Murgia
July 23, 2019

There is a growing international data-labeling industry that employs hundreds of thousands of workers in lower-income countries. Many small companies are forming parts of a so-called "artificial intelligence (AI) supply chain" helping to train algorithms that can interpret material including driving footage, search results, and photos for some of the world's largest multinational corporations. Companies are embracing AI as a way to automate decision-making and help drive new business opportunities, but first they must train their algorithms on millions of labelled examples. Said Leila Janah, founder and chief executive of data labeling vendor Samasource, "We work with a population usually coming from informal settlements, rural villages, so the chance to have a job that pays well, and gives you computer skills and exposes you to AI, it means people treat this very seriously."

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August 2019 Issue of Communications of the ACM
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