Welcome to the March 9, 2020 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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A robotic arm performing on a fake body Robotic Arm Designed in China Could Help Save Lives on Medical Frontline
Martin Pollard
March 5, 2020

Researchers at Tsinghua University in China have developed a robot that can perform ultrasounds, take mouth swabs, and listen to sounds made by a patient's organs. The system, which consists of a robotic arm on wheels, could help save lives during the coronavirus outbreak. The researchers converted two mechanized robotic arms with the same technology used on space stations and lunar explorers. The robots were almost entirely automated, and could disinfect themselves after performing actions involving contact with patients. Doctors in China are currently training on the robots—one of which is at the team's lab at Tsinghua University and the other at the Wuhan Union Hospital. Said Tsinghua's Zheng Gangtie, “Doctors are all very brave. But this virus is just too contagious ... We can use robots to perform the most dangerous tasks."

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AMD Processors From 2011 to 2019 Vulnerable to Two New Attacks
Catalin Cimpanu
March 7, 2020

A study by researchers at the Graz University of Technology in Austria and the University of Rennes in France indicated that AMD processors fabricated between 2011 and 2019 are vulnerable to two new exploits, affecting data processed inside the central processing units (CPUs) and allowing the theft of sensitive information or the downgrading of safeguards. The exploits target the CPUs' L1D cache way predictor, used to lower power consumption via more efficient in-memory data caching. The researchers could recreate a map of the predictor's internal mechanism and learn whether it was leaking data or clues about the nature of that data. The Collide+Probe and Load+Reload attacks enable monitoring of how processes interact with the AMD cache, then leak small data segments from other apps. Although the researchers alerted AMD to the flaws last August, the company has not issued firmware updates, because these "are not new speculation-based attacks."

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Facebook logo Political Ads on Facebook Lacked Key Details About Who Paid for Them
The Washington Post
Tony Romm; Isaac Stanley-Becker
March 8, 2020

Researchers at New York University (NYU)'s Tandon School of Engineering found weaknesses that malefactors may have exploited to post more than 86,000 misleading political ads on Facebook while avoiding the platform's enforcement. Despite verification measures implemented on the social network to prevent foreign actors from purchasing political ads, the researchers found defects that could still "enable a malicious advertiser to avoid accurate disclosure." Analysis determined about 20,000 ads had been purchased by "likely inauthentic communities," clusters of seemingly linked pages that promoted the same or similar messages—including businesses aiming to promote their interests without announcing their presence. Facebook said it corrected these flaws by requiring more data about who is behind Facebook pages and who pays for their ads.

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CurveBoards, which are 3D breadboards — commonly used to prototype circuits Integrating Electronics Onto Physical Prototypes
MIT News
Rob Matheson
March 3, 2020

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers directly integrated three-dimensionally (3D)-printed platforms used for electronics prototyping, or breadboards, onto physical products. Custom editing software is used to design such “CurveBoards,” which incorporate distributed pinholes that can be filled with conductive silicone to test electronics, while preserving an object's look and feel. The software automatically maps all pinholes uniformly, then users select automatic or manual layouts for connectivity channels, with the final design exported to a file for 3D printing. The researchers printed CurveBoards for smart bracelets and watches, Frisbees, helmets, headphones, a teapot, and a wearable e-reader. MIT's Junyi Zhu said, "This is for when you have an idea of the final object and want to see, say, how people interact with the product."

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Senator Lindsey Graham said the goal of the law was to ‘forcibly deal with child exploitation’. U.S. Internet Bill Seen as Opening Shot Against End-to-End Encryption
The Guardian
Alex Hern
March 6, 2020

Four U.S. senators are sponsoring a bill to make legal safeguards that Internet platforms rely on contingent on those platforms following stated practices related to privacy and prevention of child sexual exploitation. The measure is viewed as the first round in a push against end-to-end encryption, with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) taking technology companies to task for developing products that law enforcement cannot intercept. The bipartisan measure calls for amending section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects online platforms from being viewed as publishers of hosted content. The practices that companies would be required to follow are unspecified in the legislation, but an outline suggested by the DOJ and the multinational Five Eyes surveillance coalition included 11 voluntary principles.

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Startups Pitch Tech Hubs Far From Silicon Valley
The Wall Street Journal
Shayndi Raice
March 8, 2020

Entrepreneurs are looking outside Silicon Valley, Seattle, Boston, and New York City to establish technology hubs in U.S. states far from its coasts. Such areas promote lower living costs or higher quality of life to draw talent, and startup founders are creating relocation services, tech training, and venture capital to add appeal. The One America Works nonprofit uses technology to relocate businesses; founder Patrick McKenna said its goal is to relieve problems typical of urban tech overconcentration, like congestion and scarcity of affordable housing, by helping Silicon Valley firms move elsewhere. Economists cite the difficulty of upstart tech hubs challenging the "agglomeration" of technology companies and talent in a few cities, which enables faster idea proliferation and larger recruitment pools. Some startups aim to nurture existing tech talent in the Midwest, like the Kenzie Academy in Indianapolis, which teaches coding to lower-skilled workers.

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Game Designers Gain Tool to Evaluate Player Experience
Waterloo News
March 3, 2020

Researchers at the University of Waterloo in Canada have launched a free tool that lets game designers assess player experience through reliable and concise feedback. The Player Experience Inventory (PXI) could help developers optimize game design by analyzing how choices like rules or sound effects impact a player's immersion in a game or their emotional response to the game narrative. The PXI is a questionnaire covering 10 gameplay experience categories to provide actionable insights. The researchers based the PXI on criteria derived from 64 game industry experts, and built, tested, and evaluated the tool over five years through the participation of 529 international gamers. Waterloo's Lennart Nacke said, "This is the first developer resource to provide a breakdown of the dimensions of player experience and to condense this knowledge into a practical tool available for any game designer to use."

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A robot called Spot Robots Autonomously Navigate Underground in DARPA Challenge
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Andrew Good
February 27, 2020

The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's Subterranean Challenge recently concluded its Urban Circuit, with a team of robots and operators from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)'s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) leading. The competition tests autonomous robot navigation underground, with robots tasked to find 20 predetermined objects on a complex underground course. The next circuit in the Subterranean Challenge comes in August, when the robots compete in an undisclosed natural cave network; a final circuit next year will blend tunnels, urban environments, and natural caves. Said JPL’s Ali Agha, "Most of the difficulty lies in communicating with the robots after they've gone out of range. That's critical for NASA: we want to send robots into caves on the Moon or Mars, where they have to explore on their own."

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Hackers Can Clone Millions of Toyota, Hyundai, Kia Keys
Andy Greenberg
March 5, 2020

Researchers at Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium and the University of Birmingham in the U.K. found new vulnerabilities in encryption systems used by in-vehicle devices that communicate at close range with key fobs to unlock the car's ignition. Millions of Toyota, Hyundai, and Kia vehicles use Texas Instruments' DST80 encryption, which bases cryptographic keys on cars' serial numbers. A hacker who swipes a Proxmark radio-frequency identification reader/transmitter near the fob of an auto equipped with DST80 can obtain sufficient data to acquire its secret cryptographic value, impersonate the key within the car, and start the engine. The researchers said this cloning exploit is more difficult than "relay" attacks that car thieves typically use, but hackers can use the compromised information to repeatedly drive the targeted auto.

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Optical System Could Lead to Devices That Can Recognize Objects Instantly
UCLA Newsroom
Matthew Chin
March 4, 2020

An optical neural network developed at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Henry Samueli School of Engineering that concurrently works with multiple wavelengths of light could potentially lead to devices that instantly recognize objects without additional computer processing, with potential applications for robots and autonomous vehicles. The network is a maze with an array of translucent wafers made of different materials like plastic or glass, engineered at a smaller scale than the wavelength of light to split beams into various directions. Said UCLA's Aydogan Ozcan, “There is richer information when you can see colors through different wavelengths of light. Most scenes naturally contain information in vivid color, so the more wavelengths that a network can ‘see,’ the more it increases the amount of information it can process.”

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