Welcome to the March 11, 2020 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Intel SGX is Vulnerable to an Unfixable Flaw That Can Steal Crypto Keys and More
Ars Technica
Dan Goodin
March 10, 2020

A team of international researchers from Worcester Polytechnic Institute, the University of Michigan, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium, Graz University of Technology in Austria, Australian digital research network Data61, and Australia’s University of Adelaide disclosed a previously undiscovered vulnerability that steals information from Intel's Software Guard eXtensions (SGX), a kind of digital vault for securing users' most sensitive data. The proof-of-concept attack—called Load Value Injection (LVI)—stems from speculative execution. The exploit allows for the raiding of information stored in the SGX enclave. Said the researchers, “Unlike all previous Meltdown-type attacks, LVI cannot be transparently mitigated in existing processors and necessitates expensive software patches, which may slow down Intel SGX enclave computations up to 19 times."

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Research on Existing Drug Compounds Via Supercomputing Could Combat Coronavirus
Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Sara S. Shoemaker
March 5, 2020

Researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) used the Summit supercomputer to identify small-molecule drug components that could help fight the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus responsible for the COVID-19 disease outbreak. The researchers used Summit to perform simulations of more than 8,000 compounds to screen for those most likely to bind to the main "spike" protein of the coronavirus, the S-protein, rendering it unable to infect host cells. The team ranked the compounds based on the likelihood they would bind to the S-protein spike, and found 77 compounds that warranted experimental testing. Said ORNL's Jeremy Smith, "Summit was needed to rapidly get the simulation results we needed. It took us a day or two, whereas it would have taken months on a normal computer."

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Data Rules Could Empower Patients but Undermine Their Privacy
The New York Times
Natasha Singer
March 9, 2020

The Trump administration announced new rules allowing patients to use smartphone apps to retrieve their medical records directly from providers. Doctors and medical centers will be required to send a core set of medical data to third-party apps, once a patient has authorized the exchange. Said Don Rucker of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, "The ability of smartphones to take the care with you, to be continuous ... is going to allow totally different ways of thinking about chronic illness." However, the American Medical Association and other organizations warn the new rules could jeopardize patient privacy without attendant federal protections.

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Distinctively shaped 3D-printed homes in the Community First Village of Northeast Austin, TX. 3D-Printed Homes: A Concept is Turning Into Something Solid
The Washington Post
Sharon Jayson
March 6, 2020

New three-dimensionally (3D)-printed homes are taking shape at the Community First Village affordable housing development in Austin, TX. Local construction technology company Icon is exploring 3D-printed residences as both housing for people on society's fringes and as a proof of concept for the technology's money- and time-saving benefits. Icon uses an 11-foot-tall printer that churns out rippling beads of a pliable material called Lavacrete, which accumulates and solidifies into walls with curved corners. The University of Southern California School of Architecture's Alvin Huang said the technology's real advantages are precision and customization for large-scale developments.

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An illustration of a smartphone with an asthma inhaler on screen. Treating Asthma with Data Analytics
University of Delaware
Sunny Rosen
March 9, 2020

Researchers at the University of Delaware (UD) and the University of Wisconsin-Madison developed a health information system to help asthma patients better manage their condition. Every time a patient uses their inhaler, the Smart Asthma Management (SAM) system is alerted via a Bluetooth sensor, which sends inhaler usage data to the patient's smartphone, then to a server where the data goes through the SAM algorithm. The algorithm considers individual factors affecting inhaler use like demographics and individual patient sensitivity to environmental factors. UD's Junbo Son said the results of the research indicate the SAM system is more likely to detect dangerous increases in inhaler use more quickly than patients report (or realize) them.

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Smile! Your Boss Is Tracking Your Happiness
The Wall Street Journal
Chip Cutter; Rachel Feintzeig
March 7, 2020

More companies are prioritizing employee happiness to enhance retention and productivity, giving rise to a cottage industry for monitoring, analyzing, and improving workers' moods. Many Amazon employees are surveyed daily on their levels of stress and job satisfaction, while PepsiCo invites workers to name systems that hinder their job performance. Employers can record workers' moods through an app from insurer Blue Cross Blue Shield that lets employees graph their emotional shifts over time without exposing that individual data to bosses. Experts are concerned such tools could undermine employee privacy. Some employers prefer other technological solutions to make workers more aware of their feelings, like laptop cameras that regularly scan faces for signs of subtle mood fluctuations.

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A drone fitted with thermal imaging camera has to be able to withstand high altitudes. Edinburgh Researchers Use Drones to Map Retreating Andes Glaciers
BBC News
Kenneth Macdonald
March 6, 2020

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh in the U.K. are using drones to capture images of some of the tallest glaciers in the Andes Mountains as they retreat, the result of climate change. The researchers worked with a company called Skytech Aerial to develop a drone with the necessary sensors that could handle the high altitude. The team used data collected by the drones to create a three-dimensional (3D) digital model of the Llaca glacier in Peru. Said Edinburgh's Rosie Bisset, "We can compare this to 3D models that were collected in previous years in order to tell us how the glacier's structure and size is changing."

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A refinery spouting smoke. Show Me the Methane
The Current (UC Santa Barbara)
Sonia Fernandez
March 5, 2020

A new system developed by University of California, Santa Barbara (UC Santa Barbara) researchers uses hyperspectral imaging and machine learning for more accurate detection of methane emissions. The researchers used data from hyperspectral cameras in the vicinity of the Four Corners region of the American Southwest, where methane emissions are high. Hyperspectral imaging can capture spectral “fingerprints” that correspond to methane's 2,200-2,400 nm spectral band. Said UC Santa Barbara's Satish Kumar, "We used a deep learning model to train the computer to learn the shape that a methane gas leak takes as it is released and spreads," which helped to pinpoint the location from which methane was being emitted, and to differentiate between methane and other hydrocarbons in the same image.

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All the countries in the world infected by Necurs, one of the largest spam and malware botnets known to date. Microsoft Orchestrates Coordinated Takedown of Necurs Botnet
Catalin Cimpanu
March 10, 2020

Microsoft said it has taken down the Necurs spam and malware botnet in coordination with industry partners in 35 countries. The initiative broke the Necurs domain generation algorithm (DGA), which enabled the botnet to allegedly infect more than 9 million computers globally. Authors on Necurs could register DGA-produced domains months ahead of time and host the botnet's command-and-control (C&C) servers, where compromised computers connect to receive new commands. The DGA takedown enabled Microsoft and its collaborators to compile a list of future Necurs C&C server domains that they can now inhibit, and prevent the Necurs team from registering. Once Microsoft commandeered the existing Necurs infrastructure, the collaborators were able to sinkhole the botnet and obtain data about where all its bots were located.

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Aerial Image Dataset to Help Provide Farmers with Actionable Insights
University of Illinois Grainger College of Engineering
Kim Gudeman
March 2, 2020

A dataset of large-scale aerial images can provide farmers greater insight into the conditions of their fields. Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), the University of Oregon, and Intelinair created new computer vision techniques that solve complex pattern recognition problems through deep learning methods. The researchers curated the Agriculture-Vision dataset, which includes nearly 100,000 images from thousands of corn fields across several states in the Midwestern U.S. Said UIUC's Naira Hovakimyan, “Next-gen farming has to be data-driven. By automating the process of frequent high-resolution data collection and using the data in predictive modeling through deep learning algorithms, we're advancing to the stage where conditions on any farm can be forecasted in the same way as weather forecasts."

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Robots That Admit Mistakes Foster Better Conversation in Humans
Mike Cummings
March 9, 2020

A study led by Yale University researchers found that people on teams that included a robot that expresses its own vulnerability were more communicative with each other and had a more positive group experience. The researchers divided 153 people into 51 groups, each composed of three humans and a robot. Each team played a tablet-based game involving collaborative construction of the most efficient railroad routes. Groups with robots that made vulnerable statements conversed with each other about twice as much during game time, and had more fun than those in other groups. Members of teams with vulnerable and neutral robots also participated more. Said Yale's Nicholas A. Christakis, "As we create hybrid social systems of humans and machines, we need to evaluate how to program the robotic agents so that they do not corrode how we treat each other."

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