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Welcome to the September 14, 2020 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Molecular connections. $3M Breakthrough Prize Goes to Scientist Designing Molecules to Fight Covid-19
Devin Coldewey
September 10, 2020

The Breakthrough Prize Foundation named the University of Washington's David Baker to receive $3 million for his use of computers to design complex molecules, whose latest design may lead to new treatments for Covid-19. Baker's Institute for Protein Design developed the Rosetta software for simulating folding and other protein interactions, which enabled citizen scientists to contribute to research via the FoldIT distributed computing network. The foundation said Baker was awarded the $3-million prize "for developing technology that allowed the design of proteins never seen before in nature, including novel proteins that have the potential for therapeutic intervention in human diseases."

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Computer Hackers Attack Fairfax County School System
The Washington Post
Joe Heim
September 11, 2020

Fairfax County (VA) Public School District spokesperson Lucy Caldwell said hackers have attacked the school district's computers, installing ransomware on certain systems. The MAZE hacker group posted on its website that it had penetrated the district’s site with ransomware, posting a zip file of stolen data to prove it. The district said it is coordinating with its security experts and the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation to gauge the breach’s impact on its data, and it will alert affected parties based on its findings. This is the district’s second major computer problem this year, following a badly flawed rollout of its online learning system in April, which forced the district to stop classes for several days while it dealt with glitches, privacy breaches, and online harassment.

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ML-Assisted Method Rapidly Classifies Quantum Sources
Purdue University School of Electrical and Computer Engineering
September 10, 2020

Purdue University engineers have invented a machine learning-assisted technique for rapid selection of solid-state quantum emitters, which could enhance the efficiency of quantum photonic circuit development. Quantum emitters generate light with non-classical characteristics, but interfacing most solid-state emitters with scalable photonic platforms requires complex integration. The Purdue researchers trained a computer to recognize promising patterns in single-photon emission within a split second, to accelerate single-photon purity-based screening. Purdue's Zhaxylyk Kudyshev said the new technique could “speed up super-resolution microscopy methods built on higher-order correlation measurements that are currently limited by long image acquisition times.”

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C++ Just Jumped in Popularity. Here's Why
Liam Tung
September 9, 2020

Tiobe Software said C++ is currently the fastest-growing programming language, ranking fourth in the company's September 2020 index of the world's most popular languages behind C, Java, and Python. Tiobe’s Paul Jansen said C++'s popularity peaked in 2003 with a 17.53% share, and he suggested the arrival of C++20 may partly explain renewed interest. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) C++ group last week approved the finalized version of C++20, the first major update to the language since 2017. C++20 will feature new "modules" and "coroutines," which Jansen said are "going to replace the dreadful include mechanism."

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Researchers from Children’s National Hospital and Johns Hopkins University are developing a robot capable of conducting a challenging step of colon surgery on its own. Autonomous Robots Coming to the Operating Room
The Wall Street Journal
Sara Castellanos
September 10, 2020

Researchers like the National University of Singapore's Benjamin Tee are developing autonomous surgical robotic technology, in Tee's case an artificial skin to imbue robots with tactile perception. National University of Singapore researchers also are collaborating with Intel on the development of a sensor-laden robotic silicon finger that mimics touch. Meanwhile, scientists from Johns Hopkins University (JHU) and Children's National Hospital in Washington, DC, are engineering the Smart Tissue Autonomous Robot to stitch up incisions using machine learning. A team at Boston Children's Hospital is using a self-navigating robotic catheter, which employs a camera and machine learning algorithms to find its way around organs through haptic vision. Among the challenges to autonomous robotics in the surgical field is testing surgical robots' underlying algorithms for accuracy; JHU's Axel Krieger said the robots' precision and repeatability offer tremendous advantages over humans.

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Privacy, Blockchain, and IoT—Can We Keep Control of Our Own Identities?
University of South Australia
September 10, 2020

Research from Australia’s University of South Australia (UniSA) and Charles Sturt University has found privacy issues innate to current blockchain platforms, suggesting the technology requires further refinement for consideration of privacy rights and expectations. Blockchains use details of previous transactions to confirm future transactions by embedding this information within the data chain; each block is uneditable to maintain system viability. UniSA's Kirsten Wahlstrom said encryption can conceal, but not erase, this cloud-based ledger, in violation of the European Court of Justice's ruling that European citizens have the right to be forgotten. Wahlstrom said, "The crucial first step is for the industry to develop a clear definition of what 'privacy' actually is—what we are trying to protect and why—and then agree [on] standards to ensure those requirements are met across the board."

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A 3D-printed Facebook logo on a keyboard. Facebook's EU-U.S. Data Transfer Mechanism 'Cannot Be Used', Irish Regulator Says
Conor Humphries; Neha Malara
September 9, 2020

Ireland's Data Protection Commission has decreed Facebook's key mechanism for transferring data from the European Union (EU) to the U.S. "cannot in practice be used," although the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) previously deemed it valid. Although the CJEU ruled in July that Privacy Shield, the EU-U.S. transatlantic data transfer agreement, was invalid because of concerns of U.S. surveillance of Europeans' private data when used commercially, it backed the validity of Facebook's Standard Contractual Clauses (SCCs). However, the court said under SCCs, privacy regulators must suspend or ban transfers outside the bloc if data protection in other countries cannot be guaranteed. Facebook said it will continue transferring data in compliance with the July CJEU ruling, while also deploying "robust" data-privacy safeguards that include "industry standard encryption and security measures, and comprehensive policies governing how we respond to legal requests for data."

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A National Guardsman help out a man with cybersecurity issues. With Election Cybersecurity Experts in Short Supply, Some States Call In the National Guard
NBC News
Kevin Collier; Courtney Kube; Rich Gardella
September 11, 2020

Some U.S. states are asking the National Guard to dispatch cybersecurity experts to fortify their voting systems ahead of the general election in November. Such aid is particularly critical in rural areas and small jurisdictions that may lack specialists, which are deemed most susceptible to hackers. Some fear hackers could invalidate the 2020 election by attacking Internet-connected sites that play crucial roles in the electoral process. The North Carolina National Guard's Cyber Security Response Force has assessed cybersecurity in more than 30 counties in the state, and responded to 35 hacks since 2018. The National Guard's George R. Haynes said more guardsmen have been trained as cyberspecialists as the U.S. Department of Defense has increased its cybertraining.

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Googling for Gut Symptoms Predicts Covid Hot Spots, Study Finds
Jason Gale
September 12, 2020

A study by researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) demonstrated a novel early warning system for Covid-19 hot spots: using online searches on gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms to forecast a spike in coronavirus cases weeks in advance. MGH scientists compared search interest in loss of taste and appetite, and diarrhea, with documented incidence of Covid-19 in 15 U.S. states, from Jan. 20 to April 20. Using the Google Trends online tool, they learned that the volume of such searches had the strongest correlation with cases in New York, New Jersey, California, Massachusetts, and Illinois—states with high disease burden—three to four weeks later. MGH's Kyle Staller said, "Our data underscore the importance of GI symptoms as a potential harbinger of Covid-19 infection and suggests that Google Trends may be a valuable tool for prediction of pandemics with GI manifestations."

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At left, the newly discovered earthwork and a few possible houses are marked on an aerial image of the site. At right, the outline of the circular earthwork is visible in a thermal image. Archaeologists with Drones Discover Pre-Columbian Earthworks in Kansas
Ars Technica
Kiona N. Smith
September 11, 2020

Dartmouth College archaeologist Jesse Casana and colleagues have discovered pre-Columbian earthworks in Kansas from aerial images, using drones equipped with LiDAR and infrared and thermal imaging. When flying over a cattle ranch, a 3DR Solo quadcopter detected otherwise invisible ditches with thermal imaging cameras, suggesting the presence of ancient "council circles." During night flights, the drone's sensors measured heat radiating from soil instead of being reflected off the ground in the daytime. According to Dartmouth’s Jesse Casana and her colleagues, "Our discovery ... serves as a powerful reminder that many archaeological features are likely preserved in the modern landscape that can only be recognized by employing appropriate technologies at large spatial scales."

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Smart Device Hacks Up Since the Pandemic Started
Government Technology
Alia Malik
September 11, 2020

Cybersecurity researchers at the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) found that that hacks on smart devices have climbed since the Covid-19 pandemic began. UTSA's Elias Bou-Harb said growing numbers of people working from home is a perfect medium for hackers, who can leap from connections to smart devices to computers that log into organizations' networks. UTSA's Cyber Center for Security and Analytics is working to improve its database to detect smart-device hacks in real time, and to alert organizations or Internet service providers of flaws. The Center utilizes data from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the University of California San Diego, which jointly built a "network telescope" of sensors to record as much as 100 gigabytes of malicious traffic per hour. Researchers are converting this information into a map of hacks, in the hope of helping average people view and understand the data and, as Bou-Harb said, "not to adopt these technical devices blindly."

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Improving the Use of Social Media for Disaster Management
Texas A&M Today
Stephanie Jones
September 9, 2020

Researchers at Texas A&M University have developed a method of training machine learning algorithms to recognize disaster-related tweets quickly. This new automatic clustering algorithm separates data into labeled classes or categories. Said Texas A&M's Ruihong Huang, "Our goal is to be able to detect life-threatening events using individual social media messages and recognize similar events in the affected areas. ... We have to be able to know which tweets that contain the predetermined keywords are relevant to the disaster and separate them from the tweets that contain the correct keywords but are not relevant." The new data labeling method and overall weakly-supervised system required just one to two person-hours to complete, while the previous approach of examining thousands of carefully annotated tweets took about 50 person-hours.

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ACM Gordon Bell Special Prize for High Performance Computing-Based COVID-19 Research
2020 ACM Transactions on Computing for Healthcare (HEALTH)

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