Online Master's Degree Program
Welcome to the September 16, 2020 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

ACM TechNews mobile apps are available for Android phones and tablets (click here) and for iPhones (click here) and iPads (click here).

To view "Headlines At A Glance," hit the link labeled "Click here to view this online" found at the top of the page in the html version. The online version now has a button at the top labeled "Show Headlines."

A U.S. Air Force jet in action USAF Seeks Shift in How Jets, Missiles, Satellites Are Designed
The Washington Post
Aaron Gregg; Paul Sonne
September 15, 2020

U.S. Air Force acquisition and technology official Will Roper aims to make computer modeling a requirement for designing military jets, missiles, and satellites. He envisions government-owned, computer-generated models powered by artificial intelligence that test millions of potential weapons designs virtually before going to prototype, at significantly lower cost. Roper was inspired by Boeing and Saab's use of digital models in designing the T-7 Red Hawk trainer aircraft, especially "digital threading," in which designers produced a digital twin of the jet before manufacture. The National Defense Industrial Association's Hawk Carlisle said with digital engineering, "you can produce an airplane that is much faster, has fewer challenges in the manufacturing process, and is much more accurate and perfect."

Full Article
*May Require Paid Registration
Computer-Designed Proteins Protect Lab-Grown Human Cells From SARS-CoV-2
Emily Henderson
September 10, 2020

Scientists from the University of Washington (UW) School of Medicine in Seattle and the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis used computers to design proteins that successfully shielded laboratory-cultured human cells from SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes Covid-19. Since January, UW School of Medicine researchers used computers to design more than 2 million proteins that bind tightly to the SARS-CoV-2 Spike protein and inhibit it from infecting cells. More than 118,000 proteins were then produced and tested, which showed the lead antiviral candidate, LCB1, rivaled the best-known SARS-CoV-2 neutralizing antibodies in terms of protection. Said UW’s Longxing Cao, “We believe the best of these computer-generated antivirals are quite promising. They appear to block SARS-CoV-2 infection at least as well as monoclonal antibodies, but are much easier to produce and far more stable.”

Full Article
How WhatsApp, Signal & Co. Threaten Privacy
Technical University of Darmstadt (Germany)
Christian Weinert; Daniela Fleckenstein
September 15, 2020

Researchers at Germany’s technical universities of Darmstadt and Würzburg demonstrated that contact tracing/discovery services can expose the personal data of users of popular mobile messengers like WhatsApp and Signal. New users must grant such applications permission to access and upload their devices' address book to company servers, in order to instantly text existing contacts. The researchers queried 10% of all U.S. mobile phone numbers for WhatsApp and 100% for Signal, and found they were able to collect personal metadata stored in messengers' user profiles, and obtain statistics on user behavior. In response to the exploit's disclosure, WhatsApp has upgraded protection mechanisms to detect large-scale attacks, while Signal has reduced the number of possible queries to complicate crawling.

Full Article

The site of most dreaming. Insights Into Dreams and What They Say About Us
The Wall Street Journal
Robert Lee Hotz
September 14, 2020

Computer scientists are using artificial intelligence and digital databases to examine dreams and potentially identify mental issues. Researchers at Cambridge University's Nokia Bell Laboratories in the U.K. devised the Dreamcatcher data-mining system to seek patterns in dreams, and analyzed transcripts in the DreamBank, the largest known public archive of dream reports. The system identifies and measures dream characters, interactions, and emotions by processing the natural language dreamers use to communicate their visions. Insights derived from this analysis add credibility to the theory that dreams reflect waking situations, with no deeper prophetic, mythological, or religious significance.

Full Article
*May Require Paid Registration

The U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, DC. Security Researchers Slam Voatz Brief to the Supreme Court on Anti-Hacking Law
Sean Lyngaas
September 14, 2020

Cybersecurity specialists criticized an amicus brief filed by mobile voting company Voatz to the U.S. Supreme Court, which could have implications for the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). They refuted Voatz's contention that the CFAA should only allow researchers with clear permission to audit computer systems for flaws, warning that the brief "fundamentally misrepresents widely accepted practices in security research and vulnerability disclosure." In their open letter to the high court, the experts said a broad interpretation of the law would further discourage research, "even when there exists a societal obligation to perform such research." The signatories added that the fate of transparent research into critical systems like voting software and medical devices is at stake. A Voatz spokesperson said the firm does not advocate curtailing research, saying "it's better to work collaboratively with the organization as bad actors disguise themselves as good actors on a regular basis."

Full Article
AI Tech to Spot Dangerous Drivers
Edith Cowan University (Australia)
September 8, 2020

An automated system for vehicle license plate recognition, developed by researchers at Australia’s Edith Cowan University (ECU) and University of Melbourne and the University of Malaysia, could help identify dangerous drivers in real time before an incident occurs. The system uses an artificial neural network to detect and recognize license plates under all conditions, and processes the results in seconds. Used with facial recognition technology, the system could detect drivers talking on their phones, sleeping at the wheel, or moving suspiciously. Said ECU's Shams Islam, “The speed and effectiveness of this new advance will transform the way we monitor traffic."

Full Article
3D Printing Poses a "Grave and Growing Threat" to Privacy, Experts Warn
University of Exeter
September 8, 2020

Researchers at Durham University and the University of Exeter in the U.K. warn that three-dimensional (3D) printing technology poses a "grave and growing threat" to individual privacy and that governments and companies are unaware of these privacy issues. Said Exeter's James Griffin, "Every physical product that is 3D-printed has the potential to be tracked in a way that has never occurred before." The study is based on 30 in-depth interviews with representatives of Chinese 3D printing companies, most of whom believed the tracking technology incorporated into 3D printing would be used to handle piracy or copyright issues, and not for invading users’ privacy. The researchers called for a voluntary code of conduct that would encourage self-regulation of 3D printing and watermarking, and a specific software component that can isolate and protect private information collected from a watermark.

Full Article
Smartphones Can Predict Brain Function Associated with Anxiety, Depression
Dartmouth College
September 14, 2020

A study from Dartmouth College found that information from smartphones can predict connectivity between brain regions that govern emotion, and anticipate neural functions linked to anxiety and depression. The researchers analyzed phone usage data alongside results from functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans to verify that passively collected information can reflect brain activity associated with such emotions. Predictions based on smartphone data alone matched brain scans with 80% accuracy. Dartmouth's Mikio Obuchi said, "Although this research is just beginning, combining data from smartphones—rather than fMRI alone—will hopefully accelerate research to understand better how the human brain works."

Full Article

Microsoft’s datacenter, retrieved from the bottom of the ocean. Microsoft's Underwater Datacenter Resurfaces After Two Years
BBC News
Rory Cellan-Jones
September 14, 2020

Microsoft has retrieved an underwater datacenter that it sunk off the coast of Orkney in Scotland two years ago, and is analyzing its performance data. Initial findings indicate Project Natick's servers had a lower failure rate than a conventional datacenter, with just eight of 855 servers having malfunctioned. The Microsoft team said this may be due to the installation being unmanned, and being filled with nitrogen rather than oxygen. Project Natick partly sought broader insights about energy efficiency in cloud computing. Technical team member Spencer Fowers said, "We have been able to run really well on what most land-based datacenters consider an unreliable grid. We are hopeful that we can look at our findings and say maybe we don't need to have quite as much infrastructure focused on power and reliability."

Full Article
House Approves Bill to Secure Internet-Connected Federal Devices Against Cyberthreats
The Hill
Maggie Miller
September 14, 2020

The U.S. House of Representatives on Monday passed the Internet of Things (IoT) Cybersecurity Improvement Act, to enhance the security of federal Internet-connected devices by having them comply with minimum security recommendations from the National Institute of Standards and Technology. The devices' private-sector providers also would be obligated to alert agencies if their products are found to have security flaws that could leave the government vulnerable to cyberattacks. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) said the bill is intended to address a lack of national standards to ensure IoT device security. The legislation also has been proposed in the Senate, where it awaits a vote.

Full Article

A three-dimensional reconstruction of the reflective letter “S,” as seen through inch-thick foam. Stanford Researchers Devise Way to See Through Clouds, Fog
Stanford News
Taylor Kubota
September 9, 2020

A system developed by researchers at Stanford University can essentially see through walls using a laser with a super-sensitive photon detector and an algorithm that can reconstruct three-dimensional (3D) hidden scenes based on the movement of photons. The system was able to reconstruct shapes concealed by 1-inch-thick foam. Said Stanford's Gordon Wetzstein, "A lot of imaging techniques make images look a little bit better, a little bit less noisy, but this is really something where we make the invisible visible.” The system is useful for large-scale applications where there are few ballistic photons, like the navigation of self-driving cars in the rain, or the satellite imaging of planets with hazy atmospheres.

Full Article
Millions of WordPress Sites Are Being Probed, Attacked With Recent Plugin Bug
Catalin Cimpanu
September 6, 2020

Defiant Inc., which produces the Wordfence Web firewall, reported that millions of WordPress sites have been attacked by hackers exploiting a zero-day vulnerability in the "File Manager" WordPress plugin. The zero-day vulnerability enables attackers to upload malicious files on a site running an older version of the plugin. Defiant's Ram Gall said the firm had blocked attacks against more than 1.7 million sites since the attacks were first detected on Sept. 1. However, given that WordPress is installed on hundreds of millions of sites, Gall said the true scale of the attacks likely is much larger. The File Manager developer team has created and released a patch for the zero-day vulnerability.

Full Article
ML Helps Sort Out Massive Materials Databases
EPFL News (Switzerland)
September 11, 2020

Scientists at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Lausanne (EPFL), the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and China's ShanghaiTech University applied machine learning to probe chemical diversity in massive metal-organic framework (MOF) databases. EPFL's Berend Smit said the research demonstrated that major MOF databases are biased towards particular structures, and the system can identify structures that were documented as significantly divergent from those already known at the time of the analysis. Said Smit, "We now have a very simple tool that can tell an experimental group how different their novel MOF is compared to the 90,000 other structures already reported."

Full Article
The VR Book - Human-Centered Design for Virtual Reality
Publish Your Next Book in the ACM Digital Library

Association for Computing Machinery

1601 Broadway, 10th Floor
New York, NY 10019-7434

ACM Media Sales

If you are interested in advertising in ACM TechNews or other ACM publications, please contact ACM Media Sales or (212) 626-0686, or visit ACM Media for more information.

To submit feedback about ACM TechNews, contact: [email protected]