Welcome to the January 8, 2021 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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A computational model of COVID-19. UChicago Scientists Create First Computational Model of Entire Virus Responsible for Covid-19
University of Chicago
Louise Lerner
January 6, 2021

The first usable computational model of the entire SARS-COV-2 virus responsible for Covid-19 has been developed by University of Chicago (UChicago) researchers, who made it widely available to help advance research during the pandemic. The researchers used a technique called coarse-graining, which involves identifying the most important characteristics of each individual component of the virus and eliminating less-important information, resulting in a computational model both comprehensive and feasible to run on a computer. The framework allows for additional information about the virus to be integrated into the model as new discoveries are made. Said UChicago's Gregory Voth, "If you can understand how a virus works, that’s the first step towards stopping it. Each thing you know about the virus’s life cycle and composition is a vulnerability point where you can hit it.”

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Xingyuan Ming with an integrated optical microcomb chip. Research Team Demonstrates World's Fastest Optical Neuromorphic Processor
Swinburne University of Technology (Australia)
January 7, 2021

Researchers from Australia's Swinburne University of Technology, Monash University, and RMIT University have demonstrated the world's fastest, most powerful optical neuromorphic processor for artificial intelligence. The processor operates at a rate of more than 10 trillion operations per second, over 1,000 times faster than any previous processor, and can process ultra-large-scale data. The processor incorporates integrated "optical micro-combs" comprised of hundreds of high-quality infrared lasers on a single chip. Said Monash's Xingyuan Xu, "We’re currently getting a sneak-peak of how the processors of the future will look. It’s really showing us how dramatically we can scale the power of our processors through the innovative use of microcombs.”

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Cryptocurrency Stealer for Windows, macOS, Linux Went Undetected for a Year
Ars Technica
Dan Goodin
January 5, 2020

A report by Israeli security firm Intezer documented an operation to steal cryptocurrency holders' wallet addresses using custom-made malware written from scratch, which had gone undetected for at least a year. The hackers used trojanized applications that run on Windows, macOS, and Linux, while also relying on a network of bogus companies, websites, and social media profiles to lure victims. The apps masquerade as benign software useful to cryptocurrency holders, concealing a remote access trojan (RAT) called ElectroRAT that lets attackers log keystrokes; capture screenshots; upload, download, and install files; and execute commands on compromised machines. None of the major antivirus products caught the apps.

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Packaged medications. Using AI to Find New Uses for Existing Medications
Ohio State University
Emily Caldwell
January 4, 2020

Ohio State University (OSU) researchers used artificial intelligence to process massive datasets in order to determine whether existing drugs could be applied to illnesses for which they were not previously used. The researchers used insurance claims data on roughly 1.2 million heart-disease patients, which included information on assigned treatments, disease outcomes, and various values for potential confounders (something other than the thing being studied that could be causing the results seen). The study, which focused on repurposing medications to prevent heart failure and stroke in patients with coronary artery disease, identified nine drugs considered likely to provide those therapeutic benefits. OSU's Ping Zhang said the model used in this study “could be applied to any disease, if you can define the disease outcome."

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Insights Through Atomic Simulation
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
Melissae Fellet
January 6, 2021

Researchers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) contributed to the development of two open-source software packages for computational chemistry. NWChem and CP2K allow researchers to efficiently tune, control, and design molecular processes for desired outcomes. NWChem models ground and excited-state electronic structure and dynamics of molecules and condensed-phased systems at different levels of accuracy and detail, while CP2K performs atomistic simulations of solid-state, liquid, molecular, periodic, material, crystal, and biological systems. Said PNNL's Greg Schenter, "PNNL researchers have been involved with developing software tools for electronic structure calculation for decades, and the tools have advanced to efficiently describe complex phenomena. Now we are evolving the packages to work with increasingly realistic systems."

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A hard disk write head. Hard Disk Write Head Analytical Technology To Help Increase Hard Disk Capacities
Tohoku University (Japan)
January 5, 2021

Researchers at Japan's Tohoku University, Toshiba Corporation, and the Japan Synchrotron Radiation Research Institute imaged the magnetization dynamics of a hard disk drive (HDD) write head for the first time. The team used the scanning soft x-ray magnetic circular dichroism microscope on the BL25SU beamline at the SPring-8 synchrotron radiation facility in Harima Science Park City, Hyogo Prefecture, Japan, to develop the analysis methodology. The technique facilitates time-resolved measurements via synchronized timing control, realizing temporal resolution of 50 picoseconds and spatial resolution of 100 nanometers. Toshiba, which is developing energy-assisted magnetic recording solutions for next-generation HDD, aims to apply the analysis method and the insights gained on write-head operations to the creation of a write head for energy-assisted magnetic recording.

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President Trump’s signature on the National Maritime Cybersecurity Plan. Trump Administration Rolls Out Plan to Secure Maritime Sector Against Cyber Threats
The Hill
Maggie Miller
January 5, 2021

The White House has unveiled a plan to protect the U.S. maritime transportation sector against cybersecurity threats. The National Maritime Cybersecurity Plan's objectives include establishing international standards defining threats, augmenting intelligence and information sharing, and boosting the country's maritime cyber workforce. The plan aims to prioritize training of cybersecurity specialists in port and vessel systems, share government data with private sector groups involved in the maritime sector, highlight maritime intelligence collection, and develop a "cyber-forensics process" for probing maritime cyberattacks. The National Security Council has been designated to supervise the fulfillment of these priorities, and has been instructed to reevaluate the strategy at least once every five years.

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Workers at dollar-sign-shaped desk, illustration. What Do Software Engineers Get Paid?
IEEE Spectrum
Tekla S. Perry
January 7, 2021

An analysis of software engineering wages from salary offer comparison tool provider Levels.fyi detailed changes among the highest-paying companies last year. Levels.fyi said ridesharing company Lyft offered the most for entry-level engineers in 2020, with a median package of base salary, bonus, and stock grants of $230,000 annually. Vacation rental online marketplace Airbnb, with a compensation package totaling $295,000 yearly, was the top company for engineers with two to five years of experience. Social networking service LinkedIn's $461,000 compensation package was the highest for engineers with five-plus years' experience. Most software engineering jobs became remote last year, and companies started to consider geographically-based salary adjustments for engineers who relocated their home offices beyond physical commuting distance.

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Airline passengers wearing face masks at check-in. Airport Screening While Wearing Masks? Facial Recognition Tech Shows Up to 96% Accuracy in Recent Test
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
January 4, 2021

A controlled test of facial recognition technologies by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) found potential for accurately identifying individuals while they wear face masks. The test was performed as part of S&T's 2020 Biometric Technology Rally at a test facility in Maryland, and could make removal of masks at airports or ports of entry less necessary. The rally assessed how well biometric acquisition systems and matching algorithms could reliably collect and match images of individuals wearing various face coverings. Median system performance had a 93% identification rate without masks, with the best-performing system correctly identifying individuals with 100% accuracy. With masks, the systems' median identification rate was 77%, and the best-performing system correctly identified individuals 96% of the time. Said S&T’s Arun Vemury, “This isn’t a perfect 100% solution, but it may reduce risks for many travelers, as well as the frontline staff working in airports, who no longer have to ask all travelers to remove masks.”

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Nissan Source Code Leaked Online After Git Repo Misconfiguration
Catalin Cimpanu
January 6, 2021

Swiss-based software engineer Tillie Kottmann said Nissan North America's misconfiguration of a Bitbucket Git server led to the online leakage of the automaker’s source code for its mobile applications and internal tools. Kottmann said the repository was left exposed on the Internet with its default username and admin/admin password combination; Nissan took it offline after the source code began circulating on Monday in the form of torrent links shared on Telegram channels and hacking forums. A Nissan spokesperson said, "We are aware of a claim regarding a reported improper disclosure of Nissan's confidential information and source code. We take this type of matter seriously and are conducting an investigation."

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AI-generated avocado armchair images. This Avocado Armchair Could Be the Future of AI
MIT Technology Review
Will Douglas Heaven
January 5, 2021

Researchers at artificial intelligence (AI) company OpenAI have engineered two deep learning models, CLIP (Contrastive Language-Image Pre-training) and DALL·E (named for artist Salvador Dalí and Pixar’s WALL·E), combining language and images to improve AI's understanding of text and to what it refers. CLIP, trained to recognize objects from Internet images and accompanying captions, predicts which caption from a random selection of 32,768 is correct for a given image by linking a wide variety of objects with their names and descriptive words. DALL·E, also trained on online text-image pairs, produces matching images when presented with a short natural-language caption. OpenAI's Aditya Ramesh said DALL·E "can take two unrelated concepts and put them together in a way that results in something kind of functional," like an "avocado armchair."

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