Association for Computing Machinery
Welcome to the January 29, 2010 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.


NSF Earmarks $30M for Game-Changing Internet Research
Network World (01/28/10) Cooney, Michael

The U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) will award $30 million across two to four projects to redesign the Internet via new security, reliability, and collaborative applications, under the aegis of its Future Internet Architectures (FIA) program. "Proposals should not focus on making the existing Internet better through incremental changes, but rather should focus on designing comprehensive architectures that can meet the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century," NSF says. The proposals should seek out transformative research that could potentially facilitate the generation of architectures that extend outside of current core networking components, mechanisms, and application requirements. The NSF also wants researchers to develop more efficient ways to disseminate information and manage users' identities while accounting for emerging wireless and optical technologies. The NSF says FIA proposals must feature prototype plans, and may mandate the employment of research networks such as Global Environment for Network Innovations or the National Cyber Range.

Survey of Executives Finds a Growing Fear of Cyberattacks
New York Times (01/28/10) Markoff, John

Cyberattacks are a growing threat to the critical infrastructure underlining modern society, according to a survey of 600 computing and computer-security executives in 14 nations conducted by McAfee and the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Study director Stewart A. Baker cites findings that 50 percent of respondents believe they have already been the target of sophisticated government hackers. More than half of the polled executives say that their own country's laws do not adequately discourage cyberattacks, and the three most vulnerable nations are identified as the United States, China, and Russia. Forty percent of executives are anticipating a major cybersecurity incident in their sector within the next year, while all but 20 percent project such an incident occurring within five years. The report indicates that the growing use of Internet-based networks "creates unique and troubling vulnerabilities," although the authors stop short of urging a complete partitioning of systems and the open Internet. "Remote access to control systems poses a huge danger," warns McAfee's Phyllis Schneck.

Researchers Criticize 3D Secure Credit Card Authentication
Heise Online (United Kingdom) (01/26/10)

University of Cambridge Computer Laboratory researchers Steven J. Murdoch and Ross Anderson contend in a paper that the 3D Secure (3DS) credit card authentication system branded as the MasterCard SecureCode and Verified by Visa schemes is deeply flawed. The researchers call attention to a number of vulnerabilities. For instance, the mechanism used to display the 3DS form is incorporated within an iframe or pop-up with no address bar, leaving no clue as to the form's origin. This conflicts with banks' recommendation to customers to avoid phishing sites by only entering bank passwords into sites they can identify as the bank's own site. The initial password entry process that takes place the first time a cardholder uses a 3DS-enabled card to shop online also is a point of criticism, as the user is asked to enter a new password as part of the process of facilitating the purchase. Murdoch and Anderson argue that the timing of this request is wrong, as the shopper is probably more interested in the transaction than security and is more likely to select a weak password. The paper cites the single sign-on model that the 3DS system deploys as inappropriate, and says that it should be supplanted by a transaction authentication system in which a user receives a SMS message asking for an authorization code from the shopper.

How Crowdsourcing Is Helping in Haiti
New Scientist (01/27/10) Mullins, Justin

The revolution in texting, social networking, and crowdsourcing has enabled innovations such as the 4636 texting service, which is aiding the disaster relief efforts in Haiti by recruiting scores of volunteers to help translate messages that could mean the difference between life and death. Another crowdsourcing initiative is CrisisCommons, which has organized thousands of volunteers to enhance the map of Haiti available on the open source OpenStreetMap site. Other projects CrisisCommons is spearheading include one to build a Craigslist-style "we need, we have" Web site to connect people offering resources to those that need them. The proliferation of mobile communications infrastructure to the developing world has supported the emergence of new tools for using text messaging, run by relatively small organizations that can work fast using limited resources in difficult conditions. This places them in a pivotal position as facilitators of disaster relief. Individuals and organizations have been galvanized to collaborate via social networking media by the realization that large-scale activities can be coordinated through online networks.

No Catastrophes Please, It's Software Modelling
ICT Results (01/28/10)

Thales Research and Technology (TRT) researchers have created a development platform that enables applications to tackle the increasing complexity of modern computer systems. Model driven engineering (MDE) is emerging as the most promising paradigm for complex systems, says TRT's Sebastien Praud. TRT's MODELPLEX project has developed a platform to handle the entire lifecycle of development, including interoperability, substitutability, and traceability. MDE creates models of the required functions related to the specific domain. Linking the model to the specific domain enables engineers to account for industry-specific needs. The software design refers to real-world functions rather than algorithms, helping non-experts comprehend the information. The model also can go down to any level of detail, from an overview to specific data inputs, functions, and outputs. Praud says MDE will lead to faster software development because programmers have a clear idea of the necessary functions and how it relates to other aspects of the system.

Haitians in Crisis: Developing Translation Tools
Carnegie Mellon News (01/27/10)

Scientists at Carnegie Mellon University's Language Technologies Institute (LTI) have released spoken and textual data on Haitian Creole that will help groups in their efforts to develop translation technologies for relief workers in Haiti. Microsoft has already used the data to develop a Web-based system for translating between English and Haitian Creole. LTI researchers began to update their own translation system for Haitian Creole after the Jan. 12 earthquake, but decided that releasing its data to the public would lead to faster development of translation tools. The French nonprofit Translators Without Borders is working on a medical triage dictionary for doctors in Haiti. LTI's Robert Frederking says there are few translation resources for Haitian Creole, which is based on the French language and incorporates African syntax. "Nobody is going to make money on a Haitian Creole translator," Frederking says. "But translation systems could be an important tool, both for the relief workers now involved in emergency response and in the long-term as rebuilding takes place."

Czechs Developing Life-Saving Headrest
Prague Daily Monitor (01/29/10)

Researchers at the Plzen Department of Computer Science and Engineering of the Faculty of Applied Sciences are developing a headrest that will alert drivers on the verge of falling asleep. Although contact sensors are already available that can detect when a person is about to fall asleep, the Czech team has found that drivers do not want to wear a sensor-equipped helmet, says Plzen's Vaclav Matousek. Instead, researchers plan to record the brain impulses by a remote sensor in the car ceiling or headrest. Although the remote sensors are not ready for manufacturing, Plzen's Jiri Kren says the new technology can "lower the number of traffic accidents due to inattention by some 40 percent."

Dublin Lab Lays Groundwork for Intel's Nanotech Future
EE Times (01/26/10) Clarke, Peter

Intel has nine researchers in Ireland working on nanotechnology, many of whom work with the Center for Research on Adaptive Nanostructures and Nanodevices at Trinity College Dublin and at the Tyndall Institute in Cork. Intel Ireland's Leonard Hobbs says researchers do not think much about development this side of 10 nm, considering 22 nm will be ready in 2011 and other developers are already working on 16 nm. Hobbs, head of Intel's European nanotechnology research program, says the continuation of patterning by self-assembly and lithography is a major challenge. Researchers also need to address the scalability of copper and the potential use of carbon, as well as the issue of using a higher mobility material in the transistor channel.

Major Step Towards Low-Power All-Optical Switching for Optical Communications
IMEC (01/25/10) Marent, Katrien

A key breakthrough involving optical random access memory has been achieved by Interuniversity Microelectronics Center (IMEC) and Ghent University. Researchers have created a super-fast and small optical random access memory on a silicon chip that consumes a record low amount of power. The development means the switching and routing of data in optical fiber networks or optical interconnect systems would not require any conversion from the optical to the electrical domain. As a result, fiber-optic communication systems would have completely optical packet switching as well as lower power consumption. The team used ultra-compact micro-disk lasers, switching the laser light between a clockwise and counterclockwise direction via short optical pulses. Implemented in indium phosphide membranes, the lasers were integrated onto passive silicon waveguide circuits to optically interconnect different memory cells using silicon wires.

Female Teachers Can Transfer Fear of Math and Undermine Girls' Math Performance
University of Chicago (01/25/10) Harms, William

University of Chicago (UC) researchers have found that female elementary school teachers can pass on their anxiety and stereotypes about math to female students. A year-long study of 17 elementary school teachers and 52 male and 65 female students found that a teacher's math anxiety affected the math achievement of girls but not boys. "Having a highly math-anxious female teacher may push girls to confirm the stereotype that they are not as good as boys at math, which in turn, affects girls' math achievement," says UC's Sian Beilock. Math anxiety could undermine girls' confidence and reduce their interest in science and engineering subjects. Other research shows that elementary education majors have the highest rate of mathematics anxiety of any college major and that adults' attitudes greatly influence elementary school children. This relationship is strongest for students and adults of the same gender. "Thus it may be that first- and second-grade girls are more likely to be influenced by their teachers' anxieties than their male classmates because most early-elementary school teachers are female, and the high levels of math anxiety in this teacher population confirm a societal stereotype about girls' math ability," Beilock says.

How 'Avatar' May Predict the Future of Virtual Worlds
CNet (01/24/10) Terdiman, Daniel

The technology James Cameron and his team developed for the film "Avatar" may provide a sneak peek of the future direction that three-dimensional (3D) virtual worlds will take. The movie's breakthrough is a camera system that captures live footage of actors and instantly integrates them within virtual environments. Some experts speculate that it and other augmented reality tools will form a core technology for mainstream 3D virtual world interaction. "It will get more sophisticated when whole worlds are mapped onto the sim-reality complete with avatars--other people--and bots," predicts expert Bruce Damer. Jerry Paffendorf, who helped organize the Accelerating Studies Foundation's Metaverse Roadmap report, expects that the world will eventually be fully immersed within real-time graphical overlays. He says this virtual world evolution is in a nascent stage, incarnated in the prevalence of augmented reality applications "that let you look through the camera to see things that aren't physically there: Either data overlays like directions or where tweets are coming from or a digital doggy prancing on your kitchen counter." "Avatar" producer Jon Landau says the virtual production technology invented for the film will eventually become a consumer technology. He envisions people using it to record and present their personal stories--like YouTube, only in a 3D virtual world.

E-Passports Threaten Your Privacy
University of Birmingham (01/19/10) Chapple, Kate

University of Birmingham (UB) researchers have discovered a flaw in e-passports that makes them susceptible to identification. The defect is in the design of the radio-frequency identification tag used by e-passports. The discovery makes it possible to detect the passport of a particular person from a distance of a few meters. An attacker can track the movements of a specific passport by replaying a particular message. "Our discovery has shown that there is a flaw that makes it possible to identify the movements of a particular passport without having break the passport's cryptographic key," says UB researcher Tom Chothia. E-passports have been issued to more than 30 million people.

NASA to Boost Speed of Deep Space Communications (01/22/10) Hsu, Jeremy

The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) wants to combine three space-based communication networks into a much faster, more efficient data network. NASA's overhaul aims to combine the Space Network, the Near-earth Network, and the Deep Space Network into a single entity that will be as much as 50 times faster than current data transfer rates. The new network will use laser-driven optical communication that could enable transfer speeds of up to 600 megabits per second, according to NASA's Badri Younes. "It's like driving a 1960s Chevy that's beat up and losing paint while going at 90 mph, and being pushed to convert that into a Lamborghini while driving 90 mph without losing a beat," Younes says. He says the new network should be ready by 2018.

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