Welcome to the February 5, 2010 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
DARPA's New Plans: Crowdsource Intel, Edit DNA
Wired News (02/02/10) Drummond, Katie
The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's (DARPA's) future plans call for crowdsourcing military intelligence, creating an immune system for Defense Department networks, and conducting research that could lead to editing soldiers' DNA. DARPA wants to improve how the military uses its intelligence information by turning it into an open call for contributions. The project, called Deep ISR Processing by Crowds, looks to "harness the unique cognitive and creative abilities of large numbers of people to enhance dramatically the knowledge derived from ISR systems," according to DARPA. The agency also wants innovation to take the place of individual analysis and decision making. Meanwhile, DARPA is developing a cyberdefense model called Cyber Immune that can detect an attack, fight back, and heal itself automatically to prevent future infiltration. DARPA wants a system that "assumes security cannot be absolute, yet ... can still defend itself in order to maintain its (possibly degraded) capabilities, and possibly even heal itself." DARPA also aims to create microchip implants that restore senses and movement in traumatic injury patients and edit human genes to boost troop performance in the field.
Indo-German Centre on Computer Science Opened at IIT, Delhi
NetIndian News Network (02/03/10)
The Indian government and the Max Planck Society have formally unveiled a new center in Delhi that will serve as a hub for collaboration between computer scientists from India and Germany. The Indo-German Max Planck Center on Computer Science (IMPECS) at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) will focus on research areas such as algorithms and complexity, database and information retrieval, graphics and vision, and networking. The team at IMPECS will work with researchers from the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in Mumbai, IIT Kanpur, IIT Bombay, and IIT Madras, as well as scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Informatics in Germany. India hopes to become more skilled in computer science, while Germany wants to gain access to India's top scientists and pool of young talent. IMPECS will have an initial duration of five years.
Google to Enlist NSA to Help It Ward Off Cyberattacks
Washington Post (02/04/10) P. A1; Nakashima, Ellen
Google and the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) are collaborating to fortify defenses against future cyberattacks. NSA will assist Google in studying an assault that allegedly originated in China and targeted Google's computer networks. The agreement also calls for NSA to aid Google in understanding whether it is deploying the proper security measures by assessing vulnerabilities in hardware and software and to calibrate the adversary's level of sophistication. Sources say the partnership will permit the two organizations to exchange crucial data without breaching Google's policies or statutes that shield the privacy of U.S. citizens' online communications. NSA also reportedly is reaching out to other government agencies that play major cybersecurity roles and might be able to assist in the Google probe. "As a general matter, as part of its information-assurance mission, NSA works with a broad range of commercial partners and research associates to ensure the availability of secure tailored solutions for Department of Defense and national security systems customers," says NSA's Judi Emmel.
Grid Computing for the Masses
ICT Results (02/04/10)
A European research team has developed KnowARC, middleware that enables any computer running any operating system to access grid-based computers. The KnowARC project, led by the University of Oslo's Farid Ould-Saada, wants to make grid computing as easily accessible as information is on the Internet. "Getting access to the grid should be as simple as installing a new browser to get on the Internet," says Ould-Saada. "Only then will the survival and expansion of the grid be assured." KnowARC is based on Advanced Resource Connector (ARC) middleware, which provides interoperability between computing systems, architectures, and platforms. Ould-Saada says that ARC has great potential for wide deployment in new domains due to its ease of installation and interoperability. ARC middleware also is being used in grid computing for medical research, bioinformatics, and geographical data. "In a matter of years, I hope to see resources and storage being as easy to access remotely as information is on the Internet today," Ould-Saada says.
U.S. Scientists Given Access to Cloud Computing
New York Times (02/04/10) Markoff, John
The U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) and Microsoft have agreed to offer U.S. scientific researchers free access to a new cloud computing service called Azure. The three-year project aims to give scientists the computing power to handle large amounts of research data. Access to the service will come in the form of grants from the foundation. Recently, emphasis has been placed on computing systems capable of storing and analyzing vast amounts of data. "We're trying to figure out how to engage the majority of scientists," says Microsoft's Dan Reed. He says Microsoft is prepared to invest millions of dollars in the program, which could provide thousands of scientists with access to the cloud computing service. "It's all about data," says Jeannette M. Wing, NSF's assistant director of computer and information science and engineering directorate. "We are generating streams and rivers of data."
Madly Mapping the Universe
Berkeley Lab News Center (02/03/10) Preuss, Paul
Researchers at Berkeley Lab's National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC) are designing computational tools to create maps of the cosmic microwave background (CMB). NERSC's Julian Borrill, Radek Stompor, and Andrew Jaffe developed the Microwave Anisotropy Dataset Computational Analysis Package (MADCAP) with an emphasis on mapmaking. Mapping the CMB requires accurately accounting for the noise in the data. "To make a map it takes a special code to weigh and account for the noise in each pixel at each point in time," Borrill says. The special code is called MADmap. Although MADmap was designed with CMB data in mind, "it was always intended to be independent of the specifics of any one experiment," Borrill says. MADmap has been used in several different experiments, including MAXIMA, which mapped a portion of the northern sky in 1998, BOOMERANG, which circled the South Pole in 1999, and the European Space Agency's Planck satellite. Another satellite, Herschel, carries a powerful infrared telescope, and two highly sensitive bolometers as part of the Photoconductor Array Camera and Spectrometer.
Brewing Up Java Skills for the Knowledge Economy
Silicon Republic (02/04/10) Boran, Marie
University College Dublin's (UCD's) School of Computer Science and Informatics will offer a second round of Java courses to companies that do not have the time and money to train their own employees. A year ago, UCD drew approximately 500 people for its Java training program. This year, UCD will offer a week of classes in foundation and advanced Java. UCD professor John Murphy says that more than 10 participants from last year are now pursuing a master's degree in Computer Science by Negotiated Learning, which is a pioneering concept in Ireland and allows students to choose a module from wide range of subjects, such as courses in the School of Business, for developing entrepreneurial skills. "It has brought people back into the academic fold," Murphy says. "UCD is looking to make a contribution to the economy and this is a good way of building relationships with both individuals and organizations in the technology sector." UCD also is considering offering training in other key technology skills.
The Dozens of Computers That Make Modern Cars Go (and Stop)
New York Times (02/04/10) Motavalli, Jim
The electronics within today's cars are under increasing scrutiny in the wake of the recent problems reported with some Toyota vehicles. Modern cars and trucks contain as many 100 million lines of computer code, more than in some jet fighters. "It would be easy to say the modern car is a computer on wheels, but it's more like 30 or more computers on wheels," says SAE International's Bruce Emaus. The on-board computers control several functions, including the brakes, cruise control, and entertainment systems. Built-in electronics, as a percentage of total vehicle costs, rose to 15 percent in 2005 from five percent in the late 1970s, and likely is higher today, reports IEEE Spectrum. Throttle-by-wire technology has replaced cables or mechanical connections. These systems are designed to protect against the kind of false signals or electronic interference that could cause sudden acceleration. Emaus says the software controlling a car's electronics is engineered with defensive programming to prevent problems, but he acknowledges it is nearly impossible to test for every eventuality.
Interactive Board Games Will Come to Life
MSNBC (02/02/10) Hsu, Jeremy
Queen's University researchers have built the prototype of an interactive board game that enables users to touch tiles together or "pour" the contents of a tile onto another to make virtual villages rise up from the ground or soldiers swarm off a ship to do battle. Queen's computer scientist Roel Vertegaal says the developers drew inspiration from the popular board game "Settlers of Catan," in which players try to build settlements, cities, and roads that control certain resources. The researchers used blank hexagonal tiles that could serve as backgrounds for a digital projection. A computer then renders virtual board game action onto the tiles. Eventually, board games could use organic light-emitting diodes or E-Ink technologies, similar to those in ebook readers, which could turn each tile into a visual display. Such interactive board games could come to life in the next five to 10 years, Vertegaal says. Queen's Human Media Lab also has experimented with projecting interfaces from smartphones onto three-dimensional objects such as Styrofoam.
Hybrid Video Could Lighten the Search and Rescue Load
New Scientist (02/02/10) Campbell, MacGregor
Integrating visible and infrared video could lead to more successful rescue and search missions, according to Brigham Young University's Nathan Rasmussen, who has created a hybrid system that makes it easier to interpret video images. To calibrate feeds from visible and infrared cameras, Rasmussen filmed a grid of black wires on a white blackboard. Sending a current down the wires to heat them up enabled the infrared camera to "see" the wires. He also developed an algorithm to align the vertices of the grids and make up the differences in viewing angles. Warmer areas in natural environments picked up by the infrared camera appear magenta on the hybrid video stream. During tests, volunteers were asked to watch either the hybrid feed or the two separate visible and infrared video streams while a series of beeps was played. Both groups were able to identify objects in the footage, but the viewers of the hybrid video were more accurate in noting the number of beeps they had heard, which suggests the hybrid feed was easier to interpret.
Code Defends Against "Stealthy" Computer Worms
Penn State Live (02/01/10) Messer, Andrea
Pennsylvania State University (PSU) researchers have developed an algorithm that defends against the spread of local scanning worms that search for hosts in "local" spaces within networks or subnetworks. The algorithm works by estimating the size of the targeted host population and monitoring the occurrence of infections. It then sets a threshold value just equal to or below the average number of scans necessary to infect a host. "By applying the containment thresholds from our proposed algorithm, outbreaks can be blocked early," says PSU postdoctoral fellow Yoon-Ho Choi. The algorithm was tested and proved to be able to determine the size of the susceptible host population as well as an efficient estimator of worm virulence. "Our evaluation showed that the algorithm is reliable in the very early propagation stage and is better than the state-of-the-art defense," Choi says.
US Oil Industry Hit by Cyberattacks: Was China Involved?
Christian Science Monitor (01/25/10) Clayton, Mark
Industrial espionage is shifting from traditional intelligence gathering methods to Internet intelligence capture, as evidenced by a series of cyberattacks against the oil industry that are believed to have been executed by foreign governments or their surrogates. Multiple sources say that Marathon Oil, ConocoPhillips, and ExxonMobil were breached by attacks that used a combination of bogus emails and customized spyware programs to target specific data. This has led to speculation by experts that the parties behind the attacks were "Level 3" intruders who may have been connected to a foreign government. Still, it is difficult to prove infiltration, given many companies' unwillingness to admit to having been hacked. Furthermore, many corporate executives are not aware of the growing sophistication of espionage software and still resort to outdated electronic safeguards. Some of the cyberattacks on the oil giants were traced to China, but there is no definitive proof that the Chinese government or even Chinese nationals were responsible. On the other hand, the oil intrusions coincide with increasing numbers of coordinated assaults in the United States that experts do consider China to be accountable for. In the end, experts say it is less important for U.S. industry to know who is responsible than to recognize and prepare for the expanding threat of cyberespionage.
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