Welcome to the July 9, 2010 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
U.S. Plans Cyber Shield for Utilities, Companies
Wall Street Journal (07/08/10) P. A3; Gorman, Siobhan
The U.S. government is launching the Perfect Citizen program to detect cyberattacks on private companies and government agencies that operate critical infrastructure. The U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) will conduct surveillance using a set of sensors implemented in computer networks for critical infrastructure that would be activated by unusual activity suggesting an impending cyberattack. Perfect Citizen will study large, older computer control systems that were frequently designed without Internet linkage or security in mind. Many of those systems have since been tied to the Internet, and one industry specialist says Perfect Citizen's objective is to patch the major gaps in the U.S.'s comprehension of the nature of the cyberthreat against its infrastructure. The program is being expanded with financing from the Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative, which NSA is tapping to map out intrusions into critical infrastructure across the United States. Sources familiar with the initiative say that NSA would likely begin with the systems that have the most important security ramifications if attacked, such as air traffic control, nuclear, and electrical systems.
Researchers Apply Computing Power to Crack Egg Shell Problem
University of Warwick (07/09/10) Dunn, Peter
Researchers at Warwick and Sheffield universities are using metadynamics and the United Kingdom's national supercomputer in Edinburgh to solve the problem of how egg shells are formed. "Metadynamics extends conventional molecular dynamics simulations and is particularly good at sampling transitions between disordered and ordered states of matter," says Warwick's David Quigley. Using metadynamics, the researchers were able to develop simulations that showed how a chicken eggshell protein called ovocledidin-17 (OC-17) bound to amorphous calcium carbonate surface using two clusters of arginine residues, which create a chemical clamp to nano-sized particles of calcium carbonate. While clamped in this manner, OC-17 encourages the nanoparticles of calcium carbonate to transform into tiny crystals that can continue to grow on their own. The process allows for the efficient recycling of the OC-17 protein. The researchers say their discovery will be highly beneficial to anyone exploring how to promote and control artificial forms of crystallization.
High Reliability of Flexible Organic Transistor Memory Looks Promising for Future Electronics
PhysOrg.com (07/08/10) Zyga, Lisa
Korean engineers have developed a flexible memory based on an organic transistor, which they say could be integrated, along with transistors and logic circuits, into flexible electronic devices. "Here we demonstrated the improved data retention and endurance capability by optimizing the memory device structures," says Kookmin University's Jang-Sik Lee. The device offers controllable threshold voltage for writing and erasing information, storage times of more than a year, and reliability after hundreds of repeated programming and erasing cycles, as well as flexibility that could endure more than 1,000 repeated bending cycles. The researchers created organic memory devices with similar electrical and mechanical properties as existing transistors by embedding gold nanoparticles and dielectric layers. "The memory devices developed in this study are based on the field-effect transistors, and memory elements are embedded in the gate dielectric layers of organic transistors," Lee says. "This is a great advantage in terms of device scaling and circuit design since the structure is similar to the conventional flash memory devices."
Robot May Furnish Lesson in Human Trust
Boston Globe (07/05/10) Johnson, Carolyn Y.
Boston-area scientists are using a new robot to study the signals that people use to decide whether to trust one another within minutes of meeting. "There should be some signal for trustworthiness that's subtle and hard to find, but [it is] there," says Northeastern University's David DeSteno. The robot, called Nexi, has advantages over human participants because people use subtle gestures, or engage in unintentional mimicry, that can be hard to measure or control. Nexi has many human expressions, but researchers can control every aspect of its behavior, which enables them to test what nonverbal cues might seem more or less trustworthy. The research also could help roboticists find ways to design machines that will be trusted partners for humans. The experiment is a collaboration between the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Northeastern, and Cornell University. At the end of the experiment, researchers measured how trustworthy the participants found Nexi to be using an economic task in which they decided how many tokens to exchange with Nexi and predicted how many tokens Nexi would give them.
Government Auditors Urge Clearer Cybersecurity R&D Strategy
InformationWeek (07/07/10) Hoover, J. Nicholas
The U.S. Government Accountability Office has released a report that criticizes the way in which the federal government funds and carries out cybersecurity research and development (R&D). The report says the federal government needs to develop a comprehensive strategy for carrying out and funding cybersecurity R&D to replace the various initiatives that are currently in place. Those initiatives are overseen by a variety of different agencies and organizations, including several White House councils and committees and 14 other government bodies. In addition, the report criticized the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy's Subcommittee on Networking and Information Technology for not using its power to coordinate cybersecurity R&D efforts and for not prioritizing a national or federal cybersecurity R&D agenda. The report called on the Office of Science and Technology Policy, one of the government bodies charged with overseeing cybersecurity R&D, to address this problem by finishing its efforts to create near-term, mid-term, and long-term cybersecurity R&D goals.
Smart Little Gizmo Even Smarter
Halmstad University (Sweden) (07/07/10) Lunden, Lena
Halmstad University's Bjorn Nilsson is leading an effort to improve smart radio frequency identification (RFID) technology by developing an active RFID tag with a single circuit. The protocol for communication over a single circuit would ensure that if multiple tags pass a reader at the same time, all tags would be read at once. Nilsson has already developed the protocol to reduce the energy use of active RFID tags and make batteries last longer. The protocol would make active RFID tags as much as 60 percent more efficient, and possibly make them easier to produce and lower their cost. "This is what my research is about: How readers and multiple tags talk to each other at the same time, effectively and without causing confusion," Nilsson says. "You also want the tags to use as little energy as possible." Nilsson is developing the technology with Halmstad colleague Emil Nilsson and Chalmers University of Technology's Lars Bengtsson.
Japanese Supercomputer Ranked 1st in Little Green500 List
Tech-On! (07/08/10) Nozawa, Tetsuo
Japan's Grape-DR supercomputer tops the June edition of Green500.org's Little Green500 list, which ranks the performance per unit power consumption of smaller-scale supercomputers. Developed by the University of Tokyo and the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, Grape-DR has a performance per unit power consumption of 815.43 MFLOPS/W, which is about 5 percent higher than the 773.38 MFLOPS/W of the second-ranked IBM system located in Germany. Grape-DR combines Intel's Core i7-920 microprocessors and the Grape-DR accelerator chip, which realizes a double-precision performance of 200 GFLOPS with a power consumption of 50W. The computing performance of the Grape-DR supercomputer system is 23.4 TFLOPS, which just misses the 24.67 TFLOPS mark required to be ranked 500th in the latest version of the Top500 ranking of supercomputers. The Grape-DR's designers say that by adding more memory and boosting the interconnect speed, it is possible to enhance the performance per unit power consumption by about 50 percent within this year.
Machine Versus Manhole
Science News (07/07/10) Ehrenberg, Rachel
In 2004, Con Edison began an inspection program with the goal of finding the places in New York City's network of electrical cable that are most likely to lead to exploding manhole covers. The company also called on a team of Columbia University researchers to help in predicting which of the manholes might be the next to blow. The scientists began working on an algorithm that seeks to identify subterranean trouble spots. "To us it was like solving an ancient puzzle, but one that we weren't sure we were going to crack, and one that nobody had solved before," says Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Cynthia Rudin, who led the study when she was at Columbia. The researchers started by ranking the manholes by vulnerability to serious events, such as fires and explosions. The algorithm was designed to learn from past records and find meaningful patterns, which would enable it to predict the likelihood that a particular manhole would have a future accident. The researchers developed a hot-spot theory based on the finding that manholes with larger cables--and thus more insulation that was prone to decay and sparking--were more vulnerable to serious events. Con Edison is now using the algorithm to help prioritize inspections and repairs.
Turning Remote Control Into Intimate Support
ICT Results (07/05/10)
Any networked home appliance or software service can be integrated with any user interface using new open standardized middleware developed by the European Union-funded I2HOME project. The I2HOME solution can replace all the remote controls used to operate TVs, stereos, DVD players, and laptops, as well as those fixed to walls to control heating, air conditioning, and household appliances. I2HOME's developers say the middleware is a step toward a future in which users can quickly and easily integrate new appliances, devices, or services into their home network without configuration issues. I2HOME features a resource server from which user interfaces and other software can be downloaded that integrate devices with the system's Universal Control Hub. "This infrastructure should be built into future [information and communication technologies] so that it is available everywhere," says German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence's Jan Alexandersson. "It is a technology that could tell you how to reach a meeting room in a strange building or that you could use to buy a rail ticket via your desired user interface."
Meeting Consumers' HD Demands With a Faster Algorithm
Lehigh University (07/07/10) Pfitzer, Kurt
Lehigh University researchers have developed signal-processing algorithms that enable handheld devices to display high definition (HD) images. Mobile HD applications require fast processing speeds and efficient power use, says Lehigh professor Zhiyuan Yan. "To achieve the required speed, we have developed an entirely new class of algorithms that can be directly cast into hardware," says Lehigh professor Meghanad Wagh. He says the algorithms are extremely fast and take advantage of new trends in technology, such as complementary metal-oxide semiconductor technology and parallel processing. The algorithms can be scaled to handle the greater level of complexity required by computationally intensive jobs. "Our algorithms are inherently structured," Yan says. "This enables us to extract the maximum parallelism in processing and to offload tasks to dedicated hardware."
International Conference Confronts Data Deluge
Scientific Computing (07/02/10)
At the recent International Conference on Scientific and Statistical Database Management, scientific domain experts, database researchers, practitioners, and developers discussed concepts, tools, techniques, and architectures for scientific and statistical database applications. Yale University professor Daniel Abadi says that as market demand for analyzing data sets of increasing variety and size continues to grow, the software options for performing this analysis also are starting to spread. Abadi says Yale is developing a hybrid database system called HadoopDB designed to combine the advantages of parallel databases and MapReduce-based systems. Microsoft's Roger Barga says that data-intensive scalable computing methods are expected to play a more important role in providing support for well-informed technical decisions and policies. He says that researchers and decision-makers increasingly are requiring new combinations of data, more sophisticated data analysis methods, and better ways to present results.
War in the Fifth Domain
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization's (NATO's) Estonia-based "center of excellence" for cyberdefense is the hub of brainstorming efforts covering the tactical and legal concepts of cyberwarfare. The center was established as a response to a coordinated denial-of-service assault on Estonia, while in May a panel of experts led by former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright warned that cyberattacks are among the three most likely threats to NATO. During the confirmation hearing of U.S. Gen. Keith Alexander as director of the Pentagon's new Cyber Command, he was asked questions such as whether he would have "significant" cyberweapons under his authority, and how sure he would need to be about the identity of a cyberattacker to launch a counteroffensive. Alexander said the president would be the ultimate arbiter of what constituted cyberwarfare, and that if the United States responded with force in cyberspace it would be in keeping with the rules of war and the "principles of military necessity, discrimination, and proportionality."
Q&A: Paul Otellini
Technology Review (06/10) Vol. 113, No. 3, P. 34; Rotman, David
Intel CEO Paul Otellini is concerned that U.S. technological and economic competitiveness is eroding due to long-term neglect of support for education, research, and digital infrastructure. "As a country the issue is: Are we going to be prepared for the industries of the 21st century, which are fundamentally knowledge-based industries?" Otellini asks. He stresses that governments are in the optimal position to underwrite basic research, and the doubling of current government funding budgets will take a long time. Otellini says the research and development tax credit should be made a permanent institution and be reverted to levels that are internationally competitive. Earlier this year, Otellini announced that Intel and a group of venture capital firms would furnish U.S.-based tech startups with $3.5 billion over the next 18 to 24 months. Otellini says that venture capitalists need to be encouraged to invest in startups, noting that "the narrowness of the focus [on clean tech and high tech] and the narrowness of the investment period was also important. We wanted to show [startup companies] that the venture capital industry was open for business."
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