Welcome to the April 8, 2011 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
DARPA Will Spend $20 Million to Search for Crypto's Holy Grail
Forbes (04/06/11) Andy Greenberg
The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) plans to spend $20 million over five years to find a way to both encrypt data and let it be used and manipulated. The Programming Computation on Encrypted Data (PROCEED) project would build upon the work of IBM researcher Craig Gentry, who has solved the theoretical problem of performing complex computations on encrypted data without decrypting it. Such full homomorphic encryption would enable someone to query a database without it ever knowing the content of the request. Gentry's method takes immense computational power, so DARPA wants the participating contractors and academic research teams to reduce the computing time for full homomorphic encryption by a factor of 10 million compared to its current state, or alternatively reduce it to 100,000 times the computation required for unencrypted computing. Meanwhile, Gentry says he recently discovered a less efficient version that could offer more computational shortcuts. Gentry recently received ACM's Grace Murray Hopper Award, which is awarded to the outstanding young computer professional of the year.
Simple Arithmetic for Faster, More Secure Websites
Researchers from the University of Military Education and the Polytechnic Institute of Kiev have developed an approach to logins involving the concept of zero knowledge identification, which is based on a set of mathematical functions known as one-way Boolean operators. The researchers say the approach could be hundreds of thousands of times faster than conventional encryption-decryption logins and will reduce the overall computing requirements on the provider side of the system as well as make logins more secure. "The efficiency of information security algorithms is defined based on two factors: the level of security and the amount of computational resources required for the implementation of the security functions," says the University of Military Education's Nikolaos Bardis. The system give users a special function that produces an extremely large number of different results for all of its possible inputs. A set of inputs that produce a common result is selected to be the user's passwords. The advantage of the system is that an illicit user will have to try all possible password combinations before reaching the correct one. "The proposed scheme has potential use in any system where malicious users have incentives to gain illegal access and perform actions they are not entitled to," says the University of Military Education's Nikolaos Doukas.
U of T Researchers Create Mobile App That Gives Voice to People With Communications Challenges
University of Toronto (04/06/11) Laurie Stephens
Researchers at the University of Toronto's Technologies for Aging Gracefully Lab (TAGlab) have developed MyVoice, a mobile application and server system that gives users with speech impairments the ability to speak by tapping words and pictures on a screen. "MyVoice will help to increase communication confidence, participation and independence," says Toronto researcher Alexandra Carling-Rowland. MyVoice is the first system to incorporate location-aware vocabulary that suggests useful words and phrases based on the user's location. "This is an excellent example of how university research makes a direct and positive impact on the challenges that face people around the world," says Toronto professor Paul Young. MyVoice got funding from Google, Android, and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, as well as requests to test the technology from institutions, collaborators, and school boards. "More than 90 percent of people with communication challenges use primitive communication aids, or no aids at all," says TAGlab's Alexander Levy. "MyVoice will always be accessible to anyone with a communication challenge."
An Attack Sheds Light on Internet Security Holes
New York Times (04/06/11) Riva Richmond
An attack on the Comodo Internet security company by an Iranian hacker who infiltrated several of the firm's partners underscores vulnerabilities in the global system for securing Internet communications and commerce. The incident highlights the insecurity of encryption used by numerous Web sites to thwart surveillance on their interactions with visitors. Their reliance on third-party organizations to ensure sites' authenticity to Web browsers using certificates is compounded by the spread of certificate-supplying organizations, according to security experts. Many private certificate authorities have collaborated with resellers and deputized other unknown firms to issue certificates, supporting an extensive chain of trust that can be undone by any single weak link. Google, Microsoft, and Mozilla say they will cooperate with each other and with certificate authorities and the security community to improve the system. In January, Comodo and Google engineers proposed a strategy that would allow Web site owners to specify which certificate authorities may issue certificates for their sites. Security experts favor an approach in which Web sites are granted similar control while securing their certificates within a new encrypted version of the domain name system.
A Glimpse of the Archives of the Future
National Science Foundation (04/05/11) Aaron Dubrow
The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) enlisted the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) to find innovative and scalable solutions to large-scale electronic records collections. The TACC researchers developed a multi-pronged approach that combines different data analysis methods into a visualization framework. Archivists try to determine the organization, contents, and characteristics of collections so they can describe them for public access. The TACC team adapted a treemap visualization technique to render additional information dimensions, such as technical metadata, file format correlations and preservation risk levels. The renderings are specifically designed to suit the archivist's need to compare different groups of electronic records. The researchers also developed an analysis method that combines string alignment algorithms with natural language processing methods, which will help archivists determine how a group of records is organized. The researchers are developing another analysis method that computes paragraph-to-paragraph similarity to discover stories from large collections of email messages.
Computer Translator Reads Between the Tweets
NPR Online (04/05/11) Christopher Joyce
A natural language program developed by University of Buffalo computer scientist Rohini Srihari can translate Arabic languages on social media to determine what kind of sentiment is being expressed. The computer has learned the subtleties of written Urdu. The program highlights sections of script being moused over onscreen in red to indicate a negative connotation, and in green to exhibit a positive connotation. "When you are able to figure out what the topic of the conversation is, what kind of sentiment is being expressed around that, that's the goal of what we are trying to do," Srihari says. She says the program enables the user to sift through the Internet. The research has received funding from the U.S. Department of Defense. "So in Twitter posts and tweets and so on, if there's specific factual information that's being mentioned--they want that extracted," Srihari notes. "There's also definitely an interest in sentiment and opinion mining." Political scientists and historians also have an interest in opinions disseminated via social media. U.S. Naval Academy professor Ernest Tucker says tweeters often best relate history, and he notes that "the goal of all historians everywhere [is] to try to get the voices of more and more people into the conversation, and anything that can do that ... is a wonderful gift."
Wireless Research for Intelligent Transport
Computing Community Consortium (04/05/11) Erwin Gianchandani
Boosting transportation safety and lowering truck and motor coach fuel consumption and emissions is the goal of various U.S. research programs designed to implement new and innovative information and communication technologies across the transportation system. "Already, major national trucking fleets have been using mobile wireless applications to stay safe and reduce emissions, delivering goods on time and improving the bottom line," write U.S. chief technology officer Aneesh Chopra and the Transportation Department's Peter Appel in a blog entry on the White House Web site. Methods fleets have employed to accomplish this include the use of real-time routing to find the quickest way to a destination, real-time traffic information to bypass congestion and guide just-in-time delivery, and advanced road weather information to avoid hazards and to locate the safest route. In addition, transit agencies are utilizing wireless systems developed by the Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) program to enhance routing, augment performance via transit signal priority, and alert customers as to where and when their next transit option will arrive. Chopra and Appel write that the ITS program is supplying a platform for connected vehicles capable of communicating with each other to avoid collisions and subsequent congestion.
Google Manager: Technology Needs to Attract More Women
Dow Jones Newswires (04/05/11) Kristina Peterson
The technology industry needs to do more to bring women into the field, according to Google's Marissa Mayer. Speaking during the recent Wall Street Journal Women in the Economy conference, Mayer said girls are expressing little interest in computer science as early as middle school and high school. Still, Mayer, who was the first female engineer hired by Google in 1999 when the company had less than 20 employees, believes the gender imbalance is changing. "Now with the pervasiveness of the Internet, video games, and technology all around us, I hope a lot more young women get interested in, 'how do you build that?'" she said. Mayer noted that she did not become interested in computer science until her freshman year at Stanford University in 1993 when she took a course to fulfill a prerequisite. She bought her first computer that year, but did not even know how to turn it on and use a mouse. Mayer said girls should not think that they have to give up their other interests to become computer scientists. "It's important to send the message that you don't have to give up your femininity to enter a space like technology," she said.
Military's Newest Recruit: C-3P0
Wired (04/05/11) Adam Rawnsley
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) recently announced its new Broad Operational Language Translation (BOLT) research project that, once completed, will perform a variety of difficult translation tasks for troops in battle. BOLT, which received $15 million in congressional funding this year, will use language, in addition to visual and tactile inputs, to "hypothesize and perform automated reasoning in the acquired language," according to DARPA. BOLT will be a robot with visual and tactile sensors that can recognize 250 different objects, "and understand the consequences [pre-state and post-state] of 100 actions, so that it can execute complex commands," DARPA says. The robot will be able to conduct both human-to-machine and human-to-human translation in English and one Arabic dialect with 90 percent accuracy. The translation will be genre-independent, meaning it will be able to translate text messages, human speech, and any other form of communication. DARPA also recently asked Congress for $21 million to fund its Robotic Automatic Translation of Speech (RATS) program. RATS will be able to pull speech out of noisy signals and identify the language spoken, as well as the speaker, using voice recognition technology.
UT Debuts Its Newest Supercomputer
Austin American-Statesman (TX) (04/04/11) Kirk Ladendorf
The University of Texas at Austin (UT), along with the Texas A&M University, Texas Tech, and the University of Texas System, among others, has built the Lonestar 4 supercomputer, which contains 1,888 Dell blade servers, each with two Intel Xeon 5600 processors. The new supercomputer is expected to support more than 1,000 research projects over the next four years. The Lonestar 4 will perform 8 million trillion computer computations over its projected four-year lifespan. Although Lonestar 4 does not have the total computer power of UT's Ranger, it could be faster because it uses more advanced processor chips and a faster network. University of Tokyo researchers are using the computer to model the recent earthquake and tidal wave, as well as where radioactive water from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant has dispersed in the ocean and the atmosphere. UT president William Powers Jr. says high-performance computing as "the fuel on which much of the modern research university runs."
Net Boffins Plot Password Alternatives
The Register (UK) (04/04/11) John Leyden
Several research groups are investigating methods for improving the security of Internet passwords. For example, Max Planck Institute researchers are developing a more secure approach to Web site sign-ons and logins. Although most sites store passwords as hashes, they are still vulnerable by using rainbow tables to expose the passwords based on dictionary words. The new approach involves dividing the password into two parts, one of which is memorized by the user and one that is held by the site itself. "The second component is transformed into a [Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart] image and then protected using evolution of a two-dimensional dynamical system close to a phase transition, in such a way that standard brute-force attacks become ineffective," according to the researchers' report. Meanwhile, Cambridge University researchers are studying the plausibility of another approach that removes passwords completely. Cambridge researcher Frank Stajano proposes a system that gets "rid of passwords everywhere, not just online," with logins being secured using a token instead of a password.
Supercomputers Let Up on Speed
Chronicle of Higher Education (04/03/11) Jeffrey R. Young
Smarter rather than faster design appears to be coming into vogue as a gauge of a supercomputer's success. A federal report from the President's Council of Advisers on Science and Technology urges the provision of a more balanced portfolio of U.S. supercomputing development, and cautions against excessive emphasis on speed rankings. The study warns that "engaging in such an 'arms race' could be very costly, and could divert resources away from basic research aimed at developing the fundamentally new approaches" to supercomputing. One supercomputer that favors smarter design over faster is Blue Waters from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Blue Waters features some memory that resides along the pathways between processors. Future supercomputers may employ a system that operates in the manner of a search engine, distributing computational problems among processors distributed across an expansive physical network. The Graph500 supercomputer ranking unveiled in November does not measure processing speed, but rather how fast supercomputers solve complex problems related to randomly generated graphs.
University Develops Technology to Help Stroke Sufferers
University of Ulster (04/03/11) Chris Barnes
The University of Ulster is working with Myomo to modify its neuro-robotic arm brace for use with a therapeutic training system. The mPower 1000 is an arm sleeve designed to detect the faint muscle signals of stroke sufferers and assist them in completing desired movements. The sensor-based sleeve can be used as a functional aid, for exercise to maintain gains, or used as a rehabilitation device for reteaching the brain arm movement. The sleeve features on-board controls and built-in Bluetooth capability for communication with external applications and systems, including Ulster's gaming system, which is designed to help people suffering from stroke recover the use of their arms. For myGames, Ulster's School of Computing and Information Engineering collaborated with the School of Health Sciences to develop virtual reality games for practicing hand and arm exercises via realistic scenarios involving virtual objects. "Combining Myomo's neuro-robotics with myGames results in a potentially very effective therapeutic program aimed at increasing the ability to perform functional tasks," says Ulster's Michael McNeill.
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