Association for Computing Machinery
Welcome to the December 28, 2011 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Occupy Geeks Are Building a Facebook for the 99%
Wired News (12/27/11) Sean Captain

As part of the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement, a team of Web and mobile application developers is redesigning social networking for the era of global protests. The team hopes their technology can go beyond OWS to help establish more distributed social networks, improve online business collaborations, and add to the Semantic Web's development. The Occupy movement already has local networks set up for each occupation site, and the activist-developers are building an overarching, international network called Global Square. A major challenge to all new social networking efforts is ensuring that members are trustworthy. To build trust, local and international networks will use a friend-of-a-friend model. "You have to know someone in real life who sponsors you," says Occupy Movement developer Ed Knutson. Global Square will connect through standards designed to link up disparate technologies. The OWS projects also rely on Open ID and OAuth, which let users sign into new Web sites using their logins and passwords from social networks such as Facebook, Google, and Twitter. In the new OWS technology, an activist's local-occupation network can vouch for a user to another network, and since the local networks all trust each other, they all trust that activist.

Computers Implanted in Brain Could Help Paralyzed
San Francisco Chronicle (12/27/11) Erin Allday

The University of California (UC), Berkeley and UC San Francisco launched the Center for Neural Engineering and Prostheses a year ago to take advantage of the neurology expertise in San Francisco and the engineering skills in the Bay Area. The center develops technologies that enable the human brain to control electronic devices. "Medicine has not taken neural prosthetics very seriously until recently," says center co-director Edward Chang. The neural prosthetic devices work by connecting a device inserted into the brain directly to a computer. The electrical signals from the brain travel through a cable to the computer, where they are decoded into instructions for some kind of action, such as moving a cursor. The physical technology is one of several hurdles the researchers must overcome before the devices are truly useful. The researchers note that some of the problems are going to require a greater understanding of how the human brain works. A major part of the research is determining what devices would actually be useful to patients. "I want to find out what are the things that are going to be most useful for people, and it may be as simple as communication," Chang says.

Logging in With a Touch or a Phrase (Anything but a Password)
New York Times (12/23/11) Somini Sengupta

Polytechnic Institute of New York University (NYU-Poly) researchers are training devices to recognize their owners by touch, one of several research projects designed to make passwords obsolete. The research arm of the U.S. Defense Department is looking for ways to use cues such as a person’s typing quirks to continuously verify their identity. NYU-Poly professor Nasir Memon is leading the touchscreen project, which has found success because every person makes the same gesture uniquely. "If you ask me what is the biggest nuisance today, I would say it’s the 40 different passwords I have to create and change,” Memon says. His research has found that the most popular gestures for security are the ones that feel the most intuitive, such as turning a combination lock dial 90 degrees or signing your name on a computer screen. However, Microsoft researcher Cormac Herley says it is too soon to do with away with passwords. "The spectacularly incorrect assumption ‘passwords are dead’ has been harmful, discouraging research on how to improve the lot of close to two billion people who use them,” Herley says. Instead, he says that developers should try “to better support the use of passwords."

Russia Building 10-Petaflop Supercomputer
Computerworld (12/23/11) Patrick Thibodeau

Moscow-based T-Platforms is developing a 10-petaflop supercomputer for M.V. Lomonsov Moscow State University. The system may indicate Russia's intent to become a major participant in the race to build an exascale-class supercomputer. Russia "is committed to having exascale computation capabilities by 2018-2020 and is prepared to make the investments to make that happen," says Exascale Report author Mike Bernhardt. The newest system at Lomonsov will be water-cooled, use Intel and NVIDIA chips, and should be operational by the end of 2013. "You can expect to see Russia holding its own in the exascale race with little or no dependence on foreign manufacturers," Bernhardt says. Russia's efforts to build an exascale-class system mirror those of other European nations, which also want to be less dependent on U.S.-made components. "At this point, there is unity in believing any company, on a global scale, would be foolish to state that they know the exact technology or components they will use to build an exascale machine," Bernhardt says. "Systems will be hybrid, heterogeneous, and unique."

Congress Funds Exascale Computing
InformationWeek (12/22/11) J. Nicholas Hoover

The U.S. Department of Energy recently won full Congressional funding to support the pursuit of exascale computing. House and Senate conferees agreed to provide $442 million for advanced scientific computing research, and $126 million will go toward exascale computing. Researchers were able to move from terascale to petascale computing in about 12 years, and it will likely take that long to reach the exascale plateau. According to an Oak Ridge National Lab report, exascale computing could enable researchers to more deeply understand nanotechnology, model climate processes at very high resolutions, and simulate nuclear interactions to a level not possible today. However, for future funding the Energy Department will need to provide Congress with an exascale computing plan. By Feb. 10, 2012, the department will need to provide a strategy that includes target dates, interim milestones, minimum requirements for an exascale system, multi-year budget estimates, breakdowns of each office and lab involved in exascale research, and a more granular budget request for 2013.

Cheating Spreads Like Infections in Online Games
Technology Review (12/23/11)

Online gaming communities are investing significant resources to find and stop cheaters. For example, University of South Florida researchers have been studying a social network of about 12 million gamers on the Steam Community, of which about 700,000 are cheaters. The researchers found that cheaters are much more likely to become friends with other cheaters. Cheating also appears to be infectious, according to the researchers. The data shows that the likelihood of a fair player becoming labeled as a cheater in the future is directly correlated with the person's number of friends who are cheaters. In addition, once a person is labeled as a cheater, they tend to lose friends that play fair. The research points to a new angle of attack for gaming communities that want to eliminate cheating, says South Florida's Jeremy Blackburn. The researchers want to use the structure of the network to predict the likelihood that a given player will become a cheater in the future.

Foundation Readies $25 Computer to Seed Tech Talents (12/24/11) Nancy Owano

The Raspberry Pi project has received the first finished circuit boards that will go into a low-cost computer for young students. Electrical, software, and hardware testing will be performed on the test versions, and if all goes well, volume production will begin and orders will be taken in early January. The initiative is the work of the Raspberry Pi Foundation, which was formed to promote computer science and related topics. The credit card-sized computer, also called Raspberry Pi, can be plugged into a TV or monitor and keyboard. Mice, keyboards, network adapters, and external storage can connect via a USB hub. The computer uses SD cards for storage, runs on a 700 MHz ARM processor, and uses Python as the main programming language. Model A will sell for $25, and Model B, which includes 10/100 wired Ethernet, will sell for $35. The foundation will auction off the first batch of 10 boards to the highest bidder. "We want to see it being used by kids all over the world to learn programming," the company says.

Naval Researchers Pioneer TCP-Based Spam Detection
PC Advisor (12/23/11) Joab Jackson

U.S. Naval Academy researchers have developed a method for analyzing email traffic in real time to identify spam messages as they come across the wire, using the information from the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) packets that carry the messages. Experts say the technique could be a good spam-fighting method because it does not require the content of the email to be scanned. The research "advanced both the science of spam fighting and ... worked through all the engineering challenges of getting these techniques built into the most popular open source spam filter," says Massachusetts Institute of Technology's (MIT's) Steve Bauer. Naval Academy researchers Robert Beverly, Georgios Kakavelakis, and Joel Young built a plug-in for the SpamAssassin mail filter, called SpamFlow, which incorporates the new analysis techniques. In tests, SpamFlow was able to correctly identify spam more than 95 percent of the time. "Overall, I see it as a generally useful tool in the fight against malicious traffic," says MIT's Bruce Davie.

Infosec Careers: The New Demands (12/22/11) Jeffrey Roman

A major goal for information security students and institutions should be developing a cultural way of learning, instead of simply studying for tests and doing projects, says Purdue University professor Eugene Spafford in an interview. "These students are going to have to get into the habit of reading the news, reading the industry news, and being prepared to go to conferences or training sessions to continue to hone their skills," Spafford says. He believes that students need to take stock in their own education by further developing the skills needed to work in emerging fields. Spafford also discusses where education has made strides, where programs still need to make improvements, and how today's students need to evolve to fill tomorrow's jobs. He says the state of information security education as a whole is better than it was last year and is getting more attention in several institutions. "The U.S. in particular has an initiative called NICE, which is a national initiative to increase infosec cybereducation," Spafford notes. He says areas that need the most improvement include boosting the number of good, complete, and sound educational materials, as well as giving students access to state-of-the-art hardware and software.

Got Research? NIST Could Show You the Money
Government Computer News (12/21/11) William Jackson

The U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) will make funding available for research subjects such as information technology (IT), smart grid and control system security, and systems integration in fiscal 2012. The nine funding programs supporting NIST's research and development labs are material measurement, physical measurement, engineering, fire research, IT, neutron research, nanoscale science and technology, standards services group, and the Office of Special Programs. In fiscal 2011, NIST funded 86 research projects with a total of $15.6 million. The IT Lab program offers opportunities to pursue projects in networking, cloud computing, complex systems, computer forensics, information access, cybersecurity, health IT, smart grid, and software testing. Projects will likely receive five-year grants ranging from $10,000 to $500,000. The IT Lab program awarded 23 grants totaling $4.5 million in fiscal 2011. The Engineering Lab program will fund research on smart grid technology, cyberphysical systems, and state-of-the-art IT based solutions for manufacturing systems integration problems.

Network Analysis Predicts Drug Side Effects
ScienceNews (12/21/11) Rachel Ehrenberg

Researchers at Harvard Medical School and Children's Hospital Boston, led by Ben Reis and Aurel Cami, have developed a mathematical network to predict drug side effects that normally are not discovered until thousands of people have taken the medication. The researchers started with a 2005 catalog of existing medications and their known side effects. They linked the drugs and their side effects in the network, and then created a program to predict likely new connections between drugs and side effects. The system was able to predict 42 percent of the drug-side effect relationships that were later found in patients, according to the researchers. The network included information on chemical properties, such as the drug's melting point and molecular weight, and where the drug acts in the body. The program also was able to use this data and relationships to predict side effects that were reported years later. The researchers are now studying what kinds of data work best and trying to determine drug interactions that also can be dangerous but are rarely studied in clinical trials. "We’re moving from a paradigm of detection--where it takes sick people to know something is wrong--to prediction," Reis says.

Do You Wee What I See?
Los Alamos National Laboratory News (12/20/11) Nancy Ambrosiano

Researchers at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, Chatham University, and Emory University are developing a computer model based on human neural structure and function to visually recognize images the same way humans do. "This model is biologically inspired and relies on leveraging lateral connections between neurons in the same layer of a model of the human visual system," says Chatham's Vadas Gintautas. Neuroscientists have already characterized neurons in the primate visual cortex that appear to underlie object recognition, according to Los Alamos researcher Garrett Kenyon. "These neurons, located in the inferotemporal cortex, can be strongly activated when particular objects are visible, regardless of how far away the objects are or how the objects are posed, a phenomenon referred to as viewpoint invariance," Kenyon says. The researchers are trying to recreate this function in a computer by getting the system to process the information laterally, like the brain does. "We demonstrated that our model qualitatively reproduces human performance on the same task, both in terms of time and difficulty," Gintautas notes.

Scaling Up
CCC Blog (12/20/11) Erwin Gianchandani

Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Frans Kaashoek recently discussed multicore computing, security, and operating system (OS) design in an interview in the December 2011 issue of Communications of the ACM. Kaashoek has been working on the exokernel OS, which enables application developers to specify how the hardware should execute the code. "We wanted to explore whether we could build a kernel interface that defines no abstractions other than what the hardware already provides, and that exports the hardware abstractions directly to applications," Kaashoek says. The exokernel OS has influenced other systems that have since been built, and it has been credited in work on machine monitors for handheld devices, according to Kaashoek. Since working on exokernels, Kaashoek has been working on other OS designs, especially as they relate to multicore computing. "Many applications rely heavily on operating system services, particularly systems applications like email and Web servers," Kaashoek notes. He also has worked on systems security, using information flow control to prevent the unauthorized disclosure of data. For example, Kaashoek and colleague Nickolai Zeldovich have developed a method for reverting a system back to before it was infected with malicious data.

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