Welcome to the February 28, 2014 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
NSA Director Calls for Stronger Strategy to Deter Cyberattacks
The Washington Post (02/27/14) Ellen Nakashima
U.S. National Security Agency director General Keith Alexander on Thursday called for a stronger strategy to stop cyberattacks, because the line that would prompt a U.S. response against an adversary does not yet exist. Alexander says his greatest concern is a cybersecurity attack against the United States or Europe. One option involves sharing a watch list of suspected terrorists' phone numbers with telephone companies, which would then search for links to other numbers and return that data to the government. Alexander says if the government could work out a system in which it could share those "terrorist selectors" in a classified manner, "it sets the case in precedent" for sharing classified threat data with industry for cybersecurity purposes. Meanwhile, he says in future military conflicts, cyber-capabilities will probably be integrated into a broader set of military options and not used as a standalone weapon. For example, Alexander says cybersecurity capabilities could be used in "phase zero" operations to gain access to the enemy's computer systems that control their radar and communications. He also agrees with several legislators who think the prospect of an attack warrants the need for legislation to enable the sharing of cyberthreat data between industry and the government.
HP Launching New Scholarship Program for Women in Information Security
ZDNet (02/25/14) Rachel King
Women interested in the theory and practice of cybersecurity can now turn to a new scholarship program launched by Hewlett-Packard (HP) to support their studies. The Scholarship for Women Studying Information Security (SWSIS) program will grant up to $250,000 to academic institutions around the world for the purpose of curating course content about the fundamentals of information technology security. SWSIS will provide scholarships worth up to $10,000 a year, with a ceiling of $20,000 total over a two-year period. Scholarship winners also will be able to intern at HP, but this is not mandatory. The fund can help bring new talent into the field and support the growth of security careers, according to HP's Art Gilliland. "The security industry has a pressing need for skilled security talent that can function fluidly in today's environment," Gilliland says. He also says the scholarship program will "support security career growth and introduce new talent to the field." SWSIS is a joint effort supported by HP, the Applied Computer Security Associates, and the Computer Research Association's Committee on the Status of Women in Computing Research.
The Evolution of the Twitter Revolution
NextGov.com (02/24/14) Joseph Marks
Experts say social media is playing an evolving role in organizing and broadcasting global protest movements. "It's becoming increasingly difficult to imagine protests that don't utilize social media," says New York University professor Joshua Tucker. "If you want to understand protests moving forward--what leads to protests, the dynamics of protests--you have to get a handle on how social media impacts protesters." For example, Tucker says protesters in Kiev are using Twitter and Facebook to organize medical care and to spread information domestically and internationally. "It's hard to imagine this is going backward, that we're going to be in a less networked world where people have less access to instant information," Tucker says. Protesters' use of social media has evolved throughout the three-year Syrian conflict to address different audiences, according to a report released this week by the U.S. Institute of Peace. At first, a large proportion of tweets were in English and aimed at a Western audience. Then English-language tweets diminished, while Arabic-language tweets focused on battles and massacres on the ground. Finally, Arabic-language tweets returned to an emphasis on the conflict's international scope. Experts say Arabic-language tweets soliciting funding and resources from other Arab states further divided Syrian factions as they competed for resources.
Social Media's 'Law' of Short Messages
MIT News (02/26/14) Peter Dizikes
Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's (MIT) Senseable City Lab recently conducted a study showing that social media messages grow shorter as the volume of activity rises. "This helps us better understand what is going on--the way we respond to things becomes faster and more impulsive," says MIT professor Carlo Ratti. For example, at times of lower activity, the most popular length of tweets ranges from about 70 to 120 characters. However, at moments of greater traffic, the highest concentration of tweets is only about 25 characters in length. "If you plot the rate of the messages versus the length, then you can find a mathematical relation between these two things during [major] events," says MIT's Michael Szell. The researchers focused on data from several social media sources at a variety of points in time. University of Namur mathematician Renaud Lambiotte says this is "an interesting piece of research" that may lead to fruitful follow-up work, "in particular for the modeling of the relation between behavioral response and emotional stimuli." The study also found an "index of frustration" among some social media users, particularly during major events when a small portion of users run up against Twitter's 140-character limit.
'Contagious' Wi-Fi Virus Created by Liverpool Researchers
BBC News (02/26/14) Dave Lee
University of Liverpool researchers have created Chameleon, a proof-of-concept computer virus that targets Wi-Fi access points that have not had their admin password changed from the default setting. The researchers say once Chameleon is installed on an access point in a densely populated area, it can go from network to network finding weaknesses, without being controlled by a human. Chameleon can automatically seek out other vulnerable access points, taking them over when they are found. The researchers note the virus would be more of a concern for homes and small establishments than for large organizations, which have enhanced security in place. The team now is developing software that would prevent such an attack. "Rather than rely on people to use strong passwords, you want to integrate intrusion detection systems to the access points," says Liverpool professor and lead researcher Alan Marshall.
The Problem With Serious Games: Solved
Technology Review (02/24/14)
Researchers at Bar-Ilan University have found a way to greatly facilitate the development of new content for serious games that offer realistic training for specific skills. Serious games have become more widespread over the past 10 years, but the ongoing need to generate new content has limited their use. The researchers' method crowdsources new scenarios from real people using Amazon's Mechanical Turk service. For example, to create alibis for suspects in law enforcement training games, the team asked Mechanical Turk users to answer questions about their activities during each one-hour period throughout various days. The activities were then categorized by factors such as times performed, and the person's age and sex. Computer games can then cut and paste activities appropriately, for example, giving a young male an alibi for a Sunday evening that matches the activity described by young, male Turk users for the same time. To test the method's effectiveness, the team asked people to rate the authenticity of the computer game narratives and found no significant discrepancy with ratings of the actual Turk user narratives. The team is using the approach in a scenario-based training application to help new law enforcement investigators improve their questioning skills.
Using Stolen Computer Processing Cycles to Mine Bitcoin
UCSD News (CA) (02/25/14) Ioana Patringenaru
University of California, San Diego (UCSD) researchers are studying how malware operators use the computers they infect to mine Bitcoin. The researchers examined more than 2,000 pieces of malware used by Bitcoin mining operations in 2012 and 2013 and were able to estimate how much money operators made from their operations and which countries were most affected. Bitcoin mining is particularly attractive for malware operators because of its low cost and because it requires little to no investment in infrastructure. "At the current stratospheric value of Bitcoin, miners with access to significant computational horsepower are literally printing money," says UCSD Ph.D. student Danny Huang. The study is part of a larger effort to understand how malware operators make money, from sending spam to stealing personal information such as credit card numbers. The researchers found PCs were infected in more than 60 countries, most of which were in Europe. The researchers believe although malware operators are not building botnets to exclusively mine Bitcoin, botnet operators have likely added Bitcoin mining to their portfolio of malware operations.
New Map of Twitterverse Finds 6 Types of Networks
UMD Newsdesk (02/21/14) Tom Ventsias; Lee Tune
University of Maryland professor Ben Shneiderman, working with researchers from the Pew Research Internet Project, the Social Media Research Foundation, and the University of Georgia, has found that most of the information being discussed on Twitter falls into six distinct patterns or networks. Their study analyzed tens of thousands of Twitter conversations over the past four years and developed a "topographical map" of these patterns based on the topic being discussed, the information and influencers driving the conversation, and the social network structures of the participants. The six network patterns the researchers found are polarized crowds, tight crowds, brand clusters, community clusters, broadcast networks, and support networks. "What we've done is to provide a visual map of the Twitterverse that will ultimately help others to better interpret the trends, topics, and implications of these new communication technologies," Shneiderman says. The researchers used NodeXL, an open source program, to interpret the data. NodeXL enables researchers to examine the combination of tweets, retweets, and the social networks Twitter users. "It could eventually have a large impact on our understanding of everything from health to community safety, from business innovation to citizen science, and from civic engagement to sustainable energy programs," Shneiderman says.
Creating Animated Characters Outdoors
Saarland University (02/24/14)
Max Planck Institute for Informatics researchers have developed a method for motion capture that works without markers. The researchers say their method immediately transfers actors' movements to virtual characters in near-real time. "Now it is possible to film the movie scenes outdoors and not only in the studio," says Max Planck's Nils Hasler. The researchers also are working to simultaneously transfer the movements of two actors into two animated characters--"but the software needs a little bit more computing time to deal with two persons," says Max Planck's Carsten Stoll. The researchers say their method makes it possible to imitate entire tracking shots, which means the movements of one character can be more easily captured from every angle. Another challenge the research could tackle is that of displaying people in full, even if they had been partly obscured by other characters in a movie scene. Meanwhile, the technology could have applications beyond the film and gaming industries. "Company doctors and physiotherapists could also use the technique to prevent, for example, back pain issues for company staff, or to optimize work processes," the researchers say.
New Algorithm Arranges Pictures Artistically
A new algorithm could provide photographers, photo editors, museum curators, and website designers with novel possibilities for three-dimensional image arrangements. Developed by researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Informatics and running on a computer's graphics-processing unit for speed, the algorithm can interactively arrange pictures by certain visual characteristics such as size and color. The researchers say the image-design algorithm can quickly create an overall harmonious image, a task that would take hours to do by hand. The user selects a layout, clicks on three or more pictures, and drags them to certain points. The objective is inferred from the placement of three primitives or push pins, which leads to a layout organized vertically by size, and after a different placement, additionally by brightness horizontally. The approach also works for semantic features, such as mortality rates and population size. "The main feature of our program is that it is able to capture the requests of the user," says head researcher Tobias Ritschel.
Supercomputer Beagle Can Analyze 240 Whole Genomes in Two Days
CNet (02/21/14) Elizabeth Armstrong Moore
University of Chicago researchers say the Beagle supercomputer can analyze 240 full genomes in 50 hours, compared to the 47 years that a single 2.1-GHz central-processing unit would take to complete the task. Using one-fourth of the Beagle's operating capacity with commercially available software packages, the team analyzed raw sequencing data from 61 human genomes. The approach significantly improved speed and accuracy, which is expected to lower the cost of sequencing and analyzing whole genomes in the future. If the cost of analysis could drop to the $1,000 range, scientists would likely begin analyzing entire genomes instead of only a fraction of them. Scientists currently use a process called exome sequencing to analyze only the portion of the genome that codes for proteins, uncovering an estimated 85 percent of mutations while neglecting the remaining 15 percent to control time and expenses. Early discovery of genetic mutations aids disease diagnosis, and helps scientists learn about very early disease stages and treatment options.
Necklace Projectors Will Throw Emails Onto the Floor
New Scientist (02/17/14) Paul Marks
Researchers at the University of Ulm have created a projector that is embedded in jewelry to enable consumers to use their hands or the floor as a screen for reading email and other digital information. The Ambient Mobile Pervasive Display projects an SMS graphic in front of the user, who then uses hand gestures to view who the message is from and to read it on their hand. The researchers believe the device could fulfill most functions that normally require a screen, and could perhaps be particularly useful in navigation. A three-dimensional sensor helps the system switch from hand to ground projection by calculating the distance to the ground and to the user's hand to immediately adjust focal length. A test version of the system used a laptop carried in a backpack to control the projector and transmit updates to the device. The team believes it can scale down this system, and a consumer version could be ready for indoor use within two years. In April, the researchers will present their work at the ACM CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems in Toronto.
KAIST Developed an Extremely Low-Powered, High-Performance Head-Mounted Display Embedding an Augmented Reality Chip
Researchers at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) have developed the K-Glass head-mounted display (HMD) with an augmented reality (AR) processor. The researchers say K-Glass enables users, for example, to walk up to a restaurant and look at the sign to view images of the menu, food photos, and information about currently available tables. Many current HMDs use location-based services that work with markers or barcodes printed on objects. However, the new AR chip does not require markers because it is based on the Visual Attention Model (VAM), which mimics the human brain's visual data processing. VAM extracts the most relevant information about the environment and eliminates extraneous data, significantly accelerating the computation of complex AR algorithms. In addition, the researchers say the artificial neural network enables parallel data processing, which minimizes data congestion and significantly cuts power consumption. The ultra-low-powered AR processor provides a 76-percent improvement in power conservation over other devices. HMDs will eventually overtake smartphones, as mobile users embrace the technology for daily use, says KAIST professor Hoi-Jun Yoo. "Through augmented reality, we will have richer, deeper, and more powerful reality in all aspects of our life from education, business, and entertainment to art and culture," Yoo says.
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