Welcome to the September 19, 2016 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Hardware Hack Defeats iPhone Passcode Security
BBC News (09/19/16)
University of Cambridge professor Sergei Skorobogatov has cloned iPhone memory chips, giving him an unlimited number of attempts to guess the passcode. He says the breakthrough contradicts a claim made by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation earlier this year, as part of its probe into the San Bernardino, CA, terrorist attack, that this approach would not work. Skorobogatov created a YouTube video showing how he had removed a NAND chip from an iPhone 5C, which is the main memory storage system used on many Apple devices. Skorobogatov then determined how the memory system communicates with the phone so he could clone the chip. "Because I can create as many clones as I want, I can repeat the process many many times until the passcode is found," he says. Skorobogatov used this technique to find a four-digit code in about 40 hours of work. However, he notes finding a six-digit code could potentially take hundreds of hours. The work shows law enforcement agencies should not look for software backdoors to help their investigations, but should develop or cultivate hardware and computer security skills, says Worcester Polytechnic Institute faculty member Susan Landau.
Southampton to Help Develop Software Which Could Transform Ship Maintenance
University of Southampton (United Kingdom) (09/15/16)
The University of Southampton in the U.K. is participating in an effort to develop software that can monitor the equipment, fuel, and energy performance of a ship at sea. Southampton researchers will work on monitoring loads on the ship and applying machine-learning techniques to a domain that has largely been data-poor. The Ship Energy Assessment-Condition Optimization & Routing Enhancement System (SEA-CORES) consortium seeks to provide a live model of ship performance on global operations. SEA-CORES will make use of genetic algorithms to track and capture live data, and will be able to correlate variables that could impact a ship's performance, such as energy consumption and different weather conditions. BAE Systems, which is leading the effort, is testing SEA-CORES on a commercial tanker. "SEA-CORES is able to consider all of the important components which affect the performance of a vessel during deployment," says BAE's Chris Courtaux. The SEA-CORES software links technologies in delivering fuel and engine optimization via the use of the BAE's Ship Energy Assessment System, along with big data analysis using System Information Exploitation technology.
Women Break Barriers in Engineering and Computer Science at Some Top Colleges
The Washington Post (09/16/16) Nick Anderson
Women are making progress in enrollment in engineering and computer science at prestigious U.S. schools. More than 50 percent of engineering bachelor's degrees at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Dartmouth College went to women in 2015, according to federal data. Women also account for 48 percent of first-year computer science students at Carnegie Mellon University. The federal government and industry leaders concede there should be a greater effort to bring women into science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), and they have promoted programs such as Girls Who Code to foster interest among young girls. However, Harvey Mudd College president Maria Klawe, former president of ACM, cautions the systematic exclusion of women from such fields still exists, and it is mainly more unconscious than conscious. Role models are especially important in fields where there are far fewer female than male professors, and MIT engineering dean Ian Waitz says schools must be vigilant against sex discrimination. Research shows selective private schools, especially the most prominent, are doing a better job than public universities in establishing gender parity in engineering and science. Still, public university officials say they are actively reaching out to high schools to get more girls interested.
Quantum Leap: D-Wave's Next Quantum Computing Chip Offers a 1,000x Speed-Up
TechRepublic (09/16/16) Nick Heath
D-Wave's upgraded quantum processor, which is scheduled for release in 2017, promises to manage about 2,000 quantum bits (qubits) and solve certain problems 1,000 times faster than the existing D-Wave 2X processor. "We've been on a trajectory, which has been doubling the number of qubits pretty much every year," notes D-Wave's Colin Williams. He says the D-Wave system harnesses various atomic behaviors, including entanglement and state superposition, to solve a spectrum of complex computational challenges. The systems are specifically designed to conduct unconstrained binary optimization, along with related sampling problems. D-Wave says the specialized work of the upgraded processor could be particularly applicable to training unsupervised machine-learning models. Williams thinks this aspect of the processor could have the greatest benefit, helping in the creation of "a machine that, having trained it, can...generate new data that is statistically indistinguishable from the kind of data on which it was trained." Ultimately, Williams envisions the D-Wave chip working alongside classical processors rather than supplanting them, and he rejects the notion that the chip's specialized nature limits its utility. "It's actually been shown that the one thing it does, can be used in lots of different fields," Williams says.
Saving Lives by Letting Cars Talk to Each Other
The Conversation (09/11/16) Huei Peng
Wireless connectivity enabling communication between vehicles, the surrounding infrastructure, and others who share the road offers to improve safety as semi-autonomous and fully autonomous cars mature and proliferate, according to University of Michigan professor Huei Peng. "Connectivity enables smart decisions by individual drivers, by self-driving vehicles, and at every level of automation in between," he says. Peng says connected vehicles securely communicate to each other and the surrounding infrastructure via Dedicated Short Range Communications, exchanging data 10 times each second via messages that can be securely relayed at least 1,000 feet in any direction, and through inclement weather. The U.S. federal government calculates vehicle-to-vehicle connectivity could prevent or mitigate the severity of approximately 80 percent of crashes that do not involve drug- or alcohol-impaired motorists. "Perhaps the greatest benefit of connectivity is that it can transform a group of independent vehicles sharing a road into a cohesive traffic system that can exchange critical information about road and traffic conditions in real time," Peng says. He notes the University of Michigan Mobility Transformation Center seeks to advance connected/automated vehicle development. Peng also cites the need "to more fully understand how to fuse information from connectivity and onboard sensors effectively."
NSF Funds Pilot to Boost STEM
CSUF News Center (09/15/16)
California State University, Fullerton (CSUF) has received a $300,000 U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) grant for a two-year pilot project to scale up an existing program that provides a pathway for underrepresented community college students to earn bachelor's degrees in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields at four-year universities. The award is part of the NSF Inclusion across the National of Communities of Learners of Underrepresented Discoverers in Engineering and Science (INCLUDES) program. CSUF's project, (STEM)3: Scaling (STEM)2 (Strengthening Transfer and Matriculation in STEM), will build on the university's (STEM)2 model, which has a proven track record and has documented positive outcomes of graduating STEM transfer students with a bachelor's degree, according to Mark S. Filowitz, CSUF associate dean of the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics. "In this project, we target low-income and traditionally underrepresented community college students who have already expressed interest in STEM careers and we seek to improve the rates at which they persist in higher education, transfer to four-year institutions, and eventually enter the STEM workforce," Filowitz says. For example, data shows Hispanic students are well represented at local two-year colleges, but less so among STEM bachelor's degree recipients.
Big Pixel Initiative Develops Remote Sensing Analysis to Help Map Global Urbanization
UC San Diego News Center (09/08/16) Anthony King
New machine-learning approaches developed by a research team at the University of California, San Diego's (UCSD) Big Pixel Initiative have the potential to revolutionize large-scale analysis of urbanization. The researchers constructed a dataset of 21,030 manually classified image samples representing different forms of built-up and not built-up land cover in India, and then used the samples for supervised image classification designed to detect urban areas, performing the analysis in the cloud-based Google Earth Engine. The team mapped settlements around the world, and the researchers say these methods could eventually lead to the creation of a high-resolution map of all inhabited locations and to a better understanding of how cities expand and evolve. They note the approaches provide, for the first time, reliable and comprehensive open source data for detecting and mapping urban areas via satellite images. UCSD researcher Gordon Hanson says Big Pixel's mission is to develop advanced geospatial capacity to address world challenges. "We want to be able to measure how cities grow and expand on the whole planet as close to real time as we can, by using the vast amounts of satellite imagery that are coming online," Hanson says.
UAB Researchers Use Expanded Computing Power to Accelerate Big Data Science
UAB News (09/14/16) Jeff Hansen
A new supercomputer at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) will make it easier for researchers to address their computational challenges. The supercomputer, the most advanced in Alabama for speed and memory, has 2,304 cores, eight accelerators composed of four Nvidia K80 graphical-processing unit cards and four Intel Xeon Phi 7210 accelerators. David Crossman, bioinformatics director in UAB's Heflin Center for Genomic Science, is deciphering the sequences of human genomes for patients seeking a diagnosis, and processing DNA sequences for UAB researchers. He says the new supercomputer "will drastically improve our computing capacity from what we have had." UAB physicist Ryoichi Kawai's complex calculations of the electronic structure of a cube of atoms are laying the foundation for better infrared lasers. Neurobiologist Kristina Visscher is using functional magnetic resonance imaging scans from several hundred human brains to learn how the brain adapts after long-term changes in vision. Meanwhile, Elliot Lefkowitz, director of Informatics for the UAB Center for Clinical and Translational Science, foresees DNA sequencing for every patient coming into University Hospital in the near future. "Biomedical research now is big data," Crossman notes.
UTA to Design New Models for Networked Group Learning and Online Work Settings for the Third Generation of Internet, or Web 3.0
UT Arlington News Center (09/12/16) Louisa Kellie
University of Texas at Arlington (UTA) researchers at the LINK Research Lab plan to develop new designs for networked learning and next-generation knowledge-building on the Internet by analyzing massive-scale data traces from online work and learning communities. "We need to better understand how and why people choose to engage in different types of courses and knowledge environments," says LINK executive director George Siemens. "We aim to enable individuals who seek to better themselves to find the mentoring necessary to facilitate their path of growth and productivity." Using a U.S. National Science Foundation grant, the project will convene global leaders of language technologies, human-computer interaction, computer-supported cooperative work, and computer-supported collaborative learning and education. The UTA team will construct and interpret models of group and community interactions in learning and work settings that connect processes with results to recognize behavior profiles that form the basis of support of on-boarding, participation, productivity, and mentoring. Model interpretation also will be applied to the creation of empirically solid precepts that spur the design of online communities conducive to integrated learning and work. UTA chief analytics officer Pete Smith cites text mining of large, international datasets as one important area of focus.
Complex Materials Can Self-Organize Into Circuits, May Form Basis for Multifunction Chips
Oak Ridge National Laboratory (09/14/16) Morgan McCorkle
Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) say they have discovered unique behaviors of nanoscale materials that could advance microprocessor technology. Their study found a single crystal complex oxide material can behave like a multicomponent electrical circuit when confined to nanoscales. This attribute stems from the phase separation of certain complex oxides, in which different regions in the material have various electronic and magnetic properties. These individual nanoscale regions are then able to behave as self-organized circuit elements and can be controlled through magnetic and electrical fields. As the technology industry looks to move beyond the limits of silicon-based chips, the ORNL study shows phase-separated materials could provide a multifunctional solution, handling several inputs and outputs tailored to the needs of a specific application. "The new approach aims to increase performance by developing hardware around intended applications," says ORNL's Zac Ward. "This means that materials and architectures driving supercomputers, desktops, and smartphones, which each have very different needs, would no longer be forced to follow a one-chip-fits-all approach." The approach was demonstrated on a material called LPCMO, but Ward notes other phase-separated materials could be leveraged as well.
Lightweight, Wearable Tech Efficiently Converts Body Heat to Electricity
NCSU News (09/12/16) Matt Shipman
North Carolina State University (NCSU) researchers have developed a new design for harvesting body heat and converting it into electricity for use in wearable electronics as part of the U.S. National Science Foundation's Nanosystems Engineering Research Center for Advanced Self-Powered Systems of Integrated Sensors and Technologies (ASSIST). The lightweight prototypes conform to the shape of the body and generate more electricity than previous heat-harvesting technologies. The researchers also identified the upper arm as the optimal area of the body for heat harvesting. The new design includes a layer of thermally conductive material that rests on the skin and spreads out the heat, and the material is topped with a polymer to prevent heat from dissipating to the outside air. The design forces the heat to pass through a tiny, centrally located thermoelectric generator (TEG); heat that is not converted into electricity passes through the TEG into an outer layer of thermally conductive materials, which rapidly dissipates the heat. "The goal of ASSIST is to make wearable technologies that can be used for long-term health monitoring, such as devices that track heart health or monitor physical and environmental variables to predict and prevent asthma attacks," says NCSU professor Daryoosh Vashaee.
App vs. Website: Which Best Protects Your Privacy? It Depends
[email protected] (09/12/16) Thea Singer
Northeastern University researchers, led by professor David Choffnes, have investigated the degree to which free applications and Web-based services on Android and iOS mobile devices leak personally identifiable information to advertisers and data analytics companies. The researchers surveyed 50 of the most popular free online services in a variety of categories, including business, entertainment, music, news, shopping, travel, and weather. They found both apps and websites leaked locations, names, gender, phone numbers, and email addresses to varying degrees. The researchers note apps typically leak only one more identifier than a website for the same service, but in 40 percent of cases websites leak more types of information than apps. Websites also more frequently leak locations and names, while apps were only found to leak a device's unique identifying number. Four services sent encrypted passwords to another party, although the reasons for the intentional leaks are legitimate. The researchers have integrated the findings into an interactive website and hope to start a dialogue between consumers and online services about data protection. The researchers will present their findings at the ACM Internet Measurement Conference (IMC 2016) in Santa Monica, CA, in November.
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