Welcome to the August 24, 2018 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Smartphone with Google apps Don't Want Google Tracking You? You Have Almost No Choice, According to a Study
The Washington Post
Hayley Tsukayama
August 21, 2018

Vanderbilt University's Douglas C. Schmidt led a study showing an idle smartphone running Google's Android operating system with an open Chrome browser sends data to Google servers as often as 14 times an hour, and the pervasiveness of Google's advertising network makes it difficult to prevent the company from collecting at least some data. Schmidt says, "A major part of Google's data collection occurs while a user is not directly engaged with any of its products." Two-thirds of the data Google collected from a smartphone during a 24-hour mock "day in the life" period was gathered passively, not volunteered by a user, Schmidt found. In addition, Google can link anonymized data with information from a user's Google accounts while they are signed out from their Google accounts or using a private browsing mode. The study says Google can link anonymized data collected by advertising cookies to a user's Google accounts, although the company says it does not do this.

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Fake News Detector Algorithm Works Better Than a Human
University of Michigan News
Gabe Cherry
August 21, 2018

Researchers at the University of Michigan have developed an algorithm-based system that identifies linguistic cues in fake news stories that could provide news aggregators and social media sites with a new weapon against misinformation. The researchers found the system successfully identified fake stories up to 76% of the time, surpassing the human success rate of 70%. In addition, the linguistic analysis approach could be used to identify fake news articles that are too recent to be disproved by cross-referencing their facts with other stories. The researchers created their own data by crowdsourcing volunteers recruited with the help of Amazon Mechanical Turk to turn short actual news stories into fake news items, mimicking the journalistic style of the articles. The team then fed the labeled pairs of real and fake news stories into an algorithm that performed a linguistic analysis, teaching itself to distinguish between real and fake news.

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Man in protective clothing and gloves holding microchip Helping the Microchip Industry Go (Very Low) With the Flow
National Institute of Standards and Technology
Ben P. Stein
August 22, 2018

U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) researchers have rooted out the cause of error in an industry-standard calibration method that could add up to massive losses for microchip manufacturers. The team developed a mathematical model of the "rate of rise" (RoR) method of measuring pressure and temperature as gas fills a collection tank via mass flow controllers. They determined conventional measurements can have significant errors due to incorrect temperature values, and lacking corrections for these errors, RoR readings can be off by up to 1%, if not more. Lam Research's Iqbal Shareef says, "A tiny amount of variation in the flow rate has a profound effect on the etch rate and critical dimensions of the structures" in very large-scale integrated circuits. NIST's discovery is prompting many chipmakers to reevaluate their practices.

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D-Wave Demonstrates First Large-Scale Quantum Simulation of Topological State of Matter
Inside HPC
August 22, 2018

D-Wave Systems researchers have demonstrated a topological phase transition using a 2048-quantum bit (qubit) annealing quantum computer, a complex quantum simulation of materials that marks a major step toward reducing the need for time-consuming physical research and development. The team says the techniques used in this work could have far-reaching implications in the development of novel materials. D-Wave's Mohammad Amin says this breakthrough represents the first theoretically predicted state of matter to be realized in quantum simulation before being demonstrated in a real magnetic material.

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A young boy interacting with the Minnie robot. Kids Connect With Robot Reading Partners
UW-Madison News
Chris Barncard
August 22, 2018

University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers have developed a robot to serve as a reading partner for middle school students. They say the students grew more excited about books and more drawn to the robot, called Minnie, over two weeks of reading together. Prior research shows social learning can help students develop skills and interests because it improves their comprehension by distributing the cognitive workload and reinforcing understanding through dialogue. The student-robot reading program included 25 books representing a range of reading skills and story complexity. Participants read aloud to Minnie, which tracked their progress in the book and reacted to the story with one of hundreds of preprogrammed comments. The researchers say Minnie could be used to spur otherwise reluctant students on all kinds of academic tasks, and they have started testing a version of the robot that shares in science studies.

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Wireless Communication Breaks Through Water-Air Barrier
MIT News
Rob Matheson
August 22, 2018

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Laboratory researchers have developed a system that addresses the problem of underwater sensors' inability to share data with those on land, as the devices use different wireless signals that work only in their respective mediums. An underwater transmitter directs a sonar signal to the water's surface, creating tiny vibrations that correspond to the 1s and 0s transmitted. The MIT team created a sensitive receiver that reads the minute disturbances above the surface of the water and decodes the sonar signal. They say their translational acoustic-RF communication system achieves high data rates by transmitting multiple frequencies concurrently, building on orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing used in wireless communication. MIT Media Lab researcher Fadel Adib says, "Even while there were swimmers swimming around and causing disturbances and water currents, we were able to decode these signals quickly and accurately."

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How Often Are Users' DNS Queries Intercepted?
Help Net Security
Zeljka Zorz
August 21, 2018

Chinese researchers have developed approaches to detect the prevalence of Domain Name System (DNS) interception, analyzing 148,478 residential and cellular Internet Protocol (IP) addresses worldwide. The team found 259 of 3,047 inspected autonomous systems (ASes) exhibited DNS interception behavior, with the AS comprising a connected group of one or more IP address blocks that have been assigned to an Internet service provider or other organization. In addition, the researchers found interception behaviors in both reputable ASes and those with a lower ranking. Their analysis showed 27.9% of DNS requests over User Datagram Protocol (UDP) from China to Google Public DNS are intercepted, and DNS queries over UDP and those for A-type records transmitted to existing public DNS services are more likely to be intercepted. Finally, the DNS servers used by interceptors may employ obsolete software and lack security-related functionality, as 57% of the servers do not access Domain Name System Security Extensions requests.

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Carnegie Mellon Pioneers AI Project With U.S. Navy
Patience Wait
August 20, 2018

A five-year joint project between Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) and the U.S. Office of Naval Research (ONR) and Naval Research Laboratory will offer students collaborative opportunities to develop artificial intelligence (AI) technologies that enhance disaster response. ONR says the partnership will enable CMU students to access state-of-the-art facilities and equipment, as well as innovative technological methods. Among the AI applications the project plans to explore are drones that can investigate places inaccessible to humans, analysis of social media posts to sort useful information from noise, and computer modeling for predicting how hazards might proliferate.

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Quantum Bugs, Meet Your New Swatter
Rice University
David Ruth; Mike Williams
August 20, 2018

Rice University researchers have developed a diagnostic tool for quantum computers. The system focuses on quantum state tomography, which takes "images" of the state of the quantum bits (qubits). Rice's Anastasios Kyrillidis says a quantum computer executing an algorithm starts at a specific state and progresses through many states, the last of which is the answer to the algorithm's question. Reassembling the full state from these measurements can reveal hardware or software errors that caused the computer to deliver unexpected results. However, as the qubit number is increased, the system's complexity also increases, making the computational cost of reconstruction prohibitive. The Rice researchers say they solved the validation problem with the Projected Factored Gradient Decent algorithm, which leverages compressed sensing, a method that minimizes the amount of incoming data while still ensuring accurate results.

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3D printer printing object with gray plastic Researchers Turn Tracking Codes Into Unclonable 'Clouds' to Authenticate Genuine 3D-Printed Parts
NYU Tandon School of Engineering
August 20, 2018

Scientists at New York University (NYU) Tandon School of Engineering and NYU Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates have successfully rendered flat quick response (QR) codes as complex features concealed inside three-dimensionally printed parts. They say their framework "explodes" a QR code within a computer-assisted design file to present several counterfeit surfaces to scanners. In this way, the authentic QR code image can only be captured by a trusted printer or end user that provides the correct head-on orientation for the scanner. NYU Tandon's Fei Chen says, "To create typical QR code contrasts that are readable to a scanner you have to embed the equivalent of empty spaces. But by dispersing these tiny flaws over many layers we were able to keep the part's strength well within acceptable limits." The work could help ensure the authenticity of 3D-printed parts and protect against counterfeiting and intellectual property theft.

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Preparing for Chemical Attacks With Improved Computer Models
Texas Advanced Computing Center
Aaron Dubrow
August 21, 2018

The University of Texas at San Antonio's Kiran Bhaganagar and her team have used computer models to simulate dispersal of sarin gas to improve preparation for and response to gas attacks. They ran the simulations on the Stampede2 supercomputer at the Texas Advanced Computing Center to predict the effect of turbulence on the dispersal of chemical particles. Bhaganagar says, "We go into the physics of it and try to understand what the vertices are and where the energy is. We decompose the problem and each processor solves a small portion. Then we put everything back together to visualize and analyze the results." Their work aims to make short-term predictions, including what direction chemicals spread over four hours and working with first responders to dispatch personnel. To expedite predictions, the team unveiled a low-cost, mobile sensing protocol using aerial drones and ground-based sensors to collect local wind data and a coarser model to forecast plume transport.

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Cloud Foundry Survey Finds Top Enterprise Languages
Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols
August 21, 2018

A Cloud Foundry Foundation (CFF) survey of global enterprise developers and IT decision makers ranks Java and Javascript as the top enterprise languages. However, CFF says "businesses are employing a polyglot and a multi-platform strategy to meet their exact needs." The survey shows 77% of enterprises are using or evaluating Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS); 72% are using or considering containers; and 46% are using or thinking about serverless computing. In addition, 39% are using all three technologies together. CFF says this diversity allows companies to move toward "computing that is flexible, portable, and interoperable." Following Java and Javascript, C++, C#, Python, and PHP are the most popular languages, according to CFF. In a new trend, enterprise-sized companies, which have traditionally exercised stricter control over production projects, are using multiple languages for their projects.

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Woman in sneakers walking on an outdoor path A New Artificial Neural Network Framework for Gait-Based Biometrics
Tech Xplore
Ingrid Fadelli
August 20, 2018

Researchers at Imperial College London in the U.K. have developed an approach for securing wireless communications of wearable and implantable medical devices. Their biometric cryptosystem (BCS) framework uses an artificial neural network (ANN) and gait signal energy variations to analyze the way in which different people walk. The researchers used the ANN to extract features from body sensor networks, generating binary keys on demand, without requiring the user's intervention. The team tested the approach on a gait dataset, and found the binary keys generated had high entropy for all subjects. The team says the system has significant potential as a biometric security tool, and could eventually help to better protect data collected by wearable and implantable devices. Imperial College London's Yingnan Sun says, "In the near future, we would like to further improve the performance of our proposed security scheme incorporating other signals."

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The Continuing Arms Race: Code-Reuse Attacks and Defenses
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