Welcome to the April 3, 2020 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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An example of the new Malware that's infected a PC COVID-19 Malware Will Wipe Your PC, Rewrite MBR
Catalin Cimpanu
April 2, 2020

ZDNet identified five COVID-19-themed malware strains that can wipe an infected PC's files or rewrite its master boot record (MBR). When one strain, COVID-19.exe, infects computers, it first displays an irritating window that users cannot close because it disables Windows Task Manager while rewriting the MBR; the malware then restarts the PC, and the new MBR blocks users into a pre-boot screen. Another malware steals passwords from a compromised host and emulates ransomware to fool the user, while also secretly rewriting the MBR. The two file-wiping strains were described as "poor wipers" because the techniques they use to delete files on infected PCs are inefficient, error-prone, and time-consuming methods—but they work, which means their release into the wild is dangerous.

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Smartphone Videos Produce Highly Realistic 3D Face Reconstructions
Carnegie Mellon University
Byron Spice
April 1, 2020

Researchers in Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics Institute created a realistic three-dimensional (3D) reconstruction of a face using video recorded on an ordinary smartphone. The two-step process uses deep learning algorithms on the data from a continuous smartphone video of the front and sides of the face to build a digital reconstruction of a face. This method can achieve sub-millimeter accuracy, and could be used to build avatars for gaming, virtual/augmented reality, animation, or biometric identification. An accurate 3D rendering of the face also could be used for medical procedures, such as creating customized surgical masks or respirators.

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Tiny Optical Cavity Could Make Quantum Networks Possible
California Institute of Technology
Robert Perkins
March 30, 2020

California Institute of Technology (Caltech) engineers have demonstrated that atoms in optical cavities could form the basis of a quantum Internet. Caltech's Andrei Faraon and colleagues created a nanophotonic cavity, a beam about 10 microns long with periodic nano-patterning, from crystal. The researchers then identified an ytterbium ion in the beam's center, which allowed them to bounce light down the beam until absorbed by the ion. The cavity modifies the ion's environment so the resulting photon remains in the cavity, where it can be collected and measured to determine the state of the ion. The ytterbium ions can store information in their spin for up to 30 milliseconds, long enough for light to transmit data across the continental U.S. Said Faraon, "This could form the backbone technology for the quantum Internet."

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MIT researchers have 3-D-printed soft electronically active polymers into a number of devices, including a pliable neural electrode, and (shown here) a flexible circuit Engineers 3D-Print Soft, Rubbery Brain Implants
MIT News
Jennifer Chu
March 30, 2020

Engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) are developing soft, flexible neural implants that can conform to the brain's contours without irritating the surrounding tissue. The team turned a polymer solution that is normally liquid-like into a more viscous substance that can be fed through a three-dimensional printer to create stable, electrically conductive patterns. These flexible electronics could replace metal-based electrodes used to monitor brain activity and may be useful in brain implants that stimulate neural regions to treat epilepsy, Parkinson's disease, and severe depression. Said MIT's Hyunwoo Yuk, "This process may replace or supplement lithography techniques, as a simpler and cheaper way to make a variety of neurological devices, on demand."

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Cloud-Based Electronic System May Help First Responders Better React to Natural Disasters
Purdue University News
Chris Adam
April 1, 2020

Purdue University researchers have developed a cloud-based supply chain management system to help emergency responders track inventory and distribution in countries hit by natural disasters. Purdue's Yuehwern Yih and colleagues worked with first responders to understand their requirements when responding to areas struck by catastrophic events; the system is designed to replace paper forms and ad hoc spreadsheets often used in developing nations to track vital resources. Data can be entered offline for syncing to the system through Wi-Fi or network connections, and the full life cycle of items in the system can be traced. Yih said, "The Purdue system can provide real-time data to allow better tracking of supplies and aid so that help reaches those most in need."

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The wireless network Scientists Develop 'Backpack' Computers to Track Wild Animals in Hard-to-Reach Habitats
Ohio State News
Emily Caldwell
April 2, 2020

A team of engineers, computer scientists, and biologists from Ohio State University, several German universities, and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama collaborated on the development of wireless attachable "backpack" computers that can be used to track tiny animals in hard-to-reach habitats. The devices formed a network called the Broadly Applicable Tracking System, powered by batteries that each provide about 5% of a standard AAA battery's capacity. The backpacks feature accelerometers that generate data when the bats are moving and proximity sensors to indicate they are close to each other. Ground base stations pick up signals from the devices and record data on the animals' social activities and flight trajectories.

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European Experts Ready Smartphone Technology to Help Stop Coronavirus
Douglas Busvine; Andreas Rinke; Holger Hansen
April 1, 2020; et al.

A group of 130 experts from eight European countries will soon launch a smartphone platform capable of tracking people who have come into contact with those infected with coronavirus, to help health authorities take swift action to contain the pathogen. The Pan-European Privacy Preserving Proximity Tracing initiative proposes maintaining a record of when a smartphone comes in close proximity to another, so if an individual tests positive for the virus, others at risk can be quickly identified. German technology startup founder Hans-Christian Boos said the project intends to launch the platform by April 7. The platform will anonymously utilize low-energy Bluetooth technology to log connections between smartphones for 14 days using strong encryption, and only local health authorities will be able to download data to alert people at risk of infection.

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A vault in a disused mine World’s Most Essential Open-Source Code to Be Stored in Arctic Vault
New Scientist
Adam Vaughan
March 31, 2020

GitHub this month plans to add another 100 million folders to its existing cache of the equivalent of 10,000 folders of source code files in Coal Mine 3, a disused facility on the island of Spitsbergen in Svalbard, Norway. The additions will include open-source code it currently holds that is already backed up on servers around the world. The files will be stored as QR codes on film designed to last 1,000 years under the permafrost of Svalbard, an archipelago in the Arctic Ocean. The effort aims to create an opportunity for future generations to study how software development worked in the early 2000s.

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A visualization of the global race for 5G FCC Moves to Boost Wi-Fi Speed
The Wall Street Journal
Ryan Tracy
April 1, 2020

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will vote April 23 on whether to permit Wi-Fi devices to access a greater portion of the radiofrequency (RF) spectrum, which would enable superfast Wi-Fi for consumers later this year. Silicon Valley supports the use of additional RF spectrum for Wi-Fi, claiming it would clear a path for faster home or office Internet, and expand opportunities for virtual reality and other technologies. Access to the 6-gigahertz band could increase demand for software and connected devices, benefiting technology giants like Facebook and Apple, and manufacturers of chips and semiconductors. Broadcasters, utilities, and other firms that use the airwaves to transmit video signals or monitor electric grids oppose the measure, warning that allowing Wi-Fi signals into that part of the RF spectrum could interfere with their operations.

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China's Version of GPS Almost Complete
Popular Science
P.W. Singer; Taylor Lee
March 31, 2020

China has nearly completed its decades-long BeiDou project to construct its own global navigation satellite system. The country launched the latest satellite in the system into orbit on March 9, with the final satellite to be launched in May. BeiDou aims to provide accurate global positioning services, and to provide limited amounts of data to commercial and military users. More than 70% of Chinese smartphones already use the system, and there are indications BeiDou receivers have been integrated into more than 6.5 million taxis, buses, and trucks. BeiDou also has been integrated into the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA)'s command system and weapons guidance packages for years, and China is starting to export BeiDou-powered weapons systems to other countries, including Pakistan.

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AI Identifies Optimal Material Formula
Ruhr-University Bochum (Germany)
Meike Drießen
March 26, 2020

Researchers at Ruhr-Universitat Bochum (RUB)'s Materials Discovery Department in Germany used a machine learning algorithm to predict the properties of a nanostructured layer, without requiring time-consuming experiments. RUB's Lars Banko and colleagues altered a generative model, then trained the algorithm to generate images of the surface of a model layer of aluminum, chromium, and nitrogen using specific process parameters. This enabled the researchers to compare the results of the calculations with experimental outcomes, and to analyze each prediction's reliability. RUB's Alfred Ludwig said, "We combined five parameters and were able to look in five directions simultaneously using the algorithm—without having to conduct any experiments at all."

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Solving a 50-Year-Old Puzzle in Signal Processing, Part Two
Iowa State University News Service
March 25, 2020

Iowa State University researchers tackling the 50-year-old challenge of developing a generalized version of the inverse fast Fourier transform (IFFT), an algorithm that synthesizes the signal a phone sends to a base station, formulated a closed-form solution for the inverse chirp z-transform (ICZT) and a fast computational algorithm. The researchers said the ICZT algorithm functions with frequency components generated by sample points from the unit circle in the complex plane, forming a chirp contour. The ICZT algorithm works with contours that cover only part of the unit circle, while the IFFT can only work with equally spaced sampling points that fully cover the unit circle. The researchers said signal processing, electronics, medical imaging, radar, sonar, wireless communications, and other domains could benefit from this.

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