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Welcome to the May 4, 2020 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Two scientists using a liquid dispensing robot to assemble pools of samples that are tested afterwards Coronavirus: Israeli Researchers Develop 8-Times-Faster Group-Testing
The Jerusalem Post
Rossella Tercatin
May 4, 2020

A team of researchers at Israel’s Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, National Institute for Biotechnology in the Negev, Open University, and Soroka University Medical Center has developed an algorithm-based group-testing methodology for coronavirus screening. The technique enables accurate, simultaneous screening of dozens of samples, saving time, money, and quantity of test kits. The Open University's Noam Shental said the test builds upon previous work on a mathematical framework for detecting carriers of rare mutations within large populations. The technique pools samples from 384 subjects, with each individual sample incorporated into six different pools mixed by liquid-dispensing robots. This translates to only 48 tests required for all 384 subjects, and because each individual sample is tested six times, the method more effectively addresses false positives or false negatives.

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Privacy Worries Prevent Use of Social Media Account to Sign Up for Apps
Penn State News
Matt Swayne
April 26, 2020

While users find it convenient to use social media accounts to sign up for most new apps and services, they prefer to use their email address or open a new account if they think the information in the app is too sensitive, according to a study by researchers at Pennsylvania State University (PSU). The team developed different sign-up pages for relationship apps with varying degrees of sensitivity and found participants were willing to use their Facebook ID to access relationship apps, but hesitated to use it for an app that arranges extramarital affairs. PSU's S. Shyam Sundar said the findings suggest people hesitate to use single sign-on services in certain situations, so "designers and developers need to do more work to convince users that the ... service will keep the information separate from their social networks."

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Walking feet Footstep Sensors Identify People by Gait
Scientific American
Sophie Bushwick
April 30, 2020

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) have developed sensors that analyze footsteps by measuring minute floor vibrations. The vibrations can be used to identify specific individuals, and to test a new method of hands-off health monitoring. The sensors are cylindrical devices a few centimeters tall that sit on the floor and can sense a walker up to 20 meters away. The sensors are distributed as an array through the area where they are to detect footsteps. The sensitive detectors pick up a lot more noise in a busy building, so the researchers had to teach the system to distinguish footsteps from background noise. Said researcher Hae Young Noh, "We do various signal-processing and machine-learning [techniques] to learn what is the human-related signal versus other noise that we’re not interested in."

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Singapore's First Drone Delivery Service Takes Flight
The Straits Times
Lester Wong
April 29, 2020

Singapore launched its first drone delivery service on April 19, with a parcel of vitamins dropped onto a ship anchored off the island. The service was established via a partnership between Eastern Pacific Shipping and local startup F-drones, whose unmanned aircraft can carry up to 5 kilograms (11 pounds) and travel up to 5 kilometers (3.10 miles). Drone delivery's advantages over Singapore's traditional use of launch boats include avoidance of delays caused by choppy seas. F-drone's Nicolas Ang said the service reduces unnecessary human contact—an important consideration during the COVID-19 pandemic. F-drones said it will build a bigger drone that will be able to transport heavier items across longer distances.

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Cybersecurity Staff Are Being Transferred to IT Support, Adding to the Risk of Data Breaches
Danny Palmer
April 29, 2020

According to a survey by the International Information System Security Certification Consortium, nearly half of 256 cybersecurity professionals polled reported having been reassigned to general IT tasks due to the global COVID-19 outbreak. Overall, 23% of respondents said the number of cyberattacks and other security incidents have risen since the transition to remote work; some teams are tracking double the number of incidents. Of the cybersecurity professionals who have been reassigned, 30% report an increase in security incidents against their organizations, while 17% of those who have not changed roles say they are handling more attacks. This could signal that organizations reassigning security staff to IT are at greater risk from hacking. Meanwhile, 15% of respondents said they lack the tools needed to protect remote workers, and 34% say they have those tools but worry that it's only for the time being.

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A delivery robot. Shopping Robots Come Into Their Own in Locked-Down English Town
Will Russell; Estelle Shirbon
April 25, 2020

A fleet of six-wheeled robots that deliver retail purchases is becoming increasingly popular in the British town of Milton Keynes during the coronavirus lockdown. The robots, manufactured by the Starship company, are making free deliveries to National Health Service (NHS) staff as public demand for their services grows. The robots feature what appears to be an antenna topped with a red flag, to make it easier to spot them as they perform their rounds. Starship's Henry Harris-Burland said many NHS personnel in the town use the robots because they have no time to shop for themselves; over the past three weeks, Starship’s robot fleet has completed 100,000 autonomous deliveries. Harris-Burland said, "We're doing everything we can as quickly as possible to expand to offer this service to more people, especially at this really important time."

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A supermarket with shelves devoid of food and household products during the COVID-19 World Economic Forum Releases Blockchain 'Tool Kit' to Fix Broken Food Supply Chains
Michael del Castillo
April 28, 2020

The World Economic Forum (WEF) has released a tool kit for using blockchain to fix the world's aging supply-chain infrastructure. The tool kit is based on interviews with 80 public and private companies and 20 governments. WEF's Nadia Hewett hopes the project will spur the implementation of hundreds of completed proofs-of-concept. The tool kit, which aims to help executives and developers using any supply chain, sets forth a systematic process to develop an ecosystem of participants that would benefit from moving certain processes to a shared, distributed ledger. It also details how to solve technical and non-technical problems. The tool kit specifically describes the use of a minimum viable ecosystem to launch a food supply chain comprised of at least a single retailer, a wholesale processing plant, a bank, a distribution center, a retail processing plant, and a regulator.

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Why We Adopt Then Abandon Online Safety Practices
University of Michigan News
April 26, 2020

Researchers at the University of Michigan (UM) and NortonLifeLock's Research Group surveyed more than 900 people to gauge their use of 30 commonly recommended online safety practices, to better understand the trend of certain practices' adoption and abandonment. Security practices such as not clicking on unknown links or emails were found to be more widely adopted than privacy or identify theft countermeasures like ad blockers or credit report freezes. More than half of poll respondents did not follow recommendations for unique or strong passwords. The researchers suggested that damage from security risks is more concrete to users, versus damage from privacy and ID theft. UM's Florian Schaub said researchers, designers, and practitioners need "to not only better explain to people why it's important to keep doing something they had been doing at some point, but also figure out how to make security and privacy tools and solutions easier to use so that people are not struggling."

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Social Media Can Provide Insight Into Community Well-Being
Stanford News
Melissa De Witte
April 27, 2020

Stanford University's Johannes Eichstaedt has designed an artificial intelligence-driven machine learning algorithm that measures community well-being in real time by analyzing social media posts. His team compared more than 1 billion geotagged tweets from 2009 to 2015 to 1.7 million responses from the Gallup-Sharecare Well-Being Index. An algorithm trained on users' responses to a written survey and a sample of social media posts from the same respondents can predict how an entire community would have responded on a traditional tweet-based poll. Machine learning also refined text analysis by rating words that are more important than others for indicating well-being, and Eichstaedt is applying this method to study the coronavirus pandemic's impact on urban populations across the U.S. He said using this technology, "Psychologists can monitor if loneliness and anxiety are taking hold in communities, and how our well-being is impacted by social distancing."

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The neurons in a rat’s spine were able to control 3D-printed muscles Robots with 3D-Printed Muscles are Powered By the Spines of Rats
New Scientist
Leah Crane
April 28, 2020

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) have developed biological robots using three dimensionally (3D)-printed muscles made of lab-grown mouse cells. Rather than attaching the muscles to an electrical control system, the team attached part of a rat spine that controls the hind legs to a muscle, and found the spine extended neurons into the muscle and sent electrical signals through them to make the muscle contract. The robots are only about 6 millimeters long; making them larger is a challenge because of the difficulty of getting nutrients to all of the tissue. “Eventually, something like this could be used for prosthetics,” said UIUC's Collin Kaufman, adding that such prosthetics probably would use lab-grown human tissues, not rat spines.

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Reducing the Carbon Footprint of AI
MIT News
Rob Matheson
April 23, 2020

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers have developed an automated artificial intelligence (AI) system for training and running certain types of neural networks, which has a relatively small carbon footprint. The researchers built the system via automated machine learning, which trained the OFA network. Using the system to train a computer-vision model, the researchers calculated that the effort required approximately 1/1,300th the carbon emissions of modern state-of-the-art neural architecture search strategies, and reduced the duration of inference by 1.5 to 2.6 times. MIT's John Cohn said, "The upside of developing methods to make AI models smaller and more efficient is that the models may also perform better."

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WordPress Security Flaws Hit Online Learning Platforms
Jitendra Soni
April 30, 2020

A study by Check Point Research found disconcerting security flaws in three leading WordPress plugins used by academic institutions and Fortune 500 companies to deliver remote learning sessions. These bugs expose the LearnPress, LearnDash, and LifterLMS plugins to remote code execution and SQL injection that can be used to steal personal data, alter account privileges, and siphon off money. The flaws essentially allow Learning Management System (LMS) platforms to be hijacked, and virtually anyone could change grades, forge certificates, and obtain test answers apart from stealing user data or transferring money to unauthorized accounts. Check Point's Omri Herscovici said, "Top educational institutions, as well as many online academies, rely on the systems that we researched in order to run their entire online courses and training programs." The LMS platforms have reportedly patched the flaws.

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Inexpensive, Portable Detector Identifies Pathogens in Minutes
University of Illinois News Bureau
Lois Yoksoulian
April 23, 2020

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have developed an inexpensive yet sensitive smartphone-based testing device for viral and bacterial pathogens. that takes about 30 minutes to complete. The device, which takes about 30 minutes to complete a test, is equipped with a small cartridge containing testing reagents, and a port to insert a nasal extract or blood sample. Inside the cartridge, the reagents break open a pathogen's outer shell to gain access to its RNA, then a primer molecule amplifies the genetic material into many millions of copies. A fluorescent dye stains the copies and glows green when illuminated by blue LED light; the glowing dye can be detected by the smartphone's camera. Said University of Illinois researcher Brian Cunningham, "Cloud computing via a smartphone application could allow a negative test result to be registered with event organizers or as part of a boarding pass for a flight."

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