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Welcome to the May 8, 2020 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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contact tracing, illustration ACM Europe TPC Statement on Principles, Practices for COVID-19 Contact Tracing Applications
May 5, 2020

The Europe Technology Policy Committee of the ACM (Europe TPC) has issued a statement detailing essential principles and practices for policymakers when making decisions about deploying COVID-19 contact tracing systems. No known tracing applications can fully preserve individual privacy and anonymity, while multiple technical issues hinder the ability to prove or assume the apps' accuracy. Moreover, high technical quality and functionality are insufficient for ensuring their efficacy. Europe TPC's recommended principles and practices include using a technical architecture that incorporates cross-border interoperability; an opt-in mechanism for app activation and deactivation/reactivation; user consent to sharing personal information; and either non-retention, or password protection and encryption, for all sensitive personal data. Europe TPS also urged public disclosure of app and server source code, expert vetting of the code during development, and public disclosure of the technology's solicitation and procurement and any conflicts of interest among developers.

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Security, Privacy Risks with Patient Portal Accounts in U.S. Hospitals
University of Manitoba
Chris Rutkowski
May 4, 2020

Researchers at the University of Manitoba (UM) in Canada, and North Carolina’s University of North Carolina at Charlotte and Wake Forest School of Medicine, found that U.S. hospitals may be encouraging privacy violations by allowing password sharing between patients and care providers. Staff at 102 hospitals were approached by an interviewer who said her elderly mother was moving to the area and asked how she could get access to her mother's medical data. Some 45% of those contacted recommended the mother share her patient portal credentials with the daughter, violating the hospitals’ terms of service. UM's Celine Latulipe said, “With COVID-19 and shelter-in-place orders ... older adults are relying on their caregivers to help them navigate these electronic systems and may feel they have no choice but to share passwords, opening up higher risk of fraud and undesired information disclosures."

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Chinese President Xi Jinping speaking to the Chinese People's Liberation Army Navy fleet. China's Military Is Tied to Debilitating Cyberattack Tool
The New York Times
Ronen Bergman; Steven Lee Myers; Damien Cave
May 7, 2020

Israeli security firm Check Point Software Technologies traced a devastating new cyber-espionage tool to the Chinese military-affiliated Naikon hacker group. The Aria-body tool can be used to remotely hijack computers to copy, delete, or create files and sift through systems' data, and to cover its tracks to thwart detection. Check Point determined Naikon had used Aria-body to infiltrate government agencies and state-owned technology companies throughout Asia and the Pacific. Aria-body also can penetrate any computer used to open the file in which it is embedded, and rapidly force the device to follow intruders' commands—like establishing a secret, hard-to-detect line of communication by which data on the targeted system would flow to hacker-controlled servers. Aria-body also can render itself invisible by attaching itself to various types of files, leaving no set pattern of movement.

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virtual version of Helsinki’s Senate Square VR Concert in Helsinki Attracts Over 1 Million Spectators
Simon Chandler
May 5, 2020

A virtual reality (VR) Vappu (May Day) concert in Helsinki, Finland, drew 1.4 million spectators, including nearly 150,000 viewers who created virtual avatars for themselves to interact with headlining artists in real time. Joining roughly 700,000 Finnish residents at the virtual event in Helsinki's Senate Square were "virtual tourists" in the U.S., the U.K., Germany, Sweden, and elsewhere. Organizers said the concert constitutes the most ambitious use to date of the Virtual Helsinki platform, a digital twin of the city developed by developer Zoan. Helsinki's mayor Jan Vapaavuori said, "Virtual Helsinki Vappu shows how a crisis can be used as a driver for technology adaptation that might normally take years."

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How Many Jobs do Robots Really Replace?
MIT News
Peter Dizikes
May 4, 2020

Economics professors at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Boston University have determined that the replacement of human workers by robots is a tangible trend, although they say claims of total automation are overstated. Their study found that adding one robot per 1,000 workers reduced the U.S. employment-to-population ratio by about 0.2% from 1990 to 2007, with some regions more affected than others. Each additional robot replaced an average of 3.3 workers nationally, and reduced wages by about 0.4%, according to the study. MIT's Daron Acemoglu and Boston University's Pascual Restrepo said U.S. robot deployment trails Europe's, with U.S. firms adding nearly one new robot per 1,000 workers from 1993 to 2007, while European firms introduced 1.6 new robots per 1,000 workers. Said Acemoglu, the study “certainly won’t give any support to those who think robots are going to take all of our jobs, but it does imply that automation is a real force to be grappled with.”

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Koniku bio-electric sensor Airbus to Deploy Smell Sensors to Detect Explosives on Passengers
Financial Times
Patrick McGee
May 4, 2020

Airbus, in partnership with the California-based neurotech startup Koniku, will install sensors that can detect hazardous chemicals and explosives in airport screening tunnels later this year. The jellyfish-like sensors are silicon processors augmented with living biological cells that can "smell" molecular compounds. The technology has a response time of less than 10 seconds under optimal conditions. Potential use of the sensors to detect people with contagious viruses is also being explored (but is unlikely to be ready sooner than a vaccine). Julien Touzeau of Airbus said the company also wants to install the sensors on passenger planes as a “last line of defense” against security threats.

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India Orders Coronavirus Tracing App for All Workers
Sankalp Phartiyal; Aditi Shah
May 2, 2020

India's government has directed all public- and private-sector employees to use a state-supported coronavirus contact tracing application, as lockdown measures are gradually relaxed in districts less impacted by the pandemic. In April, India rolled out Aarogya Setu (Health Bridge), a Bluetooth and global positioning system-based app that notifies users who may have come in contact with people who later test positive for COVID-19. The Ministry of Home Affairs said the app's use is compulsory for all workers, and company heads will be held accountable "to ensure 100% coverage." Ministry officials added that Aarogya Setu has been downloaded about 83 million times to date, and must be installed on at least 200 million phones to be effective. Since the app collects data anonymously, the government says it will not infringe on privacy.

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Workflow of SOPHIA with offline model building and the online operation Improving Database Performance for Healthcare, IoT
Purdue University News
Chris Adam
May 5, 2020

Purdue University computer scientists have come up with a system to help optimize database performance with time-varying workloads, for diverse applications such as metagenomics, high-performance computing, and the Internet of Things. The SOPHIA system incorporates a workload predictor, a cost-benefit analyzer, and a decentralized reconfiguration protocol with awareness of an organization's data availability requirements. Purdue's Saurabh Bagchi said SOPHIA's components work together to determine the database workload, and conduct a cost-benefit analysis to realize optimized performance while dealing with fluctuating dynamic workloads. Tests indicated that SOPHIA outperforms default and static-optimized database configurations, even when substantial uncertainty exists in predicting the exact job characteristics.

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Photo of a Samsung smartphone. Samsung Patches 0-Click Vulnerability Impacting all Smartphones Sold Since 2014
Catalin Cimpanu
May 6, 2020

Samsung this week released a patch for a zero-click vulnerability affecting all smartphones the company has sold since 2014. The bug resided in how the Android OS version operating on Samsung devices manages the company’s custom Qmage image format. Mateusz Jurczyk with Google's Project Zero bug-hunting team said attackers could exploit the flaw without user interaction, because Android routes images sent to a device to the Skia Android graphics library for processing without the user's awareness. Jurczyk demonstrated a proof-of-concept exploit against the Samsung Messages app by sending repeated multimedia short-messaging services messages to a Samsung device, with each attempting to guess the Skia library's position in the phone's memory to circumvent Android's Address Space Layout Randomization safeguards. Once the library was pinpointed, a final message delivered the Qmage payload and executed the malicious code on the device.

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A 3D printed chemical mixer. Free Open Source Hardware Enables More Bang for Buck in Research Funding
Aalto University
May 6, 2020

Researchers at Aalto University in Finland and Michigan Technological University (MTU) investigated how free open source hardware (FOSH) can save up to 90% of allocated research funding, using Finland as a model. The researchers examined all research infrastructures and facilities in that country, and found that FOSH development of open-source transmission electron microscopes and scanning electron microscopes could save Finnish science funders more than 40 million euros (over US$43 million). The study further suggested millions more could be saved if all scientific hardware costing more than that €10,000 (nearly US$11,000) per unit could be converted to FOSH.

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An office equipped with latest tech tools. Tech Jobs in the Time of COVID
IEEE Spectrum
Tekla S. Perry
May 5, 2020

The first-quarter report of job search firm Dice reveals that overall hiring demand for tech professionals increased in many U.S. regions as the coronavirus emerged, likely due to demand for products and services for remote work and life. Silicon Valley saw job postings rise in the double digits in February and March, with bigger booms in cities like Raleigh, NC, home to companies like IBM and Lenovo, and San Diego, home to companies like Qualcomm. Dice reported a 20% jump in demand in the cybersecurity sector, with double-digit increases also seen for .NET developers and systems engineers. However, demand for front-end developers fell dramatically as employers pulled back on new projects to concentrate on core products and infrastructure. There were substantial jumps in interest for tech professionals with experience in systems engineering, devOps, and scrum, but job postings declined for experts in Ruby, Git, Microsoft C#, JavaScript, and .NET.

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A 3D visualization showing how the HLRS team integrated responses submitted by Herrenberg residents about how they experience their city. Using Digital Twins to Design More Sustainable Cities
University of Stuttgart HLRS
Eric Gedenk
May 7, 2020

Researchers at University of Stuttgart's High-Performance Computing Center Stuttgart (HLRS), the Fraunhofer Institute, and Kommunikationsbüro Ulmer in Germany have spent the last several years creating a digital twin of Herrenberg, Germany, to help with sustainable urban planning. Using sensors and other digital tools, the researchers have collected large datasets representing air quality, traffic flow, and the prevalence of pedestrian traffic, among other dimensions of urban life. They then merged these large datasets using supercomputers, in order to visualize them in virtual reality. Said HLRS' Fabian Dembski, "It isn’t just about supercomputers and infrastructures. It is about the variety of computational resources we have at our disposal, and perhaps most importantly, the interdisciplinary, collaborative environment that makes this work successful."

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Google, Gates Foundation to Help Spread Digital Payments in Developing Countries
David Z. Morris
May 6, 2020

A coalition of nonprofits and technology companies, including Google and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, aim to help developing nations build real-time digital payments systems through the Mojaloop Foundation. The new entity will promote a free, open source real-time payments platform designed for use by countries and central banks. National payments systems based on Mojaloop could enable these services to seamlessly engage with other digital wallets, traditional bank accounts, or remittance services like Western Union. Mojaloop's software, publicly available through GitHub, features a directory for identifying account holders, a transfer system for routing payments, and a clearing and settlement layer for transferring funds among users' financial institutions. The Gates Foundation's Kosta Peric said using a shared standard could eventually lead to cross-border interoperability between payments systems.

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The AAAI Squirrel AI Award for Artificial Intelligence
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