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Welcome to the June 29, 2020 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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How Conspiracy Theories Emerge—and How Their Storylines Fall Apart
UCLA Newsroom
Jessica Wolf
June 25, 2020

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) professors employed artificial intelligence to better understand how unfounded conspiracy theories emerge online from unrelated facts and false information. The researchers analyzed the spread of news about the 2013 Bridgegate scandal in New Jersey and the proliferation of misinformation about the fabricated 2016 Pizzagate story. In both instances, the narrative framework was set by the relationships among all of the storyline's elements. Graphic representations of those frameworks indicated how false conspiracy theory narratives are kept coherent by threads linking multiple characters, places, and things—and removing even one thread causes the narrative to unravel. The researchers have also examined the narrative frameworks surrounding conspiracy theories related to Covid-19. Said UCLA's Timothy Tangherlini, “With Covid-19, there are many competing conspiracy theories, and we are tracing the alignment of multiple, smaller conspiracy theories into larger ones. But the underlying theory is identical for all conspiracy theories."

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Wrongfully Accused by an Algorithm
The New York Times
Kashmir Hill
June 24, 2020

Robert Julian-Borchak Williams was arrested at his home in Farmington Hills, MI, this past January in what experts on technology and the law say could be the first account of an American wrongfully arrested based on a flawed match from a facial recognition algorithm. He was accused of stealing five timepieces, worth $3,800, from a Shinola store after being identified in a photo lineup; his case has since been dismissed. Recent studies by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the National Institute of Standards and Technology reveal that facial recognition technology works relatively well on white men, but due in part to a lack of diversity in the images used to develop the underlying databases, the results are less accurate for other demographics. Although Amazon, Microsoft, and IBM have stopped or paused their facial recognition offerings for law enforcement, police departments generally use technology from smaller industry players.

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Ransomware Masquerades as Covid-19 Contact-Tracing App on Your Android Device
Charlie Osborne
June 24, 2020

Researchers from Slovak security company ESET say cyberattackers have deployed malware in an Android app marketed as Health Canada's official Covid-19 contact tracing app, which will not be made available to mobile users until next month at the earliest. The cybersecurity firm said two websites, tracershield[.]ca and covid19tracer[.]ca, which are now defunct, offered what looked like Health Canada's tracing app, but were actually hosting APKs that installed the CryCryptor ransomware on Android devices. When installed, the malware requests access to files and begins encrypting content on the device with specific extensions. A decryption tool for the current version of the malware has been released by ESET. The firm said the release of the open source malware, called CryDroid, was disguised by its developer as a research project.

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Cameras hidden in bookshelves. Shedding Light (and Sound) on Hidden IoT Devices in Your Next Hotel Room
Carnegie Mellon University Human-Computer Interaction Institute
Daniel Tkacik
June 26, 2020

A study by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU)'s Human-Computer Interaction Institute and CyLab Security and Privacy Institute, working with colleagues from China’s Xi'an Jiaotong University, explored methods for detecting hidden Internet of Things (IoT) devices, using light and sound. The authors considered three locator/detector designs—placing a light-emitting diode (LED) on a device; placing an LED and beeping mechanism on a device; and a contextualized picture that showed the device in position, taken by the hospitality host. Participants pinpointed devices much faster with locator designs than without them, and about two-thirds of participants preferred the LED-plus-beeper design. CMU's Jason Hong said, "Our hope is that the findings in this paper can help industry and policymakers in adopting the idea of locators for IoT devices."

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Pilot Test Begins for Tech to Connect Everyday Vehicles
IEEE Spectrum
Sandy Ong
June 19, 2020

Columbus, OH, will launch a connected-vehicle pilot program in July, with up to 1,800 public and private vehicles fitted with special onboard units and dashboard-mounted head-up displays. These vehicles will be able to receive messages from traffic lights at 113 intersections. The goal of the project is to study the impacts of connectivity on safety and traffic flow. The pilot is part of the Smart Columbus initiative, which was rolled out after the city was awarded $40 million through the U.S. Department of Transportation's 2015 Smart City Challenge. The University of Michigan's Transportation Research Institute's Debra Bezzina said connected-vehicle technology could save billions a year by preventing as much as 80% of unimpaired car crashes. It also could result in more efficient traffic management and greener commuting.

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A researchers wearing a virtual-reality headset. Body of Knowledge
Shaena Montanari
June 23, 2020

Covid-19 means many medical students will not be on campus in the fall; in response, some schools will use virtual reality (VR) to enable cadaver dissection. Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine uses HoloAnatomy software that runs on Microsoft's mixed-reality HoloLens headset, which allows students to dissect parts of the "holo body" virtually and zoom in on intricate details. In a recent study at Case Western Reserve, exam scores among students who learned upper and lower limb anatomy through cadaver dissection and mixed reality education and those who learned entirely on a cadaver were statistically indistinguishable. Stanford University School of Medicine's Scott Ceresnak — who worked on the development of the Stanford Virtual Heart, which runs on the Oculus Rift VR headset—said the technology enables users to appreciate anatomy in a "completely different, new, novel way."

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Academic Achievement Isn't Why There Are More Men Than Women Majoring in Physics, Engineering, Computer Science
New York University
June 18, 2020

A study by New York University (NYU) researchers found that higher academic achievement among men is not the underlying reason for more men than women majoring in physics, engineering, and computer science (PECS). NYU's Joseph R. Cimpian said these majors draw and retain lower-achieving males, with the result of women being underrepresented but demonstrating higher science, technology, engineering, and math competence and academic achievement. The researchers analyzed data from nearly 6,000 U.S. high-school students over seven years, and determined that males in the first percentile were majoring in PECS at the same rate as females in the 80th percentile. The researchers also learned that the lowest-achieving male student was as least as likely to major in PECS as the highest-achieving female student. Said Cimpian, "This new evidence ... suggests that efforts to dismantle barriers to women in these fields would raise overall quality of students."

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An aerial drone in flight Drone-Deployed Sterile Mosquitoes Could Check Spread of Insect-Borne Illnesses
Devin Coldewey
June 16, 2020

French, Swiss, British, Brazilian, Senegalese and other researchers created a technique involving the drone deployment of sterile mosquitoes to more quickly control mosquito populations and reduce insect-borne disease. The team released sterile male mosquitoes into the wild, which compete with other males for food and mates while producing no offspring. The mosquitoes are grown in bulk, sterilized by radiation, and packed into cartridges at low temperatures, which prevent them from flying and biting. They are brought to a target site and loaded onto a drone, which then ascends to a set altitude and releases thousands of the insects over the target area. This method of dispersal can cover large difficult-to-navigate areas more quickly than manual techniques.

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The SpooQy-1 CubeSat being released into orbit from the ISS in June 2019 Quantum Entanglement Demonstrated on Tiny CubeSat in Orbit
New Atlas
Michael Irving
June 25, 2020

Researchers at the National University of Singapore (NUS) have demonstrated quantum entanglement on a new mini-satellite orbiting earth. The SpooQy-1 mini-satellite carries a device that can produce pairs of quantum-entangled photons by shining a blue laser diode onto non-linear crystals. SpooQy-1 is the smallest quantum satellite so far, weighing less than 5.7 pounds. The development could help roll out a fast, secure quantum Internet, which would require a network of quantum satellites. Said NUS's Aitor Villar, "In the future, our system could be part of a global quantum network transmitting quantum signals to receivers on Earth or on other spacecraft."

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IKEA Launches a Global Platform for Tech, Interior Design Experts to Experiment With the Future of Homes
Business Insider (India)
Sanchita Dash
June 19, 2020

IKEA has launched a Web platform on which design and technology experts can generate ideas for digital homes. The platform, backed by the Swedish furniture chain and its SPACE10 research lab, will feature experiments based on artificial intelligence, machine learning, augmented reality, and cutting-edge spatial intelligence. These include an optical sound system that shows how music travels inside a home, and tools that can open and close blinds, use a light bulb to warn about high levels of air pollution, or turn images from NASA's photo archive into a lighting display. Said SPACE10's Bas Van De Poel, "We believe, the more we learn about the next curve of design and technological innovations, the more we can help people to make tomorrow's life at home, and with each other, even better."

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Novel Vision-Based Algorithm to Track Pose of Spacecraft in Real Time
Chinese Academy of Sciences
June 18, 2020

Researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Shenzhen Institutes of Advanced Technology and Beihang University have developed a novel vision-based algorithm that tracks the 6-degree-of-freedom position of a multi-rigid-body spacecraft in real time. The algorithm geometrically fits the geometric primitives on the spacecraft using Generalized Expectation-Maximization, M-estimation, and Extended Kalman Filter. The algorithm eventually could deliver the maximum likelihood estimation for spacecraft pose, and outperform other updated pose tracking techniques in terms of accuracy and speed, the researchers said. Synthetic and actual experiments confirmed that the algorithm could facilitate spacecraft pose tracking with about 33.33 hertz, and is sufficiently robust to handle random noise, background clutter, and dramatic illumination changes in space.

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The disinfection robot in action. CSAIL Robot Disinfects Greater Boston Food Bank
MIT News
Rachel Gordon
June 28, 2020

A group of researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), Ava Robotics, and the Greater Boston Food Bank designed a robotic system that disinfects surfaces and neutralizes aerosolized forms of Covid-19. The system utilizes a custom ultraviolet C (UV-C) light fixture from CSAIL, combined with Ava Robotics' mobile robot base, to kill viruses and bacteria on surfaces and in the air. The UV-C array replaces the robot’s telepresence component, since it requires no human supervision, and kills microorganisms and disrupts their DNA. The robot also can map its surroundings and navigate between waypoints and other specified areas. CSAIL's Daniela Rus said this research "has highlighted several algorithmic challenges," adding that the research team will "tackle these in order to extend the scope of autonomous UV disinfection in complex spaces, including dorms, schools, airplanes, and grocery stores."

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Netgear Moves to Plug Vulnerability in Routers After Researchers Find Zero-Day
Sean Lyngaas
June 17, 2020

Netgear said it is close to releasing a patch for a newly discovered software vulnerability that could enable hackers to remotely exploit home Internet routers and potentially access devices running on those networks. The cybersecurity company GRIMM and Trend Micro's Zero Day Initiative (ZDI) reported the vulnerability. GRIMM's Adam Nichols said his team detected a vulnerable copy of a Web server on the router in 79 different Netgear devices. He noted that a hacker does not necessarily need to be on a Wi-Fi network to launch an attack. Researchers said the vulnerability affects a version of Netgear firmware dating to 2007. ZDI first reported the bug to Netgear in January, delaying its analysis so Netgear could address the issue. It published its findings on June 15 to raise awareness after Netgear requested multiple extensions for releasing a fix. Netgear said the patch has been delayed by the pandemic.

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