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Welcome to the August 10, 2020 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Aerial drones in use in Singapore. Singapore Police Trial 2 Pilotless Drones to Help Enforce Social Distancing Measures
The Daily Mail (U.K.)
Ryan Fahey
August 6, 2020

Singapore law enforcement is testing two unmanned drones designed by developer Airobotics to help enforce social distancing measures, by tracking gatherings and streaming video of them to police. Airobotics said this is the first time automated commercial drones have been sanctioned to fly over a major city. Low Hsien Meng from the Singapore Home Team Science & Technology Agency (HTX)'s Robotics, Automation & Unmanned Systems Center said the drones can pinpoint locations and zoom into spaces that police might miss on foot or in vehicles. Airobotics said the drones, which it leases to HTX, also are being leased for industrial use in Israel and the U.S.

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Qualcomm Chip Vulnerability Puts Millions of Phones at Risk
Computer Weekly
Alex Scroxton
August 6, 2020

The Check Point security firm found 400 code vulnerabilities on Qualcomm's Snapdragon digital signal processor (DSP) chip, used in more than 40% of Android smartphones worldwide. A hacker would only have to persuade a target to download a simple, innocuous application without any permissions in order to exploit the flaws. Check Point's Yaniv Balmas said affected devices could be hijacked to spy on and track users, install malware, and even prevent the device from being fixed. He added that hundreds of millions of phones are at risk even though Qualcomm has fixed the issues, and mitigating all the flaws will take months, possibly years. Balmas said DSP vulnerabilities are especially serious because the chips are managed as "Black Boxes," and a review of their design, functionality, or code by anyone but Qualcomm is extremely difficult.

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Break It Down: A Way to Address Common Computing Problem
The Source (Washington University in St. Louis)
Brandie Jefferson
August 4, 2020

Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis have developed an algorithm for solving linear inverse problems by deconstructing them into sub-tasks so they may be solved in parallel on standard computers. Linear inverse problems attempt to find a model to describe observational data, and the Parallel Residual Projection (PRP) technique provides a solution framework when thousands or millions of equations and variables are involved. Washington University's Wei Miao said the framework's flexibility and scalability can accommodate the addition of factors to already-solved problems without having to start from scratch. The framework also consolidates outcomes and computes an accurate solution to the initial problem.

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Modern Driver-Assistance Technology 'Far From Reliable': AAA Study
Tina Bellon
August 6, 2020

A study by the American Automobile Association (AAA) found that existing advanced driver-assistance technology does not provide reliable safety benefits. AAA researchers evaluated a 2019 BMW X7 with Active Driving Assistant Professional, a 2019 Cadillac CT6 with Super Cruise, a 2019 Ford Edge with Co-Pilot360, a 2020 Kia Telluride with Highway Driving Assist, and a 2020 Subaru Outback with EyeSight technology. The study found these systems recording disruptions and disengaging about every eight miles, in response to scenarios they were not engineered to manage. Although lane-centering and changing technology performed better on a test course with clear lane markings, the systems comprised 73% of all disengagements in real-world situations. The AAA team described the technology as "far from 100% reliable," and urged automakers to improve the systems or risk alienating consumers.

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NIST Neural Network Model Finds Small Objects in Dense Images
August 4, 2020

Computer scientists at the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have created a neural network model to detect small geometric objects in dense images. The researchers modified a network architecture developed by German scientists for analyzing biomedical images in order to retrieve raw data from journal articles that had been degraded or otherwise lost. The images present data points with various markers, mainly circles, triangles, and squares, both filled and open, of differing size and clarity. The model captured 97% of objects in a defined set of test images, finding their centers to within a few pixels of manually selected sites. NIST's Adele Peskin said the technique could find use in other applications, because "object detection is used in a wide range of image analyses, self-driving cars, machine inspections, and so on, for which small, dense objects are particularly hard to locate and separate."

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Before and after photos of Jessica Simpson. This Tool Could Protect Your Photos From Facial Recognition
The New York Times
Kashmir Hill
August 3, 2020

Computer engineers at the University of Chicago have designed software to foil companies that trawl the Internet for public photos of individuals in order to build databases for facial recognition. The Fawkes software, released to developers in July, "cloaks" photos with subtle pixel-level alterations that confuse facial recognition systems. The software matches an individual to the facial template of a person who looks as dissimilar as possible, extracted from a database of celebrity faces; the final result is often unsettling. Tests showed that Fawkes could fool facial recognition systems from Amazon, Microsoft, and Chinese technology company Megvii. The researchers are creating a free version of Fawkes for noncoders.

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Cloud Spending Hits Record Amid Economic Fallout From Covid-19
The Wall Street Journal
Angus Loten
August 3, 2020

Research firm Canalys reports that companies worldwide spent a record $34.6 billion on cloud services in the second quarter of this year, an 11% gain from the first quarter and a 30% increase from the second quarter of 2019. Canalys attributed the spending jump to increased corporate demand for cloud-based collaboration and remote working tools, e-commerce, remote learning, and content streaming. Canalys' Matthew Ball said as businesses reopen, cloud services provide support for business continuity efforts, and will serve as a foundation for occupancy monitoring, contact tracing, and other workplace safety tools.

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Two superconducting qubits acting as giant artificial atoms. 'Giant Atoms' Enable Quantum Processing, Communication in One
MIT News
Michaela Jarvis
July 29, 2020

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers have unveiled a quantum computing architecture that performs low-error computations while rapidly sharing quantum data between processors. Key to this was the construction of "giant atoms" from superconducting quantum bits (qubits), linked in a tunable configuration to a waveguide. This enables researchers to tune the strength of qubit-waveguide interactions to protect the qubits from decoherence, while conducting high-fidelity operations. Once those computations are completed, the strength of the qubit-waveguide parings is readjusted, allowing the qubits to emit quantum data into the waveguide as photons. MIT's Bharath Kannan said, "The tricks we employed are relatively simple and, as such, one can imagine using this for further applications without a great deal of additional overhead."

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Image of an electronic brian with a rose. Using AI to Smell the Roses
UC Riverside News
Iqbal Pittalwala
July 28, 2020

Researchers at the University of California, Riverside (UCR) used machine learning to understand what a chemical smells like to humans. UCR's Anandasankar Ray and Joel Kowalewski developed a technique for a computer to learn chemical features that activate known human odorant receptors (ORs), then screened about 500,000 compounds for binding ligand molecules for 34 ORs. The team then concentrated on whether their OR activity-estimating algorithm could predict diverse perceptual qualities of odorants, and learned that such activity accurately predicted 146 distinct chemical percepts. Only a few ORs were required for prediction. Said Ray, "The machine learning algorithm can eventually predict how a new chemical will smell, even though we may initially not know if it smells like a lemon or a rose."

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Researchers Show Holographic AR Control System for Autonomous Drones
Jeremy Horwitz
August 6, 2020

Researchers from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology have developed holographic augmented reality (AR) hardware that can generate live three-dimensional terrain maps, enabling autonomous drone operators to direct their vehicles to targets depicted above any flat surface. A Microsoft HoloLens headset generates the AR content as a voxel map that can be seen from any angle, using the drone's depth cameras and raycasting for real-time location data. Live spatial perception of elevation and depth allows the operator to view the drone from a third-person perspective and reposition it. The headset feeds commands to the drone, ascertaining the next target on the map by converting the user's hand gestures and gazes into point-and-click-like controls.

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EtherOops Attack Takes Advantage of Faulty Cables
Catalin Cimpanu
August 5, 2020

At the Black Hat USA security conference, researchers at Armis detailed a technique that takes advantage of faulty Ethernet cables to attack devices inside internal corporate networks. The scenario was discovered in a laboratory setting. While it is not a widespread issue, the researchers said the EtherOops technique could be weaponized by "sophisticated attackers" like nation-state actors. EtherOops essentially is a packet-in-packet attack, in which the outer packet enables the attack payload to get through initial network defenses and the inner packet attacks devices inside the network. The attack would be difficult to pull off because the faulty cables must exist inside a network at key positions, users most likely would have to visit a malicious website to give the attacker a direct connection to the corporate network, and bit-flip errors have a low success rate. The researchers recommend using shielded Ethernet cables or network security products that can detect packet-in-packet payloads.

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SwipeSense, using sensors in badges to track contacts with those infected with the coronavirus. Some Hospitals Tracking Covid-19 by Adding Sensors to Employees' Badges
Christina Farr
August 2, 2020

About 50 hospitals currently use sensor technology from electronic hygiene tracking platform developer SwipeSense to monitor whether staff are washing their hands when they enter and exit patient rooms, and to keep tabs on expensive equipment like wheelchairs. The Covid-19 pandemic has extended the technology's application to contact tracing, with sensors added to employees' badges to monitor their movements. If a staffer is diagnosed with the virus, SwipeSense allows hospital administrators to ascertain retroactively who might have been in close proximity to the infected individual, and take remedial steps. The SwipeSense platform safeguards privacy by not tracking individuals throughout the day, or outside of patient rooms.

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