Certificate in Cyber Security
Welcome to the August 14, 2020 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Pixel inventor Russell Kirsch Russell Kirsch, Computer Scientist Who Scanned First Digital Image, Dies at 91
The Washington Post
Emily Langer
August 13, 2020

Computer scientist Russell Kirsch, who scanned the first digital image at the precursor of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), has died at 91. Kirsch used the Standards Electronic Automatic Computer (SEAC) at the National Bureau of Standards to scan a photo of himself holding his infant son. Since the full image contained more data than SEAC could ingest, Kirsch snipped out a small section containing just the baby's face, and ran it through a scanner and algorithm he had engineered with colleagues. The picture was rendered as a 176-pixel by 176-pixel image, which NIST credits as the basis for technologies including satellite imaging, computed tomography (CT) scans, bar codes, and digital photography. Kirsch also explored artificial intelligence, and collaborator Hans Oser said, "He was actually trying to mimic the functions of the brain—in other words, can one develop a machine that can generate new knowledge?"

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network simulation, illustration USC ISI Researchers Honored for Contributions to Networking Simulator
USC Viterbi News
Lila Jones
August 13, 2020

The ACM Special Interest Group on Data Communications (SIGCOMM) named researchers from the University of Southern California (USC)'s Information Sciences Institute (ISI) to receive the 2020 Networking Systems Award for their work on the "ns" series of networking simulators. Such simulators allow users to test their ideas on simulated networks, prior to experimentation. SIGCOMM cited ISI's John Heidemann and Yuri Pradkin, along with a number of USC students, for their major contributions to the ns-2 simulator. Said Pradkin, “It is much easier to debug protocols in a simulated world than in real-life systems.” Heidemann added, “The importance of the network has become very clear since COVID-19, at a time when much of the world today is working on-line.”

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Macy's flagship store Macy's Sued for Use of Clearview Facial Recognition Software
Clare Roth
August 6, 2020

Illinois resident Isela Carmine filed a proposed class action suit in federal court against Macy's department store for allegedly using facial recognition software from Clearview to identify shoppers from security camera video. The software can be used to match faces on security videos to those in a database of images scoured from the Internet, and Macy's reportedly performed over 6,000 such searches. Carmine said those reports form the basis of her lawsuit, which claims the software permitted Macy's to exploit stolen data and "stalk or track" customers in violation of Illinois' Biometric Information Privacy Act, one the nation’s most stringent biometric privacy laws. New York-based Macy’s declined to comment on the suit.

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As E-Commerce Booms, Robots Pick Up Human Slack
The Wall Street Journal
Christopher Mims
August 8, 2020

Four robots in use at the FedEx Express World Hub in Memphis, TN, work eight hours a day, sorting about 1,300 packages an hour. While the robots work only about half as fast as skilled humans, they are an important part of the chain of machines and people that keep packages, says FedEx Express’ Aaron Prather. In contrast, Amazon, while an avid producer and consumer of robots, still uses humans to accomplish such tasks because its enormous, ever-changing inventory is too much for even the best combination of artificial intelligence, computer vision, and grippers to handle, according to Amazon Robotics’ Brad Porter. Experts stress the importance of having robots fill some of the most common job roles in warehousing and logistics due to the explosion of e-commerce, Covid-19 stay-at-home orders that reduce the availability of workers, and the need to maintain social distancing between workers; they contend robots are filling vacancies created by rising demand, rather than stealing jobs.

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man's hands on keyboard Software Developer Jobs Are Growing Again, but the Top Skills Companies Want Are Changing
Steve Ranger
August 12, 2020

Research by international tech recruiter Harvey Nash found that new priorities for many businesses have changed the type of tech skills in greatest demand. Cybersecurity, enterprise architecture, technical architecture, organizational change, and cloud skills are at the top of the list, marking a change from last year, when big data and analytics, followed by cybersecurity, enterprise architecture, technical architecture, and DevOps were most in demand. The tech sector has been more insulated from the pandemic as businesses have shifted to remote working, according to Harvey Nash's Bev White. "As a result,” said White, “we have only seen the tech recruitment market slow for permanent positions, but even here, things are starting to pick up again, particularly for software developers, helpdesk advisors, cloud architects, and cybersecurity specialists."

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error-correcting cat concept, illustration Yale Quantum Researchers Create Error-Correcting Cat
Jim Shelton
August 12, 2020

Physicists from Yale University, the University of Texas-Austin, and France's Inria Paris have developed a device integrating the “Schrodinger's cat” concept of superposition—a physical system in two states simultaneously—with the ability to correct some of the toughest errors in quantum computation. Traditional error correction adds redundancy to prevent quantum bits (qubits) from accidentally flipping from 0 to 1 or vice versa, or phase-flipping between superpositions; the cat qubit is encoded into superpositions within a single electronic circuit, directly suppressing phase-flips. The researchers used the cat qubit as a superconducting microwave resonator, with oscillations corresponding to the two states. The team can switch the cat qubit from any one state to any other on command, and identify the encoded data in a new manner. Yale's Michel Devoret said, "This makes the system ... a versatile new element that will hopefully find its use in many aspects of quantum computation with superconducting circuits."

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Map showing how attackers can hijack the connection between a ship off the coast of Africa and a ground station in Ireland. Insecure Satellite Internet Threatens Ship, Plane Safety
Ars Technica
Dan Goodin
August 5, 2020

At last week’s Black Hat online security conference, Oxford University's James Pavur presented findings that satellite-based Internet services are putting millions of people at risk. Pavur intercepted the signals of 18 satellites beaming Internet data to people, ships, and airplanes in a 100-million-square-kilometer region over several years. Pavur showed session hijacking could be used to cause planes or ships to transmit sensitive, falsified data, or to create denials of service that prevent vessels from receiving data critical to safe operations. Said Pavur, “The goal of my research is to bring out these unique dynamics that the physical properties of space create for cybersecurity, and it’s an area that’s been underexplored.”

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Image of B-52 flying upward. Old-School Engine That Powers the B-52 Gets a 3D-Printed Upgrade
Popular Mechanics
Kyle Mizokami
August 10, 2020

The U.S. Air Force three-dimensionally (3D)-printed a replacement part for the engine of the B-52 Stratofortress bomber, representing its first metal component for a jet engine produced by additive manufacturing. Engineers at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma reverse-engineered and 3D-printed an anti-icing gasket for the Pratt & Whitney TF33-P103 turbofan engine, following the depletion of the supply chain for the original equipment manufacturer parts. The Air Force is taking a gradual approach to 3D printing; it introduced its first 3D-printed part (a toilet seat cover) in 2019. The Oklahoman reports the Air Force has 3D-printed 30 parts to date, but may require many more to ensure sufficient replacement parts to keep its warplanes operational.

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Photo of U.S. Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell (center) flanked by Federal Reserve Governors Lael Brainard (left) and Michelle Bowman (right) at an event in Washington, DC on Oct. 4, 2019. Federal Reserve Reveals Research Plans for Digital Dollar
Jason Brett
August 13, 2020

In an address at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco on Thursday, U.S. Federal Reserve governor Lael Brainard detailed her agency's research plans on the potential development of a U.S. central bank digital currency (CBDC), or Digital Dollar. Research projects under way include the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston's multi-year collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to build and test a hypothetical digital currency oriented to central bank uses, with its codebase to be published as open source software. Brainard said such research aims to understand digital currency systems' safety and efficiency, and to provide hands-on experience to understand the technologies available for central bank money. The U.S. also is involved with the CBDC coalition of central banks on insights gained, and is jointly conducting experiments, to understand the threats to cybersecurity, counterfeiting and fraud, and anti-money laundering.

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Hands holding up cellphones showing Q on the screens (for QAnon). Tech Firms Broaden Group to Secure U.S. Election
The New York Times
Mike Isaac; Kate Comger
August 12, 2020

Facebook, Google, and other major technology firms on Wednesday announced an expansion of their coalition to secure the November U.S. presidential election, and held a meeting with government agencies. The group aims to prevent the type of online meddling and foreign interference that tainted the 2016 presidential election. The latest additions to the group include the nonprofit Wikimedia Foundation, professional networking website LinkedIn, and Verizon Media, while the meeting included representatives of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and Department of Homeland Security. While the coalition will discuss active threats, it remains each member company's responsibility to ameliorate election interference on its platform.

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An ATM machine with screen announcing “Software Update.” Hackers Say 'Jackpotting' Flaws Tricked Popular ATMs Into Spitting Out Cash
Zack Whittaker
August 6, 2020

Security researchers Brenda So and Trey Keown of the Red Balloon security firm unveiled two new "jackpotting" flaws that force Nautilus ATMs to dispense cash on command. The bugs have lain dormant within the ATMs' underlying software—a 10-year-old version of Windows no longer supported by Microsoft—which the researchers reverse-engineered. The Extensions for Financial Services software layer contained the first vulnerability, based on its implementation by the manufacturer; Keown said transmitting a malicious request over the network could trigger the cash dispenser and dump the cash inside. The second flaw resided in the ATM's remote management software, and So said switching its payment processor with a hacker-controlled server to extract data like credit card numbers was possible. The researchers privately disclosed their findings to Nautilus last year, and Bloomberg reported roughly 80,000 Nautilus ATMs in the U.S. were vulnerable at the time.

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Machine Learning Helps Find Materials That Buck the Trend
August 7, 2020

Chemists at Japan's RIKEN research institute developed a machine learning model to predict the compositions of out-of-trend new materials. The team fed the open source BoundLess Objective free eXploration (BLOX) algorithm compositions and properties of known materials in order to make predictions of materials suited for use in applications involving trade-offs between two or more desirable traits. BLOX combines data for materials randomly chosen from a database with experimental or calculation results, uses the model to anticipate properties of a new set of materials, and identifies the material deviating most from distribution. The material’s properties are confirmed by experiment or calculations, then employed to update the machine learning model, and the process is repeated. The chemists used BLOX to identify eight trend-flouting molecules with a high level of photoactivity from a drug-discovery database; their properties correlated well with those BLOX predicted, which RIKEN's Kei Terayama said "shows the potential of computation-driven materials development."

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ACM Gordon Bell Special Prize for High Performance Computing-Based COVID-19 Research
ACM Transactions on Data Science

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