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Welcome to the October 14, 2020 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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A Trojan horse and circuitry. Court Orders Seizure of Ransomware Botnet Controls as U.S. Election Nears
Joseph Menn; Chris Bing
October 12, 2020

Microsoft on Monday said it had seized via federal court order Internet Protocol (IP) addresses that had been directing activity on computers infected with Trickbot malware. Microsoft warned that Trickbot has infected a number of public government agencies, which could suffer worse damage if the operators encrypt files or install programs that interfere with voter registration records or the display and public disclosure of election results. Microsoft worked with companies including security firm ESET to disassemble Trickbot installations and trace them to their command IP addresses, and invoked copyright law to secure the court order. Said Microsoft’s Tom Burt, “Ransomware is one of the largest threats to the upcoming election.”

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A phantom image detected by the Tesla Model X. Split-Second 'Phantom' Images Can Fool Tesla's Autopilot
Andy Greenberg
October 11, 2020

Researchers at Israel's Ben Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) found they could fool Tesla's Autopilot driver-assistance systems into automatically reacting without warning by flashing split-second images of phantom road signs on an Internet-connected billboard's video. BGU's Yisroel Mirsky said, "The attacker just shines an image of something on the road or injects a few frames into a digital billboard, and the car will apply the brakes or possibly swerve, and that's dangerous." The team injected frames of a phantom stop sign on digital billboards, which tricked a Tesla upgraded to the HW3 version of Autopilot, as well as a Mobileye 630 device. In an email to the researchers, Tesla said its Autopilot feature should not be considered a fully autonomous driving system, but "a driver assistance feature that is intended for use only with a fully attentive driver who has their hands on the wheel and is prepared to take over at any time."

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VR Software Allows Scientists to 'Walk' Inside Cells
University of Cambridge (U.K.)
October 12, 2020

Software developed by researchers at the University of Cambridge in the U.K. and software company Lume VR Ltd. enables super-resolution microscopy data to be visualized and analyzed in virtual reality. The software, vLUME, uses clustering algorithms to find patterns in multiple datasets with millions of data points, then permits the sharing of findings via images and/or video. Said Lume's Alexandre Kitching, "vLUME is revolutionary imaging software that brings humans into the nanoscale. It allows scientists to visualize, question, and interact with 3D (three-dimensional) biological data, in real time all within a virtual reality environment, to find answers to biological questions faster."

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Woolworths’ e-store operations. Woolworths Launches Automated eStore in Melbourne
Kathy Skantzos
October 9, 2020

Woolworths in Australia is using technology to accelerate delivery of online orders and potentially improve order accuracy, starting with an automated eStore at its Carrum Downs supermarket in Melbourne. The rollout also could help reduce aisle congestion for in-store customers, as Woolworths' personal shoppers choose most items from inventory without having to enter the store. The system, produced by eGrocery automation vendor Takeoff Technologies, reportedly will help the store fulfill five times the online order volumes of a standard Woolworths outlet. Woolworths Group CEO Brad Banducci said the automation "dramatically improves the speed, efficiency, and accuracy of the picking process" of thousands of online orders delivered to customers in southeast Melbourne suburbs every week.

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The Devil Is in the Data: Overhauling the Educational Approach to AI's Ethical Challenge
IEEE Spectrum
October 8, 2020

Educators at the New York University (NYU) Tandon School of Engineering aim to teach next-generation computer and data scientists about the ethical ramifications of artificial intelligence (AI). NYU Tandon's Julia Stoyanovich said people wrongly assume AI technology will address societal problems that are beyond the capabilities of engineering artifacts, because they require human discretion, judgment, and accountability. Simple rule-based algorithms can produce discriminatory outcomes due to societal bias in the data on which they are trained, while technical systems can add more bias due to their design or operation. Stoyanovich feels educators must find some way to reflect ethical concerns in training future computer and data science practitioners. She created the Responsible Data Science course at NYU Tandon, now a prerequisite for students pursuing a bachelor's degree in data science, in which pupils are taught both "what we can do with data" and "what we shouldn't do."

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Chinese users looking at a mobile phone. China's Quiet Experiment Let Millions View Long-Banned Websites
Colum Murphy; Coco Liu; Yuan Gao
October 12, 2020

China allowed millions of its citizens access to long-banned foreign websites like YouTube and Instagram in a two-week experiment of the Tuber mobile browser application. The app, backed by government-associated 360 Security Technology, appeared in late September, permitting access to the sites without an illegal virtual private network. The trial suggests China's government is testing ways to let its Internet users into once-prohibited zones, although the app was withdrawn without explanation on Saturday. State-allowed apps like Tuber signal a possible compromise, in which user activity is tracked and content screened, while permitting academics, corporations, and citizens to share information.

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Photo of a Manuca sexta moth with a sensor on its back. Researchers Use Flying Insects to Drop Sensors Safely
University of Washington
Sarah McQuate
October 8, 2020

Researchers at the University of Washington (UW) have created a 98-milligram sensor that can access difficult- or dangerous-to-reach areas by riding on a small drone or an insect and being dropped when it reaches its destination. The sensor is released when it receives a Bluetooth command and can fall up to 72 feet at a maximum speed of 11 mph without breaking, then collect data like temperature or humidity levels for nearly three years. Said UW's Shyam Gollakota, "This is the first time anyone has shown that sensors can be released from tiny drones or insects such as moths, which can traverse through narrow spaces better than any drone and sustain much longer flights." The system could be used to create a sensor network within a study area researchers wish to monitor.

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An example of the use of the Kyrix-S system on a scatterplot. Less Scatterbrained Scatterplots
MIT News
Adam Conner-Simons
October 7, 2020

Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's (MIT) Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory have developed an open source system that enables the creation of interactive scatterplots based on datasets with billions of distinct data points. The system, dubbed Kyrix-S, aims to solve a major issue with the use of scatterplots for large datasets: overlapping dots that can make them unreadable. Kyrix-S features an interface that puts data in several zoom levels and allows users to pan, zoom, and jump around a scatterplot, while showing only the most important examples to avoid overplotting. The researchers say Kyrix-S can work with heat maps, pie charts, radar-style graphics, and other visualization styles. The software currently is in use by Data Civilizer 2.0, a data integration platform developed at MIT.

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Interior of Polestar 2 featuring Google’s Android Autonomous operating system. German Car Industry Musters for New Tech Battle
The Wall Street Journal
Stephen Wilmot
October 9, 2020

German automakers Daimler and Volkswagen (VW) aim to develop software operating systems (OS) in-house for electric vehicles, gearing up for a war with the rest of the industry's adoption of Google's Android Automotive product. Daimler last week prioritized electric drive and car software efforts for its Mercedes-Benz brand, including development of a complete OS (MB.OS) for the latter. Daimler hopes to use the new OS to create a live digital connection with customers, to sell them services long after their vehicle purchase. Meanwhile, VW CEO Herbert Diess announced a push to create a "fully networked mobility device" by increasing the amount of software produced in-house from 10% to at least 60% by 2025, at a cost of €7 billion ($8.23 billion).

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U.S., U.K., Other Countries Warn Tech Firms Encryption Creates 'Severe Risks' to Public Safety
Sam Shead
October 12, 2020

Lawmakers from countries within the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance (U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand) warned technology companies that unbreakable encryption "creates severe risks to public safety" and serves as a barrier to investigations by law enforcement agencies. Ministers from alliance countries, as well as India and Japan, signed a statement urging the tech industry to develop a solution that allows law enforcement access to tightly encrypted messages. The Five Eyes nations acknowledged some forms of encryption are crucial for guarding personal data, privacy, intellectual property, trade secrets, and cybersecurity. They said their ultimate goal is a government-industry solution that allows users to communicate privately and securely, while also permitting law enforcement and tech companies to monitor criminal activity.

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UCI Biochip Innovation Combines AI, Nanoparticle Printing for Cancer Cell Analysis
University of California, Irvine Samueli School of Engineering
Brian Bell
October 7, 2020

Electrical engineers, computer scientists, and biomedical engineers at the University of California, Irvine (UCI) combined artificial intelligence (AI), microfluidics, and nanoparticle inkjet printing into a laboratory-on-a-chip that can help analyze tumor heterogeneity at the single-cell level. Samples travel in the novel biochip through microfluidic channels, with carefully positioned electrodes that monitor differences in the electrical properties of diseased versus healthy cells. The UCI team created a method for prototyping key biochip parts in about 20 minutes with an inkjet printer, enabling easy manufacturing in various settings from mostly reusable or inexpensive materials. Machine learning AI manages the data generated by the biochip, in order to improve analytical accuracy. UCI's Rahim Esfandyarpour said, "Single-cell analysis is essential to identify and classify cancer types and study cellular heterogeneity. It’s necessary to understand tumor initiation, progression, and metastasis in order to design better cancer treatment drugs.”

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Software Spots, Fixes Hang Bugs in Seconds
NC State University News
October 12, 2020

Software developed at North Carolina State University (NC State) can identify and fix so-called hang bugs, which cause websites or applications to get stuck but not crash, in a matter of seconds. HangFix automatically detects hang bugs, diagnoses the issue, and applies a patch that corrects the root cause of the error. In a test of the HangFix prototype on 42 real-world hang bugs in 10 commonly used cloud server applications, 40 were fixed in seconds; NC State's Helen Gu said the other bugs were identified and partially fixed, but required additional input from programmers to completely remediate.

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