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Welcome to the October 16, 2020 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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A supercomputer shows the effect of humidity on the spread of COVID-19. Japan Supercomputer Shows Humidity Affects Aerosol Spread of Coronavirus
Rocky Swift
October 14, 2020

Humidity can have a major impact on the dispersion of virus particles, according to a study by researchers at Kobe University in Japan and research giant Riken. The researchers modeled the emission and flow of virus-like particles from infected people in a variety of indoor environments using the Fugaku supercomputer. The simulations showed more than double the amount of aerosolized particles in the air when humidity was lower than 30%, compared to when the humidity was 60% or higher. This suggests coronavirus contagion risks could increase in dry, indoor conditions during the winter months. The researchers also found clear face shields less effective than masks in curtailing the spread of aerosols.

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A test of hand recognition technology at an artificial intelligence conference. U.S. Moves to Protect Technologies Considered Critical to National Security
The Wall Street Journal
Katy Stech Ferek; Gordon Lubold
October 15, 2020

The U.S. National Security Council on Thursday issued guidelines to protect technologies crucial to national security, including artificial intelligence, quantum information science, and semiconductors. A senior White House official said the report directs federal agencies to prevent these technologies from falling into the hands of foreign adversaries. The effort intends to encourage government departments and agencies to rally around U.S. researchers, academics, and private-sector players that convert ideas into security-fortifying innovations. The guidelines recommend measures for shielding 20 specified technologies by pushing the private sector to consider the national security ramifications of projects involving critical technology. They also call for a strong export control system that regulates which technologies can be sent abroad.

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FBI/DHS: Government Systems Face Threat From Zerologon Exploits
Ars Technica
Dan Goodin
October 9, 2020

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency have detected attackers exploiting a Windows vulnerability (Zerologon) against state and local governments, in some cases threatening election systems. Members of unspecific advanced persistent threats are using Zerologon to grant hackers who already have infiltrated susceptible networks access to domain controllers, which allocate new accounts and manage current ones. To gain initial access, attackers are exploiting flaws in firewalls, virtual private networks, and other products from companies like Juniper, Pulse Secure, Citrix, and Palo Alto Networks. Patches were issued for all the identified vulnerabilities, but FBI and DHS warned not everyone has installed them.

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Computers Aboard Airliners Could Become Vulnerable to Hacking, Watchdog Says
Alan Levin
October 9, 2020

A report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) takes aim at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for failing to prioritize cyber risks, develop a cybersecurity training program, or test potentially vulnerable systems. Computer systems in commercial aircraft have become more sophisticated, with wireless networks, seat-back entertainment, position broadcasts, and devices that automatically transmit data to the ground. The GAO acknowledged FAA and airplane manufacturers have added "extensive" protections to those systems and that there have not been reports of successful cyberattacks, but noted "the increasing connections between airplanes and other systems, combined with the evolving cyber threat landscape, could lead to increasing risks for future flight safety." Said the report, "Until FAA strengthens its oversight program, based on assessed risks, it may not be able to ensure it is providing sufficient oversight to guard against evolving cybersecurity risks facing avionics systems in commercial airplane[s]."

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Several people are moving at the same time, in this video image. AI Can Alter the Speed of Just One Object or Person in a Video
New Scientist
Chris Stokel-Walker
October 9, 2020

Researchers at the University of Oxford in the U.K. and Google have developed a neural network able to distinguish between people and objects in a video, and speed up or slow down their movements independently. The researchers separated each frame of video into layers and trained an artificial intelligence (AI) system to identify people or objects in each layer, then separated each person or object from the background into their own layers. After altering the individual elements, the AI pieces them back together. The neural network can, for instance, speed up one pair of ballroom dancers and slow down another in the same video. The process can be used to dramatize or deemphasize certain movements or events in a video while eliminating the laborious process of highlighting individual elements by hand.

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A user logs into SingPass using the new Face Verification feature. In Singapore, Facial Recognition Getting Woven Into Everyday Life
NBC News
Aloysius Low
October 12, 2020

Singaporeans will be able to access government and other services through a facial recognition feature in its SingPass national identity program. SingPass Face Verification lets users securely log in to their government services accounts at public kiosks and on home computers, tablets, and mobile phones just using their faces. Singapore's Government Technology Agency said the data collected via facial recognition is "purpose-driven," solely for a specific transaction, and deleted after 30 days. The technology allegedly prevents login attempts using photos, masks, and deepfakes, as well as repelling replay attacks, which use a recording of a person's face to attempt authentication.

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Detection Technology Could Help Keep E-Scooters Off Sidewalks
The Washington Post
Luz Lazo
October 10, 2020

California Polytechnic State University's Digital Transformation Hub (DxHUB) has developed a system that turns off an electric scooter when it is ridden on a sidewalk. Officials in Santa Monica, CA, enlisted DxHUB to address violations of sidewalk riding proscriptions, and researchers explored ways to differentiate between sidewalks, bike lanes, and streets. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Casey Johnson wrote a surface categorization algorithm to detect cracks in sidewalks, then added an inexpensive accelerator sensor to recognize when the scooter is being ridden on an asphalt road rather than a concrete sidewalk; the sensor slows the scooter to a stop when detecting concrete. Scooter companies like Bird are pursuing their own sidewalk detection concepts, including trackers that notify users how much of their trip was made on sidewalks and encouraging them to stick to roads.

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Brazil Sees First Lawsuit After Introduction of Data Protection Regulations
Angelica Mari
October 9, 2020

Brazil has concluded its first lawsuit for violations of General Data Protection Regulations, with real estate firm Cyrela ordered to pay a customer 10,000 reais ($1,759) for sharing their personal details with partners without authorization. The regulations ban illicit or abusive processing of personal data from a specific individual or group to support business decisions, public policies, or the performance of a government agency. Individual courts are authorized to interpret what can be deemed as non-compliance with data protection statutes. Cyrela said in a statement that "it has hired the best professionals available to roll out a far-reaching program to comply with the General Data Protection Regulations, including training for all staff and suppliers."

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Microfluid channels three-dimensionally-printed on a curved surface. Researchers 3D-Print Unique Micro-Scale Fluid Channels Used for Medical Testing
University of Minnesota
October 9, 2020

Researchers at the University of Minnesota (UMN), in collaboration with the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Soldier Center, used a custom-built three-dimensional (3D) printer to print micro-scale fluid channels on a curved surface for the first time. This could help pave the way for printing directly on the skin for real-time sensing of bodily fluids. The microfluidic channels are about 300 microns (0.01 inches) in diameter, and fluid flow can be controlled, pumped, and redirected through the channels using a series of valves. The researchers also integrated them with electronic sensors for lab-on-a-chip sensing capabilities. Said UMN's Michael McAlpine, "Being able to 3D-print these devices without a cleanroom means that diagnostic tools could be printed by a doctor right in their office or printed remotely by soldiers in the field."

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An entangled pair of photons. Generating Photons for Communication in Quantum Computing System
MIT News
Michaela Jarvis
October 7, 2020

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers have developed a technique for inducing quantum bits (qubits) to generate photons to enable quantum processor communication, a key step in achieving interconnections for a modular quantum computing platform. The architecture features superconducting qubits connected to a microwave transmission line or waveguide, with quantum interconnects needed to link qubits at distant locations. Communication occurs in the waveguide as excitations stored within the qubits produce photon pairs, which are emitted into the waveguide and travel to two distant processing nodes, distributing their entanglement throughout a quantum network. Said MIT’s Bharath Kannan, the entanglement “can then be transferred into the processors for use in quantum communication or interconnection protocols."

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Computational Approach Shows Promise for Optimizing Culture Conditions Required for Cell Therapy
Duke-NUS Medical School News (Singapore)
October 9, 2020

Researchers at Singapore's Duke-NUS Medical School and Australia's Monash University have developed an algorithm that can predict the molecules required to maintain cell health in laboratory cultures. The EpiMogrify model can anticipate the molecules needed to signal stem cells to transform into specific tissue cells, which can help accelerate treatments that require cell cultures. EpiMogrify successfully identified molecules to add to culture media to maintain healthy astrocytes and cardiomyocytes, as well as molecules that trigger stem cells' conversion into astrocytes and cardiomyocytes. Said Duke-NUS’ Enrico Petretto, “This study leverages our expertise in computational and systems biology to facilitate the good manufacturing practice (GMP) production of high-quality cells for these much needed therapeutic applications.”

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A dog wearing Army-issued goggles. U.S. Military Trialing AR Goggles for Dogs
Sara Spary
October 9, 2020

The U.S. Army is funding development of augmented reality goggles for military dogs by Seattle-based Command Sight. The goggles would allow the canines to help in rescue operations and scout potentially dangerous areas for hazards and explosives at a safe distance from their handlers. The tool allows handlers to see everything the dog sees, then lets them supply commands using visual cues in the dog's line of vision. The wired prototype requires dogs to stay on a leash, but Command Sight researchers are developing a wireless version, and will work with U.S. Navy Special Forces to build prototypes for testing on their military working dogs.

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A computer model shows gas clouds contributing to fade in galaxy discs. Computer Model Simulation Explains Star Distributions in Galaxy Discs
Iowa State Daily
Eva Newland
October 8, 2020

Researchers at Iowa State University used a new computer model to show the impact of gas clouds on the exponential fade in galaxy discs in an effort to explain distributions. Using a GADGET 2 computer model, the researchers simulated the evolution of a galaxy disc with the presence of massive gas clouds. The model helped support previous theories, including analytic theories that favor the Jeans/Poisson equations zero entropy gradient solution. Iowa State's Jian Wu said the model explains the formation of exponential discs all across the universe. Said Wu, "Close encounters between stars and clumps can produce abrupt changes in stellar orbits and shift stars radially. These events can make trajectories more eccentric, but many leave eccentricities little changed."

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