Welcome to the April 23, 2021 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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The Apple logo on a New York City Apple store. Apple Targeted in $50-Million Ransomware Hack of Supplier Quanta
Kartikay Mehrotra
April 21, 2021

Taiwan-based Apple contract manufacturer Quanta Computer suffered a ransomware attack apparently by Russian operator REvil, which claimed to have stolen the blueprints of Apple's latest products. A user on the cybercrime forum XSS posted Sunday that REvil was about to declare its "largest attack ever," according to an anonymous source. REvil named Quanta its latest victim on its "Happy Blog" site, claiming it had waited to publicize the breach until Apple's latest product launch because Quanta had refused to pay its ransom demands. By the time the launch ended, REvil had posted schematics for a new laptop, including the workings of what seems to be a Macbook designed as recently as March.

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AI Tool Tracks Evolution of Covid-19 Conspiracy Theories on Social Media
Los Alamos National Laboratory News
April 19, 2021

Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) have developed a machine learning (ML) program that accurately identifies Covid-19-associated conspiracy theories on social media, and models their evolution. The team used publicly available, anonymized Twitter data to describe four Covid-19 conspiracy theory themes, and to contextualize each across the first five months of the pandemic. The team constructed random-forest artificial intelligence models that identified tweets as Covid-19 misinformation or not. The scientists learned that a supervised learning technique could automatically identify conspiracy theories, while an unsupervised dynamic topic modeling method could investigate changes in word importance among topics within each theory.

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An ‘Emergency Alert’ on a smartphone. Smartphone-Powered Emergency Alert System
University of Alabama at Birmingham
Fletcher Allen
April 22, 2021

Computer science researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) and Jacksonville State University have developed and tested a Bluetooth-based smartphone system for disseminating emergency alerts in an urban environment. InSight is a beacon that first responders could easily deploy at low cost that detects users approaching a hazardous site. The system features a mobile application, beacons, and a backend server to compute and distribute signals that can be received without an Internet connection. UAB's Ragib Hasan said, "Our system, InSight, can work during disasters—even in the absence of power, [global positioning systems], and phone networks—to disseminate alerts and save lives."

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University of Michigan students measure focal stack images 3D Motion Tracking System Could Streamline Vision for Autonomous Tech
University of Michigan News
April 23, 2021

A real-time, three-dimensional (3D) motion tracking system developed by University of Michigan (U-M) researchers integrates transparent light detectors with advanced neural network techniques, which could potentially replace LiDAR and cameras in autonomous technologies. Graphene photodetectors absorb only about 10% of the light they receive, enough to produce images that can be reconstructed via computational imaging. Deep learning algorithms enable motion tracking, and the system offers scalability. U-M's Dehui Zhang said the blend of graphene nanodevices and machine learning algorithms "combines computational power efficiency, fast tracking speed, compact hardware, and a lower cost compared with several other solutions."

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Amazon’s palm-scanning payment system. Amazon Bringing Palm-Scanning Payment System to Whole Foods Stores
Annie Palmer
April 21, 2021

Amazon's palm-scanning payment system will be rolled out to a Whole Foods store in Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood before expanding to seven other Whole Foods stores in the area in the coming months. About a dozen Amazon physical stores already offer the Amazon One payment system, which allows shoppers who have linked a credit card to their palm print to pay for items by holding their palm over a scanning device. Amazon says the palm-scanning system is "highly secure" and more private than facial recognition and other biometric systems. The company says thousands of people have signed up to use the system at the Amazon stores.

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A drone in flight near the American flag. New Rules Allowing Small Drones to Fly Over People in U.S. Take Effect
David Shepardson
April 21, 2021

Final rules from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration that permit small drones to fly over people and at night took effect April 21. The rules also allow drones to fly over moving vehicles in some instances. To address security concerns, remote identification technology (Remote ID) will be required in most cases so drones can be identified from the ground. Drone manufacturers have been given 18 months to begin production of drones with Remote ID, and an additional year has been granted to operators to provide Remote ID. The rules do not require drones to be connected to the Internet to transmit location data, but they must use radio frequency (RF) broadcasting to transmit remote ID messages. U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg called the rules "an important first step in safely and securely managing the growing use of drones in our airspace."

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Researchers Develop Chip That Improves Testing, Tracing for Covid-19
University of New Mexico
Irene Gray
April 21, 2021

Researchers at the University of New Mexico (UNM), West Virginia University, and Centrillion Technologies in California have engineered a chip that offers a simpler, faster genome-sequencing process for viruses like Covid-19. The scientists created and applied a tiled genome array to rapidly and accurately resequence the viral genome from eight clinical samples obtained from SARS-CoV-2-positive patients in Wyoming. The team sequenced 95% of the genome of each sample with more than 99.9% accuracy. UNM's Jeremy Edwards said, "With this simple and rapid testing procedure, scientists will be able to more accurately track the progression and better prevent the onset of the next pandemic."

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Study Explores Deep Neural Networks' Visual Perception
The Hindu (India)
April 21, 2021

A study by researchers at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) compared the performance of deep neural networks to that of the human brain in terms of visual perception. The team analyzed 13 different perceptual effects, revealing previously unknown qualitative distinctions between deep networks and the brain. IISc's Georgin Jacob observed a surprising local advantage among neural networks over the brain, in that they concentrate on the finer details of an image first. An IISc press release said identifying these differences can lead to better-performing neural networks that are resistant to adversarial attacks.

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The skeleton of an adult female T-rex. Computer Modeling Suggests That T. Rex Was Slow Walker
New Atlas
Ben Coxworth
April 21, 2021

Computer models created by researchers at the Netherlands' Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and Utrecht University-Vrije suggest the dinosaur Tyrannosaurus rex had a slow walking speed. The scientists generated a three-dimensional simulation based on the skeleton of an adult female T. rex on display at the Dutch National Museum of Natural History. The team digitally added muscles and organs, and permitted a suspension-bridge-like swaying of its tail. Biomechanical analysis determined that the dinosaur would have preferred to walk at 4.6 kph (2.9 mph), which is close to adult humans' preferred walking speed of approximately 5 kph (3.1 mph).

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Meals with bacteria information. Designing Healthy Diets—With Computer Analysis
Chalmers University of Technology (Sweden)
April 20, 2021

Researchers at Sweden's Chalmers University of Technology developed a mathematical model that predicts the interaction of intestinal bacteria within the human body. The researchers found the model to be accurate in making predictions related to an earlier clinical study involving Swedish infants and how changing their diets from liquid to solid food affected the composition of their intestinal bacteria, as well as an earlier clinical study of obese adults in Finland and how their intestinal bacteria changed after shifting to a more restricted diet. Chalmers' Jens Nielsen said the model accounts for how added bacteria behave in the intestine and interact with intestinal bacteria, and how the intestinal microbiome is affected by different diets. Nielsen said, "These are very encouraging results, which could enable computer-based design for a very complex system."

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AI Shows 2 Scribes Wrote One of the Dead Sea Scrolls
New Scientist
Krista Charles
April 21, 2021

One of the Dead Sea Scrolls was authored by two scribes with very similar handwriting, according to researchers at the Netherlands' University of Groningen. The team analyzed digital images of the Great Isaiah Scroll, closely studying variations in the shape and style of its Hebrew lettering, and determined the manuscript was halved and written by two different scribes. Charlotte Hempel at the U.K.'s University of Birmingham said, "Part of the reason why artificial intelligence research was needed to allow the authors of this groundbreaking study to confirm the identification of two different scribes, is that the two hands are rather similar and may be compatible with a single scribe who changed his pen."

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Study: 'Fingerprint' for 3D Printer Accurate 92% of Time
University at Buffalo News
Melvin Bankhead III
April 21, 2021

To reduce illicit use of three-dimensional (3D) printers, the University at Buffalo (UB)'s Zhanpeng Jin and colleagues devised a method to accurately identify each machine’s unique "fingerprint." The researchers determined each hot end of a printer's extruders has specific thermodynamic properties, which affect the precise way the 3D model is assembled; this heating signature, or ThermoTag, can identify the specific extruder, and by extension the model of 3D printer used. Once the printer model is identified, its buyer can be traced in instances in which they may have used the printer for unlawful purposes. The UB researchers said they were able to correctly identify a source printer with 92% accuracy using this method.

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A remote control with buttons for streaming services. Researchers Uncover Advertising Scam Targeting Streaming-TV Apps
The Wall Street Journal
Patience Haggin; Jeff Horwitz
April 21, 2021

Nearly 1 million mobile devices were infected with malware that emulated streaming-TV applications and collected revenue from unwitting advertisers, according to researchers at cybersecurity firm Human Security. The researchers said the orchestrators of this so-called "Pareto" scheme spoofed an average of 650 million ad placement opportunities daily in online ad exchanges, stealing money intended for apps available on streaming-TV platforms run by Roku, Amazon.com, Apple, and Google. The creator of 29 apps underpinning the fraud was identified as TopTop Media, a subsidiary of Israel-based M51 Group. The analysts said the operation could be thwarted if digital ad companies strictly followed industry guidance for tracking the origins of traffic and deployed certain security measures. Human Security's Michael McNally said, "Measurement and security companies will just play whack-a-mole, as long as the industry hasn't upgraded to better defenses."

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