Welcome to the June 28, 2021 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Steve Blank’s home in Pescadero, CA, came within a foot or so of burning in last summer’s Santa Cruz mountains fire. California Wildfires: Fighting Bigger Blazes with Silicon Valley Technology
The Mercury News
Ethan Baron
June 27, 2021

A host of Silicon Valley-based technology developers is working with firefighters to enhance their firefighting capabilities. Technology industry investor Steve Blank envisions satellites detecting blazes as soon as they break out, with firefighting drones dispatched by artificial intelligence (AI). The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) and other agencies have started using AI, satellites, and drones, and are considering additional measures. Phillip SeLegue at Cal Fire's Intelligence unit cited the adoption of the Technosylva data-processing platform, which predicts and monitors fires and their spread via a combination of real-time satellite and camera imagery. SeLegue also said this year should see the full deployment of aircraft imagery-processing AI software that transmits fire-location data to ground commanders.

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Sinkholes and liquefaction on roads in Christchurch, New Zealand, after the 2011 earthquake. ML Aids Earthquake Risk Prediction
Texas Advanced Computing Center
Aaron Dubrow
June 23, 2021

University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin) researchers have engineered an earthquake-predicting machine learning (ML) model. UT Austin's Ellen Rathje and Maria Giovanna Durante utilized a random forest strategy with a binary classification to predict whether lateral spreading movements occurred at a specific site during the 2011 quake in Christchurch, New Zealand, then applied multiclass classification to forecast displacement volumes. The researchers used the Texas Advanced Computing Center's Frontera supercomputer to train the model on data related to the peak ground shaking experienced, water table depth, topographic slope, and other factors in Christchurch, covering more than 7,000 data points. They tested the model citywide on 2.5 million sites around the quake's epicenter to determine displacement, and found predictions that liquefaction would occur were 80% accurate, while predictions of the extent of displacement were 70% accurate.

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Microsoft Discloses New Customer Hack Linked to SolarWinds Cyberattackers
The Wall Street Journal
Robert McMillan
June 26, 2021

Microsoft has issued a warning that hackers affiliated with Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service had installed data-harvesting malware on one of its systems and used the information to attack some of its customers. The company identified the attackers as Nobelium, the same group linked to the breach at Texas-based software supplier SolarWinds. A Microsoft spokesman said in compromising a computer used by a Microsoft customer support employee, the attackers could have accessed metadata of the company’s accounts and billing contact information. The software giant said it knows of three customers affected by the breach, and has eliminated the access point and secured the device.

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Banning Extreme Views on YouTube Really Does Help Stop Their Spread
New Scientist
Chris Stokel-Walker
June 23, 2021

The results of a study indicated that banning people who espouse extreme views from the YouTube online video platform shrinks their audience. National Taiwan University's Adrian Rauchfleisch and Harvard University's Jonas Kaiser reviewed more than 11,000 YouTube channels of all political varieties between January 2018 and October 2019, tracking the number of videos each account posted, how many views they received, and whether they stayed on YouTube during the study period. Approximately one in 20 channels was deleted or banned, while 25% were removed for copyright infringement, with far-right-leaning channels more likely to be barred for breaching hate speech regulations. The average YouTube-posted video got 19.5 times more views than the average on extremist video-hosting platform BitChute, although this differed by channel. Said Rebekah Tromble at George Washington University, “We still have a lot to learn about the larger video-sharing ecosystem.”

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By combining NFC flaws with ATM bugs, the researchers were able to make some machines give cash. NFC Flaws Let Researchers Hack ATMs by Waving a Phone
Andy Greenberg
June 24, 2021

An Android app developed by IOActive's Josep Rodriguez exploits flaws in near-field communication (NFC) systems, enabling ATMs and a variety of point-of-sale terminals to be hacked by waving a smartphone over a contactless credit card reader. Rodriguez said his app was able to force at least one ATM brand to dispense cash, but only in combination with other flaws in the ATM's software. Rodriguez added that the point-of-sale vulnerabilities allow you to "modify the firmware and change the price to $1, for instance, even when the screen shows that you're paying $50. You can make the device useless, or install a kind of ransomware. There are a lot of possibilities here." The findings have been disclosed to the affected vendors, but Rodriguez acknowledged that physically patching hundreds of thousands of affected terminals and ATMs "would require a lot of time."

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Rearranging musicians in an orchestra can significantly reduce aerosol buildup on stage. Musical Chairs? Swapping Seats Could Reduce Orchestra Aerosols.
The New York Times
Emily Anthes
June 23, 2021

Researchers at the University of Utah and the University of Minnesota (UMN) used a computer model to analyze aerosol accumulations in a concert hall to determine whether rearranging musicians could significantly reduce aerosol buildup on stage. The model mapped every air vent and the rate of airflow through the space's heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system, as well as the typical position of each member of the Utah Symphony. To simulate the spread of aerosols during a concert, the team incorporated UMN research that quantified the concentration and size of aerosol particles emitted by various wind instruments. By applying computational fluid dynamics simulations to model the flow of air and aerosols through the hall when all musicians were playing, the researchers determined that orchestras can reduce the risk of aerosol spread by placing the highest-risk instruments near open doors and air return vents.

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Intelligent Carpet Gives Insight into Human Poses
MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory
Rachel Gordon
June 21, 2021

A new tactile sensing carpet assembled from pressure-sensitive film and conductive thread is able to calculate human poses without cameras. Built by engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)'s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, the system's neural network was trained on a dataset of camera-recorded poses; when a person performs an action on the carpet, it can infer the three-dimensional pose from tactile data. More than 9,000 sensors are woven into the carpet, and convert the pressure of a person's feet on the carpet into an electrical signal. The computational model could predict a pose with a less-than-10-centimeter error margin, and classify specific actions with 97% accuracy. MIT's Yiyue Luo said, "You can imagine leveraging this model to enable a seamless health monitoring system for high-risk individuals, for fall detection, rehab monitoring, mobility, and more."

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Perovskite Memory Devices with Ultra-Fast Switching Speed
Pohang University of Science and Technology (South Korea)
June 21, 2021

A halide perovskite-based memory that can overcome slow switching speeds has been developed by researchers at South Korea's Pohang University of Science and Technology (POSTECH). The team selected the compound Cs3Sb2I9 from 696 candidate halide perovskite compounds and used it to fabricate memory devices, which they ran at a switching speed of 20 nanoseconds, a roughly 100-fold speedup from memory devices using layer-structured Cs3Sb2I9. POSTECH's Jang-Sik Lee said, "This study provides an important step toward the development of resistive switching memory that can be operated at an ultra-fast switching speed. This work offers an opportunity to design new materials for memory devices based on calculations and experimental verification."

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Pedestrians pass a Knightscope K5 security robot on Wall Street, near the New York Stock Exchange. Security Robots Expand Across U.S., with Few Tangible Results
NBC News
Cyrus Farivar
June 27, 2021

Concrete proof that security robots are reducing crime is lacking, despite wider deployment by U.S. government agencies and the private sector. Despite claims that its robots "predict and prevent crime," U.S. security robot supplier Knightscope cites little public evidence that its products work, or specific cases of crimes they have foiled; its clients are similarly unaware of how effective the robots are. Huntington Park, CA's police department deployed a K5 model from Knightscope to patrol a local park; Huntington Park chief of police Cozme Lozano said in the two years since the robot’s deployment, it was most useful in recording evidence of “robot tipping and vandalism against the robot itself.” Law enforcement and legal experts say demonstrating that a given piece of technology clearly results in a reduction in crime is difficult, with American University's Andrew Ferguson calling crime-fighting robots an "expensive version of security theater."

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Decoding Humans' Survival From Coronaviruses
The University of Adelaide (Australia)
Kelly Brown
June 25, 2021

An international team of scientists has reviewed the genomes of more than 2,500 modern humans from 26 global populations, to gain new insights on humans' adaptation to historical coronavirus pandemics. Led by researchers at the University of Adelaide in Australia and the University of Arizona, the team used cutting-edge computational techniques to uncover indicators of adaptation in 42 distinct human genes encoding viral interacting proteins (VIPs). Adelaide's Yassine Souilmi cited the discovery of VIP signals in five East Asian populations, suggesting their progenitors were first exposed to coronaviruses more than 20,000 years ago. Said Souilmi, "By uncovering the genes previously impacted by historical viral outbreaks, our study points to the promise of evolutionary genetic analyses as a new tool in fighting the outbreaks of the future."

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AI Breakthrough Gives Longer Advance Warning of Ozone Issues
University of Houston News
Sally Strong
June 24, 2021

University of Houston researchers have developed an artificial intelligence system that can forecast ozone levels in the earth's troposphere (the lowest level of the atmosphere) up to two weeks in advance. The researchers used index of agreement (IOA), which compares the gaps between what is expected and the actual outcome, as the loss function for the AI model. This combination of a conventional numerical model and the IOA improved the accuracy of the machine learning algorithm in predicting outcomes of real-life ozone conditions through the incorporation of historical ozone data. The model was trained using four to five years of ozone data to recognize ozone conditions and better estimate forecasts over time. The system could be used to help people prepare for high ozone levels than can exacerbate breathing issues.

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IT Leaders Say Cybersecurity Funding Being Wasted on Remote Work Support: Survey
Jonathan Greig
June 23, 2021

A JumpCloud survey of 401 IT decision-makers at small and medium-sized enterprises found that 56% think their organizations are spending too much to enable remote work. Over 60% of those polled said their organizations paid "for more tooling than they need" to manage user identities. When asked about their top concerns, 39% cited software vulnerabilities, followed by reused user names and passwords (37%), unsecured networks (36%), and device theft (29%). Thirty-three percent of respondents said their organizations were in the process of implementing a Zero Trust security approach, while 53% said multi-factor authentication is required across everything. Among other things, more than half of respondents said IT budgets this year largely would be used to support remote management, security, and cloud services, and about two-thirds of responding IT managers said they felt “overwhelmed” by the management of remote workers.

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