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Welcome to the July 7, 2021 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Mass Ransomware Hack Used IT Software Flaws, Researchers Say
Jordan Robertson; William Turton
July 4, 2021

Cybersecurity researchers said the Russia-associated REvil hacker gang was responsible for a mass ransomware attack this past weekend that exploited previously unknown flaws in Kaseya’s information technology (IT) management software. Marcus Murray at Sweden-based cybersecurity firm TruSec said the victims were targets of opportunity, with REvil pushing ransomware to Internet-linked servers that used flawed VSA software. The Dutch Institute for Vulnerability Disclosure said it had notified Kaseya of multiple software vulnerabilities exploited by the hackers; the Institute said it was working with Kaseya to patch them when the attack was launched. Murray said recovery from the attack could take longer than in typical ransomware incidents, because Kaseya plays a core role in managing security and IT.

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Engineer Vandi Verma wears three-dimensional (3D) glasses used by rover drivers to detect changes in terrain that the rover may need to avoid. NASA's Self-Driving Perseverance Mars Rover 'Takes the Wheel'
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Pat Brennan
July 1, 2021

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) has developed an auto-navigation system that will allow the Perseverance rover on Mars to drive by itself. The AutoNav system can create three-dimensional maps of terrain ahead and plan a route around any hazards it identifies without additional input from the rover team on Earth. JPL's Vandi Verma said, "We have a capability called 'thinking while driving.' The rover is thinking about the autonomous drive while its wheels are turning." AutoNav and other improvements could boost Perseverance's top speed to 393 feet per hour, compared to 66 feet per hour for its Curiosity predecessor.

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Smart Foam Material Gives Robotic Hand the Ability to Self-Repair
Travis Teo; Lee Ying Shan
July 6, 2021

Scientists at the National University of Singapore (NUS) have engineered artificially innervated foam (AiFoam) that enables robots to both sense nearby objects and to repair themselves when damaged. The researchers blended a highly elastic fluoropolymer with a compound that reduces surface tension, allowing the material to fuse easily when cut. Microscopic metal particles and electrodes implanted beneath the foam's surface replicate the human sense of touch; NUS' Benjamin Tee said pressure causes the particles to draw closer within the polymer matrix, altering their electrical properties in a manner detectable by computer-linked electrodes, which then instruct the robot. The robotic hand can detect the amount and the direction of force applied to it, potentially enhancing robot intelligence and interactivity.

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A garment sewn with conductive yarn, with seams connected by wire to a microcontroller. Scientists Mine the Rich Seam of Body Wearable Motion Sensors
University of Bath (U.K.)
June 29, 2021

Computer scientists at the University of Bath in the U.K. found that conductive seams in clothing, when accurately positioned, can be used to identify subtle movements by the wearer that are not picked up by fitness watches and wristbands. The researchers found that the number of seams and their placement are important in designing smart garments. They used a yarn with a conductive core made from a hybrid metal-polymer resistive material that stretches, can sense pressure, and may be activated at low voltages when added to a seam. Bath's Olivia Ruston said, “There are lots of potential applications for conductive yarn in any activity where you want to identify and improve the quality of a person’s movement. This could be very helpful in physiotherapy, rehabilitation, and sports performance.”

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Global Smart-City Competition Highlights China's Rise in AI
Khari Johnson
July 3, 2021

Chinese tech giants Alibaba and Baidu took first and second place in all five categories in the recent AI City Challenge, outperforming competitors from almost 40 countries. Carnegie Mellon University's Stan Caldwell points out that China invests twice as much as the U.S. in research and development as a share of gross domestic product. Caldwell said, "We want the technologies to develop, because we want to improve safety and efficiency and sustainability. But selfishly, we also want this technology to develop here and improve our economy." The U.S. National Institute for Standards and Technology is calling on American artificial intelligence (AI) researchers to participate in its Automated Streams Analysis for Public Safety (ASAPS) Challenge Program, which aims to develop AI to help emergency operators predict when their services will be needed.

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A man using his laptop. Tech Spending Expected to Rise as Pandemic Restrictions Ease, Economy Improves
The Wall Street Journal
Jared Council
June 29, 2021

Market researcher Forrester Research has revised its 2021 forecast of U.S. enterprise information technology (IT) spending growth from 6% to 7.4% over 2020 levels, the result of increased stimulus funding, the easing of pandemic restrictions, and stronger than anticipated economic data. Forrester's Andrew Bartels said communications gear is the fastest-growing spending area, projected to increase 13.2% as offices reopen. Spending on software, the second-fastest-growing IT category, is expected to rise 10.4% this year, up from an April forecast of 9.7%. Process automation and AI software spending should increase 33% and 13%, respectively, while security software investing is expected to climb 11%. Said Bartels, “Activities are coming back again, and as they do so, [businesses] become buyers of technologies to support the reopening.”

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EU Citizens' Data Will Continue Flowing into the U.K.
Ryan Browne
June 28, 2021

The European Commission (EC) has adopted adequacy decisions that designate U.K. data protection laws equivalent to European Union (EU) statutes, which will permit EU-U.K. data flows to continue following Brexit. The decision means Europeans' personal data will receive the same level of protection in Britain as it would inside the bloc. The EU for the first time has included a sunset clause, meaning the decisions will end four years after they are enacted. U.K. secretary of state for digital Oliver Dowden said the EU’s formal recognition of the U.K.'s data protection standards “will be welcome news to businesses, support continued cooperation between the U.K. and the EU, and help law enforcement authorities keep people safe."

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NASA Makes More Than 800 Innovations Available to Public
Jonathan Greig
June 30, 2021

The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) will make more than 800 software products created by the agency freely available to the public through the Technology Mission Directorate's Technology Transfer Program. NASA, which emphasized the importance of American taxpayers benefiting from its innovations, is providing a detailed outline of how individuals and organizations may be able to utilize their software. Interested parties are encouraged to contact NASA at for assistance in identifying technologies that can be licensed; qualified potential users also will need to submit a license application and commercialization plan online.

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Free Online Calculator for Dementia Risk
Ed Cara
June 28, 2021

Scientists at Canada's University of Ottawa (U of O) have developed a calculator capable of estimating the general risk of dementia for people 55 and older, which they are making available for use online, for free. The researchers based the calculator’s predictive algorithm on the responses of 50,000 Ontarians age 55 and older to health and lifestyle queries, and follow-up tracking of their medical records over five years. The U of O team compared data on individuals with dementia to data on those without dementia to determine the most predictive risk factors, which were incorporated into the algorithm. The researchers said the calculator cannot account for genetics, which means it may offer an approximate sense of general dementia risk at best.

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LaShawn Toyoda quit her job as an English teacher during the pandemic and enrolled in a coding bootcamp. LaShawn Toyoda Learned How to Code During the Pandemic. Japan's International Community Is Glad She Did.
The Japan Times
Rochelle Kopp
June 28, 2021

LaShawn Toyoda, who lives in Japan, learned programming during the COVID-19 pandemic, and used it to develop an open source database of clinics offering waiting lists for coronavirus vaccination appointments across that country. Toyoda said the database received over 300,000 access requests by its second day of operation. Once it was launched, seasoned developers volunteered their help with coding and database management. Said Toyoda, "I can’t really take all of the credit. I started it, but the community really jumped in and helped to build it. I think it came at just the right time. So many people felt hopeless about the vaccine situation, but this gave them a way to do something.”

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Deep ML Completes Information About the Bioactivity of 1 Million Molecules
IRB Barcelona (Spain)
June 28, 2021

Deep machine learning (ML) computational models have deduced experimental data for 1 million chemical compounds, guiding the development of a suite of programs for creating estimates of any type of molecule. Scientists at Spain's Institute for Research in Medicine Barcelona based the technique on the Chemical Checker, the largest database of bioactivity profiles for pseudo pharmaceuticals. The database is missing critical data, which the new tool provides by integrating all the experimental information available so the bioactivity profiles for all molecules can be completed. Said the Institute’s Patrick Aloy, "The new tool also allows us to forecast the bioactivity spaces of new molecules, and this is crucial in the drug discovery process as we can select the most suitable candidates and discard those that, for one reason or another, would not work."

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Blurred fingerprints can be hard to identify. AI Clears Up Images of Fingerprints to Help with Identification
New Scientist
Matthew Sparkes
June 28, 2021

West Virginia University researchers have trained an artificial intelligence (AI) model to clean up distorted images of fingerprints from crime scenes to improve identification. The researchers developed a generative adversarial network by creating blurred versions of 15,860 clean fingerprint images from 250 subjects. They trained the AI using nearly 14,000 of these pairs of images; when they tested its performance on the remainder, they found the model to be 96% accurate at the lower end of the range of blurring intensity, and 86% at the higher end. Forensic Equity's David Goodwin said the use of neural networks to manipulate images would have trouble standing up in court because they cannot be audited like human-generated code, and the inner workings of these models are unknown.

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