Welcome to the July 26, 2021 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Test of Time Award Bestowed for Data Privacy Paper
Penn State News
Sarah Small
July 23, 2021

ACM's Special Interest Group on Management of Data (SIGMOD) has named Dan Kifer, professor of computer science and engineering at Pennsylvania State University, and Duke University's Ashwin Machanavajjhala, recipients of its 2021 Test of Time award. The 2011 paper explored how an individual's information can be incorporated in datasets in a manner that can complicate privacy protection. The awards committee cited the paper as raising "fundamental questions on how to define privacy, and the situations when differential private mechanisms provide meaningful semantic privacy guarantees." The committee also said the research covered by the paper led to enhanced privacy frameworks.

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Russia Disconnects from Internet in Tests as It Bolsters Security
Alexander Marrow; Dmitry Antonov
July 22, 2021

Russia reportedly disconnected from the global Internet during tests in June and July, according to a report by the RBC daily that cited documents from the working group responsible for strengthening Russia's Internet security under the 2019 "sovereign Internet" law, which aims to prevent Russia from being cut off from foreign infrastructure. A working group source said the purpose of tests was "to determine the ability of the 'Runet' to work in case of external distortions, blocks and other threats." The Internet Research Institute's Karen Kazaryan said, "Given the general secrecy of the process and the lack of public documents on the subject, it is difficult to say what happened in these tests."

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A simulator for robotic cutting can automatically tune simulation parameters from real-world measurements. Simulator Helps Robots Sharpen Their Cutting Skills
University of Southern California
Caitlin Dawson
July 22, 2021

A new robotic cutting simulator developed by researchers at the University of Southern California (USC) and NVIDIA replicates the forces acting on a knife slicing through foods. To simulate cutting, the researchers put springs between the two halves of the object being cut, represented by mesh; over time, the springs are weakened proportionate to the force exerted by the knife on the mesh. The simulator could pave the way for the use of robots in the food processing industry or in the operating room. USC's Eric Heiden said, "It is important to have an accurate model of the cutting process and to be able to realistically reproduce the forces acting on the cutting tool as different kinds of tissue are being cut. With our approach, we are able to automatically tune our simulator to match different types of material and achieve highly accurate simulations of the force profile."

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A Smart City Future for Virginia's Amazon HQ2 Neighborhood
Bloomberg CityLab
Linda Poon
July 20, 2021

Developer JBG Smith has partnered with AT&T to build the first "smart city at scale" in National Landing in northern Virginia. The plans include building a 5G network from the ground up in a four-mile zone featuring office, residential, and retail space, as well as Amazon's new second headquarters. The 5G network would serve as the foundation for National Landing to become a testbed for urban innovations featuring sensors, artificial intelligence, and Internet of Things technology. To ensure instantaneous device connections, AT&T plans to integrate 5G antennas into street furniture and the sides of buildings. Some of the network infrastructure will be rolled out during the first half of next year.

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A Colonial Pipeline station in Smyrna, GA. TSA Issues Cybersecurity Rules for Pipeline Companies
The Washington Post
Aaron Gregg
July 20, 2021

A U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) directive imposes new rules requiring pipeline operators to strengthen their cyberdefenses. The order coincides with the first-ever disclosure by the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation that Chinese state-sponsored hackers targeted 23 U.S. natural gas pipeline operators between 2011 and 2013. The announcement offers few details on the directive or its enforcement, as much is classified to keep hackers in the dark about pipeline operators' cybersecurity measures. The directive requires pipeline operators to deploy safeguards against ransomware on information technology (IT) systems commonly targeted by hackers, as well as on physical fuel-flow controls. Operators also must review their IT infrastructures and develop hacking response plans.

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Shlomo Dubnov discussing the use of machine learning architecture for tools to convert musical notation between musical styles. Training Computers to Transfer Music from One Style to Another
UC San Diego News Center
Doug Ramsey
July 20, 2021

Translating musical compositions between styles is possible via the ChordGAN tool developed by the University of California, San Diego (UCSD)'s Shlomo Dubnov and Redmond, WA, high school senior Conan Lu. ChordGAN is a conditional generative adversarial network (GAN) framework that uses chroma sampling, which only records a 12-tone note distribution profile to differentiate style from content (tonal or chord changes). Lu said, "This explicit distinction of style from content allows the network to consistently learn style features." The researchers compiled a dataset from several hundred MIDI audio-data samples in the pop, jazz, and classical music styles; the files were pre-processed to convert the audio files into piano roll and chroma formats. Said Lu, "Our solution can be utilized as a tool for musicians to study compositional techniques and generate music automatically from lead sheets."

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Open Source Modeling Approach Cracks Code of Simulating Low-Inertia Power Systems
National Renewable Energy Laboratory
July 20, 2021

Scientists at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and the University of California, Berkeley have developed an open source computation analysis method for modeling utility-level renewable power systems. The Scalable Integrated Infrastructure Planning (SIIP) framework employs Julia, a dynamically typed programming language, to deliver open source tools offering consistent, high-performance data models for utility-scale power systems. The framework also integrates three modeling packages. NREL's Clayton Barrows said, "The goal of SIIP is to create a common platform for electrical engineers to represent new technologies, computational scientists to develop algorithms, and analysts to conduct applied studies."

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The researchers used eye-tracking data from cyclists navigating through the Center City neighborhood of Philadelphia. A Metric for Designing Safer Streets
Penn Today
Erica K. Brockmeier
July 19, 2021

A study by University of Pennsylvania (Penn) researchers demonstrated that biometric data can identify potentially problematic and hazardous components of urban infrastructure prior to their involvement in collisions. The team's approach involved assessing the effect of different infrastructure designs on the cognitive workload of bicyclists on the streets in Philadelphia, via eye-tracking data collection and analysis. The investigation determined that locations marked by disproportionately high numbers of crashes correlate with a consistent biometric response that signals increased cognitive workload, meaning a person will be less likely to be able to process new information, and the threat of a crash is higher. Penn's Megan Ryerson said the findings suggest individualized metrics could offer a more proactive strategy for designing safer roadways and traffic interventions for cyclists and pedestrians.

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Fujitsu Uses Quantum-Inspired Algorithm to Tackle Space Waste
Computer Weekly
Cliff Saran
July 20, 2021

Researchers at the U.K.'s University of Glasgow, Fujitsu, and the satellite service and sustainability firm Astroscale together developed an artificial neural network (ANN)-based rapid trajectory design algorithm to address the removal of space debris. Powered by Fujitsu's Digital Annealer, the quantum-inspired system determines which debris will be collected and when, and plans the optimal route to carry out the mission to save time and money. The ANNs predicting the costs of such orbital transfers were developed with the Amazon Sagemaker toolset. Fujitsu's Ellen Devereux noted that the technology “has huge implications for optimization in space, not only when it comes to cleaning up debris, but also in-orbit servicing and more."

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Robotic Neck Brace May Help Doctors Analyze Neck Mobility in Cancer Patients
News-Medical Life Sciences
Emily Henderson
July 19, 2021

Engineers at Columbia Engineering and Columbia University's Department of Otolaryngology have designed a robotic neck brace that could help doctors evaluate the impact of cancer treatments on neck mobility, and guide patients' recovery. Columbia Engineering's Sunil K. Agrawal and colleagues upgraded an earlier robotic neck brace developed for analyzing head and neck movements in patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. The novel wearable brace was assembled from three-dimensionally-printed materials and inexpensive sensors. Columbia University's Scott Troob said, "Use of the sensing neck brace allows a surgeon to screen patients postoperatively for movement difficulty, quantify their degree of impairment, and select patients for physical therapy and rehabilitation."

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An Airobotics drone at its base station. Dubai Police Will Use Citywide Network of Drones to Respond to Crime
New Scientist
David Hambling
July 16, 2021

Dubai is creating a network of pre-positioned drone bases so police can respond to incidents with drones anywhere in the city within a minute, down from 4.4 minutes currently. Israel's Airobotics will supply the quadcopters, which will operate from the base stations beginning in October, during Expo 2020 Dubai. The drones, which enter and exit their bases through a sliding roof, can fly pre-programmed patrols or be dispatched to a specific location. Operators at police headquarters can use the drones to inspect a scene, follow suspicious individuals or vehicles, and transmit data to other police units. Singapore used two of the quadcopters last year to monitor compliance with COVID-19 lockdowns, but the Dubai initiative is the first to use drones for citywide policing.

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Hackers Got Past Windows Hello by Tricking Webcam
Ars Technica
Lily Hay Newman
July 18, 2021

Researchers at the security firm CyberArk uncovered a security feature bypass vulnerability in Microsoft's Windows Hello facial-recognition system that permitted them to manipulate a USB webcam to unlock a Windows Hello-protected device. CyberArk's Omer Tsarfati said, "We created a full map of the Windows Hello facial-recognition flow and saw that the most convenient for an attacker would be to pretend to be the camera, because the whole system is relying on this input." Hackers would need a good-quality infrared image of the victim's face and physical access to the webcam to take advantage of the vulnerability. Said Tsarfati, "A really motivated attacker could do those things. Microsoft was great to work with and produced mitigations, but the deeper problem itself about trust between the computer and the camera stays there." Microsoft has released patches to fix the issue.

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