Welcome to the August 9, 2023, edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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A man uses a computer. The U.K.'s elections watchdog revealed it has been the victim of a Cyberattack on U.K.'s Electoral Registers Revealed
BBC News
Paul Seddon
August 8, 2023

The U.K.'s Electoral Commission disclosed a "complex cyberattack" in which "hostile actors" accessed copies of the electoral registers from August 2021, potentially impacting millions of voters. The elections regulator said the perpetrators also penetrated its emails and "control systems," although the attack was not uncovered until last October. The commission said it was retaining the registers the hackers accessed for research and to vet political donors. The information held at the time of the breach included the names and addresses of U.K. residents who registered to vote between 2014 and 2022, as well as the names of overseas voters. The commission said it secured the compromised systems after the attack's detection in October 2022.

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Julia Language Cracks Top 20 on Tiobe Index
Paul Krill
August 7, 2023

The August 2023 release of the Tiobe Index ranked the Julia programming language among the 20 most popular programming languages for the first time, in 20th place with a rating of 0.85%. Tiobe Software's Paul Jansen said Julia is especially popular for data science and mathematical computation applications, adding that it deserves its place on the Tiobe ranking because it is "faster than Python, more suitable to write large systems in it than R, and less expensive than MATLAB." Although Julia's speed and scalability make it an appealing alternative to those languages, users must possess more coding skills than Python, R, and MATLAB, Jansen added.

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New Weapon in the War on Robocall Scams
NC State University News
Matt Shipman
August 8, 2023

An automated tool developed by North Carolina State University computer scientists aims to help deter robocall scams and understand their scope by analyzing their content. SnorCall can characterize robocall content without violating privacy concerns. The tool records, bundles, and transcribes a vast number of robocalls, then uses the Snorkel machine learning framework to analyze and characterize each call. In a study of 232,723 robocalls over 23 months, SnorCall identified 26,791 campaigns, as well as robocallers' callback numbers, which regulators and law enforcement can use to find out who opened the account to perpetrate the scam. The researchers also observed that robocalls use major societal events, like student loan forgiveness, to launch new scams.

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High-quality anime portraits generated using AI. AniFaceDrawing: Delivering Generative AI-Powered High-Quality Anime Portraits for Beginners
Japan Advanced Institute of Science and Technology
August 2, 2023

A team of researchers from the Japan Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (JAIST) and Japan's Waseda University created a generative artificial intelligence (AI) drawing-assistance tool that helps refine freehand sketches into anime portraits. The researchers based the AniFaceDrawing platform on a sketch-to-image deep learning framework that aligns raw sketches with the generative model's latent vectors. The tool uses the pre-trained Style Generative Adversarial Network (StyleGAN) model to support a two-step training regimen. JAIST's Zhengyu Huangh said, "We introduced an unsupervised training strategy for stroke-level disentanglement in StyleGAN, which enables the automatic matching of rough sketches with sparse strokes to the corresponding local parts in anime portraits, all without the need for semantic labels."

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A Cruise self-driving car stopped itself in the middle of an intersection in San Francisco. Most Tech-Forward U.S. City Has Doubts About Self-Driving Cars
The Wall Street Journal
Meghan Bobrowsky; Miles Kruppa
August 4, 2023

San Francisco officials and residents are not impressed by self-driving cars, underscoring the challenges ahead for General Motors' Cruise and Alphabet's Waymo as they look to expand nationwide. Concerns are being raised as the California Public Utilities Commission weighs whether to allow Cruise to increase its presence in San Francisco and permit both Cruise and Alphabet to charge for rides at all hours. An upcoming hearing will focus on safety concerns. San Francisco Transportation Director Jeffrey Tumlin said, "We think that autonomous vehicles are amazing, and we believe that someday they will be safer than human drivers. So far, the industry has not demonstrated that."

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Acoustic Attack Steals Data from Keystrokes with 95% Accuracy
Bill Toulas
August 5, 2023

Researchers in the U.K. have taught a deep learning model to steal data from recorded keyboard keystrokes with 95% accuracy. Attackers can use a nearby microphone to record the keystrokes used to train the prediction algorithm, or they can capture them through a Zoom call where a fraudulent participant correlates messages typed by the target with the sound recording. The researchers recorded the sounds of 36 different keys being depressed on a modern MacBook Pro to collect training data, then generated waveforms and spectrograms to visualize identifiable distinctions for each key. They trained the CoAtNet image classifier on the spectrograms to achieve the most accurate prediction results. The classifier's accuracy fell to 93% when using data compiled from Zoom, and to 91.7% with Skype-gathered data.

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A Step Toward 3D-Printing Human Tissues
University of Sydney (Australia)
August 7, 2023

Scientists at Australia's University of Sydney (USyd), the Children's Medical Research Institute, the University of New South Wales, and the University of Illinois at Chicago have fabricated a complex environment for building tissue modeled after organs using three-dimensional (3D) photolithographic printing. USyd's Hala Zreiqat said the technique is "an instruction manual for cells, allowing them to create tissues that are better organized and more closely resemble their natural counterparts. This is an important step towards being able to 3D-print working tissue and organs." USyd's Peter Newman said the method specifies instructions for stem cells from blood or skin cells to cohere into more organized configurations, including "a bone-fat assembly that resembles the structure of bone and an assembly of tissues that resemble processes during early mammalian development."

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A Google logo displayed on a phone screen. Google Update Makes It Easier for U.S. Users to Remove Some Unwanted Search Results
Catherine Thorbecke
August 4, 2023

New privacy updates rolled out by Google include a dashboard that will allow U.S. users to determine whether their contact information shows up in its search engine and request those results to be removed. Notifications also will be sent to users when new search results with their contact information show up. Further, Google will make it possible for users to request that personal, explicit images be removed from its search engine. The moves are essentially a step toward a U.S.-version of the E.U.'s legally mandated “right to be forgotten” laws, although the Google updates do not currently go beyond the scope of personal explicit images or contact information.

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Overcoming Current 5G Network Limitations
Bangor University (U.K.)
August 7, 2023

Researchers at the U.K.'s Bangor University have developed a point-to-multipoint (P2MP) optical transceiver that could help overcome the challenges associated with traditional point-to-point (P2P) 5G access networks in terms of scalability, flexibility, latency, cost, and energy usage. P2MP transceivers can support multiple low-speed optical transceivers to communicate with a single high-speed optical transceiver and to grow or shrink automatically and dynamically based on network traffic. The new transceivers will be used as part of a 5G/6G network in a field trial in FibreSpeed's fiber network along the U.K.'s A55 expressway, allowing for the convergence of fiber, radio, and optical wireless networks. Bangor's Wei Jin said, "As we continue to refine and optimize this technology, we can look forward to a new era of efficient and adaptable optical access networks that meet the growing demands of our interconnected world."

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People in front of facial recognition camera-controlled gates at Peking University in Beijing, China. China Drafts Rules for Facial Recognition Technology
Josh Ye
August 7, 2023

The Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) said it has issued draft rules governing the use of facial recognition technology amid public concerns about its overuse. The regulator said the technology can only be used to process facial information if a specific purpose and sufficient necessity exists, with stringent protections in place. The CAC also said facial recognition is only allowed by individual consent, and non-biometric identification would be preferable in situations where both it and facial recognition are equally effective. The rules prohibit the installation of image-capturing and personal identification devices in hotel rooms, public restrooms, changing rooms, toilets, and other places that may intrude upon others' privacy.

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Computational Microscope Achieves 3D High-Resolution Imaging with Wide Field of View
August 7, 2023

Researchers led by Boston University's Qianwan Yang upgraded a computational miniature mesoscope (a microscope with both fine spatial resolution and a large field of view) to produce three-dimensional (3D) high-resolution images with a wide field of view. The researchers added miniature light-emitting diode (LED) collimators to the mesoscope's four-LED array illuminator to realize roughly 80% light efficiency while also generating uniform illumination with up to 75 megawatts excitation power across an 8-millimeter diameter circular field. The researchers also improved axial resolution to approximately 25 µm and reconstruction speed to less than four seconds for a volume with a 7-millimeter field of view and a 0.8-millimeter depth through a new deep learning model. The researchers kept costs low by using commercially available and 3D-printed components.

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In “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” Grand Moff Tarkin was portrayed by a composite of the actor Peter Cushing, who died decades earlier, and another actor who performed motion capture work. Digital Replicas, a Fear of Striking Actors, Already Fill Screens
The New York Times
Marc Tracy
August 4, 2023

One issue at the forefront of the weeks-long strike by the actors' union SAG-AFTRA is the use of digital technology and artificial intelligence (AI) to create virtual avatars of performers. The union objects to a proposal by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers that would require performers to consent to use of their digital replicas at "initial employment" over concerns they could be used in different contexts without additional compensation. Technology like photogrammetry (using multiple photos to recreate something in three dimensions) has long been used to create digital stunt doubles, allow deceased actors to reprise roles, and create crowd scenes. However, Lawson Deming at visual effects company Barnstorm said, "It is very complex to digitally take a scan of someone and make it animatable, make it look realistic, make it functional."

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Planting Ideas in a Computer's Head
ETH Zurich (Switzerland)
Oliver Morsch
August 8, 2023

Researchers at Switzerland's ETH Zurich formulated a strategy to invisibly plant "ideas" within a computer in order to steal data by exploiting a flaw in certain central processing units (CPUs). ETH's Daniël Trujillo said, "It looked as though we could make the CPUs manufactured by AMD believe that they had seen certain instructions before, whereas in reality that had never happened." Planting ideas in the CPU allowed the researchers to rig the look-up table the chip continuously generates from previous instructions, enabling them to leak data from anywhere in the computer's memory. ETH's Kaveh Razavi alerted AMD to the vulnerability in February to ensure the chipmaker had a patch ready before the researchers published their findings.

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Concurrency:  The Works of Leslie Lamport
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