Archive for the ‘In the News’ Category

Chinese Tianhe-1A is fastest supercomputer

Thursday, October 28th, 2010

Tianhe-1AChina’s Tianhe-1A is being recognized as the world’s fastest supercomputer. It has 7168 NVIDIA Tesla GPUs and achieved a Linpack score of 2.507 petaflops, a 40% speedup over Oak Ridge National Lab’s Jaguar, the previous top machine. Today’s WSJ has an article,

“Supercomputers are massive machines that help tackle the toughest scientific problems, including simulating commercial products like new drugs as well as defense-related applications such as weapons design and breaking codes. The field has long been led by U.S. technology companies and national laboratories, which operate systems that have consistently topped lists of the fastest machines in the world.

But Nvidia says the new system in Tianjin—which is being formally announced Thursday at an event in China—was able to reach 2.5 petaflops. That is a measure of calculating speed ordinarily translated into a thousand trillion operations per second. It is more than 40% higher than the mark set last June by a system called Jaguar at Oak Ridge National Laboratory that previously stood at No. 1 on a twice-yearly ranking of the 500 fastest supercomputers.”

The NYT and HPCwire also have good overview articles. The HPC article points out that the Tianhe-1A has a relatively low Linpack efficiency compaed to the Jaguar.

“Although the Linpack performance is a stunning 2.5 petaflops, the system left a lot of potential FLOPS in the machine. Its peak performance is 4.7 petaflops, yielding a Linpack efficiency of just over 50 percent. To date, this is a rather typical Linpack yield for GPGPU-accelerated supers. Because the GPUs are stuck on the relatively slow PCIe bus, the overhead of sending calculations to the graphics processors chews up quite a few cycles on both the CPUs and GPUs. By contrast, the CPU-only Jaguar has a Linpack/peak efficiency of 75 percent. Even so, Tianhe-1A draws just 4 megawatts of power, while Jaguar uses nearly 7 megawatts and yields 30 percent less Linpack.

The (unofficial) “official” list of the fastest supercomputers is TOP500 which seems to be inaccessible at the moment, due no doubt to the heavy load caused by the news stories above. The TOP500 list is due for a refresh next month.

Taintdroid catches Android apps that leak private user data

Thursday, September 30th, 2010

Ars Technica has an an article on bad Android apps, Some Android apps caught covertly sending GPS data to advertisers.

“The results of a study conducted by researchers from Duke University, Penn State University, and Intel Labs have revealed that a significant number of popular Android applications transmit private user data to advertising networks without explicitly asking or informing the user. The researchers developed a piece of software called TaintDroid that uses dynamic taint analysis to detect and report when applications are sending potentially sensitive information to remote servers.

They used TaintDroid to test 30 popular free Android applications selected at random from the Android market and found that half were sending private information to advertising servers, including the user’s location and phone number. In some cases, they found that applications were relaying GPS coordinates to remote advertising network servers as frequently as every 30 seconds, even when not displaying advertisements. These findings raise concern about the extent to which mobile platforms can insulate users from unwanted invasions of privacy.”

TaintDroid is an experimental system that “analyses how private information is obtained and released by applications ‘downloaded’ to consumer phones”. A paper on the system will be presented at the 2010 USENIX Symposium on Operating Systems Design and Implementation later this month.

TaintDroid: An Information-Flow Tracking System for Realtime Privacy Monitoring on Smartphones, William Enck, Peter Gilbert, Byung-gon Chun, Landon P. Cox, Jaeyeon Jung, Patrick McDaniel, and Anmol N. Sheth, OSDI, October 2010.

The project, Realtime Privacy Monitoring on Smartphones has a good overview site with a FAQ and demo.

This is just one example of a rich and complex area full of trade-offs. We want our systems and devices to be smarter and to really understand us — our preferences, context, activities, interests, intentions, and pretty much everything short of our hopes and dreams. We then want them to use this knowledge to better serve us — selecting music, turing the ringer on and off, alerting us to relevant news, etc. Developing this technology is neither easy nor cheap and the developers have to profit from creating it. Extracting personal information that can be used or sold is one model — just as Google and others do to provide better ad placement on the Web.

Here’s a quote from the Ars Technical article that resonated with me.

“As Google says in its list of best practices that developers should adopt for data collection, providing users with easy access to a clear and unambiguous privacy policy is really important.”

We, and many others, are trying to prepare for the next step — when users can define their own privacy policies and these will be understood and enforced by their devices.

Facebook Browser gets a low F1-score in my book

Sunday, September 12th, 2010

Facebook has rolled out Facebook Browser as what sounds like a simple and effective idea — recommend pages based on on a user’s country and social network. My impression is mixed, however. While I like it’s top recommendation for me, I am already a fan. It’s suggestions for the celebrities category are a bust — Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Michelle Malkin, Mark Levin, Red Green and Bill O’Reilly. And Movies? Don’t even go there! Maybe it’s trying to tell me I need a new set of friends? Inside Facebook summarizes Facebook Browser this way:

“Facebook has launched a new way to “Discover Facebook’s Popular Pages” called Browser. It shows icons of Pages that are popular in a user’s country, but factors in which Pages which are popular amongst their unique friend network. When the Page icons are hovered over they display a Like button. Browser could cause popular Pages to get more popular, widening the gap between them and smaller Pages, similar to the frequently criticized and since abandoned Twitter Suggested User List.”

I think the idea is sound, though, and I like my Facebook friends. So, my conclusion is that Facebook needs to tweak the algorithm.

Cybersecurity as the seamy underbelly of information technology

Wednesday, September 8th, 2010

nextgov reports in ‘Scientists view cybersecurity as an intimidating conundrum’ on the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology recent look at cybersecurity.

“The Internet’s extensive cybersecurity vulnerabilities are so hard to fix that information technology researchers sometimes avoid studying the topic like they were steering clear of the seamy underbelly of a great metropolitan city, top scientists said on Thursday.

Jeannette M. Wing, who served as assistant director of the computer and information science and engineering directorate at the National Science Foundation from 2007 until recently, was called in by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology to discuss specific areas in the networking and information technology sector that the federal government should be investing research and development funds in.

“I think cybersecurity . . . is the most difficult challenge. And it’s not just a societal and political challenge. It’s a technical challenge,” said Wing, who this summer returned to her post as head of the computer science department at Carnegie Mellon University. “Leadership needs to come from the top since no one sector of government, industry and academia can address this challenge alone.”

PCAST is an advisory group of the nation’s leading scientists and engineers who directly advise the President on areas involving science, technology, and innovation. strengthening our economy and forming policy that works for the American people. PCAST is administered by the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP).

You can see Dr. Wing testamony in this video.



Yahoo! using Bing search engine in US and Canada

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

Google, Bing, Yahoo!Microsoft’s Bing team announced on their blog that that the Bing search engine is “powering Yahoo!’s search results” in the US and Canada for English queries. Yahoo also has a post on their Yahoo! Search Blog.

The San Jose Mercury News reports:

“Tuesday, nearly 13 months after Yahoo and Microsoft announced plans to collaborate on Internet search in hopes of challenging Google’s market dominance, the two companies announced that the results of all Yahoo English language searches made in the United States and Canada are coming from Microsoft’s Bing search engine. The two companies are still racing to complete the transition of paid search, the text advertising links that run beside and above the standard search results, before the make-or-break holiday period — a much more difficult task.”

Combining the traffic from Microsoft and Yahoo will give the Bing a more significant share of the Web search market. That should help them by providing both companies with a larger stream of search related data that can be exploited to improve search relevance, ad placement and trend spotting. It will also help to foster competition with Google focused on developing better search technology.

Hopefully, Bing will be able to benefit from the good work done at Yahoo! on adding more semantics to Web search.

NY AG Cuomo to sue tagged.com social networking site for privacy invasion

Friday, July 10th, 2009

New York state attorney general Andrew Cuomo announced he intends to sue social networking company Tagged.com “for deceptive e-mail marketing practices and invasion of privacy”.

“Between April and June this year, Tagged sent tens of millions of misleading emails to unsuspecting recipients stating that Tagged members had posted private photos online for their friends to view. In reality, no such photos existed and the email was not from their friends. When recipients of these fraudulent emails tried to access the photos, they were forced to become a new member of Tagged. The company would then illegally gain access to their personal email contacts to send more fraudulent invitations.
     “This company stole the address books and identities of millions of people,” said Attorney General Cuomo. “Consumers had their privacy invaded and were forced into the embarrassing position of having to apologize to all their email contacts for Tagged’s unethical – and illegal – behavior. This very virulent form of spam is the online equivalent of breaking into a home, stealing address books, and sending phony mail to all of an individual’s personal contacts. We would never accept this behavior in the real world, and we cannot accept it online.”

See stories in the NYT and Independent.

NSA: lead for Government IDS, DHS involvement added

Friday, July 3rd, 2009

The Washington Post has a long article on the latest Obama administration plan to protect government agencies from cyber attacks, Cybersecurity Plan to Involve NSA, Telecoms — DHS Officials Debating The Privacy Implications.

“The Obama administration will proceed with a Bush-era plan to use National Security Agency assistance in screening government computer traffic on private-sector networks, with AT&T as the likely test site, according to three current and former government officials.

President Obama said in May that government efforts to protect computer systems from attack would not involve “monitoring private-sector networks or Internet traffic,” and Department of Homeland Security officials say the new program will scrutinize only data going to or from government systems.

But the program has provoked debate within DHS, the officials said, because of uncertainty about whether private data can be shielded from unauthorized scrutiny, how much of a role NSA should play and whether the agency’s involvement in warrantless wiretapping during George W. Bush’s presidency would draw controversy. Each time a private citizen visited a “dot-gov” Web site or sent an e-mail to a civilian government employee, that action would be screened for potential harm to the network.”

This is reported to be a continuation of the Einstein 3 program begun under the Bush administration. One difference is the new role for DHS in providing some oversight and guidance.

“Under a classified pilot program approved during the Bush administration, NSA data and hardware would be used to protect the networks of some civilian government agencies. Part of an initiative known as Einstein 3, the plan called for telecommunications companies to route the Internet traffic of civilian agencies through a monitoring box that would search for and block computer codes designed to penetrate or otherwise compromise networks.”

There’s a lot more in the article that is worth reading.

Can cyberwar treaties avert an arms race?

Sunday, June 28th, 2009

Should the nations of the world work toward a treaty banning or at least limiting cyberwars? If we don’t, might we fall into an arms race that could be bad for everyone? Would A war in cyberspace be less dangerous for people than traditional wars? Or maybe worse?

John Markoff and Andrew Kramer have an interesting article, U.S. and Russia Differ on a Treaty for Cyberspace in Sunday’s New York Times.

“The United States and Russia are locked in a fundamental dispute over how to counter the growing threat of cyberwar attacks that could wreak havoc on computer systems and the Internet. Both nations agree that cyberspace is an emerging battleground. … But there the agreement ends. Russia favors an international treaty along the lines of those negotiated for chemical weapons and has pushed for that approach at a series of meetings this year and in public statements by a high-ranking official.
    The United States argues that a treaty is unnecessary. It instead advocates improved cooperation among international law enforcement groups. If these groups cooperate to make cyberspace more secure against criminal intrusions, their work will also make cyberspace more secure against military campaigns, American officials say. “We really believe it’s defense, defense, defense,” said the State Department official, who asked not to be identified because authorization had not been given to speak on the record. “They want to constrain offense. We needed to be able to criminalize these horrible 50,000 attacks we were getting a day.”

Russia has some specific proposals that it would like to have considered. But there are complications that arise due to cybercrime and Internet censorship.

“In a speech on March 18, Vladislav P. Sherstyuk, a deputy secretary of the Russian Security Council, a powerful body advising the president on national security, laid out what he described as Russia’s bedrock positions on disarmament in cyberspace. Russia’s proposed treaty would ban a country from secretly embedding malicious codes or circuitry that could be later activated from afar in the event of war. Other Russian proposals include the application of humanitarian laws banning attacks on noncombatants and a ban on deception in operations in cyberspace — an attempt to deal with the challenge of anonymous attacks.

But American officials are particularly resistant to agreements that would allow governments to censor the Internet, saying they would provide cover for totalitarian regimes. These officials also worry that a treaty would be ineffective because it can be almost impossible to determine if an Internet attack originated from a government, a hacker loyal to that government, or a rogue acting independently.”

The article makes the interesting revelation that this is not the first time that cyberspace arms control have been discussed between the US and Russia.

“In 1996, at the dawn of commercial cyberspace, American and Russian military delegations met secretly in Moscow to discuss the subject. The American delegation was led by an academic military strategist, and the Russian delegation by a four-star admiral. No agreement emerged from the meeting, which has not previously been reported. Later, the Russian government repeatedly introduced resolutions calling for cyberspace disarmament treaties before the United Nations. The United States consistently opposed the idea.

John Arquilla, an expert in military strategy at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif., who led the American delegation at the 1996 talks, said he had received almost no interest from within the American military after those initial meetings. “It was a great opportunity lost,” he said.

UK cyber attack capability

Saturday, June 27th, 2009

This week the BBC had a story about the UK’s cyber security programs, UK ‘has cyber attack capability’, with this video interview with Gordon Brown.

The article leads with this surprising discussion of the UK’s offensive capabilities.

“The UK has the ability to launch cyber attacks but does not use it for industrial espionage like some other countries, minister Lord West has said. He refused to be drawn on whether it was used for military purposes.

He told BBC Radio 4′s PM programme the UK faced coordinated Huber attacks “on a regular basis” from other countries including Russia and China. And he confirmed that the British government had approached the Russian and Chinese governments to ask them to stop the attacks. “We have had a dialogue with them in the past and I wouldn’t want to go into what goes on in terms of debate at the moment,” he told the BBC.

Pressed on whether Britain used cyber attacks itself, he said: “We do not go and attack other nations to try and find from them their industrial secrets.” But he added: “I think it would be very silly of any nation not to have an ability to use cyber space for the safety and security of its nation.” Pressed further on Britain’s cyber warfare capabilities, he said: “We have an ability to do things and we have got very good and very talented people who have worked on this.”

The article also quotes Lord West, the UK’s first cyber security minister, as saying that they had recruited “a team of former hackers for its new Cyber Security Operations Centre” at GCHQ.

“They had not employed any “ultra, ultra criminals” but needed the expertise of former “naughty boys”, he added. “You need youngsters who are deep into this stuff… If they have been slightly naughty boys, very often they really enjoy stopping other naughty boys,” he said.