finding terrorists on the Internet
By Network World Staff and IDG News Service , Network
World , 04/16/2008
From Network World:
This story appeared on Network World at
While universities don't tend to shout as loudly about
their latest tech innovations as do Google, Cisco and
other big vendors, their results are no less
impressive in what they could mean for faster, more
secure and more useful networking. Here's a roundup,
in no particular order, of some of the most amazing
and colorful projects in the works.
1. Exploiting T-rays
Who needs electricity to run superfast computers when
there's terahertz radiation, or T-rays? University of
Utah engineers have reached deep into the
electromagnetic spectrum to find this new way to build
circuits for computers that would run a thousand times
faster than today's gigahertz-speed computers. The
development involves creation of waveguides to send
and manipulate T-rays, also known as far-infrared
"We have taken a first step to making circuits that
can harness or guide terahertz radiation," says Ajay
Nahata, study leader and associate professor of
electrical and computer engineering, in a statement.
"Eventually – in a minimum of 10 years – this will
allow the development of superfast circuits, computers
2. Hybrids: Computers, not cars
A multi-university research team funded by the
Department of Defense is working to combine computer
memory functions typically performed by magnetic
components and computer logic operations typically
handled by semiconductor components into a hybrid
material. The benefit would be faster and more compact
machines that chow down less power and are less
expensive to build.
"In this approach, the coupling between magnetic and
non-magnetic components would occur via a magnetic
field or flow of electron spin, which is the
fundamental property of an electron and is responsible
for most magnetic phenomena," says Giovanni Vignale ,
a University of Missouri physics professor in the
College of Arts and Science, in a statement. "The
hybrid devices that we target would allow seamless
integration of memory and logical function, high-speed
optical communication and switching, and new sensor
The Department of Defense awarded a $6.5 million grant
to the University of Iowa for the project. In addition
to the Iowa and Missouri schools, also working on the
project are researchers from New York University,
University of California at Berkeley and the
University of Pittsburgh.
3. Getting to bottom of Web searches
Web search might seem like a complex issue, but it
really boils down to three basic kinds of searches:
informational, navigational and transactional (related
to buying something).
That's the word from researchers at Penn State
University's College of Information Sciences and
Technology and Australia's Queensland University of
Technology who looked at more than 1.5 million queries
from hundreds of thousands of search engines users.
The bulk of searches (80%) proved to be informational,
with the other 20% split between navigational and
transactional. The researchers used an algorithm that
they say classified searches with a 74% accuracy rate.
"Other results have classified comparatively much
smaller sets of queries, usually manually," said Jim
Jansen, assistant professor in Penn State's College of
Information Sciences and Technology, in a statement .
"This research aimed to classify queries
The researchers' work is outlined in a paper titled
"Determining the informational, navigational and
transactional intent of Web queries" that will appear
in the May issue of Information Processing &
4. Mapping the whole Internet
Israeli researchers have created a topographical map
of the Internet by enlisting more than 5,600
volunteers across 97 countries who agreed to download
a program that tracks how Internet nodes interact with
The result is "the most complete picture of the
Internet available today," Bar Ilan University
researcher Shai Carmi told the MIT Technology Review.
"A better understanding of the Internet's structure is
vital for integration of voice, data and video
streams, point-to-point and point-to-many distribution
of information, and assembling and searching all of
the world's information," Carmi and fellow researchers
state in a new report published in the Proceedings of
the National Academy of Sciences. "It may reveal
evolutionary processes that control the growth of the
Carmi's research uses a program called the DIMES
agent, which is downloaded onto volunteers' computers
and performs Internet measurements such as traceroute
and ping. The project's Web site promises that, along
with providing a "good feeling," using the DIMES agent
will provide maps to users showing how the Internet
looks from their homes. Users of the program chat
about their findings at this forum.
Another project that tracks Internet traffic growth is
called the Minnesota Internet Traffic Studies (MINTS)
5. The Fluid Project
A handful of universities, including the University of
Toronto and the University of California, Berkeley, is
working to build a software architecture and reusable
components that can make Web applications easier to
develop and use. The Fluid Project's work focuses on
user-centered design practices. Vendors such as
Mozilla Foundation, IBM and Sun are also taking part.
The latest news out of the project is that a grant has
been awarded to the Adaptive Technology Resource
Centre at the University of Toronto from the Mozilla
Foundation to promote DHTML accessibility and the
adoption of ARIA (the W3C Web Accessibility
Initiative's Accessible Rich Internet Applications
6. Attila: one radio on many wireless networks
Today's wireless networks are in a rut: Most radios
that form the networks can only work on one frequency
band of the spectrum. If that band is glutted, glitchy
or jammed, the radios are useless.
Enter Attila the Radio, invented by two researchers at
Stevens Institute of Technology, in Hoboken, N.J. The
concept is simple: Attila parcels out a stream of data
packets over any and all available wireless spectrum
at the same time. The packets could stream, for
example, over a Wi-Fi mesh, Verizon's Code Division
Multiple Access (CDMA) cell network, rival AT&T's
Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM)
airwaves, and over a WiMAX link.
Current prototypes use several radios, one for each of
the networks being used, but the goal is a single
radio. The future of Attila the radio lies now with
Attila the company, formally known as Atilla
Technologies, which was founded in 2005 by two Stevens
Institute of Technology researchers.
7. Sniffing out insider threats
Researchers are developing technology they say will
use data mining and social networking techniques to
spot and stop insider security threats and industrial
Air Force Institute of Technology researchers have
developed software that can spot insider threats using
an extended version of automated document indexing
known as Probabilistic Latent Semantic Indexing
(PLSI). This technology can discern employees'
interests from e-mail and create a social network
graph showing their various interactions, researchers
The technology could help any organization sniff out
insider threats by analyzing e-mail activity or find
individuals among potentially tens of thousands of
employees with latent interests in sensitive topics.
The same technology might also be used to spot
individuals who feel alienated within the organization
as well as unraveling any worrying changes in their
social network interactions. The researchers explain
that individuals who have shown an interest in a
sensitive topic but who have never communicated to
others within the organization on this subject are
often the most likely to be an insider threat.
The software can reveal those people either with a
secret interest in that topic or who may feel
alienated from the organization and so communicate
their interest in it only to those outside the
organization, researchers said. Another important
signal of alienation or a potential problem is a shift
in the connections between an individual and others
within the organization. If an individual suddenly
stops communicating or socializing with others with
whom they have previously had frequent contact, then
the technology could alert investigators to such
The research team tested their approach on the
archived body of messages from the liquidated Enron
company e-mail system.
8. All about Twitter
University of Maryland students have written a paper
called "Why We Twitter: Understanding Microblogging
Usage and Communities" examining why people Twitter.
Also known as microblogging, Twittering is a new form
of communication in which users can describe their
current status in short posts distributed by instant
messages, mobile phones, e-mail or the Web," according
to the paper's abstract.
The authors, Akshay Java, Xiaodan Song, Tim Finin and
Belle Tseng, say the paper "presents our observations
of the microblogging phenomena by studying the
topological and geographical properties of Twitter's
social network." They concluded that figuring out why
individuals microblog is elusive, but that by
analyzing an aggregate of data across a community can
provide insight into why a group of people microblog.
9. Spotting phishers
Scientists at Carnegie Mellon University have
developed an online game designed to teach Internet
users about the dangers of phishing.
Featuring a cartoon fish named Phil, the game, called
Anti-Phishing Phil, has been tested in CMU's Privacy
and Security Laboratory. Officials with the lab say
users who spent 15 minutes playing the interactive,
online game were better able to discern fraudulent Web
sites than those who simply read tutorials about the
The game focuses on teaching Internet users how to
tell the URL of a fraudulent site from a legitimate
one, officials say. It offers tips such as examining
URLs for misspellings of popular sites, dissecting a
Web address to understand where it's pointing to, and
using Google to validate a URL against search results.
10. RFID and the heart
Telemedicine researchers have been awarded a $400,000
grant to work on integrating RFID technology with
cardiac sensor networks used to monitor patients'
The Rochester Institute of Technology says its work
will make cardiac sensor networks more secure,
reducing the chances of identity theft or other abuse.
The work could also make the healthcare process work
more efficiently by supporting RFID tags on medicine
bottles, the school says.
"Telemedicine technology can greatly increase the
quality of medical care while also decreasing
healthcare costs," said Fei Hu, assistant professor of
computer engineering at RIT, in a statement. "Through
this project we hope to increase the integration of
RFID into existing cardiac sensor networks, ensure the
overall security of the system and promote the
implementation of the technology in nursing homes and
adult care facilities across the country."
11. Analyzing the "Dark Web"
Computer scientists at a University of Arizona lab
have created a project called Dark Web that is
designed to track and analyze the moves of terrorists
and extremists using the Internet to spread
propaganda, recruit members and plan attacks (click
here to read our feature on cyberwar).
The project, which is funded by the National Science
Foundation and other federal agencies, is led by
Hsinchun Chen at the Artificial Intelligence Lab in
Tucson. Dark Web's specialty is tracking massive
amounts of information scattered across thousands of
Web sites and in e-mail and other online programs.
Spidering, link analysis, multimedia analysis and
other techniques are used, according to the NSF.
A method dubbed Writeprint is used to strip away the
anonymity of terrorists online by analyzing language,
semantic and other features of content and comparing
it with other content posted across the Internet.
Authors can be identified and new information
published by the authors can be flagged as it is
posted and spread. One recent study by the Dark Web
team identified stories and videos used to train
terrorists in building improvised explosive devices.
Not that the terrorists are unaware they're being
"They can put booby-traps in their Web forums," Chen
said in a statement, "and the spider can bring back
viruses to our machines."
12. Really, really fast wireless
Scientists at the Georgia Electronic Design Center
(GEDC) at the Georgia Institute of Technology have
designed a system that can transfer data at 5Gbps at a
range of 5 meters.
Joy Laskar, the GEDC's director, says many of the
products designed for the 60GHz band initially will be
marketed to consumers for home use, because businesses
are more likely to take wait-and-see attitudes with
new technology that hasn't yet proved reliable. Even
so, he says he can imagine several business
applications for multigigabit networks, especially in
the field of large-scale data transfer. "Imagine that
you have a portable device that's essentially an
evolved iPod that has hundreds of gigs of storage," he
says. "One scenario would be to have several kiosks
around an office that could wirelessly send
information to your device."
Separately, a team of engineers at Georgia Tech
Research Institute (GTRI) is taking a new approach to
phased-array antennas that the developers say could
enable an ultra-wideband device to do the job of five
The Fragmented Aperture Antenna has already
demonstrated a 33-to-1 bandwidth, blowing by the
10-to-1 ratio of conventional systems. Researchers say
a 100-to-1 ratio might not be far off for use in radar
and communications environments.
13. Real bandwidth management
University of California at San Diego computer
scientists say they have developed a TCP-based
bandwidth management system that works across global
The "flow proportional share" algorithm created by
Barath Raghavan and his teammates is designed to
enable a group of rate limiters to work together,
providing better availability of network applications,
including Web sites.
"With our system, an organization with mirrored Web
sites or other services across the globe could
dynamically shift its bandwidth allocations between
sites based on demand. You can't do that now, and this
lack of control is a significant drawback to today's
cloud-based computing approaches," said Raghavan, a
Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Computer Science
and Engineering at UCSD's Jacobs School of
The work is described in a paper called "Cloud Control
with Distributed Rate Limiting".
14. Doing away with digital clutter
MIT researchers have come up with a way to measure
visual clutter, a breakthrough that could help
everyone from fighter pilots to Web site designers.
The scientists published a paper in the Journal of
Vision that explains their work. The impetus for the
work was that "we lack a clear understanding of what
clutter is, what features, attributes and factors are
relevant, why it presents a problem and how to
identify it," says Ruth Rosenholtz, principal research
scientist at MIT's Department of Brain and Cognitive
Another issue is that clutter is perceived differently
by different people, so coming up with a universal
measure of what's hard or easy to pick out in a
display is challenging. The model devised takes into
account such factors as color, data and contrast.
The researchers tested their model on people looking
at a map, trying to find an arrow saying "You are
here," for example.
Rosenholtz plans to offer the MIT team's visual
clutter tool to designers as part of a continuing
study. You can test out the level of clutter in a
display yourself by going here .
15. Finding pictures of needles in haystacks
Penn State researchers have developed software they
say tags images upon uploading to Yahoo's Flickr or
other photo systems but also automatically updates
those tags based on how people interact with the
This could greatly improve searching for images, the
"Tagging itself is challenging as it involves
converting an image's pixels to descriptive words,"
said James Wang, lead researcher and associate
professor of information sciences and technology, in a
statement. "But what is novel with the 'Tagging over
Time' or T/T technology is that the system adapts as
people's preferences for images and words change."
In recent tests the system was shown to correctly
annotate four of every 10 images. It still needs work,
but is an improvement over an earlier Penn
State-developed system dubbed Automatic Linguistic
Indexing of Pictures-Real Time that analyzed pixel
content to suggest tags. The new software, which
relies on machine-learning, is described in more
detail in a paper called "Tagging Over Time:
Real-world Image Annotation by Lightweight
Meta-learning." The researchers say accuracy of the
new system can grow from 40% to 60% as it learns from
16. Videoconferencing made for Dr. Phil
While videoconferencing has proven its worth for
corporate meetings and distance learning, researchers
say the technology could also play a big role in
mediating disputes between coworkers, neighbors and
Researchers from the University of Bath in the United
Kingdom interviewed a dozen conciliators to determine
their views on what it would be like to use video
technology in their jobs. The researchers say video
holds the promise of being useful because it can
better translate the emotional state of the parties
involved and reduces possible intimidation when
parties are in the same room.
"Most of the conciliation to sort out disputes between
employees is done by phone because for the
conciliator, who may have as many as 70 or 80 cases to
deal with at once, it can be difficult, costly and
slow to arrange to see people in person," said
Department of Computer Science Director of Studies
Leon Watts in a statement. "In situations of high
conflict, it can be hard to get to the real issues, to
judge what people really care about, on the phone. So
using a video link, in which the conciliator can in
addition see each of the disputing parties, is a step
forward: it gives them new options for appreciating
parties' depth of concern about different issues."
The increased availability of broadband services and
improved video quality combine to make widespread
videoconferencing feasible, the researchers said. The
researchers plan to work with a conciliation training
organization to spread the word on videoconferencing.
17. Vocal Joystick
University of Washington researchers have developed
software designed to let those who can't work a
handheld mouse use their voice instead to navigate the
"There are many people who have perfect use of their
voice who don't have use of their hands and arms,"
said Jeffrey Bilmes, an associate professor of
electrical engineering, in a statement. "There are
several reasons why Vocal Joystick might be a better
approach, or at least a viable alternative, to
The Vocal Joystick detects sounds 100 times a second,
relying on vowel sounds to move in one direction or
another and moving faster or slower depending on voice
volume. "K" and "ch" sounds are used for mouse clicks
and releases. Some wonder why speech recognition
technology might not be better, but the University of
Washington researchers say it would be too slow since
it would rely on drawn-out, discrete commands. ( Watch
a video of how Vocal Joystick works here.)
The tool can be used for Web browsing, as well as for
playing video games and even drawing on a screen.
18. Measuring boredom
The National Science Foundation is funding research
that could enable computers to respond to your levels
of frustration or boredom. In other words, we're
talking about "mind reading" technology.
Tufts University researchers are exploiting
near-infrared spectroscopy technology that uses light
to pick up on your emotional cues by monitoring brain
Of course, for now you need to wear a funky headband
to make it work (the headband "uses laser diodes to
send near-infrared light through the forehead at a
relatively shallow depth — only two to three
centimeters — to interact with the brain's frontal
lobe," according to Tufts.)
19. Better computer building blocks
A University of Maryland researcher has come up with a
method that he says could one day be used by companies
to build nanoscale computer and cell phone components
faster and less expensively.
Ray Phaneuf , associate professor of materials science
and engineering at the A. James Clark School of
Engineering, compares his idea to self-assembly
processes in nature such as crystallization.
Phaneuf has built a photolithography- and
etching-based template that nature can use to assemble
atoms into predefined patterns for creating things
such as laptop semiconductors, wearable device sensors
and cell phone components. His work has focused on
silicon, typically used for computer components, and
gallium arsenide, which is common in cell phone parts.
"While we understand how to make working nanoscale
devices, making things out of a countable number of
atoms takes a long time," Phaneuf said in a statement
. "Industry needs to be able to mass-produce them on a
practical time scale." Such devices could even be used
some day in building the "qubits" that serve as the
basis of advanced quantum computing machines, Phaneuf
Phaneuf's work focuses on silicon and gallium arsenide
components. Silicon is the prevalent material for
components in computers while gallium arsenide is used
more often in cell phones.
20. Good Samaritans
Dartmouth researchers say they were surprised to find
that Good Samaritans – those people who update the
online Wikipedia encyclopedia when just passing by –
are actually as reliable as regular, registered users
of the site.
The researchers examined the quality of Wikipedia
content based on how long it persisted before being
changed or corrected. Wikipedia's archive of edits and
user reputation allowed for the research to be done.
"This finding was both novel and unexpected," said
Denise Anthony, associate professor of sociology, in a
statement. "In traditional laboratory studies of
collective goods, we don't include Good Samaritans,
those people who just happen to pass by and
contribute, because those carefully designed studies
don't allow for outside actors. It took a real-life
situation for us to recognize and appreciate the
contributions of Good Samaritans to Web content."
Sean Smith, associate professor of computer science,
added: "Wikipedia is a great example of how
open-source contributions work for the greater good."
The researchers' findings are presented in a paper
called "The Quality of Open Source Production: Zealots
and Good Samaritans in the Case of Wikipedia."
21. Honeybees and the Internet
Honeybee intelligence can be used to improve the speed
and efficiency of Internet servers by up to 25%,
according to Georgia Institute of Technology
Honeybees somehow manage to efficiently collect a lot
of nectar with limited resources and no central
command. Such swarm intelligence of these amazingly
organized bees can also be used to improve the
efficiency of Internet servers faced with similar
challenges, researchers said. A bee dance-inspired
communications system developed by Georgia Tech helps
Internet servers that would normally be devoted solely
to one task move between tasks as needed, reducing the
chances that a Web site could be overwhelmed with
requests and lock out potential users and customers.
Compared with the way server banks are commonly run,
the honeybee method typically improves service by 4%
to 25% in tests based on real Internet traffic,
researchers said. Internet servers typically have a
set number of servers devoted to a certain Web site or
client. When users access a Web site, the servers
provide computing power until all the requests to
access and use the site have been fulfilled. Sometimes
there are a lot of requests to access a site -- for
instance, a clothing company's retail site after a
particularly effective television ad during a popular
sporting event -- and sometimes there are very few.
Predicting demand for Web sites, including whether a
user will access a video clip or initiate a purchase,
is extremely difficult in a fickle Internet landscape,
and servers are frequently overloaded and later become
completely inactive at random.
Bees tackle their resource allocation problem (such as
a limited number of bees and unpredictable demand on
their time and desired location) with a seamless
system driven by "dances." Here's how it works: The
scout bees leave the hive in search of nectar. Once
they've found a promising spot, they return to the
hive "dance floor" and perform a dance. The direction
of the dance tells the waiting forager bees which
direction to fly, the number of waggle turns conveys
the distance to the flower patch; and the length
conveys the sweetness of the nectar. The bee/Internet
research was published in the Bioinspiration and
22. Pushing 100Gbps copper networks
Penn State engineers are trying to push relatively
short Category-7 copper cables to support digital data
speeds up to 100Gbps.
The idea would be to enable copper cables within a
room or building, perhaps being used to interconnect
servers, to handle data rates typically reserved for
fiber-optic links. The trick has been coming up with a
transmitter/receiver that uses error correcting and
equalizing methods to can cancel interference better
than traditional systems.
"A rate of 100 gigabit over 70 meters is definitely
possible, and we are working on extending that to 100
meters, or about 328 feet," said Ali Enteshari,
graduate student in electrical engineering, in a
statement. "However, the design of a 100 gigabit modem
might not be physically realizable at this time as it
is technology limited. We are providing a roadmap to
design a high-speed modem for 100 gigabits."
Mohsen Kavehrad , a professor of electrical
engineering at Penn State, says his team is working
with NEXANS, the company that makes the cable. "These
are the current, new generation of Ethernet cables,"
23. Drivers wielding cell phones
We've seen or heard about drivers on cell phones
causing accidents. But research from the University of
Utah also shows that such drivers are also responsible
for slowing traffic flows.
Those talking on cell phones tend to drive more slowly
on freeways, pass slowgoing vehicles less frequently
and generally take longer to get from one point to
another, the researchers found. This can cost society
in terms of lost productivity, fuel costs and more,
the researchers concluded.
"At the end of the day, the average person's commute
is longer because of that person who is on the cell
phone right in front of them," said University of Utah
psychology Professor Dave Strayer, leader of the
research team, in a statement. "That SOB on the cell
phone is slowing you down and making you late."
The research is based on a PatrolSim driving
Meanwhile, don't feel so smug about how safety
conscious you are by using a hands-free cell phone in
the car: Carnegie Mellon University researchers say
you're still likely to be distracted.
The researchers used brain imaging to show that even
just listening to a cell phone while driving cuts by
more than a third your attention to driving. Subjects
inside an MRI brain scanner were tested on a driving
simulator and were found to weave, similar to if they
were under the influence of alcohol. The study
(featuring cool colorful brain images) showed lessened
activity in the brain's parietal lobe, which is called
upon for spatial sense and navigation, and occipital
lobe, which handles visual information.
24. Open source on bug patrol
An open source tool is being readied for release this
year that its creators say could dramatically speed
software development and improve software quality.
Computer scientists from the National Institute of
Standards and Technology and the University of Texas
at Arlington credit the use of "combinatorial testing"
for their breakthrough.
The trick is being able to quickly test interactions
of up to six variables. The work stemmed from research
into what really causes bugs in software. The
researchers found that it is more often caused by
problematic interactions between a few variables
rather than a bunch even if a program, such as an
e-commerce application, features hundreds of
Findings of this latest software debugging research
are described in several presentations, one by NIST
researchers and another by University of Texas
Developers interested in getting your hands on code
should contact NIST's Raghu Kacker.
25. Geeks and glasses
Who knew? People who wear glasses are not
stereotypical geeks or nerds. At least according to a
study released by Australian vision researchers.
The scientists claim this is the first time a study
looked into personality and nearsightedness or myopia.
Participants were analyzed using a state-of-the-art
measure of the five major personality factors
(openness, conscientiousness, extroversion,
agreeableness and neuroticism), administered by
psychologists from the University of Melbourne.
Researchers concluded: "The long-held view that myopic
persons are introverted and conscientious may reflect
intelligence-related stereotypes rather than real
correlations. Furthermore, the predictive
characteristic of intellect, subsumed in openness,
appeared to be representative of a previously reported
link between IQ and myopia rather than personality and
"We have literally busted the myth that people who
wear glasses are introverted or have particular
personality characteristics. They are more likely to
be agreeable and open, rather than closed and
introverted," said Paul Baird of the University of
Melbourne's Centre for Eye Research Australia in a
For past network research roundups, see:
15 bleeding-edge network research projects you should
10 cutting-edge network research projects you should
For more on network research, read our Alpha Doggs
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