11 July 2013

Build Your Own Internet With Mobile Mesh Networking

Technology Review (07/09/13) Tom Simonite 

Flinders University researchers have developed Serval, an app that creates a mesh network, enabling nearby phones to link up using their Wi-Fi connections, as long as they have been modified to disable the usual security restrictions. Serval enables voice calls, text messages, file transfers, and more to take place between devices, even if they are not in range of one another to communicate normally. "We're trying to dramatically increase the usability and take this out of the geekosphere," says Commotion Wireless project leader Sascha Meinrath. The project is developing several software packages that enable people to create mesh networks using low-cost Internet and networking hardware. The networks offer free Internet access by extending the reach of free connections offered by community centers, as well as Web services and apps that function only within the local mesh. The Commotion Wireless project also is developing mesh software for people that cannot use conventional connectivity because it is not safe, such as political dissidents. The researchers are adapting an encrypted chat program called Cryptocat so it can be used to communicate securely across a local mesh network.

10 July 2013

Protecting Data in the Cloud

MIT News (07/02/13) Larry Hardesty

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers have developed Ascend, a type of secure hardware component that can disguise a server's memory-access patterns, making it impossible for an attacker to infer anything about the data being stored. Ascend also stops timing attacks, which attempt to infer information from the amount of time that computations take. "This is the first time that any hardware design has been proposed--it hasn’t been built yet--that would give you this level of security while only having about a factor of three or four overhead in performance," says MIT professor Srini Devadas. The system involves arranging memory addresses in a data structure known as a tree. Every node in the tree lies along some path that starts at the top and passes from node to node, without backtracking, until arriving at a node with no further connections. Ascend prevents attackers from inferring anything from sequences of memory access by randomly swapping that address with one stored somewhere else in the tree. Therefore, accessing a single address multiple times will very rarely require traversing the same path.

Big Data Needs Creative Types, Too

Information Week, June 24
While today's data scientists must have knowledge of multiple technical and business disciplines -- including analytics, computer science, math, modeling and statistics -- it's also becoming a prerequisite to be able to showcase creative approaches to data analysis. Not surprisingly, it's often a challenge to find individuals with such a wide range of abilities, a reality that might soon transform the position of data scientist into three distinct job categories. There will be technologists to write algorithms and code; statisticians and quantitative analysts to crunch numbers; and creative thinkers who will find insights in data that their more technically inclined colleagues might miss. For companies, the challenge will be to combine these different personality types into one cohesive Big Data team.
In the Big Data world, the technologists are the people who build the systems, get data loaded and transferred and maintain the critical infrastructure of a company. The creative analysts, in turn, will mine massive volumes of data for actionable insights. Not surprisingly, these so-called "artist explorers" probably won't manage computer systems; instead, they will be completely operationally focused and a little more creative and strategic in the way they think. As a result of this transformation of the data scientist role, universities and technology companies must work together to address the "data skills gap" by giving students the tools and training to compete in a data-driven economy.
As Big Data tools grow increasingly sophisticated and automated, demand for highly trained technologists will remain high. The good news is that this projected division of labor -- technologists, quantitative analysts, and "artist explorers" -- will not reduce the need for data scientists. The six-figure salary of a career in data science will continue to attract talented people -- especially younger workers starting out on their career who are looking for something where they're going to be gainfully employed and be able to make some money. Besides, the job is fun: you can't get bored when you're doing data exploration and business intelligence because every day there's a new competitor and a new marketplace, as well as new data, algorithms, and relationships.

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