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Researchers develop new technology for isolation of software components with lesser computing power

In the coming future, protection of sensitive information such as passwords, credit card numbers will require less computational work. Scientists at Max Planck Institute for Software Systems in Kaiserslautern and Saarbrücken have developed a new technology known as ERIM for isolating software components from one another. With the help of this, sensitive data can be protected from hackers when it is processed in online transactions. This technique has nearly three to five times less computational overhead than the last isolation technology. As a result, it is more suitable for use in online transactions. For this, the researchers were awarded the Internet Defense Prize 2019 by USENIX and Facebook. 

Different types of security technologies such as firewalls help in protecting the computer programs from malicious softwares. Even a small security lapse can lead to hackers accessing the components of a software. It can also go as far as hackers accessing the financial details of the users’ accounts and making credit card transactions with them. As an example, the Heartbleed bug in the OpenSSL encryption software made the usernames and passwords of different online services vulnerable to hackers.

For preventing these attacks, developers can isolate different software components similar to the walls of a fortress preventing access to its central area even if attackers manage to overcome the external obstacles. The current isolation methods often require upto 30 percent more CPU power and many servers running simultaneously which increase the infrastructure costs. Deepak Garg, a leading researcher at Max Planck Institute said that many services do not believe in the justification of the greater costs and hence do not use the isolation methods. He added that their isolation technique uses only five percent more time for computation which makes it attractive to the companies. This is the reason they have been awarded the lucrative 100,000 USD prize by USENIX and Facebook. 

A team led by Deepak Garg and Peter Druschel, director at Max Planck Institute for Software Systems combined a hardware feature which was introduced by Intel in their microprocessors with software for building the isolation method. The new hardware feature is known as MPK or Memory Protection Keys. 

MPK on its own cannot isolate the components as it can still be exploited by clever attackers. MPK was used with another method known as instruction rewriting. Peter Druschel said that the code of a software can be written in such a manner that an attacker cannot exploit the “walls” of the components. This is done keeping the purpose of the software intact. Both these methods can be used to divide the memory of software with very less computational work thus isolating the parts from one another. Remaining isolation technologies access the kernel of the operating system for this purpose thereby using more computational effort. With increase in the pace of software development, the practicality of data protection has to be maintained. This often involves unconventional approaches. 

New software helps plant breeders bring out their best

New software helps plant breeders bring out their best

Broccoli is in the eye of the beholder.

A head of broccoli that might appeal to one person – perhaps because of its deep green color – may leave another cold, due to an asymmetrical shape or too-large buds.

Cornell researchers participating in the Eastern Broccoli Project, which aims to produce broccoli varieties suited to grow on the East Coast, have devised a statistical method to standardize evaluations of broccoli, in order to make plant breeding decisions more consistent and efficient.

Now a Cornell group – doctoral student Zachary Stansell; Thomas Björkman, professor of horticulture at Cornell AgriTech; and Deniz Akdemir of the Cornell Statistical Consulting Unit – has released RateRvaR, a new software based on this method. RateRvaR is freely available, open source, easy to use and applicable to breeders of any vegetable, tree or flower with subjective features.

Using the software, breeders can select traits and ask multiple people to perform the same evaluation. The program will then analyze that data to determine which traits are more or less important in predicting overall quality, partly by prioritizing traits that are easier to judge objectively, such as size or color.

“The challenge for breeders, when they’re looking for wider adaptations, is that for certain crops, you plant all over the place and fly to various locations around the world to do the evaluations yourself,” Björkman said.

“But what if you had to check the plant twice a week for a month because it’s maturing at different rates? You can’t be jetting around the world; it just becomes impractical,” he said. “Breeders want to know not only how another person would score a plant, but how they would score it themselves, or how some idealized consumer would score it. This should open up the opportunity for breeders to do evaluations in multiple locations.”

The software can also identify traits that don’t seem relevant to the overall quality, so breeders can collect less data and still get accurate results.

“This approach can standardize evaluations and make them faster and more efficient, and it can also reveal individual biases in how a human might respond to a particular variety of a vegetable or plant,” Stansell said. “In the case of broccoli, we wanted to take the human subjectivity out of these evaluations, and this method allows us to see those biases and correct for them.”

Researchers in the Eastern Broccoli Project grow at least 40 varieties of broccoli a year, aiming to find varieties that will thrive in particular climates, from Florida in the winter to Maine in the summer. Their goal is not only to breed plants well-suited to local climates, but to produce high-quality broccoli consumers will buy.

But Stansell noticed he and his colleagues often had very different criteria for judging broccoli plants. He tended to choose heads that were very symmetrical, while another researcher was more interested in the head’s color.

Not only were their preferences inconsistent, it wasn’t even clear if they were truly significant in predicting the overall quality of the plant – a stubbornly subjective characterization.

“We were trying to get a firm hold on what is good-quality broccoli – you know it when you see it but it’s hard to define accurately,” Stansell said. “There are a lot of moving parts genetically that have to come together.”

With colleagues, he then created a scoring system and collected years’ worth of data on the traits they considered significant. They used this data to develop RateRvaR, which is based on relative importance analysis, a statistical technique that calculates the importance of different qualities in relation to each other.

“It showed us which traits we had an opportunity to make a lot of progress with, and which traits didn’t really matter,” Stansell said. “It also allowed us to develop priorities. For example, the shape of the head is really important, whereas maybe the size of the buds is less important, so we should focus on head shape and use our scarce time and resources to try to improve this particular aspect.”

Materials provided by Cornell University

intergalactic stars

Researchers successfully recreate the sounds of stars through simulation softwares

It is well known that sound cannot propagate in vacuum as it requires a medium for its transmission. Sounds propagate as longitudinal waves in solids and fluids and also as a tranverse wave in solid structures. But scientists have been able to overcome this limitation as they have developed an innovative way for interpreting the signals which have been emitted by cosmos.

Researchers at University of Wisconsin-Madison have separated a different type of resonance which are caused by stars. These vibrations are actually variations in the temperature and the brightness of stars. Very powerful telescopes can spot these vibrations and then recreate the sounds of the stars with the help of computer simulations.

Jacqueline Goldstein, a graduate student in astronomy at University of Wisconsin-Madison said that a cello’s sound is because of its shape and size, similarly the vibrations of the stars are also dependent on their size and composition. Goldstein studies the connection between the structure of stars and their vibrations with the help of the software which simulates many stars and their frequencies. After comparing the simulations to the real stars, she can improve her model and make necessary changes.

For human beings to hear the sounds, the speed of the vibrations have to be increased by thousand to million times, besides repeating the frequencies from minutes to days. These are known as starquakes after their seismic variants on Earth and the field of study is called as astroseismology.

After the fusion of hydrogen in stars to heavier elements in the star cores, plasmic gas vibrates and hence the stars flicker. Researchers can know about the structure of stars through these fluctuations and also the changes which may occur in the star with the passage of time.

Goldstein studies those stars which are bigger than the sun as these are the ones which explode and lead to the formation of black holes, neutron stars and the heavy objects in the cosmos. Scientists want to study about the functioning of these stars and how they make an impact in the expansion and evolution of the universe.

With the help of professors of astronomy, Rich Townsend and Ellen Zweibel, Goldstein has created a computer software named GYRE which is plugged into the simulation software for stars, MESA. These softwares make it possible to develop models of different kinds of stars and observe their vibrations as they may appear to astronomers.

Since, GYRE and MESA are open source programs, they can be accessed freely by the scientists and modified. Goldstein is currently making a modified version of GYRE to take advantage of the data obtained by TESS.