technology: good or bad?

Terabyte Thumb Drives Made Possible by Nanotech Memory

AT&T Invents Programming Language for Mass Surveillance

Sikhs welcome TSA turban rule change

Terabyte Thumb Drives Made Possible by Nanotech Memory
By Alexis Madrigal

Researchers have developed a low-cost, low-power computer memory that could put terabyte-sized thumb drives in consumers’ pockets within a few years.

Thanks to a new technique for manipulating charged copper particles at the molecular scale, researchers at Arizona State University say their memory is, bit-for-bit, one-tenth the cost of — and 1,000 times as energy-efficient as — flash memory, the predominant memory technology in iPhones and other mobile devices.

“A thumb drive using our memory could store a terabyte of information,” says Michael Kozicki, director of ASU’s Center for Applied Nanoionics, which developed the technology. “All the current limitations in portable electronic storage could go away. You could record video of every event in your life and store it.”

The new memory technology — programmable metallization cell (PMC) — comes as current storage technologies are starting to reach their physical limits. At the tiny scale envisioned for new devices, flash memory becomes unstable. The physical limits of flash are already being approached, and could be reached in the near future, which could slow product development for portable device makers like Apple and Sandisk.

PMC memory stores information in a fundamentally different way from flash. Instead of storing bits as an electronic charge, the technology creates nanowires from copper atoms the size of a virus to record binary ones and zeros.

In research published in October’s IEEE Transactions on Electron Devices, Kozicki and his collaborators from the Jülich Research Center in Germany describe how the PMC builds an on-demand copper bridge between two electrodes. When the technology writes a binary 1, it creates a nanowire bridge between two electrodes. When no wire is present, that state is stored as a 0.

The key enabling technology for the memory is nano-ionics, a field that focuses on moving and transforming positively charged atoms. In PMC memory, the charged atoms, or ions, are harnessed by applying a negative charge, which transforms them into copper atoms lined up to form nanowires.

Kozicki says the process is like condensing a crystal from a solution, except that the process is almost infinitely reversible. If the PMC is fed a positive charge, the copper atoms return to their previous free-floating state, and the nanowires disassemble.

Kozicki says the technology can be built from materials commonly used in the memory industry, which should help keep manufacturing costs down.

The memory industry has already taken an interest. Three companies, Micron Technology, Qimonda and Adesto (a stealth-mode startup) have licensed the technology from Arizona State’s business spin-off, Axon Technologies.

Kozicki says the first product containing the memory, a simple chip, is slated to come out in 18 months.

Market-research firm iSuppli projects the flash-memory market growing from $20 billion in 2006 to $32 billion in 2011. Mark DeVoss, a senior analyst in flash memory at iSuppli, says a lot of companies are gunning for a share of that $12 billion in growth, but it’s hard to handicap the likely winners.

“There’s a lot of elegant technologies,” DeVoss says. “But you have to be able to scale it down and deliver a low cost-per-bit.”

Kozicki’s licensees believe the technology will deliver the outsize improvements that could drive the memory mainstream.

“No other technology can deliver the orders-of-magnitude improvement in power, performance and cost that this memory can,” says Narbeh Derhacobian, CEO of Adesto, who previously worked at AMD’s flash-memory division.

Adesto has received $6 million from Arch Venture Partners and additional funding from Harris & Harris, a venture firm specializing in nanotechnology.

AT&T Invents Programming Language for Mass Surveillance
October 29, 2007
By Ryan Singel

From the company that brought you the C programming language comes Hancock, a C variant developed by AT&T researchers to mine gigabytes of the company’s telephone and internet records for surveillance purposes.

An AT&T research paper published in 2001 and unearthed today by Andrew Appel at Freedom to Tinker shows how the phone company uses Hancock-coded software to crunch through tens of millions of long distance phone records a night to draw up what AT&T calls “communities of interest” — i.e., calling circles that show who is talking to whom.

The system was built in the late 1990s to develop marketing leads, and as a security tool to see if new customers called the same numbers as previously cut-off fraudsters — something the paper refers to as “guilt by association.”

But it’s of interest to THREAT LEVEL  because of  recent revelations that the FBI has been requesting “communities of interest” records from phone companies under the USA PATRIOT Act without a warrant.  Where the bureau got the idea that phone companies collect such data has, until now, been a mystery.

According to a letter from Verizon to a congressional committee earlier this month, the FBI has been asking Verizon for “community of interest” records on some of its customers out to two generations — i.e., not just the people that communicated with an FBI target, but also those who talked to people who talked to an FBI target.  Verizon, though, doesn’t create those records and couldn’t comply.  Now it appears that AT&T invented the concept and the technology. It even owns a patent on some of its data mining methods, issued to two of Hancock’s creators in 2002.

Programs written in Hancock work by analyzing data as it flows into a data warehouse. That differentiates the language from traditional data-mining applications which tend to look for patterns in static databases.  A 2004 paper published in ACM Transactions on Programming Languages and Systems shows how Hancock code can sift calling card records, long distance calls, IP addresses and internet traffic dumps, and even track the physical movements of mobile phone customers as their signal moves from cell site to cell site.

With Hancock, “analysts could store sufficiently precise information to enable new applications previously thought to be infeasible,” the program authors wrote. AT&T uses Hancock code to sift 9 GB of telephone traffic data a night, according to the paper.

The good news for budding data miners is  that Hancock’s source code and binaries (now up to version 2.0) are available free to noncommercial users from an AT&T Research website.

The instruction manual (.pdf) is also free, and old-timers will appreciate its spare Kernighan & Ritchie style. The manual  even includes a few sample programs in the style of K&R’s Hello World, but coded specifically to handle data collected by AT&T’s phone and internet switches.  This one reads in a dump of internet headers, computes what IP addresses were visited, makes a record and prints them out, in less than 40 lines of code.

#include "ipRec.hh"
#include "ihash.h" hash_table *ofInterest; int inSet (ipPacket_t * p) { if (hash_get (ofInterest, p->source.hash_value) == 1) return 1; if (hash_get (ofInterest, p->dest.hash_value) == 1) return 1; return 0; } void sig_main (ipAddr_s addrs < l:>, { ; /* code to set up hash table */ ofInterest = hash_empty (); iterate (over addrs) { event (ipAddr_t * addr) { if (hash_insert (ofInterest, addr->hash_value, 1) < 0) } } /* code to select packets */ iterate (over packets filteredby inSet) { event (ipPacket_t * p) { printPacketInfo (p); } }; }

Another sample program included in the manual shows how a Hancock program could create historical maps of a person’s travels by recording nightly what cell phone towers a person’s phone had used or pinged throughout a day.

AT&T is currently defending itself in federal court from allegations that it installed, on behalf of the NSA, secret internet spying rooms in its domestic internet switching facilities. AT&T and Verizon are also accused of giving the NSA access to billions of Americans’ phone records, in order to data-mine them to spot suspected terrorists, and presumably to identify targets for warrantless wiretapping.

Sikhs welcome TSA turban rule change
October 27, 2007
by Daljit Singh

WASHINGTON: The modification in the rules regarding security made by the Transportation Security Administration to correct the policy of indiscriminate screening of Sikhs’ turbans at American airports has been largely welcomed by the US Sikhs.
The TSA announced an adjustment of its screening policies for headwear which included Turbans. Now, the airport screeners will no longer ‘pat down’ Sikhs wearing turbans and they will have the choice to go through alternative security measures.

Alternatives may include walking through a machine that detects explosive chemicals. Or Sikhs could agree to pat down their own turbans, and then have their hands swabbed with a cloth that is tested for chemical residue.

Welcoming the change, Sikh Council on Religion and Education chairman Dr Rajwant Singh said the Sikh community is fully committed to work with government to ensure the safety of all Americans and at the same time making sure that the religious rights of all citizens are protected.