20 kick-ass network research projects

Website morphing, sleep talking PCs, undetectable phishing attacks and unfreezing software among IT researchers' coolest projects

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Researchers can adjust network infrastructure to boost bandwidth, optimize latency and save power using an experimental technology called OpenFlow. OpenFlow is in the proof-of-concept stage but someday could be used in business networks to engineer traffic, says Nick McKeown, an associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science at Stanford University. OpenFlow is part of the Clean Slate initiative set up to consider how the Internet might be re-engineered to make it more responsive to how it is actually used. Researchers devised OpenFlow as a way to test out new network protocols on existing networks without disrupting production applications. The only other option is to set up separate infrastructure on which to run experiments, a costly alternative.

Open source laptop Lojack system released by university researchers

A new open source tool called Adeona has been released by researchers at two universities in an effort to recover lost or stolen laptops on campus, at airports and elsewhere. Adeona, in fact, is named after the Roman goddess of safe returns.University of Washington and University of California, San Diego researchers say the tool enables laptop owners to track the whereabouts of their Windows, Apple and Linux machines without letting anyone else know. Once Adeona is loaded on a machine, it will every so often send scrambled information such as IP address to OpenDHT, a free online storage network, that can be used to determine a laptop's general location. On Macs, Adeona can even exploit the internal camera to take pictures to send to the OpenDHT server.The information could then be used by cops to try to track down the machine.

New router algorithm offers hope for old routers 

A team of computer scientists has proposed a new algorithm that makes routers operate more efficiently by automatically limiting the number of network route or link-state updates they receive. The algorithm could be important in large heterogeneous corporate networks where the oldest, slowest routers make all the others wait while they absorb updates and recalculate their path tables. The Approximate Link State (XL) algorithm suppresses the updates so only those routers that are directly affected receive them, says Professor Stephan Savage, who along with three other computer scientists at the University of California at San Diego developed the algorithm.

Separately, researchers at Cornell University and AT&T Labs are breathing new life into routers via a method they say doesn't require changes to routing software or protocols. In a paper titled “Making Routers Last Longer with ViAggre,” the researchers outline Virtual Aggregation (ViAggre), which they describe as a configuration-only approach to squeezing ISPs' routing tables that works in part by limiting the how much of the global routing table each router maintains. It also is an incremental approach that can be executed by individual ISPs without the need to synch up with others, the researchers explain. The researchers examined how ViAggre would work on tier 1 and 2 ISPs' networks and found that routing tables could be reduced drastically without loading them down with traffic. They also gave ViAggre a whirl on Cisco routers in a testbed.

A way to sniff keystrokes from thin air 

That PC keyboard you're using may be giving away your passwords. Researchers say they've discovered new ways to read what you're typing by aiming special wireless or laser equipment at the keyboard or by simply plugging into a nearby electrical socket. Two separate research teams, from the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne and security consultancy Inverse Path, have taken a close look at the electromagnetic radiation that is generated every time a computer keyboard is tapped. It turns out that this keystroke radiation is actually pretty easy to capture and decode -- if you're a computer hacker-type, that is. The Ecole Polytechnique team did its work over the air. Using an oscilloscope and an inexpensive wireless antenna, the team was able to pick up keystrokes from virtually any keyboard, including laptops.

Squeezing storage

Nanotechnology researchers say they have achieved a breakthrough that could fit the contents of 250 DVDs on a coin-sized surface and might also have implications for displays and solar cells. The scientists, from the University of California at Berkeley and the University of Massachusetts Amherst, discovered a way to make certain kinds of molecules line up in perfect arrays over relatively large areas.. One of the researchers said the technology might be commercialized in less than 10 years, if industry is motivated. 

Separately, Computerworld reported that “researchers at Rice University have demonstrated a new data storage medium made out of a layer of graphite only 10 atoms thick. The technology could potentially provide many times the capacity of current flash memory and withstand temperatures of 200 degrees Celsius and radiation that would make solid-state disk memory disintegrate.” 

Researchers seek advanced network prioritization, security technology 

Researchers are looking to build self-configuring network technology that would identify traffic, let the network infrastructure prioritize it down to the end user, reallocate bandwidth between users or classes of users, and automatically make quality of service decisions. The system will have a minimum of 32 levels of prioritization. These prioritization levels will be configurable and changeable at the system level in an authenticated method. Data with a higher priority will be handled more expeditiously than traffic with a lower priority. If that sounds like a major undertaking, it is, but consider who wants to develop such a beast: the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

This advanced prioritization system is part of DARPA's Military Networking Protocol (MNP) program which is looking to develop an authenticated and attributable identification system for packet based, military and government data networks, the agency said. Military or government data sent with the MNP will be compatible with normal Internet equipment to allow MNP traffic to pass through legacy network or encryption equipment, DARPA said.

IDG News Service contributed to this report.

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