Fun headlines from last week

The big security news last week wasn't that there's another WIndows worm poking its head up - it was that a bunch of academics have proven they can read your password data as you type it from variations in the electrical signals produced by your keyboard - through walls, and from sixty-five feet away.

On CNET news, By Robert Vamosi on Oct 22nd, Keystrokes can be recovered remotely

Key bit:

Researchers Martin Vuagnoux and Sylvain Pasini of the Swiss Security and Cryptography Laboratory at LASEC/EPFL, were able to recover keystrokes from wired keyboards at a distance up to 20 meters (about 65 feet), even through walls, simply by reading the electromagnetic emanations of the peripheral device. The experiments focused on wired keyboards attached to a computer either by PS/2 or USB connections.

On ScienceDaily for Oct. 23, 2008: Denser, More Powerful Computer Chips Possible With Plasmonic Lenses That 'Fly'

Key bit:

By combining metal lenses that focus light through the excitation of electrons - or plasmons - on the lens' surface with a "flying head" that resembles the stylus on the arm of an old-fashioned LP turntable and is similar to those used in hard disk drives, the researchers were able to create line patterns only 80 nanometers wide at speeds up to 12 meters per second, with the potential for higher resolution detail in the near future.

"Utilizing this plasmonic nanolithography, we will be able to make current microprocessors more than 10 times smaller, but far more powerful," said Xiang Zhang, UC Berkeley professor of mechanical engineering and head of the research team behind this development. "This technology could also lead to ultra-high density disks that can hold 10 to 100 times more data than disks today."

From Nature (subscription required): Correlation between nanosecond X-ray flashes and stick/slip friction in peeling tape

Key bit:

Relative motion between two contacting surfaces can produce visible light, called triboluminescence. This concentration of diffuse mechanical energy into electromagnetic radiation has previously been observed to extend even to X-ray energies.

Here we report that peeling common adhesive tape in a moderate vacuum produces radio and visible emission, along with nanosecond, 100-mW X-ray pulses that are correlated with stick?slip peeling events. For the observed 15-keV peak in X-ray energy, various models5, 6 give a competing picture of the discharge process, with the length of the gap between the separating faces of the tape being 30 or 300 mum at the moment of emission. The intensity of X-ray triboluminescence allowed us to use it as a source for X-ray imaging. The limits on energies and flash widths that can be achieved are beyond current theories of tribology.

So what do these headlines have in common? they're part of an on-going, world-wide, scientific transition from the human scale 1920s teleco signal management technologies to the nano-scale optical world signalled by this press release from Kotura:

Monterey Park, Calif., September 3rd, 2008 - Kotura, Inc., a leading provider of silicon photonic components, today announced that Sun Microsystems has signed a five year $14M development contract with Kotura for DARPA's Ultraperformance Nanophotonic Intrachip Communications (UNIC) program. Previously, Sun announced its participation in DARPA's $44M program to advance a virtual supercomputer using an on-chip network of low-cost optical interconnects.

When Shannon developed the basic equations describing data communications, he thought in terms of information moving over human scale distances at relatively low densities - and the peak direct application of his work may well turn out to have been the successful decoding of telemetry received from Pioneer 10 on April 27, 2002. At that time people had already been working on optics and nano-signal quantitization for close to forty years - incidently about the same lead time Maxwell along and others had over Edison and Tesla - but it's only been since then that working technologies have emerged and people can now, more or less routinely, intercept nano-flashes; control, encode, and interpret plasmon signals; and work on engineering real world applications in areas such as layer to layer communication in microprocessors.

But why should you care? because this stuff is going to change the way computers are built, where and how we store data, what safeguards we need to put in place to protect data, and everything we now think we know about information security, backup, and network design.