In This Issue...
Plans for Advanced Manufacturing Research Highlight President's Budget Request for NIST
The President’s fiscal year (FY) 2013 budget for the Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) submitted to Congress proposes an appropriations funding level of $857 million, an increase of $106.2 million from FY 2012.
More than half of the proposed increased funding would be focused on advanced manufacturing research both at NIST laboratories and through a new industry-led consortia program.
The total request of $857 million for NIST is divided into three appropriations:
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NIST Establishes National Cybersecurity Center of Excellence
State of Maryland and Montgomery County Join Partnership
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) today announced a new partnership to establish the National Cybersecurity Center of Excellence, a public-private collaboration for accelerating the widespread adoption of integrated cybersecurity tools and technologies. The State of Maryland and Montgomery County, Md., are co-sponsoring the center with NIST, which will work to strengthen U.S. economic growth by supporting automated and trustworthy e-government and e-commerce.
U.S. Senator for Maryland Barbara Mikulski, Maryland Lt. Governor Anthony Brown and Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett were at NIST today to announce the partnership with Under Secretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology and NIST Director Patrick Gallagher.
“We’re standing up for the National Cybersecurity Center of Excellence to protect America’s ideas and innovations from cyber terrorists, spies and thieves,” Senator Mikulski said. “This center will unite the knowledge of the government with the know-how of the private sector to improve our nation’s cybersecurity and create jobs. I was so proud to put money in the federal checkbook so this new center will ensure Maryland continues to lead the way in cyber technology and cyber jobs.”
“Maryland has made great strides in preparing a workforce that’s ready for cyber and IT jobs,” said Lt. Governor Anthony G. Brown, who leads the O’Malley-Brown Administration’s economic development portfolio. “With our focus on K-12 STEM education, cyber-security specialties in higher education, and the presence of U.S. Cyber Command at Ft. Meade, Maryland is uniquely poised to contribute to the rapidly growing cybersecurity industry. The addition of the National Cybersecurity Center of Excellence will help build on our progress by enhancing coordination between the federal, state and local governments, as well as our partners in the private sector.”
NIST’s fiscal year 2012 appropriations provided $10 million to establish the public-private partnership to operate the center. It will provide a state-of-the-art computing facility near NIST’s Gaithersburg, Md., campus, where researchers from NIST will work collaboratively with both the users and vendors of cybersecurity products and services. The center will host multi-institutional, collaborative efforts that build on expertise from industry and government.
The center will undertake carefully developed use cases—comprehensive requirements and test plans to address specific cybersecurity challenges—that will lead to practical, interoperable cybersecurity approaches for real world needs of complex IT systems. Examples of potential use cases would be interoperable cybersecurity templates to address challenges in health IT, cloud and mobile computing, cryptography, or continuous monitoring of IT systems.
The development and refinement of use cases would be open to all interested parties, including IT vendors and the public. Results from center projects will be shared with the broad IT user and vendor communities.
By accelerating the adoption of state-of-the-art cybersecurity tools, the center will:
“Cyber crime hurts individuals, businesses and government agencies. We want to bring together the best minds and provide them with the best tools to create and test solutions that will make online transactions of all kinds safer,” said Gallagher. “We’re pleased to have the support of our Maryland partners, and look forward to working with additional partners from industry, academia, nonprofit and government sectors.”
Organizations interested in working with NIST, the State of Maryland, and Montgomery County at the new center should send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information on the center, see our fact sheet at http://www.nist.gov/public_affairs/factsheet/upload/nccoe.pdf.
As a nonregulatory agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce, NIST promotes U.S. innovation and industrial competitiveness by advancing measurement science, standards and technology in ways that enhance economic security and improve our quality of life.
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Experts Recommend Measures to Reduce Human Error in Fingerprint Analysis
A new report by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the Department of Justice’s National Institute of Justice (NIJ) has documented 149 potential sources of human error in the analysis of crime scene fingerprints. The study by a working group of 34 experts recommends a series of improvements to significantly reduce or eliminate the errors, based on the findings from its three-year scientific assessment of the effects of human factors on forensic latent print analysis. The working group consisted of experts from various forensic disciplines, statisticians, psychologists, engineers and other scientific experts, as well as legal scholars and representatives of professional organizations.
For more than a century, the most reliable and legally accepted method for identifying the perpetrator of a crime has been to compare latent fingerprints—those left by chance or accident at a crime scene—to known (or exemplar) prints on file. However, several high-profile cases in the United States and abroad during the past 20 years have shown that forensic examiners can sometimes make mistakes when analyzing or comparing prints, or even in communicating findings to law enforcement officials or juries. Such errors can be devastating, resulting in missed opportunities to identify the guilty or wrongful convictions of the innocent.
As with any laboratory procedure, there are a multitude of human factors that can influence the results of latent print analysis—examples include inadequate training, poor judgment, vision limitations, lack of sleep and stress. The chances of error increase if the examiner also must deal with organizational factors such as a lack of standards or quality control, poor management, insufficient resources or substandard working conditions (such as bad lighting). The Expert Working Group on Human Factors in Latent Print Analysis was convened in December 2008 to study these factors for the first time using an evidence-based, scientific review of literature, case studies and previous analyses; and then draw on the knowledge gained to estimate the incidence, severity and costs of errors; evaluate approaches to reducing errors and identify the most effective; and promote best practices through a national agenda for error reduction.
Much of the report provides a comprehensive discussion of these factors and how they relate to all aspects of latent print examinations, from acquisition of evidence through communicating results in documents and testimony. Based on what it learned, the working group outlined 34 recommendations addressing the problems resulting from human error. Among the proposed improvements:
The report, Latent Print Examination and Human Factors: Improving the Practice through a Systems Approach (NIST Interagency Report 7842) is available at http://www.nist.gov/manuscript-publication-search.cfm?pub_id=910745.
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Celebrating Another Golden Year in Legal Metrology with Weights and Measures Week 2012
Weights and measures are indispensable. From the grocery store to the gas pump, all kinds of consumer products are sold by some measurable quantity, whether it’s length, count, volume or weight. These values, the machines that measure them, and the people who measure the machines to ensure their accuracy are vital to every country’s economic infrastructure.
To help celebrate the many ways that weights and measures contribute to the economy, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the National Conference of Weights and Measures (NCWM), an organization that includes not only state and local regulators but also regulated industries and consumer interests, celebrate Weights and Measures Week the first week of March every year.
The two organizations work together to provide weights and measures enforcement officials and the public with the resources they needed to ensure that they are getting a fair price and are not being cheated.
For example, many people rushed in to take advantage of record high gold prices. And others rushed in to take advantage of the first group’s naiveté about how gold is valued. Many unscrupulous dealers set up shifting “storefronts” in hotel lobbies and private homes. The NCWM set the record straight with the information alert, “Gold Prices Create ‘Seller Beware’ Market” (see at www.ncwm.net/sites/default/files/about/press/2011/11_10_24_Gold_Rush.pdf.)
Weight also has become an issue for travelers in recent years as airlines have begun to charge extra for bags weighing over a certain amount. Now that the weight of a bag can cost passengers money, those scales, like every other measuring device used for conducting commerce, are checked for accuracy by weights and measures officials. Having an independent group monitoring the performance of these scales serves to establish trust, and that’s invaluable when the difference in cost between a 50-pound bag and 51-pound bag costs between $40 and $100.
And as always, people should be sure to pay close attention when refueling vehicles or shopping at the grocery store or anywhere where goods are sold by weight, length, volume or count. Consumers should verify that the devices have been certified as working correctly by a licensed state inspector and start at zero. Consumers also should check their receipts to make sure that they have not been overcharged for items and that the listed store prices match the prices on the receipt. In addition to checking the accuracy or scales and other measuring devices, weights and measures officials in many states check to ensure that the scanned price matches the price listed on the shelves.
In all these cases, the state and local weights and measures officials get their calibration standards, training and testing procedures from NIST and NCWM via Handbook 44 (see www.nist.gov/pml/wmd/pubs/h44-12.cfm) and other NIST publications and training courses. NIST and NCWM also work together to write model laws and codes, published in Handbook 130 (see www.nist.gov/pml/wmd/pubs/hb130-12.cfm), and Handbook 133, Checking the Net Content of Packaged Goods, (see www.nist.gov/pml/wmd/pubs/hb133-11.cfm). These handbooks are adopted in whole or in part by the states, and are used as the basis for regulatory enforcement.
At an average cost of $0.70 per year per taxpayer, weight and measures officials are worth their weight in gold, sometimes literally.
Web resources on NIST support for weights and measures inspectors and legal metrology:
Edited on Feb. 22, 2012, to expand the discussion of NIST/NCWM publications in the seventh paragraph.
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Shopper's Special: NIST Seeking Consumer, Industry Input on Unit Pricing Labels
The Office of Weights and Measures (OWM) of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is seeking volunteers to participate in a workgroup that will develop industry best practice guidelines to improve the accuracy and usability of unit pricing information offered on retail store shelves. The workgroup will convene as needed through the use of online web meetings and will include representatives from industry and trade associations, weights and measures officials, consumers and consumer groups, and other key stakeholders.
OWM is planning to begin the meetings in late March, 2012.
Offering unit pricing information is a common practice in many retail stores, especially in supermarkets. Unit pricing allows consumers to make value and price comparisons among products. Unit pricing labels on a shelf of barbeque sauces, for example, will display not only the price for the whole bottle but also the amount the customer will pay per ounce or other applicable unit.
“Unit pricing is one of the best tools a consumer can have during their shopping experience to help them make value and price comparisons,” says OWM’s David Sefcik. “It is especially helpful in an environment where ‘downsizing’, the practice of reducing the net contents of a package without a proportional change in price, is common. It’s a means of consumer protection.”
Weights and measures laws in the United States are the responsibility of state and local jurisdictions. Currently, 19 states and two territories have unit pricing laws or regulations in force. Eleven of these have mandatory unit pricing provisions, and many stores in states without regulations do so voluntarily. Those regulations and voluntary standards generally follow the guidelines set forth in NIST Handbook 130,* a set of model laws and regulations that NIST publishes in collaboration with the National Conference on Weights and Measures (NCWM).**
The eventual goal of the workgroup is to develop an industry best practice guide for unit pricing that will be made available online for use by anyone interested in improving the presentation and accuracy of unit pricing information. The guide will build upon the current Uniform Unit Pricing Regulation (UUPR) in NIST Handbook 130 and take into account any current mandatory unit pricing regulations in states in an effort to achieve and promote a more comprehensive, consumer friendly and uniform approach to unit pricing. The workgroup may also develop recommendations to revise the UUPR that would be submitted to the NCWM for consideration.
The Food Marketing Institute has volunteered to participate, and the National Consumer League and Consumer Union (the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports) have both expressed an interest in participating.
Those interested in being a part of the workgroup should contact David Sefcik, firstname.lastname@example.org, (301) 975-4868.
* Handbook 130: see www.nist.gov/pml/wmd/hb130-12.cfm.
** NCWM: see www.ncwm.net.
Media Contact: Mark Esser, email@example.com, 301-975-8735
NIST Reveals Switching Mechanism in Promising Computer Memory Device
Sometimes knowing that a new technology works is not enough. You also must know why it works to get marketplace acceptance. New information from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)* about how layered switching devices for novel computer memory systems work, for example, may now allow these structures to come to market sooner, helping bring about faster, lower-powered computers.
Switches based on transition-metal oxides have great potential as memory devices that retain their information even when the power is turned off. One type is made by stacking four different materials: a layer of copper and one of a metal oxide sandwiched between two metal layers that act as electrodes. Such systems can act as an on/off switch when a voltage is applied between the electrodes, but just why they behave as they do is a matter of debate.
Types of nonvolatile memory already exist—thumb drives make use of it—but they do not yet perform well enough to function as the working memory of a computer’s central processor. If metal oxides can be perfected for this use, they could enable computers that boot up in seconds and use far less energy.
To study the switching mechanism, the NIST research team built its own version, but with a twist: They used ferromagnetic metals for the electrodes instead of the nonmagnetic metals typically used. They found that when an electric field is applied between the ferromagnetic electrodes, it causes the formation of tiny copper filaments that stretch through the metal-oxide layer. The filaments, about 16 nm long, are created or annihilated depending on the direction of the applied voltage through the electrodes, making or breaking the switch connection.
“The presence of such filaments is the only explanation that makes any sense as to why our structures make such good switches,” says Curt Richter of NIST’s Semiconductor Electronics Division.
One key to the team’s discovery was their use of the physics of “spin”—a quantum property of electrons that has two possible values, either up or down. From the top electrode, the team sent a current made of electrons that had a polarized spin state, and they found that their spin state had not changed by the time the electrons reached the bottom.
“Only if a filament made of high-quality copper formed would the spins maintain their state,” Richter says. “This finding was an end in itself, but it also suggests the layered structure could have applications in ‘spintronics’ where electron spin is used to carry and process information.”
* H.-J. Jang, O.A. Kirillov, O.D. Jurchescu and C.A. Richter. Spin transport in memristive devices. Applied Physics Letters 100, 043510 (2012). DOI:10.1063/1.3679114, published online 26 January 2012.
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NIST Seeks Health Record System Manufacturers to Assist in Usability Testing
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) seeks manufacturers of electronic health record (EHR) systems to participate in a research effort to develop methods for assessing the usability of health information systems.
Usability is broadly defined by information technology professionals as a measure of how well a system can be applied by its intended users to achieve specified goals with effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction. All software systems developers strive for usability, but it is particularly important in health information systems. The usability of a health IT system can be the difference between a good and bad outcome for the patient.
The Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS)* has argued that usability may be the single biggest obstacle to widespread adoption and use of electronic health records in clinical settings. EHR systems must present and record often complex medical information, in a wide variety of formats, so that it can be easily accessed and used by clinicians and other users.
Accurately assessing usability involves more than simple surveys of user satisfaction. NIST is working to develop a basic framework for assessing the usability of health information technology systems and ultimately recommending performance-oriented user interface design guidelines for EHRs.
As part of this effort, NIST seeks system manufacturers willing to provide EHR systems for use in lab-based usability testing. NIST will provide a secure computing environment to safeguard the software and equipment during the course of the research, and the EHR software and equipment will be removed from all computers on which it is installed and returned to the manufacturer at the end of the testing period. The results of the usability testing of each EHR system will be reported to its manufacturer and used to support NIST research. Individual systems will not be identified and linked to test results in any NIST reports. The systems are for research purposes only; no actual patient data will be used or accepted.
NIST anticipates that it will take approximately one year to conduct all necessary research.
Full details of intellectual property protections for the research program are in the formal Letters of Understanding that NIST will execute with participating manufacturers. To participate in the program, manufacturers must submit a request and an executed Letter of Understanding by 5 p.m. Eastern time on March 15, 2012. Interested parties should consult the Feb. 14, 2012, Federal Register notice, “Evaluating the Usability of Electronic Health Record (EHR) Systems” (Docket No.: 120123059-2058-01) available at www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2012-02-14/pdf/2012-3415.pdf for details of the program and the required Letter of Understanding.
* See, for example, the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) 2009 report, Defining and Testing EMR Usability: Principles and Proposed Methods of EMR Usability Evaluation and Rating at www.himss.org/content/files/HIMSS_DefiningandTestingEMRUsability.pdf.
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NIST Announces Funding Opportunity to Increase Energy Efficiency in Commercial Buildings
The National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership (NIST MEP) and the Department of Energy have announced the availability of up to $1.3 million for training programs to provide commercial building professionals with critical skills needed to optimize building efficiency, reduce waste and save businesses money.
The funding, announced on Feb. 14, 2012, for the Building Construction Technology Extension Program (BCTEP) Pilot Projects, will support training centers to help managers improve energy performance in commercial buildings and manufacturing plants. To compete for the funding opportunity, universities, community and technical colleges, and trade associations will need to partner with any of the 60 nationwide MEP Centers to create training programs that leverage MEP’s efforts to help businesses create and retain jobs, increase profits and save time and money. Training will be tailored to building operators, building managers and energy service providers. The goal is to provide energy performance solutions that could reduce businesses’ energy bills by five to 20 percent.
"In addition to encouraging manufacturers to reduce and manage their current energy costs, this effort lays the groundwork for the MEP centers to work with manufacturers to adopt additional energy-saving products today as well as develop new energy saving products for the future," said Aimee Dobrzeniecki, deputy director of NIST MEP.
The goal of the training programs would be to develop and deploy a workforce capable of “re-tuning” commercial and industrial buildings to save energy for America’s manufacturers. Re-tuning is a systematic process of identifying operational problems in commercial and industrial buildings. It can use data collected from a building’s automation system to identify opportunities to improve building operations and provides guidance on implementing corrections at no cost or very low cost, leading to a reduction in the overall energy consumption.
The Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) has an existing re-tuning curriculum and support materials that were developed for large buildings with sophisticated building control systems. The laboratory wants to scale their program down to suit smaller facilities. PNNL will participate as an advisor to NIST on the re-tuning curriculum and materials, as well as in-building techniques and methods of re-tuning buildings.
NIST MEP anticipates funding one to five projects in the range of approximately $250,000 to $1,330,000 for up to two years. Applications are due on March 30, 2012. For detailed information and application requirements, see the entry at Grants.gov (www.grants.gov) for the Building Construction Technology Extension Program (BCTEP) Pilot Projects under Funding Opportunity Number 2012-BCTEP-01.
By offering valuable workforce training opportunities, the program is intended to support the Obama Administration’s Better Buildings Initiative goal of improving energy efficiency nation-wide in commercial and industrial buildings by 20 percent by 2020, reducing energy costs by nearly $40 billion and creating American jobs.
NIST MEP plans to host a webinar information session in early March 2012. To register, or learn more about the MEP, see www.nist.gov/mep.
Media Contact: Jennifer Huergo, firstname.lastname@example.org, (301) 975-6343
NIST Requests Comments on Updated Guide to Handling Computer Security Incidents
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has published for public comment a draft update to a guide for organizations managing their responses to computer security incidents such as hacking attacks. The authors cast a wide net to gather best practices from industry, government agencies and academia for the Computer Security Incident Handling Guide (NIST Special Publication 800-61, Revision 2).
As much as every government agency works to keep its computer systems operating smoothly and safely, they are regularly threatened. And this trend is growing. Events such as botnets that cause a “denial of service” to a government web server or employees being tricked into opening emails that harbor malware, are regularly in the news.
Having a well-designed computer security incident response plan to follow during an attack provides structure to a possibly chaotic situation and allows the appropriate actions in the correct order, such as informing law enforcement officers or other agencies or departments that need to know, to be performed in a timely way. Incident response plans can assist in minimizing loss or theft of information, and service disruptions after a problem is identified.
Government agencies are required by the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) to establish incident response capabilities and designate points of contact with the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) office within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
The revised guide is designed to help both established and newly formed incident response teams to create an incident response policy and plan. The plan should have a mission, strategies and goals, an organizational approach to incident response, metrics for measuring the response capability, and a built-in process for updating the plan as needed.
The revised publication reflects the changes in threats and incidents. Unlike many threats several years ago, which tended to be short-lived, fast-paced, and comparatively easier to detect, many of today’s threats are more stealthy, specifically designed to quietly, slowly spread to other hosts, gathering information over extended periods of time and eventually leading to loss of sensitive data.
The NIST guidance recommends that a review of each incident should be conducted. Reviewing the incident response after an attack permits an agency to prepare for future incidents and to provide stronger protection for systems and data. “This revised version encourages incident teams to think of the attack in two ways,” explains Paul Cichonski, lead author. “One is by method—what’s happening and what needs to be fixed. The other is to consider an attack’s impact by measuring how long the system was down, what type of information was stolen, and what resources are required to recover from the incident.”
Copies of SP 800-61, Revision 2, Computer Security Incident Handling Guide, are available at http://csrc.nist.gov/publications/drafts/800-61-rev2/draft-sp800-61rev2.pdf. NIST requests comments on the draft by March 16, 2012. Please submit comments to email@example.com with "Comments SP 800-61" in the subject line.
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