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Tech Beat - July 10, 2013

Tech Beat Archives

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Editor: Michael Baum
Date created: July 10, 2013
Date Modified: July 10, 2013 
Contact: inquiries@nist.gov

NIST Releases Draft Outline of Cybersecurity Framework for Critical Infrastructure

As part of its efforts to develop a voluntary framework to improve cybersecurity in the nation's critical infrastructure, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has posted a draft outline of the document to invite public review and gather comments.

The Executive Order calling for NIST to develop the framework directs the agency to collaborate with the public and private sectors. The draft outline reflects input received in response to a February 2013 Request for Information, discussions at two workshops and other forms of stakeholder engagement.

The outline proposes a core structure for the framework and includes a user's guide and an executive overview that describes the purpose, need and application of the framework in business. Reflecting received comments that emphasized the importance of executive involvement in managing cyber risks, the framework is designed to help business leaders evaluate how prepared their organizations are to deal with cyber threats and their impacts.

"We are pleased that many private-sector organizations have put significant time and resources into the framework development process," said Adam Sedgewick, senior information technology policy advisor at NIST. "We believe that both large and small organizations will be able use the final framework to reduce cyber risks to critical infrastructure by aligning and integrating cybersecurity-related policies and plans, functions and investments into their overall risk management."

NIST also released a draft compendium of informative references composed of existing standards, practices and guidelines to reduce cyber risks to critical infrastructure industries. This material was released to foster discussion at upcoming workshops and to further encourage private-sector input before NIST publishes the official draft Cybersecurity Framework for public comment in October 2013.

Interested parties are invited to review the draft framework outline and offer comments before and during the next workshop, July 10-12, 2013, in San Diego. Direct comments should be forwarded to cyberframework@nist.gov. The draft outline and other documents related to the Cybersecurity Framework are available at http://www.nist.gov/itl/cyberframework.cfm.

Media Contact: Jennifer Huergo, jennifer.huergo@nist.gov, 301-975-6343

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NIST Offers Guidance on Building 21st-Century Forensic Labs

forensic lab
Designing and constructing forensic science laboratories to meet today’s more challenging demands is the goal of a new handbook from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).
Credit: Anthony Pidgeon/National Library of Medicine
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A new National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) handbook provides law enforcement agencies with a detailed how-to guide on the planning, design, construction and relocation of forensic science laboratories. The document not only outlines the process of creating a new crime lab from start to finish, it also provides guidance on integrating the latest scientific developments, efficiency improvements and sustainability practices.

The new handbook is intended for laboratory directors, architects, designers, builders and others who have an interest in planning and constructing the 21st-century crime lab or renovating an existing lab to meet today's more challenging forensic science demands. The 98-page NIST Interagency/Internal Report (NISTIR) 7941, Forensic Science Laboratories: Handbook for Facilities Planning, Design, Construction, and Relocation, can be downloaded from www.nist.gov/oles/forensics/facilities_forensics.cfm. Other resources are available on the same website, including a diagram map of the facility planning process, a facility planning checklist and various sample forms and documents.

NISTIR 7941 models itself on the four-phase cycle for creating new laboratory space: planning, design, construction and relocation. One process chapter is devoted to each phase, with each chapter including the following features:

  • Project team roles and responsibilities within the particular process;
  • Process diagrams and narrative descriptions;
  • Tools to support each phase; and
  • An actions checklist.

Many sections also include a list of frequently asked questions (FAQs).

In April 1998, the Department of Justice's National Institute of Justice (NIJ) published the first guide for planning and building forensic laboratories as developed by NIST staff. That document has been consistently popular for 15 years, receiving frequent hits on the NIJ website. However, recent developments in forensic science as well as in sustainable building practices have outpaced the original handbook.

NIST convened the Forensic Science Laboratories Facilities Technical Working Group in November 2011 to support the preparation of the new guide. The group included 16 professionals with expertise in laboratory management, planning, architecture and engineering. NIJ provided funding for the project.

Media Contact: Michael E. Newman, michael.newman@nist.gov, 301-975-3025

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Study Provides Details on Portable Generator Emissions and Carbon Monoxide Exposure

Despite warnings to the contrary, many people continue to operate portable generators indoors or close to open windows, doors, or vents, resulting in more than 500 deaths since 2005. And each year, more than 20,000 people visit the emergency room and more than 4,000 are hospitalized due to exposure to toxic levels of carbon monoxide (CO), a colorless, odorless gas. Fatality is highest among people 65 and older.

A new computer modeling study* by National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) researchers scrutinizes the deadly relationship between CO emissions and occupant exposure. They conducted simulations of 87 types of dwellings representative of the U.S. housing stock with a generator operating within a room in the house, its basement, or attached garage.

The study considered two scenarios of portable-generator operation: continuous operation for 18 hours and operation with some type of control technology that causes the generator to shut off periodically, or so-called "burst" releases.

Regardless of housing type or location, generators that release as little as 27 grams of CO per hour continuously for 18 hours cause 80 percent of the modeled cases to result in an exposure predicted to reach dangerous levels. In comparison, current commercially available generators that were tested by NIST in a previous study emitted CO at a rate of 500 to 4,000 grams per hour.**

For generators characterized by burst releases of CO, the NIST team found that CO emissions of more than 139 grams resulted in dangerous levels of exposure.

The findings, reported to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, could help in setting limits on CO emissions from portable generators.

*A.K. Persily, Y. Wang, B.J. Polidoro and S J. Emmerich, Residential Carbon Monoxide Exposure due to Indoor Generator Operation: Effects of Source Location and Emission Rate (NIST Technical Note 1782), June 2013. Downloadable from: www.nist.gov/manuscript-publication-search.cfm?pub_id=912394.
**S.J. Emmerich, A.K. Persily and L. Wang, Modeling and Measuring the Effects of Portable Gasoline Powered Generator Exhaust on Indoor Carbon Monoxide Level (NIST Technical Note 1781), Feb 2013.

Media Contact: Mark Bello, mark.bello@nist.gov, 301-975-3776

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NIST Workshop Gets a 'Grip' on Robotics Challenge

Even though modern industrial robots are becoming nimbler and more capable, they still need to get a good grip on things—the equivalent of hands that are as agile and dexterous as the human variety.

robot manipulator arm
The NIST Dexterous Manipulation Testbed features a seven degree-of-freedom highly dexterous robot and a seven degree-of-freedom, three fingered robotic hand. The testbed is used to investigate new measurement science to gauge the operational characteristics of manipulation for manufacturing tasks.
Credit: Falco/NIST
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How to tackle the thorny challenge, known in robotics speak as dexterous manipulation, was the aim of a recent workshop hosted by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). The workshop featured speakers from manufacturing companies (end users), along with developers of robot arms and of advanced robot "hands." Proceedings of the workshop, which NIST is using as it crafts a technology roadmap to guide measurement science research in the field, are summarized in a new report.*

Factors driving the quest for human-like robot arms and grippers are quality control, cost, throughput and worker safety. According to one manufacturer at the workshop, two-thirds of his company's worker compensation cases are ergonomic disorders, mostly due to repetitive strain, over-extension and over-exertion.

Robotic arms are now starting to come in pairs, mounted to either a fixed or rotary torso with each arm having seven joints instead of the conventional six. This option boosts the dexterity of a robot and allows it to move its elbow around obstacles while maintaining precise placement at its working point.

Some models incorporate force sensing at each joint. Force-based control introduces new assembly capabilities, and it improves safety, so that robots can operate nearer to workers.

Called hands, grippers, manipulators and end effectors, the business ends of robots are now largely single-purpose tools, designed to grasp parts with a specific shape. More capable, multiple-function grippers, often called robotic hands, are edging into the market, but they are a far cry from the universal gripper that is a holy grail of robotics research.

Meanwhile, new robotic arms and hands aimed at the manufacturing industry are hitting the commercial market and university researchers are experimenting with a growing array of robotic hands that hold the promise of greater dexterity. But whether these inventions can stand up, reliably and cost-effectively, to the rigors of a factory is one of many unknowns.

And even if a robot only needs to manipulate a single type of part, it still will need to detect and grasp the part in high degrees of clutter.

"Manufacturers face many challenges in implementing next-generation automation, especially when their production mix involves low volumes of parts with high mixtures of part types," according to the report. "Small batches, which might include even batches of one, require quick turnover rates and the ability to reprogram a multiplicity of involved processes." These types of operations require adaptive grippers that are, as one representative from a consumer products company put it, "blind to shape."

Workshop discussions focused on the need for metrics and tests for judging the dexterity and overall performance of emerging robotic arm and hand technologies. Key areas of need include metrics for assessing reliability, ease of programming, reachability, energy consumption per payload, and coordination if multiple arms or hands are used. Along with metrics, test methods and artifacts can help establish common understanding of what the performance requirements are and how different solutions address them.

Participants recommended a framework to evaluate tasks and parts as a means to evaluate the effectiveness of candidate technologies. Competitions were suggested as an incentive to drive research and development.

These and other recommendations were seen as steps toward solving the ultimate challenge identified by workshop participants: How to drive the transition of research solutions into real-world solutions for industry.

*J. Falco, J. Marvel and E. Messina, Dexterous Manipulation for Manufacturing Applications Workshop (NISTIR 7940), June 2013. Downloadable from: www.nist.gov/manuscript-publication-search.cfm?pub_id=913795

Media Contact: Mark Bello, mark.bello@nist.gov, 301-975-3776

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NIST Seeks Proposals to Establish New Center of Excellence on Advanced Materials Research

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has announced a competition to create an Advanced Materials Center of Excellence to foster interdisciplinary collaborations between NIST researchers and scientists and engineers from academia and industry. The new center will focus on accelerating the discovery and development of advanced materials through innovations in measurement science and in new modeling, simulation, data and informatics tools.

Block Copolymer
Computer models of polymer mixtures studied at NIST can help develop improved lithography resists for nanomanufacturing.
Credit: NIST
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NIST anticipates funding the new center at approximately $5 million per year for five years, with the possibility of renewing the award for an additional five years. Funding is subject to the availability of funds through NIST's appropriations. The competition is open to accredited institutions of higher education and nonprofit organizations located in the United States and its territories. The proposing institution may work as part of a consortium that could include other academic institutions; nonprofit organizations; companies; or state, tribal or local governments.

Advanced materials, such as new high-performance alloys or ceramics, polymers, glasses, nanocomposites or biomaterials, are a key factor in global competitiveness. They drive the development of new products and new technical capabilities, and can create whole new industries. However, currently, the average time from laboratory discovery of a new material to its first commercial use can take up to 20 years. Reducing that lag by half is one of the primary goals of the administration's Materials Genome Initiative,* announced in 2011.

In many cases, the lengthy time for materials development is due to a repetitive process of trial and error experimentation that would be familiar to Thomas Edison. The Materials Genome Initiative and the new NIST center focus on dramatically reducing this through the use of measurement and data-based research tools: massive materials databases, computer models and computer simulations. The new center will provide a mechanism to merge NIST expertise and resources in materials science, materials characterization, reference data and standards with leading research capabilities in industry and academia for designing, producing and processing advanced materials.

Full details of the solicitation, including eligibility requirements, selection criteria, legal requirements and the mechanism for submitting proposals are found in an announcement of Federal Funding Opportunity (FFO) posted at Grants.gov under funding opportunity number 2013-NIST-ADV-MAT-COE-01.

Applications will only be accepted through the Grants.gov website. The deadline for applications is 11:59 p.m. Eastern time, Aug. 12, 2013.

NIST will offer a webinar presentation on the Advanced Materials Center of Excellence on July 15, 2013, at 2 p.m. Eastern time. The webinar will offer general guidance on preparing proposals and provide an opportunity to answer questions from the public about the program. Participation in the webinar is not required to apply. There is no cost for the webinar, but participants must register in advance. Information on, and registration for the webinar is available at www.nist.gov/mgi.

*For more on the Materials Genome Initiative, see www.whitehouse.gov/mgi and www.nist.gov/mgi.

Media Contact: Michael Baum, michael.baum@nist.gov, 301-975-2763

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NIST Announces Three Funding Opportunities in Engineering Research

Funding opportunities for research in the areas of disaster-resilient buildings and communities, sustainable construction and manufacturing, and "smart" firefighting have been announced by the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

NIST anticipates selecting one project on each topic and awarding about $300,000 per project.  Electronic applications are due no later than 11:59 p.m., Eastern Time, July 25, 2013.  The deadline for paper applications is 5 p.m., Eastern Time, July 25, 2013.

NIST's Engineering Laboratory seeks proposals in the following areas:

Disaster resilience of buildings, infrastructure and communities—Develop, organize, convene, and summarize a workshop on enhancing community-centric resilience to natural and human-caused hazards, where resilience performance is the ability to withstand, respond to and recover quickly from a disruptive hazard event .

Sustainable construction and manufacturing—Develop, organize, convene and summarize a workshop on enhancing sustainability of construction and manufacturing practice, with a focus on using energy and materials efficiently over the life cycle of processes, products and systems.

Smart firefighting—Assist NIST in developing a technology roadmap for smart firefighting, the application of  "available data, computer power, communication technologies and fire dynamics knowledge to enable markedly better situational awareness, predictive models, deployment models and tactical decision-making on the fireground."

The awards will be administered through the Engineering Laboratory's Measurement and Engineering Research and Standards Research Grants Program.

To read the announcement of this Federal Funding Opportunity, go to grants.gov at http://www07.grants.gov/search/search.do?&mode=VIEW&oppId=236745.

Media Contact: Mark Bello, mark.bello@nist.gov, 301-975-3776

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NIST Calls for Suggestions to Speed Computer Incident Teams Responses

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has issued a Request for Information (RFI)* seeking guidance for a new special publication focused on improving coordination between Computer Security Incident Response Teams (CSIRTs) and reducing delays when reacting to computer security incidents.

Even though government and industry defend their information systems against hackers, attacks are sometimes successful. When that happens, speed is of the essence.

NIST's existing Computer Security Incident Handling Guide** provides guidance on organizing a CSIRT, detecting attacks, preventing ongoing damage, repairing systems, restarting operations and reporting breaches.

The RFI calls for input for a new publication, Computer Security Incident Coordination, which will supply guidance, methodologies, procedures and processes to cut response time and limit information loss when multiple organizations are involved.

NIST requests information about best practices, impediments to information sharing and response, risks of collaborative incident response, successful technical standards and technologies, and viewpoints on incident coordination objectives. Authors will use results from the RFI and other information from agencies and stakeholders to draft the new publication.

Please email comments to incidentcoordination@nist.gov by July 29, 2013 and include your name, company name, and cite "Computer Security Incident Coordination" in all correspondence. All comments received by the deadline will be posted at csrc.nist.gov without change or redaction. For more information see the RFI, or contact Lee Badger at lee.badger@nist.gov.

**Available at www.nist.gov/manuscript-publication-search.cfm?pub_id=911736.

Media Contact: Evelyn Brown, evelyn.brown@nist.gov, 301-975-5661

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New Photon Detector for Advanced Communications Knows When to Not Know

In some standardized tests, the graders add in a penalty factor for wrong answers to discourage students from randomly guessing. It turns out that there's a lesson here for advanced communications as well. In some experimental communications schemes where information is carried by light pulses containing one or even less than one photon on average, it's better not to guess if you're not sure.

These systems, which could be used in applications as varied as the internal messaging in a quantum computer or ultra-secure long distance communications, would encode information as one of four different phase states of the photons—a property they have when considered as waveforms. Cool, yes, but there's a certain amount of overlap in the phases that could lead to ambiguous answers. In those cases you want your photon detector to be a smart student and not guess, because in secure communications, wrong is worse than "I don't know."

In new work reported in Nature Communications* researchers from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the Joint Quantum Institute (JQI) have built a single-photon detector that does just that, making highly accurate measurements of incoming photons while knowing when not to give a conclusive answer. Their system achieves error rates as much as nine times lower than more conventional measurement systems.

Their work is lucidly explained in "Quantum Information in Low Light" at the JQI Web site: http://jqi.umd.edu/news/quantum-information-low-light.

*F.E. Becerra, J. Fan, A.L. Migdall. "Implementation of generalized quantum measurements for unambiguous discrimination of multiple non-orthogonal coherent states," Nature Communications, 4, 2028 (2013).

Media Contact: Michael Baum, michael.baum@nist.gov, 301-975-2763

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