Issue No. 03 - March (2009 vol. 42)
DOI Bookmark: http://doi.ieeecomputersociety.org/10.1109/MC.2009.92
New Technique Could Increase Chip Performance
Researchers have faced numerous challenges in trying to reduce feature sizes to either make chips more powerful while maintaining their size or maintain their performance while decreasing their size.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers have developed a way to accomplish this by using a new type of interference lithography, a common chip-making technique. This approach could produce grids of parallel lines just 25 nanometers wide on various substrates—including silicon, metal, and glass—using a continuous-wave laser.
The smallest features on most computer chips are 65 nm, although 45-nm processors have begun rolling off production lines in volume at Intel. Labs like those at IBM, NEC, and Toshiba are working on prototype 32-nm chips.
The MIT research is important because the semiconductor industry is finding it increasingly difficult to use lithography to create smaller feature sizes, noted Nathan Brookwood, analyst with Insight 64, a market-research firm.
Mark Schattenburg, senior research scientist at MIT's Kavli Institute, said his research team is focusing only on its lithography technique, not the design of processors themselves. However, he noted, the new technique—called scanning-beam interference lithography (SBIL)—could be used to build chips.
Typically, manufacturers produce chip features via photolithography, which uses light to imprint circuit patterns onto a substrate. However, making features smaller than the wavelength of light being used—typically 193 nm—requires techniques that can be difficult and expensive.
Research scientist Ralf Heilmann and colleagues at MIT's Space Nanotechnology Laboratory developed a nanoruler to create their 25-nm patterns. Nanorulers are large machines that create feature patterns by superpositioning light waves from two lasers that have 351-nm wavelengths.
SBIL etches 200-nm-wide alternating light and dark zones—consisting of 25-nm lines that are 175 nm apart. The technique then shifts the interference pattern repeatedly until it etches a set of 25-nm lines that are 25 nm apart.
Before the lines are etched, a processor in the nanoruler determines the accuracy of the resulting light patterns. If they are inaccurate, the nanoruler uses sound waves to physically move its light structure to make the correct patterns.
According to Schattenburg, this technique is economical because of its simplicity and because it doesn't use expensive lithographic tools or costly processes like those employing chemically amplified photoresists.
Producing nanoscale patterns could be useful in many nanotechnology manufacturing and research applications—including biology, pharmacology, and electronics—as well as in chip making. Etching nanopatterns on solar cells, for example, could help them capture photons and electrons more efficiently.
As is the case with any new research technology, Brookwood said, the challenge for the MIT researchers will be to take their work out of the lab and make it scale to volumes needed for mass production.
Malware Uses Two-Stage Attack to Compromise Victims
Security experts are warning of a new type of malware that infects one computer and then makes the victim send other machines it contacts to hacker-controlled malicious websites. The malware can even affect computers that run security software in some cases.
Trojan.Flush.M—which attacks machines via Ethernet or Wi-fi networks—changes Domain Name System (DNS) settings on victims' computers and redirects them to hackers' websites. These sites either infect victims with malware or subject them to phishing attacks.
The Trojan, which belongs to the DNSChanger family, typically comes disguised as a codec or browser plug-in that a website tells users to download to view online videos. Hackers could use other social-engineering methods to entice users to download the Trojan, noted Kevin Haley, director of product management for Symantec Security Response.
The malicious software uses a two-stage attack. It initially attacks a Windows machine, which can then infect other computers, regardless of the operating system they use.
The Trojan starts by placing a malware-controlled Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol server on the initial victim's machine.
When other systems try to get onto the network to which the infected machine belongs, or when computers on the affected network try to renew the IP addresses they use, they first try to contact the network's regular DHCP server. The Trojan tries to intercept the contact. If the legitimate DHCP server doesn't respond in time, the Trojan connects victims to the malware-installed server.
At this point, the rogue server assigns IP addresses to victims. It also changes their IP configurations so that they connect to rogue DNS servers, which sends them information that directs them to hacker-controlled webpages.
The pages could infect the unsuspecting visitor with malware, said Paul Ferguson, threat researcher with security vendor TrendMicro.
They could also subject victims to phishing schemes. The hacker-controlled sites could appear to be legitimate webpages belonging to banks, which could entice victims to enter passwords and other personal information that hackers could use maliciously.
The hackers have a list of banks they can pretend to be. If the victim types the legitimate URL of one of them, the Trojan identifies the URL and routes the visitor to a phishing site that appears to belong to the bank.
Trojan.Flush.M could affect any device connected to or trying to link to a compromised network, including smart phones.
Several security vendors have products that detect this type of Trojan, said Haley. If a user isn't working with one of these products, the attack may succeed because security systems generally don't check the validity of the resulting fake DHCP server or DNS settings.
Software Lets Devices Negotiate to Share Digital Content
AUS company has developed software that lets groups of users automatically form ad hoc networks that let participants work together, share content, and, in the future, use the hardware and software resources connected to these grids.
Wireless Grids Corp. has launched a beta version of its Innovaticus software, which essentially lets mobile and fixed devices negotiate automatically with one another over various wired and wireless network types to create an ad hoc grid.
Using a simple, proprietary, automated technology for negotiating grid membership, Innovaticus can grant invited parties the ability to connect to an ad hoc network and work with resources, within different access levels set by the grid operators.
Users can employ Innovaticus to share information and create grids as they wish utilizing Web- or other network-based resources, explained Lee McKnight, Wireless Grids president and chair. He is also an associate professor at Syracuse University, which has licensed intellectual property to the company.
Wireless Grids has demonstrated Innovaticus' ability to let an iPhone access photos, printers, speakers, and screen-sharing capabilities from other sources.
Users could also share software resources, such as those that spreadsheets provide, noted Norman Lewis, Wireless Grids' chief strategy officer.
This approach could let individuals and businesses access new capabilities and content without significant additional expense, McKnight explained.
Copyright issues are a concern in a shared environment, McKnight noted, so Wireless Grids has technology in place to prevent unauthorized access of protected content. He declined to provide details about this technology.
According to McKnight, the company is focusing on the youth market because that group is particularly interested in socially oriented technology. However, he added, applications for other markets—including businesses and government agencies—are possible.
Wireless Grids tested the software at a Syracuse University on-campus residence hall last year. Syracuse University; Carnegie Mellon University; and Clear Channel Communications, a mobile- and on-demand-media company, will participate in an upcoming expanded beta test program.
Individuals or organizations can test the beta version if they enter into a nondisclosure agreement with Wireless Grids and register at http://wgrids.com.
Meanwhile, Wireless Grids and several universities are continuing research into the technology.
The company expects to start selling a full-featured Innovaticus product by the 2009 winter holiday shopping season, according to McKnight.
Wireless Grids plans to provide the software at no cost to individual consumers and to charge royalties to broadband service providers, equipment manufacturers, and companies that offer Innovaticus to their customers.
In the long run, McKnight said, the company wants the technology to become an industry standard.
News Briefs written by Linda Dailey Paulson, a freelance technology writer based in Ventura, California. Contact her at email@example.com.