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- Mowing the astroturfers
A grassroots movement is one that emerges and evolves naturally, growing new support as it does so. "Astroturfing" is the opposite of that. It is a movement support for which is bought and paid for. It has the look of a grassroots movement, but a closer inspection reveals it to be fake. Now, writing in the International Journal of Web and Grid Services, Australian computer scientists have surveyed the techniques available to detect astroturfing on the internet. The term derives from the synthetic green grass - AstroTurf - often used in sports arenas and public areas as an alternative to living turf.
Syed Mahbub and colleagues at La Trobe University, in Melbourne, explain that astroturfing represents a significant threat in the business world, in politics, public health, and many other realms. Fake support for a controversial system, product, or service can persuade unwitting observers and stakeholders of merit, where no merit is due. This can have dire consequences for genuine political candidates in an election, for instance, or for sales of better rival products, and adoption of systems and services that are in reality better than the astroturfed ones. Political blogs, news portals, and review websites are carpeted with Astroturf to the detriment of everyone but the astroturfers and their associates.
At its most mundane, astroturfing might lead to someone buying a, perhaps inferior, green widget from company A in preference to the better blue widget from Company B. At the other extreme, one might see a politician achieve election success where support has been entirely faked and the electorate duped into disregarding the genuine candidate.
Researchers in social media, e-commerce, and politics, are looking to find detection methods for spotting astroturfing. Mahbub and colleagues point out that there are content analysis techniques, individual and group identification techniques, linguistic feature analysis, authorship attribution techniques, and machine learning all being used with varying degrees of success to detect astroturfing.
"Astroturfing, in the present world, is a global phenomenon," the team writes. "The magnitude of its effect is significantly threatening the integrity and consistency of information we receive from the internet. Thus, the prevention and detection of astroturfing demand more attention from the research community." Their research paper offers researchers a taxonomy of those detection techniques that might help in the development of better approaches to the detection of this insidious problem.
Mahbub, S., Pardede, E., Kayes, A.S.M. and Rahayu, W. (2019) 'Controlling astroturfing on the internet: a survey on detection techniques and research challenges', Int. J. Web and Grid Services, Vol. 15, No. 2, pp.139-158.
- Switching on electric vehicles has health benefits
Could the health benefits and reduced costs to healthcare systems be enough to justify subsidizing charging infrastructure to allow society to switch from the internal combustion engine to electric vehicles faster than current trends predict?
Writing in the International Journal of Electric and Hybrid Vehicles, Mitchell House and David Wright of the University of Ottawa, Canada, suggest that the migration from polluting vehicles that burn fossil fuels to electric vehicles, ideally using electricity generated sustainably could significantly reduce the incidence of cardiopulmonary illness due to air pollution. This would lead not only to less employee absence from work through illness but also lead to broad improvements in quality and length of life.
The team's paper compares the financial costs of building electric vehicle charging infrastructure using empirical data with health costs to see if there is a net benefit. They have found that in the majority of plausible scenarios of balanced growth, when the number of vehicles rises and so does the number of charging stations, there is a positive net benefit to society.
"Since health benefits accrue to governments, businesses, and individuals, these results justify the use of government incentives for charging station deployment and this paper quantifies the impact of different levels of incentive," the team concludes.
The team explains that the Electric Vehicles Initiative (EVI) (an organization supported by 16 governments) has a target of 20 million electric vehicles by the year 2020. This was based on a notional growth rate of 75% per year defined in 2016. At that time, EV sales amounted to more than half a million (550000) worldwide in 2015, which represented growth of 70% on 2014. Electric vehicle sales have continued to grow, with 2017 and 2018 experiencing 61% and 64% year-over-year growth respectively.
Their results suggest that a 75% growth rate for electric vehicle uptake is not unrealistic. Moreover, in the face of anthropogenic climate change and the detrimental effects of health on pollution, some observers see the transition to electric vehicles as being a matter of serious urgency. This has to take into consideration the electricity generating mix from which the vehicles derive their power. If electricity is mostly supplied from power stations generating electricity by burning fossil fuels, including coal, gas, and oil, then many of the benefits are lost. This is particularly true in terms of climate impact at the global level but also in terms of sulfur oxide, nitrogen oxide, and particulate pollution. This has been witnessed in China, India, and Russia, as electricity demand has risen rapidly.
This latest study points out that governments have not been keen to support charging infrastructure due to a variety of industry players being involved and their responsibility to carry some of the cost. This would include electric utility companies who would profit directly from charging vehicles, out-of-town shopping centers that could attract more customers with charging points in their car parks, the manufacturers of vehicles and a new generation of "gas station" operators.
"The savings that can be achieved by 2021 are higher than the cost of installing charging station infrastructure over a wide range of scenarios," the team writes. "These net benefits apply both to balanced growth in charging stations (in which the number of charging stations is proportional to the number of EVs) and also to rapid build out (in which charging stations are built over 2-4 years in order to achieve government EV targets for 2020 and 2025)." Ultimately, it is the reduced financial burden of a healthier populace that offsets the costs.
House, M.L. and Wright, D.J. (2019) 'Using the health benefits of electric vehicles to justify charging infrastructure incentives', Int. J. Electric and Hybrid Vehicles, Vol. 11, No. 2, pp.85-105.
- Counting the crowd
Visual surveillance of crowds is an important part of event management as well as policing. Now, a team from Malaysia and Saudi Arabia have looked at the various tools that have become available in recent years for automatically assessing the number of people in a crowd and determining the dynamics and movement of that crowd. Writing in the International Journal of Computational Vision and Robotics, the team finds several gaps in the current state-of-the-art technology and points developers to how those gaps might be filled.
Huma Chaudhry and Mohd Shafry Mohd Rahim of Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, Tanzila Saba of Prince Sultan University, Riyadh, and Amjad Rehman of Al Yamamah University, also in Riyadh, point out that computer vision research has moved towards crowd control and management in recent years with a view to addressing issues of security and safety when large numbers of people are gathered in one place. The fundamental problem that has to be addressed is how to manage multiple data streams from closed-circuit television (CCTV) and other sources that monitor crowd dynamics at events, in busy towns and cities and elsewhere. There a limit to how visual assessment of CCTV and so automated, computerised solutions are needed.
The team highlights some major events where there have been numerous casualties. Sometimes casualties at some events might be fewer than 100 people, but larger events might see thousands of casualties over a prolonged period. Automated crowd assessment could open up new ways t understand crowd dynamics and reduce those numbers. Some of the same insights from aerial crowd surveillance and other methods might also help in disaster relief activities where large numbers of people might be present in a given location.
Chaudhry, H., Rahim, M.S.M., Saba, T. and Rehman, A. (2019) 'Crowd detection and counting using a static and dynamic platform: state of the art', Int. J. Computational Vision and Robotics, Vol. 9, No. 3, pp.228–259.
- Have you got the right personality for Facebook?How do personality traits affect one's use of the online social networking site, Facebook? That is the question researchers from Greece hope to answer in a paper in the International Journal of Internet Marketing and Advertising. The team surveyed 367 university students and analysed their answers concerning Facebook with the backdrop of different personality traits: extraversion, neuroticism, agreeableness, openness, and conscientiousness.
The team report that "agreeable individuals use Facebook to express their orientation to other people rather than to themselves," whereas "extroverts use Facebook as a relationship building mechanism". They add that neurotic people strive to bring out the best of themselves. Oddly, the personality traits of openness and conscientiousness do not seem to affect significantly Facebook use.
The bottom line is that extraversion is the main driver for Facebook use. Extroverts are heavy users and have more friends and interact with them and others at a higher rate. But, neurotic people also use it heavily to create a comprehensive and detailed profile of themselves to present to the public. There are limitations to the research in that those surveyed were students and some of them may well be aware of research into personality types and their use of social media, whereas the lay public would perhaps be less aware of such research. The obvious next step is to survey a wider group of people to reduce any inherent bias in the results.
Hatzithomas, L., Misirlis, N., Boutsouki, C. and Vlachopoulou, M. (2019) 'Understanding the role of personality traits on Facebook intensity', Int. J. Internet Marketing and Advertising, Vol. 13, No. 2, pp.99–119.
- Mortality and climate
Climate variability, which might arise through global warming or other factors has been shown to have an impact on mortality rates in sub-Saharan Africa, according to research published in the International Journal of Environment and Sustainable Development.
Baishali Bakshi of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, in St Paul, Minnesota, USA, Raphael Nawrotzki of Deutsche Evaluierungsinstitut der Entwicklungszusammenarbeit (DEval) in Bonn, Germany, Joshua Donato of Houston Engineering, Inc. In Maple Grove, Minnesota, and Luisa Silva Lelis of Universidade de Sao Paulo, Piracicaba, Brazil, explain how the persistence of high mortality rates in this region are stifling development and sustainable development in particular.
They have look at climate variables over the last half a century and more to see if climate patterns correlated with mortality rates. Any insights in this regard might then be returned to policymakers, healthcare, and education to find ways to ameliorate the effects and perhaps lower mortality rates and thence allow sustainable development to proceed without this intrinsic hindrance.
The team looked at elevated mortality in rural Kenya, Mali, and Malawi during the period 2008 to 2009 and then analysed this against climate variability at this time against a long-term climate normal period, 1961-1990. The results were quite enlightening: Cold snaps led to increased mortality in Kenya but reduced mortality in Mali and Malawi, the team reports. Too much rain, as well as droughts, was also associated with increased mortality in Kenya and Malawi. Moreover, adverse climatic conditions increased mortality where HIV/AIDS was prevalence but led to lower mortality in malaria-stricken areas.
"Programs for reducing climate-related mortality through early warning systems, agricultural extension services, and improved access to health infrastructure will help more fully realise sustainable development goals of mortality reduction for sub-Saharan Africa," the team concludes.
Bakshi, B., Nawrotzki, R.J., Donato, J.R. and Lelis, L.S. (2019) 'Exploring the link between climate variability and mortality in Sub-Saharan Africa', Int. J. Environment and Sustainable Development, Vol. 18, No. 2, pp.206-237.
- Pay-what-you-want restaurants
Haggling will be familiar to anyone who has visited a market during the last few thousand years! If a deal is to be done between hawker and customer, then the price has to be right. A modern twist on this is that the seller has no input and the customer simply pays what they want for the goods; although there has always been free access to some things where a donation is welcomed. It is rare that this approach becomes the predominant pricing model although there have been numerous experiments, such as pay-what-you-want for digital goods online, including music from famous artists.
Chawan, V. (2019) 'A pay-what-you-want pricing model for restaurants', Int. J. Services and Operations Management, Vol. 32, No. 4, pp.431-449.
- Finding fake reviews
Many online shoppers will take a look at the reviews for the product or service they're about to purchase. The majority will presumably trust that the e-commerce site will only be posting genuine reviews of any given product, posted by other customers. However, as several recent high-profile cases have shown this is not always the case. Unfortunately, e-commerce sites are littered with fake reviews. These can persuade innocent shoppers to make a purchase and anticipate a certain level of quality to which the product or service they receive ultimately does not reach.
Even the most respected of sites can succumb to fake reviews because it is very difficult to automate detection despite the many protections that some operators of such sites have implemented to do so. Now, writing in the International Journal of High Performance Computing and Networking, a team from China has demonstrated how a dynamic multimode network might be employed to efficiently detect fake reviews.
There are four fundamental concepts that might be examined to detect fake reviews, explain Jun Zhao and Hong Wang of the School of Information Science and Engineering, at Shandong Normal University, China. These are the quality of the merchandise, the honesty of the review, the trustworthiness of the reviewer, and the reliability of the e-commerce site. However, even taken together these cannot discern whether an unscrupulous merchant has employed third parties to post favourable but fake reviews of their products and services. In order to more subtly detect fake reviews, the team's dynamic approach utilizes three algorithms to uncover the nuances common to fake reviews.
Zhao, J. and Wang, H. (2019) 'Detecting fake reviews via dynamic multimode network', Int. J. High Performance Computing and Networking, Vol. 13, No. 4, pp.408-416.
- Honeypots could attract the lawyers too
In the context of information technology, IT, a "honeypot" is an attractive online destination usually established to attract malicious third parties who then, assuming they have reached a valuable resource unwittingly reveal details about themselves in order to access what they perceive is within the honeypot. A honeypot might also be referred to as a honeytrap.
However, writing in the International Journal of Information and Computer Security, US researchers caution that the use of a honeypot to gather personal or private data albeit of a malicious third party, or hacker, may well be in breach of local and perhaps even federal laws in some situations. Use of a honeypot may also leave the operator open to issues of legal liability because of the deception that is the honeypot by definition.
Also, by opening a honeypot on a system it might attract hackers who then find a way to access the genuine parts of the network or other system and so compromise that legitimate content in some way, exposing the honeypot operator to liability for damages caused.
Having recognized the putative legal implications of operating a honeypot, the team offers recommendations for how to detect and deceive malicious third parties who may be attempting to fraudulently access the actual online resource without compromising the operator. Moreover, by taking a properly legally compliant approach to a honeypot, the evidence accrued from third parties might then ultimately become useful and admissible in the prosecution of that third party.
Brown, A.J. and Andel, T.R. (2019) "What"s in your honeypot: a privacy compliance perspective", Int. J. Information and Computer Security, Vol. 11, No. 3, pp.289–309.
- Finding the freelance cheats
"The modern contract cheating industry allows students and ghostwriters to connect to each other over the internet, often using through an essay mill, agency website or other third-party service," explains Thomas Lancaster Department of Computing, Imperial College London, UK, in the International Journal of Indian Culture and Business Management.
He adds that such contract cheating sees students recruiting a third party to create original work on their behalf and then submitting that work, an essay or another assignment, in order to gain the requisite academic credit. This is an ethically questionable practice that compromises the validity of any course from the lower to the upper echelons of education and makes a mockery of the value of work carried out honestly by other students.
Little research has been done so far to learn more about the ghostwriters, where they are, and how they operate. Lancaster has now investigated the ghostwriters working in this cheating industry and specifically those working in India. His study is based on openly available data from freelancing websites that operate as so-called "essay mills". The information that can be gleaned from these sites reveals details of the projects ghostwriters have completed and the marketing techniques the ghostwriters themselves use to garner new customers for their services. Lancaster found that there are many prolific writers on one major freelancing website. These writers turn around one or more essays each day. Much of this work is entirely original and of reasonably high quality. By contrast, some of the ghostwriters provide low-quality essays with much of the content plagiarized from other sources.
"It is hoped that understanding the ghostwriters will aid instructors in taking preventative measures against contract cheating," Lancaster explains. Indeed, he suggests that preventative approaches to avoid validating students that have used ghostwriters would be to monitor ongoing engagement with the course and other assignments and assessments. It would be relatively trivial to examine different pieces of work side by side to see whether writing style differed significantly to show that a third party may have completed an assignment. Moreover, for the lower-quality essays, there are many tools to detect plagiarized text.
Lancaster, T. (2019) 'The emergence of academic ghost writers from India in the international contract cheating industry', Int. J. Indian Culture and Business Management, Vol. 18, No. 3, pp.349–367.
- Bypassing popular passwords
Every year computer security companies share their findings regarding passwords and data breaches. Again and again, they warn computer users to use complex passwords and not to use the same passwords for different accounts. And, yet, data breaches and other sources show that too many people use the same simple passwords repeatedly and that some of those passwords are ludicrously simple, the word "password" or the number "123456" really isn't a password at all given even the least-sophisticated hacking and cracking software available to malicious third parties these days.
Inertia is one important problem: it is difficult to get users, set in their ways, to change their old, easily remembered passwords to complex, difficult to remember codes. It is even harder to get such users to use password managers or multifactor authentication, which would add another layer of security to their logins.
Now, writing in the International Journal of Information and Computer Security, Jaryn Shen and Qingkai Zeng of the State Key Laboratory for Novel Software Technology, and Department of Computer Science and Technology, at Nanjing University, China, have proposed a new paradigm for password protection. Their approach addresses online and offline attacks to passwords without increasing the effort required of a user to choose and memorise their passwords.
"Passwords are the first security barrier for online web services. As long as attackers steal and crack users' passwords, they gain and control users' personal information. It is not just an invasion of privacy. It can also lead to more serious consequences such as data damages, economic loss and criminal activities," the team writes.
Their approach involves having a login system based on two servers instead of one. The user has a short, memorable password to access their longer, computer-generated "hashed” passwords on another server, the key to "de-hashing” those longer passwords are stored on the second server, but the actual password is stored on the user's device too and so the memorable password acts as a token for two-factor authentication. The approach means that attackers with even the most sophisticated hacking tools cannot apply an offline dictionary and brute-force attacks effectively.
Shen, J. and Zeng, Q. (2019) 'CSPS: catchy short passwords making offline and online attacks impossible', Int. J. Information and Computer Security, Vol. 11, No. 3, pp.255–274.
New Editor for International Journal of Microstructure and Materials Properties
Prof. ZhengMing Sun from Southeast University in China has been appointed to take over editorship of the International Journal of Microstructure and Materials Properties.
New Editor for International Journal of International Journal of Virtual Technology and Multimedia
Prof. Charles Xiaoxue Wang from Florida Gulf Coast University in the USA has been appointed to take over editorship of the International Journal of Virtual Technology and Multimedia.
Best Reviewer Awards announced by International Journal of Hydrology Science and Technology
Prof. Saeid Eslamian, Editor in Chief of the International Journal of Hydrology Science and Technology, is pleased to announce the winners of the following Best Reviewer Awards:
Prof. Bachir Achour
University of Biskra
Research Laboratory in Subterranean and Surface Hydraulics (LARHYSS)
Hydraulic and Civil Engineering Department
Assistant Prof. Mohammad Javad Zareian
Ministry of Energy
Department of Water Resources Research
New Editor for International Journal of Applied Nonlinear Science
Prof. Davide La Torre from the University of Dubai in the UAE has been appointed to take over editorship of the International Journal of Applied Nonlinear Science. The previous Editor in Chief, Prof. Franklin Mendivil, will remain with the journal as Editor.
2018 Best Paper Award announced by International Journal of Masonry Research and Innovation
The International Journal of Masonry Research and Innovation has established an annual award for the best paper published in each respective year.
The best paper has been selected using a new formula for the 2018 competition, with the aim of increasing the involvement of the editorial board members in the procedure. An online voting system was set up, allowing each board member to express his/her vote for one paper published by IJMRI in 2018. Associate Editors and the Editor in Chief were allowed to express two and three votes respectively (or multiple votes for the same paper). The best paper was then awarded by the Editor in Chief according to the results of this online voting system. In order to avoid bias, each paper was labelled with the following alphanumeric string: 3_N_ppp, where "3" represents the volume, "N" the issue and "ppp" the page number of the first page of the paper.
For 2018, twenty papers were eligible for competing, and 32 votes (including the multiple choices of Associate Editors and the Editor in Chief) were received. The first three places were as follows:
- 1st place and winner (8 votes): Fernando Magdalena Layos, Julián García Muñoz (2018). Approaches to strongly local phenomena in dry masonry structures, Vol. 3(2), pp. 155-173. DOI: 10.1504/IJMRI.2018.092460
- 2nd place (7 votes): Maurizio Angelillo, Antonio Fortunato, Antonio Gesualdo, Antonino Iannuzzo, Giulio Zuccaro (2018). Rigid block models for masonry structures, Vol. 3(4), pp. 349-368. DOI: 10.1504/IJMRI.2018.095701
- 3rd place (6 votes): Marialuisa Mongelli, Irene Bellagamba, Francesco Iannone, Giovanni Bracco (2018). From 2D digital imaging to finite element analysis using the ENEAGRID high performance computing infrastructure for the preservation of historical masonry structures, Vol. 3(3), pp. 324-347.DOI: 10.1504/IJMRI.2018.093492
The editors and board congratulate the authors for their significant contributions to state-of-the-art research on masonry. They should be very proud of their achievements in a very competitive pool.
The 1st place winners will receive an online subscription to IJMRI's 2018 volume and a certificate.
A sample issue collecting the papers ranked in the top three plus the following papers selected by the Editor (based also on the final ranking) is now available for the readers free of charge:
- Els Verstrynge, Dionys Van Gemert (2018). Creep failure of two historical masonry towers: analysis from material to structure, Vol. 3(1), pp. 50-71. DOI: 10.1504/IJMRI.2018.089056
- Maria E. Stavroulaki, Georgios A. Drosopoulos, Efstathia Tavlopoulou, Nikos Skoutelis, Georgios E. Stavroulakis (2018). Investigation of the structural behaviour of a masonry castle by considering the actual damage, Vol. 3(1), pp. 1-33. DOI: 10.1504/IJMRI.2018.089046
- Julian Ajith Thamboo, Manicka Dhanasekar (2018). Effect of concrete block height variation to the shear bond strength of thin layer mortared masonry, Vol. 3(2), pp. 174-193. DOI: 10.1504/IJMRI.2018.092461
This sample issue showcases the range and quality of the content provided by the International Journal of Masonry Research and Innovation.