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Timely Topics for IT Professionals


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Volume 8, Issue 892:  January 23, 2006
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  • "The World Is at the Door"
    Information Week (01/23/06); Chabrow, Eric

    Large corporations are funneling an increasing portion of their research grants overseas in a trend emblematic of the ebbing command that the U.S. holds over the global technology environment. Foreign universities have become more appealing beneficiaries of U.S. corporate research funding both because they are less likely to haggle over intellectual property rights and because major corporations have become acutely aware that emerging markets such as Brazil, India, and China will be integral to their future success. Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, Cisco, and IBM have all recently launched major research initiatives in foreign markets. U.S. universities still receive generous amounts of funding from private industry, though their frequent insistence on collecting royalties from the patents that emerge from their research often works against them in the scramble for funding. Staking a claim to intellectual property rights many times is not worth the trouble, as universities typically do not receive the influx of cash from IT research that often comes from fields such as pharmaceuticals. IBM and the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation developed a set of principles aimed at countering the outsourcing of research and innovation that drew the support of a broad group of universities and corporations. Another impediment to industry-university partnerships is the reluctance that many vendors have about publicizing research that they fund in academic journals. The recent agreement between universities and vendors is especially timely given the declining interest that many companies are taking in basic research, turning instead to universities to fill the gap. Intellectual property issues notwithstanding, U.S. companies are still going to issue grants to the universities that they predict will make the strongest contribution, which puts U.S. universities in a direct, merit-based competition with their foreign counterparts.
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  • "As Elections Near, Officials Challenge Balloting Security"
    Washington Post (01/22/06) P. A6; Goldfarb, Zachary

    Leon County elections supervisor Ion Sancho has commissioned four attacks on Diebold voting machines in the Florida county over the last year to demonstrate the vulnerability of the system. Each attack, described by experts as a relatively simple hacking method, successfully demonstrated how election results could be manipulated. In the most recent demonstration, Finnish security expert Harri Hursti manipulated the memory card that stores the ballots in an optical scanning machine to change the vote totals. Diebold's David Bear was critical of the test, describing it as "analogous to if I gave you the keys to my house and told you when I was gone." Despite the flurry of security concerns surrounding e-voting machines that appeared recently as the deadline for new equipment set by the Help America Vote Act approached, critics note that there has yet to be a single reported instance of an attack that altered a real election. Of the 43 respondents to a recent poll of the National Association of Secretaries of State, 17 expected to miss the Jan. 1 deadline for new system proposals. The move to upgrade equipment has been marked by repeated clashes between election officials and equipment manufacturers over concerns about paper audit trails and accessibility for the disabled. Diebold has responded to Sancho's tests with hostility, claiming that directly manipulating the systems' memory cards to alter results is irresponsible. Diebold's response disappoints Sancho, as does the slowness of state election officials to detect the vulnerabilities. As more computer experts and officials acknowledge the vulnerabilities of e-voting systems, a consensus is mounting that the systems must be protected from insider tampering and that they all must have paper recording capabilities.

    For information on ACM e-voting activities, please visit http://www.acm.org/usacm.


  • "To Build a Better Net"
    Kansas City Star (01/22/06); Canon, Scott

    In the face of mounting security concerns and an increasing acknowledgement that the current Internet is cobbled together and poorly organized, the NSF has devoted $300 million to developing a new architecture for a more security-conscious Internet. Such a development raises concerns that the inherent beauty of the Internet, which allows for the instant relay of information and the ability to post opinions anonymously, could be compromised. Nevertheless, the preponderance of Trojans, worms, and pharming and phishing scams that assail individual users has made the Internet as dysfunctional as it is useful, while large corporations are facing an increasing threat from enterprising hackers who are penetrating sensitive databases. The government has also grown concerned about network vulnerabilities that could be exploited by terrorists to attack critical U.S. infrastructure. The Internet's early developers had no idea how the network would evolve, so they willingly traded security for decentralization. The original email system sent over ARPANET in the early 1980s had fewer than 1,000 users. Today, more than 70 percent of Americans use the Internet regularly, and more than half have made an online purchase, while 40 percent have encountered some form of malware, leading many to boycott certain Web sites or alter their downloading practices. Researchers at the University of Southern California are capitalizing on NSF and Department of Homeland Security funds to simulate attacks from a bevy of viruses on a test-bed of isolated PCs. Meanwhile, the Internet2 coalition marshals the efforts of more than 200 companies and universities to create a better network with greater transmission capabilities. Because different applications have different security requirements, the creation of a holistic new network is unlikely, and some analysts predict that a new network could co-exist with today's Internet.
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  • "Electronic Eavesdroppers Must Now Sort Through Bits"
    Associated Press (01/22/06); Fordahl, Matthew

    With the Internet supplanting conventional modes of communication, eavesdroppers have access to much greater volumes of data, though they are encountering heightened public resistance to surveillance activities in the wake of allegations charging the government with overstepping its legal bounds to spy on domestic communication. The National Security Agency (NSA) is conducting the domestic surveillance program that came to light last month, in what appears to be a massive and warrantless sweep of communication in search of information relevant to national security. Telecommunications companies are reportedly cooperating with the NSA, which is skirting laws that require evidence of wrongdoing to engage in wiretapping. Telephone providers are likely sharing customers' billing information with the government, though the NSA could tap communication that passes over fiber without the complicity of the carrier simply by flagging conversations for their origin or destination. Last year, the FCC decided to extend the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act of 1994 to certain broadband and VoIP providers, mandating that they incorporate compliance features into their networks. Jennifer Granick, executive director of Stanford University's Center for Internet and Society, says, "The thing that really should worry people is that once the capability is there, people will abuse it. The opportunity for abuse is so much greater, because so much more of our private information is transmitted over the network."
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  • "SHARCNET Swims Into the Future"
    HPC Wire (01/20/06) Vol. 15, No. 3; Feldman, Michael

    SHARCNET, the Shared Hierarchical Academic Research Computing Network, is a clustered platform created by 14 universities to advance research and innovation through high performance computing. SHARCNET was established in June 2001, making a reality of the vision of McMaster University's Hugh Couchman, who serves as the program's scientific director, Peter Poole, Allen MacIsaac, Mike Bauer, and Nils Peterson of the University of Western Ontario, and the University of Guelph's Deborah Stacey. In a recent interview, Couchman described SHARCNET, noting that it only represents the beginning of Canada's entry into the field of high performance computing. SHARCNET's greatest sources of funding have been the federal Canada Foundation for Innovation and its provincial matching groups, which have identified high performance computing as a chief priority. SHARCNET has a four-tier service approach, offering hardware, support at the operational and system level, support at the application level, and a community outreach program to develop new leaders and innovators. SHARCNET has hardware distributed over several sites, though Couchman notes that it is not technically a grid because the hardware is centrally managed. Because SHARCNET directs all of its resources through a dedicated private channel, it bypasses many of the security issues that often plague distribution over different domains. SHARCNET is in the process of upgrading, adding a host of new components to expand the system's storage capacity and to provide a localized development platform for small-scale projects. Couchman expects SHARCNET's capacity to increase greatly with the new installations, and that its training programs will nurture and develop Canada's research community.
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  • "Google's Reputation at Stake in Fight With Government"
    USA Today (01/23/06) P. 2B; Hopkins, Jim

    Google's refusal to comply with a Justice Department subpoena calling for the disclosure of information about customers' search queries--ostensibly to combat online pornography--could carry both positive and negative consequences for the leading online search company. On the one hand, Google's resistance could add luster to its reputation for protecting users' data, but the fight with the government has already caused the company's stock price to dive. Google co-founder Larry Page cited the importance of upholding the company's reputation for keeping users' interests paramount in an interview on Friday, explaining that "the trust of our users...[is] a very strong motivation for us." He said there should instead be legislation to safeguard private information from government requests and other forms of intrusion. Another reason for Google's flouting of the subpoena is to not stir up privacy proponents or users, according to search engine expert John Battelle. The Justice Department on Jan. 18 requested an order from a federal judge in San Jose to force Google to turn offer the information mandated by the subpoena. The other major search providers--Yahoo!, America Online, and MSN--have complied with the government's request, and representatives from all three companies insisted that data identifying individual users was not disclosed.
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  • "The Coming Tug of War Over the Internet"
    Washington Post (01/22/06) P. B1; Stern, Christopher

    The undoing of net neutrality threatens to undermine the open commercialism that has guided the Internet's development, as the telecommunications companies that oversee the networks could give preferential treatment to one search engine or retailer over another. If a network operator aligned itself with Yahoo!, for instance, Google users might find the site operating at a snail's pace, which could effectively remove the element of consumer choice from the competition between Internet companies. Google, Yahoo!, and many online retailers have joined consumer advocacy groups in lobbying Congress to codify net neutrality into law, while AT&T, Verizon, and other telecommunications companies claim they need new sources of revenue for the construction of faster networks to compete with cable providers, which currently hold a roughly 55 percent share of the residential broadband market. The telephone companies claim contracting with Internet companies to compete with cable providers will ultimately drive down prices for consumers, and that, far from blocking users from accessing their favorite sites, preferential pricing will be tantamount to a tiered service model, similar to the different seating classes on an airplane. Though cable providers have been silent opponents to network neutrality, telephone companies argue that new multimedia applications claim increasing amounts of bandwidth, and that they should not have to shoulder the entire cost. The net neutrality debate vaulted into the public eye with AT&T Chairman Edward Whitacre's statements decrying the free access to AT&T's infrastructure that Google, Yahoo!, and others enjoy. Public Knowledge's Gigi Sohn sees Whitacre's remarks as a springboard to congressional consideration of the matter when the Telecommunications Act of 1996 is updated, noting that Congress will not abide restricting access to the Internet's most popular sites.
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  • "New Center Finds Data Management Techniques for Homeland Security"
    Purdue Exponent (01/19/06); Michalos, Sarah

    Visualization will play a role in improving security and emergency response as a result of the launch of the Purdue University Regional Visualization and Analytics Center on Jan. 3. Funded by the Homeland Security Department and Purdue, the new center will develop tools that make use of visualization applications for the way in which emergency planning managers receive information. "If someone is out in the field, like a firefighter or police officer, we need to make sure that the information provided to them [on a mobile device] is relevant and also conserves as much of their battery as possible," explains David Ebert, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering and director of the center. The center will focus on using visualization in a way that makes it easier for emergency responders to quickly analyze information. One of five regional centers involved in improving the presentation of information to emergency planning managers, the Regional Visualization and Analytics Center is a collaboration with the Indiana University School of Medicine. The center is already working on enhancing a medical monitoring system for the state of Indiana. "We'll provide a monitoring of disease occurrence throughout the state by getting data on a continuous basis and detecting merging patterns of disease as a result of a terrorist attack or naturally occurring disease," says Bill Cleveland, professor of statistics and computer science.
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  • "Developing Robots as Social Companions"
    University of Hertfordshire (01/20/06)

    The University of Hertfordshire's work in human-robot interaction will be a focus of an upcoming BBC show. Mick Walters, a researcher in the School of Computer Science, will discuss its efforts to understand what people want in a robot, such as whether they want a humanoid or a computer on wheels unit, and how close of a level of interaction with a robot would be appropriate for the home. The university is part of the integrated European project Cogniron, which seeks to develop cognitive robot companions. Currently, the university has a robot operating in a home environment in a nearby house. "We are studying how a robot can be personal and modified according to people's different preferences, likes and dislikes," says Kerstin Dautenhahn, a professor in artificial intelligence who is heading Hertfordshire's efforts. "We aim to develop personalized robot companions." Social robots could be used one day to handle tasks such as setting the table, taking out the garbage, and watching children and pets.
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  • "IT Group Missing Just One Thing -- Members"
    Federal Computer Week (01/23/06) Vol. 20, No. 2, P. 10; Sternstein, Aliya

    When the reconstituted President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) met for the first time in three months on Jan. 10, it included no new members--a conspicuous absence in the wake of Bush's dissolution of the President's Information Technology Advisory Committee (PITAC) last June. Industry analysts view the status quo of PCAST's membership as a sign of Bush's indifference to IT research, though administration officials maintain that they believe the group can address pressing research and development issues before it incorporates new members. The recent meetings have been recorded so that when new members are announced, they will be brought up to speed on PCAST's proceedings, though a date for such an announcement has yet to be determined. Despite some concerns that PCAST would be overwhelmed if it tries to address the issues formerly handled by PITAC, PCAST co-Chairman E. Floyd Kvamme notes that handling multiple issues concurrently would be nothing new for the group. Research and development are critical to the nation's future, though former PITAC co-Chairman Ed Lazowska recalls that the group was instructed not to make any recommendations asking for more funding. "When we deviated and recommended even an extremely modest amount of additional funding--as we did in our cybersecurity report--we were greeted with, at best, cold stares." Lazowska also noted that as the Bush administration has begun the search for new members, it has not only overlooked him, but Internet pioneers Vinton Cerf and Robert Kahn, both of whom were recent recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom and ACM's A.M. Turing Award.
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  • "Where Are the Women in IT?"
    Processor (01/20/06) Vol. 28, No. 3, P. 1; Chickowski, Ericka

    A lack of women in IT--and an even more pronounced lack of effort to enlist women in IT--spurred the creation of the National Center for Women in IT (NCWIT), an organization based out of the University of Colorado; NCWIT founder Lucy Sanders says the ultimate goal of the organization is to improve the recruitment of women into the IT field so much that NCWIT eventually becomes redundant. She says the group is currently trying to do this while simultaneously collating industry statistics, which are hard to come by partly because individual companies are reluctant to publicly disclose information about their affirmative action hiring, especially when it is less than admirable. IT industry veteran Meryll Larkin observes that women's job prospects seem to ebb and flow with the market, and during the lean times hiring managers may unconsciously discriminate against women because of their emphasis on maintaining strong IT teams, an attitude that tends to favor male candidates if they more closely resemble the other team members. If there is any difference between how men and women perform in IT teams, Larkin reasons that women exhibit more patience during communication. Dawn Fitzgerald, president of the Association for Women in Computing's Houston chapter, cites the importance of networking, not just as a way for women to brainstorm ideas or find jobs outside their company, but to receive validation for their career choice. She says women are often fraught with self-doubt and are more likely to attribute success on the job to group effort, and networking with other women can help them improve their self-promotion by putting their contributions in perspective.
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    For information about ACM's Committee on Women in Computing, visit http://www.acm.org/women.


  • "As Terrestrial Telecoms Dial Into Satellite Networks"
    IST Results (01/17/06)

    Improving the integration of satellite networks with traditional terrestrial telephone infrastructures, such as fixed-line infrastructures and cellular networks will help move the concept of Universal Mobile Telephone Services (UMTS) toward reality, as researchers are demonstrating. Completed in June of last year, the IST-funded SAILOR project demonstrated the viability of combining telecom services from both terrestrial and satellite-based UMTS networks to produce communication services that blend the best advantages of both of these infrastructures. The partners in the project implemented a demonstration platform consisting of a UMTS core network with full IP capability, efficient multicast procedures, and two wideband access-network emulators--one terrestrial and the other satellite. The access networks included innovative procedures for resource optimization, including advanced Connection Admission Control (CAC), Intelligent Segment Selection (ISS), and advanced cellular planning facilities. The SAILOR platform also embraces high-speed data as well as voice services, and takes advantage of the special features of satellite communication, such as the ability to provide coverage to geographic areas with limited or no telecommunications service. One important new function of the platform is the ability to control user access to services to maintain service quality and prevent overload, according to project coordinator Arnoldo Giralda of Telespazio in Rome. Another key achievement of the SAILOR project was the development of an innovative software Cellular Planning Tool to help optimize any integrated terrestrial/satellite cellular network layout. The new tool is designed to help operators plan the optimal cellular antenna deployment to meet the traffic needs of a certain area.
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  • "Rick Rashid: Microsoft's Right Brain"
    BusinessWeek (01/23/06); Greene, Jay

    Microsoft is committed to pushing the limits of information technology, according to Rick Rashid, senior vice president of research at the company. Rashid oversees the basic research unit of Microsoft, and he has $250 million a year at his disposal to pursue IT projects. He manages more than 600 research scientists around the world, and encourages them to focus more on giving computers the ability to understand spoken language, enhancing the efficiency of computer networks, and bringing more sophistication to computer graphics, than merely trying to make small improvements in the company's products. Rashid, 54, places a heavy emphasis on the number of papers staff members present in technical journals and at conferences. Although he does not assume that their research will be built into future Microsoft products, his group has had a good number of successes, including the grammar checker in Microsoft Office, the ClearType display technology used in Windows XP, and the spam filters used in MSN Hotmail. He believes the company receives too much criticism for not developing its own work. Rashid joined Microsoft in 1991 after serving as a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University, and he was the lead developer of the Mach operating system. He says, "The reason I went into computer science is that I wanted to create something that hadn't been done before."
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  • "Gingrich's RX for U.S. Competitiveness: 'Real Change'"
    EE Times (01/16/06) No. 1406, P. 62; Mokhoff, Nicolas

    The United States must become more serious about its government policy if it intends to keep pace with the technological change of the next 25 years, which will be four to seven times greater than the last 25 years, according to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Speaking at the Needham Growth Conference last week, Gingrich suggested that the government may need to get more involved in industry in order to ensure that the country has a competitive edge in the years to come. He views the increase in scientific and technological knowledge, a more competitive world market, and the emergence of China and India as the three economic challenges of the country. Gingrich believes the tax code should be simplified to encourage savings, entrepreneurship, investment and continued improvement of equipment and technology. He wants the United States to place more emphasis on educating young people in math and science, and to invest more in scientific advances involving energy, space, and the environment. Gingrich also favors the use of high-tech to build a next-generation, intelligent health system. The Bush administration needs to do more in terms of policy creation, he believes.
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  • "Cerf: Internet Growth Will Come From Asia"
    Network World (01/18/06); Gillette, Jay

    In his keynote address at the Pacific Telecommunications Council's 28th conference in Honolulu, Vint Cerf, recently hired by Google, declared that the future of the Internet will be driven by Asia, which represents 56 percent of the world's population and accounts for about one-third of global Internet users. Asia's 332 million users, compared to the 285 million of Europe and 224 million in North America, represents just a fraction of the regional population. Muscle-flexing is already afoot in Asia, with China Netcom poised to become a provider of international telecommunications services in preparation for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. Telekom Malaysia has partnered with local carriers in Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Bangladesh, and Pakistan in wireless and broadband offerings. During his speech, Cerf spoke of increasing adoption of Web-enabled home appliances and of the challenges faced by NASA in its Interplanetary Internet effort to develop planetary Internets, beginning with Mars, that will be linked to Earth. Also in Hawaii, the Intelligent Community Forum announced its list of the Top Seven Intelligent Communities in recognition of broadband deployment. Cleveland topped the list, followed by Seoul in South Korea, Ichikawa in Japan, Manchester in the United Kingdom, Taiwanese capital Taipei, Tianjin in China, and Waterloo in Canada.
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  • "Computer Crime Costs $67 Billion, FBI Says"
    CNet (01/19/06); Evers, Joris

    Computer security incidents cost companies $24,000 on average, based on a recent FBI survey of 2,066 organizations. The FBI found that 64 percent, or 1,324 respondents, say they have experienced a financial loss from computer security incidents over a 12-month time frame with the total cost for those surveyed hitting $32 million. Companies older than three years, with more than five employees, and more than $1 million in revenue that are located in Iowa, Nebraska, New York, and Texas participated in the survey. "This would be 2.8 million U.S. organizations experiencing at least one computer security incident," states the 2005 FBI Computer Crime Survey. "With each of these 2.8 million organizations incurring a $24,000 average loss, this would total $67.2 billion per year." Javelin Strategy & Research says identity fraud in the U.S. cost Americans $52.6 billion in 2004 alone, while the U.S. Secret Service estimates that telecommunication fraud losses are only $1 billion a year. Worms, viruses, and Trojan horses ranked as the most expensive security threats to fix, followed by computer theft, financial fraud, and network intrusion, according to survey results. Nearly $12 million was spent to cope with virus-related incidents, $3.2 million on theft, $2.8 million on financial fraud, and $2.7 million on network intrusions, according to survey respondents. Antivirus software was listed as the most popular form of security products used, with 98.2 percent saying they used it, followed closely by firewalls with 90.7 percent, and anti-spyware and anti-spam used by 75 percent.
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  • "AJAX Is No Overnight Success"
    eWeek (01/16/06) Vol. 23, No. 3, P. D1; Coffee, Peter

    As Asynchronous JavaScript and XML (AJAX) nears its one-year anniversary, Peter Coffee writes that its problems for developers are less obvious than its benefits. AJAX development faces both technical as well as cultural obstacles, and Coffee argues that comprehending AJAX's component elements and letting each perform to the best of their ability is a better option than looking for a packaged AJAX solution and forcing developers to adopt its parameters. The removal of bandwidth as a limiting factor has led to the emergence of rich AJAX applications that can hold up Web site interaction because of processor speed and JavaScript deployment issues. "Handheld devices, with their modest processor and memory resources, may disappoint users who first encounter AJAX responsiveness on much faster desktops and laptops," notes Coffee. He also points out that development shops may suffer from a deep-seated perception that real programmers write applications in .Net, Java, or some other tech flavor-of-the-month. Coffee further urges developers to resist the suggestion that AJAX is an all-or-nothing proposition because of some organic link between JavaScript and XML.
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  • "Ruby's Been Workin' on the Rails"
    Software Development Times (01/15/06) No. 142, P. 1; Handy, Alex

    Momentum has been gathering around the Ruby on Rails Web application framework over the past year, and its fast and simple development environment has attracted leading lights of the Java community such as David Geary and Bruce Tate. Ruby "gives you a huge leg-up in building your prototypical database-driven Web site," said Navica CEO and open-source analyst Bernard Golden, while a report from Burton Group analyst Richard Monson-Haefel recommended Ruby to organizations searching for new Web frameworks. Monson-Haefel acknowledged that Ruby's Model-View-Controller model is "very strict," but noted that the framework can ease development in a manner similar to PHP. However, he did mention that Ruby on Rails version 1.0 lacks support for compound primary keys, legacy databases, and two-phased commit. "We recommend [Ruby] for department-level Web applications and for small startups, but not for mission-critical super-high transaction processing," Monson-Haefel said. Penny Arcade Webmaster and system administrator Erik Karulf swears by Lighthttpd, one of the two Web servers Ruby supports.
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  • "Customized Delivery of E-Government Web Services"
    IEEE Intelligent Systems (12/05) Vol. 20, No. 6, P. 77; Medjahed, Brahim; Bouguettaya, Athman

    Virginia Tech and the Virginia Department for the Aging (VDA) are collaborating on a middleware infrastructure called WebSenior to address the challenges inherent in using the Web to deliver e-government services to senior citizens. WebSenior stores personal information for each citizen user in a user profile, and can compare that with the eligibility conditions for various services to provide seniors with information about and access to the services available to them--an example of both citizen-level and service-level customization. Further, WebSenior offers user-interface customization for each user, providing different interfaces appropriate to any visual or cognitive difficulties an individual senior-citizen user faces. The functioning of the citizen-level and service-level customization depends on a "metadata ontology" that was created to describe the business process semantics for e-government Web services. This ontology was put together using the DAML+OIL semantic markup language, but it could also be done through other standards such as the Web Ontology Language. A business process' semantic description includes two attributes, with the first being the "category," which describes the domain or area of interest of an operation, such as health care, as well as any synonyms for this domain. The second attribute is the "purpose," which describes the business function of the operation and also provides any synonyms for this function. Putting the Web services together in this semantic fashion allows a novel approach to automatically generating customized services, making use of the conceptually separate phases of "selection" and "generation" and using Unified Modeling Language to model service dependencies before and after the operation. Testing of the WebSenior service is continuing, with an in-house implementation already prepared at the Virginia Tech E-Commerce and E-Government Research Lab; Virginia Tech's researchers, along with their VDA partners, are now adding another 25 Web services to this implementation.
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