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ACM TechNews is published every week on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
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Volume 2, Issue 91: Wednesday, August 9, 2000
- "Gore's Running Mate a High-Tech Favorite"
CNet (08/07/00); Festa, Paul
The high-tech industry will welcome Vice President Al Gore's new running mate, Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman, industry observers predicted yesterday. The tech industry considers Lieberman a champion of many of its causes, including an increased number of H-1B visas for foreign high-tech workers, corporate tax credits, and federal funding for research and development. Lieberman even supports school vouchers, a tech industry favorite that Gore opposes. However, observers do not believe that Lieberman's popularity among both tech Democrats and Republicans will affect the upcoming election. Indeed, there is little contention between the two parties on high-tech issues. Silicon Valley now enjoys tremendous political clout, and both parties' platforms reflect the industry's interests. Still, Gore supporters did make a point to contrast Lieberman's tech experience with what they characterized as the inexperience of Republican vice-presidential candidate Dick Cheney. However, supporters of Texas Governor George W. Bush noted that Cheney gained significant tech experience during his time as Secretary of Defense and as CEO of the oil firm Halliburton.
- "Putting Napster's Technology to Other Uses"
SiliconValley.com (08/08/00); Gillmor, Dan
Although most observers are concerned with what Napster means for the future of copyright-protection laws, the technology behind the music-exchange service offers intriguing possibilities for other uses. Napster and similar services such as Gnutella work by turning PCs into temporary servers that can transmit files to other computers. For example, Napster-like connections, neither perfect nor fast but cheap, could create low-cost networks in developing regions. Given the low supply of domain names currently available, Napster technology might also be employed to create alternate addresses for users. Such ideas point toward the future of a brilliant technology that is about to provide much more than free music.
- "Study: Achilles' Heel Leaves Net Vulnerable"
E-Commerce Times (08/07/00); McDonald, Tim
The Internet's infrastructure could allow hackers to launch potentially devastating terrorist attacks, a study by Nature magazine concluded. The study found that the Internet operates as a network of nodes, almost all of which are end users. However, not all of these nodes have an equal value in the network, and there is very little to protect hackers from targeting the most connected nodes. A loss of 4 percent of these nodes would effectively disable the entire Internet, the study found. Security experts fear the implications of the Net's vulnerability, especially considering the rise in hacking cases in recent years. Corporations in the U.S. spent $266 million last year to repair the damage done by hackers, more than twice what they spent in the previous three years. Private-sector hacking crimes increased from 3,700 to 8,300 between 1998 and 1999. Representative Curtis Weldon predicted, "It's not a matter of if America has an electronic Pearl Harbor, it's a matter of when."
- "Germany Aims to Ban Nazi Web Addresses"
Philadelphia Inquirer (08/09/00) P. A4; Geitner, Paul
The German government is attempting to stem a rising tide of neo-Nazi activity, and with the number of German neo-Nazi Web sites having risen from 32 in 1996 to 330 as of today, a crackdown on hate sites on the Internet has become a government focal point. Yesterday the government took action to prevent the use of the domain name www.heil-hitler.de. The domain has already been registered, but the government has asked domain registrar Denic to block the registration in the hopes of preventing its use as a Web site, a maneuver that is legally permissible according to German law, says Justice Minister Herta Daeubler-Gmelin. Denic receives 200,000 domain reservations a month, making it impossible for the company to block registrations containing hateful words as they are being processed, says Denic's Klaus Herzig.
- "Chasing Hollywood 'Pirates'"
Washington Post (08/09/00) P. A1; Streitfeld, David; Cha, Ariana Eunjung
Legal observers believe that a case involving the movie and DVD industries may determine the extent of online copyright protection. Several major Hollywood studios recently filed suit against a Norwegian teenager who discovered how to crack the encryption code on DVD disks and then posted that information on the Internet. The suit also names the Web sites and the magazine that published the decryption code. Lawyers for the teenager maintain that he developed this code not to pirate movies but to allow DVD disks to play on his Linux operating system. However, Hollywood fears the code will make inevitable a Napster-like file-swap service for movies. Although tech observers do not believe that movie downloads are as widespread as music downloads yet, one expert estimates that as many as 300,000 movie files are downloaded each day. Hollywood is banking on a 1998 federal law to support its case. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act outlaws the decryption of an encrypted work and making decryption technology available to the public. Lawyers for the defense and free-speech advocates protest that the law will have a chilling effect on the first amendment. Computer code is as valid a form of speech as any other, they argue. They also claim that the law violates traditional fair use of copyrighted material. A decision in the case is likely soon. However, Hollywood--as well as the recording industry--may not have to worry much longer about copyright violations. Some observers believe that better encryption technology will soon return the balance of power to copyright-holders, making it effectively impossible to copy and distribute pirated files. Other experts maintain that it is not feasible to expect any system to prevent illegal copying completely.
For information regarding ACM's activities related to encryption and security, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm/crypto.
- "China Closes First Locally Based Dissident Web Site"
Washington Post (08/09/00) P. A21; Plafker, Ted
Chinese authorities last week shut down the country's first locally-based Web site that criticized the government, marking the latest chapter in China's ongoing struggle to control political expression on the Internet. The New Culture Forum provided "excessively strong anti-government material," says the manager of Million Network, the Beijing Internet company that carried the site. Million Network complied with a police request to hand over the names of the New Culture Forum's sponsors, but the names that had been filed with the company turned out to be fake, the manager says. Although China is trying to leverage economic and educational opportunities on the Internet, the country is increasingly unable to control content on the Internet that is prohibited in other media. The number of Internet users in China has almost doubled since last year to 16.9 million. While Beijing blocks access to sites it considers inappropriate, many Web surfers have figured out how to use proxy servers to access the prohibited sites. Government control is expected to increase as a result of the New Culture Forum incident, and 20 Chinese provinces and cities have already formed special police units to "administrate and maintain order" on the Internet, according to the state-run media.
- "No Such Thing as a Free PC"
CNet (08/09/00); Fried, Ian; Kanellos, Michael
The downward slope of PC prices in recent years coupled with recent rebate offers led to speculation that PCs would become a free commodity sold with Internet service, but PC makers are finding that prices cannot fall much below $400. Even eMachines, which specializes in inexpensive PCs, says the cost of materials, assembly, shipping to retailers, and support brings manufacturers to the $400 mark. Although Internet appliance makers are selling devices below $400, they can only drop below this level by eliminating features and using surplus components. PC makers say the physics of producing hardware prevents them from cutting costs further. Unlike software makers, PC makers need $2 billion chip facilities, assembly warehouses, global component trading networks, massive delivery systems, and thousands of workers. Although PC prices have hit a plateau, consumers are getting higher-quality components at no extra cost. For example, Intel's wholesale price for a processor has remained at $69 for over a year, but its least expensive offering is now the 500 MHZ Celeron, while last year's cheapest offering ran at 266 MHz. Similarly, a low-end hard drive has sold wholesale at around $70 for the past year, but the products have become significantly more powerful.
- "Recruits Ask for the Moon--and Sometimes Get It"
Washington Post (08/06/00) P. L1; Johnson, Carrie
High-tech job seekers expect certain conveniences when looking for a new position, and high-tech companies often are successful at meeting these requests. One company that has proven to be accommodating in order to hire desired recruits is Network Solutions. For example, one recent job candidate would accept a position with NSI only if the company agreed to find a medical research position for his wife, which NSI readily agreed to do, says Brigit Freedman, NSI's manager of talent recruitment. Another time, a candidate required childcare in order to work during the day, says Freedman. "If we can't make it so it's attractive for an employee to come here, other companies will do it for them," says Freedman. However, when it comes to moving, NSI guidelines, like those of other companies, permit the company to assist with tax-free items only, including household items and family members. NSI cannot help in cases where the company would have to pay taxes, such as pets. Technical workers are not known to stay at one company for too long, averaging 17-month stints, according to research. Some companies hope to draw candidates with material items and hold on to those candidates, while others need the workers immediately and are not concerned with the long-term consequences.
- "World to Privacy Sites: Now or Never"
Business 2.0 Online (08/02/00); McLaughlin, Kevin
For information regarding ACM's activities on behalf of privacy matters, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm/privacy.
- "E-Business Gets Dynamic"
InfoWorld (08/07/00) Vol. 22, No. 32, P. 1; Schwartz, Ephraim
Outsourcing is at the root of prosperity, says Ed Yardeni, chief economist at Deutsche Bank in New York, adding that outsourcing is merely a new term for what economist Adam Smith labeled the division of labor. Many companies apparently agree, based on the rate at which many are divesting themselves of manufacturing plants and equipment, items once thought to be assets, in favor of forming trading partnerships with other firms. Over the next decade, according to Barry Libert, Andersen Consulting partner and director of MIT's New Economy Business Lab, the only true asset will be the relationship an organization has with its customers. The products the firm sells to its customers will constantly be in flux; therefore, the business relationships that the firm enters in order to service its customers will also be transient, with the company retaining no stake in the products or services it leaves behind in order to bring its customers the next demand item. This emphasis on outsourcing and decapitalization is not only beneficial to manufacturers and customers: suppliers are also able to expand their businesses and investigate opportunities previously unavailable to them. Joey Wallace, purchasing manager with specialty car maker Panoz Auto Development, sees a clear difference in working with former Ford subsidiary Visteon. "Visteon is giving us more choices now," says Wallace. "They can create products they couldn't in the past. And it is not quite as bureaucratic." Companies such as Dell Computer, Cisco Systems, and Internet startup Model E exemplify the shift to a more dynamic e-business model. All strive to be "zero asset" manufacturers, meaning they "manufacture" their products by striking outsourcing deals with outside companies.
- "Don't Squat on My Name"
Boardwatch (07/00) Vol. 14, No. 7, P. 36; Wheeler, Julie
Both the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act and ICANN's Uniform Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP) can be successful at preventing cybersquatting or at stopping businesses or individuals from using a domain name based on another company's trademark to attract business and make a profit, writes Julie Wheeler, an associate editor at Boardwatch. However, these same policies can also restrict free speech and suppress smaller companies with legitimate claims to a domain name that do not have the funds to take a dispute to court. Offline, individuals can go to forums and express their opinions and, similarly, on the Internet individuals can go to sites that criticize companies. So it seems wrong that companies are using the Anticybersquatting Act to try and remove these sites. The act's "bad faith intent" might include businesses, such as BuyDomains.com, that purchase random words that might be popular with the intent of making a profit. BuyDomains.com registers names for $60 or less and then resells the domain names for prices of up to $2,000 or more. The problem is determining who really has the rights to a word. Companies with similar names might want to register the same domain name based on that similarity, and neither company really would have a better claim. Individuals also may have just as much of a right to the domain name. Sites set up to provide an outlet for consumers that wish to complain about a company, such as verizonreallysucks.com, should not be shut down because of anticybersquatting laws. After all, an individual would not visit verizonreallysucks.com in order to find wireless telephone access, concludes Wheeler.
For information regarding ACM's Internet governance work related to ICANN, visit http://www.acm.org/serving/IG.html
- "Wild About Wireless?"
Industry Standard (08/07/00) Vol. 3, No. 29, P. 124; Whittle, Sally
Although Europeans are typically credited with having been the pioneers of wireless technology, statistics from Forrester Research indicate that consumers there have been slow to embrace the Internet. Forrester says only 6.1 million people in Europe use Web phones to access the Internet. And some companies such as Deutsche Telekom are feeling the pinch of consumers' lack of interest in Web phones. The company's cell phone division, T-Mobile, announced in July that less than 1 percent of its 13 million cellular customers purchased its new Web phone, which debuted commercially six months ago. Other wireless providers have admitted similar disappointing sales. Delayed availability of Web phones is also thought to have contributed to the lack of consumer Interest. Additionally, few offerings outside of location-based and data-access type services have wide appeal. Many companies seeking to supply everyday wireless services have had disappointing subscriber totals. French Web bank First-e has acquired only 100 users since it began offering service six months ago, but had originally anticipated attracting 100,000 mobile users. The telecom industry still expects WAP phones to soar in popularity. International Data predicts that over 1 billion WAP phones will be used in Europe within two years.
- "Molecular Electronics Will Change Everything"
Wired (07/00) Vol. 8, No. 7, P. 242; Overton, Rick
Research by Rice University chemist Jim Tour and Yale engineer Mark Reed may be able to push forward the science of molecular electronics, or moletronics. For 10 years, Tour and Reed have been creating and testing molecules with unique properties, with the latest batch exhibiting the capacity to hold a charge or behave the same way as switches or electronic memory. Companies including IBM have invested in moletronics labs in an effort to produce molecular microchips and molecular memory. Such investments helped Tour and Reed form their own company, Molecular Electronics Corporation. Commercial applications of moletronics will be important as the silicon semiconductor industry doesn't have much time left, says Intel co-founder Gordon Moore. In addition to having more memory capacity than silicon chips, molecular electronics will cut costs because the manufacturing process will be much simpler, more along the lines of pharmaceutical production than chip fabrication. In competition with major electronics companies, Tour and Reed are confident their 10-year head-start will help them win the moletronic race. The two are already working on creating molecular memory, which involves constructed molecules that can capture information through the entrapment of electrons in the lowest unoccupied molecular orbital.
- "Is the 'Digital Divide' a Virtual Reality?"
Consumers' Research (07/00) Vol. 83, No. 7, P. 16; Thierer, Adam D.
The current market for personal computers and Internet access should reveal that there is no digital divide. The continued decline in computer prices is evidence that some Americans will not be left behind. PC Data says the average cost of a new PC has fallen from $1,434 in 1997 to $916 last year. Moreover, the era of the "free PC" is here as manufacturers offer consumers computers with hefty rebates and other special offers for the price of shipping and three years of Internet service. Furthermore, many companies now give PCs to their employees. Just like PCs, Internet access can be had at very little cost or for free these days. Services such as BlueLight.com, NetZero, and Free-N-Safe offer free access. Americans can also find all sorts of other software programs for free on the Internet. The many different ways Americans will be able to access the Internet without buying a PC include Internet appliances, handheld devices, and new video game consoles from Sega, Sony, and Nintendo. The lack of a conduit into homes appears to be a legitimate concern. However, telephone, cable, electrical utility, and wireless/satellite companies are all racing to pipe the Internet into American homes. From a historical perspective, Internet access is on pace to reach more than 50 percent of American homes faster than television (18 years), radio (28 years), VCRs (12 years), electrical service (52 years), and telephones (70 years). The Internet, which has been available as a commercial service for less than 10 years, will be in more than 50 percent of American households by 2001, according to Forrester Research.
Readers interested in the digital divide and related issues may wish to learn more about ACM's upcoming Conference on Universal Usability: http://www.acm.org/sigs/sigchi/cuu
- "RSA: Time's Up"
Information Security (07/00) Vol. 3, No. 7, P. 18; Rothke, Ben
The U.S. patent for the RSA algorithm, one of the most commonly installed components of software in computing history, will expire on September 20, 2000, leaving RSA Security, the patent holder, without the control once held by the company over when, where, or how the algorithm is utilized. The algorithm will be placed in the public domain after the patent expires, and RSA Security will no longer be the beneficiary of licensing royalties. However, RSA Security is not too concerned primarily because the majority of the company's revenues no longer come from royalties, but instead come from the sale of security products such as Keon PKI and SecurID security tokens and servers. The expired patent will probably not have much of an impact on third-party licenses or the security community in general. The patent expiration is not an issue for the company or clients, says Counterpane Internet Security CTO Bruce Schneier. Competitors of RSA did not have much of a reaction, either. Although the expiration will permit Certicom to utilize the RSA algorithm in its Security Builder and SSLPlus toolkits, the event is still not significant to the company, says Richard Depew, executive vice president of field operations at Ceritcom. The real question to ask regarding implementation of security is whether to construct a system in-house or to purchase from outside of the company, says Depew. "Those organizations that don't have an internal staff of cryptographic experts will always rely on the RSAs and Certicoms of the world to assist them in their cryptographic needs," says Depew. Consumers probably will not see any changes in price, although there might be an increase in availability of products that contain the RSA algorithm.