Timely Topics for IT Professionals
About ACM TechNews
ACM TechNews is published every week on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
ACM TechNews is intended as an objective news digest for busy IT Professionals. Views expressed are not necessarily those of either Gateway Inc. or ACM.
To send comments, please write to email@example.com.
Volume 2, Issue 124: Monday, October 30, 2000
- "High-Tech Snooping All in Day's Work"
Los Angeles Times (10/29/00) P. A1; Miller, Greg
Many major companies are taking workplace surveillance to the next level by using computer forensics experts and software to uncover everything an employee has done on a workplace PC. Employers argue that the tools help them catch workers who use their office PCs for nefarious activities such as stealing sensitive company data and downloading pornography. Meanwhile, privacy experts worry that computer forensics will help companies pry into their workers' private lives. Computer forensics investigators, who replicate and scrutinize everything on a user's hard drive, admit that these searches often reveal information about workers' marital difficulties, health problems, and financial troubles. New programs such as Guidance Software's Encase are making it easier for forensics experts to quickly find incriminating material on hard drives. Encase copies a hard drive without any alterations and restores deleted files. The software then searches for illicit material and generates a report of its findings. Encase initially drew most of its business from law enforcement agencies, but private sector companies have increasingly embraced the software over the past year. Although privacy advocates object to monitoring employees in the workplace, companies have a nearly unrestricted right to do so. Monitoring now takes place at 45 percent of major U.S. companies, compared to 35 percent two years ago. Microsoft, Boeing, and Disney are among those using powerful computer forensics tools that were originally designed for law enforcement.
For information regarding ACM's activities on behalf of privacy matters, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm/privacy.
- "Top Offices of Uncle Sam Make Do With Early-American Technology"
Wall Street Journal (10/30/00) P. B1; Bridis, Ted
The U.S. government is not keeping pace with advances in computer and software technology, observers say. State Department employees abroad lack Web and even email access, and as recently as this year diplomats were still using couriers to transport hard copies of messages. Only recently did the State Department dump its 1970s-era Wang computers. The different branches of the armed services often have incompatible software platforms, while the Federal Aviation Administration still relies on software from the 1970s. Observers say the technology lag stems from too little funding for new systems and a slow budget-request process that cannot match the rapid changes in the tech industry. The Pentagon, for example, bases its new purchases on five-year forecasts, more than twice as slow as Silicon Valley changes its technology. Former Defense Department employee John J. Hamre says, "You have no idea how bad the problem is." However, change is coming, and observers credit concern over the Y2K bug for pushing the government toward more modern computer systems. Nearly one-third of the government's 6,175 systems did not survive the Y2K rollover because they simply could not handle it. Meanwhile, the State Department has budgeted $120 million to provide overseas diplomats with email and eventually Web access. However, observers say the government's patchwork of old and new computer systems provides hackers with too easy a target. Moreover, many employees, frustrated by their slow systems, use their personal computers for work, again creating a security risk.
- "Bricks-and-Clicks World Needs Commercial Space"
New York Times (10/30/00) P. C1; Deutsch, Claudia H.
Some of the nation's leading retailers have yet to offer merchandise on the Internet, afraid their order-fulfillment facilities are not prepared to handle Web-based transactions. Home Depot, which recently began testing sales on the Internet in the Las Vegas market, is attempting to solve the problem by making each of its bricks-and-mortar locations a distribution center. Customers can purchase products on the Internet only if they are available at their local store. On the other hand, department store chain Kohl's will not introduce its e-commerce site until its new warehouse and distribution center opens. Retailers already selling on the Web are finding it necessary to expand their existing distribution operations. Gap, for example, has added a 424,000-sq.-ft. warehouse near its original 270,000-sq.-ft. warehouse and has begun work on another, even larger warehouse. This has increased the demand for warehouse space, real estate agents say. Demand is especially high in markets that have already established themselves as distribution hubs, such as Columbus, Ohio, and Memphis, Tenn. Another group of retailers has decided not to expand distribution operations at all but to outsource them instead. A group of "fulfillment houses," including Submitorder.com, Exel, and Fingerhut, offer the warehouse and distribution operations necessary to keep pace with the speed and scope of e-commerce. However, some retailers, including Eddie Bauer and J.C. Penney, believe their established distribution operations, originally designed for catalog orders, can handle Internet sales as well.
(Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors must register.)
- "Microsoft Hack a Hard Lesson for Many Firms"
Investor's Business Daily (10/30/00) P. A6; Howell, Donna
Security experts believe last week's revelation that someone hacked into Microsoft's computers and saw some of the software company's source code will have wide-ranging ramifications for the software industry. Although a company as big as Microsoft is a frequent target for hackers, last week's attack revealed how easily even the most complex security systems can be compromised if someone is not paying attention. Mark Hardy of security firm Guardent explains, "The best firewalls, the best intrusion detection still doesn't help if people do dumb things." Although Microsoft is still investigating the attack, reports say it came in the form of a Trojan horse "worm" called QAZ Trojan. A Microsoft spokesperson denied that the company's source code had been altered in the attack, which security experts say would have been the worst possible outcome. Infected source code, if undetected, could eventually infect any user of Microsoft software. As it stands, security experts predict that the attack on Microsoft will reawaken firms to the threats presented to their networks on a daily basis.
- "Original ICANN Board Members Won't Quit as Promised"
Register Online (10/28/00); Orlowski, Andrew
Although ICANN originally stated in its bylaws in 1998 that all the members of its original "interim" board of directors would be replaced by elected board members by Sept. 30 of 2000, four of the original board members, namely Frank Fitzsimmons, Hans Kraaijenbrink, Jun Murai, and Linda Wilson, have been granted an extension and will remain on ICANN's board for another 12 months, ICANN has announced. The amendment to alter the bylaws and permit interim board members to remain active was agreed upon, drafted, and "passed on the spot," according to Michael Froomkin of the University of Miami law school. Although all the board members were supposed to be replaced, only five positions were chosen through a vote of the at-large membership, says Froomkin. In fact, the outgoing board members originally were to have a two-year "cooling off" period prior to becoming eligible to sit on ICANN's board again, says Froomkin. Those rules were altered during the March and July board meetings in Cairo and Yokohama this year, according to ICANN's statement. Froomkin has yet to see a published statement for these changes, but Karl Auerbach, one of ICANN's newly elected at-large board members, saw a "totally incomprehensible" statement explaining the changes. Due to the extension, some of the originally appointed board members could remain on ICANN's board even after the elected board members such as Auerbach or Andy Mueller-Maguhn have completed a full term.
For information regarding ACM's Internet governance work related to ICANN, visit http://www.acm.org/serving/IG.html.
- "Sites Cast Net to Bring Asian Women Online"
Los Angeles Times (10/30/00) P. C1; Iritani, Evelyn
A number of new Web sites aim to help women in Asia overcome the barriers that prevent them from taking part in the new economy. Women in Asia, particularly in Japan, have unique problems in trying to start online firms because they have historically been excluded from corporate and political activities. Despite their high levels of education, stereotypes about women and a shortage of female role models have prevented many Japanese women from becoming entrepreneurs, says Kumi Sato, founder of Womenjapan.com. However, Japanese women are increasingly moving online, and are expected to increase their numbers from 37 percent of the online population today to 50 percent by 2003. Womenjapan.com and similar sites such as WomenAsia.com, Cwow.com, and Webgrrls International are helping Asian women start online companies by providing training programs, advice, networking, job banks, and female role models. Men account for 78 percent of Asian Internet users, and the gender divide could intensify if no efforts are made to help women move online, says Rosemary Brisco, founder of WomenAsia.com. The Internet would bring many advantages to Asian women, who account for half of Asia's workforce and lead 35 percent of small to midsize companies, says Brisco, whose company provides Internet training programs for Asian women.
To learn more about ACM's Committee on Women in Computing, visit http://www.acm.org/women.
- "Gartner: European Internet Economy Set to Explode"
InfoWorld.com (10/26/00); Gray, Douglas F.
The European Internet economy will swell from $40.8 billion at present to $1.2 trillion by 2004, according to a new study from the Gartner Group. Germany, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and France will continue to lead Europe's Internet economy, the report says. During that time, Germany's e-commerce totals will rise from $12.6 billion to $317 billion, Britain's from $11.8 billion to $235.6 billion, the Netherlands' from $5.7 billion to $91.6 billion, and France's from $2.7 billion to $121.8 billion. France's fledgling e-commerce market is growing at a 99 percent compound annual growth rate, according to Gartner. However, Germany and the United Kingdom will nonetheless total more than 50 percent of e-commerce totals in Europe by 2004. The opening up of the telecom industry is expected to help spark the tremendous growth rates in Europe.
- "Big Vendors Launch B-to-B Initiative"
TechWeb (10/25/00); Gonsalves, Antone
IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Bowstreet, Oracle, and Sun Microsystems unveiled plans on Wednesday to develop a new standard to manage Internet-based transactions. The initiative, called Transaction Authority Markup Language (TAML) will ensure that if XML-based data is not received by an application, the transaction will be abandoned without any changes to the participating systems. TAML resembles online transaction processing (OLTP), a specification that guarantees that if a business-to-business transaction fails, it is reversed so that corporate databases are not altered. The five companies are working together to develop the specification, but will implement the technology separately. The group plans to have XAML available to the public in six months, at which time the specification would be given to an independent standards body. Missing from the effort is Microsoft, which declined to participate because it did not receive enough details about the project, according to a company official.
- "Germany Looks to E-Mail Privacy"
Wired News (10/25/00); Kettman, Scott
Employees' use of email in the German workplace will receive stronger privacy protections if, as is expected, the German government passes legislation on the matter either this year or next. The German Labor Ministry has acknowledged that talks are underway to legislate email privacy in the workplace, but cautioned that the process will probably extend into next year. If passed, the law could set a precedent for similar legislation in other countries. Ari Schwartz of the Center for Democracy and Technology noted that the European Union has defined workplace privacy as a human right, while protections for workplace privacy in the U.S. are nearly nonexistent, at least when it comes to email. AOL Germany's Carsten Meincke predicts that the German government will pass the legislation; Meincke says this would be a wise decision. "If it's up to the individual employer to decide whether people have private access to the Internet and email in the workplace, it will not encourage their use," Meincke says. "People who do not have access to the Internet at home get used to using it in the office, and by that it will boost the evolution of the Internet in Germany and elsewhere." Meincke strongly suggests that the use of the Internet and email in the workplace could help close the digital divide, which is one of Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's stated priorities.
- "Perspective - New Improved Domain Names Are Years Too Late"
CommunicationsWeek International (10/23/00); Armitage, Richard
The idea of introducing new generic TLDs has been talked about for a decade, and ICANN's move to finally add more gTLDs is too late and misses the mark as there are other services that have already come up with answers to the lack of available domain names, writes Rename CEO Richard Armitage. Once the new gTLDs are chosen by ICANN, which charged applicants $10,000 for "administration and due diligence" to submit proposals, the bigger organizations will purchase all possible versions of their name under the new gTLDs or cybersquatters will take advantage of the situation, says Armitage. A solution to cybersquatting remains outstanding and warehousing, in which easy to remember domain names such as business.com or banks.com are bought to attract a particular segment of the population, will also be on the rise, says Armitage. No one, especially legitimate businesses and individuals, should have to pay extra for a good Web address, says Armitage. In the end, ICANN is too late, says Armitage. Other services already offer better domain names as well as statistics that enable sites to determine how well advertising and particular hyperlinks are working, says Armitage.
- "IT Officials to Congress: New Economy Leaves Old Tax Laws in Dust"
Washington Technology (10/23/00) Vol. 15, No. 15, P. 22; Gildea, Kerry
High-tech executives at a House Ways and Means Oversight subcommittee hearing on Sept. 28 urged the panel to define eligibility rules for research and development tax credits more clearly before enacting a permanent tax credit. The Internal Revenue Service is not interpreting eligibility for R&D tax credits in a fair manner, the executives said. Congress last year extended the R&D tax credit through June 30, 2004, but the IRS' interpretation of eligibility is creating controversy in the industry. Congress is now looking over proposed R&D regulations to determine how eligibility should be defined if the tax credit is made permanent, which could happen in the next session. Michael Jalbert of Transcrypt International says confusion over IRS and Treasury interpretations will remain until a permanent tax credit is established, and urges the Treasury Department to implement the industry's recommendations. However, Jalbert and other high-tech officials say the regulation review should not delay the implementation of a permanent tax credit. Tax laws can spur business innovation and job training, and should be updated for the digital era, says Rep. William Coyne (D-Pa.)
- "Under the Radar Screen"
Industry Standard (10/30/00) Vol. 3, No. 44, P. 69; Perine, Keith
A number of controversial Internet bills might slip through Congress with little public debate as lawmakers try to attach riders during the final days of the session. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), for example, attached a rider to an appropriations bill that would force schools and public libraries that use federal funds for technology to install filtering software to protect children from online pornography. The measure would likely be challenged in court if it passes, as laws aimed at restricting children's Internet access, such as the Child Online Protection Act, have recently suffered legal defeats. Meanwhile, Baby Bells are lobbying for a rider that would get rid of the fees they pay to rival phone carriers each time a customer uses an Internet service provider that the rival carrier serves. By eliminating these reciprocal compensation fees, which allow carriers to offer ISPs lower rates, the measure could cause the price of Internet access to rise for consumers. Another rider, supported by Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.), would provide tax credits to companies that provide rural and low-income areas with broadband Internet access.
For information regarding ACM's work toward matters of public policy, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm.
- "Industrial Strength E-Gov, the Next Wave"
Washington Technology (10/23/00) Vol. 15, No. 15, P. 70; Davies, Thomas R.
After focusing over the past five years on building government-wide portals to provide citizens with information and offer services such as registering for a motor vehicle, state and local governments will turn their attention to designing their Web sites in a manner that will assist officials in handling crucial customer service issues. Thomas Davies, senior vice president of Current Analysis, says state and local government now want technology that will, for example, help determine eligibility for social and health care services; turn their fragmented organizations into efficiently integrated enterprises; take on case management for welfare benefits and job placement; and integrate records management and other business processes across the entire criminal justice community. Davies says state and local governments will start spending their e-government dollars on such "industrial strength" solutions as higher standards for speed, scalability, robustness, interoperability, and security. And he believes e-government projects will begin to last for multiple years on average and cost as much as $1 billion. The Web sites will be able to bring in money through advertising, transaction fees, and billable services. The sites will also come to rely more on other companies to handle ongoing operational support. Davies believes that the new demands of state and local governments may be too much for early players in the e-government market to handle. He expects many of the larger and established companies to gobble up new entries and dominate the market.
- "Meeting and Greeting the Elite"
Newsweek (10/30/00) Vol. 136, No. 18, P. 90L; Alexander, Meredith
Companies want the best educated and experienced employees they can find often hire an executive headhunter or recruiter to get them. The Internet has become an easier and less expensive way to find the right employee, even for those companies that are searching for Ivy League graduates. TheSquare.com, an online community, allows its members to post resumes and other personal information for employers seeking new hires and offers employers a chance to advertise on the Web site. However, Web site companies are not the only ones gathering resumes for prospective employers; college career service centers and alumni associations are joining the pack, and business schools are allowing employers to target alumni by advertising on the school Web site. Other companies have resorted to hiring professors from specific colleges as consultants or recruiters to ensure that they get only the best. Dan Huttenlocher, a former Cornell computer science professor, was hired by Intelligent Markets of San Francisco to recruit Cornell alumni that were best suited for the positions the company offered.
- "Spec Aims to Speed Server I/O"
Network World (10/23/00) Vol. 17, No. 43, P. 1; Jacobs, April
The InfiniBand Trade Association this week will release the first specification for its high-speed bus architecture, which will speed communications between clustered servers and avoid server-network resource bottlenecks. InfiniBand customers will be able to forego the installation and maintenance of complicated I/O configurations thanks to a connection to an InfiniBand-compliant switch. Server processors can connect to peripherals, storage, and other types of servers much more easily in this way. Also expected to be announced this week is a new workgroup to ensure InfiniBand product interoperability. The workgroup's job is to determine how third-party products will be integrated using InfiniBand, says InfiniBand Trade Association co-chair Tom Bradicich. IBM intends to introduce an ASIC chip to operate InfiniBand switches, a Target Channel Adapter that can connect I/O devices, and a host channel adapter that can connect the InfiniBand switch fabric network to a server. Banderacom will announce its IBandit InfiniBand semiconductor architecture as well as an alliance with Wind River Systems to develop and provide InfiniBand transport software. The total market for InfiniBand-enabled devices will hit about $2 billion by 2004, predicts International Data's Vernon Turner. "InfiniBand's success relies heavily on co-habitating with the existing fabrics of PCI, Ethernet and Fiber Channel," Turner cautions. InfiniBand technology could conceivably boost the number of addressable devices on a network to 64,000. Copper and fiber-optic cable links will be supported by InfiniBand architecture, enabling entry-level and high-end servers to better acclimate themselves to transaction-based traffic. Meanwhile, a central InfiniBand I/O switch could act as high-speed interconnect between servers.
- "Promise and Peril"
Interactive Week (10/23/00) Vol. 7, No. 43, P. 74; Kurzweil, Ray
Technologist Ray Kurzweil shares the concerns of pundit Bill Joy of Sun Microsystems about the negative aspects of self-replicating technologies derived from research in genetics, nanotechnology, and robotics, but does not agree with Joy's recommendation to abandon research. The rate of technological progress is not steady, as many people believe, but exponential, Kurzweil writes. Developments in computing and communications technology support this view and paradigm shifts are following the same rate of progress, contends Kurzweil. Such developments empower the individual as well as the destructive impulse, but Kurzweil maintains that all technological advancements carry this opposition and thus rejects Joy's call for ending all research and development. Individuals, companies, and nations would suffer disastrous economic, medical, and societal repercussions if such a plan were put into effect, Kurzweil speculates. Furthermore, such research would not die but probably go underground, resulting in unregulated advancements with even greater potential for destruction. At the same time Kurzweil agrees that abandoning technological research at the right levels will lessen the chances of destructive inventions. The Foresight Institute's ethical guidelines on nanotechnology research and Broadcast Architecture are some examples of regulation that Kurzweil cites. The Foresight Institute prohibits development of self-replicating physical entities, while Broadcast Architecture dictates that physical entities with their own codes for self-replication must acquire those codes from a centralized secure server. A balance between personal privacy and security against malicious use of technology will have to be established in order to maintain an ethical approach in research and development, insists Kurzweil. Computer-assisted surveillance by law enforcement agencies, regulatory oversight, and technology-specific "immune" responses are all necessary protective measures, Kurzweil writes. Kurzweil uses the advent of computer viruses and how their perceived threat has hardly been realized as a positive example of ethics tempering destructive potential.
- "Internet Leaders Go for Gore"
Fortune (10/30/00) Vol. 142, No. 10, P. 66; Birnbaum, Jeffrey H.
For the first time in 13 years, senior executives polled by Fortune magazine favor a Democratic candidate over a Republican for president. The senior executives surveyed by Fortune represent the Fortune e-50 firms. Conducted before the debates, the telephone poll of top executives at the leading Internet and e-commerce companies reveals that 53 percent prefer Vice President Al Gore, compared to 30 percent who favor Texas Gov. George W. Bush. And about 50 percent say they have become more enthusiastic about Gore over the past few months. In general, the top executives of big companies tend to support Republicans. However, the e-50 execs are younger risk-takers who often have a different approach to the world of business. An increase in immigration quotas is the most important issue to e-50 execs, followed by new accounting standards, free-trade agreements, education and training, and greater support for research.
- "Tight Squeeze in the Political Portal"
National Journal (10/21/00) Vol. 32, No. 43, P. 3344; Fogg, Piper
Over the past year a handful of for-profit political Web sites have been popping up on the Internet. The variety of different sites have been competing for a share of the $35 billion political information market. Currently, the three top contenders in the political information arena are Voter.com, SpeakOut.com, and Grassroots.com. In order to raise their visibility and boost user numbers, the three companies all made trips to the national political conventions this summer. However, the true test of each sites' staying power may not come until after the election. Market forces after the election will determine if there is enough interest in politics to support all three sites. All three sites rely heavily on polling for their revenue. For example, Voter.com is widely used as a national poll. Grassroots.com presently works with the Harris Center for Polling, and SpeakOut.com is an opinion research company. Industry analysts agree that for each site to continue its presence on the Web, the quality of their data is paramount. Additionally, what is being seen as one of the most important components for each sites' success is their formula for gathering, manipulating, and packaging user data. Michael Cornfield, an associate research professor at George Washington University's School of Professional Management has been studying the various political sites. Cornfield noted that, "Ultimately, any dot-com portal is going to have to make an information-processing algorithm that makes sense in politics."
- "Deliver on Time, or Else"
InternetWeek (10/23/00) No. 834, P. 1; Kemp, Ted
Aiming to recover from a disastrous 1999 holiday season, KBKids.com, CDnow, and Toysrus.com have each established different strategies for getting on track this holiday season. The three online retailers were hit with fines by the Federal Trade Commission due to their inability to fill online orders last year. KBkids says that last year, it made the mistake of relying on a third-party fulfillment company that did not understand the specialized nature of toy fulfillment; this time, it is keeping fulfillment in-house with warehouse management software designed to keep track of orders and inventory. CDnow, on the other hand, has looked outward, strengthening its relationships with fulfillment companies and adding EDI connections between its order management system and the systems at the fulfillment companies. Toysrus.com has signed on Amazon.com to handle its fulfillment, customer service, and site development. One of the best online operations last year was Nordstrom.com, which has a fulfillment center of its own for the most popular items, and retains third-party company iFulfillment to handle most shoe orders, which require an extensive infrastructure to manage the extensive volume of colors and styles available. The company has also established direct connections to manufacturers for uncommon or irregular shoe sizes.