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ACM TechNews is published every week on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
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Volume 2, Issue 142: Friday, December 15, 2000
- "Heavy Holiday Traffic Could Hinder Web Site Security"
Investor's Business Daily (12/15/00) P. A6; Howell, Donna
Heavy traffic at online retail sites over the holidays is likely to compromise security, experts say. Legitimate holiday traffic alone is overwhelming some sites such as the Wal-Mart and Best Buy retail sites. In addition, the increase in holiday traffic could draw the IT department's attention away from security as it focuses on accommodating a growing number of customers. Online holiday sales this year are expected to reach $10 billion, and many dot-coms struggling to stay afloat are concentrating on sales rather than security, experts say. Denial-of-service attacks also threaten to knock out retail sites. Earlier this month the FBI warned of a spike in hacker activity targeting e-commerce over the holidays. Even novice hackers can launch denial-of-service attacks, which can be very costly for online companies in terms of lost business. Customers can reduce security threats by shopping at sites that post privacy and security policies and have strong security records, says Foundstone CEO George Kurtz. Another security expert recommends using one credit card with a low limit for online shopping, and never using debit cards, which lack the consumer protections afforded by credit cards. About 51 percent of online companies purchased new infrastructure to prepare for increased holiday traffic, and 56 percent say they are ready to handle more transactions, according to Jupiter Research.
- "As PC Designers Move From Hard to Simple, We Await 'Just Right'"
Wall Street Journal (12/14/00) P. B1; Mossberg, Walter S.
Tech industry observers say 2000 has been a good year for technology besides the PC, as firms have rolled out a new crop of PDAs, Web-enabled cell phones, interactive-TV devices, and the much anticipated Internet appliances. Although it is still unclear which of these new Internet appliances will catch on, observers say the devices--which allow users to surf the Internet, check their email, and in some cases view word-processing and spreadsheet documents--will free consumers from the stagnant PC market. Other new devices noted by observers include the Nomad Jukebox, which allows users to hold as many as 1,500 songs on one portable player, and tablet computers that provide Internet access. Meanwhile, observers did not have many good things to say about this year's developments in PC technology. According to some observers, this year only further revealed the problems with Windows 98, which this year's release of Windows Me may have only exacerbated. Also, some observers caution that the makers of new non-PC technology may not be giving the general public enough credit. Although many consumers want simple, inexpensive devices, they still want devices that are functional. For example, new Internet appliances from both Compaq and 3Com do not allow users to maintain listservs in their email address books, a rather practical function that many users employ.
- "Some Developers Say Linux Software Is Too Open for Its Own Good"
Investor's Business Daily (12/14/00) P. A10; Riley, Sheila
The Linux community is divided over the issue of how open the open-source software should be. Developers are now required to make any changes they make to Linux source code freely available, retaining no proprietary rights to their modifications. Some companies balk at making their Linux modifications available to competitors, and some developers do not want to give up proprietary rights to their changes. These Linux users favor laws that would protect the modifications made to Linux and other open-source software. However, consultant Daniel Perlzweig says open-source software cannot be licensed or owned in the same manner as traditional software. Some users, especially in the U.S., are highly protective of intellectual property, says Perlzweig, who believes this attitude is antiquated. Establishing laws to govern open-source software would lead to an economy "controlled by lawyers," says Perlzweig. "The idea of having a powerful and healthy economic environment is only reachable if we stay away from this idea of protectionism," Perlzweig says. Linux users like Perlzweig who oppose laws protecting open-source modifications seem to be dominating the debate.
- "BSA Unveils Anti-Piracy Auction Guidelines"
Newsbytes (12/13/00); McGuire, David
New guidelines from the Business Software Alliance (BSA) aim to stop the sale of pirated software on Internet auction sites. BSA's Bob Kruger says Internet auctions could become a significant source of pirated software unless auction sites take more proactive steps against it. The guidelines, "Model Business Practices on Intellectual Property for Internet Auction Sites," recommend that each auction site check the authenticity of each piece of software available through its site rather than waiting for trademark owners to apprise them that their site is offering pirated goods. Kruger cites the anti-piracy conduct of Amazon.com as an example for other auction sites to follow.
- "Divining Bush's Views of the Tech Industry"
CNet (12/13/00); Konrad, Rachel
Technology-related legislation will not be a high priority to the administration of George W. Bush, concludes a new report from US Internet Industry Association CEO Dave McClure. At the top of Bush's technology agenda is the introduction of more H-1B visas, changes to technology export rules, and the extension of the e-commerce tax moratorium, but in general Bush will leave the Internet industry alone. McClure's report states that Bush is unlikely to regulate or monitor Internet infrastructures in the areas of telecommunications, satellite, or cable. "These issues will be driven by the Congress and the regulatory agencies rather than the administration," the report says. However, Bush does plan to make an effort to dissolve the federal e-rate program and replace it with more than $3 billion in technology funding for schools and libraries. Bush would also like to create the office of chief information officer for the federal government and provide some $100 million in funding for e-government programs.
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- "Palm Urges Solidarity as Competitors Gain"
New York Times (12/14/00) P. C4; Gaither, Chris
Palm executives this week told attendees at the PalmSource conference that the handheld-industry leader is shifting its focus to its operating system and other software offerings. The announcement comes as Palm's once formidable market share continues to drop. Palm handhelds accounted for 65 percent of all handheld devices sold last month. In November 1999 it had a 79 percent share. Palm executives believe that revenue from the Palm OS can overcome this loss and have licensed the operating system for other handheld companies to use. Palm is also preparing to aim future OS releases at the corporate market, an area where it has yet to gain a foothold. In fact, analysts expect that corporate use of Pocket PC, Microsoft's operating system for handhelds, will significantly reduce Palm's share of that market. Although Palm OS now has an 80 percent market share, it could fall to 52 percent by 2004, according to International Data (IDC). IDC predicts that Pocket PC's share over the same time frame will grow from 14 percent to 40 percent. Palm is also touting its new wireless services, featured on Palm OS 4.0. Palm launched the beta version of that software on Tuesday. Analysts say Palm's new strategy is risky because such a small percentage of its revenues come from its software division. Also, Palm's attempt to appeal to the corporate market by adding complexity to future releases of Palm OS could make consumers less willing to purchase Palm products.
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- "Hollywood Dealt Setback in DVD Code Case"
CNet (12/14/00); Hansen, Evan
The California Supreme Court on Thursday issued an order that could ultimately dismiss most of the defendants in a DVD code case, marking a significant blow to the motion picture industry's attempt to ban the DeCSS code that cracks security software on DVD movies. The order requires a lower court to prove why defendant Matthew Pavlovich should be included in the suit when he is not a state resident. Although the order only applies to Pavlovich, 18 of the 21 defendants named in the suit are not residents of California. If Pavlovich is dropped from the case, the other non-residents would likely be dismissed as well. The DVD Copy Control Association, representing the movie industry in the suit, contends that a click-wrap license on the CSS software that protects DVDs from piracy forbids reverse engineering of the software. However, California state law permits reverse engineering; therefore the defendants argue that the click-wrap license is invalid. The lawsuit could have a profound impact on reverse engineering as well as free speech on the Internet, says Allon Levy, the defendants' attorney. "The defendants are not alleged to have created the code but only to have found it and republished it," says Levy. "The standard of how you know it's been misappropriated is very vague."
For articles related to DVD court cases, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm.
- "Hackers Can't Resist Holiday Web Traffic, Feds Warn"
USA Today (12/14/00) P. 3D; Zuckerman, M.J.
Cybercrime is likely to increase over the holiday season as hackers target busy e-commerce sites, according to a recent warning from the National Infrastructure Protection Center. "Traditionally there is a spike in activity during the holidays," says Richard Power of the Computer Security Institute. Corporate and government computer security is usually weaker over the holidays, while hackers often have extra time to devote to nefarious activities, Power says. Meanwhile, some security experts say there is no need for more concern now than at any other time. The Computer Emergency Response Team at Carnegie Mellon says it does not believe any additional concern is warranted at this time, while Symantec's Vincent Weafer says the threat of cybercrime is always growing, not just over the holiday season. However, Marc Rasch of Global Integrity warns that even if the number of hacker attacks remains flat over the holiday season, losses from these events will grow because of the huge rise in e-commerce traffic. Companies and consumers should prepare for cyberattacks by updating virus protection files and routinely checking security software makers' Web sites for new patches, experts say.
- "Researchers Work on Privacy Protocols for IP"
CNet (12/12/00); Olsen, Stephanie
Internet users could be given another weapon in the fight for anonymity on the Internet if an initiative being developed by a group of researchers and privacy advocates pans out. The group, known as the NymIP project, is working to develop "pseudonymity and anonymity services for the Internet...designed using an open, public process." NymIP intends to address privacy concerns, including the new IP version 6 (IPv6) standard, which would pair IP numbers with Internet users for much longer periods of time than the present IP standard, thus making it easier for governments and businesses to determine where an Internet user is physically located. Privacy developer Zero-Knowledge helped form NymIP, which says it will work to forge greater communication between companies and researchers.
- "CyberCrime Pact Steps on Privacy, Groups Say"
The Council of Europe's Convention on CyberCrime is an affront to individual privacy rights, will weaken network security, and could result in "a chilling effect on the free flow of ideas" on the Internet, according to the Global Internet Liberty Campaign. The Global Internet Liberty Campaign comprises 30 technology and human-rights groups, including the ACLU. The coalition sent a letter to the head of the Council of Europe, listing its complaints about the treaty. The Center for Democracy and Technology voiced its own complaints about the treaty--specifically, that the convention would open the floodgates for monitoring by world governments, both online and offline.
- "Report: B2B Still Driving E-Commerce"
E-Commerce Times (12/11/00); Enos, Lori
B2B spending comprises nearly 80 percent of all e-commerce revenue, overshadowing the more glitzy online retail market. "Though it is less fun to write about automated supply chains than buying custom-fitted Levi's online, the B2B sector is worth far more in revenue than retail online shopping," says eMarketer analyst Nevin Cohen. The growth in B2B e-commerce will continue to outgrow the retail market at least until 2004, when B2B online is expected to total $2.776 trillion. Projections for total e-commerce spending in 2004 reach as high as the $4 billion predicted by Forrester Research. The eMarketer report also says that currently 5 percent of the world's adult population is online, though that number will increase to 14 percent in 2004. Correspondingly, the United States' domination of the Internet will erode as the language and content of the Net become more international. As the growing physical infrastructure of the Internet increases accessibility, more and more people are able to log onto the Web. This is especially true of the mobile device market, which is expected to be the main venue for Internet access by the middle of next year, according to a study by International Data.
- "More Telecommuters Take Work Wherever They Want"
USA Today (12/15/00) P. 6B; Armour, Stephanie
Telecommuting is allowing some employees to work and live on different continents, eliminating the problems traditionally associated with relocating or moving families to be near a job. Although this type of long-distance telecommuting is not yet widespread, observers say the trend is growing. Attorney Pat Stiley telecommutes to his law firm in Spokane, Wash., from his home in Belize. Stiley conducts research over the Internet and stays in touch with clients and partners through email and over the phone. Meanwhile, technical writer Sid Heaton spent a year traveling through Europe while using Internet cafes to send his work back to a software firm in California. "With telecommuting, its less about working eight hours a day but more about delivering the product," says Heaton. Some employers are encouraging workers to telecommute. Phone.com, for example, allows workers to sign up for cabins in Lake Tahoe, where they can work while vacationing with their families.
Washington Techway (12/11/00) P. 42; Usher, Anne
There is much debate over the current tech labor shortage. As some tech companies strive to acquire decent, experienced employees, others insist the shortage is simply a myth. Tech firms exacerbate the labor shortage by not training older workers and by using foreign workers, which lowers wages in the tech industry, according to some experts. However, many tech companies are finding it harder to locate skilled workers who do not require substantial training. The market is so tight that some companies are even recruiting college students who have the ability to write code quickly upon entering a position. Other companies are recruiting tech workers from China and India despite high relocation costs. "There are more positions than people to fill them," says Network Solutions recruiter Rebecca Hennington. Although talented workers are available, the pool of these workers is very small, says Hennington. The worker shortage is made worse by the current low unemployment rates. Further, colleges are producing few trained graduates. Larger companies can hire workers lacking skills and train them, but smaller companies do not have the resources to do this. Employees in the Washington, D.C., area work for a company an average of 18 months, and the job descriptions are constantly changing as technology changes.
- "Innovations in Reach"
eWeek (12/04/00) Vol. 17, No. 49, P. 103; Baltazar, Henry; Brooks, Jason; Chu, Francis; et al.
Several technologies will advance significantly in 2001, and eWeek Labs examines 12 technologies that corporate IT should take note of over the next year. The Advanced Encryption Standard (AES), for example, would take 149 trillion years to crack using a code-breaking method that would break the current DES in 1 second. The proposed AES algorithm, Rijndael, is also economical in terms of processing power and memory, reducing the risk of second-rate implementations as a result of high software and hardware costs. Another important issue in 2001 will be bandwidth management and quality-of-service (QoS), as traffic volumes grow and applications require more bandwidth. Some gains will be made in this area next year with IPv6 and the Common Open Policy Service technology backed by Cisco Systems. Data mining will also evolve in 2001, as storage costs fall and new data analysis tools emerge from companies such as IBM and Blue Martini Software. Another important technology next year will be JavaServer Pages, which offer a seamless way to link Web applications and will help Java become a major Web application development language. Meanwhile, middleware will improve as Microsoft, Palm, and others release products that reside between end-user devices and servers that store information. These new middleware products will make handheld devices with wireless connectivity more useful by allowing mobile workers to access data on the corporate network. Also next year, XML will advance toward its goal of becoming a ubiquitous language for business-to-business data communications when the World Wide Web Consortium standardizes XML by releasing XML Schema. Linux will also advance in 2001, with version 2.4 of the Linux kernel slated for release in the first quarter. Other technologies that corporate IT should watch next year include the new PCIX bus architecture, optical switching, 64-bit processors, voice over IP, and storage over IP.
- "Extreme Measures"
Economist--Technology Quarterly (12/09/00) Vol. 357, No. 8200, P. 7
Extreme programming (XP), a set of programming guidelines devised by software developer Kent Beck in 1996, aims to help programmers write code that is easy for others to understand. Programmers tend to have their own unique quirks in writing code, which makes it more difficult for others to work with the code in the future. Beck created XP while working on the Chrysler Comprehensive Compensation project, which had become such a mess before Beck's arrival that Chrysler terminated the effort. XP requires programmers to keep code simple and to customize to meet clients needs. In addition, XP rules say no piece of code should be the sole responsibility of one programmer. Instead, two programmers should work together at one terminal on each piece of code. This particular rule is controversial because critics note that the most talented programmers often generate 100 times more code than their less gifted counterparts. Top programmers would be less productive if forced to work with slower colleagues, critics say. However, XP supporters say the brightest programmers often write code that no one else can understand, making the code impossible to alter at a later date. Although pairing up programmers might cost more initially, companies could save money later on with code that is easier to maintain. Furthermore, some programmers are interested in trying XP, and observers say using the rules could help companies attract and retain workers.
- "Dabbling at Diversity"
Computerworld (12/11/00) Vol. 34, No. 50, P. 56; Melymuka, Kathleen
Many high-tech companies in Silicon Valley say they have no prejudice toward any type of worker and that hiring decisions are based on skills alone, but critics say area firms need to improve their efforts to hire local minorities. The large number of overseas workers at U.S. companies on H-1B visas creates an appearance of ethnic diversity, but African-Americans and Hispanics are underrepresented by about half in Silicon Valley. African-Americans represent 8 percent of Silicon Valley's overall workforce but only 4 percent of the workforce at 33 top firms in the area, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Meanwhile, Latinos account for 14 percent of available workers but represent only 7 percent of workers at those same companies. Many observers believe that high-tech companies are not biased and really are only looking for skilled workers. Ruben Barrales, CEO of Joint Venture Silicon Valley Network, says finding qualified minority workers is difficult, noting that the problem often begins in elementary school with African-American and Hispanic students being placed in lower math and science classes. Joint Venture aims to help minorities acquire IT skills through training camps and other efforts. Still, companies in Silicon Valley need to shoulder some of the responsibility for finding qualified minority candidates, says John W. Templeton of the Coalition for Fair Employment. Few Silicon Valley companies came to recruit workers this year when the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering and the National Black MBA Association held annual meetings in California, Templeton says. Last year the coalition filed a class-action civil rights lawsuit alleging that up to 90 percent of Silicon Valley tech firms do not even submit mandatory Equal Employment Opportunity forms. Meanwhile, gay and lesbian leaders say high-tech companies need to build this segment of the IT workforce by truly integrating gays and lesbians into the corporate culture.
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- "Better Software With Open Source?"
Computer (12/00) Vol. 33, No. 12, P. 20; Paulson, Linda Dailey
Open source software could fill the gap in supercomputer applications, as U.S. companies struggle to match the need for high-end software, according to new recommendations from the President's Information Technology Advisory Committee. Commercial software is insufficient because the high-end market is specialized, which limits its appeal to vendors, says Collab.net's Frank Hecker, who spoke to the committee. Open-source software also enables users to "customize [only] as needed so that you avoid having to write everything from scratch or lock into a contractor," says Hecker. The committee's recommendations address the shortage of new applications for high-end Cray, SGI, and Sun Microsystems computers, says Giga Information Group analyst Stacey Quandt. Open source software would likely succeed in lower-end applications if it is effective in supercomputing environments, Quandt says. A working group is now examining the issues involved in the deployment of open-source software, says committee co-chair Susan L. Graham. Despite the committee's recommendations, the federal government might not support open source if the next administration does not embrace the concept, says Quandt.