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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Volume 2, Issue 144: Wednesday, December 20, 2000
- "Web World: Privacy, Security, Censorship Among Upcoming Net Challenges"
Associated Press (12/19/00); Jesdanun, Anick
In the coming year, governments worldwide will be facing difficult Internet issues focusing on privacy protection and online safety, including keeping pornography from children and protecting businesses online. Due to the Web's ubiquitous nature, international bodies will be needed to fight online crime and help the world move onto the Internet. In 2001, national governments might attempt to censor Internet access within their borders, says ICANN Chairman Vinton Cerf. "We have a lot of education to do to get people to understand that censorship is not a wise strategy," says Cerf, noting that following through with this process is a difficult matter. The emergence of wireless devices will also be an issue in 2001. Viruses will likely be able to mutate in order to breach protective devices and will be aimed particularly at wireless products, says Symantec's Stephen Trilling. As for e-commerce, international standards will be a necessity, says Information Technology Association of America President Harris Miller. In 2001, entertainment companies will likely continue fighting over copyright laws, and ICANN will have to address China, which does not agree with the Internet's current naming structure, and country code operators, which do not want to pay ICANN's fees.
For information regarding ACM's Internet governance work related to ICANN, visit http://www.acm.org/serving/IG.html.
- "Around the World, Hackers Are Drawn to 'Honeypots'"
Wall Street Journal (12/19/00) P. A18; Johnson, Keith
Computer security expert Lance Spitzner is using honeypots--software, security measures, and networks that mimic the computer systems in use at many corporations--to study hackers. Spitzner and his team, which includes computer security experts as well as psychologists, study how hackers infiltrate systems, what they do once they have broken in, and how they cover their tracks as they do it. Information from his team's studies is made available to the public on the Internet. The team, dubbed the HoneyNet Project, began 18 months ago. Its early work has focused on so-called "script kiddies," hackers who focus on very open systems and use readily available software to conduct their attacks. Although script kiddies are considered amateurs among the hacker community, their attacks can be highly damaging, as an attack earlier this year on eBay, Amazon, and many other well-known Web sites proved. This work has allowed Spitzner to determine how script kiddies operate, and he says he can now protect operating systems such as Solaris and Linux against their assaults. Next for the HoneyNet Project is an attempt to study how skilled hackers who seek credit-card data from e-commerce sites operate. The team is building a honeypot meant to resemble a transactional Web site. Although many security officials laud the work the team is doing, saying making this information public is half the battle, others question the usefulness of their work. These critics say the honeypots are unlikely to catch or provide much information about the most sophisticated hackers. Critics also say inexperienced security professionals may use the team's findings as a stopgap measure.
- "Emerald Isle Woos World's Tech Giants"
Reuters (12/20/00); Smith, Kevin
Ireland's high-tech industry experienced unprecedented growth in the 1990s, and the country plans to continue its economic boom by attracting tech heavyweights from around the world. Over the past six years the Irish economy has seen almost double-digit growth rates as a result of foreign investment, largely from the U.S. Companies that are drawn to Ireland's well-educated, English-speaking workforce and low corporate taxes. Sean Dorgan, CEO of Ireland's Industrial Development Agency, credits the economic boom to Intel, which "put Ireland on the map as a place to do business" when it located there in 1989. Following Intel's lead, Apple, Compaq, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, and Microsoft all set up manufacturing operations in Ireland. Ireland is now the largest computer software producer in the world, Dorgan says. However, Ireland's economic boom is not without its growing pains, and some experts believe the country will be unable to sustain its growth rate. The cost of housing in Ireland has tripled in some cases since 1996, repelling some workers even as the island faces a labor shortage. In addition, newfound wealth and a growing number of foreign workers have flooded Ireland's aging roadways with hundreds of thousands of new cars. Still, Dorgan says the government is preparing for further high-tech growth in areas such as research, development, and e-business. Future growth areas include information and communication technology as well as biotechnology, Dorgan says.
- "Growth of Web Ad Spending Slowed in November"
Wall Street Journal (12/20/00) P. B12; O'Connell, Vanessa
Companies spent $1.76 billion on online advertising in November, up only slightly from $1.73 billion in October, according to AdZone Interactive. This marks the lowest monthly growth in online ad spending for the whole year during what experts had predicted would be a strong holiday season. AdZone President John Cardona says he expected companies to advertise online more heavily in November to grab the attention of holiday shoppers flocking to the Internet. The disappointing growth indicates that the growth rate for online ad spending has peaked, says Cardona. The dot-com shakeout is also taking a toll on online ad spending, as dot-coms close down or reduce their ad budgets. Online ad spending is likely to be weak in the first quarter of 2001, but will pick up somewhat in the second quarter, says Forrester Research analyst Marissa Gluck. In next year's third and fourth quarters, online ad spending will increase significantly as more traditional companies become comfortable with online advertising, Gluck predicts. Gluck also notes that much of what companies spend on digital marketing does not show up in advertising statistics because companies are increasingly turning to direct-response marketing through methods such as email rather than banner ads. Meanwhile, Robert Coen of McCann-Erickson Worldwide forecasts 60 percent growth in online ad spending in 2001, which would bring total spending to about $5.4 billion, compared with $3.4 billion this year.
- "Price of Admission: One Pink Slip"
Washington Post (12/20/00) P. E1; Johnson, Carrie
A recent party in Herndon, Va., for laid-off dot-com workers in the Washington, D.C., area demonstrated the young industry's frenetic pace. Although Mindback Consulting Group reports that 3,000 dot-com employees in the D.C. area alone have lost their jobs this year, those who attended the party Monday night say dot-com recruiters outnumbered the unemployed. The party featured a television screen advertising job openings as well as an open microphone for companies to solicit applications. Party goers' name tags displayed their names as well as their job skills, and many party goers said recruiters frequently cut into their conversations to introduce themselves or just to hand out fliers.
- "Tech Stock Boom Was a Legal Con Game"
SiliconValley.com (12/16/00); Gillmor, Dan
Although the stock market speculation that drove the Internet boom may have been legal, it was not necessarily ethical, argues Dan Gillmor. He charges that venture capitalists, investment banks, and even analysts abandoned the most fundamental economic principles in exchange for a quick buck. In doing so, these institutions transferred much of the investment risk to private investors, whose purchase of tech stocks, especially for companies that had little hope of making a profit, drove the boom. Analysts did not question the rash of reports arguing that profits-to-earnings ratios and other long-held barometers of success had no meaning in the new economy, nor did journalists or any other well-known critics. Although risk and loss are an unavoidable part of any capitalist society, Gillmor believes that by ensuring that private investors carried that burden in the current economic cycle, those who pull the strings of the new economy profited off the foolishness of those who did not and perhaps could not know any better.
- "EU PC Sales to Consumers Dive"
Investor's Business Daily (12/19/00) P. A9
PC sales to European consumers fell sharply in November compared with the same time last year, according to a new report from market researcher Context. In Britain, year-on-year consumer PC sales dropped 66 percent in November, while in France sales fell 55 percent. Overall sales fell 27 percent in Britain, 19 percent in Germany, and 6 percent in France, Context says. Consumer PC sales were on track in Europe until the third quarter, the report says. However, Dataquest expects strong fourth-quarter PC sales in Europe, noting that Christmas is not yet over. PC penetration in European households remains at about 55 percent to 60 percent, meaning the market is not as saturated as the U.S. market, says Dataquest analyst Thomas Reuner. Meanwhile, Context notes that although PC sales appear to be declining in Europe, sales of servers and mobile devices are still solid.
- "Study Looks at What Good Employees Want From a Company"
SiliconValley.com (12/18/00); Steen, Margaret
A new report from Watson Wyatt Worldwide says a company's "high-performing" workers often look for the same qualities in a company as other workers do. The survey of 4,000 workers at 410 companies found the most important factors for these workers when evaluating a potential employer are compensation, benefits, the opportunities to improve skills and gain promotion, and vacation schedules. The study revealed that the choices of high-performing workers do not differ from those of other workers. Broken down by demographics, women valued benefits more than compensation, while men valued the opposite. Younger employees sought room to learn new skills and advance, while older workers sought better compensation and benefits. The study found that high-tech firms in general are doing a better job of recruiting and retaining high-performing workers because they have clear strategies and rewards programs. Human-resources analysts say hiring and keeping high-performing staff is essential because these workers tend to attract other talented workers.
- "Library Group, ACLU Fight Net Filter"
Washington Times (12/20/00) P. B7; Glanz, William
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), sponsor of the Children's Internet
Protection Act, anticipated a legal challenge to the filtering bill and had the foresight to include language in the bill that would speed up the process of any legal review, according to a Republican staffer in the Senate. The ACLU and American Library Association (ALA) said this week that they intend to challenge the bill's legality. Any legal challenge would be heard by the Federal District Court, and any appeal of that court's decision would be taken up by the U.S. Supreme Court. President Clinton may sign the bill into law before the week is out. "Senator McCain fully anticipated a challenge by the ACLU and the ALA," says GOP staff member David Crane. Crane points out that the bill does not require schools and libraries to install filters--only if they want to receive federal funding--and for this reason he believes the bill will be able to withstand any legal challenges. Meanwhile, the Free Congress Foundation announced that it opposes the bill because it undermines local laws.
- "W3C Releases XHTML Basic Spec for Mobile Devices"
InfoWorld.com (12/19/00); Rohde, Laura
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) on Tuesday recommended its XHTML Basic specification as an industry standard for delivering Web content to mobile devices. XHTML Basic combines a specification called Modularization of XHTML with the XHTML 1.0 recommendation, which merges HTML and XML and was released in January. "We broke it down so that developers can pick and choose various aspects [of the XHTML 1.0 core set], and we expect these to be useful to almost all browsers," says W3C's Ian Jacobs. Specifically, XHTML Basic will be a simplified standard for Web content delivery to pagers, PDAs, TV-based Web browsers, mobile phones, and other non-PC devices.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "New Economy: 'Software Gap' Solution Arrives"
New York Times Online (12/18/00); Lohr, Steve
The growing dependence of the economy upon software-driven technologies is increasing the need for talented programmers. IBM software executive Irving Wladawsky-Berger, who also serves as co-chairman of the president's information technology advisory committee, sees several factors closing the software gap. Wladawsky-Berger says that the Internet is moving software from a physical product to a continuous updated medium available online. This, plus the trend toward building applications using basic blocks of code, will allow companies to easily outsource programming tailored to their operations, saving the need for in-house programmers. Wladawsky-Berger cites the common standards and languages being developed for Internet, as well as open-source software like Linux and the Apache server software, as making programming efforts more efficient. "We have this horrible tower of babble in software, and the more we move to standards, the less we are fragmenting the labor of the programming community," he says.
(Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors will need to register.)
- "German Hate Law: No Denying It"
Wired News (12/15/00); Kettman, Steve
The international Internet community has differing opinions concerning the recent German court ruling that Germany's hate laws apply to all Web sites, no matter where they are hosted. New ICANN board member Andy Mueller-Maguhn does not mince words, suggesting that the ruling is "a decision made by a judge who does not understand very much" and "the worst Internet-dependent court decision so far." Mueller-Maguhn argues that if other countries followed Germany's lead by imposing their laws across the Internet, the free flow of ideas over the medium would come to a standstill. Mueller-Maguhn says he intends to challenge one of the court members to a debate on the ruling, to be held in front of the German legislature. Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center defended the ruling, which resulted from the case of an Australian man who used the Web to deny that the Holocaust ever occurred. "There's no librarian online," Cooper says, noting that children can stumble upon hate sites on the Internet. Cooper and others are urging the international community to address the issues of freedom and regulation on the Internet. "We have to have a coherent policy, and that doesn't exist yet," Cooper says. German authorities are also calling for more cooperation at the international level. "[The Internet is] communication place No. 1 for the exchange of neo-Nazi thinking in the world," says a spokesman for Germany's criminal investigative agency.
- "Tech Leaders Vie to Shape U.S. Policy"
NewsFactor Network (12/18/00); Weisman, Robyn
Technology leaders, particularly Silicon Valley Republicans, are welcoming the opportunity to have a greater role in shaping U.S. policy now that George W. Bush has been elected as the next president. In addition to lobbying the next Congress on high-tech issues, tech executives could be asked to join the cabinet of the Bush administration, as the Texas governor's aides already have made clear. Presently, venture capitalist Floyd Kvamme is the subject of rumors regarding who will be the next Secretary of Commerce. As during the Clinton administration, there is talk that the nation could have a "chief technology officer." Furthermore, Bush is considering convening a high-tech summit that he hopes would help direct the nation's course for the new economy. Meanwhile, lobbying group TechNet is likely to choose a high-profile Republican to head the organization for the first time.
For information regarding ACM's work on matters of public policy, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm.
- "Bush Eyes Overhaul of E-Security"
Computerworld (12/18/000) Vol. 34, No. 51, P. 1; Verton, Dan
The incoming Bush administration could implement major changes in the way the government would prepare to guard against cyberattacks. Bush says he plans to create an IT "czar" position by this summer, which would effectively reorganize federal critical infrastructure protection endeavors and could potentially change how the FBI's National Infrastructure Protection Center (NIPC) operates. This could entail new congressional legislation that would facilitate access to investigative information by the national security community. The impetus behind such change is the absence of a trip-wire that would alert intelligence and national security agencies to impending cyberattacks by hostile nations or rogue terrorist groups. Although NIPC is supposed to share intrusion, threat, and warning information with other government agencies and the private sector via an alert network called InfraGuard, the organization has been criticized for keeping such information to itself, as well as for being unable to adequately warn the nation of the "I Love You" virus in May. NIPC is expected to undergo organizational changes in the near future.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "The Year in Net Law"
Internet World (12/15/00) Vol. 6, No. 22, P. 32; Isenberg, Doug
Privacy, domain names, trademarks, and content regulation were the most pressing issues in terms of Internet law in the past year and will remain so in the coming one. The FTC began enforcing the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act earlier this year, but has taken a piecemeal approach due to widespread misunderstanding of the regulations among e-merchants. However, the FTC has also requested that Congress pass new privacy laws, because the agency contends that the high-tech industry's attempt at self-policing has failed. On the trademark front, Congress passed the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act this year, giving trademark owners a powerful new weapon against cybersquatters by facilitating their right to win domain names, especially in cases when the cybersquatters acted "in bad faith." ICANN also recently established the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy, giving trademark holders and domain name registrants an arbitration forum in which to resolve disputes. Despite the courts continually striking down congressional efforts to regulate Internet content, such as the failed Child Online Protection Act, analysts expect that Congress will mandate that schools and libraries adopt online filtering technology.
- "The PC Is Dead--Long Live the PC"
Economist (12/16/00) Vol. 357, No. 8201, P. 73
The Internet is likely to save the personal computer, although the PC of the future may not look the same or sit on a desktop. Once again, computer companies such as Apple, Intel, and Compaq are warning investors about their quarterly performances. However, the PC remains the only device that can keep up with the ever-changing demands of the Internet. Internet appliances would have to be retooled to keep pace. Just five years ago, the PC was a tool for carrying out most office applications. Today the PC has been transformed into a home entertainment center for games, digital photography, music libraries, video editing, and CD making. And with the advent of peer-to-peer computing programs such as Napster, which rely on powerful desktop computers and a relatively dumb network, there is good reason to believe that the PC is not about to die, even though the PC market currently appears to have reached its furthest point of penetration. In the meantime, industry observers expect portable PCs to surpass the sales of desktop machines over the next few years.
- "One-Half of a Manifesto"
Wired (12/00) Vol. 8, No. 12, P. 158; Lanier, Jaron
Computer scientist Jaron Lanier argues against the ideas of "cybernetic totalists" who believe that computers will eventually become autonomous and usurp control of the world from humans. Cybernetic totalists believe that rapid advances in technology could allow computers to surpass human intelligence in 20 years. However, Lanier argues that this type of thinking is flawed because it is based on ideal computers rather than real computers, which operate differently. One tenet of cybernetic totalism that Lanier challenges is the idea that "cybernetic patterns of information provide the ultimate and best way to understand reality." People who create technology often believe that once they "understand something in a way that you can shove it into a computer, you have cracked its code, transcended any particularity it might have at any given time." However, Lanier says, "We imagine 'pure' cybernetic systems but we can only prove we know how to build fairly dysfunctional ones." In addition, cybernetic totalists believe that people are merely cybernetic patterns, and therefore computers will eventually be able to replicate and surpass human thought. However, Lanier notes that a person would have to create software to enable this type of artificial intelligence, and that humans show no sign of being able to do this. Cybernetic totalists explain this gap in their theory by applying Darwinian theory to technology, assuming that computers will evolve on their own beyond the capabilities that humans endow them with. However, Darwin does little to explain some aspects of achievement and creativity such as rational thought, says Lanier, noting the failure of artificial intelligence researchers to create a machine with human "common sense." Furthermore, cybernetic totalists believe that information systems will advance in accordance with Moore's Law, while Lanier argues that software "becomes correspondingly slower and more bloated" as processing power increases and memory prices drop. The poor quality of software will prevent the type of advances in biotechnology and nanotechnology that pundits such as Bill Joy believe would allow scientists to easily manipulate DNA or wipe out entire races of people, for example, Lanier says. The belief that computers will become autonomous is ultimately an "abdication of human responsibility," says Lanier.
- "Election Controversy Raises Prospects for Online Voting"
Washington Technology (12/11/00) Vol. 15, No. 18, P. 1; Welsh, William
VoteHere.net President and CEO Jim Adler acknowledges that technology will not solve the problems that have plagued the presidential election. Rather than a technology issue, Adler sees the Florida election controversy to be a human factor issue. Nevertheless, his company expects that by next year some 40 states will approve online voting. Forrester Research essentially agrees with the company that oversaw the online pilots of the presidential elections in California and Arizona. A new Forrester report says the election fiasco will make more people receptive to the idea of using the Internet to cast ballots. Still, industry officials know they have plenty of work ahead trying to legitimize the use of the technology, identifying voters, ensuring a secret ballot, and rendering audit results. VoteHere.net conducted a voter satisfaction survey that found 100 percent of voters said the online voting system was "easy to use or very easy to use," and 80 percent preferred online voting over traditional voting systems. Online voting will not completely replace touch screens, punch cards, and other current methods, says John Seibel of TrueBallot, a company that runs elections for private organizations. "[Governments] aren't going to invest money for a unique process that occurs only once every several years," says Seibel.