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ACM TechNews is published every week on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
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Volume 3, Issue 239: Monday, August 13, 2001
- "Power Grid Vulnerable to Hackers"
Los Angeles Times (08/13/01) P. C1; Piller, Charles
Riptech recently tested the security of computer networks belonging to dozens of energy-industry clients, and in all cases found them wanting; in some instances, they were able to jump from Internet-connected networks to grid-control systems. Deregulation of the energy industry has led to the development of numerous online energy trading systems, which experts say are less secure than computer networks maintained by utility companies. If a power-control network is breached, a hacker can black out entire cities with a little research, and even cause physical damage at energy plants. A 1997 study of the Alaska oil pipeline networks found that "a decent hacker" could get into the system and cause the line to stop its flow. Last Spring, the computer networks belonging to California Independent Service Operator, which regulates much of the electricity flow in the state, were hacked during the energy crisis. Networks connected to the Internet and unprotected modem hookups, as well as the use of standardized software, were the biggest vulnerabilities found, according to computer security experts, who say that corporate spies and disgruntled workers were the energy industry's biggest threats.
- "U.S. Employees Find No Right to Privacy in Cyberspace"
Financial Times (08/13/01) P. 12; Waldmeir, Patti
The law favors employers who are upping their efforts to monitor their staff's online activities. A survey by the American Management Association indicates that 75 percent of U.S. employers monitor worker communications as a way to prevent employee discrimination lawsuits that stem from racially- or sexually-motivated harassment online. However, privacy advocates allege that such practices render employee privacy practically nonexistent. And the courts uphold such practices, according to cyber-law expert Stewart Baker. He cites a lawsuit that an employee filed against Microsoft, claiming that the company violated his privacy when it broke into a "personal store" of computer files that was sanctioned by the company in the first place. The court ruled in favor of Microsoft. Still, some judges are challenging such statutes; for instance, judges in California's Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals protested the snooping of their own online activities by disabling the monitoring software in May. In Minnesota, a senior federal judge recently contended that employers must show probable cause to rifle through employee computers.
- "Tech Firms Boost R&D Spending Despite Slump"
Wall Street Journal (08/13/01) P. B7A; Jones, Stephen D.
Technology companies have boosted research and development spending 16 percent in the year ended in June, according to recent analysis. The month of June closed with technology companies scrambling to produce fresh ideas in an effort to revive their lagging sales as technology stock values plunge deeper than they have in 10 years. Over 1,200 publicly traded technology firms in the computing and communications industry were analyzed, revealing that $100.8 billion was spent on research and development, a significant increase from the $86.5 bullion spent in the same period a year ago. Sixty percent of the new R&D was performed by 30 large companies including Intel, which increased R&D spending by 14 percent, and Applied Materials, which increased spending 50 percent during the past year. Both firms became mega-giants during the 1990s technology explosion through their determination to continue investing in the research and development of new products throughout the ups and downs of the decade. Intel spent more than half of its $3.8 billion R&D investment in researching ways to configure silicon into producing more profitable computer chips, while the remainder was split among software, device, and basic university research projects. Although each downturn in the industry has been different, according to Applied Materials' CFO, Joseph Bronson, the demand for product has always brought the industry back up through new applications and ideas for technology. Of the 30 largest companies, only 3 actually reduced R&D spending, including IBM, although it still spent $5.18 billion on research.
- "ACM Files Declaration in Lawsuit Challenging the DMCA"
ACM (8/13/01) Grove, Jeff
The ACM filed a declaration in federal court today regarding the legal challenge to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) in the Felten v. RIAA lawsuit. The lawsuit has been filed in the U.S. District Court of New Jersey by a number of computing researchers led by Princeton University computer scientist Edward Felten. The plaintiffs are asking the court to rule portions of the DMCA unconstitutional, arguing its broad prohibitions on disseminating information and technology restrict speech protected by the First Amendment. ACM filed the declaration in support of Felten et al. to help the court understand the practical effect of the issues at stake in this case. ACM is also concerned that, in addition to harming the progress of research, the risk of legal liability under the DMCA threatens the ACM's publication and sponsorship of professional conferences that might include scientific papers assessing the strengths and weaknesses of computer and data security measures. "It is imperative for the court to understand that the application of any law that may limit the freedom to publish research on computer technology will impose a cost on the academic community, the process of scientific discourse, and society in general," says ACM Executive Director John White. "We believe the threat of litigation under the DMCA will have a profound chilling effect on analysis, research, and publication."
For additional information about ACM's Committee on U.S. Public Policy, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm
- "New Economy: Software Double Bind"
New York Times (08/13/01) P. C4; Harmon, Amy
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 creates consumer rights to certain copyrighted Internet materials, yet in its own redundancy also prevents consumers from exercising those rights. An example of this unclear access law involves the case of Dmitri Sklyarov, a Russian computer programmer working for ElcomSoft, who recently ran up against a legal wall when he developed software that can disable the Internet copyright safeguards that prevent electronic books from being openly distributed over the Internet. The point in the case of Sklyarov is that it is still clearly illegal to break through the copyright protection measures to make the legal copies. Concerned over the negative effect of DMCA, Congress consulted the Library of Congress for a recommendation regarding an exception that can be made in the law to allow users to apply software such as Sklyarov's to regain access to materials already legally purchased by the user. As a result of that effort, the Library of Congress is now considering other exceptions including that of libraries and educational institutions that want to permit users access to copy-control technology in order to copy portions of materials protected under the "fair use" section of the copyright law. Pamela Samuelson, co-director of the Center for Law and Technology at the University of California, views DMCA as a violation of constitutional interests.
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- "Disposal Is a Problem as LCDs Displace Tube Monitors"
Wall Street Journal (08/13/01) P. B6
Liquid crystal display screens consume less power and strain eyes less than cathode ray tubes, and International Data (IDC) predicts that 13 million LCD units will be sold this year. But the advent of LCDs could lead to a major environmental hazard if millions of obsolete CRT monitors, which contain lead and phosphorus, are dumped. Only a few CRT manufacturers run recycling programs, and Silicon Valley Toxics Commission executive director Ted Smith says no more than 10 percent of defunct monitors are successfully recycled. Some 500 million obsolete computers and CRT screens are threatening to inundate the United States by 2007, according to the National Safety Council. Proposed solutions to this problem include adopting the restrictions that Japan and Western Europe place on monitor manufacturers, who are required by law to let old CRTs get traded in for recycling. American companies that follow similar procedures for old computers include IBM and Hewlett-Packard, but they are the exception rather than the rule. So far only two U.S. states, Massachusetts and California, ban the dumping of CRTs. Furthermore, IDC estimates that although LCD sales will increase, CRT sales will still be greater by 2005.
- "Dutch Prepare for Hacker Invasion"
Wired News (08/10/01); Kettmann, Steve
The University of Twente in the Netherlands will be home to thousands of hackers Aug. 10 to 12 for the HAL (Hackers at Large) 2001 convention. Since 1989, such hackers' gatherings have taken place in the Netherlands every four years. Rop Gonggrijp, a prominent organizer of the event, said the convention is for people active in networking and PCs, not those cracking systems or breaking computer laws. The convention will draw people from Europe, North America, and other regions. Workshops are slated on copy prevention, worms and viruses, and what to expect in the future, according to Gonggrijp. But partying and other amusements are also part of the equation. The underlying goal of the convention is to generate ideas by brainstorming together, which is rare under normal conditions.
- "Wireless Java in Steep Growth Curve"
According to a report presented recently by Cahners In-Stat/MDR, the Java Virtual Machine (VM) market will expand at a rate of 83.5 percent annually through 2005, fueled largely by its widespread use in Internet-ready wireless applications and devices. The report points out that Java VM allows processors that do not possess built-in Java support to run Java code. Accordingly, the report predicts that Java VM extensions, and in particular, Java accelerators, will grow to 721 million units by 2005. Because Java applications written for one platform can operate on other Java-enabled platforms, the code is being widely used by mobile device and application vendors. Unlike the server and desktop sector, the mobile sector often uses multiple operating systems and platforms.
- "Research Unit For Microsoft Is Opening Up In California"
New York Times (08/08/01) P. C4; Lohr, Steve
Microsoft is establishing a new research unit in California's Silicon Valley for the purpose of bolstering .Net, its Internet services project. The company has not disclosed the specific type of research that the unit will conduct, but unit head Roy Levin said that there will be a concentration of ".Net, distributed computing research." Levin's previous position was director of Compaq's Systems Research Center, and his first recruit for the Microsoft unit is fellow Compaq veteran Michael Schroeder. Levin claimed that working at Microsoft gives people the opportunity to make technological strides that affect millions of users, adding that it is "the reason one does research in an industrial setting instead of an academic setting." He expected the new unit to take on 10 to 15 researchers in the first year of its operation.
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- "Commerce Dept. Launches Web Site to Push Fast Track"
The Commerce Department has unveiled a Web site to try to persuade Americans that President Bush should be given the authority to negotiate trade deals with foreign countries without the approval of federal lawmakers. The site details the benefits such a "fast-track" policy will have on workers, consumers, and businesses, and breaks down the potential profits for each state and various industries. High-tech companies, who stand to benefit from such a trade procedure, have been lobbying lawmakers to confer such authority on the president, although Congressional Democrats have resisted, claiming that the bill would be bad for international environment and labor standards.
- "The Man Who Debunks Virus Myths"
Wired News (08/06/01); Delio, Michelle
Computer security pundit Rob Rosenberger is keeping his industry honest and repudiating any attempts by the media to hype up security issues. Through his Vmyths Web site, Rosenberger debunks unsupported theories and attacks individuals in the security industry who are not careful with the information they disseminate. "If Rob's opinions cause you to pause and ponder, then he has accomplished his goal of creating awareness," says Security News Portal's Marquis Grove. Most recently, he attacked the FBI's National Infrastructure Protection Center for employing the mass media to raise awareness about the Code Red worm. Rosenberger says that resulted in a apocalyptic mentality for some on the Internet, when the threat to Internet infrastructure was in fact, negligible.
- "Congressional Leaders Demand New Internet Domains"
Newsbytes (08/07/01); McGuire, David
In a letter to Commerce Department Secretary Dan Evans, U.S. House lawmakers called on Evans to pressure ICANN to consider more possible TLDs, writing that "we believe there is a clear desire being expressed by businesses, citizens, and members of Congress to see some true diversity in the current [TLD] environment." The letter also strongly supports the creation of a .kids TLD, calls for a "transparent process with clear accountability" for any future round of new TLD consideration, and is signed by bi-partisan group of House lawmakers that includes Reps. Billy Tauzin (R-La.), John Dingell (D-Mich.), Fred Upton (R-Mich.), and Edward Markey (D-Mass.). ICANN President Stuart Lynn said he welcomes government input but that ICANN still stands by its proof of concept process. Lynn added that ICANN will not consider any new TLDs until all of its current new ones are launched.
For information regarding ACM's Internet governance work related to ICANN, visit http://www.acm.org/serving/IG.html
- "A+ Need Not Pertain Just to Conventional Schooling"
Investor's Business Daily (08/10/01) P. A7; Noack, David
People exploring ways to boost their technology skills are increasingly turning to computer certification, such as A+ and Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE). The various certification tests available apply to each level of experience the person has and wants to obtain. The MCSE, for instance, measures technical skills in Microsoft, while A+ certification weighs the ability of entry-level computer service technicians. Upon certification, technicians generally see an increase in pay; a 1998 survey by Lotus found that 64 percent of Certified Lotus Professionals experienced a 30 percent salary boost within six months of completing certification. The University of South Florida's Division of Lifelong Learning offers computer certifications in MCSE and A+, which costs more than $1,700. However, employers warn that computer certifications are not a guarantee when applying for technology jobs.
- "Small Tech Is Poised to Pounce on the Mobile, Wireless Future"
Small Times (08/02/01); Karoub, Jeff
Market analysts are likely to miscalculate the growth of the small tech market because not all of its switches, relays, and other technologies are currently designated as small-tech components. Clark Nguyen, whose company, Discera, develops microsystems for wireless devices, says monitoring small tech as a specific market will be difficult because no one will track its components once they are integrated into wireless communications devices. Cahners In-Stat has released a new study that projects revenues from RF MEMS switches and relays will soar from $1 million in 2001 to about $350 million in 2006. Switches and relays that control the electronic signal or frequency in a device have gained the attention of wireless companies because radio frequency MEMS will improve the efficiency of mobile phones, while allowing manufacturers to make smaller units and lower costs. In addition to mobile phones, wireless MEMS technologies can be integrated into global positioning satellite (GPS) systems, vehicle tire-monitoring systems, and other wireless communications devices. For example, Samsung Electronics is incorporating the technology into personal digital assistants and watch phones. Wireless MEMS allows devices to communicate on a range of frequencies.
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- "Get With the Program"
Industry Standard (08/13/01) Vol. 4, No. 30, P. 52; Gates, Dominic
A new programming language from Curl is designed to intertwine the capabilities of HTML and Java. The software, the end result of a DARPA-funded MIT research project, could potentially give rise to a billion-dollar industry, according to Curl CEO Bob Young. The language attempts to satisfy the complete gamut of Web site requirements and deliver Web content via a browser plug-in, thus shifting the computing burden from Web servers to user PCs. Bandwidth and costs can be saved through this arrangement. World Wide Web Consortium director Tim Berners-Lee owns a piece of Curl, which lends the software considerable clout. Still, for Curl to succeed the language must be adopted on a wide scale. Userland CEO Dave Winer says, "It won't fly. It's typical an idea like that would come from academics. They rarely have respect for installed bases." Young says he is aware of such resistance and has focused Curl's initial efforts at corporate intranets, instead of the Web as a whole.
- "Global Woman"
Computerworld (08/06/01) Vol. 35, No. 32, P. 34; Melymuka, Kathleen
Women possess the soft skills to succeed in global IT initiatives, according to Prudential Financial vice president for international investments Irene Dec. "You need people who can collaborate, build relationships, understand behavior, and women tend to be more in that play," she argues. Such people have good listening skills, socialize readily, follow other people's behavioral cues, study up on the local culture, and are patient and respectful. Studies by Catalyst and other research groups show that there is less cultural bias toward women overseas than in the United States, and women can use this to their advantage. Asia is a particularly strong region for IT women, Dec says. But she also notes that soft skills alone are not enough; women must also possess knowledge and expertise to establish their value.
To learn more about ACM's Committee on Women in Computing, visit http://www.acm.org/women
- "Lawsuits Spur Rise in Employee Monitoring"
U.S. News & World Report (08/13/01) Vol. 131, No. 6, P. 53; Hawkins, Dana
Employers seeking protection from employee lawsuits have begun monitoring their workers in an effort to prevent sexual harassment and other claims before they occur. Many employers have been issued subpoenas for employee email correspondence, which has made employee monitoring a necessity. As surveillance technology has become cheaper, more and more employers are eager to monitor their employees, but many employees are never informed about when or how they are monitored. Additionally, employers that fire workers based upon "illegal" emails and Web surfing fail to hear the worker's side of the issue. One employee was about to be fired until he reminded supervisors that he was on vacation the week that the violations occurred. Many experts agree that employers should only be allowed to conduct searches based upon probable cause and employees should be present during the search.
- "Coming to a Screen Near You"
Forbes (08/06/01) Vol. 168, No. 3, P. 82; Fulford, Benjamin; Tanzer, Andrew; Ghosh, Chandrani
Flat-panel monitors are likely to find their way into PCs now that the price of liquid crystal displays (LCDs) has fallen 50 percent over the past year. Manufacturers in Taiwan and Korea have wrestled control of LCD manufacturing from their Japanese counterparts by cutting more screens from larger pieces of glass. While older Japanese plants can cut two or four 15-inch LCD screens from larger glass sheets, the newer facilities in Korea and Taiwan can cut six 15-inch LCD screens. At the same time, a price war is raging that has brought the cost of 15-inch flat panels down to twice the cost of a 17-inch cathode ray tube (CRT); 15-inch flat panels used to cost five times as much. Dell has a 15-inch LCD that has come down in price from $999 last September to $499 in April, and Apple and Sony's PC group have plans to phase out CRTs in favor of LCD flat panels. Display-market research specialist Stanford Resources expects LCDs to account for 9 percent of monitors this year, but for 40 percent by 2007. The emergence of smaller and cheaper LCDs should expand the laptop market by more than 10 percent this year, while reducing desktop sales by 5 percent. Moreover, PDAs and cell phones will be able to rely less on text-heavy screens, while offering crisp, full-motion video.
- "Plumbing for IT Aid Abroad"
eWeek (08/06/01) Vol. 18, No. 30, P. 19; Balian, Cheryl
Some companies are optimizing efficiency and saving money by outsourcing their IT operations to offshore concerns. Xenergy, for example, farmed IT development services out to Vested Development. Companies can realize savings of 30 percent to 70 percent through outsourcing, but finding the right talent is just as important. Experts contend that Russia, India, and China are producing graduates with better IT skills than American schools. Although some companies, fearing a loss of control, are reticent to outsource, Forrester Research analyst Christine Overby says that, "By and large, companies that have engaged in global development for several years tell success stories."
- "Flexible Electronic Futures"
Nature (08/01/01) Vol. 412, No. 6846, P. 489; Hamers, Robert J.
Meyer zu Heringdorf and a team of researchers have come up with a way to make high-quality crystals in thin-film form using the organic semiconductor pentacene. The result could clear the way for affordable, flexible computers and displays, and real molecular computers using organic molecules. Their research is a major advancement because it could allow scientists to apply electronic properties to organic materials at a time when interest in incorporating organic materials into microelectronic devices has gained in popularity. In imaging the formation of films, the team of researchers used the molecular semiconductor pentacene, which offers chemical and thermal stability and benefits from its planar shape in crystalline packing. The researchers used photoelectron emission microscopy (PEEM) to observe how organic molecules form bonds. Scientists now have a better idea how organic molecules compare to classical models of growth. Until now, it has been difficult to make a comparison because inorganic molecules have less complex shapes and stronger bonds into crystals than organic molecules. The research could enable scientists to use a single crystal of pentacene to make integrated circuits in transistors.