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 3, Issue 249: Friday, September 7, 2001
- "Tech Industry Unsure What Comes Next"
Washington Post (09/07/01) P. E1; Cha, Ariana Eunjung; ElBoghdady, Dina
The U.S. Justice Department's decision not to break up Microsoft into two separate companies has engendered mixed feelings among high-tech executives and analysts about its potential outcome. Some are relieved the case appears to be headed for a resolution; others, such as Progress & Freedom Foundation President Jeffrey A. Eisenach, are worried this will lead to government regulation of the software market. The Windows XP operating system was left out of the announcement, but AOL Time Warner executive John Buckley believes that the government "is prepared to take a hard look" at the product. With the breakup proposal shelved, the question remains what kind of restrictions will be imposed against Microsoft to restore competition. One proposal from Silicon Valley software providers is to place bundling limitations on operating system features. Another proposal would require Microsoft to share its code with more rivals. Microsoft is worried that such a measure will stifle innovation, but former Netscape Communications executive Alex Edelstein counters that it will actually foster it.
- "Senate Votes to Ease Tech Restrictions"
Associated Press (09/07/01) P. A6; Abrams, Jim
The Senate voted to revise the 1979 Export Administration Act, relaxing restrictions on technology that can be used in both a commercial and military capacity while at the same time granting the president the power to block any exports that may threaten national security. The bill drops a licensing requirement for computers above a threshold of 85,000 MTOPS (millions of theoretical operations per second) that are exported to nations such as India, Russia, Pakistan, and China. The Computer Coalition for Responsible Exports praised this move in a letter to senators, arguing that "The U.S. computer industry needs new export control policies that take into account the global, technological and economic realities of the 21st century." Under the terms of the bill, criminals who violate export restrictions could face a $1 million fine for each violation and a 10-year jail sentence. The Bush-backed bill passed 85-14 in the Senate and now goes to the House.
- "U.S. High-Tech Workers Cry Foul Over H-1B Visas"
Minneapolis Star Tribune Online (08/27/01); Cruz, Sherri
The Minnesota chapter of the ProgrammersGuild has joined its national chapter, the Federation for American Immigration Reform, and other organizations in calling for an end to the federal H-1B visa program. The group of independent workers is opposed to the H-1B visa program because it says its members are having a difficult time finding work as computer programmers, when companies can turn to foreign workers and save as much as 50% on programming jobs. The H-1B visa program was created to serve as a solution to the shortage of workers with tech skills, and just last year Congress granted the high-tech industry its wish by allowing more foreign workers to obtain H-1B visas. However, the ProgrammersGuild's Linda Nesheim says companies wanted cheaper labor, and the group has discovered that the Labor Department requires no specific method for companies to use in compensating foreign workers for their work. The H-1B visa program has become an issue for the group now that offshore consulting has taken off ever since the Y2K frenzy. Ending the program will be a difficult task for the programming group and its allies. Offshore consultants want to handle more jobs for U.S. companies, and the high-tech industry is starting to rely more on their services.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Security Expert's DMCA Protest Rallies Supporters"
Newsbytes (09/06/01); McWilliams, Brian
A computer security programmer with Arbor Networks has sparked a small grassroots movement among his colleagues challenging the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). Dug Song, one of the creators of the OpenSSH encryption protocol, replaced his Web site's home page with a single huge link to the Anti-DMCA.org site. Some observers imply that Song might have been the one to crack Microsoft's e-book reader encryption and is now preparing for legal action from the company. However, Song has deferred comment on the issue and Arbor Networks says the company did not request the Web site change. MIT's Technology Review published an article about the crack, saying it would "spur the digital rights debate." Other security programmers have come under attack for their work due to the DMCA, such as the recently arrested Russian programmer, Dmitri Skylarov, and Princeton professor Edward Felten. Song has received support from other security researchers, including Bindview Corporation's Simple Nomad. He says, "Some people do not understand that hacking is an art, a form of artistic expression."
- "Hope Eclipsed"
Los Angeles Times (09/06/01) P. T1; Frey, Christine
Recent college graduates are facing a challenging job market, especially if they are looking for the type of cushy dot-com jobs enjoyed by some just two years ago. Now, students' expectations are lowered and they are seeking technology jobs in traditional industries, according to a survey by WebFeet.com. That same survey found only 5% of students saw dot-coms as a hot job market, compared with 36% who said so a year ago. Still, many students believe the recent downturn in the tech industry is not permanent, says Jerry Houser, Career Development Center director at Caltech. He says they still have faith that new technologies such as speedier processors and wireless connectivity will keep science and engineering degrees viable in the future job market.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "The New Computer Landscape"
Wall Street Journal (09/06/01) P. B1; McWilliams, Gary; Bulkeley, William; Gomes, Lee
Computer companies have been focusing more of their attention on strategies for survival while enduring one of the most troubling downturns in the history of the industry. But now the proposed merger of Hewlett-Packard and Compaq Computer has given industry players more reason to consider whether it would be better to seek a strategic alliance of their own or to differentiate their company from competitors by focusing on a niche product or service. If HP acquires Compaq, the landscape of the industry would change tremendously because there has never been another computer giant that could challenge IBM in every sector in total sales. Smaller companies that specialize, including Dell Computer, which has selling PCs as its niche, should not view their size as a threat to their survival. In fact, some experts believe smaller companies will be able to adjust to innovation in a more timely manner as result of their nimble operations. While IBM is likely to continue to focus on computer services, Sun Microsystems is likely to view the combination as a threat to its services business, and Dell still should thrive selling PCs at low cost. Market observers foresee trouble for Palm in the handheld market, but expect Apple to succeed as a niche player. Overseas, NEC, the largest PC maker in Japan, will be affected the most, while Fujitsu could pose a serious challenge to an HP-Compaq merger.
- "Nanotechnology Emerges as Next New Frontier"
NewsFactor Network (09/05/01); Healy, Beth
Computing, communications, and medicine could be revolutionized by the advent of nanotechnology--the development of machines built from structures that are one-billionth of a meter in size. Nanoscale transistors would be more energy efficient, smaller, and cheaper to produce. Researchers in the medical field are working on nanoscale drug delivery systems, cancer-killing robots, and remote diagnosis tools. MIT's Mark Schattenburg forecasts that nanomanipulation below the 100-nanometer level could take place by 2003, while chips just 23 nanometers in size could be manufactured by 2016. Venture capitalists are already taking an interest in nanotechnology, even though Schattenburg says practical applications will not become available for a decade or two. Meanwhile, the government is getting involved with efforts such as the Clinton administration's National Nanotechnology Initiative, a project that hopes to yield new weapons and space technology. In addition, the Justice Department is researching the forensic applications of nanotechnology, while the National Institutes of Health are investigating its use in genetic sequencing.
- "Setting Out the Snares for Hackers"
New York Times (09/06/01) P. E1; Lee, Jennifer 8.
Computer security researchers have begun compiling the information gleaned from "honeynets," networks set up to monitor hackers' activities. So far, the studies have given psychologists, corporate technology officers, and government agents greater insight into the methods and minds of black hat hackers. One large study, the Honeynet Project, set up by a network of interested individuals in the security sector, recently published a paper on their findings, including statistics that show 60% to 80% of hackers compromise systems for prestige while 10% to 20% do so for money. A book entitled "Know Your Enemy" is also being prepared, and will instruct individuals and companies about the motives and common traits of black hat hackers. Institutions such as the University of Pennsylvania and the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif., have also begun their own honeynet projects.
Click Here to View Full Article
(Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors will need to register.)
- "European Parliament Adopts Echelon Report"
Computerworld Online (09/05/01); Meller, Paul
The European Parliament accepted a report today confirming the existence of Echelon, a surveillance network the U.S. is using to tap into electronic messages mainly through satellite communications. Such activity constitutes a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights, the Parliament declared. Although the report supplies no actual evidence of industrial espionage, it notes that intelligence officers were listening in on the proceedings of several commercial contracts, such as a $6 billion deal between Airbus Industrie and the government of Saudi Arabia. The report says that "Echelon states have access to only a very limited proportion of cable and radio communications, and, owing to the large numbers of personnel required, can analyze only a limited proportion of those communications." Nevertheless, the Parliament is calling for the encryption of all email as one way to block Echelon. It is also advising the U.S. to adhere to the European Convention on Human Rights.
- "For Asia's Weak Tech Sector, H-P's Deal Means Job Cuts and Outsourcing Turmoil"
Wall Street Journal (09/06/01) P. B10; Uimonen, Terho; Guth, Robert A.; Cukier, K.N.
The merger of Hewlett-Packard and Compaq Computer could ripple throughout Asia in the form of 15,000 layoffs and outsourcing consolidation. Two conflicting market breakdowns are vying for space: Compaq's geographical perspective and HP's product line classification; whichever breakdown is ultimately adopted may determine who gets cut. However, the deal may favor HP suppliers, since HP has more outsourcing experience. Both Compaq and HP will manage their own product lines until the merger is complete in the first half of next year. Layoffs in Singapore, where both companies have regional headquarters, are expected. The deal will also boost the level of competition between PC makers in the region. In Japan, the deal could complicate HP's relationship with NEC, which views Compaq as a rival. In general, however, Asian business welcomes the merger and the consolidation it will bring.
- "Laid-off Tech Workers Helping Non-Profits"
Associated Press (09/03/01)
Instead of a severance package, some laid-off Cisco Systems employees are opting to work for a year at non-profit organizations. Under the plan, Cisco pays the employees a third of their former salaries but allows them to retain benefits and stock plans. At the end of the year, the employees get an additional two months salary at the reduced rate and are considered for rehiring. Approximately 80 of the 6,000 Cisco employees laid off in April are taking part in the program, which costs nothing to the non-profits. Non-profit experts say this is the first time a company has paid partial salaries to employees for doing charity work.
- "Bush Addresses Spam and Online Privacy"
The Bush administration is preparing to take an official stance on several problematic Internet issues, including online privacy and spam, according to Nancy Victory, head of the Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration. The White House will likely support a delicate approach to these issues, one that would continue to support industry self-regulation and urge the industry to adopt a voluntary framework, Victory says. An announcement on the administration's official tech policy is expected shortly, says Victory. Meantime, FTC Chairman Timothy Muris is expected to announce the FTC's official position on privacy in coming weeks.
- "Quantum Crypto to the Rescue"
Wired News (09/07/01); Anderson, Mark K.
Cryptology researchers have made an important breakthrough that could secure digital messages even as super-fast quantum computers threaten to break every existing coding system. Scientists at Los Alamos' laboratories use lasers to beam faint light signals that change their bit structure at random, meaning the digital 0s and 1s can be transmitted either as horizontal and vertical photons, or as photons beamed at opposing 45 degree angles, or anything in between. Because of a quantum theory law known as the Uncertainty Principle, the transmission of this signal would only be known to the sending and receiving parties. Additionally, any third party tapping the line of communication would be easily discernable to the sender and receiver. So far, the researchers have been able to send the quantum light signals 10 kilometers horizontally, enough range to give them the ability to send the signals to orbiting satellites, since the light signals would travel easily once they traveled outside the heavy atmosphere near the earth's surface.
- "WIPO Sees No Quick Fix for Domain-Name Grab"
Newsbytes (09/04/01); Bonisteel, Steve
While WIPO's domain name protection report says there is no simple and quick solution to creating international protections, it does identify a number of widespread problems. The WIPO document concludes that registration of domain names in the form of eminent scientists' names, in the names of revered political and religious leaders, and in the names of geographical places by persons and businesses totally unassociated with them is offensive and even "unacceptable" to the parties linked to these concerns. WIPO also "recognized" that the registration of personal names as domain names also offends sensitivities, but concluded a resolution of who should and should not own JoeSmith.com--which is owned by a registrar--may be more difficult than other issues. WIPO-sponsored UDRP decisions regarding geographic names have been split, with Barcelona.com being returned to the Spanish city of the same name, while PortOfHelsinki.com and StMoriz.com were not awarded to their respective location representatives. WIPO's recommendation to reserve domains names corresponding to medical terms for pharmaceutical drugs is the result of trying to protect the medical list of the U.N. World Health Organization. WIPO suggests protections can be implemented through national laws, or through an international treaty.
- "IT Paper Chase"
eWeek (09/03/01) Vol. 18, No. 34, P. 39; Vaas, Lisa
Possessing entry-level IT certifications will not guarantee an employee a sizable paycheck, since the proliferation of such programs makes quality difficult to judge; but certifications do offer job security, especially during economic downturns. International Data estimates the global IT certification market is growing at a rate of 15%. The driver of such growth may be employers' increasing need for skilled IT workers, particularly those who specialize in soft skills such as teamwork and communication. Also highly desirable are certifications that are closely linked to technological innovations, such as Avaya's voice/data convergence certifications. However, many IT managers are questioning the value of such certifications; BayShore National Bank technology director Bill Stapelfeldt, for one, prefers practical experience to certification. Application development and programming language certifications do not have the pull they once had with hiring managers. Vendors that have dropped certification support, such as Microsoft, are also earning the enmity of companies.
- "Management Takes Notice"
InformationWeek (09/03/01) No. 853, P. 28; Hulme, George V.
Senior business executives are starting to place greater value on IT security in the wake of major hacker attacks and viruses such as the Code Red worm. "And that's translated to senior executives' making sure they have the right security in place," explains ERisk Holdings CEO Kerry Williams. Forty-one percent of 4,500 polled executives help establish security policy, while 52% influence security spending, according to InformationWeek Research's fourth annual Global Information Security Survey. InformationWeek Research estimates U.S. businesses lost $273 billion over the past 12 months because of security-related downtime, while the global cost was $1.39 trillion. Two-thirds of the respondents called worms and viruses the most troublesome forms of attack, followed by denial-of-service attacks and unauthorized network access. Exodus Communications VP of cyberterrorism and incident response Charles Neal notes many companies that do not report security breaches may not be aware that such breaches are taking place. Fifty percent of the InformationWeek Research survey respondents do not have written security policies, while 7% say they lack policies altogether; on the other hand, 75% of respondents say their companies' security policies are well-aligned with their business goals. Respondents also listed enhancing network
security and increasing security budgets as top priorities.
- "Is IPv6 Finally Gaining Ground?"
Computer (08/01) Vol. 34, No. 8, P. 11; Lawton, George
The subject of Internet protocol version 6 (IPv6) continues to be a topic that generates differences in opinion among computer experts. The standard was seen as the solution to the IP address shortage when the Internet Engineering Task Force approved it a few years ago, gaining initial support among vendors such as IBM, Cisco Systems, Microsoft, Sun Microsystems, and several Japanese companies. However, users, primarily Internet service providers and network administrators in North America, have been slow to embrace the IPv6 protocol because there is no pressing need to do so as in other parts of the world. In Asia, for example, the explosion in demand for more IP addresses coincides with the proliferation of wireless technology, smart cellular phones, and PDAs in the marketplace. In addition to having more IPv4 (the previous Internet protocol) addresses to work with than their Asian counterparts, ISPs and network administrators in North America have been slow to upgrade PCs, servers, and routers because of the cost and time needed to carry out such a project. Moreover, experts such as independent Internet-technology consultant Noel Chiappa believe IPv6 has major shortcomings as a next-generation networking solution. Ericsson director of IP technology Svend Nielsen says all IPv4 addresses could be used by 2005 as a result of the demand for wireless devices, forcing users to adopt the IPv6 protocol. Meanwhile, IBM Distinguished Engineer Brian Carpenter says users have to keep in mind that the IPv6 protocol is not something that will make them money immediately, but it will allow the network to continue to grow worldwide.
- "A.I. at the Movies"
PC AI (08/01) Vol. 15, No. 4, P. 41; Kroening, Mary
Real-life efforts in artificial intelligence have yet to match the most famous examples in science fiction, whether the humanoid robots in the new film "A.I." or the malevolent computer Hal in the classic film "2001: A Space Odyssey." Still, research into robots and artificial intelligence is continuing at several institutions, including MIT, where multiple projects are under way. Coco is a robot that can move fully, adapting its movement to changes in the environment. The research team working on Coco is trying to give it the ability to process multiple inputs--audio, visual, and tactile--as well as to interact with others in a social manner. MIT researchers are also working on Kismet, a robotic "head" that can communicate through language, gesture, facial expressions, and posture; it is learning to speak in the same method of babbling and mimicking that babies use. At the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University, researchers are working on a robot that will be able to assist the elderly in completing important tasks, such as opening and closing doors, confronting dangerous or emergency conditions, and reminding them when to take medication. As to whether these developments will one day lead to Hal or the robots in "A.I.", author Arthur C. Clarke says, "First our expectations of what occurs outrun what's actually happening, and then eventually what actually happens far exceeds our expectations."