Timely Topics for IT Professionals
About ACM TechNews
ACM TechNews is published every week on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
ACM TechNews is intended as an objective news digest for busy IT Professionals. Views expressed are not necessarily those of either Gateway Inc. or ACM.
To send comments, please write to email@example.com.
Volume 3, Issue 255: Friday, September 21, 2001
- "U.S. Could Use Cybertactics to Seize Bin Laden's Assets"
Computerworld Online (09/20/01); Verton, Dan
U.S. intelligence and security officials may seek to capture Osama bin Laden's assets through covert electronic operations, thus cutting off funding to his terrorist network. Expert hackers say overcoming the technical barriers is feasible, but the operation would also require involvement on the ground with agents impersonating or intercepting bin Laden and his associates. In 1994, a 24-year-old Russian hacker stole $10 million from Citibank in an online heist. Because the seemingly innocent accounts are likely housed in many third-party institutions around the world, official cooperation would be too cumbersome. Stroz Associates security consultant Eric Friedberg says there are legal hurdles to overcome in such a complex operation, since the identity and ownership of the assets are muddled and hard to track. Predictive Systems VP of cyberlaw Mark Rasch says U.S. intelligence agents would score a coup if they could positively trace the accounts to bin Laden and obtain a lawful seizure or freeze order. In January, the U.S. government captured $245 million in digital assets from Afghanistan's Taliban government.
- "Attack Can't Erase Stored Data"
Wired News (09/21/01); Scheeres, Julia
Last week's destruction of the World Trade Center in New York wiped out one of the nation's largest financial and insurance services nodes, but although the offices were obliterated, the data was safe. After the bombing in 1993, many of those firms upgraded to simultaneous data storage in offsite data centers, such as those that are operated by EMC, which had 25 customers in the two towers. These "hot backups" allow systems to remain live despite the physical destruction of one site. Many other companies use older magnetic tape technology, backing up data periodically onto magnetic tapes. But data on these tapes takes up to a day to extract, and everything is lost if the tapes are damaged. Still, Sungard restored its seven WTC customers' systems using data stored on the previous day's tapes and, along with borrowed office space and hardware, was able to get its customers' operations back online quickly.
- "Tech Firms Brace for 'Wipeout' After Attacks"
Wall Street Journal (09/20/01) P. B4; Thurm, Scott; McWilliams, Gary; Williams, Molly
The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks hit a technology sector already weakened by the global slowdown for corporate IT products. Analysts say that sales projections in many of these industries, including PCs, semiconductors, and software all may drop by as much as 20 percent. Mainframe computers and other corporate data infrastructure components are already beginning to see more sales as companies move to secure their back-end computing systems with storage and servers. Telecommunications networking equipment also may suffer from the "buyers' strike" following the attacks, as companies hold off on purchases as their vendors are readying their end-of-quarter sales reports. Some sectors will be hot, however, as firms saw the importance of videoconferencing, wireless, and Internet telephony products during the disasters.
- "To Attacks' Toll Add a Programmer's Grief"
Washington Post (09/21/01) P. E1; Cha, Ariana Eunjung
Ten years ago, computer programmer Phil Zimmermann posted Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) on the Internet. Zimmermann created PGP as an encryption tool that people who live under oppressive regimes could use to send messages without fear of punishment. It can only be cracked by people who are given a "key." Although Zimmermann does not regret posting PGP over the Web, he must deal with the possibility, currently being explored by the government, that it was used by hijackers to coordinate last week's devastating terrorist attacks. He has received hate mail condemning his actions, accusing him of giving terrorists a new weapon. Zimmermann maintains that there is a strong need for good cryptography, but at the same time acknowledges that evildoers could use the technology for their own ends. Lawmakers are seeking to curtail the use and distribution of the technology through legislation, but Zimmermann and other encryption pioneers warn that its proliferation probably negates such initiatives. Restricting the technology would also probably weaken existing computer systems and incur massive costs, according to encryption expert Matt Blaze.
- "Tech Agenda Now Deferred in Washington"
SiliconValley.com (09/19/01); Phillips, Heather Fleming
The recent terrorist attacks have forced Congress to put many high-tech legislative issues on the back burner and focus their efforts on recovery, military response, and bailing out a faltering economy. Even before the attacks, lawmakers were criticizing a bill that would relax computer export controls, arguing that it would help terrorists and other malevolent individuals get hold of technology that could be used against the United States. The Senate approved the bill, but the chances of it being passed by the House of Representatives are low, according to lobbyists. The desire for bipartisan cooperation in the face of the crisis may suspend an as-yet unresolved improved education measure. An extension of moratoriums on Internet commerce and Internet access taxes is also in danger. On the other hand, a bill that would grant the president more trade promotion authority may find more support in light of the economic slump; advocates also hope such a bill would be a politically stabilizing force internationally. Another bill that would accelerate computer hardware and software depreciation could be included in any House economic stimulus package.
- "China to Help Pakistan Establish Tech Incubators"
Newsbytes (09/19/01); Creed, Adam
China will lend its skills to help Pakistan develop high-tech incubators. The decision was made after a meeting last week led by Professor Atta-ur-Rahman, Pakistan's Federal Minister for Science and Technology, and Professor Kong Deyong, president of China's National Research Center for S&T Development. Atta said at the meeting that China's know-how about technology parks and the commercialization of research and development could help his own country move forward. The two countries will work together to create technology parks and incubators in Pakistan. One of the possible sites is NUST, the National University for Science and Technology in Pakistan. The two nations are expected to make plans for initial projects within the next 10 days, according to Atta.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Quantum Theory Could Expand the Limits of Computer Chips"
New York Times (09/20/01) P. F4; Eisenberg, Anne
New light-focusing technology that utilizes quantum theory could quadruple the speed of processors if recent research proves applicable to lithography techniques. Researchers at the University of Maryland conducted experiments to prove the basic physics in manipulating light so that it can more precisely focus. By bringing the beam down to less than half a wavelength, engineers could fit smaller circuits onto computer chips, thus cutting the distance that electrons have to travel and speeding the processor. The process uses special crystals to entangle photons as they pass through. Entangled photons use only half the wavelength single photons use, and so are able to focus on much more minute details. Duke University professor Dr. Daniel Gauthier says the problem is now finding a new chemical substance that will accept the light manipulated by quantum theory, as well as strengthening the power of that light.
(Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors will need to register.)
- "Techies Battle Nimda Worm With Software, by Hand"
Newsbytes (09/19/01); Bonisteel, Steven
Network administrators are beginning to rein in the Nimda worm through software and firewalls, though the worm is not yet fully understood. Nimda uses at least four methods to propagate itself, including exploiting vulnerabilities exposed previously in Microsoft desktop, Web browsing, and server software. Nimda can attach itself invisibly to an email attachment as an executable file stored in MIME headers. It similarly can hide in Web pages, infecting computers that simply view that Web address. Security company Central Command has released an early version of its AntiNimda eradication software that can purportedly restore all affected desktop programs and executable files. Central Command advises running the software twice, once again after rebooting, because the Nimda worm has the ability to attach itself to central files in an attempt to evade detection.
- "U.S. Recovery: Cost of Rebuilding N.Y. IT Infrastructures Estimated at $3.2 Billion"
InfoWorld.com (09/19/01); Grygo, Eugene; Jones, Jennifer
TowerGroup estimates that it will cost about $3.2 billion to repair the damaged IT infrastructure on Wall Street in the wake of last week's terrorist attack in New York. TowerGroup's Larry Tabb says that some 30,000 securities positions that were located in the World Trade Center will need to be replaced, along with some 15,000 to 20,000 positions that were in nearby buildings. Restoring hardware such as workstations, PCs, servers, cabling, minicomputers, etc., will cost $1.7 billion, according to Tabb. More costs will be incurred from relocating personnel and maintaining disaster recovery sites so that firms can continue to do business while restoration proceeds. SunGard CEO Jim Simmons says the company is employing a half-dozen East Coast recovery centers with hundreds of people to relocate displaced financial firms. WorldCom's Linda Laughlin says that her company and other carriers have provided co-location services, temporary office space, and phone lines. Some 9,000 to 14,000 businesses in New York have been affected by the disaster, according to Verizon. Meanwhile, TowerGroup says the reconstruction effort at ground zero will proceed over the next 12 to 24 months.
- "Fujitsu Opens Up Linux-Based Humanoid Robot"
ZDNet UK (09/17/01); Wearden, Graeme
Fujitsu is expected to unveil details about its Hoap-1 robot on Tuesday. The humanoid Hoap-1 has been available for purchase since last week. Hoap is short for "Humanoid for Open Architecture Platform;" the robot is based on RT-Linux. Weighing 6 kg and standing 48 cm tall, Hoap-1 is intended to boost research on robotic technologies, says Fujitsu. The firm will reveal details about the robot's internal architecture to allow users to write their own programs for it. In particular, Fujitsu hopes the robot will be useful for developing motion control algorithms and methods of communication between robots and humans. Fujitsu expects to sell about 100 of the robots by 2004. The launch of Hoap-1 follows Japan's recent announcement that it will invest considerably in the robotics industry.
- "Windows XP Launches Monday"
Investor's Business Daily (09/21/01) P. A4; Seitz, Patrick
Windows XP will ship with new PCs starting Monday and will offer businesses a host of new technologies that could provide cost savings. But Microsoft and its partners are targeting consumers as well, and planning to spend $1 billion on a mass marketing effort. Windows XP is unlike previous editions because it uses the same basic platform for both business and home versions, and promises unprecedented platform-stability and ease-of-use. Once a business moves over to XP, analysts predict that IT support costs will go down because employees will have less problems, and when they do, staff can remotely repair computers and track changes to the PC. Despite the new operating system, IDC estimates that the PC market will continue to fall this year and next year by 13 percent and 4.1 percent, respectively.
- "Judges Set Precedent for Workplace Privacy"
Reuters (09/19/01); Sullivan, Andy
The Judicial Conference of U.S. Courts has decided to revise a new Internet-use policy by removing a provision that claims that court employees' Internet activity will be strictly monitored to the point where privacy would be nonexistent. This rewording of the policy is in response to several judges in San Francisco's 9th Circuit District Court who balked at the prospect of losing their right to online privacy, and protested by disabling monitoring software for a week in May. Steptoe & Johnson lawyer Stewart Baker says that such a move could generate judiciary sympathy for employees who sue their employers for privacy violation. Chief U.S. District Judge Charles H. Haden II believes that the new policy could be applied to private businesses and institutions beyond the court system.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Designers Look to Take Computer Chips Off the Clock"
NewsFactor Network (09/18/01); McDonald, Tim
A group of computer chip designers are working on microprocessors that do not need internal clocks to operate. Increasing chip speeds mean more power consumed by the clock, which today accounts for nearly one-third of the chip's computing power. Asynchronous chips can handle encryption better than synchronous chips because a lack of regularly timed signals makes it hard for hackers to detect them. In addition, asynchronous microprocessors emit little electromagnetic noise, offer longer battery life, and their transistors can exchange data independently. IBM, Intel, and Sun Microsystems are among the firms researching asynchronous chips, as are universities and a few startups. But adoption will take time: As yet there is no mass market for clockless chips, and there are not many clockless chip designers coming out of schools.
- "Internet Chiefs to Try to Bolster E-Commerce"
Agence France Presse (09/17/01)
WIPO will be hosting its second three-day International Conference on Electronic Commerce and Intellectual Property starting Sept. 19 with the goal of boosting e-commerce, and one topic on the agenda is increasing the protection for domain names. A recent WIPO study recommended increasing domain-name protections for geographical identifiers, company titular names, organizational acronyms, and in other areas, and some Internet experts believe the current confusion surrounding domain-name ownership is undermining consumer confidence. The conference will also focus on intellectual property issues on the Internet in terms of patent issues and product selling, and will be featuring keynote speakers from top Internet outfits. "If the promise of the Internet is to come true then you need to have confidence in the Internet," says WIPO's Samar Shamoun. "The idea is to bring together the business community, governments, and consumers to discuss how e-commerce is done," Shamoun says. The conference was last held in 1999.
- "The Boringness of Computers"
Newsweek Online (09/17/01); Guterl, Fred
The acquisition of Compaq Computer by Hewlett-Packard could bring computer technology closer to the popular notion of ubiquity. A combined HP and Compaq would likely move the new company from the business of selling computers to providing computer services. The services business has become a lucrative market that analysts now say accounts for 30 or 40 cents in profits for each dollar in revenues made by IBM and other firms. Computer services involve product support through toll-free telephone numbers, and answering inquiries into whether it is time to upgrade to Windows XP and what kind of laptops to buy. But the service business also entails providing more lucrative, in-depth consulting work to companies by developing products that use a web of networked computers to monitor inventory, predict consumer trends, streamline manufacturing, and improve customer relations. By leaving computer manufacturing to companies such as Dell, HP-Compaq could join other services firms in creating a more elaborate version of the Internet, where billions of objects, including clothing and everyday appliances, are connected for real-time communication. Running almost as an autonomic nervous system, the Internet would resemble the operations of the human body. However, questions remain regarding what the smart objects will actually do.
- "Computer Networks as Social Networks"
Science (09/14/01) Vol. 293, No. 5537, P. 2031; Wellman, Barry
Computer experts are starting to view computer networks as social networks that provide connections to people, organizations, and information. One fascinating development of the emerging networked society is the community network on and offline. The networking of computers has essentially led to a networking of communities through communications tools such as email, attachments, Web sites, buddy lists, and instant messaging. Although there are doubts about whether a sense of community can be found online, most results from research tend to indicate that the technology is extending the communal structure and reinforcing relationships. Research also suggests that the Internet could one day transform society and be taken for granted in a similar manner as the telephone. Another development of the networked society is knowledge access, particularly across complex organizations that are bureaucratic and hierarchical in structure. As a result, the challenge is to provide software that can map and supply who knows what in a large, sprawling organization; a way for systems to collect such data; and offer privacy to users. Ultimately, new tools will be needed to find knowledge in the networked society.
- "And Then, Just When You Thought the 'New Economy' Was Dead..."
Business 2.0 (09/01) Vol. 2, No. 7, P. 68; Useem, Jerry
A debate exists as to whether the new economy has run out of steam--or even existed in the first place. A lack of productivity gains and bottom-line boosts seems to negate the new economy's hopes, but some economists and experts argue that the new economy does exist; only its criteria needs to be redefined. Focusing on spillover rather than productivity gains gives information technology a more measured effect. The service industry, for example, has demonstrated improvements in convenience, quality, and choice from new technology--factors that are not as substantial as assembly-line production. Consumers are more likely to be the prime beneficiaries of the new economy rather than firms, as increased competition will lead to less corporate profits. Oxford economic historian Paul David expects industry to change significantly and make serious returns once IT achieves a certain penetration rate, much as electricity did. Furthermore, "The costs of interaction are collapsing because of the Internet, and as those costs collapse, I think the economics of temporarily assembled organizations will beat the economics of the old vertically integrated organization," says Enron CEO Jeff Skilling.