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 256: Monday, September 24, 2001
- "Forum: U.S. Must Also Prepare for Attacks Over the Internet"
Computerworld Online (09/21/01); Thibodeau, Patrick
The terrorist strikes in New York and Washington have raised the government's focus on physical threats from hostile parties, but discussions at an Internet security forum indicate that cyberterrorism is also considered to be a significant threat. Adding to the worry is a report from the General Accounting Office that says federal security efforts are proceeding at a sluggish pace. Thus far, there has been little analytical study of interdependent and vulnerable components in the infrastructure, according to U.S. Comptroller David Walker. The Bush administration has had a new government infrastructure security initiative in the works for months, and the GAO report stresses the need for such a plan even more. The Internet is likely to play an increasingly important role in both military actions and terrorism, but former chief of the Justice Department's computer division Scott Charney says the exact risk of Web-based assaults is difficult to determine. Recent cyberattacks have prompted some lawmakers to consider legislation that would require encryption providers to supply the government with keys or back doors for their products. "It's still vitally important that we pay attention to how vulnerable we are in the Internet and in the Information Age," argued Sen. Robert Bennett (R-Utah) at the forum. "Someone who wishes us ill could do very significant damage."
- "In the Computer Sector, a 'Blanket of Hesitation'"
New York Times (09/24/01) P. C5; Lohr, Steve
With the IT economy slowing to unprecedented levels even before the World Trade Center attack, many technology companies now say they have no outlook on when corporate IT spending will rebound. EMC President Joseph M. Tucci says, "The business world is simply covered in a blanket of hesitation." With the current financial quarter ending Sept. 30, many tech companies, especially software firms, expect dismal results as customers shy away from signing end-of-the-quarter contracts. However, Microsoft is pledging $250 million to market its upcoming Windows XP desktop operating system to combat the retrenchment in consumer spending many experts predict. Although analysts may doubt XP's ability to revive PC sales, many say that other IT sectors will prosper. Knowledge management and data backup are anticipated to grow as companies look to make their core business knowledge more resilient to disasters.
(Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors will need to register.)
- "Feds, White House in Closed-Door Meeting About Nimda"
Newsbytes (09/21/01); Krebs, Brian
Federal officials, security experts, and ISP operators met privately during the SANS Institute's Wargames conference in Washington, D.C. last week to discuss the Nimda worm. According to those studying the worm, Nimda may be the most disruptive and complex virus yet. Moreover, officials still do not know everything about the virus because of the unusual amount of code required to run it, meaning that Nimda might still have surprises left. The Nimda worm has confounded security experts because it uses so many methods to propagate itself and spread so rapidly. About 9 a.m. on Tuesday morning, the worm simultaneously attacked many systems, leading some to speculate that it may have been planted beforehand in many computers. Because the only sure way to rid a computer of the virus is to reinstall a new operating system on a blank system, experts say IT departments will have a significant burden in repairing damage done by Nimda.
- "Fast Pace of Technology Field Makes Patents Hard to Track"
Investor's Business Daily (09/24/01) P. A6; Bermant, Charles
Technology products are developed and marketed much faster than the U.S. Patent Office can approve them. Because each new technology must be brought to one of 3,000 patent examiners specializing in that specific field, long back-ups can form. In the meantime, many companies are forced by market pressures to release their products with only an advisory letter from the Patent Office, telling them of the preliminary patent approval. Henry Chesbrough of Harvard's Business School helped protect his former employer's IBM-compatible hard drive component from 42 rival products in 1985 without an official patent. He says that the process is not easy, but that all of the rival companies acknowledged the product except one, and that the pending patent was enough to keep a major competitor from releasing copycat technology. The U.S. Patent Office's Bridgid Quinn says the average patent requires $8,000 in application fees and 25 months to process.
- "Vendors Test Cross-Continental IP Storage Solution"
Computerworld Online (09/21/01); Mearian, Lucas
IBM, Intel, Qwest Communications International, Hitachi Data Systems, Dell Computer, Adaptec, QLogic, and Nishan Systems teamed up to demonstrate that East Coast and West Coast data centers can store and recover block-level data with IP and off-the-shelf equipment. Data flowed back and forth between Sunnyvale, Calif. and Newark, N.J. at about 1 TB per hour, using iSCSI, FCIP, and iFCP data-transport standards. Switches for the network were contributed by Nishan, while the RAID storage devices were supplied by IBM, Hitachi, and Dell; routers were provided by Cisco Systems. The gigabit-speed transcontinental IP storage-area network uses SCSI and Fibre Channel commands, and is known as The Promontory Project.
- "European Privacy Groups Lobby EU on Privacy Issues"
Newsbytes (09/21/01); Gold, Steve
More than half a dozen European privacy groups have called upon the European Council "to refrain from new and extended communications interception and lawful access powers for police forces and intelligences services." The groups outlined their plea in a letter to the European Council, which in the wake of the terrorist attacks in the United States is considering broad legislative activity that could potentially trample the privacy rights of Internet users. Key escrow and encryption are among the worrisome topics, says Casper Bowden, director of the Foundation for Information Policy Research, one of seven groups that signed the letter. The other groups include the Chaos Computer Club, Privacy International, Bits of Freedom, Digital Rights, Fitug, and Quintessenz.
- "U.S. Recovery: Companies Rethink IT Strategies"
InfoWorld.com (09/20/01); Vance, Ashlee
Business leaders are seriously considering worst-case scenarios after witnessing the destruction of the World Trade Center. Because nearly all of the financial services companies housed there had mirrored backup services, virtually no data was lost. Customers of Electronic Data Systems and Hitachi, for example, had automated data backup systems relaying information to off-site data centers even up to the time of the collapse. Companies with large amounts of valuable data will now begin to seriously consider investing in data outsourcing options, says Hitachi's Scott Genereux. Besides data management companies, videoconferencing firms also expect to see increased business in the following months, says Proximity President Bob Kaphan. He cites fears of flying and the need for contingency plans as the factors that will boost his business.
- "Postcard From the Future: Hold the Phone"
Red Herring Online (09/20/01); Fitzgerald, Michael; Parsons, Michael
Although sending digital photos over cell phones may not be the next big thing, cell phone makers hope such a new feature will generate more sales. The technology could range from cell phones with snap-in digital cameras to cameras with built-in wireless data and voice access. Multimedia messaging could result from photo phones, and it works on current cellular networks, offering support for pictures (small emoticons, gray scale graphics, and full-color images), sound clips, MP3 files, and video streaming. Other experimentations include music devices that take pictures and send email, and "integrated PDA" phones, which combine the capabilities of a cellular phone with those of a personal digital assistant. Still, IT research firm IDC, which plans to lower handheld projections for 2001, does not seem to be overly impressed. The slowing economy and a wait-and-see response from consumers concerning what new features will win out are likely to prevent any boom in sales. Experts also realize that IT firms need to improve mobile storage if mobile computing is to really take off. In the next few years, nano-storage devices could be the key to empowering mobile devices.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Woman's Lawsuit Targets Technology"
Associated Press (09/19/01); Harris, Ron
Karen DeLise is suing Music City Records and SunnComm for unfair business practices because a CD she bought will not play on her home computer, nor can the song tracks on it be converted into MP3 files. DeLise's attorney, Ira Rothken, says that she is not after money, but rather a clearer listing of the product's capabilities on the packaging label. He contends that the label does not mention that the CD will not play on PCs or that "licensed copies" will not function on some portable digital music players. Furthermore, the suit requests that people who have bought the CD should be allowed to return it.
- "Attacks Accelerate Surveillance Research"
Wall Street Journal (09/20/01) P. B8; Regalado, Antonio; Zimmerman, Rachel
One certain result of last week's terrorist attacks is that surveillance and screening of individuals and their actions will be increased. The Artificial Intelligence Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which receives 65 percent of its money from the military, is already asking its workers to make suggestions for devices that can be used to prevent terrorism. Some ideas include buildings that can fix themselves, black boxes physically attacked to individuals that can help locate them in case of a disaster, and technology that can detect suspicious behavior. Eric Grimson, an associate director at the lab, is working on a VSAM system that utilizes surveillance and monitoring equipment, combined with software, which can train itself about what "normal" activity looks like and flag anything that is abnormal, such as suspicious cars or people casing a location. This technology can be used at airports, but some civil rights activists are cautious, saying nothing would prevent an employer from using it to track workers' habits. Aerovironment has developed a 2.5-ounce spy plane that can fly up to 30 miles an hour, and is working on other unmanned surveillance devices that can be launched from planes, mortars, or guns.
- "Key November ICANN Meeting Still On, for Now"
Newsbytes (09/19/01); McGuire, David
ICANN plans to hold its November board meeting on schedule, but is currently canvassing its members to ensure that members can attend. "If we're going to have it we want to make sure that everyone can attend," says ICANN's Mary Hewitt. The ICANN board is scheduled to make a final decision on the composition of its "At-Large" board membership and creation of an internal supporting group, both of which are meant to represent the Internet public. A coalition of public interest groups is pushing for the "At Large" membership to comprise half of ICANN's board, while a recently published ICANN draft study recommends only one-third "At Large" membership. ICANN bylaws call for nine board seats for "At Large" representatives, but only five are in place. Meantime, Denise Michel, the executive director of ICANN's At-Large Study Committee, says the committee should have no problem finalizing its draft report by mid-November, despite last week's terrorist attacks.
- "Visa Program Could Face Scrutiny"
Telephony (09/17/01) Vol. 241, No. 12, P. 12; Jackson, Donny
Companies could lose much of the overseas talent they have come to depend on because of last week's terrorist attack. Visa programs will undoubtedly face heavy reassessment as a result of the tragedy, spurred by fears of more terrorists gaining admission to the country. Gartner Dataquest analyst Ron Cowles believes that there may be a push for tighter restrictions on the H-1B visa program if the government focuses more on homeland protection. Foreign-born high-tech professionals with H-1B visas can work in the United States for up to six years; when the telecom boom was at its peak, companies urged the government to issue even more visas. The attack and the subsequent reevaluation spells trouble for a program that many companies consider to be unnecessary because of the economic slump. H-1B visas are also drawing criticism from those who argue that they allow foreign workers to take jobs away from Americans, and massive tech layoffs this year have only added fuel to the fire. National Immigration Services' managing attorney Theo Huang says that the H-1B program could remain unaltered if Congress does not lump it with other visa programs. "If there is some scrutiny that will occur within the various visa options out there, it probably will be more focused on other visas such as the J-1 visas that offer training programs, as opposed to the H-1B program, which is used predominantly by telecom and high-tech companies to bring people in with engineering and computer skills," he maintains.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Prime Time for Tech on Capitol Hill"
Washington Techway (09/17/01) P. 22; Crabtree, Susan
Several legislative issues will confront tech firms this fall. One is trade-promotion authority, a top issue for both lawmakers and the sector. The law would dispense with Congress' right to alter international trade agreements conducted by the administration. The retooling of the Export Administration Act will also come up for consideration; such a move would reduce controls on U.S. IT products. Another important tech issue is Internet taxation; opponents of taxes are already moving to ban online sales taxes. The broadband bill would allow Bell companies to keep all their broadband networks if they improve them, contrary to the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Another controversial issue is that of electronic privacy; tech firms hope no new laws will emerge. Finally, tech firms will work to make the research-and-development tax credit permanent.
- "Name Games"
Law.com (09/19/01); Kolker, Carlyn
The introduction of new TLDs may change some aspects of the Internet domain name market, but will likely present the same legal conundrums as before. The corporate community appears hungry for .biz, and combined with the six other new TLDs, their emergence signals that the current monopoly of top-level domain names held by VeriSign is soon to end. VeriSign, originally an Internet security company, bought its domain name registry monopoly position by purchasing the .org, .com, and .net registry Network Solutions for $17 billion, and though the combined VeriSign company is now estimated as worth only $10 billion, VeriSign's market stature is still of superstar status. In terms of legal aspects of domain names, companies have been successful so far in pursuing UDRP claims against both cybersquatters and "cybergripers," those critics that register similar-named and .sucks domain names to criticize companies or brands. However, trademark law fails to cleanly arbitrate between two companies seeking the same domain name. Under U.S. trademark law, both Delta Airlines and Delta water coolers have the right to a "delta" trademark because they exist in different industries, and in fact computer firm Cisco Systems--not American Airlines--owns www.American.com. Morrison & Foerster partner Jennifer Lee Taylor believes that the new TLD dispute resolution processes are untested, and says "it's more organized, yes, but I don't know if it's necessarily better." NeuLevel has an internal UDRP claim service called "STOP" that allows trademark holders to automatically win any domain name matches letter-by-letter their trademark, though how STOP will deal with the issue of inserted hyphens, periods, and other such markers remains unclear.
- "Is Linux Going Mainstream? Maybe"
Washington Technology (09/10/01) Vol. 16, No. 12, P. 26; Toigo, Jon William
Linux vendors such as Red Hat and International Data (IDC) say that public and private firms are moving the open-source software away from experimental clustering and cheap Web serving and toward database hosting and other broader applications. IT policy-makers in both the corporate and federal sector expect the growth rate for Linux spending to jump from 3 percent in 1999 to 9 percent in 2002, according to a survey from IDC. Furthermore, the presence of more mainstream commercial products and services and sponsors at the Linux World conference, not to mention higher attendance, gives World Expo's Rob Scheschareg cause for optimism. Giga Information Group analyst Sandy Quant says that increasing Linux adoption is attributable to the software's reasonable pricing and excellent performance on Intel hardware. IDC's Scott McLarnon notes that the federal government's transition to Linux is proceeding at a slower pace than many commercial businesses; Quant attributes this lag to concerns about scalability problems that "hamper the ability of the operating system to support high-end applications," not to mention no solid positive stance from the Bush administration on Linux. Red Hat CTO Michael Tiermann assures that any scalability limits in the past have been resolved and cites high-scalability efforts such as the Terascale Computing Initiative at the National Computational Science Alliance. Another roadblock to federal Linux adoption are security concerns fostered by the National Security Agency's involvement with Linux OS kernel enhancements.
- "Tech's Double-Edged Sword"
Newsweek (09/24/01) Vol. 138, No. 13, P. 65; Levy, Steven
Technology offers numerous benefits to our human existence. However, as last week's terrorist attacks on the United States show, the same technology can be used to generate mass destruction. Although countless New Yorkers used cell phones to call loved ones in an attempt to provide assurances of their safety, it is now conceivable that the supporters of the perpetrators of the attacks called each other on cell phones to congratulate one another. In addition to wireless technology, the terrorist could have made use of the Internet (email and chat rooms) to plan their deadly operation; cryptography, steganography (hiding messages between pixels of a graphic), or anonymizers (which render email untraceable) would have given them the opportunity to work in secret. Essentially, many of the items the terrorists used in the attack were obtained off the shelf; this realization led Microsoft to take its Microsoft Flight Simulator off store shelves. By turning more powerful technology against us, the terrorists showed that science-fiction writer William Gibson was correct in his belief that technology will be put to unintended uses once it reaches the street. Scientists and researchers have always pursued progress, while questions about the unthinkable were asked later. However, as a result of the attacks, we may be ready to address how technology could empower evildoers before scientists and researchers pursue certain advances.
- "Grow-Your-Own Wireless Talent"
Computerworld (09/17/01) Vol. 35, No. 38, P. 46; Cohen, Sacha
The spread of wireless technologies will be accompanied by a growing need for IT personnel. Wireless is maintaining a fast growth rate despite the economic slowdown, and Meta Group analyst Jack Gold anticipates that demand will increase in the next 18 to 24 months. Gartner expects wireless data users to total 800 million by 2004. Such projections mean companies will be searching for qualified expertise; however, with most IT professionals currently lacking wireless skills, the search is on for people with IT and business backgrounds who are also quick learners. Some companies, such as EASi, are looking for people with a basic knowledge of wireless technology that can be supplemented by technical training. EASi technical director David Johnson finds prospects mainly through networking and word of mouth, as well as user group job postings, regional newspapers, Internet career sites, resume databases, etc. Furthermore, the economic slump has actually helped some of the larger companies find better employees. "There are more IT professionals available on the market with stronger skill sets than there were a year or two ago," notes Verizon's John Hinshaw.
- "Why IT Hates Women (and the Women Who Stay Anyway)"
CIO (09/15/01) Vol. 14, No. 23, P. 114; Paul, Lauren Gibbons
Women working their way up through the IT ranks must struggle with gender bias, cultural stereotypes, and male misconceptions that women know less about IT than men. But some women have prevailed despite the odds. Trigon Blue Cross Blue Shield data architecture consultant Nancy Ingalls was criticized for her outspokenness and often was at odds with senior management at Circuit City. Her experiences there caused her to abandon her plans to become a CIO and instead focus on consulting, a position that she believes merits more respect. The Commerce Department's acting deputy CIO, Karen Hogan, learned early in life to be less bossy and more attentive to others. She also was willing to take on initiatives that men found unpopular, a strength that was key to her progression. Raytheon CIO Rebecca Rhoads moved from engineering into technology, and has the unique advantage of a flexible family life that allows her to concentrate more on work. However, her difficulty in balancing home and work is typical of many women and even men in IT positions, according to a CIO magazine survey.
To learn more about ACM's Committee on Women and Computing, visit http://www.acm.org/women.
- "Machine-Phase Nanotechnology"
Scientific American (09/01) Vol. 285, No. 3, P. 74; Drexler, K. Eric
Molecular nanotechnology has the potential to radically change manufacturing and the world, posits author K. Eric Drexler. Easily transportable materials that are lightweight but strong would make space travel an economic feasibility; pollution would be reduced with the advent of byproduct-free substances while less coal and petroleum--and their associated pollutants--would be needed with the development of cheap solar cells and energy storage systems. The medical applications of nanotechnology are even more staggering, the author contends: the possibilities include restoration of people in suspended animation with brain structure intact, and nanorobots programmed to destroy disease and repair damage within the human body. Drexler expects the initial speed of the technology's development to be slow due to a dearth of molecular systems engineers. Molecular manufacturing nanotechnology's potential to transform life is great, so any objections to it must be well thought-out and researched, he writes. The potential for misuse is also great, so Drexler says we must concentrate on avoiding accidents and curtailing abuse as well. However, the technology is still in its infancy, with research concentrated primarily in methodology, design, and intermediate goals.