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 257: Wednesday, September 26, 2001
- "Company Sites Are Holding Offices Together"
New York Times (09/26/01) P. E1; Hafner, Katie
Companies devastated after the collapse of the World Trade Center towers made effective use of their online assets to keep operations going and to connect a scattered workforce. Cantor Fitzgerald, the Treasury bond brokerage with about 700 out of 1,000 employees missing, redesigned its Web site within hours of the attacks, directing remaining employees and helping families of those lost understand the situation. Merrill Lynch CTO John McKinley rushed into Manhattan before the transportation lockdown so he could direct the company's response, which was mostly centered around relocating 9,000 displaced employees and converting the company Web site. Many other company Web sites saw a human component added to their online operations, as they morphed from marketing and sales vehicles to places where families and employees could gather for consolation.
(Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors will need to register.)
- "National Science Foundation Awards $156M for IT Research"
Computerworld Online (09/25/01); Thibodeau, Patrick
IT research projects received $156 million from the National Science Foundation today, up from $90 million last year. "Our objective is to support the development of software and IT services that will help scientists and engineers make the kinds of discoveries that will eventually be applied by industry," stated NSF director Rita Colwell. A Carnegie Mellon University initiative designed to bridge a communications gap between algorithm researchers and applications developers will receive a $5.5 million grant from the NSF. In addition to funding workshops, the grant money will go into research to improve performance through exchange of ideas between different algorithms. A two-year, $1 million grant will go toward another Carnegie Mellon project, one that focuses on the development of embedded and autonomous systems reliability verification methods. The NSF has also allocated $7.5 million for a University of California, Berkeley project to construct a computer network that would be used to regulate traffic and report on the conditions of roads, bridges, and buildings following an earthquake. Other research projects receiving NSF funding include initiatives in information management, human-computer interfaces, and computer security.
- "Nimda Called Most Serious Internet Attack on Business"
USA Today (09/26/01) P. 5B; Swartz, Jon
Since appearing last week, the Nimda worm has infiltrated over 1 million computers worldwide, causing Internet traffic snarls and system shutdowns in its wake. Businesses that have taken blows from Nimda include U.S. Bancorp Piper Jaffray, Siemens, and General Electric. Internet Security Systems researcher Dan Ingevaldson says the worm could prove even worse than Code Red, and warns that anyone who uses email or an Internet Explorer Web browser is vulnerable to attack. Gartner recommends that firms replace their Microsoft Internet Information Server Web software with a more secure server application "immediately." However, security experts claim that patching up the software rather than replacing it altogether is a less disruptive alternative. They also say that Nimda's ability to spread quickly through PCs as well as Web sites and email complicates tracking. Watchguard Technologies' Jack Danahy calls Nimda "the most serious Internet attack on the business community."
- "Experts Say Encryption Can't Be Limited, A Setback for Lawmakers Seeking Change"
Wall Street Journal (09/26/01) P. B5; Gomes, Lee
Math and engineering specialists say that limiting encryption is impossible technologically, much to the chagrin of legislators who hoped to impose laws to do so as a way to investigate suspicious parties. The technology is too widespread, showing up in everything from Web browsers to email programs. Some lawmakers have proposed that software companies embed back doors in their encryption programs for government access, but experts contend that even if this was done, persons with basic mathematical knowledge would still be able to develop new programs. The effort of recalling the enormous amount of existing software that currently lacks back doors would also be substantial. Furthermore, experts warn that the most likely effect of changing encryption laws would be that terrorists and other evil-doers would stop using encrypted PC messages and resort to some other means of cloaking their communications when plotting their attacks. But there are other ways to catch people who encrypt their messages, such as old-fashioned spying techniques, according to experts.
- "Rep. Smith Introduces Web Wiretap Bill"
Newsbytes (09/25/01); Krebs, Brian; McGuire, David
Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), chairman of the House Judiciary Crime Subcommittee, seeks to aid the FBI investigations into the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks by introducing a new bill, "The Public Safety and Cyber Security Enhancement Act of 2001." The bill would revise components of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) so that law enforcement officials would be able to get trap and trace orders from judges in order to tap into suspects' Internet records. American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) associate director Barry Steinhardt believes that such wiretapping should not be allowed simply because judges are told an investigation is underway, as is the case with phone trap and trace orders under existing law. He recommends that a Title III order be obtained instead, and judges only grant such an order when lawmakers prove that a crime is taking place.
- "India Braced to Lose Offshore IT Projects"
Financial Times (09/25/01) P. 22; Merchant, Khozem
India's technology outsourcing sector is readying for a drop-off in U.S. contracts in the wake of fresh fears about a recession and threat of war in the region. Besides the economic pressures of a depressed U.S. tech sector, analysts fear that travel restrictions due to military activity could hamper international business in India. As some feared the cancellation of outsourced projects to India, the share values of three major Indian outsourcing companies listed on the New York Stock Exchange dropped between 20 percent and 35 percent last week. National Association of Software and Service Companies (Nasscom) President Kiran Karnik said he expected that U.S. companies would likely delay tech projects rather than drop them completely. Nasscom recently revised downward its expected growth this year from the previous 40 percent level.
- "Bush Urges Tech Skills for Schoolkids"
Medill News Service (09/24/01); Dunn, Lauren
The Bush administration expects to swell the ranks of the U.S. technology workforce through heavier promotion of mathematics and science to young kids. Getting them interested at an early age will increase their chances of gaining the skills needed to hold IT jobs, says CompTIA's Grant Mydland. "We need to make sure that there are teachers that can inspire and motivate kids, who will be able to hunker down and master these topics," he explains. President Bush will also receive advice on technology, research, and education from the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. Congress has already tacked on an additional $1 billion to its education budget, but the decision as to where the money will go will not be made until next spring, according to a House Appropriations Committee spokesperson. The administration is also attempting to exploit new markets that will spur high-tech growth. Both this development and the education initiative will offer expansion opportunities for high-tech companies, says Bruce Mehlman, assistant secretary for technology policy at the Department of Commerce.
- "Intel Seeks FCC Aid in Promoting Broadband Deployment"
Newsbytes (09/25/01); Bartlett, Michael
Intel submitted a plan to the FCC, urging it to deregulate the DSL market and spur infrastructure investment by carriers. The payoff could be hundreds of billions of dollars for all sectors of the economy, plus other unexpected benefits as applications develop to take advantage of widespread broadband access. Specifically, Intel said that provisions in the Telecommunications Act of 1996 kept telephone companies from benefiting from deploying new fiber to solve "last mile" connection difficulties. Once that infrastructure is laid out, Intel says 80 percent of American homes could have access to 1.5 megabits per second (Mbps) bandwidth and about half would have two choices of providers for a 6 Mbps connection. Intel communications policy director Peter Pitsch also urged the FCC to take a long view on broadband deployment when drafting new regulations.
- "Disputes on Electronic Message Encryption Take On New Urgency"
New York Times (09/25/01) P. C1; Schwartz, John
The terrorist attacks are forcing legislators to reconsider the degree to which people should be allowed to encrypt their electronic messages. Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) is hoping that Attorney General John Ashcroft will include encryption regulations in his anti-terrorism bill. He says he wants there to be a requirement for encryption companies to provide back door access to encryption data that the government can use whenever "a bad guy or a terrorist" uses the technology. The Clinton administration once proposed such a key escrow system, the Clipper Chip, as well as export controls on encryption technology; but the proposal failed due to protests from both consumers and companies, and arguments that foreign rivals were already building encryption products. Georgetown University's Dorothy E. Denning believes that the rejection of the Clipper Chip clearly demonstrated that encryption regulation was not viable, but Sen. Gregg disagrees, saying that his proposal "is an attempt to find a functional approach to this that both sides can agree with." Phil Zimmermann, creator of the Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) encryption program, thinks it is highly probable that the hijackers who orchestrated the attacks encrypted their messages to each other.
(Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors will need to register.)
- "Microsoft Plan for Licenses Sparks Gripes"
Wall Street Journal (09/25/01) P. B3; Buckman, Rebecca
Microsoft plans to implement a new licensing arrangement, called Software Assurance, next week that would compel companies to sign onto an automatic upgrade schedule. Although Microsoft says the automatic upgrades will save most of its business customers money, firms that are used to upgrading licenses in bulk whenever they please will not be able to do so anymore. Under the new plan, Microsoft would set the time schedule, which would likely speed companies' technology upgrade cycles. Moreover, a British business group, Infrastructure Forum, says the new licensing scheme would increase their technology costs by 94 percent on average and require them to currently run the most recent Microsoft products before they can sign onto the program. Although Microsoft executives did not deny the group's particular claims, they did point out the benefits of the new arrangement, which offers small discounts for some buyers and would presumably lessen the administrative burden by automating the upgrades. Separately, Microsoft said it would change its new Windows XP marketing slogan from "fly" in its upcoming Oct. 25 launch in New York City, due to sensitivity to recent events.
- "Scientists Debate What to Do When Findings Aid an Enemy"
New York Times (09/25/01) P. D1; Kolata, Gina
Scientists are troubled that their research could one day assist terrorists in perpetrating attacks such as last week's hijackings. Terrorists are likely to be using the encryption technology developed by scientists such as Dr. Martin Hellman, now a emeritus professor at Stanford University. He pioneered unbreakable cryptology techniques in the late 1970s that companies soon created widely available products with, much to the chagrin of security and intelligence agencies. Hellman says that he saw opposition from the National Security Agency as completely wrong at that time, but now is reconsidering his views. Other scientists warn that nanotechnology could have far more devastating consequences in the future, and have formed the Foresight Institute in Los Angeles to discuss ways to protect society from evil uses of the technology. Their group is based upon a similar endeavor after biologists gathered at the Asilomar Conference Center in 1975 to discuss the implications of genetic manipulation. Dr. Ralph C. Merkle sits on the Foresight Institute's board of directors and says the group's work must continue in order to keep ahead of those who would wrongly use nanotechnology.
(Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors will need to register.)
- "Civil Libertarians Seek to Weaken 'Anti-Terrorism' Bill"
Newsbytes (09/24/01); McGuire, David
Civil libertarians seem to agree that Congress will pass an anti-terrorism bill in the next few weeks, but they are still urging lawmakers to refrain from introducing legislation that would infringe on Internet privacy. Members of the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) were prepared to take their fight to separate panels of Congress Tuesday. CDT executive director Jerry Berman says his organization is hoping to enlist the support of Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), Rep. Bob Barr (R-Ga.), and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Berman says the CDT is especially concerned about language in a Department of Justice measure that would give federal agents the ability to use a foreign-intelligence-gathering standard to apply for wiretaps and electronic monitoring orders in the United States. Meantime, Attorney General John Ashcroft assured the House Judiciary Committee yesterday that law enforcement agents would respect Americans' privacy rights.
- "Tech Firms Adapt to Military Demands"
Wall Street Journal (09/26/01) P. B5; Wingfield, Nick
Technology firms are beginning to orientate products toward expected law enforcement and military investments in intelligence and other technologies that may be useful against terrorism. For instance, Oracle Chairman Larry Ellison created news by suggesting the deployment of a national ID smart card for airport check-in and other identity verification uses, a controversial idea that raises privacy and complex security concerns. Commenting on Ellison's idea, VeriSign Chairman Jim Bidzos, who is also vice chairman of RSA Security, says the security issues surrounding the proposal are not entirely understood. "A system like this could be a sieve," says Bidzos. "It could make it easier for terrorists to do what they want to do." HNC Software is considering whether its fraud-detection technology could be used to screen for "high-risk passengers" on airlines. Potential anti-terrorism uses for Internet surveillance, biometric, and intrusion-detection technologies are also being considered by industry experts.
- "Videoconferencing: Companies Rethink Business Travel"
Washington Post (09/23/01) P. H1; Grimsley, Kirstin Downey
An increasing number of companies are turning to videoconferencing as they reconsider their plans for business travel in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Before the tragedy, more companies were starting to use videoconferencing--transmitting voice and visual images on television monitors in distant locations--in order to cut down on costs, but concerns over whether it is now safe to fly have more businesses interested in the technology. Although Fortune 500 companies have been the main users of videoconferencing, industry observers do not consider the wider interest in videoconferencing to be temporary. And while the cost and time savings will keep companies coming back to videoconferencing, industry experts do not believe the technology will replace business travel altogether. Ultimately, travel is ingrained in the business culture, and clients will always prefer to conduct deals in-person and face-to-face. Equipment makers have made considerable strides in improving technology plagued with delayed audio that made conversation challenging, slow frame speed that rendered movements in a herky-jerky manner, and frequent glitches that also discouraged early corporate use. However, there is still room for improvement; videoconferencing is compared to cell-phone service by Jan Greenwood, a vice president with A.T. Kearney in Alexandria, Va., in that "it's spotty and not universally great." The technology ranges in price from $1,000 for low-end desktop models to $60,000 for high-end setups.
- "Cutting Back"
InformationWeek (09/24/01) No. 856, P. 34; Chabrow, Eric
The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks have only fanned the flames of economic uncertainty among IT investors. According to InformationWeek Research's quarterly IT Priorities Study, conducted before the attacks, only four out of 10 surveyed IT managers expected positive economic developments in the next three months; only 35 percent had a positive outlook on their companies' IT budgets. "Economic activity has been slowing down since the beginning of the year, so lower confidence would have happened regardless of what occurred on Sept. 11," posits Ralph Kauffman of the University of Houston. The economic slump caused 64 percent of companies to trim or reorganize their IT budgets in the third quarter; an average of 21 percent of the IT budget was cut by each company. Some companies, such as legal publisher West Group, are already highly dependent on IT, but president Michael Wilens says his company will not undertake any major IT projects for now. Meanwhile, companies that provide backup storage and security offerings could see a splurge in IT spending. Even before the tragedy, network security was the No. 2 technology priority for companies polled in the InformationWeek Research study.
- "Compiler Vistas"
Computerworld (09/24/01) Vol. 35, No. 39, P. 54; Anthes, Gary H.
Compilers are becoming more sophisticated in their optimization of code. Through program "profiling," compilers dynamically optimize programs at runtime. InCert Software chief scientist Andrew Ayers says a just-in-time compiler studies the program and optimizes the code that is most executed; furthermore, the compiler can dynamically optimize different parts should the behavior of the program change. Transmeta uses profiling so that its Crusoe processor is 70 percent more energy-efficient and more heat-efficient than its Intel x86 counterpart. In the research phase are compilers that can optimize the placement of data and code in the memory hierarchy. Meanwhile, researchers at Rice University have split compilation into a two-phase process: The creation of a programming language optimized for a specific application, and the substitution of those routines by a second compiler for less efficient code.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "The Real Earth Mother"
Far Eastern Economic Review (09/20/01) Vol. 164, No. 37, P. 34; Bickers, Charles
A team of researchers working for the Japanese government plans to use the fastest supercomputer in the world to study the El Nino weather system and predict long-term climate change across the globe. Japanese officials are in the process of installing software on the supercomputer for the government-funded Earth Simulator program, a $400 million project set to get underway next March. The first version has glitches, but once the researchers get the software up and running, the supercomputer will be able to deliver 40 trillion calculations every second. The supercomputer is jointly owned by the Japan Atomic Energy Research Institute, the Japan Marine Science and Technology Center, and the National Space Development Agency of Japan. As a result, scientists in other disciplines want to use the supercomputer for their research as well. The fastest supercomputers have largely been used by weapons developers in the United States, until now. The Japanese government okayed Earth Simulator in the late 1990s around the time Japan hosted the world global-warming talks in Kyoto. Japan's NEC built the supercomputer for Earth Simulator, and the manufacturer continues to benefit from a demand for the fastest computers now that interests are putting the technology to commercial use.
- "Safety Net"
Interactive Week (09/17/01) Vol. 8, No. 36, P. 11; Barrett, Randy
Tech experts were generally pleased that the Internet was able hold up under its traffic load as the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon were attacked by terrorists. Still, some experts, such as World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee, who says the Internet would have a stronger infrastructure if the Web was integrated with peer-to-peer protocols, believe there is room to improve the Internet. Although the heavy traffic of Internet users slowed packet delivery by half about an hour after terrorists attacked the World Trade Center, by midafternoon the performance of the Internet returned to normal. Experts acknowledge that the Internet was not the target of the attack, but know that the technology is vulnerable and that there are people around the world who can cause some serious problems if they focus their attention on the supernetwork. In the wake of the attacks, the FBI has urged companies to secure their critical systems from cyberattacks. There are some concerns that terrorists will turn their attention to personal privacy and that the FBI's controversial Carnivore data surveillance program will return, while Congress reconsiders its decision to ease regulations on selling encrypted products overseas. What is more, the Internet is playing a key role in the effort of authorities to track down the terrorists. Of particular interest, federal agencies did not make good use of the technology during the tragedy; for example, the primary government portal, FirstGov, made no direct references to the terrorist attacks.
- "An Asturian View of Networking 2015"
Communications of the ACM (09/01) Vol. 44, No. 9, P. 47; Corrales, Jose A.
Jose A. Corrales of the University of Oviedo extrapolates what the Internet will be like in about 10 years. He predicts that computer memory capacity will have increased a thousand-fold; that computers will shrink in size until wireless machines are as small as a wristwatch; and that remote-control appliances will come to the fore. More and more programs and systems will use user recognition technology, while data will be able to be transmitted and received almost instantly from any geographic point. With such a system, products could be marketed to the entire human population, but this goal requires intensive training, round-the-clock service, and increased volume shipments. E-commerce could become the primary form of commercial transaction and paperwork will be eliminated from the workplace; more intellectual work will be done from the home, and offices will become mobile. A greater portion of the world economy will be dedicated to leisure, since the population will have more spare time; leisure activities will also be more accessible through the Internet. Corrales writes that the Internet could help preserve and enrich cultures that would otherwise be isolated and threatened with extinction, as well as help disparate individuals form virtual communities. He also acknowledges that the revolutionary new system will also give rise to new forms of abuse, such as electronic fraud and cyberterrorism, requiring fundamental changes in laws.
Click Here to View Full Article
(Access to this site is available to ACM Digital Library subscribers only.)