Association for Computing Machinery
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 technews@hq.acm.org.

Volume 3, Issue 260: Wednesday, October 3, 2001

  • "Lobbying Group Protests Copyright-Protection Proposal"
    Newsbytes (10/01/01); MacMillan, Robert

    The Association for Computing Machinery has urged Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Ernest "Fritz" Hollings (D-S.C.) not to introduce legislation requiring hardware manufacturers to include copyright protection technologies in their products. Hollings' staff says the Security Systems Standards and Certification Act has only been mulled over, but not drafted. In their letter to the senator last week, ACM argued that the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 was sufficient protection for content holders and that Hollings' hardware copyright-protection idea would seriously disrupt the industry. For example, security research and university computer science programs would be hampered by the law because it would compromise the copyright-protection technology built into the computer hardware used in their studies. Moreover, any such bill would have a significant economic impact because it would raise the price of many general purpose electronic devices, such as digital watches, cameras, TVs, and electronic keyboards.
    http://www.newsbytes.com/news/01/170692.html

    For more information about ACM's efforts on behalf of public policy concerns, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm.

  • "In High-Tech World, Attack Reverberates for Indians, Pakistanis"
    Wall Street Journal (10/03/01) P. A1; Hwang, Suein L.; Tam, Pui-Wing

    Technology workers of Indian and Mid-Eastern descent say there is a perceivable shift in the attitudes of their customers since the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C. Vivek Paul, Vice Chairman of Wipro and head of that company's U.S. operations, says there have been isolated reports of Wipro consultants being treated unfairly by their clients, despite the fact that four Wipro workers died in One World Trade Center. He says that the company has begun advising on-site consultants on how to communicate to their clients India's position in the conflict, and to wear small lapels bearing the U.S. and Indian flags crossed. Palm marketing executive Satjiv Chahil, an Indian Sikh, says he has relegated himself to the background and seldom takes the stage to represent his company because, as he says, "We're at the center of the bull's eye right now." The U.S. tech industry has taken in a high percentage of Indians through the H1-B program, and an estimated 10 percent of Silicon Valley engineers and executives are of South Asian descent.

  • "Outcry Stalls W3C Patent Plan"
    Australian IT (10/03/01); Mackenzie, Kate

    Responding to criticism, the W3C has extended the comment period to October 11 for a proposal that for the first time would allow patented technologies to be used when creating Web standards. Open-source advocates and developers say such a proposal would prevent them from charging royalties for their products and could disrupt the development of new standards. They also complained about the short (30-day) comment period. W3C's proposal, backed by Microsoft, IBM, Sun Microsystems, Apple, Hewlett-Packard, and others, would allow the creation of Web standards using patented material when no other reasonable alternatives are available. The proposal, called reasonable and non-discriminatory (RAND) licensing, is designed to compensate W3C members for their research efforts. A final decision is expected by February 2002.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Tensions Stagger Mideast Startups"
    Wired News (10/03/01); Hershman, Tania

    The Intifada uprising has made Israeli and Palestinian high-tech workers more concerned about reaching their places of work safely than doing business together, as was hoped for before the uprising. Employees who commute to offices in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem must run a gauntlet when they use connected roads that are often the site of violence. Professionals also wear protective clothing when they travel. "Every day there are several shootings on the roads, prevented suicide attacks, mortars fired in Gaza," notes Roger Hecker, a product manager at Ominsky's Israel development facility. "Those are normal days." Large organizations such as the Palestinian IT Association of Companies (PITA) have had to hold board meetings by videoconferencing while investors in such companies as the Aroob.com Web portal have pulled out in the wake of the violence. Despite the clashes, executives such as Asaltech's Murad Tahboub believe that Palestinian high-tech companies will be an important component of the Palestinian economy. Israeli startups are looking to the United States and Europe for investors, while Palestinians are focusing more on the Mideast.
    http://www.wired.com/news/business/0,1367,47214,00.html

  • "Negotiators Back Scaled-Down Bill to Battle Terror"
    New York Times (10/02/01) P. A1; Lewis, Neil A.; Pear, Robert

    The House of Representatives has reached an agreement on a compromise bill that would give law enforcement officials more authority to deal with suspected terrorists, but it also reduces some of the powers originally proposed by the Bush administration. The original package was seen by many as too restrictive of civil liberties; now the legislation has a "sunset" feature that will make expanded wiretap powers expire in two years unless renewed by Congress. The bill does allow law enforcement to monitor the Internet communications of suspected terrorists. Meanwhile, the Senate has its own antiterrorism legislation that is not yet ready for a floor vote. The House bill will let officials obtain authority to wiretap an individual suspected of terrorism, rather than just a specific phone, and would put email communications on the same level as phone communications. Authorities could get a subpoena for ISPs for records of suspects' email messages. Hacking that is part of an effort to gain access to national security information, cause damage to a secure computer, or obtain data from a secure system by threats of damage would be considered potential terrorist attacks.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2001/10/02/national/02RIGH.html
    (Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors will need to register.)

  • "How Technology Is Used to Mask Communications"
    SiliconValley.com (10/01/01); Krieger, Lisa M.

    In a time when computer surveillance and other forms of high-tech spying run rampant, authorities are puzzled as to how a group of terrorists were able to coordinate their devastating strikes in New York and Washington without being detected. The Al-Qaida movement, which is thought to be responsible for the attacks, is believed to have mixed both simple and sophisticated communications tactics, running the gamut from messages delivered by courier to information hiding through encryption and steganography. Steganography is used to camouflage messages within other forms of information, such as music recordings, Web site images, and disks; freely downloadable software called stego-tools are used to insert and extract the messages. U.S. officials believe steganography was used by followers of Osama bin Laden to coordinate three attacks, including the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Evidence suggests that encrypted messages, which cannot be deciphered without a "key," are a routine staple of terrorists, especially associates of bin Laden. Encryption technology has been widely available since Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) was freely distributed on the Web 10 years ago. Experts note that information hiding will benefit from the development of new and more sophisticated technology, but the detection of such hidden messages will benefit as well.
    http://www.siliconvalley.com/docs/news/depth/hide100201.htm

  • "CIO Poll: Attacks Shrink IT Budgets"
    IDG News Service (10/01/01); Costello, Sam

    CIOs and managers have cut their IT budgets for the next 12 months in response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the economic instability they have engendered, according to the September CIO Magazine/Yardeni.com survey. In August, the 12-month IT growth projection was 7.2 percent, but the September poll downgrades that forecast to 3.7 percent. IT budget growth in the 12 months prior to polling fell from 7.2 percent in August to 3.5 percent in September. Thirty percent of September respondents anticipate increases in hardware spending, compared to 42 percent in August; those expecting higher telecommunication gear budgets fell from 43 percent to 34 percent. In both the August and September surveys, 49 percent of respondents expected their IT budgets for storage systems to increase; 30 percent of September respondents expect to increase spending for outsourced IT services, a 3 percent gain over the month before. A mere 12 percent of those polled forecast increased IT spending in the second half of 2001, but 54 percent hope to see more spending next year. On a more positive note, projected e-commerce revenues over the next 12 months is 13 percent, a 3 percent increase over the previous year.
    http://www.idg.net/ic_702786_1794_9-10000.html

  • "Companies Stress Network Security"
    USA Today (10/02/01) P. 3B; Iwata, Edward

    As companies reassess their physical security in light of the recent terrorist attacks, many say that it is time to beef up corporate America's online defenses as well. Network security was already a hot topic in the tech world before the attacks, with such companies as Cisco and EDS acquiring many smaller computer security firms and spending tremendous resources in research and development. IDC analysts have predicted network security to grow by 24 percent each year through 2005, while Gartner predicts a 20 percent growth rate for the same period. Much of that spending is likely in response to reports such as the recent General Accounting Office study that said the nation's power and telecommunications infrastructure was vulnerable to cyberterrorists. Banc of America researcher Kevin Trosian says that security software firms such as Check Point, Symantec, and Network Associates would all likely see an increase in business with government agencies two to four quarters from now.
    http://www.usatoday.com/usatonline/20011002/3498900s.htm

  • "Intel Makes Gains in Speed, Efficiency, But Does It Matter?"
    Investor's Business Daily (10/02/01) P. A6; DeTar, James

    Intel announced the release of 12 new laptop chips that cut down on power consumption while increasing clock speed. Rival mobile chip makers AMD and Transmeta will likely be hit hard by Intel's new breakthroughs, even as the PC industry in general grinds slower. After the Sept. 11 attacks, analysts say that PC sales, especially laptops, will suffer more due to lowered consumer confidence. Besides that, a dearth of new laptop applications has also not helped demand. Intel's new Pentium III-M chips are manufactured using the company's latest technology and run at up to 1.2 gigahertz, but can scale their speed, and power consumption, according to the application being run. Intel's Frank Spindler says the company will release a Pentium 4 chip for laptops early next year.

  • "Report: Dot-Com Job Cuts Reach 15-Month Low"
    E-Commerce Times (10/01/01); Blakey, Elizabeth

    A report from Challenger, Gray & Christmas (CGC) indicates that dot-com layoffs have reached their lowest point in 15 months. Job cuts totaled 2,986 in September, a 39 percent decline from August and a 38 percent decline from the year before, according to the report. Dot-coms have announced 126,898 cuts since July 2000; 90,781 took place in 2001, thus far. Consumer services dot-coms accounted for 39 percent of the September firings, for a total of 1,153. Portals announced 790 job cuts. "The dot-com sector may be stabilizing, which would account for the decline in job-cut announcements," posits Challenger CEO John A. Challenger. "Many of the weakest firms no longer exist, and those once considered the titans of the Internet are trimming payroll and other costs to the bare minimum."
    http://www.ecommercetimes.com/perl/story/13862.html

  • "Tripping the Rippers"
    CNet (09/28/01); Borland, John

    As the record industry intensifies its efforts to prevent people from copying CDs on computers or in CD burners, reports continue to emerge on the Internet on how computer experts and pirates have been able to get around the new digital protections. However, computer experts and free-speech advocates are becoming increasingly concerned about discussing on the Internet what they have learned about the various copy-protection measures because of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which movie studios have used to protect DVDs and prosecute those who post information about the decoding tool DeCSS online. "It's possible that any software specializing in defeating the copy protection would run afoul of the DMCAand the authors [would be] subjected to fines and criminal prosecutions," says software engineer Andy McFadden. The record industry has received a huge backlash from consumers regarding their efforts to build anti-piracy features into CDs. Nevertheless, music companies have been unveiling in stores in the United States in recent months CDs with anti-copying protections, although the industry says it is testing consumer response to the new CDs. Microsoft's technology is now part of the anti-copying protections, and some record companies are concerned that the software giant will gain some control over their industry. Meanwhile, many consumers maintain that they have a right to make personal copies of songs. Jupiter Research analyst Aram Sinnreich does not believe the anti-piracy effort will be successful because there are too many technical problems and because consumers would not accept it.
    http://news.cnet.com/news/0-1005-201-7320279-0.html

    For more information on DVD court cases, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm.

  • "FBI, SANS Institute: Internet 'Not Ready' for Attack"
    Computerworld Online (10/01/01); Thibodeau, Patrick

    SANS Institute director Alan Paller said yesterday that, "The Internet is simply not ready...to withstand a major attack." The institute and the FBI released a list of 20 vulnerable points that are frequently exploited in cyberattacks, and advised companies to patch security holes. Such vulnerabilities include a lack of strong passwords or no passwords used at all and anonymous log-on connections, among others. Furthermore, the FBI's National Infrastructure Protection Center (NIPC) expects more terrorist-inspired online attacks to occur. NIPC's Robert Gerber even went so far as to voice suspicions that the Nimda virus is one such attack. However, patching up the top 20 vulnerabilities does not guarantee security, according to U.S. Air Force deputy CIO John Gilligan. Software manufacturers will need to develop a new methodology to design and field-test their products, he says.
    http://www.computerworld.com/storyba/0,4125,NAV47_STO64384,00.html

  • "For PC Makers, a Bad Year Gets Worse"
    Washington Post (10/03/01) P. E1; Musgrove, Mike

    Some industry executives say the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks could not have come at a worse time for computer makers, which have been struggling to bounce back from a downturn in sales. Before the attacks, Gartner Dataquest analysts forecast an 11 percent drop-off in sales this year. Giga Information analyst Rob Enderle believes that the consumer PC sector will feel the impact first, losing 30 percent of its projected revenue. Compaq Computer was particularly hard hit, as the attacks added a $700 million loss to a plethora of earlier troubles that included investor jitters over its merger with Hewlett-Packard and the knockout of supplier operations by a typhoon in Taiwan. As a result, its third-quarter revenue is likely to drop 12 percent from the previous quarter. HP has already announced 6,000 layoffs, but that number could swell before the merger is finished in 2002. However, NPD Intelect analyst Stephen Baker says neither the attacks nor the downturn may necessarily be to blame for depressed sales. "Some people are reluctant to buy [a new computer] because they don't think they need a new one."
    http://www.washtech.com/news/software/12860-1.html

  • "On Junk Heap of the Net"
    Los Angeles Times (10/03/01) P. A1; Kaplan, Karen

    Customers of the many failed dot-coms have often been left feeling jilted after their service providers or favorite Internet stores went bust. Despite the many ideas that did not turn out to be financially viable, many services and products were of great value to those that used them. One example is the SportsBrain device that sent daily physical activity data to a personalized Web site. Jeanne Miller, a marketing executive in Seattle, loved the $99 device, even if she only used it for four months before the company became defunct. "It's a great paper clip," she now says about the otherwise useless clip-on device. Others have bemoaned the loss of Metricom's Ricochet wireless modem service, which was widely praised but ultimately unprofitable. Some consumers have actually lost more, such as those that collectively still have several million dollars owed them by CyberRebate, a company that charged up to three times the normal amount for merchandise on the promise that consumers could get 100 percent refunded.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "ICANN--Internet Community Supports Refocus"
    Newsbytes (09/28/01); McGuire, David

    ICANN spokesperson Mary Hewitt says members who have spoken with ICANN are supportive of ICANN's change to a security focus for the November meeting, and that ICANN has not "heard one negative comment yet." However, while Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) analyst Rob Courtney says CDT is supportive of shifting the balance to security, he is concerned that ICANN is forgetting how vital is the issue of public participation. ICANN board member and public advocate Karl Auerbach also supports zeroing in on security, but wants public-participation issues to be discussed at the November meeting. Under ICANN's current bylaws, half of ICANN board members are supposed to be elected "At-Large" members, though there are only five at present. If the board members' elected terms of office expire before ICANN rewrites At-Large policy, ICANN may simply extend their terms until the matter is settled, says Hewitt.
    http://www.newsbytes.com/news/01/170644.html

    For information regarding ACM's Internet governance work related to ICANN, visit http://www.acm.org/serving/IG.html.

  • "Cutting Costs"
    InfoWorld (10/01/01) Vol. 23, No. 40, P. 40; Prencipe, Loretta W.; Sanborn, Stephanie

    Economic instability has made the need for IT companies to cut costs more desirable than ever. Before buying more hardware, Medscape CTO David Yakimischak recommends that companies run a software stress test so that weak points can be identified and patched; other cost-cutting hardware measures include purchasing used hardware and deploying an automated electronic asset management system, according to Gartner CIO Bart Stanco. Yakimischak notes that prioritizing projects can save money, while Gartner's Kevin Volpe says that scheduling departmental and workspace moves at certain intervals lowers transaction costs. Since economic downturns affect vendors as well as customers, it could pay to renegotiate contracts, explains Office.com CTO Gary Lazarus. Additional savings can be realized by renegotiating or auditing communications costs, says Stanco. Volpe suggests that companies should analyze run-rate and equipment life-cycle to determine if the money spent on renewing maintenance contracts could be put to better use. Making long-term contractors permanent workers has saved Medscape money because Yakimischak discovered that contractors' rates were more costly than employee salary and benefits. Eliminating redundancies is another cost-cutting strategy, Lazarus says.
    http://www.infoworld.com/articles/fe/xml/01/10/01/011001feitspend.xml

  • "Employers Get Choosy With Skills"
    InformationWeek (10/01/01) No. 857, P. 57; McGee, Marianne Kolbasuk

    The hottest IT skills in demand right now include expertise in security, wireless, networking, database, infrastructure technologies, and support services. Particularly desirable are people who can combine technical know-how with business savvy. For instance, Experio Solutions' Jeff Dellinger wants candidates that are familiar with enterprise application integration software installation as well as business operations. Employers and talent-seekers such as RHI Consulting's Katherine Spencer Lee expect the demand for security experts to increase as a result of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The need for workers with networking capability could hold steady or rise as the use of wireless devices increases and businesses broaden the scope of their remote access and wireless offerings. Global Knowledge CIO Eric Goldfarb says that IT professionals are especially interested in boosting their skills in TCP/IP, security technologies, networking basics, and voice over IP. However, possessing hot skills will not guarantee a big salary: Although there is a great need for networking and support staff, an InformationWeek Research survey indicates that such workers earn salaries significantly lower than those of security, infrastructure, and database workers.
    http://www.informationweek.com/story/IWK20010928S0009

  • "The Need for a New Office of Technology Assessment"
    Futurist (10/01) Vol. 35, No. 5, P. 42; Coates, Vary T.

    A new Office of Technology Assessment is needed now more than ever because of growing concern over technology-related issues and their undesirable effects. Institute of Technology Assessment President Vary T. Coates acknowledges that the original OTA took far too long to study such issues and lagged behind the legislative decision-making process. On the other hand, she notes that the OTA was objective, rational, and furnished comprehensive reports that were analytically sound. Coates suggests that an improved version of the OTA can be created by addressing the original office's difficulties and studying the European agencies that it inspired in the 1980s. The retooled office would emphasize the OTA's strengths and be more in tune with legislative decision-making, so that emerging technology can be more critically evaluated.

  • "The Hard Truth Behind a Shotgun Wedding"
    Fortune (10/01/01) Vol. 144, No. 6, P. 109; Nee, Eric

    Behind the $25 billion merger of Hewlett-Packard and Compaq Computer is the dominance of the Wintel platform in the server market, along with the emergence of more powerful Intel chips and Microsoft software. If the deal goes through, the only global computer companies around when the smoke clears will be HP, IBM, Sun Microsystems, and Dell Computer. The ease with which one can buy computer components off the shelf has led to a decline in tailor-made machines. The real sales value that computer sellers need to add will be in products designed to sit atop the Wintel platform. IBM is particularly well suited for the high-end market thanks to its lead in U.S. patents, semiconductor design and fabrication, and software; Dell, meanwhile, rules the low-end server and PC market because of its efficiency. Sun continues to sell high-end servers, but more long-term benefits can be realized if the company fixes its technology onto standard platforms. These companies are still beating HP, and will continue to do so unless HP starts delivering high-end Wintel servers. Furthermore, previous acquisitions by HP and Compaq are generally considered failures, while in the short term the merger could translate into decreased revenues.