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ACM TechNews is published every week on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.


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Volume 3, Issue 263: Friday, October 12, 2001

  • "Senate Passes Bill Boosting Electronic Surveillance"
    Washington Post (10/12/01); Lancaster, John

    Senate members have passed a potent anti-terrorism bill as it was crafted by Senate negotiators and the White House. Much of the controversial material was passed, including sweeping powers granted intelligence agencies to conduct electronic surveillance. Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman, said he consented to much of what the administration requested in the talks in order to preserve a united front in the war on terrorism. However, a similar bill in the House could result in further concessions being made, since the House bill is widely expected to impose a two-year "sunset" limit on the increased electronic surveillance powers given federal agents. Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.) expressed the view of many lawmakers when he said security agencies needed to be equipped with the ability to prevent criminal acts, such as terrorism, instead of merely responding to it.
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A46480-2001Oct11.html

  • "U.S. Seeks to Build Secure Online Network"
    Washington Post (10/11/01) P. A10; Williams, Krissah

    Newly appointed cybersecurity czar Richard Clarke says he wants to build Govnet, a super-secure Internet network that would carry sensitive government data. Clarke asked telecommunications firms for an estimate on how much the large-scale virtual private network would cost, and said separating critical data from the public Internet would eliminate threats from hackers and viruses. He also reasoned that the fiber-optic infrastructure for such a network would be relatively cheap to obtain, given the current telecommunications glut--90 percent of available fiber bandwidth is currently unused. However, network security experts say it is impossible to estimate clearly both the vulnerabilities and costs of a network that would scale to the entire government. Despite the proposed network's exclusivity, George Kurtz, CEO of security firm Foundstone, said intruders could still penetrate the system with data transferred over floppy disk, through trusted back-end systems, or as a result of human error.
    http://www.washtech.com/news/govtit/13066-1.html

  • "IT Resources, Rewards Down; Stress Up"
    InformationWeek Online (10/10/01); Swanson, Sandra

    IT workers' overall cash compensation has declined from last year, according to the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA). The ITAA's 2001 Compensation Survey found that base pay was about static while other cash rewards suffered. At the same time, Meta Group's Worldwide IT Trends & Benchmark Report says managers are asked to handle a heavier workload in the midst of cutbacks. The study found 40 percent of the companies surveyed reported 20 percent reductions in IT budgets, translating into a 53 percent cutback in staff. Meta Group analysts suggest companies find ways to make their operations more efficient through automated programs and outsourcing low-return tasks such as desktop support. Unfortunately, changing processes and outsourcing remains a low priority for many firms. Companies have cut back in outsourcing since last year, according to the Meta Group, from 12.5 percent to just 10.5 percent of IT budgets.
    http://www.informationweek.com/story/IWK20011010S0007

  • "Web Experts See No Simple Security Answers"
    Wall Street Journal (10/11/01) P. B6; Clark, Don

    Computer security experts say businesses are more vulnerable than ever to hackers, viruses, and other security compromises. While the tools available to hackers have become more sophisticated, company networks have grown to huge sizes, creating more open holes for intruders to exploit. The SANS Institute, together with the FBI, last week released a list of the top 20 network security foibles and advocated stronger measures to prevent them, including training employees better and dedicated trained staff to monitor their networks. A number of companies already provide this type of service, including network security companies Symantec and Counterpane Internet Security, as well as many emerging managed service providers. Despite the warnings, Jupiter Research has found 46 percent of IT executives surveyed said they would either decrease or maintain their security budgets over the next year and a half. The top seven Internet vulnerabilities, according to SANS and the National Infrastructure Protection Center, are default software installations, accounts with no passwords, inadequate backups, too many open doors, false addresses, bad recordkeeping, and vulnerable Web programs.

  • "Half of Companies Surveyed Report Server Attacks, and Nearly All Fought Viruses"
    IDG News Service (10/10/01); Costello, Sam

    Attacks on Web servers doubled this year with nearly 90 percent of companies surveyed being affected by worms or viruses, even though they had antivirus software installed on their systems, according to a survey from Information Security magazine. The survey of 2,545 information security employees also found that 50 percent experienced attacks against their Web servers from external sources, up from 24 percent last year. Internal security threats were more varied and frequent, but not as serious, according to the report, which found that 78 percent of respondents reported that company employees had installed or used unauthorized software. Despite the concerns about internal threats, top security projects for the rest of this year and next year will be focused more on strengthening the network perimeter to prevent external attacks.
    http://www.pcworld.com/resource/printable/article/0,aid,65526,00.asp

  • "Congress Eyes Bills to Bolster Security Data Sharing"
    Computerworld Online (10/09/01); Thibodeau, Patrick

    Lawmakers, in an extended session of Congress following the terrorist attacks, are trying to bolster the nation's security information networks by removing barriers for private companies to share data on security concerns. The Senate legislation proposed by Sen. Robert Bennett (R-Utah) and Sen. John Kyle (R-Ariz.) is named the Critical Infrastructure Information Security Act and mirrors similar efforts in the House. It would require amendments to the Freedom of Information Act because it would hide information private companies choose to share with the government. Those companies would also be able to share sensitive security-related data with one another without fear of falling afoul of antitrust collusion laws.
    http://www.computerworld.com/cwi/stories/0,1199,NAV47_STO64607,00.html

  • "Enhancing Security: Can the Internet Help?"
    NewsFactor Network (10/11/01); Weisman, Robyn

    Analysts say the Internet is an important tool for aiding in disaster recovery efforts and even in preventing future attacks, despite the numerous breaches of security that have occurred in the past year. Although terrorists may be able to use the Internet as a communications medium, it has also helped to connect government agencies, family, and friends during a time when other telecommunications platforms were overloaded. Moreover, IDC Internet security researcher Brian Burke says new monitoring technologies such as Secure Content Management allow for focused electronic surveillance that could be useful in preventing terrorism while satisfying privacy advocates. Gartner Internet security research director Richard Stiennon says the greatest benefit of the Internet will be seen as it expands into the poorer regions that have been a hotbed of terrorist activity. He says the free flow of information has always led to a more peaceful society.
    http://www.newsfactor.com/perl/story/14070.html

  • "Bush Economic Plan a Boon for Techs"
    ZDNN (10/11/01); Dignan, Larry

    Experts say President Bush's proposed economic stimulus package will provide a needed boost to the tech industry by allowing companies to more quickly depreciate their IT investments. Faster depreciation equates to a tax incentive that may encourage firms to go ahead with delayed capital investments, especially those with quick implementation and returns like IT purchases, according to Wharton School of Business professor Jeremy Siegel. Analysts say software companies such as Siebel and Oracle would likely see the largest benefit. Some analysts doubt whether speeding up the depreciation cycle would cause executives to jump in with new IT projects. Morgan Stanley conducted a survey earlier this month that showed an increasing number of CIOs were watching overall economic conditions to determine spending levels.
    http://www.zdnet.com/zdnn/stories/news/0,4586,5098118,00.html

  • "U.S. Raids Could Give More Pain to Indian IT Firms"
    Reuters (10/09/01)

    The U.S.-led assault on Afghanistan may affect India's outsourcing software sector. Analysts say clients' reluctance to travel to India in the present circumstances may lead to a decline in overseas services agreements. India's software sector provides outsourcing for 200 of the Fortune 500 companies and obtains 85 percent of its revenues from exports. New contract agreements require that clients physically come to the site, and 5 to 6 percent of revenue every quarter comes from new agreements, says an analyst.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "California Gov Vetoes E-Mail Privacy Measure"
    Newsbytes (10/09/01); MacMillan, Robert

    California Gov. Gray Davis (D) has vetoed legislation sponsored by state Sen. Debra Bowen (D-Redondo Beach) that would have given employees much greater privacy protections for email communications in the workplace. Terms of the bill would have made it difficult for employers to legally monitor employees' email. Davis says he favors greater privacy for employees but feels the legislation is unfair to businesses. Bowen says she is disappointed in the governor's decision to veto the bill. "Just because employers own the computers and pay for the Internet access doesnt mean they have the right to spy on their workers any more than owning the telephone and paying the bill allows them to monitor or record their workers' personal phone conversations without telling them," Bowen says.
    http://www.newsbytes.com/news/01/170966.html

  • "Transforming a Fluorescent Glare Into a Guiding Light"
    New York Times (10/11/01) P. F8; Eisenberg, Anne

    Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers have discovered that fluorescent lights can be equipped to beam digital signals imperceptible to the human eye. By installing a special ballast--which controls the rate at which the gases inside the bulb are charged--fluorescent lights can be controlled by software to beam a variety of data. Dr. Steven Leeb, the MIT researcher who first thought of the application, has founded a company, Talking Lights, to market his product. Already, one Harvard Medical School study is using the lights in a hospital to monitor and assist patients with brain injuries. Through handheld computers equipped with inexpensive light sensors, routinely positioned fluorescent lights throughout the hospital recognize individual patients and beam them instructions on what they should do and where they should go, according their daily schedule programmed into a central computer.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2001/10/11/technology/circuits/11NEXT.html
    (Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors will need to register.)

  • "Microsoft Using XP to Tighten Grip on Users"
    SiliconValley.com (10/11/01); Gillmor, Dan

    Microsoft's new Windows XP operating system is another step in Microsoft's anticompetitive practices, writes Dan Gillmor. Virtually all new Intel-enabled PCs will carry Windows XP, essentially giving Microsoft domination in the PC software industry. An XP replacement is not really worthwhile unless a PC's exiting software is truly unreliable. For those who choose to purchase the XP upgrade, they will be required to register the software with Microsoft or contend with an unusable system. Making major hardware changes to a PC could also render a computer non-operational, forcing users to call Microsoft to get authorization to use their computer. Microsoft's desktop also guides users to its affiliate sites and services. In addition, the Passport authentication system requires users to sign up in order to use XP's instant messaging system. Passport is the heart of Microsoft's new strategy--by using it, users in effect give Microsoft control over their online personal and monetary identities.
    http://siliconvalley.com/docs/opinion/dgillmor/dg101101.htm

  • "Appalachia's Blue Tech Collar"
    Wired News (10/09/01); King, Brad

    Scranton, Penn., believes that it can wean its economy from the shrinking coal-mining industry and continue to increase its number of tech-related jobs. So far, tech jobs in the town of 80,000 have grown 73 percent in the last eight years, many of them in customer call service centers. Greater Scranton Chamber of Commerce's Jim Cummings acknowledges the challenges his community faces, including a number of workers unfamiliar to an office setting. But he remains confident that once Scranton builds up a sizable office workforce that can use PCs, large companies such as Cigna and Prudential will locate there. Local and state officials in Appalachia, a region that includes 13 states and 200,000 square miles from New York to Mississippi, are working to counter a tech migration away from that region. While 8 percent of the country's population resides in the area, a meager 5 percent of U.S. tech jobs are allocated there, and that number is declining, according to the Appalachian Regional Council. The area is working hard to build out its telecommunications infrastructure, but that effort takes time and meanwhile younger residents in search of tech opportunities are leaving. In West Virginia, for example, just 125,000 of the state's 1.8 residents are teenagers, and only 11,000 of its workers are employed in tech-related fields.
    http://www.wired.com/news/culture/0,1284,46562,00.html

  • "In a Weed, a New Direction for Research"
    Philadelphia Inquirer (10/11/01) P. F4; Van, Jon

    Biology and physics scientists at the University of Chicago have melded their expertise to study how a special characteristic of plants' mating process could be applied to computing. Their research involves the special molecules on a mustard plant that allow it to stick tightly to any passing mustard pollen while refusing all other particles. The special molecular bonds could be used to self-assemble nanotechnology components in future optical computers or biochip processors, say the scientists. The researchers say other plants likely offer similar molecules. University of Chicago physicist David Grier says, "This is big science, with big payoffs in biology, physics, and technology. There's a whole spectrum of applications for these molecules." Other university research labs at Purdue University and Northwestern University are also delving into collaborative research that coordinates expertise in different fields to tackle nanotechnology issues.
    http://inq.philly.com/content/inquirer/2001/10/11/tech_life/GLUE11.htm

  • "Pakistan's IT Industry Hurt and Helped By Attacks"
    InfoWorld.com (10/08/01); Perera, Rick

    Pakistan's IT industry is preparing for even harder times while hoping to reap some rewards as the United States and Great Britain launch military attacks against Afghanistan. Some in the IT sector are optimistic that more publicity for Pakistan, which pledged its support to the United States following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, will bring in more foreign investors. The U.S. removal of restrictions on doing business with Pakistan is also a positive sign. However, others are worried that war will disrupt the region, especially anti-war protests by Taliban supporters in the country. Following the attacks some foreign business people left Pakistan out of fear for their own safety, raising concerns about the future of the industry. But business continues to move along, and Pakistan IT industry veterans would like to see their country follow India's lead in developing a thriving software outsourcing business. Inbox Business Technologies CEO Ghias Kahn says, "Pakistan is slowly by surely becoming a very advanced technological nation, and there's really no reason it should not get the same kind of attention India is getting."
    http://www.infoworld.com/articles/hn/xml/01/10/08/011008hnpakistanit.xml

  • "The 'Other' DMCA"
    CNet (10/10/01); Isenberg, Doug

    Critics of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) often overlook its usefulness in promoting e-commerce and instead focus on the anti-circumvention components, writes Doug Isenberg. This summer, the Justice Department arrested Russian programmer Dmitry Sklyarov for creating a software program used primarily to disable e-book anti-copying mechanisms. The public furor surrounding the case has been directed solely upon the DMCA without regard to its helpfulness in avoiding e-commerce gridlock, as was demonstrated in a lawsuit filed against eBay. One man sued eBay for a video sold in its auctions, but eBay was able to argue that, according to the "Online Copyright Infringement Liability Limitation Act" portion of the DMCA, it was exempt from such claims. That portion of the law frees ISPs and other such Internet companies from liability for content housed or passed over their networks, unless the copyright owners alert the ISPs to the specific instances and materials. Without this provision, ISPs and e-commerce sites such as eBay would be unduly hampered by having to monitor all their content and respond to unspecific claims of copyright infringement.
    http://news.cnet.com/news/0-1276-210-7462687-1.html

    To read more about DMCA cases, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm.

  • "Net Innovation Gets Squeezed"
    Network World (10/08/01) Vol. 18, No. 41, P. 1; Marsan, Carolyn Duffy

    The economic woes that the nation is facing could have a negative impact on innovation by technology firms. Much of the network innovations that have occurred over the past two years were the result of the work of startups, but venture capitalist are investing less in these firms, and larger tech companies have shied away from acquiring new companies of late. With all of the layoffs happening around the industry, there will be fewer people working in research and development. What is more, tech companies have been cutting back their research budgets. "It's inevitable that we'll go forwardwith technologies like wireless Internet, optical, and mass-market broadband," says Larry Smarr, director of the California Institute of Telecommunications and Information Technology (CallT2). Although larger companies will have to shoulder more of the burden of financing research and developments, federal funds have held steady, and many observers expect the government to increase its support for networking research programs. Some observers say the problem isn't a lack of funding for research and development, but a lack of demand for the latest advances in high-speed networks, which they is holding back continued innovation.
    http://www.nwfusion.com/news/2001/1008econc3.html

  • "Omniscient Computing"
    CIO (10/01/01) Vol. 15, No. 1, P. 138; Edwards, John

    With sentient computing, people no longer have to leave their work behind just because they are no longer at their desks. Empowering computers to automatically know who their users are, where they are, and what they need is the work of researchers with AT&T Laboratories in Cambridge, England. As users walk around a building, the follow-me personal desktop application can deliver user-associated software and data to the nearest screen, and a similar application routes the worker's calls to the closest phone. The technology, which could be available in about a year, enhances videoconferencing by intelligently selecting cameras and setting angles to track participants. A sentient computing system also turns devices off when users leave the room, which helps lower energy bills. Another benefit of the technology is security; sentient computers know who created documents and who has viewed them, and the technology can be used to automatically lock doors. AT&T is already working on a privacy policy statement because it expects the technology to raise concerns among privacy advocates. Sentient computing relies on attaching ultrasound radio sensors to people and devices. It uses a server and COBRA-based database software to create a map of a location and the status of objects throughout an office.
    http://www.cio.com/archive/100101/et_development.html

  • "Scope the Future"
    Computerworld (10/08/01) Vol. 35, No. 41, P. 54; Schwartz, Mathew

    In interviews for Computerworld magazine, IT experts told freelance writer Mathew Schwartz that the next, big technology to emerge in the next five to 10 years could be wafer-thin devices; mobile videoconferencing from a handheld computer; big, high-resolution monitors; head-mounted or eyeglass-mounted displays; or seamless wireless communication between cell phones and nearby services. Although the late director of MIT's Laboratory for Computer Science, Michael Dertouzos, offered spoken-language understanding and dialogue with computers, Donald Norman, principal and co-founder of Nielsen Norman Group, disagreed by saying researchers still have not been able to develop systems that understand language. Other technologies not given much chance to bloom in the next decade include the ultimate wireless home network, protective operating systems, mind-into-computer communication devices that replace muscles as input devices, and super-intuitive search engines. As for which developments are attainable but on which researchers will miss the boat, Jakob Nielsen of the Nielsen Norman Group and Jef Raskin, author of "The Humane Interface" and creator of the Apple Macintosh, say user interfaces. Yankowski cites the infrastructure for the e-wallet, while Doors of Perception director John Thackara tabs e-learning. Norman says political and business arguments could be an obstacle, and Gerry Kaufhold, principal multimedia analyst with Cahners In-Stat Groups, says society still must determine which technologies it needs. Dertouzos added that areas such as nanotechnology, automation, genomics, and robotics are all promising, and advised that a door be left open for ideas that come out of left field.
    http://www.computerworld.com/cwi/stories/0,1199,NAV47-81_STO64491,00.html