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Timely Topics for IT Professionals

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


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Volume 4, Issue 304: Monday, January 28, 2002

  • "Specific Companies Are Targeted as Attacks on Computers Increase"
    Wall Street Journal (01/28/02) P. B3; Clark, Don

    Riptech Inc. conducted a survey of the log files of its 300 customers in 25 countries--totaling over 5.5 billion files--and found that attacks on computers increased significantly in the last six months of 2001. The average number of cyber attacks per week increased 79 percent between July and December of 2001, and 39 percent of them appeared to be targeted at specific companies. Additionally, the survey indicated that energy and power companies were attacked at higher rates from locations in the Middle East. The Computer Security Institute and the FBI indicated that businesses lost up to $377.8 million from computer breaches, up from $265.6 million in 2000. However, Riptech stated that less than 1 percent of the attacks could be considered "severe and immediate." TruSecure, which monitors hacker Web sites and corporate customers, also noticed an increase in breaches, claiming that hackers bragged about successful attacks about 587 times per day in the fourth quarter of 2001, up from 455 per day in the third quarter. However, TruSecure chief technology officer Peter Tippett said he doubted whether hackers were increasingly targeting specific companies' sites.

  • "Senate Rejects Depreciation Bonus in Economic Package"
    Computerworld Online (01/25/02); Thibodeau, Patrick

    The Senate on Friday rejected a three-year depreciation bonus that boosters say would help technology sales for businesses. Although the Republican-backed legislation failed, it is widely expected that some sort of depreciation bonus will be passed, as Democratic leaders support a one-year depreciation bonus. However, industry groups say a one-year time-frame is too short because it does not allow enough time for companies to plan their technology purchases around the new rule. The depreciation bonus would allow businesses to deduct 30 percent of the purchase price from that year's taxes immediately, in addition to the normal 20 percent amount for the balance. Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.), sponsor of the three-year plan, immediately submitted a two-year plan to Congress following the defeat of the first measure.
    http://www.computerworld.com/storyba/0,4125,NAV47_STO67732,00.html

  • "Tech Downturn Doesn't Slow H-1B Visas"
    Associated Press (01/27/02)

    Despite 2001's economic slowdown, more American firms applied for foreign worker visas last year, compared to 2000. U.S. firms and other organizations applied for 342,035 H-1B visas in 2001, an increase of 14 percent over 2000's figures. The number of accepted visas also rose by 40 percent to approximately 163,200, while some 29,000 are pending. Typically, salaries of the those working under the H-1B visas--who most frequently come from India and China--are 15 percent to 33 percent lower than those of U.S. citizens, according to Norman Matloff, a computer science professor at the University of California, Davis. The increase could be due to the creation of 80,000 new positions in the high-tech sector, while colleges and universities have no limit on visa requests.
    http://dailynews.yahoo.com/h/ap/20020127/tc/foreign_worker_visas_1.html

  • "Open Source's Dot-Net Less Open"
    Wired News (01/28/02); Manjoo, Farhad

    Linux development company Ximian says its .Net-related Mono Project will switch licenses in order to allow more commercial developers to contribute to the platform. The current GNU General Public License is hindering some companies, especially those working on embedded systems, from joining the Mono Project, which is designed as an open-source version of Microsoft's .Net. However, under the new X11 License companies such as Intel and Hewlett-Packard would be able to close off their improved versions of Mono to others. Ximian co-founder and Linux guru Miguel de Icaza says the switch is a necessary compromise aimed at getting the development backing of large contributors. Both the X11 License and the GNU General Public License are regarded as adhering to the basic tenets of open-source code and Ximian says it has no plans to use the license change as means to create a proprietary version of Mono.
    http://www.wired.com/news/technology/0,1282,50037,00.html

  • "Waging a Battle Against PC Bugs"
    SiliconValley.com (01/26/02); Ackerman, Elise

    Computer programs commonly contain errors in the code that allow hackers to manipulate systems or cause applications to crash. New efforts to eradicate these software bugs are coming from commercial groups such as Microsoft and government and academic circles as well. Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates recently announced that 7,000 Microsoft programmers would undergo a one-month secure programming course to learn how to design more stable software. Microsoft programs, including the new Windows XP version, are often flawed as a result of managers' pressure to get products to market fast and add features. Carnegie Mellon software engineers are working with the NASA to create secure software development standards based on programming design theories. The key to secure code, says Carnegie Mellon research fellow Watts Humphrey, is focusing on writing stable code initially, rather than going through later and cleaning it up.
    http://www.siliconvalley.com/docs/news/svfront/secur012702.htm

  • "White House Cybersecurity 'Strategy' Due in June"
    Newsbytes (01/25/02); McGuire, David

    White House Director of Critical Infrastructure Protection Paul Kurtz detailed a national cybersecurity strategy that the Bush administration is expected to introduce later this year. He said that one of the mandates of the strategy is to give companies "market-based" incentives to improve their electronic safeguards. The private sector is critical to the success of the plan, which seeks to bypass regulation, according to Kurtz. The strategy will not include legislation, but Kurtz hinted that the administration would gradually furnish legislative suggestions on cybersecurity. He revealed that the White House favors legislation that would grant limited exemptions to companies that divulge data about electronic intrusions to the government. Furthermore, Kurtz said the administration is still considering the GovNet proposal while the Cyber Corps program remains on track. The cybersecurity strategy, which will cover both the public and private sector, is due in June.
    http://www.newsbytes.com/news/02/173967.html

  • "Laid-Off Techies Invoke Old Law"
    ZDNet (01/25/02); Kane, Margaret

    More laid-off technology workers of defunct technology companies are taking advantage of the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act, drafted in the 1980s to help blue-collar workers deal with plant closings. Groups of employees of bankrupt e-tailer Webvan and services provider Inacom are suing their former companies under the law because they received less than the 60-day notice it prescribes for mass layoffs at companies with more than 100 workers. Holland & Knight lawyer Wendy Lazerson says many laid-off employees were unaware of their rights when they signed waivers at the time of their departure. But while awareness of the WARN Act is increasing, so are the understandings of its limitations. The law, for example, exempts companies that have encountered an "unforeseen business event" or were seeking further financing immediately before their layoffs. Both situations could be applied to many failed technology firms, which either were startups surprised by the cancellation of a major contract or were seeking further venture capital before they started cutting staff. Greenberg Traurig bankruptcy attorney Luis Salazar says giving a 60-day notice to employees may cause unwanted resignations and uncertainty from both suppliers and financiers.
    http://zdnet.com.com/2100-1106-822917.html

  • "New Technologies Help Chips Chill Out"
    NewsFactor Network (01/25/02); Hirsh, Lou

    Researchers are seeking a better way to cool microchips; currently in testing is a microscopic refrigerator no bigger than a dust mote. The device, called a thin-film cooler, is being developed by Ali Shakouri of the University of California, Santa Cruz, and combines carbon, germanium, and silicon to create an integrated circuit. The conductive cooler is designed to draw heat away from overheated areas of the chip and distribute it throughout the environment. Thus far, the cooler is able to reduce temperature by 7 or 8 degrees centigrade, according to Shakouri; chip heat levels can go as high as 100 degrees. The device was one of several ideas touted at the Thermes 2002 conference in Santa Fe. Other technologies showcased there included piezoelectric fans, thermoelectric systems, and thermoacoustics. Shakouri says the chip coolers could be commercialized within five to seven years, and believes they could be applied to fiber-optics as well.
    http://www.newsfactor.com/perl/story/16006.html

  • "Towards the Single Molecule Transistor"
    Electronics Times (UK) (01/24/02); Fell, Nolan

    Two physicists at Bell Labs, Shenan Bao and Hendrik Schon, have created an FET that integrates both semiconductor and insulator layers within a single organic molecule. The work, published in the current Applied Physics Letters, builds on the creation of a single-molecule transistor that the two researchers developed last November. The combination of semiconducting and insulating parts could one day result in the creation of true single-molecule transistors, Schon explains. The physicists' work could some day lead to the development of transistors more than 100 times smaller than those manufactured using conventional CMOS process. However, Schon says that their work is unlikely to lead to any commercial developments for at least 10 years.
    http://www.electronicstimes.com/story/OEG20020124S0006

  • "Distributed's New Word: Please"
    Wired News (01/24/02); Patrizio, Andy

    David McOwen narrowly avoided going to trial for installing distributed computing software onto computers at DeKalb Technical College without permission. McOwen deployed Distributed.net's RC5-64 client on 524 DeKalb PCs, for the purpose of recruiting idle CPU cycles in a project to crack a 64-bit encryption key from RSA Data Security. His actions prompted his suspension and firing from DeKalb, and he was charged with eight felony counts of computer theft and computer trespass. A settlement was suddenly reached late last week, letting McOwen off with a $2,100 fine and one year of probation. McOwen attracted a lot of support from distributed computing hobbyists on the Internet, who organized Web sites and fundraising efforts to partly pay his legal bills. Other members of the distributed computing community are taking the lesson to heart. "It's brought a new sense of awareness that when you are in a corporate or university environment, it's crucial to get permission to run any software that falls outside your duties as a student and employee," says Distributed.net founder David McNett.
    http://www.wired.com/news/technology/0,1282,49961,00.html

  • "Save the Internet"
    Boston Globe (01/24/02) P. E1; Bray, Hiawatha

    Like television executives before the dawn of video players, people using the Internet make the mistake of deleting information from the Internet's many Web pages and bulletin boards. Brewster Kahle, an MIT graduate and cofounder of the now defunct supercomputer firm Thinking Machines, is trying to remedy this problem with his new Web site, Kahle's Internet Archives, which aims to create an archival copy of the entire Internet. "The idea is to preserve now and sort it out later," he says. Since launching the site last October, Kahle has amassed 100 terabytes of data, which surpasses the amount of data the Library of Congress has collected. He wants to keep this data available in perpetuity, with the financial backing of charities and corporations. Meanwhile, Usenet records messages on Web-based bulletin boards, and Google is building an indexed archive of such messages.
    http://www.boston.com/dailyglobe2/024/business/Save_the_Internet+.shtml

  • "Annual Internet Traffic Growth Still Tripling--Report"
    Newsbytes (01/16/02); Featherly, Kevin

    Larry Roberts, one of the Internet's leading original pioneers and Capsian Networks CTO, says Internet traffic is currently growing by 300 percent annually, but that this growth rate will not last forever. Moreover, Roberts says that when traffic volume finally starts to slow down in 2010, there will be a major shakeup in the ISP market. Roberts bases his predictions on research he carried out over a two-year period. The former Advanced Research Projects Agency official measured Internet traffic flowing through the 20 largest ISP networks and trunk lines in the United States. Some analysts and vendors have stated recently that the Internet's growth appears to be slowing, but Roberts says these people are confusing speculation about the capacity of carrier networks with actual traffic growth. He forecasts that Internet traffic growth will ratchet down to roughly 2.5 times a year in the next several years, then grow 150 percent annually by the end of the decade. "The reduction is going to be important in terms of how the industry consolidates," Roberts says.
    http://www.newsbytes.com/news/02/173707.html

  • "The Year of Working Conservatively"
    Electronic Business (01/02) Vol. 28, No. 1, P. 34; Zizzo, Thomas

    Although California suffered from six rolling blackouts last year, the city of Santa Clara did not experience any. Santa Clara's electric utility, Silicon Valley Power, had established a "power reduction pool" to protect the city during periods of high power use. The city also credited the conservation initiatives of Intel, 3Com, National Semiconductor, Applied Materials, and other firms. During the energy crisis critics accused high-tech firms of consuming excess power through their servers and data centers. PG&E's Christy Dennis says that tech firms devour 4.1 percent of the electricity in PG&E's 70,000 square-mile San Francisco, which Silicon Valley is a part of. In comparison, the figure was 3.9 percent 10 years ago. Such a small increment indicates that these firms are highly energy efficient, Dennis says. The Silicon Valley Manufacturing Group estimates that Hewlett-Packard and Compaq Computer reduced the electric consumption at their Silicon Valley plants by 7 percent and 20 percent over the previous year, respectively.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "The Issue-By-Issue Outlook for 2002: Technology, Telecommunications"
    National Journal (01/19/02) Vol. 34, No. 3, P. 162; Peterson, Molly M.

    High-speed Internet pipelines, digital copyright protections, and consumer privacy will be among the top technology and telecommunications issues on Congress' agenda this year. The issue involving high-speed Internet pipelines is expected to heat up in March, when the House likely will vote on the Internet Freedom and Broadband Deployment Act, which would allow the Baby Bell companies to enter the broadband market without opening up their local pipelines fully to rivals. Although some observers believe the legislation has enough votes in the House, the bill would face stiff opposition in the Senate, where the Telecommunications Fair Competition Enforcement Act of Sen. Ernest F. Hollings (D-S.C.) is more in line with the 1996 Telecommunications Act. Hollings is also writing a copyright bill that would use "watermark" encryption standards to prevent the illegal distribution of downloaded movies, music, computer games, and other digital content. However, software makers and others in the high-tech industry view the approach as extreme. Lawmakers also are expected to work on legislation that provides intellectual-property safeguards for database owners, and provides a transition for broadcasters to digital television. Companies will also seek to defeat bills that protect consumers' privacy out of fear that innovation would be curbed.

  • "Staying Put"
    InformationWeek (01/21/02) No. 872, P. 36; Sweat, Jeff

    Long-term IT employment, generally frowned upon by ambitious professionals who view jobs as stepping-stones to greater rewards and higher salaries, is gaining favor in today's languishing economy. The key is to maintain one's enthusiasm for the job, and many veteran executives offer advice on the best strategy. Dawn Lepore of Charles Schwab & Co. suggests that employees look beyond financial considerations and weigh the aspects of the job that offer personal fulfillment, such as friendships, emotional investments, technical challenges, and one's role in the company. Of course, such fulfillment can lead to stagnation, so Lepore also extols the value of setting challenges outside the IT department, or out of the company. Asking for diverse assignments is another way to stoke one's interest, according to Lyondell Chemical CEO Bob Tolbert. All the same, executives such as Lepore encourage changing employers if one feels their career is being constrained. Matcom VP of IT services Bill Smithson insists that "You have to keep bucking for change." A company that is expanding usually means continuous challenges that long-term IT executives live for.
    http://www.informationweek.com/story/IWK20020117S0028

  • "Why High Tech Has Fallen Off Washington's A-List"
    Business Week (01/28/02) No. 3767, P. 51; Borrus, Amy

    Compared to past years, high-tech firms have lost much of their influence in Congress. The only tech-related bill passed in 2001 was the two-year extension of the Internet taxes moratorium. Amid the tech-fueled downturn, lawmakers are favoring broad-based stimulus rather than targeting tech firms. In addition, the Sept. 11 attacks have placed a priority on security over economic interests. The situation will continue to be subdued in 2002 as Silicon Valley backs such complex issues as promoting high-speed data networks and guarding Internet privacy. Currently, high-speed Internet service is used by only 11 percent of American households. Increased broadband use would encourage demand for new computers, equipment, movies-on-demand, and other broadband applications, executives say. Firms fear that privacy laws could inhibit online commerce; they are also wary of Ernest F. Hollings' (D.-S.C.) move to sanction technology prohibiting the copying of movies and music.

  • "Computing With a Twist"
    Discover (01/02) Vol. 23, No. 1, P. 21; Savage, Neil

    The spin of electrons can be switched from one state to another by a magnetic field; this forms the basis of spintronics, an emerging technology. The first significant spintronics developments occurred about 10 years ago, when researchers at IBM's Almaden Research Center began investigating ways to increase the data storage space of computer hard drives. Thanks to spintronics, hard drive capacity has expanded from 1GB to 100GB over the last five years. The next step, currently under development, is spin-based computer memory, or magnetic random access memory (M-RAM). Unlike RAM, M-RAM requires almost no electricity. M-RAM could help yield instant-on computers, cell phones with an enormous amount of embedded memory, and more sophisticated and durable spacecraft. Also under development are spintronics transistors that could lead to speedier, smaller, more power-efficient devices. Electrons can also exist in both spin-up and spin-down states simultaneously, a property that could be applied to the creation of a quantum computer.
    http://www.discover.com/jan_02/feattech.html

  • "The World in a Box"
    Scientific American (01/02) Vol. 286, No. 1, P. 18; Wood, Lamont

    The first products of artificial-intelligence researcher Doug Lenat's Cyc project are being rolled out. The goal of Cyc is to create software that can comprehend language by using common sense. When he started his project 18 years ago, Lenat predicted that Cyc technology would by now have the ability to learn new concepts through open conversation, but he has postponed that forecast by another five years. Learning through raw text scanning, an ability Lenat originally expected to appear in the mid 1990s, could take two more decades before it is ready. Lenat says the infusion of context into the facts database expanded it tenfold, while the initiative took on custom database projects to stay financially solvent. Cyc's most significant application so far has been an enhancement to the Lycos Web search engine. Cycorp, the company spun off from MCC, Cyc's original parent, is planning to launch CycSecure, a network security tool bolstered with data about software and network configuration weaknesses. Another announced product is OpenCyc, a free version of the Cyc database designed to interest others in compiling facts for the project.
    http://www.sciam.com/2002/0102issue/0102scicit4.html