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 Compaq or ACM.

To send comments, please write to technews@hq.acm.org.

Volume 4, Issue 326: Friday, March 22, 2002

  • "An IT National Guard?"
    InternetNews.com (03/20/02); Mark, Roy

    A new bill introduced by Senators Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and George Allen (R-Va.) would allow members of the private science and technology community to contribute to the prevention and response to emergencies that involve technology and communications systems. "This legislation invites a generation raised on information technologies to help their fellow citizens when crisis strikes," Wyden explains. The Wyden-Allen Science and Technology Emergency Mobilization Act calls for the formation of a corps of science/tech volunteers that can be rapidly mobilized; a "virtual technology reserve" database that emergency officials can use in times of crisis; a Center for Civilian Homeland Security Technology where emergency prevention and response technologies can be tested; and a "communications interoperability" pilot program designed to fund collaborative efforts between fire, law enforcement, and emergency preparedness and response agencies. Private-sector boosters of the proposal include Intel, AOL, Microsoft, and Oracle. Wyden and Allen's bill will be debated by the Senate Commerce Committee, while Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.) may make a similar proposal in the House. Wyden first considered such a measure a month after the September terrorist attacks, but he and Allen discovered that the government placed barriers in the way of private-sector companies that wanted to help, such as credential requirements and a lack of access.
    http://dc.internet.com/news/article/0,,2101_995331,00.html

  • "Hollings Proposes Copyright Defense"
    Washington Post (03/22/02) P. E3; Musgrove, Mike

    The Consumer Broadband and Digital Television Promotion Act introduced yesterday by Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.) would require electronics manufacturers to install anti-copying safeguards in new hardware and software. Proponents say the legislation will drive the adoption of digital television and high-speed Internet access. Under the bill, copyright owners would be required to incorporate digital tags in works such as music and films that would lay out rules about how they can be played, viewed, and copied on computers, digital TVs, and other devices. If manufacturers and content owners have not agreed on an enforcement standard within a year, the FCC could choose one, making it unlawful to build devices that lack it. Critics such as DigitalConsumer.org founder Joe Kraus argue that the bill would give copyright owners too much power over consumers and impinge on their fair use rights, but Hollings promises that this would not be the case. Some manufacturers are also against the measure, claiming they need no government prodding to develop anti-copying systems.
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A92-2002Mar21.html

  • "FBI Weighs Fate of Cyber Security Arm"
    NewsFactor Network (03/22/02); Lyman, Jay

    Statements that the FBI is considering changes at the National Infrastructure Protection Center (NIPC) have sparked worries that the bureau is planning to restructure or disband the organization. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) wrote that FBI Director Robert Mueller proposed breaking up the NIPC last month, and warned that such a move "would destroy the fragile trust between NIPC and the private sector, which controls 90 percent of the nation's critical infrastructure." He added that the flow of information between the private sector and the FBI would be seriously hobbled, blinding the agency to infrastructure threats, while public-private cyber security initiatives would halt. The NIPC eats up over $25 million in funding annually. Meanwhile, FBI officials said they are being inundated with digital evidence, while cyber criminals are ahead of them. The FBI maintained that the NIPC remains an important component of the cyber security initiative, and the bureau is trying to find a way to "maximize [its] support for NIPC."
    http://www.newsfactor.com/perl/story/16894.html

  • "Software Pirates Face Brig Time, Angering Critics"
    Wall Street Journal (03/21/02) P. B1; Gomes, Lee

    Robin Rothberg and 16 other members of his Pirates With Attitude software-piracy organization could face more than two years of jail time for online software swapping, and critics are up in arms. Pirating software for purely recreational purposes, as Rothberg and his group did, was changed from a civil violation to a criminal offense in 1997, after the software industry pressured Congress to do so. The industry hopes a prison sentence will deter potential pirates, but copyright law specialist Marci A. Hamilton of Yeshiva University argues that the actual crime does not justify such a harsh penalty. Miriam Nisbet of the American Library Association contends that copyright owners have too much power and influence over government policy. The software industry claims that all forms of piracy add up to money and jobs lost, but detailed analysis does not seem to support such findings. MIS Training Institute CEO Lois Jacobson adds that there are considerably more serious forms of computer security violations that law-enforcement resources should tackle, besides software swapping. Most of Rothberg's group have pleaded guilty, and sentencing is scheduled for April; but although probation seems likely for many of the defendants, the government appears determined to have Rothberg and several other members incarcerated.
    http://www.msnbc.com/news/727382.asp?cp1=1

  • "Just Don't Call It a Hacker Camp"
    Wired News (03/22/02); Delio, Michelle

    White Hat Technologies is planning a summer camp where teenage computer enthusiasts can learn network security basics and the ethics of hacking, but CEO Thubten Comerford says he will stop referring to the place as a "Hacker Summer Camp" because of the negative connotations associated with "hacker." He made his decision after an article in the Denver Post quoted him as "admitting" that kids could learn illegal hacking techniques at the camp, although he claims it was a misquote. In order to qualify for the program, teens would have to demonstrate their hacking abilities on a "Honeypot" network run by White Hat. Comerford assures that teaching kids ethics will be a vital part of the program. This sits well with parents who are concerned about their children's online activities, but some parents are not so sure. One parent, Angela LaGarda, says children can just as easily learn about hacking on their own. The camp is expected to open in the summer of 2003.
    http://www.wired.com/news/print/0,1294,51240,00.html

  • "'You'll Puree Because I Said So'"
    New York Times (03/21/02) P. E1; McManus, Neil

    Voice activation is becoming a more popular feature in everyday appliances around the home as a function of the technology's decreasing cost and increasing sophistication. Chips that enable voice commands have dropped dramatically in price, with specialty chipmakers such as Sensory able to mass-produce them for as little as $1. A range of home use and entertainment products now carry voice activation features, often as a differentiator from competing products. Base modules from VOS Systems can turn any device powered by an AC outlet on and off, but specially programmed devices, like an MP3 player from e.Digital and Siemens' Gigaset 4215 cell phone, allow for more advanced features. One voice-controlled TV remote allows the user to program in a series of commands, such as "record TV," that would turn on the VCR, tune the TV to channel three, and activate the recording. Training devices for such uses is necessary, and gateway words must sometimes be used to avoid accidental activation, otherwise ambient noise or unintentional words may turn on the device.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2002/03/21/technology/circuits/21TALK.html
    (Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors must register.)

  • "Big Potential From Small Things"
    Washington Post (03/21/02) P. E1; Cha, Ariana Eunjung

    Nanotechnology--the science of manipulating atoms or molecules to form new materials--is gaining favor and investors as it moves from the realm of science fiction to scientific possibility. "The debate has shifted from 'Will it happen?' to 'When will it happen?'" notes Foresight Institute President Christine Peterson. Nanotech and its potential have been bolstered by breakthroughs such as the development of nanoscale computer circuits. IBM, Hewlett-Packard, and the federal government are just a few of the organizations that have launched nanotech research efforts. The Bush administration has apportioned $604 million this year for nanotech R&D, while the Pentagon announced a five-year, $50 million plan to build an MIT laboratory designed to churn out nanotech-enhanced equipment for soldiers. Another investor is Draper Fisher Jurvetson, which has spent $40 million in nanotech funding in the last two years; part of its focus is on bio-mechanical products such as computer chips fabricated from a material similar to hemoglobin. Silicon Valley's future may hinge on nanotech, since conventional electronics are reaching the limits of silicon chip size. Shrinking electronics is especially important to NASA, given the high cost of carrying bulky computers and other equipment on space missions, as well as the impracticality of relaying computations across vast distances, given the time lag; Meyya Meyyappan of the Ames Research Center thinks nanotech research could lead to the creation of a "thinking spacecraft" with autonomous decision-making capability.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "First Woman Named Chair of Internet Architecture Board"
    Network World Fusion (03/20/02); Marsan, Carolyn Duffy

    The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) has named Leslie Daigle as the new IETF Internet Architecture Board (IAB) chair. Daigle, who works at VeriSign, has pioneering expertise in the fields of search engines, directory services, and Web services, and is now the first women ever to hold a key senior position in the IETF. The main duty of the IAB chair is to guide the macro-picture vision of protocols and methods necessary for the smooth running of the Internet. Daigle, who was IAB's executive director before becoming chair, replaces John Klensin, an Internet founder who helped design the first email and file-exchange systems. Daigle's achievements include helping to develop the tool of uniform resource identifiers (URIs)--part of the Web's foundational structure--and the creation of one of the first-ever search engines, Archie. "URIs are as fundamental to the Web as IP addresses are to the Internet," says VeriSign co-worker and IETF player Michael Mealling. In other IETF news, the new IETF Security Area director is AT&T researcher Steve Bellovin. Two new IETF Routing Area directors are AT&T's Bill Fenner and Nexsi Systems' Alex Zinen.
    http://www.nwfusion.com/news/2002/0320iab.html

    To learn more about ACM's Committee on Women and Computing, visit http://www.acm.org/women.

  • "How Will USA Get More Fiber in Its Telecom Diet?"
    USA Today (03/21/02) P. 1B; Maney, Kevin

    In as little as five years the United States could be facing a shortage in telecommunications capacity, which would cause prices to rise in nearly all sectors and push alternative technologies to the fore. The situation that is currently shaping up, say analysts, is that telecommunications startups are dying off at a surprising rate, with remaining small companies getting limited funding. Large companies such as AT&T and SBC Communications have little incentive to push innovation since much of their infrastructure is old technology and would be made obsolete faster. Some experts say that, if not addressed soon, the continuing increase in communications demand, including rapidly rising Internet use, will eclipse the current bandwidth glut. As a rule, telecommunications firms try to keep enough capacity on hand for 20 years in the future, but overbuilding during the late 1990s has led many to believe further expansion is unnecessary. On the contrary, TeleChoice says that 63 percent of network links between large cities are nearly full and could soon become overburdened if high-speed Internet applications and connections take off with consumers. The nation's dark fiber, the estimated 95 percent of infrastructure that is unused, would take a significant investment in routing equipment and setup costs to make operable.
    http://www.usatoday.com/usatonline/20020321/3958293s.htm

  • "Bill Proposes IT Worker Swap"
    CNet (03/20/02); Gilbert, Alorie

    When House members return from spring break in April, they will vote on a proposal to create a program in which IT workers from both the federal and private sectors will swap jobs for a temporary period. Such an initiative would offer relief from a shortage of government IT professionals, many of whom are defecting to industry in pursuit of higher salaries. Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), a co-sponsor of the proposal, adds that the shortage could worsen when more than half of all federal IT workers will reach retirement age by 2006. He says an employee exchange program would help government agencies modernize their IT resources, while Information Technology Association of America President Harris Miller believes that many companies would lend IT workers for the opportunity to study the government's inner workings. IT workers who participate in the program would continue to be paid by their primary employers. An earlier employee exchange program between the Defense Department and high-tech companies was scuttled in 1999, after people raised concerns that businesses with closer ties to federal agencies would have a competitive advantage when bidding on government contracts; such fears also play in to the current proposal. Meanwhile, companies are reticent to let valuable workers go, and are worried that the government workers may refuse to return to their old jobs.
    http://news.com.com/2100-1017-865166.html

  • "'Social Engineering' Spreads New Plague of Web Chat Viruses"
    NewsFactor Network (03/21/02); Lyman, Jay

    Hackers have taken to instant messaging and Internet Relay Chat networks to spread viruses and malicious code, according to security experts. The CERT group at Carnegie Mellon University reports that tens of thousands of user systems have been infected or subject to remote control through socially engineered attacks. Hackers are using old techniques borrowed from email ploys, such as promises of free software, pornography, or other downloads, but the increasing trend is toward downloads that offer antivirus solutions. More sophisticated URL addresses that closely imitate legitimate sites are showing up as well. Jimmy Kuo of security research group McAfee says hacker groups seek to build networks of computers they can activate for denial-of-service attacks against rivals. Symantec Security Response senior director Sharon Ruckman says the new activity is just a shift to a new channel in order to circumvent increasingly effective antivirus and security software.
    http://www.newsfactor.com/perl/story/16870.html

  • "A Concrete That Percolates, Keeping Snow and Spies at Bay"
    New York Times (03/21/02) P. E5; Austen, Ian

    Scientists at the National Research Council of Canada have hit upon a form of concrete that can conduct electricity while retaining its structural integrity. This property, which James J. Beaudoin of the council's Institute of Research in Construction calls percolation, generates heat, so structures built using the substance can melt snow. This ability was tested late last year by St. Lawrence Cement, which built a snow-resistant sidewalk and loading ramp. The researchers originally investigated mixing carbon fibers into the concrete so that it would maintain its strength, but decided on coke breeze as a less expensive alternative. An even greater challenge was mixing, handling, and curing the concrete in just the right way so that its conductive properties were the same in all batches, according to project manager Mark Arnott. Government agencies in both Canada and the United States think the conductive concrete could enhance computer security, since Beaudoin and Arnott acknowledge that the substance can effectively block the electromagnetic signatures produced by computers, which spies can intercept. This could eliminate the need for a Faraday cage, and the material's efficiency is currently being researched.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2002/03/21/technology/circuits/21NEXT.html
    (Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors must register.)

  • "Bridgestone Develops Nanotech Display"
    IDG News Service (03/20/02); Miyake, Kuriko

    Bridgestone, the Japanese tire maker, says it has developed a special material that will halve the cost of displays and consume just a small fraction of the power used by current liquid crystal displays (LCDs). A spokesman for the firm said the company had found a fine powder that can create images 100 times faster than LCDs when floated in static electricity. Electric signals would also be able to pass through the display much easier because of the non-solid structures. The company says the new displays will also show up better under low light and not require a backlit component, saving costs and space. Bridgestone expects to release a prototype device by the third quarter and begin mass production by the end of 2003, targeting the handheld computer and cell phone markets, which need low power displays for video-streaming applications. Other firms are developing organic electroluminescence displays (OELD) that also consumer little power and generate their own light. Bridgestone says its technology and OELDs will be competitive and provide users with more display options.
    http://www.itworld.com/Comp/3825/020320nanotechdisplay/

  • "Where Are All the Bright Ideas?"
    Business Week Online (03/15/02); Black, Jane

    The economic slowdown has hampered innovation in technology because large companies are reticent about experimenting with new research and venture capitalists are wary of funding uncertain technology concerns. "Innovation is a state of mind: the willingness to think differently," asserts MIT Media Lab director Nicholas Negroponte. Research firm Venture One says last year's $32.1 billion in venture funding showed a 65 percent drop from 2000, but still was the third-largest amount in history. However, much of that money went to prop up existing investments. Biotechnology, nanotechnology, and Internet efficiency companies are drawing some dollars, though the emphasis is still on products that are able to get to the marketplace quickly. Intel Capital's Claude Leglise says the contracting venture capital market is actually beneficial in that it ensures the best people with the best ideas receive funding.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Global Police Can't Cope With Savvy Cyber Criminals"
    Reuters (03/20/02)

    Speaking at a conference in Hong Kong on Wednesday, FBI assistant director Ronald Eldon told gatherers that rapidly changing technology has made it imperative that various countries share their information about cyber threats. Criminals are taking advantage of ever-new gadgets to wreak havoc with computer systems, and to react, "Government must respond not at government time but at Internet time." The ease with which information can now travel across borders using mobile devices requires that nations work on conforming legal requirements and diplomacy. Eldon suggested that a 24-hour network that currently links only some industrialized countries, allowing them to share information about cyber attacks, should also be connected to the systems of other countries, and that private industry and academia should be encouraged to assist in finding high-tech tools necessary to prevent breaches.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Virginia to Nix Key UCITA Provision"
    Computerworld (03/18/02) Vol. 36, No. 12, P. 1; Thibodeau, Patrick

    Virginia has cancelled an important provision in the Uniform Computer Information Transactions Act (UCITA), strengthening software vendors' control over contracts. The provision, which the insurance industry fought especially hard for two years ago when UCITA was adopted in that state, would allow merging companies to transfer their software contracts. Merger and acquisition activity is common in the finance and insurance industries, and being able to ensure technological interoperability and software portability is key to many deals, says Lars Kristiansen of Nationwide Insurance. Maryland, the only other state to adopt UCITA, has not included any such exemption for businesses. Critics say that canceling the provision will force companies to address the issue of contract portability when it is first being written, and that software vendors could otherwise extract "windfall" profit from licenses whenever their customers merge or are acquired.
    http://www.computerworld.com/storyba/0,4125,NAV47_STO69198,00.html

    For information about ACM's UCITA activities, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm/IP.

  • "Tongues of the Web"
    Economist--Technology Quarterly (03/16/02) Vol. 362, No. 8264, P. 26

    The Internet has helped highlight the usefulness of machine translation (MT), a technology that has improved very little since the 1970s. With the emergence of the World Wide Web, companies realize there will be people who communicate in other languages who visit their Web sites, and that they need to make their online presence multilingual. Indeed, 57 of the 100 largest companies in America had multilingual sites in 2000, up from 33 percent in 1999. Meanwhile, an increasing number of Internet users do not speak English; this year, 32 percent of Web users are expected to be English speakers, down from 48 percent in 2000. Unfortunately, the quality of MT technology--systems that use computers to translate languages--has not gotten any better of late, but expectations for MT will soar as a result of the Web. Every Internet user can now take advantage of MT, but people will eventually demand faster translations, and better results. In this regard, the Internet does not help MT, considering slang, colloquial language, and ungrammatical constructions of Web pages, chat rooms, and emails would hamper the effectiveness of the technology. At the same time, the Internet will make it easier for MT companies to improve the technology as Web-based companies standardize the content of their documents and as translators pool their work to create a database of previously translated content.
    http://www.economist.com/science/tq/displayStory.cfm?story_id=1020823

  • "Where High Tech Measures Up"
    National Journal (03/09/02) Vol. 34, No. 10, P. 706; New, William

    New director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Arden Bement has made it a priority to have more people recognize his agency's contributions to the country's quality of life. Raising NIST's profile will help garner additional funding, an important consideration when many R&D initiatives could be scaled back in order to satisfy a White House directive to address homeland security. Many of the last century's key technologies would not have been developed and standardized without NIST, including semiconductors, computers, and satellite communications. Emerging technologies that Bement singles out as important centers of NIST research include nanotechnology and quantum computing. But the agency is not shirking its duty to homeland security, and is pursuing standards for technology used to irradiate mail, find nuclear material or biological-chemical agents, and secure airports, among other things. It also assists other groups, such as the EPA and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. NIST has a staff of over 3,000, and is located at a headquarters in Gaithersburg, Md., and a facility in Boulder, Colo. Many staff members are culled from post-doctoral fellowships and international exchange programs.

  • "Why Nanotechnology May Arrive Sooner than Expected"
    Futurist (04/02) Vol. 36, No. 2, P. 16; Uldrich, Jack

    The progress of nanotechnology and the applications that stem from it is going forward thanks to the development of technology that helps scientists clearly understand and direct atomic behavior; indeed, the nanotech era may arrive sooner than skeptics expect because of such progress. Researchers are gaining insight on the interactions of matter with devices and techniques such as the scanning probe microscope, the nanomanipulator, and physical vapor synthesis, which can also be used to manipulate molecular structure and thus change existing substances or create new ones. More nanomaterials are being produced for less money, which will lead to nanoscale products of higher quality. Also pushing nanotech progress forward is more public money; increased research and development, both in national/corporate laboratories and academic institutions; cross-fertilization among scientists; and academic and federal researchers spinning off their work into the commercial sector through statutes such as the National Competitiveness Technology Transfer Act and the Bayh-Dole Act. Computers employed in nanotech research are becoming more powerful, a development that is itself being fueled by nanotech. Furthermore, venture capitalists are eager to exploit new technologies, while companies are investing in nanotech to hone their competitive edge. Finally, more advanced software is driving nanotech, and more industries recognize that the technology is critical to their development and are making investments and modifications based on that assumption.