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ACM TechNews is published every week on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
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Volume 4, Issue 332: Friday, April 5, 2002
- "How Dangerous Are Pirates?"
USA Today (04/05/02) P. 1B; Lieberman, David
Consumers are pirating more music and movies, causing industry executives to clamor for government intervention, sue file-trading networks, and place copyright-protection technology on their CDs and PCs. The increase in broadband-equipped homes, the proliferation of CD burners, and the skyrocketing sales of blank CDs have all contributed to a 10.3% drop in recorded music sales last year, say record labels. A dramatic drop in second-week album sales has also hinted at rampant piracy. A recent CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll survey found that 43% of Americans said online file sharing should be legalized while 46% opposed it and 11% had not decided. The situation for music companies also worries those in Hollywood, who fear that online trading could also target DVDs and that low prices on DVD players will lead to mass copying of that medium as well. Media executives have gone to Congress in protest, arguing that technology hardware firms are complicit in copyright piracy because it sells their product. Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.) has proposed a bill that would require media and technology firms to find a standard copyright-protection technology that would be installed on every digital recording and playback device, but consumer rights advocates say consumers have fair use rights to make copies, while others worry about access to material in the public domain. Electronic Frontier Foundation attorney Fred von Lohmann says, "Fair use is something to be decided by the courts on a case-by-case basis, not by companies that conspire to use technology against you."
- "3G, or Not to Be?"
Washington Post (04/05/02) P. E1; Noguchi, Yuki
Third-generation (3G) wireless technology has lured many telecoms with its dream of bigger revenues from network upgrades, but it is still fraught with uncertainties. The spectrum licenses and phones are highly expensive, there is no guarantee that users will pay the usage fees the industry wishes to impose, and there is always the possibility that other technologies could beat 3G to the mainstream business market. Although European telecoms are already stuck in an economic quagmire as a result of their own 3G initiatives, U.S. telecoms are still planning to spend as much as $30 billion for 3G network upgrades, according to the Yankee Group. Critics such as Communications Network Architects President Frank Dzubeck do not expect people to pay for 3G network services such as the ability to email photos from cell phones, while Yankee Group director David Berndt says that "the whiz-bang stuff isn't going to be there, in most cases." 3G enables networks to handle more calls, and wireless company executives are starting to see this as the chief benefit of the technology, rather than higher data transfer rates. If wireless carriers were to offer monthly flat fees for high-speed Internet access, Berndt expects disastrous consequences because it would spur high demand but yield low rewards. In addition, U.S. carriers are getting winded from their network maintenance efforts while securing more capital in the current economic climate has proven to be elusive. 3G also is not fast enough for many people, a drawback that has prompted research into ultrawideband, orthogonal frequency division multiplexing, and other technologies.
- "ACM Asks ICANN to Scale Back Mission"
Newsbytes (04/03/02); McGuire, David
ACM is calling on ICANN to scale back its scope and focus on its technical mission in response to ICANN's recent move to restructure itself. ACM U.S. Public Policy Committee co-chair Barbara Simons says ACM members are worried about ICANN's intentions to expand its scope, and that ACM believes ICANN should withdraw efforts to enforce trademark protection rights in regard to domain name sellers. In addition, ICANN should loosen its role in choosing and approving new TLDs. Simons says that ICANN definitely should preserve public input structures if the organization does not scale back. "We also urge ICANN to work more closely with the technical community that has always been the mainstay of the DNS and [IP] systems," says an ACM statement.
For information regarding ACM's Internet governance work related to ICANN, visit http://www.acm.org/serving/IG.html.
- "Java Could be Key to Next-Generation Phones"
Investor's Business Daily (04/05/02) P. A5; Sleeper, Sarah Z.
Sun Microsystems' Java programming language is winning favor among wireless manufacturers, as demonstrated at the JavaOne conference in San Francisco. The event showcased Java-enabled cell phones, software, and handhelds from 70 wireless firms, including Motorola, Nokia, and Research in Motion. International Data's Dick Coburn notes that Sun is well positioned to benefit from the rollout of 3G networks over the next couple of years. He says the low cost and wide availability of Java has helped boost its popularity and that of Sun; its compatibility with many technologies is also a key attraction. Borland Software's Ted Shelton says Java can achieve significant cost savings in staffing and computer work for wireless companies. Sun's Craig Miller says sales of Java-enabled phones totaled 14 million last year, and adds that researchers project sales of 100 million units this year. As wireless Java continues to grow, Sun will be able to develop and offer infrastructure for 3G services, he predicts. "The idea is to make Java as ubiquitous as possible," Miller says.
- "Server Port 80 Plagues Internet Security"
InfoWorld.com (04/03/02); Costello, Sam
Internet Security Systems (ISS) disclosed in its first-quarter security incident report that denial of service (DoS) attacks are maintaining a steady pace, while blended cyberattacks such as the Nimda and Code Red worms are on the rise. "Attacks are now global in scope and round-the-clock in incidence," the security firm concluded. ISS found that server port 80, the port used for Web traffic, was the launch point for almost 70% of the attacks carried out in the first quarter of 2002. Furthermore, over 80% of first-quarter attacks consisted of DoS intrusions, port scans, and blended threats, which are all usually conducted over port 80. Because blocking access to port 80 would adversely affect Web traffic, addressing the problem is a particularly difficult proposition, ISS noted. The firm outlined several strategies companies can follow to reduce the risk, including deactivating unused services and beefing up firewalls with more safeguards. ISS classified the Nimda worm as "a dominant, expensive, and enduring threat," despite the presence of a Microsoft patch. The company could find no obvious indications of cyberterrorist attacks in the wake of 9/11, and revealed the presence of 537 new software security flaws for the quarter.
- "Why is Easy-to-Use So Hard to Do?"
Newsweek Online (04/02/02); Rogers, Michael
Newsweek columnist Michael Rogers is puzzled why so much technology that is touted as easy to use turns out to be difficult. He attributes this to a lack of understanding among hardware and software designers, engendered by what he terms the guru effect. Rogers theorizes that the experts or gurus groups depend on to solve technical problems are defining ease of use so it benefits them and makes them indispensable. He writes that "Ease of use needs to be judged by the person most likely to be befuddled--not by the experts." This is especially germane now, what with increasingly sophisticated digital technology being integrated into consumer products. The intersection of computers, televisions, and telephones in the near future is a case in point. Although Rogers does list examples of technology that offers true ease of use, such as Windows XP, he is distressed by the long gap between the introduction of the core technology (Windows premiered in 1985) and the development of easy-to-use features.
- "High-Tech Industry Split on Broadband Policy"
Newsbytes (04/03/02); Krebs, Brian
Leading companies in the high-tech industry are taking sides on broadband deregulation, especially with the recent formation of the new High Tech Broadband Coalition, which seeks to persuade Congress and FCC officials against regulation in the broadband market. Comprised of companies from nearly every tech sector, the Broadband Coalition is first setting its sights on the FCC, which is currently reviewing its policy on telecom regulations to see whether or not to exclude broadband digital subscriber line services. The Baby Bell companies say applying old regulations meant for the telephone market to broadband is hindering deployment, since they would be forced to lease space on new infrastructure to competitive ISPs at low prices. Given that disadvantage, they say they have little chance in competing with cable companies, which have no such hindrances. Meanwhile, smaller ISPs and about 20 other technology companies have also galvanized in opposition, forming "The Competition Working Group." They argue that altering regulation on data services regulation would be unfair and leave them in the lurch with unsustainable business plans, even as many are already in financial difficulty. Other high-tech representatives in the CapNet political action committee criticized the Broadband Coalition's tactics, saying the group was trying to bypass legislative authority by lobbying for change at the FCC, which has jurisdiction to administer, but not create, policy.
- "Study: SSL Encryption Weaker in Europe Than U.S."
ITWorld.com (04/03/02); Rohde, Laura
Web servers in Europe do not protect their Internet messages as well as those in the U.S., reports U.K.-based Netcraft. The difference stems from previous U.S. export laws that restricted the shipments of advanced encryption technology abroad, limiting it to just 512-bit Secure Socket Layer (SSL) encryption instead of the more secure 1024-bit SSL encryption. Just 15.1% of the servers using SSL protections surveyed in the U.S. used the shorter keys, while in Europe the percentage was as high as 41.1% in France, 31.9% in Spain, and 26.5% in the U.K. Although the export restrictions have since been revised, the lingering effect of lower security has been drawn out by worries over backward compatibility and the fact that most Internet users are unaware of the difference between sites that use 512-bit keys and those that use 1024-bit encryption. Currently, a locked icon somewhere on browsers indicates a site is secured, but Netcraft suggests that developers should build in ways to show graduations in SSL security.
For information regarding ACM's activities related to encryption, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm/crypto.
- "With an Organic Sensor, a Food Wrapper Sniffs Out Trouble"
New York Times (04/04/02) P. E5; Margulius, David L.
Currently under development are organic devices that can be attached to the wrapping of food items to monitor the food's freshness. Making such devices disposable is key to their viability, and researchers worldwide are making strides in the area of mass production. Soluble hydrogen-carbon circuits would be cheaper than silicon-based radio frequency ID tags, and could be printed directly onto the wrapping. Dr. Vivek Subramanian of the University of California at Berkeley is working on printable organic sensors, as is IBM, Lucent, Xerox, Philips, and Mitsubishi Chemicals. Organic transistors operate at much lower performance levels than silicon transistors, but that may not be such an important factor for certain applications, such as detecting E.coli bacteria in meat. Still, Subramanian and his team are hoping to overcome such drawbacks by refining circuit design and fabrication. Furthermore, the group is developing a spray that could increase the performance life and stability of the transistors. Researchers foresee organic circuits being used initially in display technology; advances in biometric sensors, blood tests, and anti-theft technology are also projected.
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- "Bio Gold Rush Could Pay Off for Enterprise IT"
InfoWorld.com (04/03/02); Heichler, Elizabeth
Bioinformatics, the merging of IT and life sciences, is pushing the big guns in technology to build new computing architectures and tools that one day will be used in business applications. Life sciences research now is moving beyond gene sequencing to the study of proteins, which will require systems that not only store exabytes of data in a database, but will also require them to process it as well. This amount of computational power and scale is pushing vendors such as IBM, Compaq, Sun Microsystems, and Hewlett-Packard to test the limits of their computing products, such as storage area networks, database middleware, and supercomputer set-ups. Large commercialized Linux systems, for example, are getting a big boost in the life sciences sector, since research and pharmaceutical firms need them to run applications developed in university labs, where Linux is a favorite. Grid computing architectures are also being promoted by work in the life sciences sector because of companies' needs for scalable computing power and an infrastructure for storing and sharing large amounts of data. Compaq's Ty Rabe, director of high-performance technical computing solutions, says even more dramatic computing changes will be pioneered by life sciences development, such as better computing designs based on floating-point computational performance.
- "Crystal Clear Goal: Higher Disc Storage"
NewsFactor Network (04/03/02); Hirsh, Lou
Gallium nitride is seen by researchers as essential to boosting the storage capacity of CDs and DVDs, but the only available form of the material is a costly thin film often beset with imperfections. Shuji Nakamura of the University of California at Santa Barbara has received a five-year, $16 million research grant from the Japanese government to develop a stronger version of gallium nitride that can be mass-produced. The enhanced material could be used to create DVDs that can store several movies, but Nakamura believes that is only the beginning. Other potential applications he foresees include wireless communications systems that have fewer connection problems and higher signal clarity; light-emitting diode light bulbs that are free of defects and could function as long as 30 years; and more powerful electronic devices. Nakamura is the developer of blue laser technology, which is the basis of a planned recordable optical disc format with the goal of increasing DVD storage capacity by a factor of six. Nakamura will first concentrate on building a receptacle for gallium nitride production. He is also investigating a way to adjust the energy levels of crystals suffering from impurities. The grant money Nakamura received was apportioned under Japan's Exploratory Research for Advanced Technology program.
- "Researchers Demo Secure Storage of Quantum Data"
EE Times Online (04/01/02); Johnson, R. Colin
Harvard University researchers have taken another step in their push toward quantum computing by properly adjusting the quantum state of special elements with light. In the future, scientists say it will be possible to send messages with unbreakable security, store data in photonic quantum devices, and one day use quantum science to speed computing unimaginably. Researchers have already made some headway, but the latest announcement by Harvard professor Ronald Walsworth's team claims to have maintained phase coherence in the data, which is important to the ability to store and retrieve photonic quantum information. Basically, the scientists beam a laser into special particles, altering the quantum state of a key element, such as the spin of an electron. Then, using another laser, a device at the other end would read the change in the quantum state, then translate it back into the original signal. Since reading the quantum data would change the state yet again, it only can be read once, and only by a laser that is synchronized with the sending laser. With the development of quantum signal repeaters, expected in the next few years, researchers say it would be possible to send these secure signals over long distances. Such an application has prompted funding from the National Security Agency and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
- "Software for the People"
CIO Online (04/01/02); Varon, Elana
In an interview with CIO, Agilent Technologies researcher and anthropologist Bonnie Nardi argues that software and IT systems more often as not block interactions between people rather than create connections. She says that technology must have a key role in the formation and maintenance of complex social networks both within and outside a company, and adds that software designed to fulfill this purpose usually fails because of a formalized architecture that acts as a communication barrier--passwords and such, for example. Nardi notes that online communications only work as a replacement for face-to-face interaction in certain situations, while other collaborative activities, such as brainstorming, rely heavily on the social links of live discussions. She says that attempts to simulate such interactions on a computer fail because "You lose that sense of freedom and creativity because you're focusing on the technology instead of the ideas that you're trying to generate." Nardi believes that technology, when properly implemented, could actually support face-to-face communication. She urges software designers to create products with an emphasis on simplicity to support a more free-form type of communication, and says that collaboration between companies can be more easily facilitated by setting up connections to corporate intranets.
- "Bust in Bangalore"
San Francisco Chronicle (03/31/02) P. G3; Handler, Marisa
India's technology services sector has been hit hard by the panic and economic unease triggered by Sept. 11, which prompted U.S. companies to cut back on tech budgets and offshore investments. The effect on India, which at the time was shipping 60% of its software exports to the U.S., was devastating: Infotech.com estimates that venture capital funding fell 20% by the end of 2001; 30% fewer students were enrolling at private tech training centers, about 10,000 of which closed; and even the strongest Indian IT companies experienced insignificant net profit growth in the third quarter. Wipro network services specialist Abdul Saywed says small IT firms in India are on the brink of extinction as a result of the U.S. pullouts. The social standing of software engineers has also decreased because of the recession--parents place less value on prospective sons-in-law in the IT industry, for instance. However, Indian Institute of Information Technology S. Sadagopan says the downturn is having some positive and humbling effects, such as less arrogance, more respect for people with comprehensive skills, and a greater emphasis on education and loyalty. Fewer outsourcing opportunities from the U.S. are forcing India to expand into new markets and stress self-reliance. Recent developments have brought hope that the U.S. market still has plans for Bangalore, India's Silicon Valley. These plans include a land purchase by Cisco and a Sun Microsystems forecast that its Indian workforce will rise from 400 to 4,000 over the next five years.
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- "Wi-Fi's 'Cauldron of Innovation'"
Business Week Online (04/01/02); Stone, Amey
Networking pioneer and University of Pennsylvania professor of telecommunications David Farber says Wi-Fi wireless technology will spur new innovations and creativity. Farber, who worked on the early specifications that led to the Internet, says that Wi-Fi is developer-friendly because it does not require consent from spectrum license holders to use it. Wi-Fi will eventually become ubiquitous and expected in every device, from laptops to printers. Already, price reductions and reduced complexity have made it much more accessible. As for the proprietary 3G networks being rolled out by telecommunications carriers, Farber predicts Wi-Fi will be the preferred method of connectivity in densely populated areas, but that it will spur demand for 3G access, which is slower but can reach remote locations nationwide. Recent security concerns are not much of a problem, as every developing technology has its difficulties that need to be solved, and innovation should progress unless government legislation somehow manages to curtail development.
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- "Computer, Heal Thyself"
InformationWeek (04/01/02) No. 882, P. 26; Scott, Karyl
Commercial and federal interests are researching and developing adaptive systems that can handle the growing complexity of business computing by automating configuration and maintenance processes that IT departments currently do manually. This self-healing, biologically modeled technology will adjust to changing business conditions without the need for human intervention, but managers first need to loosen their grip on their IT systems. The benefits of adaptive systems include less downtime and more employee productivity, and the first generation is already migrating to the enterprise. Commercial sector applications include IBM's eLiza project, which focuses on equipment and networks that can self-manage computing resource allocation, data protection, and the maintenance of business continuity in crisis situations. ELiza's core technology is based on learning algorithms that can monitor the health of a computer system and make repairs when necessary, and the project is part of an overall vision to make the entire computing infrastructure adaptive. Meanwhile, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is working on systems that can adjust themselves to inherent flaws in their basic components. The military wants to save time and money by building software out of off-the-shelf elements, and the fluctuating reliability of such parts demonstrates a need for self-regulation. Microsoft CTO Craig Mundie believes adoption of self-managing systems will follow three steps: The first two steps are automatic online updates and the implementation of self-configuring and self-deploying systems based on corporate IT policies, which will take place over the next three years; the third stage, the adoption of true self-healing systems, could take up to 20 years to accomplish.
- "Malware's Destructive Appetite Grows"
Computerworld (04/01/02) Vol. 36, No. 14, P. 46; Anthes, Gary H.
Computer viruses and other destructive code are expected to be more potent in the coming years, even as more digital devices become interconnected over the Internet via Web services. TruSecure chief technology officer Peter Tippett says viruses are propagating faster. Early viruses took two or three years to reach epidemic stage, but now are using new methods to become number-one threats within months; Tippett notes that the recent Nimda virus became the number-one virus in the world in just 22 minutes. Blended attacks--viruses using hacker techniques such as exploitation of buffer overflows--are threatening Internet servers instead of just individual PCs, so that viruses spread faster. Fridrik Skulason of Iceland-based Frisk Software International worries that the proliferation of Internet-connected mobile phones and PDAs will soon draw a virus attack that will cripple mobile phone networks worldwide. Web services technologies, such as Simple Object Access Protocol and Universal Discovery Description and Integration, will also open up more holes and opportunities for virus writers, say experts. Even with all these coinciding threats, Cenetec chief technology officer Richard Ford says that security software and systems will continue to improve, including a Digital Immune System under development that would automate responses to virus attacks.
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- "Why More Women Aren't Becoming Engineers"
Education Week (04/03/02) Vol. 21, No. 29, P. 42; Selinger, Patricia G.
There is a noticeable decline in the number of women pursuing careers in science and technology: Women account for less than 10% of the engineering work force, while the number of female college students earning degrees in technical fields has fallen 9% between 1984 and today. Research shows that women are being discouraged from science and technology at a young age. Boys aged 12 through 17 often nurture technical interests that later lead to engineering careers, whereas their female counterparts are drawn toward biology and language that are usually leveraged into medical, law, and artistic career choices. One of the reasons why girls tend to shy away from the field of engineering is because communities and clubs that serve kids with technical interests are largely male-dominated. Furthermore, boys benefit from a greater emphasis in science and math in their high school education than girls. To interest more girls in science and technology, both educational institutions and households must make a concentrated effort to breed an atmosphere of encouragement where gender does not apply. Much of the responsibility for this falls on the shoulders of teachers and parents, who must convince girls that technical careers are not just attainable, but fulfilling, writes IBM fellow Patricia G. Selinger.
To learn more about ACM's Committee on Women in Computing, visit http://www.acm.org/women.
- "Recycling America"
Electronic News (03/25/02) Vol. 48, No. 13, P. 1; Chappell, Jeff
Initiatives to recycle electronic waste have started to gather momentum in the U.S., although the American effort lags behind that of Europe. Concern over domestic recycling was spurred by a report from the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition (SVTC) and Basel Action Network, which revealed that a great deal of America's e-waste is being exported to foreign countries such as China, where disposal and recycling procedures are often unsafe to both the environment and workers. The National Electronics Product Stewardship Initiative (NEPSI) issued a statement that the U.S. needs to develop a broader federal infrastructure for e-waste collection and recycling that can keep pace with the growing volume of electronic discards. NEPSI, whose members include the EPA, SVCT, and the Electronic Industry Alliance, convened in February to discuss the creation of a financing system for such a program. At the heart of the discussion was who should pay for recycling services: DMC senior VP Richard Campbell argued that the only workable approach is to build recycling expenses into the cost of the product. This would reduce overseas exports and at the same time facilitate responsible and profitable recycling, Campbell and others contended. DMC, in conjunction with a large nonprofit, has embarked on a program to recycle household electronics.
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