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 email@example.com.
Volume 4, Issue 340: Wednesday, April 24, 2002
- "Tech Firms Look Beyond Traditional Recruiting to Diversify Work Force"
SiliconValley.com (04/22/02); Diaz, Sam
To bring more minorities into Silicon Valley's tech work force, companies are starting to focus outside of long-cherished higher-education institutions such as San Jose State University and Stanford. Hewlett-Packard and others are collaborating with school officials to revamp grade-school curriculums and cultivate future employees when they are just starting to learn basic mathematical and scientific skills. Their push must extend through middle school and high school, where they should encourage students to take courses in calculus, physics, and computer science. In addition, firms should focus on non-technical personnel who may be eligible for entry-level positions. "People box themselves in and they're not taking a risk," explains Catalyst senior research director Katherine Tobin. "Just because they work in HR or public relations doesn't mean they can't do something else." Silicon Valley has made some promising first steps, but they must follow through on the programs they organize, says Aquent manager Ross Fernandes. Economic recession also increases the risk for corporate diversity outreach programs to dry up.
- "Hackers Habits Analyzed"
Wall Street Journal (04/24/02) P. B7D; Richmond, Riva
The Honeynet Project is a nonprofit consortium of 30 leading information security professionals who set up bogus networks--honeynets--designed to tempt hackers so their intrusion methods and behavior can be studied in detail. Its findings are shared with industry groups such as the Computer Emergency Response Team and the SANS Institute, which use them to help technology manufacturers and security-software companies strengthen their products and services. Corporate, federal, and consultant security technicians are also being taught how to build their own honeynets so that they might enhance their networks. The project profiles hackers and has established that their culture is stratified according to motivation and skill level. It is hoped that the insights gained from the honeynet research will help develop a system for predicting hacker attacks. The project counts among its members non-malicious "white-hat" hackers, experts from @stake and other security consultancies, and employees of tech companies such as Cisco Systems. Hackers' activities on the fake networks are transparent, because the honeynets are not involved in any business transactions. A new generation of stealthier honeynets is being created to lure more sophisticated hackers. Anyone who wishes to use the honeynet research to develop commercial products and services is free to do so once the research has been published.
- "Congress: Tighten IT Security"
Network World Fusion (04/22/02); Marsan, Carolyn Duffy
Congress is focusing its cybersecurity efforts on a greater role for the National Institute of Standards and Technology's (NIST) Computer Security Division. The Cybersecurity Research and Development Act, recently passed in the House of Representatives, and three other legislative items call for broader and more far-reaching control for NIST. Although IT industry leaders largely appreciate the greater interest in beefing up cybersecurity, they worry that greater NIST involvement could actually hamper progress by making security products more expensive and longer to develop. "We want to make sure that NIST creates a floor [for network security products], not a ceiling," says Mario Correa of the Business Software Alliance. NIST is preparing standards and criteria for more classes of security products, including operating systems, VPNs, and smart card technologies. NIST already issues certifications for cryptography standards and router hardware, and some security product vendors are eager to have certifications in their areas, such as network security management software, according to CyberWolf Chairman Juanita Koilpillai. But AT&T Labs researcher Steve Bellovin worries that the type of strategic thinking needed to design secure architectures will be difficult to apply standards and certification to.
- "DVD Copy Controls Head to Court"
PCWorld.com (04/23/02); Spring, Tom
In the hopes of stopping Hollywood studios from driving it out of business, DVD software tools firm 321 Studios is asking a San Francisco court to rule that it has not broken the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) by selling its DVD Copy Plus program. The company chose to file a complaint against the studios first rather than wait for the Motion Picture Association of America to launch its own lawsuit against it. "What we are fighting for is the right for people to make backup copies of DVDs," explains 321 Studios President Robert Moore, who estimates that 75,000 copies of DVD Copy Plus have sold since its market debut 10 months earlier. DVD Copy Plus produces DVD copies with lesser-quality video and SVCD audio, he notes--and it does not copy bonus material. 321 Studio's attorney, Daralyn Durie, is planning to present a "Betamax Defense" to the court, arguing that the product can be used legitimately enough so that the DMCA does not apply. Another reason why 321 Studio's product does not violate the law, Moore contends, is the fact that the software that does the actual copying is based on "freely available" Internet tools.
- "Gates Says Court Ruling Could Doom Windows System"
New York Times (04/24/02) P. C4; Harmon, Amy
Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates warned that Windows could be taken off the market if U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly rules in favor of states proposing that the company sell a stripped-down version of the operating system so that computer makers can substitute competing products for certain Windows software. Such a removal would effectively cripple Windows, Gates testified. In response to questions from the states' lawyer, Steven Kuney, Gates admitted that Microsoft is not currently conducting any research on how it might satisfy the proposal. Kuney observed that Princeton University's Prof. Andrew W. Appel described four Windows code removal methods that would allow the system to continue functioning, to which Gates replied that the methods were either impossible to accomplish or would not fulfill the terms of the states' proposal, or both. Gates said that replacing Microsoft programs with rival products would ensure those products' entry into the marketplace, but cautioned that all but the larger computer providers "would be hurt" in the long run. Whereas his testimony to the antitrust case's original district judge, Thomas Penfield Jackson, gave the impression of him being combative and absent-minded, Gates appears to be making an effort to be more helpful and respectful before Judge Kollar-Kotelly.
(Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors must register.)
- "Supercomputing '@Home' Is Paying Off"
New York Times (04/23/02) P. D1; Johnson, George
Distributed computing efforts over the Internet are growing in size and number and recently reached a milestone as the SETI@home project reached a landmark one million years of computing time looking for extraterrestrial communications. It has amassed the processing power that roughly equals that of the newest fastest supercomputer installation--the Japanese Earth Simulator Research and Development Center in Yokohama. SETI@home has enlisted 3.5 million computer users over the past three years, and its software is installed on about 1% of the world's Internet-connected PCs, according to project director Dr. David P. Anderson. Other distributed computing projects target different scientific problems requiring huge amounts of computing power, such as climate change models, protein-folding simulations, and finding drugs that can stop such diseases as AIDS and cancer. The Electronic Frontier Foundation is even offering $100,000 to the distributed computing group that finds a 10-million-digit prime number, which can help bolster digital encryption. Because distributed computing projects grow as users update their PCs, Dr. Anderson says they constantly keep pace with Moore's Law, which states that computing power doubles every 18 months, on average. The SETI@home researchers are currently working on standardized software that will help other distributed computing projects get off the ground, so that none of the world's spare processing power is wasted.
(Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors must register.)
- "The Vast Universe of Tiny Technology"
NewsFactor Network (04/23/02); Lyman, Jay
Microelectrical-mechanical systems (MEMS) and nanotechnology are emerging as very promising fields, observes Gartner Dataquest principal analyst Jim Walker. MEMS technology appears to be ahead of nanotechnology in its development. In the manufacturing sector, MEMS has been involved in the creation of simple, sensor-equipped switches, and Walker notes that the last few years have seen the development of much more complex silicon equipment, such as gears and motors. MEMS technology is also being applied to the biomedical industry: Walker cites a MEMS-based diagnostic capsule that can be swallowed in lieu of surgery, and an automated insulin diagnostic tool and pump. Nanotechnology is being explored for its biomedical applications as well, and Walker says one avenue of research involves antibody injection systems designed to fight cancer without harming other cells. He also notes that Agilent, Corning, and other companies are working on nanoscale optical switches that produce light and electricity, which would provide a significant boost to computing. MEMS and nanotechnology face formidable challenges in becoming widely used--for one thing, the technologies need design tools and specifications, and MEMS in particular requires a "packaging dichotomy" that makes the silicon both secure and environmentally interactive. Despite these hurdles, Walker anticipates further MEMS advancements, and the advent of nanotechnology-based processes in the next three to five years.
- "Life Sciences Boost Slumping IT Firms"
Boston Globe (04/22/02) P. D1; Dodge, John
IT companies see the burgeoning life sciences market as a financial oasis, compared to the battered corporate IT spending market. That is because computing power is more integral than ever in the development of new drugs, the success of which hinges on researchers' ability to isolate the genomic and proteomic roots of diseases. Having done so, they can create tailored drugs that will provide future streams of revenues to drug companies whose current patents are beginning to expire. That necessity, matched with long development cycles and tough reviews from regulatory agencies, results in more money being spent on fresh research. Newer biotech companies are doing the genomic and proteomic research for traditional pharmaceutical firms and spending large amounts of their budgets on IT. Still, complains Vertex Pharmaceuticals CTO Mark Murcko, IT firms catering to the life sciences sector are great at building the hardware necessary, but lack the industry knowledge to create software. Vertex and other companies such as CuraGen have to write their own software code and rely on such specialty biotech database providers as Incyte Genomics. IBM, HP, Compaq, Sun, and Oracle are all making significant efforts to increase their market share in what Gartner life sciences analyst Suresh Gunasekaran says will be a industry with sustainable high-growth for the next 10 years.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Shooting Blanks"
San Francisco Chronicle Online (04/22/02); Plotkin, Hal
The manifesto of the recently organized GeekPAC digital rights lobbying group maintains that technological innovation and economic growth is being stifled by federal regulations that serve the interests of a handful of media companies, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and the Uniform Computer Information Transactions Act being just a few cases in point. GeekPAC's organizers are especially sore at Sen. Fritz Hollings' (D-S.C.) proposed Consumer Broadband and Digital Television Promotion Act, which would require that Microsoft "rights management" technology be installed in all future electronic devices, thus limiting consumers' digital copying and playback options. However, columnist Hal Plotkin calls GeekPAC's battle plan "anemic." According to the group's working paper, the current strategy is to organize a panel of "geek spokespeople" who would travel throughout the country, educating government leaders about the threat to innovation. Furthermore, congressional members who vote favorably will receive a small campaign donation from the group. Plotkin suggests that GeekPAC should instead attack specific lawmakers who support legislation it is opposed to, and try to scuttle their reelection prospects. Defeating them could serve as an example to other legislators about the risks they run in backing certain proposals that threaten to stifle the high-tech growth engine.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Futuristic Focus"
Los Angeles Times (04/22/02) P. C4; Kaplan, Karen
MIT President Charles M. Vest shares a sense of optimism about future technological progress with the researchers and engineers on his campus, despite the current tech recession. He says that nanotechnology is one of the most promising fields of research, and cites MIT-based initiatives such as the Institute for Soldier Nanotechnology, an effort to reduce the amount of weight a soldier carries around by designing multifunctional equipment, an example being material that hardens when electricity is applied. Another long-term focus of research Vest values is brain function, which is becoming more and more significant thanks to advances in medical technology and computing power, among other things. He also lists biotechnology and energy as important fields that could yield new drugs and improved dispensation of resources. Vest notes that industry partners such as Amgen, DuPont, and Merrill Lynch support slightly more than 20% of MIT's research, and says that "Entrepreneurship is still very, very important." He blames the shortage of scientists and engineers in the U.S. on a lack of encouragement, given the long-term dedication required and young people's desire to see their efforts produce rapid results. Vest adds that a lack of communication between business schools and engineering, combined with technological complexity, has led to a shortfall of technology managers. He assures that MIT's Media Lab is focusing on more real-world research, such as physics and devices.
- "The Fully Wired Workplace: Dream Deferred"
Reuters (04/23/02); Christie, Jim
Many executives dream of an office that is connected to everything and everyone, but analysts say that that vision will have to wait until the economy bounces back and workers familiarize themselves with equipment acquired during the tech explosion. IT budgets will not rise until corporate profits recover, say professionals who purchase network equipment and services. Enthusiasm for buying networking equipment has cooled while wired work forces are expected to be more and more capable. Some industries have invested in mobile devices and wireless networks, but developers of this gear wish they would buy at a faster pace. Handheld devices are a promising market: Dataquest analyst Todd Kort says that "The increasing capabilities of these devices and the growing availability of wireless technologies are beginning to stimulate large corporate purchases as solid productivity gains are realized, based on applications such as wireless email or accessing corporate databases from remote locations."
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Building Blocks to the Next PC?"
ABC News (04/19/02); Eng, Paul
The modular PC could potentially surpass all previous computer devices with its convenience, portability, and size. IBM and OQO are developing modular devices, and OQO executive VP Colin Hunter says a commercial version of its prototype should be ready for its market debut by year's end. The OQO module is a paperback-sized "ultra-personal computer" that comes with a 1GHz Transmeta microprocessor, a 4-inch color touch screen, 256MB of RAM, and wireless Internet connections; it also runs Microsoft Windows XP and sports rechargeable lithium polymer batteries. IBM's modular device, the MetaPad, is still in the research stage so that its uses can be maximized, according to project leader Kenneth Ocheltree. The MetaPad also comes with a Transmeta processor and Windows XP, while its hard drive has a 10GB capacity. Giga Information Group analyst Rob Enderle thinks it is an opportune time for modular PCs--users are less driven by increased computing speed and are more interested in devices that let them carry their personal data around with them. He says, "Modular computers transform the personal nature of computers."
Click Here to View Full Article
- "ICANN Seeks Out Dot-Org Operator"
Newsbytes (04/23/02); McGuire, David
ICANN began its search for a new .org operator on April 23 and is requesting proposals from potential .org operators, who must pay a $35,000 processing fee to ICANN, a requirement that has raised eyebrows among public interest groups that are monitoring .org's journey. Center for Democracy and Technology analyst Rob Courtney says that such a fee may hinder nonprofit companies from applying. Currently, .org is open to any purchaser, though the domain is meant to denote a noncommercial organization online. VeriSign has agreed to relinquish control of .org on Dec. 31, 2002, in an ICANN contract that has allowed VeriSign to extend VeriSign's management of .com. The next .org registry will be able to set a .org wholesale fee, and if a nonprofit does become the next .org operator, VeriSign has agreed in an ICANN contract to fund the nonprofit with $5 million in seed money. ICANN's Mary Hewitt says that all bidders will be judged in terms of financial stability and technical resources first, and that nonprofit status will neither help nor hinder any prospective operator. Hewitt says ICANN will refund unused portions of .org proposal fees once the search process ends. ICANN chief registry liaison Dan Halloran notes that .org will need a global, multimillion-dollar infrastructure, and therefore nonprofits qualified on the merits will possess the resources necessary to pay the fee.
For information regarding ACM's Internet governance work related to ICANN, visit http://www.acm.org/serving/IG.html.
- "How Teens Still Hack Million-Dollar Security Systems"
NewsFactor Network (04/22/02); Gill, Lisa
Teenagers are still hacking into advanced computer systems, despite attempts to impose harsher penalties. In fact, the number of security breaches reported to the Computer Emergency Response Team in the first quarter of 2002 exceeded all intrusions reported in 2000. Analysts remain sketchy on how exactly teens are breaking into systems, but they point out a number of advantages these adolescents enjoy. They have more time to engage in hacking because they have fewer responsibilities than adults; more security-related information is available to them than ever before; and prefabricated scripting programs offer them an easy-to-use tool to create viruses and other detrimental code. Additionally, Vincent Weafer of Symantec Security Response says that teens do not understand the ethical ramifications of their activities. He says their mischief is comparable to creating graffiti. "They're not necessarily the people doing the serious attempts at hacking the way cybercriminals or cyberterrorists would," he declares. SecurityFocus senior threat analyst Ryan Russell says that hackers often operate under the assumption they can never be caught, but a visit from law enforcement officials can be a sobering event for them.
- "Not Just Sci-Fi: Uncrackable Encryption"
ZDNet (04/17/02); Rash, Wayne
Dr. Richard Hughes of Los Alamos National Laboratory has devised an unbreakable encryption method that relies on the laws of physics. He is developing a way to imprint data on photons by polarizing them with a laser; a receiver then reads out the data. Because the data is encoded in several ways, hackers would only be able to determine one of the encoding techniques, and attempting to ascertain the other by trial and error is a futile effort, since it would violate the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle of quantum mechanics. Hackers' attempts to intercept the information would also be detected, because the act of observing subatomic particles changes them. Hughes' technique is already being utilized in test projects coordinated by Harvard University and BBN Networks, as well as the Army and Navy Research Laboratories. Both projects involve the transmission of photons over optical fiber, which only has a range of approximately 70km. "A much more compelling application is by transmitting through the atmosphere," Hughes explains, adding that he has successfully made single-photon transmissions in this medium.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Mainframe Skills Shortage Five Years Off"
Computerworld (04/22/02) Vol. 36, No. 17, P. 1; King, Julia
A shortage of programmers and operators with mainframe skills is not expected until about 2007, when the mass retirement of IT staffers begins. This was the opinion of experts at the American Federation of Computer Operations Management conference for enterprise data center managers last week. Kent Howell of Illinois Power recommended that companies start planning for this projected shortage as soon as possible. His firm has already taken some steps by teaching mainframe skills to younger personnel and considering salary premiums, but Illinois Power is the exception rather than the rule. "Companies don't realize they're putting themselves at risk because they have a heavy part of their day-to-day business relying on skills not even being taught in schools any longer," said Gartner analyst Diane Tunick Morello. A recent Meta Group survey of 300 companies found that over 90% have no strategy for shoring up the thinning supply of mainframe workers. Sun Microsystems' Don Whitehead indicates that his company expects users to retain their costly investments in legacy applications, so the vendor has embraced technology that allows users to access such applications within its Solaris operating system.
- "Piece by Piece"
InfoWorld (04/22/02) Vol. 24, No. 16, P. 1; Harreld, Heather
The componentization of business processes can facilitate the rapid creation of tailor-made applications, which is key to the success of Web services. These applications' behavior can also be quickly modified as business processes change. Such an approach has saved money and increased productivity for companies such as Infinity Pharmaceuticals. However, legacy or large enterprise applications cannot be woven together with Web services until they are exposed as XML. This may be the first step many enterprises will take, given that some industry research firms calculate that up to 70% of corporate data dwells on legacy systems. "The next generation of business process management tools needs to rapidly XML-enable existing systems, lash those systems together whether their XML interfaces have been formalized as Web services or not, and move data through internal engines in XML format," explains SilverStream's Fred Holahan. SilverStream and Microsoft are respectively implementing the eXtend Composer XML integration server and the BizTalk server to coordinate business processes. Current Analysis analyst Shawn Willett does not expect direct Web services links to enterprise resource planning systems to be available until 2003.
- "What They Know That You Don't"
Smart Business (04/02) Vol. 15, No. 3, P. 42; Ayers, Leslie; Anderson, Lane; Shapiro, Michael
There are many different technologies that companies use to maintain their competitive edge, although they are reticent to disclose them for fear of losing that edge as well as alienating employees and customers. Business intelligence technology can enable a company to warehouse and access all the corporate and customer information collected by its legacy systems, and analyze how business decisions affect the company; International Data estimates that the BI market will be worth $9.1 billion by 2005. Companies are understandably very secretive on competitive intelligence software they use to keep closer tabs on their rivals, but Fuld & Company has identified 150 such products. Free open source software is cheap, but companies keep mum about it out of concern that customers will demand price cuts, while Web tracking tools can provide unique, competitively advantageous insights into customer behavior. Surveillance of employee Internet use has proven to be an effective tool in preventing lawsuits and boosting productivity, and many affordable monitoring solutions exist, including employee Internet management software and scanning and archiving products. Online auctions help companies divest themselves of excess inventory in an easy, low-cost way through disintermediation, garner new customers, and get a jump on market share. Data mining technology can help create predictive models, but when competitors employ data mining the model decays, according to Forrester Research analyst Frank Gillett--hence the need for secrecy. Security service providers can test a company's security to boost protective measures, but few companies will admit to using such services.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Charting the Virtual World"
Darwin (04/02) Vol. 2, No. 4, P. 24; Kalin, Sari
Cyberspace maps are being created in an effort to give people a navigable view of complex data. Martin Dodge of University College London's Center for Advanced Spatial Analysis argues that information, people on the Web, and their interactions can be pinpointed more easily when they are presented geographically or cartographically. He lists several motivations behind the cyber-mapmaking movement, including the universal desire for humans to make sense of unknown environments, network engineers hoping to draw insights into better network designs, and ISPs that use maps as a promotional tool for their networks. Dodge has a preference for geographic Web maps, but notes that the growth of the Internet and its privatization has slowed down their production. He also says that maps that use spatialization are flashy, but fail to visualize data in an intelligible manner. Dodge thinks that email stands to especially benefit from a map-style interface, and projects that a killer Web map that even outclasses search engines will eventually be produced. He adds that the input of artists, such as novelist William Gibson and Mark Napier, should not be discounted.