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 341: Friday, April 26, 2002

  • "Report: U.S. Expecting Chinese Hack Blitz"
    NewsFactor Network (04/25/02); Lyman, Jay

    Published reports say the CIA expects that Chinese hackers will launch cyberattacks on the U.S. and Taiwan, although so far there has been no indication that hacking activity has increased recently, according to SecurityFocus director of engineering Oliver Friedrich. American and Chinese officials said there is no indication that the Chinese government plans to electronically assault the two nations' infrastructures or systems, but the CIA thinks the Chinese military is investigating the use of computer viruses to wreak chaos. The warning marks the one-year anniversary of a U.S. spy plane incident that sparked a rash of Web site defacements by Chinese and American hackers, and security officials are concerned that the expected intrusions could be inspired by that conflict. SecurityFocus' ARIS ThreatCon level has been raised one point because of the warning, Friedrich says; the ThreatCon scale runs up to level four, and the current status is at level two. Although Symantec's Kevin Haley says that worms are generally not very reliable for targeted attacks, Friedrich notes that security flaws often found in software and systems could be exploited by hackers.
    http://www.newsfactor.com/perl/story/17465.html

  • "Hill Back to Biz of Biz Privacy"
    Wired News (04/26/02); McCullagh, Declan

    Sept. 11 caused Congress to suspend its debate on privacy and authorize the passage of legislation that gives law enforcement officials license to monitor the electronic communications of U.S. citizens. But Marc Rotenberg of the Electronic Privacy Information Center says the privacy issue is returning with new proposals concerning the regulation of corporate data collection. This week, a congressional hearing took place over Sen. Ernest Hollings' (D-S.C.) Online Personal Privacy Act, which outlines a regulation scheme for how ISPs, online service providers, and commercial Web sites collect data on visitors. Names, email addresses, IP addresses, and other "personally identifiable information" are covered by the bill. Some businesses are against the measure because it does not apply to their rivals, but focuses solely on the customer records of Internet-related enterprises. Hollings' proposal seeks to enact a federal data-collection standard that all states would use, which critics such as Privacilla's Jim Harper claim is a bid to turn regulation into a political issue. "[Hollings is] a big government liberal and he likes government managing things," says a House Republican aide. Meanwhile, Rep. Bob Barr (R-Georgia) supports a bill that would require federal agencies to furnish privacy impact statements for any new regulations that are proposed.
    http://www.wired.com/news/politics/0,1283,52128,00.html

  • "Database Future Debated"
    InfoWorld.com (04/24/02); Krill, Paul

    Database experts from IBM, Sun Microsystems, Oracle, and other companies held a special panel to discuss the future of database technology at the Software Development Conference & Expo in San Jose. IBM database researcher Don Chamberlin touted the benefits of XML and said that it would eventually take root as the lingua franca of database formats. XML-enabled front-ends would shuttle data back and forth from traditional relational databases while some others would be entirely adapted to the XML format. Sun Microsystems' Rick Cattell was more circumspect, having pioneered Sun's effort to displace relational database technology with object-oriented databases on a mass scale in IT departments. Instead, Cattell explained that incumbent protocols such as Java would be enhanced with the special capabilities of XML. Cattell said the future of database technology lay not so much in the format, but in the type of search-engine function exhibited by companies like Google. Microsoft engineer Jim Gray said self-management technologies would play an increasingly important role in databases because they help cut down on administration costs.
    http://www.infoworld.com/articles/hn/xml/02/04/24/020424hndbfuture.xml

  • "Taiwan Is Trying to Limit Its Engineers' Work in China"
    New York Times (04/26/02) P. W1; Bradsher, Keith

    Taiwan's government is planning new restrictions on its engineers' ability to move their work to China, fearing the country will lose technology vital to trade competitiveness. Within the next two weeks Taiwan will begin requiring engineers to get advance permission to work anywhere abroad, but the emphasis is on moves to China. Representatives of the high-tech industry in Taiwan and multinational companies scoff at the restrictions, saying they impede on personal freedoms and would ruin Taiwan's ability to draw foreign investment. Companies are moving their technology research to Chinese laboratories en masse, in order to take advantage of an abundant skilled, and relatively cheap, work force. Richard L. Henson, president of Taipei's American Chamber of Commerce, says multinational companies would avoid Taiwan altogether if they cannot freely move their operations between Taiwan and the mainland. The issue is still hotly debated in Taiwan's political system, and supporters argue that such drastic measures are needed to staunch the flow of "core technology" knowledge out of the country. Still, Frank Huang, chairman of the Taipei Computer Association, argues that the policy assumes engineers will commit crimes and that it takes "away democratic freedoms." Taiwan lacks the ability to extradite citizens who move to China and its slow judiciary would not prove effective in prosecuting people who illegally share trade secrets.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2002/04/26/business/worldbusiness/26TAIW.html
    (Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors must register.)

  • "Journey to the Internet's Unknown Regions"
    NewsFactor Network (04/24/02); McDonald, Tim

    The Internet, with up to 550 billion documents and over 200,000 Web sites, has a deeply buried treasure trove of information, the majority of which is publicly available. The trick is accessing it: A lack of links to existing sites makes this data retrievable mainly to scholars, researchers, and curious individuals willing to carry out extensive searches, while huge databases organized by governments, universities, and corporations use "dynamic" pages and are therefore inaccessible to conventional search engines. Numerous search engines claim that they can retrieve such hard-to-reach data--the Document Delivery Service, for instance, offers to search for retrieval services, while the WebSearch Alliance directory matches users to specific search engines. Meanwhile, Bright Planet is a company that supplies an assortment of deep Web search tools to subscribers. The company's Brian Bjerke touts Bright Planet's LexiBot as "the ultimate personal search tool" because it can conduct simultaneous searches on 2,200 deep Web databases and search engines, an unprecedented achievement. More deep Web data could be uncovered with the development of the semantic Web, which advocates claim will give computers the capacity to understand information. Giga Information Group analyst Laura Ramos believes the enterprise search market is on the cusp of a generational shift, one characterized by a greater contextual focus.
    http://www.newsfactor.com/perl/story/17418.html

  • "PC Networks Inspired by Gossip"
    BBC News Online (04/24/02)

    The organization and maintenance of peer-to-peer networks, some of which boast tens or hundreds of thousands of members, is an impossible task for managers, according to Andrew Herbert of Microsoft's Cambridge research lab in Britain. Therefore, he and fellow scientists are developing so-called Pastry software that enables peer-to-peer networks to automatically organize and manage themselves by using the spread of gossip through human communities as a model. Pastry network members link themselves to a small number of nodes, usually to machines with close addresses as well as at least one in the other numerical domains of the addressing scheme. It has been demonstrated in the experimental phase that members can receive reliable information from Pastry as they join or leave the network. The technology could help smart household devices exchange or share data, as well as help manage wireless device networks. It is expected that peer-to-peer networks will be used increasingly for business as their popularity grows, making spontaneous network formation and management a highly desirable capability.
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/low/english/sci/tech/newsid_1939000/1939928.stm

  • "Security Gap Looms for Internet Architects"
    EE Times Online (04/22/02); Cole, Bernard

    Internet security is inherently flawed, according to network architecture experts, and will not be able to protect the growing number of small footprint devices or Web services IDs. Currently, the Internet works much like the traditional mail system in that it sends data to addresses through designated hubs, grouping data packets together. This means that it is subject to the same types of widespread threats to delivery and architecture as anthrax posed to the U.S. Postal system last year. Already, digital diseases like viruses and worms have wreaked havoc on the e-commerce system, but the proliferation of always-on connections, higher bandwidth capacities, and Internet-enabled embedded devices has made the Internet even more vulnerable. Security technology manager for BTG Madeleine Campbell says Internet security paradigms are not ready to scale in size with the huge number of new, non-PC Web devices about to sign onto the network. She adds that Web services that allow for single sign-on services, used to facilitate e-commerce and other Web transactions, will prove a ripe target for hackers and other threats. University of Virginia Computer Science professor Willian Wulf says the problem with the current system is that it is fixated on the "Maginot Line" defense, which focuses on the perimeter. This approach is untenable, because it gives an attacker that has much less resources, but is stealthy enough to sneak by, open access to protected data and systems.
    http://www.eetimes.com/story/OEG20020419S0063

  • "Unearthing Information in an Avalanche of Voice Mail"
    New York Times (04/25/02) P. E5; Bhattacharjee, Yudhijit

    Researchers are working on audio search technologies that can be used with voice-mail systems as well as Internet audio files. AT&T Labs researchers have devised a system that enables users to transcribe voice-mail messages and more efficiently determine which ones are more important. The ScanMail system incorporates speech recognition technology and allows messages to be searched on computers by keywords, phone numbers, or sender names. Hub-connected servers comprise the ScanMail system; audio files are sent through the hub to an automated speech recognition server, which produces transcripts. Messages are processed on the connecting PCs as email with audio attachments. ScanMail's creators believe it could be a boon to businesses where employees must deal with many voice-mail messages on a regular basis. Meanwhile, a team at Compaq's Cambridge Research Laboratory has developed a tool called SpeechBot that searches, downloads, and transcribes Web-based audio files. Researchers believe that such innovations will be used to seek out online audio and video archives as well as gather intelligence. IBM Research's David Nahamoo envisions audio search technology being widely used in call centers. However, BBN Technologies researcher John Makhoul says the technology must become more precise to gain wider use.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2002/04/25/technology/circuits/25NEXT.html
    (Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors must register.)

  • "IPv6: Ready When You Are"
    ZDNet (04/23/02); Batchelder, Rob

    Internet protocol version 6 (IPv6) is actually becoming less of an imperative in the U.S., which owns a relatively abundant number of Internet address spaces in comparison to Asia and Europe. In other parts of the world, where users are logging on in tremendous numbers--China, for example--or the rollout of networked devices and 3G networks increase the number of IP addresses needed, IPv6 is more important. U.S. enterprises are now realizing IPv6 will probably not become a major issue here until 2007, and are content to work with technologies such as network address translation (NAT) that help alleviate temporary problems. Newly manufactured software and routing hardware is already IPv6-compliant, but companies face many unpredictable effects on their older Internet infrastructure components, including firewalls, hubs, and switches. However, NAT is not a long-term solution, because it accrues recurring administration expenses as the network expands or merges. Analysts predict that Europe and Asia will adopt IPv6 several years faster than the U.S., but that deployment worldwide will be driven by the increase in wireless and consumer Internet-connected devices.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Japan Braces for a 'Designed in China' World"
    New York Times (04/21/02) P. 3-1; Brooke, James

    A large number of Japanese firms have announced new research and development operations in China this spring, following years of migrating manufacturing processes to that country. Part of the reason is Japanese companies' need to remain competitive with one another, since China offers a multitude of computer engineers and high-tech workers who get paid just about one-third of their counterparts in Japan. Japan is also facing a shortage of engineers as the number of students in that country contines to decline. Another is the strategic positioning of manufacturing and research operations near one another, especially since the Chinese market for high-tech products such as computer chips is growing so rapidly. China recently became the largest market for mobile phones, is slated to take the No. 2 spot for PC demand in 2006, and grew its market for computer chips by about 30% last year, with another 30% expected this year. Not only Japanese firms are relocating research and development to China, as 29 international high-tech companies have R&D operations there as well, including the likes of IBM, Lucent Technologies, and Nokia. A recent poll of Japanese managers co-sponsored by the Nikkei Business Daily has also shown that Chinese-made goods are not perceived as being of inferior quality so much anymore. The study surveyed managers from companies that had operations in China and found that 15% of respondents actually said that Chinese goods were of better quality than Japanese products, and 62% reported no difference.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2002/04/21/business/yourmoney/21CHIN.html
    (Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors must register.)

  • "North Korea Makes Surprise Entry Into Software Market"
    Washington Times (04/26/02) P. A14; McDonald, Joe

    North Korea wants to inject new life into its ravaged economy through its software industry, which has been an unknown factor until recently. The government opened a trade show in Beijing by showcasing a wide variety of products, including video games and translation programs that reportedly run on Microsoft's Windows and Apple's Macintosh operating systems. In addition, the country has a booth at China's annual Comdex computer trade show. Kim Ho, an official of North Korea's Academy of Sciences, declared that North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il "is devoted constantly" to information technology. He has also done his homework, visiting China several times to gain a better understanding of its software sector. Officials said that North Korea plans to develop software for e-commerce, artificial intelligence, and biotechnology. Eric Sheridan, an American software executive that attended the show, says, "We'll see whether they have any depth of skills...behind the curtain they could have people who are really knowledgeable and plugged into the industry abroad." U.S. law dating back to the Korean War bars North Korea from trading with the U.S., the world's biggest software market.
    http://www.washtimes.com/world/20020426-19226868.htm

  • "Q&A: Erik Davis"
    San Francisco Chronicle Online (04/25/02); Moon, Amy

    Visionary Erik Davis offers his perspective on technology today and society's reactions to it. He notes that people have become more intensely aware of technology's darker and more negative possibilities, especially as a result of Sept. 11. Several years ago, he contends, technological visions were more utopian. Davis believes that once highly-touted concepts such as virtual reality can still be the subject of discussion, but with a more pragmatic outlook. "It's not a time to respark the engines of hype and utopian expectations," he declares. "But it is a time to look really seriously at the genuine possibilities of different kinds of emerging networks that can use the Internet as a backbone to reorganize actual social communities, actual exchanges of goods and services." Long-standing myths about surveillance and distrust of disseminated information permeate technology, and Davis says this has led to a "pervasive existential sense" of reality being manipulated to control people. However, he believes that people have started to back away from the more negative technological scenarios.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "A Future in Government"
    Financial Times (04/24/02) P. 10; Kehoe, Louise

    IT firms are turning their attention to the public sector now that the corporate world is cutting back on technology spending. While the IT industry has touted the efficiency and streamlining benefits of e-government, the U.S. federal government has moved to increase IT security spending after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Nonetheless, IT security in the U.S. resembles the earlier technology "bubbles" in some ways, considering how a number of startups rushed to propose new technologies and products. Although e-government is often described as any use of the Internet by government agencies, the non-partisan thinktank Pacific Council on International Policy says the technology must transform the government to serve citizens in new ways. "Simply adding computers or modems will not improve government, nor will automating the same old procedures and practices," says a Pacific Council report aimed at governments in the developing world. However, much of the advice should be followed by governments in more advanced countries, considering how e-government progress has been hindered by inter-departmental rivalries, special interests, and entrenched bureaucracy. E-governments in the developing world may face different challenges, such as younger, more tech-savvy officials using the technology to carry out corruption schemes. In the end, governments tend to move at their own pace, so true e-government may take some time to emerge.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Bell Labs Claims Semiconductor Breakthrough"
    Reuters (04/25/02)

    Researchers at Lucent Technologies' Bell Labs claim that they have developed a method to study the inner workings of a semiconductor to the point where a single impurity atom in silicon can be imaged. This breakthrough will be key to understanding how semiconductor functions can be affected by the introduction of such impurities, or "dopants," which control electrical conductivity. This in turn will be essential to the development of manufacturing technologies that will allow shrinking microprocessors and other high-speed electronics to keep pace with Moore's Law. The technique, which is described in a recent issue of Nature, involves scanning transmission electron microscopy and allows researchers to see inside crystals at the atomic level and in their natural state. The researchers say the technique can also be applied to many other materials beyond silicon.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Plugging Into Computing Power Grids"
    Computerworld (04/22/02) Vol. 36, No. 17, P. 48; Robb, Drew

    Companies faced with problems or projects that require a lot of computing power can harvest that power from grids, networks of workstations and servers whose accumulated computational capability is far less costly than building the hardware in-house. It also takes a shorter amount of time to complete projects with grids. Grid computing generally falls into three categories: Cluster, campus, and global. Cluster grids are comprised of connected servers in one location devoted to the same project or business unit. Campus grids consist of resources scattered across a campus that are shared by several projects or departments. Global grids transcend firewalls and set up connections over an extranet or the Internet. Grid computing's ideal of having computing resources available anytime and anywhere is an impossibility, and many companies are not using the approach because they do not necessarily need it. The use of grids is proving valuable in fields characterized by intense, number-crunching research, such as biotechnology, material sciences, financial market modeling, and meteorology.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "A Delicate Balance"
    InformationWeek (04/22/02) No. 885, P. 38; Hayes, Mary; Konicki, Steve; Murphy, Chris

    The tech spending spree has prompted businesses to study spending in greater detail and question how much influence IT exerts over it. The executive level is devoting more time to not just outline IT strategy, but to understand the technology involved. Concord Hospital, for instance, has instituted a project-charter process to curb wasteful spending: It applies to IT projects that employees would spend more than 40 hours on or would cost more than $1,000 in venture capital. Application analysts, an IT-project-management team, and a high executive business-unit sponsor all chip in on project evaluation. Over 80 percent of companies polled in InformationWeek's Redefining Business: The C-Dynamic study discuss IT purchases with an evaluation committee, while two-thirds possess steering committees to coordinate such buys. Another body that oversees IT spending are governance councils, which are often shepherded by IT executives and can help move the CIO into a more influential position, according to AMR Research analyst David Caruso. Forrester Research forecasts that more businesses will embrace the external technology demand model, which shifts technology procurement and ownership from the CIO and IT department over to the CFO and business managers. One of the factors driving such changes is the lesson learned from too much IT decentralization, which could have added up to waste and mismanagement in some companies.
    http://www.informationweek.com/story/IWK20020419S0006

  • "Augmented Reality: A New Way of Seeing"
    Scientific American (04/02) Vol. 286, No. 4, P. 49; Feiner, Steven K.

    Augmented-reality (AR) systems are user interfaces designed to enhance sensory data with virtual information, and there are major research efforts to develop wearable, "see-through" devices that can supplement one's visual perception with graphical and textual overlays. There have been many advancements since the first prototype AR system was built 30 years ago, but the basic ingredients--displays, trackers, and graphics computers and software--have not changed. Most see-through displays are designed to be worn on the head, and employ either optical or video technology: In their most basic form, optical see-throughs use beam splitters to reflect computerized images into the wearer's line of sight, while video see-throughs integrate graphics and camera imagery. Tracking devices for AR systems usually involve sensors worn by users that detect and measure the distances of targets embedded in the surroundings or attached to tracked objects; more improved tracking accuracy can be yielded from inertial sensors that read head orientation. For AR systems to work outside, orientation and position must be tracked separately, and researchers at Columbia University have devised a system that utilizes hybrid sensors and Global Positioning System technology. The device is one of several mobile AR systems (MARS) currently being tested by the university's Computer Graphics and User Interfaces Lab. The development of small and wearable computers and accompanying power sources will be a tremendous push for MARS.
    http://www.sciam.com/techbiz/0402feiner.html