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 342: Monday, April 29, 2002

  • "Information Tech Workers' Earnings Fall for 1st Time Since '97"
    Boston Globe (04/29/02) P. C1; Lewis, Diane E.

    The economic recession and reduced consumer demand for computers and computer services has caused IT workers' total compensation to decline for the first time in five years, according to economists and recruiters. An InformationWeek study to be issued today estimates an 8 percent decline in median compensation for technology managers and an 11 percent decline for IT staffers in the last year. Study author Rusty Weston also finds that base pay for the former group rose a mere 3.8 percent while the latter experienced a 1.7 percent increase. He concludes that there are more pay freezes and cost-of-living adjustments taking place. IT unemployment is currently maintaining a level of 5.7 percent, and Hayward Simone Associates Chairman Morris Green describes the market as being "flooded with talented people." Meanwhile, Salary.com's Bill Coleman reports that few businesses are offering the special perks and higher salaries that were in vogue as a recruitment tool a few years ago. Weston finds that hiring freezes vary according to region--for example, former high-tech boom leader Silicon Valley has had a severe dip in demand for technology services. He also says unemployment is particularly pronounced among networkers and application developers, while security, groupware, and wireless specialists have a better chance of finding and keeping jobs.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Movement Afoot to Beef Up Industrial Cybersecurity"
    Computerworld Online (04/26/02); Verton, Dan

    Earlier this month, federal officials met with private-sector representatives to discuss improvement strategies for the country's critical industrial-control systems. At one such meeting, the National Institute of Standards and Technology's (NIST) Process Controls Security Forum set out to create minimum security requirements; the result of the meeting was a draft standards document that has been issued for assessment. Another meeting was a "Red Team" conference where officials from the Pentagon, the Energy Department, and the Institute for Defense Analysis talked about an upcoming industrial-control system threat-assessment test. The need for security improvement is driven by the online vulnerability of the Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems the energy industry depends on to regulate the flow of electricity and perform other important operations, and this vulnerability has increased with the move to Web-based links. Contingency Management Services President and former U.S. Department of Energy official Ed Badolato is urging the creation of better firewalls and cyberintrusion detection systems. He notes that "A number of task forces are examining the manner in which data is transmitted between control points to improve security and reduce the potential for hacking or disruption." KEMA Consulting's Joe Weiss warns that many end users and vendors are unaware of security issues, while traditional security groups such as the CERT Coordination Center are at a loss when it comes to looking for control system issues. The next draft of the Bush administration's national cybersecurity plan will include the private sector's critical systems improvement recommendations.
    http://www.computerworld.com/storyba/0,4125,NAV47_STO70587,00.html

  • "EU Throws the Book at Cyber Criminals"
    InternetNews.com (04/26/02); Wagner, Jim

    The European Union has established a 20-month deadline for its member nations to institute standards for cybercrime penalties that comply with an EU proposal. Under the proposal, people found guilty of hacking or launching distributed denial of service attacks would receive "no less than one year" of mandatory jail time if their activities are harmful to businesses--or they could be forced to pay a fine to the damaged parties. However, EU member nations can determine for themselves the magnitude of cybercrimes and the scope of punishment they can mete out, provided they adhere to the proposal's basic tenets. EU commissioner Erkki Liikanen declares that "This proposal also contributes to improving the overall security of our information infrastructures, which is a key element in our efforts towards a knowledge-based economy." The EU proposal has won plaudits from World Internet Providers Operations Council Chairman Charles Williams, who notes that compromised security makes a company less trustworthy in the eyes of customers and investors. Hackers who commit cybercrimes outside the EU's jurisdiction is an area of debate, and the EU and the Council of Europe have each devised their own solutions to this problem, according to Maeve O'Beirne. The EU wants stronger collaboration with foreign law enforcement agencies, and outlines the establishment of a point of contact network in every country, an information exchange initiative, and a greater educational and hardware upgrade effort. The Council of Europe advocates similar measures, with an international intermediary acting as a go-between for countries that cannot reach an agreement.
    http://www.internetnews.com/dev-news/article/0,,10_1016201,00.html

  • "DVD Copying Software Defendant Gets Supported in Calif. Fight"
    Newsbytes (04/26/02); Bartlett, Michael

    The Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA) has filed a friend of the court statement urging California's Supreme Court to overturn a ruling that makes a Texas man, Matthew Pavlovich, liable for Web-distributed software that harms Hollywood studios. The DVD Copy Control Association (DVD CCA) successfully sued a number of people involved in the online distribution of DeCSS code, which is meant to circumvent copyright protection measures on DVDs. Pavlovich was included in the lawsuit because he hosted and ran a Web site where people could go to download DeCSS while a student at Purdue University. He has no business connections in California and is not a resident. According to a statement from CCIA President Ed Black, the previous ruling would erase jurisdictional boundaries and precedents, making every Internet user the possible target of courts in countries where they have absolutely no ties. The DVD CCA argues that Pavolich's knowledge that posting DeCSS would harm the movie industry makes him subject to California law, since Hollywood is based there.
    http://www.newsbytes.com/news/02/176180.html

    For more articles and background on DVD cases, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm.

  • "White House Cool to Hollings' Act"
    Wired News (04/27/02); McCullagh, Declan

    James Rogan, the Commerce Department undersecretary for intellectual property and head of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, has said he prefers a wait-and-see approach to the digital copyright-protection technology debate currently on in Congress. Rogan implied that legislative action such as Sen. Fritz Hollings' (D-S.C.) Consumer Broadband and Digital Television Promotion Act is premature, and should wait for an industry-led resolution. Currently, the technology hardware and entertainment industries are negotiating a compromise on how to protect digital content. Rogan also recently reiterated his support of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, the controversial 1998 law that is subject to three pending lawsuits.
    http://www.wired.com/news/politics/0,1283,52145,00.html

  • "What the Cat Can't Drag In: High-Tech Door Keeps Dead Prey Out"
    SiliconValley.com (04/28/02); Heim, Kristi

    To prevent his cats from bringing dead animals into his house, software engineer Boris Tsikanovsky has devised a system that uses image-recognition technology he created to control the admittance of his pets through an automatic cat door. The system's components include a digital camera, a mirror, the door itself, and a basic personal computer. When a cat approaches the door, the camera captures its image, which is automatically uploaded to a Web site. The program interprets the photo as a series of white dots on a black background, and compares it to a standard pattern to determine whether it has something in its mouth. It either opens the door or keeps it closed based on this comparison; Tsikanovsky also uses the program to keep unwanted animals out. The program is based on Flo, an image-distortion graphics tool Tsikanovsky was working on. He believes the success of his system could lead to the development of an image-based Web search engine. In the meantime, he does not intend to sell his innovation or market it to pet-control product vendors.
    http://www.siliconvalley.com/mld/siliconvalley/news/local/3155559.htm

  • "A Law to Protect Spyware"
    Salon.com (04/26/02); Wenham, Chris

    The new Online Personal Privacy Act introduced by Sen. Ernest "Fritz" Hollings (D-S.C.) would legalize the increasingly invasive practices of online marketers. Included in the bill's language are clauses that ensure the legality of online consumer tracking, which recently reached new levels of intrusiveness with the Brilliant Digital spyware distributed over the KaZaA file-trading network. Sen. Hollings' legislation would classify online buying patterns and other "nonsensitive" information as data that corporations can freely share with one another. That new classification scheme would be a legal blessing of the type of activity that the Brilliant Digital software was engaged in--namely, operating a distributed computing network specifically designed to harness consumers' computing power to drive advanced marketing technology. KaZaA users make up the largest file-trading network since Napster, and many accepted the Brilliant software without any knowledge of what it did. Spyware such as Brilliant's promises to resolve the problems companies have in tracking statistical groups instead of individual consumers.
    http://www.salon.com/tech/feature/2002/04/26/hollings_spyware/index.html

  • "It's the Problem Solving, Silly!"
    InformationWeek Online (04/24/02); George, Tischelle

    A recent study out of Ohio University found that a majority of women currently working in the technology field are there because of the problem-solving aspect of their jobs, not because they can earn more or choose from a wide range of positions. According to the survey of 275 women IT workers, about 31 percent also started in technology despite graduating from liberal-arts undergraduate programs instead of technical ones. The study's results have important implications for the IT industry if it wants to attract more female employees, says Phyllis Berntm, Ohio University professor of communication systems management.
    http://www.informationweek.com/story/IWK20020424S0006

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

  • "A New Zealand-Born Professor Studies the Machine in the Molecule"
    Wellington Evening Post Online (04/25/02); Napp, Bernie

    Nanotechnology specialist and New Zealander Michael Kelly predicts that the technology's initial commercial impact is likely to be felt in the areas of IT, detectors, and electronics. He says IT is a key area for nanotechnology, and notes that transistors, which soon will be just 60 atomic layers thick, "are far smaller than viruses, that's already nanotechnology." Kelly's field of expertise is nanometer-sized sensors, and he has a developed a collision awareness system that causes automobiles to slow down as well as brake automatically when the driver is in dangerous proximity to the car ahead of him. Hot nanotech properties in New Zealand include plastic polymers with electrical conductivity, which will probably be used as light-emitting polymers incorporated into packaging and other unconventional objects; Kelly expects that such displays will relay information picked up by nano-sensors, such as the temperature and freshness of grocery items. Nanotech may be particularly helpful in solving problems unique to New Zealand, he says. For instance, Industrial Research (IRL) is working on remote sensors that can detect a milled log's suitability for timber or paper pulp, which would save money. Much of nanotech's potential is still speculative, and used mainly to whet investors' appetites, according to Kelly.
    http://smalltimes.com/document_display.cfm?document_id=3547

  • "Computing Power Brought Online"
    BBC News Online (04/25/02)

    The University of Edinburgh has officially opened the National e-Science Center, which will work to connect computers to the Internet so that their collective power might be harnessed to solve complex scientific problems. The grid computing effort will focus on both national and international initiatives, and provide smaller institutions with raw computing power they can afford. This same benefit will also serve large institutions, which have difficulties funding supercomputing on their own. The e-Science Institute, which coordinates the British grid computing effort, resides at the University of Edinburgh. The institute also provides training and research coordination, and brings other institutions into the fold. The e-Science program is split up among eight regional centers. The National e-Science Center was actually established last summer through a 5.5 million-pound grant. Scientists will be able to learn the results of far-flung experiments more easily and study existing data better using the U.K. supercomputing grid.
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/low/english/sci/tech/newsid_1948000/1948870.stm

  • "Software Wars: China vs. India"
    Wired News (04/25/02); Joseph, Manu

    There are fears that China could overtake India as Asia's leading digital software provider, but National Association of Software and Services Companies (NASSCOM) vice president Sunil Mehta claims that it will be at least three years before China is a serious threat. India has the advantage of greater revenues as well as a more skilled workforce and better product quality and project management capabilities, he declares. Mehta adds that the Chinese government officially projects that its 2005 software exports will total $1.5 billion, compared to India's $23 billion. However, investors and industry observers such as Mahesh Murthy are not as optimistic. Indian service firms, which currently charge American companies an hourly rate of $6 to $9 (down from $75 to $90 a year ago), could be devastated when China institutes a $3 hourly rate for the same services, according to Murthy. The 2002-2003 growth rate forecast for Indian software companies is about 20 percent, compared to annual growth of over 100 percent a short time ago. Experts such as Infosys CEO Nandan Nilekani believe that China, with its 34 million Internet users and expanding Internet technology presence, could prove to be a lucrative market for telecom, financial services, and manufacturing, as well as software development.
    http://www.wired.com/news/business/0,1367,51706,00.html

  • "A New Risk to Computers Worldwide"
    New York Times (04/27/02) P. B2; Schwartz, John

    A "blended threat" computer program called W32/KLEZ.H is wreaking havoc around the world by combining elements of a computer virus and a computer worm. The program, a variant of earlier Klez viruses, randomly changes the name, subject line, and message of the email used to spread the program, making it difficult to stop. It also tries to disable anti-virus software. Although the program appears to do little damage to an infected machine, Symantec now considers it a "class 4" risk, its second-highest ranking. Central Command CEO Keith Peer says the spread of the virus is "exploding." Because the program takes advantage of weaknesses in software, users of earlier versions of Microsoft's mail programs can activate it without opening an email attachment. Users can download patches from Microsoft to fix their email programs, while anti-virus programs have been updated to block the program's spread.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2002/04/27/technology/27VIRU.html
    (Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors must register.)

  • "Peer (to Peer) Pressure: It's a Good Thing"
    Software Development Online (04/02); Wayne, Rick

    Peer-to-peer (P2P) technology may have attracted more notoriety than praise, especially when many of its overhyped promises were not fulfilled, but useful applications are taking place. P2P is proving very helpful with distributed computing initiatives, such as the SETI@Home project. SETI@Home, which has 3.5 million registered users, leverages the idle capacity of participants' PCs to study radio-telescope data for extraterrestrial transmissions, and P2P is used so that newly connected clients can upload their current IP to a known server address. Technologies such as the Globus Toolkit are being implemented to enable computing grids, which require decentralized access to computing resources with security, access controls, and fee architecture built in up front. P2P is also being embedded into data-sharing applications such as collaborative CAD work and auctions, and this is likely to spread as standards such as Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) and Project JXTA emerge. The open-source Project JXTA aims to create a P2P infrastructure that can facilitate collaboration among a multitude of devices, including cell phones and servers; the protocol will also not be tied down to any one language, platform, or transport format. "We hope that JTXA becomes the protocols that trigger the next wave of innovation," declares Project JXTA's Juan Carlos Soto. "One company couldn't do this alone, so the best way was through an open-source effort."
    http://www.sdmagazine.com/documents/s=7032/sdm0204a/0204a.htm

  • "Spring Cleaning for University Tech Offerings"
    InformationWeek (04/22/02) No. 885, P. 88; George, Tischelle; Colkin, Eileen

    Academic institutions are facing difficulties in recruiting and retaining students as economic and political turbulence makes them more wary and less confident of following an IT career path. Computer-science graduates are finding lower salaries and fewer job offers compared to a few years ago, when the technology boom was at its peak. Companies are also less inclined to hire inexperienced workers, especially when there are plenty of experienced professionals they can hire at lower salaries. Universities are beefing up their computer-science curriculums with business courses in order to offer students a wider concentration of study that better prepares them not just for finding an IT job, but ensuring promotions. This also encourages students to stay on their IT study track past their freshman year, which is when many dropouts take place, according to Richard Lejk of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Darren Hands of the National Association of Colleges and Employers says that offering students IT certifications would significantly improve their chances of getting a job; he also urges schools to offer corporate internships so students can gain work experience. Furthermore, the "computer geek" image is in need of a makeover, while some institutes are working to instill an interest in high-tech careers among students as early as high school. Sept. 11 has also had an effect on curriculums: Security has become an important course offering at the University of Maryland and UNC Charlotte, for instance.
    http://www.informationweek.com/story/IWK20020418S0030

  • "Grin and Wear It"
    Computerworld (04/22/02) Vol. 36, No. 17, P. 54; Hamblen, Matt

    Wearable computers will inevitably take off as technological advances make them more convenient and useful, but analysts warn that their pervasiveness will also engender societal problems. Today, people carry mobile phones in their pockets, connected to earphones and microphones, but Bluetooth wireless technology will eliminate the need for wired connections in the future. Nanotechnology is also expected to play an increasingly large role in wearable computers, boosting the power of processors and other components while shrinking them to unnoticeable sizes. MIT's School of Engineering researchers have been given $50 million by the U.S. Army's Institute of Soldier Nanotechnologies to develop nanotechnology that would make fibers used in clothing carry electronic signals and perform other computing-related tasks. Wearable computer makers today focus on models that boost worker productivity, such as Xybernaut's models that are meant for technicians and other workers who need their hands free and access to network-based data while working. But those in the wearable computer industry are also eyeing the consumer market, and believe that fashion may play a role in consumer adoption. Gartner predicts that about 60 percent of the U.S. population aged 15 to 50 years will be connected to always-on, wearable computers by 2007, and that figure will increase to 75 percent by 2010.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Satellites Hit New Orbits"
    eWeek (04/22/02) Vol. 19, No. 16, P. 47; Korzeniowski, Paul

    Broadband IP satellite services offer easier implementation and manageability than terrestrial connections; they can boost an enterprise's productivity by adding subscribers faster and updating services more easily. Up to now, satellite technology has been mainly limited to niche markets such as point-of-sale (POS) systems, with retailers and restaurant chains representing major vertical markets. Analysts say that broadband IP services are spurring other markets (financial services, manufacturers, government agencies) to consider adoption. Non-POS satellite services account for less than 5 percent of all U.S. transmissions because of a number of barriers, including high upfront costs. However, Fritz Stolzenbach of Spacenet says that "Broadband satellite services are now competitive with business-grade DSL services, which are in the [range of] $100 to $150 per site per month." Satellite carriers claim their networks offer more security than Internet connections, and can deliver quality-of-service guarantees better than terrestrial carriers. To drive adoption, there has been a heavy concentration in content delivery networks, streaming media and video transmissions, and distance learning among carriers. Dollar General has deployed Spacenet's Skystar Advantage broadband IP satellite communications network to more efficiently download millions of transactions recorded every night and curb processing delays. Dollar General's Bruce Ash says, "With the satellite links in place, we no longer have to wait until the end of the day to poll our stores for sales and inventory information, and the availability of up-to-date information has enabled us to respond to changing market conditions more rapidly."
    http://www.eweek.com/article/0,3658,s%253D722%2526a%253D25782,00.asp

  • "Glimpsing the Future"
    Enterprise Systems (04/02) Vol. 17, No. 4, P. 44; Migliore, Matt

    Experts forecast numerous developments for enterprise technology over the next 18 to 24 months. Emergent Web services will be unmatched in terms of enterprise deployments, according to Gartner analysts; Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) will form the basis of security standards over the next two years, says senior analyst Deborah Hess. The advent of the Linux platform through products such as IBM's Raptor is expected to reenergize the mainframe, while speech recognition technology could make wireless pervasive in the next 24 months--a third-generation network that embeds voice and data capability on the same device is one of the projected developments. There will be a major emphasis on disaster recovery and intelligent storage systems, with asynchronous technology being a deep focus, says Gartner's Stan Zaffos. Experts contend that electronic data interchange (EDI) will not be driven into extinction by XML as a enterprise integration tool, although Gartner's Jess Thompson sees SOAP becoming widely accepted for integration projects external to the firewall. XML security standards are still being developed, but experts say another two to five years is necessary before they are finalized. The line will continue to blur between customer relationship management and business intelligence as enterprises adopt more advanced analytical models, and more flexible data-management will be needed to support these analytics; this will require enterprises to undertake CRM/data warehouse integration, according to Gartner research director Kevin Strange. Finally, Gartner's Jay Pultz believes DSL and optical-Internet will significantly lower the cost of broadband for enterprises.
    http://www.esj.com/features/article.asp?EditorialsID=89

  • "Motorola's Superchip"
    Technology Review (04/02) Vol. 105, No. 3, P. 72; Amato, Ivan

    Two years ago, Motorola Labs researcher Jamal Ramdani hit upon a method to fabricate semiconductors that integrate gallium arsenide with silicon. The integration combines the cheapness of silicon with gallium arsenide's optical and wireless capabilities, and Motorola is working to market the material within the next few years through its Thoughtbeam subsidiary. The technology yielded by Ramdani's breakthrough involves sandwiching a layer of strontium titanate and silicon dioxide between the silicon and gallium arsenide to act as a bridge between the semiconductors' mismatched crystalline structures. Some experts predict that Ramdani's method could lead to the production of multipurpose "superchips" that could replace the numerous semiconductors that must be installed in DVDs, cell phones, and communications network switches. Using superchips, designers could more easily add wireless and Internet-enablement technologies to household appliances, while the dream of building an all-in-one wafer with integrated compound semiconductors would be a step closer.
    http://www.technologyreview.com/articles/amato0402.asp