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 344: Friday, May 3, 2002
- "University Systems a Haven for Hackers"
CNet (05/02/02); Lemos, Robert
At the CanSecWest security conference in Vancouver, the University of Washington's David Dittrick warned that a lack of responsibility is allowing hackers and online pirates to thrive at colleges and universities. Hackers are drawn to college networks because most of them have poor security, lots of bandwidth, and administrators who are hard-pressed to handle all the problems. The University of Washington is a case in point: The school has 50,000 systems, thousands of which could suffer from security flaws that hackers are known to exploit; Dittrick and his small team of engineers must contend with network outages, databases of stolen software and media, students blocked from conducting legitimate online activities due to traffic bottlenecks, and compromised computers. This week alone it was discovered that over 520 GB of pirated software and movies was being stored on nine network systems, while over 70 systems have been commandeered for digital piracy or distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks altogether. Dittrick said that outside hackers are not always to blame for this piracy, since server investigations have unmasked some of the culprits as students. Transfers by the file-sharing program Kazaa accounted for 37 percent of the network traffic, while Gnutella accounted for 15 percent. Three years ago, Dittrick found that almost 80 Solaris systems and 40 Linux systems were hosting DDoS tools, while around 350 systems were attacked with the Code Red and Nimda worms in 2000.
- "Scientists Say They Have Bonded Viruses, Synthetic Materials"
Wall Street Journal (05/03/02) P. B5; Tomsho, Robert
University of Texas researchers led by Angela Belcher report in the journal Science that they are able to synthesize a hybrid organic-inorganic material that could be used to fabricate chips, displays, sensors, and other kinds of optical, electronic, and magnetic devices. The study involves bonding a genetically engineered, noninfectious virus to quantum dots in conjunction with a chemical solution and a magnetic field. The molecules then self-assemble into a liquid crystal hybrid that measures several centimeters in length. Belcher notes that her team modeled their method after the natural processes used to grow shell or bone. This breakthrough could prove very important to the expanding field of nanotechnology, according to scientists. Belcher and much of her team are planning to transfer to MIT this fall so that they can be closer to the nanotechnology movement, which is characterized by highly competitive research efforts.
- "Copyright Holders Praise Proposed Bill"
CNet (05/01/02); Bowman, Lisa M.
A bill introduced Tuesday by Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.) would broaden counterfeit laws to include digital music and movies. The bill would prohibit the copying of authentication measures such as watermarks and holograms. In addition, the bill would allow copyright owners to sue suspected lawbreakers more easily and triple the fines for chronic offenders. The bill would also provide the same protection to digital movies and music that is enjoyed by software. Groups such as the Motion Picture Association of America and the Recording Industry Association of America have voiced their support of the proposed measure. However, critics of anti-piracy legislation say the laws hamper intellectual research. Another bill aimed at stopping piracy was introduced in March by Sen. Ernest "Fritz" Hollings (D-S.C.), requiring digital consumer devices to carry copy protection technology. Tech leaders, however, are unhappy about the proposed law, saying it would hamper product development.
- "Panel Calls for Chip Standards"
InfoWorld.com (05/01/02); Krill, Paul
Panelists at the Embedded Processor Forum in San Jose urged that the implementation of software and standards is essential to the development of microprocessors. MIPS Technologies founder and panelist Jim Keller said that there have been significant strides made with transistors, memory, and single-chip multiprocessing, but there was a general consensus that chip designers need to address several issues. Alpha architecture co-architect Rich Witek commented that achieving a balance between lower power and high performance is a big priority, while memory, technology integration, and rising chip densities are also major concerns. Witek predicted that future handheld devices will come equipped with 100 MB of RAM, 100 MB of flash memory, and gigahertz-level performance; the devices will also able to function for several days before needing to be recharged. Sensei Partners chief scientist and MIPS architecture founder John Mashey estimated that the ratio of chips to people will be 1,000 to 1 by 2010, which implies that the next decade will see many innovations. Intrinsity's Tim Olsen said that chip frequencies are rising, and anticipated that smart chips that could be incorporated into everyday objects such as cat doors will run at 100 GHz within a decade.
- "Rats Turned Into Remote-Controlled Robots"
Washington Post (05/02/02) P. A1; Gugliotta, Guy
Scientists at the State University of New York's Downstate Medical Center have successfully demonstrated that rats with electrodes implanted in their brains can be directed by remote control. Physiologist John K. Chapin, who led the experiments, describes the process as "conditioning behavior," with the twist that they are controlled by a laptop. The rats are equipped with a receiver and power pack on their backs through which impulses are sent to the electrodes, stimulating their whiskers to determine the direction in which to go; an impulse is then transmitted to the pleasure centers of the rats' brains as a reward when they turn in the desired direction. The backpack apparatus allows the rats to receive signals from as far off as 550 yards. "People have been doing conditioning with reflex behaviors for a long time, but this is the first time where you have control of a whole complex animal," notes Northwestern University physiologist Sandro Mussa-Ivaldi. Potential uses for these rats include land mine detection, hidden surveillance, and rescue operations to find people trapped in tight spaces. Such applications have helped the project win funding from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. However, Chapin says the primary inspiration behind the experiments is finding a way for neurally disabled people to manipulate their environment through electronic prostheses.
- "The Shape of Computer Chips to Come"
NewsFactor Network (05/01/02); McDonald, Tim
Microprocessors of the future are likely to be much smaller and pervasive, but still made of silicon, according to researchers and experts. Intel Labs' Kevin Teixeira expects such chips to be more powerful and able to communicate with one another. Sensors that are no more than a cubic millimeter in size already exist, and Intel researchers claim that such devices consume 30 percent less power. Several technologies that use silicon in new ways are being investigated, including "strained" silicon, photonics chips, and wireless complementary metal-oxide semiconductor (CMOS) radio-based sensor networks. IBM's Philip Wong explains that strained silicon, which involves silicon crystals that are slightly pulled apart, ramps up the flow of electrons and can yield faster chips; he forecasts that strained silicon products will hit the market in 2004 or 2005. Meanwhile, an Intel white paper indicates that photonics chips, which use light and photons, will allow circuit densities to keep pace with Moore's Law for decades. One of the potential applications of these super-small chips are wireless, microelectromechanical systems-based sensors called "smart dust" that can be dispersed by the millions for the purpose of monitoring areas as well as locating people. Such devices could also lead to a time when smoke detectors could direct firemen rather than merely alert them to a fire's presence, or when swimming pools could warn people when someone has fallen in.
- "Instead of a Password, Well-Placed Clicks"
New York Times (05/02/02) P. E7; Eisenberg, Anne
Rather than deal with the headache of remembering passwords made up of random strings of letters, numbers, and symbols, many users either write them down near their computers or settle for less complicated passwords, which raises the risk of hacking. To alleviate this problem, researchers at Microsoft and other companies are looking into image-based password systems. Microsoft has developed a tool in which users log in by clicking on certain parts of an image in a certain order; users can set a range of pixels around each location so that they do not have to be too precise in where they click. Microsoft researcher Dr. Darko Kirovski thinks that a picture must have a minimum of 500 clickable regions in order to be suitable as a password, and is devising a program to assess such suitability with two colleagues. Meanwhile, Real User is working on a system in which users create passwords by choosing photos of human faces, and then log in by identifying those particular faces in a grid that is also filled with decoys. Carnegie Mellon University's Dr. Michael Reiter believes that comprehensive user trials will need to be conducted to determine whether graphical password systems truly improve security. At the University of California, Berkeley, Adrian Perrig is developing a password system that solves the problem of shoulder surfing: In his concept, users familiarize themselves with a virtual world, and sign on by determining locations chosen at random.
(Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors must register.)
- "Silicon Super-Agents"
Australian IT (04/30/02); Gengler, Barbara
Intelligent software agents are poised to play a larger role in business as companies move further toward enterprise automation technologies. Gartner predicts that the enterprise automation sector, including software agents, will grow to half of all IT spending by 2012, and $250 billion by 2010. Whereas intelligent agents have done little more than gather information off the Web, more advanced agents will be able to complete specific tasks, such as common supplies purchases for companies. Searchspace's Intelligent Enterprise Framework technology demonstrates the advanced capabilities of software agents by helping financial institutions monitor their business for possible money laundering and fraud. The U.S. government is also using software agents increasingly, for tasks that range from compiling critical information reports during crisis situations to organizing scheduling for the U.S. Joint Forces Command. Katia Syncara of Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics Institute says that intelligent software agents are vital to making information dispersed over networks usable, but that more work on standards and security needs to be done. Christine Karman, founder of Tryllion, a company that creates tools for creating agents, says the software becomes more usable with time and as trust develops on the human side.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Will Java Jumpstart the Mobile Web?"
The Java programming language is seen by handset makers and mobile phone carriers as the technology that will spur use of the mobile Internet, just as it gave life to Web pages accessed by computers in the mid 1990s. Java adds interactivity, dynamics, and ease-of-use to the mobile Internet, which has been restricted by aging WAP technology that has put a serious strain on mobile phone users who wanted to access Web content. Motorola says it will begin including Java technology on all its handsets and industry leader Nokia will add Java to one quarter of all its phones. Nextel, in the United States, has already sold 1.3 million Java-equipped Motorola phones, and Vodafone in Europe is preparing Java offerings. There are currently a plethora of Java technologies on the market as startup companies and carriers introduce their proprietary, value-added versions, such as NTT DoCoMo's J-Phone technology, which enables 3D visuals and audio. Next year, a new Java version is expected to consolidate the many versions currently available.
- "You May Wear Your Next Computer"
Associated Press (05/01/02); Krane, Jim
Royal Philips Electronics, IBM, and others are working on display screens that are lightweight and flexible in order to accelerate the move to portable computing. The lack of a flexible display that could, for example, be rolled up or folded and put in a user's pocket, is seen as one of the last barriers to pervasive mobile computing. Among Philips' innovations is a method that uses photo-enforced stratification: The raw materials of a liquid crystal display (LCD) are painted onto a surface and then subjected to ultraviolet radiation, which induces the materials to form a crystalline honeycomb covered by a flexible, transparent polymer. A computer connection can cause the honeycomb to change color, thus making it an effective LCD. The technology could be used to "paint" LCDs on clothing, walls, or almost anything, says Philips. The stratification technique is not the only route Philips is taking to create flexible displays--other efforts include the development of flexible plastic transistors and "electronic paper" screens produced in conjunction with E Ink. E Ink co-founder Russ Wilcox says his company plans to debut ultra-thin, lightweight displays in 2003, although they will be non-flexible.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Alan Cox Attacks the European DMCA"
Register (UK) (04/30/02); Leyden, John
Open source advocate Alan Cox delivered a warning about the European Union Copyright Directive (EUCD) at a Campaign for Digital Rights (CDR) mini-conference in London. The EUCD, which is seen by many critics as even more restrictive than America's Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), makes it illegal to bypass or attempt to bypass anti-copying safeguards or Digital Rights Management Systems on music, software, and other kinds of digital content. The DMCA authorizes copyright circumvention in special circumstances, such as furnishing visually-impaired people with copies of eBooks in Braille; but under the EUCD, member states do not have to implement such exceptions if they do not want to. Among the issues Cox raised was the possibility that the EUCD could allow creators to monopolize file formats, forcing developers to enter into licensing agreements in order to make playback tools. The directive could also stymie interoperability between operating systems and disallow the discussion of security issues, all of which could put a serious crimp in open source development. The CDR is working to raise awareness and galvanize opposition against the EUCD, as well as a move by the music industry to market copy-protected CDs. EU member states are required to make the directive part of their national legislation by Dec. 22.
- "Nanotech Studies Could Aid Silicon Chips"
United Press International (05/01/02); Burnell, Scott R.
Nanotechnology research efforts and how they can extend the life of silicon chips were the focus of a conference on Wednesday. Circuit elements are shrinking in the search for faster and more efficient chips, and Nanoscale Science and Engineering Centers (NSECes) around the country are working on ways to circumvent technical barriers via nanotechnology. Cornell University's Robert Buhrman, who directs the institution's NSEC, explained that his facility's purpose is to study how nanostructures will operate in IT devices 10 to 15 years in the future. Cornell's NSEC is exploring the potential of carbon nanotubes, which Buhrman said could act as links between circuit elements too small for copper wires because of their ability to handle much stronger currents. He noted that joint nanophotonics research between Cornell and Corning demonstrates that lead nanocrystals and quartz can be integrated, which could lead to the creation of an optical amplifier powered by nanotechnology. Nanophotonic devices would enable computer networks to run faster and store hundreds of times more information. Meanwhile, Columbia University's Tony Heinz said his school's nanoscale facility is working on using organic molecules as circuit elements, which could be less complicated than current chip assembly processes.
- "HP's Nanotech Investment Aims to Break Moore's Law"
Nanotech Planet (04/29/02); Bernard, Allen
Hewlett-Packard's nanotechnology program is a large part of the company's future, and aims to lay the groundwork for a paradigm shift in computing within the next 10 years. Computer architect and scientist Phil Kuekes, who heads the HP Quantum Science Research laboratory, says the result of his team's work will be processors small enough to endow everyday products with computing power. In January, the HP team built an electronic circuit on an atomic scale, and the group is now researching ways to connect those types of nano-processor and memory chips to traditional computing devices--the key to the commercial viability of HP's research. Kuekes says the group needs to work with the semiconductor industry in mind in order to earn their support, even though nanotechnology will be the eventual successor of the silicon-based processor. Kuekes says the commercial introduction of the nanotechnology being developed is about 10 years out, at which time industry observers predict that shrinking traditionally manufactured chips in order to gain performance increases will be economically infeasible. Because the type of integrated circuit the group is working on can serve as both memory and processor, it can use the same manufacturing infrastructure and save money. They also store data like a hard disk, allowing for such things as instant-on computers.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Unbreakable Code Could Thwart Cyber Crooks"
NewsFactor Network (05/02/02); Hirsh, Lou
Quantum cryptography could supply an encryption method that makes messages invulnerable to hacking, and uses the intricacies of quantum mechanics to detect intruders. The encryption key transmitted between senders and receivers is made up of polarized photons that are disturbed whenever eavesdroppers attempt to tap into that transmission. Upon intruder detection, a new, overriding key can be sent to encrypt data. IEEE Spectrum associate editor Sam Moore believes that businesses that conduct a heavy amount of financial transactions could find quantum cryptography an effective security tool, and predicts that commercial applications could start showing up in a few years. However, deploying such systems will require a hefty infrastructure investment. Moore says researchers expect quantum cryptography to one day become a regular tool for the transmission of secret messages. Los Alamos National Laboratories has developed the first mobile quantum cryptography machine, and developer Richard Hughes claims that the device can transmit encrypted messages through the air across dozens of kilometers without being affected by weather. Meanwhile, ID Quantique in Switzerland is selling a commercial quantum cryptography device that uses a fiber-optic link, according to Moore.
- "Commerce Secretary Vows Scrutiny of ICANN Reforms"
Newsbytes (04/30/02); McGuire, David
U.S. Commerce Secretary Don Evans has told House Commerce Committee Chairman W.J. Tauzin (R-La.) in a letter that the Commerce Department is consulting with business and non-profit leaders about ICANN reform. The Commerce Department is monitoring ICANN's reform process closely, and Evans says that ICANN President Stuart Lynn's proposal for revamping ICANN is just a jumping-off point "for reform discussions." Tauzin and ranking Democrat committee member John Dingell (D-Mich.) have attacked Lynn's proposal as undemocratic, and a committee aide now says that Tauzin is pleased that the Commerce Department "shares our concerns." The aide says that the Commerce Committee is unlikely to hold congressional hearings on ICANN's reform plans.
- "Self-Described 'Cyborg' Reveals Promise and Dangers of Wearable Computers"
Chronicle of Higher Education (05/03/02) Vol. 48, No. 34, P. A31; Young, Jeffrey R.
Steve Mann, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Toronto, is a pioneer of wearable computing with a very personal interest: For the last two decades he has worn an electronic interface he developed that supplements his vision with computer readouts. He also teaches a course that encourages students to create and use their own wearable systems, and essentially become "cyborgs." Mann believes wearable technology marks the beginning of an era in which electronics will become deeply embedded into human perception, memory, and identity, and foster a revolution in human communication. The technical challenges of wearable computing include enormous development costs and the cumbersome task of carrying around bulky gear, although the price will likely drop if the technology is mass-marketed, while weight will be reduced by refinements. A much more thorny issue is the social implications the technology represents--wearing equipment all the time has been an alienating experience for Mann, and some people objected that his methods of communication, such as broadcasting what his system saw to a Web site, violated their privacy. Even other users of the technology, such as Vassar College's Greg Priest-Dorman, acknowledge its isolating effects. Mann himself is testimony to some of the physical hazards involved: When his wearable computer system was removed and damaged in an airport search, he experienced serious disorientation without it. Mann levels a lot of criticism at technology, particularly surveillance, which he claims is intruding more and more into people's lives; in fact, he uses the very technology he is developing as a weapon against technological abuse.
- "Big Bucks Dry Up"
InformationWeek (04/29/02) No. 886, P. 32; George, Tischelle; Colkin, Eileen; Greenemeier, Larry
InformationWeek Research's 2002 National IT Salary Survey finds that total compensation is down 8 percent for IT managers and 11 percent for IT staffers compared to last year, representing the first decline in at least a decade. Managers received a 3.8 percent base-salary raise, while staff only got a 1.7 percent increase; meanwhile, managers are earning $11,000 less in bonus pay, while staffers are making $9,000 less. Lower levels of job satisfaction among IT personnel have made dot-coms less desirable as places to work, and stock options are no longer valued among most respondents. With all of these drop-offs, retaining employees becomes a matter of promoting the non-monetary advantages of IT jobs--namely, their stability, flexibility, and challenge. Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide CIO Atefeh Riazi attributes the greater emphasis on flexibility to younger professionals who want more control over where they work and live. Increased pressure and longer hours is the price one pays for maintaining a job's challenging aspects, according to Rick Schonehals, IT director of the NFL's Denver Broncos. Benefits such as paid training, health care, and 401(k) matches have remained relatively constant, while staff cutbacks have caused no apparent increases in hours worked. However, the survey finds that more than four in 10 workers are actively searching for new jobs, chiefly because of money.
- "Post 9-11: The View from Abroad"
Computerworld (04/29/02) Vol. 36, No. 18, P. 36; Weiss, Todd R.
Sept. 11 has forced many American IT workers abroad to be more wary about their surroundings and how they conduct themselves in foreign countries. "The challenge in this new world is that nothing is sacred, and the amount of time one feels the need to be in heightened awareness is practically constant," reports Computer Sciences director of computing in Asia Douglas Brown. He says the terrorist attacks have significantly changed the way business is done in his part of the world: Social activities with clients are declining because of the vulnerability many Americans may feel in public places, and it is becoming common practice to let associates know one's whereabouts when heading out for an appointment or business trip. Acting overtly American also entails some risk--John Walsh III, a Computer Sciences employee stationed in Germany, says he tries to avoid speaking English in public. Toby Weiss of Computer Associates International says security concerns cut both ways--Japanese and Korean companies have cut back on sending personnel to the United States for knowledge-gathering purposes, for example. In the wake of the attacks, some companies have made it their business to keep foreign-based workers calm and informed; CA did this by providing security information and updates to employees. Even with heightened awareness, Brown and others note that things have begun to return to normalcy. Still, Brown admits he feels uneasy, "like the other shoe has not dropped perhaps."
- "Just Around the Corner"
Upside (04/02) Vol. 14, No. 3, P. 62; Bunnell, David
The next technology revolution is expected to be the advent of the second-generation Internet (Internet II), which will feature Web services as a key component. Speaking at a technology conference, general manager of Microsoft's .NET platform strategies Charles Fitzgerald declared that Web services are the "next wave of industry opportunity, [because] the core problem people have is integration." Systems and devices that are otherwise incompatible can communicate with each other using Web services, which will serve as a lingua franca. Web services standards such as simple object access protocol (SOAP), universal description, discovery, and integration (UDDI), and Web Services Description Language (WSDL) all stem from XML, which forms the basis of Internet II. Sun Microsystems' Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE) Web services-building tool is competing with Microsoft's Visual Studio .NET, while a Forrester Research study finds that independent software vendors are "rushing to retool their products" for Web services, regardless of which tool eventually dominates. Security and privacy issues have made corporate IT departments and end users hesitant to adopt Web services; proposed remedies include a single syndication standard, or a federation of standards. Antarcti.ca CEO Tim Bray says that "The most important obstacle is learning what works." Most Fortune 1000 Web services deployments take place within the firewall, but soon 150 million licensed Microsoft desktop end users will be able to use services that reside outside the firewall as well.