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 HP or ACM.
To send comments, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Volume 4, Issue 377: Wednesday, July 24, 2002
- "Executives Advised to Take Role in Internet Security"
Washington Post (07/24/02) P. E5; McCarthy, Ellen
Executives should pitch in to develop an effective Internet security system, according to a new guide to be released today by an industry organization. The Electronics Industry Alliance, together with Carnegie Mellon University's Software Engineering Institute and CERT Coordination Center, recommends that executives adopt 10 key practices designed to ensure that corporate networks are adequately protected. The research on which the guidelines are based emphasizes the security practices instituted by alliance members and management policy issues studied by CERT. CERT director Richard D. Pethia observes that executive interest in implementing security is being sparked by growing awareness of the financial risks posed by possible security holes. However, he adds that "we need to help [management] move beyond awareness and into understanding." One of the guide's major recommendations requires senior management to determine the security risks inherent in their organizations, develop policies to deal with them, provide funding to deploy and sustain network safeguards, and instill accountability among users. Other practices the guide lists include regulating access to key physical assets, using system-monitoring tools, and developing recovery strategies for emergency situations.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Economy's Slump Hits Foreign Tech Workers Particularly Hard"
Seattle Times Online (07/22/02); Lalwani, Sheila
Being a foreign technology professional with an H1-B visa no longer guarantees that one will be able to find work in the United States. "If your employer lays you off, you are in an employment no-man's land," says laid-off Canadian H1-B worker Wendy Podgursky. Before the economic slump, many H1-B applications were approved because tech companies reportedly needed to fill the void caused by a shortage of qualified domestic employees. But now, rampant unemployment is spurring labor unions and other organizations to lobby for a reduction on the H1-B visa cap, which currently stands at 195,000, but is slated to revert to 65,000 in two years. Also lowering demand for foreign workers is the cost of supporting H1-Bs, coupled with the requirement that U.S. businesses must prove that they cannot find local talent before hiring foreigners. Nowadays there are fewer overseas H1-B applicants, while Volt Industries recruiter Ashar Moazzam notes that some H1-B workers have had to accept positions with lower salaries. Furthermore, entry-level candidates have less chance of securing jobs than those who have attained higher skill levels. Kirkland immigration consultant Greg Gourley attributes much of H1-B workers' current problems to the fact that they had inadequate self-marketing skills to shore up their prospects after the dot-com implosion.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Critics Rap Web Group, Call for Changes"
United Press International (07/23/02); Bourge, Christian
A Washington, D.C.-based forum was the setting for arguments between critics and proponents of the government-created Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) on Tuesday. The latter group consisted of people such as Syracuse University's Milton Mueller, who claimed that ICANN has used its authority to create a paucity of top-level domain names that are exorbitantly priced; he added that corporate groups have taken over, and are using ICANN to control domain name delegation and, by extension, the Internet, while smaller groups such as nonprofits and universities suffer. Media Access Project associate director Harold Feld also noted that the domain registration system and its legal architecture are rife with ambiguities, while ICANN is not open to any actual external control. Advocates of ICANN countered that the group is still relatively young, and is still struggling to work out the best way to fulfill its mission. SJS President Ira C. Magaziner said the future of international commerce and communication is riding on the outcome of this debate--"One of the things that was uppermost in our minds as we began to see this unfold was to be able to ensure the stability of the Internet and to be able to ensure the growth of the Internet globally," he explained. Still, he and others acknowledged that ICANN has had some success stories: For example, registry and domain name prices have fallen, while the Internet's shift to a larger commercially supportable backbone did not negatively impact individuals' ability to use it. However, Magaziner warned that a dearth of process transparency, a closed meetings policy, and an inability to hold democratic board elections hobbles ICANN's public credibility. Furthermore, Feld said the organization is ill-prepared to deal with an actual crisis.
- "Report: Cyberattack Could Harm U.S. Infrastructure"
Medill News Service (07/22/02); Chiger, Stephen
A report from the General Accounting Office (GAO) released on Monday says that the United States' "cyber critical infrastructure"--the essential systems given over to computer control--is still vulnerable; in fact, Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) claims it "is ripe for attack today." To shore up defense of these systems, the GAO recommends that there must be improved communication between the 50-plus agencies tasked with maintaining infrastructure security. The GAO's Robert Dacey says five or six of the agencies would be consolidated by President Bush's proposed Department of Homeland Security, but the rest would not. The President's plan calls for the new department to work out a cybersecurity plan as soon as the executive branch issues a carefully crafted strategy in the next couple of months. "Without a strategy that identifies responsibilities and relationships for all cyber CIP [critical infrastructure protection] efforts, our nation risks not knowing whether we have the appropriate structure to deal with the growing threat of computer-based attacks," the GAO report warns. The report was requested last October by Lieberman and Sen. Robert Bennett (R-Utah), who proposed legislation calling for the creation of an information hub concerned with critical infrastructure threats. The possibility of an Internet-based terrorist attack seems even more likely, what with Carnegie Mellon's CERT Coordination Center reporting that the number of network intrusions caused by viruses or hackers more than doubled between 2000 and 2001.
- "Hollywood, Tech Make Suspicious Pairing"
SiliconValley.com (07/20/02); Gillmor, Dan
Microsoft's proposed Palladium computing architecture could significantly improve the security of computer systems, but Mercury News technology columnist Dan Gillmor warns that it could also allow the entertainment and software industry to choke off competition and customer rights by enabling them to control how people can read, view, and listen to digital content. The technology would use data-scrambling to section off a piece of computer memory where users can run certified programs without fear of intrusions. Benefits include more secure e-commerce and limitations on online surveillance, but a recent goodwill letter from major tech executives to the entertainment cartel could give the latter license to restrict copying and fair rights usage with the same technology. Microsoft could turn this situation to its advantage by collecting gatekeeper fees while at the same time protecting its own copyrighted products. In addition, such a development could seriously hurt--or even destroy--the open source movement, which would also work to Microsoft's favor. The involvement of chipmakers Intel and AMD, who have long claimed to support innovation and customer rights, in the Palladium project is also cause for worry. Still, Microsoft has promised that it will publish Palladium's software code and will not be the only company to certify programs.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Plan Would Swell Wireless Spectrum"
Wall Street Journal (07/24/02) P. A10; Dreazen, Yochi J.
The U.S. government has agreed to release 90 MHz of spectrum for commercial use, which will enable wireless companies to build and create 3G networks that would provide handheld devices and next-generation wireless phones with high-speed data access and full-range video. However, the wireless industry has estimated that it needs up to 200 MHz of spectrum for 3G wireless; the Commerce Department plan schedules bidding on the spectrum for 2004 for use starting in 2008. Half of the to-be-released spectrum is coming from the Defense Department and the other half from FCC reserve spectrum. Once the Commerce plan meets with FCC approval, "The ball moves to the FCC's court," says Commerce official Michael Gallagher. One wrinkle in the plan is the Defense Department's need to move its operations to free up spectrum, and the FCC must determine whether Defense Department needs can be accommodated under the Commerce plan. Precursor Group analyst Rudy Baca says the plan is a blow to the wireless industry that simply gives Wall Street a reason to believe in wireless. He explains that wireless companies will have to spend a lot of money for the 90 MHz of spectrum, and because the spectrum to be offered is not contiguous, it will be more expensive to use.
- "China Plans Software to Rival Windows"
New Scientist Online (07/19/02); Knight, Will
The Chinese newspaper People's Daily reports that a consortium of Chinese companies and universities have embarked on a project to build a computer desktop operating system that could compete with Microsoft's Windows 98 platform. The project, unveiled on July 18 at the IT Industry Promotion Center in Beijing, should be ready in about a year and will be capable of running Microsoft's office software. "The monopoly of foreign office software over the Chinese market will be broken" with the advent of such a system, according to the report. Dan Kusnetzky of International Data (IDC) believes that the developers could easily build such an operating system using already available open source software--Linux, for instance. Another open source project dubbed Wine allows Windows applications to run on platforms such as Linux, and Kusnetzky thinks that integrating these two projects could result in a system ideal for running Microsoft office programs. "This is a way to take a giant leap forward almost immediately," he declares. Certain Chinese government offices are reportedly using an early version of the operating system called Yangfan 1.0.
- "Scientist Step Toward Next-Gen Internet"
ZDNet UK (07/22/02); Broersma, Matthew
On Monday, scientists from Britain's E-Science Centers announced that they had completed the building blocks for grid computing at the fifth Global Grid Forum. The blocks are used to construct the Data Access and Integration (DAI) program, which is based on the Open Grid Services Architecture. The DAI specifications cover the sharing of huge databases of research results, and could lead to the development of prototype Grid systems that will help researchers collaborate using quantities of data growing at an exponential rate. "When the data collected in a single year is now equivalent to the sum total of data collected beforehand, the scale of the challenge to share and harvest all that data becomes clear," explained E-Science Core Program director Tony Hey. "The pioneering work of the U.K. team paves the way for this to happen and we expect to see a series of prototypes based on this research released in the coming weeks and months." The project received funding and additional research contributions from IBM and Oracle.
- "Forgent Claims JPEG Patent; Others Cry Foul"
IDG News Service (07/19/02); Law, Gillian
Last week, Forgent Networks issued a statement that it owns the patent to JPEG image compression technology, and plans to license the technology to manufacturers of devices that compress, store, transmit, manipulate, and print digital pictures in color and black and white. Forgent's Hedy Baker claimed that the company realized its ownership of the patent when reviewing its assets during a restructuring. She says the company has reached a licensing agreement with Sony and a consumer electronic firm that is currently anonymous. Some experts are disputing Forgent's claim: "The patent describes a three-way symbol classification; the closest analog in JPEG is a two-way classification," declared Tom Lane of the Independent JPEG Group in an email. "If the jury can count higher than two, the case will fail." Hakon Lie of Norway-based Opera Software also expressed doubt, warning that that if JPEG becomes unavailable, it will be necessary to resort to alternative methods. Baker said that she has no knowledge as to how JPEG-enabled browsers would be affected by the patent. The only field of use not covered by the patent relates to satellite broadcasts.
- "Helix Must Not Leave Open Sourcers Stranded"
InternetNews.com (07/23/02); Boulton, Clint
Analysts say that RealNetworks' decision to release the source code for its new Helix media player software will help partner companies develop compatible products, but does not allow access to their still-proprietary encoding and coding software. Helix technology is RealNetworks' competitive bid against Microsoft's new Windows Media Player 9 version and can work with many different types of media files, including Media Player files. Linux and Open Source strategist with Hewlett-Packard, Bruce Perens, says RealNetworks' community source license offers less freedoms than completely open-source media technology currently available, and so should not be adopted wholesale by the open-source community yet. However, he says the move will help companies that could use Helix technology to build their own products. Aberdeen analyst Michael Hoch cuations that the current economic climate will have a chilling effect on innovation in media software, because few startups will be able to capitalize on technology that is not seen as directly contributing to the bottom line.
- "MEMS Cut from a Different Cloth; Firm Finds New Polymer Process"
Small Times Online (07/24/02); Forman, David
MCNC of North Carolina has collaborated with Florida-based Hills Inc. to produce micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS) devices. The microactuators, or integrated force arrays (IFAs), are formed from the combination of three synthetic polymers that contract in response to electrical current. Hills claims that the devices, which are assembled via polymer extrusion, possess 0.5-micron features, and adds that the creation of 0.3-micron features is a possibility. Hills' VP of technology Jeff Haggard describes the actuator as "like a weed whacker line with a machine embedded down the core." The manufacturing cost may be especially appealing: Haggard explains that each pound of actuators--containing between 100,000 and 200,000 units--could be produced for $1 to $2. He also says that "This method has the advantage in packaging...because...you've got a strand you can handle by hand." In addition, the microactuators are lightweight, while stacking them together raises their overall strength. But an even greater marketing challenge is finding a killer application for the polymer microsystems, although MCNC believes the devices could find use in tactile displays and microrobotic surgical tools. Funding is also an issue; the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency funded the initial phase of the project, but Hills and MCNC are now looking for someone to support continued work on the project.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Battling Wi-Fi Specs Come Together"
Internet.com (07/22/02); McGarvey, Joe
Wireless Internet device manufacturers are moving the Wi-Fi industry toward a multi-mode scenario, where end users will be able to log on no matter what 802.11 standard is used. The upcoming 802.11g standard--which operates at 54 Mbps like 802.11a, but has a slightly greater range and backwards compatibility with 802.11b--is helping manufacturers build access nodes and wireless Internet cards that are interoperable. Some of the hype surrounding 802.11g has subsided, according to Meta Group analyst Chris Kozup, who says the standard will only be used alongside either 802.11a or b, but not alone. Network infrastructure will eventually accommodate all three standards and allow for super-scalability through 11 channels--three accessible through 802.11b and g, and eight channels through 802.11a. Cisco's Aironet 1200 is not incorporating dual-band chipsets because they only run on the 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz frequency at one time. Instead, Cisco is building in removable radio components that allow for simultaneous transmission on both frequencies, if desired. The solution should appeal to businesses, since they would not have to outfit their employees with new multi-mode network cards. If users plan to hook up wirelessly in many different places, however, a multi-mode network card will allow them to gain access on any network.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Internet Extends Legal Reach of National Governments"
Associated Press (07/21/02)
Earlier this month Italian police shut down several possibly blasphemous Web sites hosted in the United States, demonstrating again the effect of national law on the Internet. Free speech advocates and others say that increased legal prosecution by countries against Web offenders located in other nations could hinder free expression on the Internet. David Farber, who moderates a technology email list that is sent internationally, says that he would more carefully watch the content of his missives if threatened with overseas prosecution. Some experts say that multinational companies will likely push world governments to reach some type of consensus, or what Internet pioneer Vinton Cerf calls the Internet equivalent of the law of the sea, which Cerf noted took 20 years to establish. In the meantime, University of Ottawa law professor Michael Geist says companies are more likely to play it safe by stripping controversial content. Google, for instance, recently removed links to a nuclear waste protest site that detailed how people can sabotage rail lines, after German railroad operator Deutsche Bahn threatened to sue them.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "MIT Prof Critiques Europe's Wireless Efforts"
EE Times Online (07/23/02); Walko, John
Delivering a keynote speech at Motorola's Smart Network Developers Forum in New Orleans, MIT Media Labs founder and chairman Nicholas Negroponte sharply criticized European regulators' strategy to deploy third-generation (3G) wireless services. Their approach, in which spectrum is auctioned off, would impose restrictions on European operators Negroponte termed "ridiculous." Adding to the folly is a profound lack of infrastructure and handsets, no proven services, and hundreds of millions of dollars in spectrum license fees. He says the 3G transition "is not that big a jump" when compared to three major trends the telecom industry has experienced over the past several decades--the introduction of wireless communications, the changeover to digital networks, and the switch from circuit-switched to IP-based networks. Negroponte also critiqued the befuddled state of the European effort to roll out wireless LANs (WLANs). Whereas the United States has adopted an ad-hoc, peer-to-peer personal WLAN approach that utilizes the license-free 2.4 GHz spectrum, European WLAN regulations vary regionally, a situation he called "a mess." For instance, Irish regulations allow unlicensed spectrum use so long as the service does not generate money, while in France use is restricted to a single channel. On the other hand, Negroponte did note planned public WLAN deployments in Denmark, Britain, Germany, and the Netherlands.
- "Is Anti-Virus Software Obsolete?"
Many experts believe that the effectiveness of desktop anti-virus software is being undercut by the increasing sophistication of computer viruses, the Klez.H email virus being a recent example. MessageLabs' Angela Hauge notes that anti-virus programs can be thwarted by Klez's "spoofing aspect," which allows it to change attachments and other traits that such programs are keyed to detect. Viruses are also getting faster and exploiting Internet-connected PCs, a significant disadvantage to desktop-bound scanners, according to Hurwitz Group security research director Pete Lindstrom. For enterprises, this means more and more deployments of anti-virus software along network firewalls and gateways, as well as desktop scanners; analysts have also noticed that increasing numbers of mid-sized firms are turning to outsourced "managed security service providers" to watch for viruses. Forrester Research analyst Laura Koetzle says that these companies have won the trust of customers by netting consulting contracts and carrying out vulnerability assessments. These providers and anti-virus researchers advocate the addition of more anti-virus perimeters, such as "digital watchtowers" that use artificial intelligence to find suspicious patterns in email traffic. Traditional anti-virus software makers are offering similar products and moving toward differentiation, according to Koetzle. Despite the flood of new products and services, INT Media Group administrator Rick Rosenthal insists that "You still have to know your viruses, keep virus scan definitions up to date, and you have to have a virus scan running on your firewall."
- "The Instant-Mess Age"
Washington Post (07/21/02) P. H1; Henry, Shannon
Instant messaging (IM) is helping connect workers and make them more productive--when they are not misusing it by leaking proprietary information or chatting idly with personal friends online. ComScore Media Metrix says approximately 16.9 million employees are using instant messaging on the job, while Gartner Group predicts that by 2005 IM will be more popular than regular email. Experts say that companies need to move fast to create and implement policies governing the use and storage of instant messages. Gartner, for example, recently issued a report that suggested firms begin monitoring instant messaging traffic and keeping records, something most systems built for businesses already allow for, according to IBM director of advanced collaboration Michael Loria. Loria says his research has found that IM is a better way to communicate than either regular email or the phone. He says, "IM is a persisting connection between people." Currently, different companies have different policies regarding the use of instant messaging--IBM, for example, has integrated its proprietary Lotus Sametime system with AOL's Instant Messenger, while GlaxoSmithKline forbids the use of free instant messaging clients. AOL is working on an enterprise version of its Instant Messenger client that would encrypt messages, in conjunction with VeriSign. Unlike regular email, IM messages are generally not archived, and Gartner warns they can be used to leak source code and other proprietary information. But instant messages can be traced as they pass through servers, and companies are now releasing software that can track instant messages.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Breakthrough Technologies"
Washington Technology (07/15/02) Vol. 17, No. 8, P. 1; Jackson, Joab
A quartet of breakthrough technologies currently being assessed by integrators and agencies are poised to make their mark on government IT infrastructures and open up new markets. The Semantic Web, which has received research funding from the National Science Foundation and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, is a common language that people could use to operate any electronic device by remote control: The breakthrough could facilitate data-sharing between knowledge management systems with a minimum of human intervention, as well as improved interoperability between disparate systems. The emergence of 64-bit computing is another breakthrough, and companies such as Hewlett-Packard and Silicon Graphics are developing public-sector 64-bit applications; in addition to cost savings, the technology promises to boost memory utilization, which could be beneficial to the development of systems that employ voice recognition and streaming video, as well as lower-cost supercomputers. Dynamic frequency allocation offers a way to more efficiently use radio spectrum by sharing airwaves. Significant developments in this sector include software-based radio that forms the basis of the Joint Tactical Radio System, and smart antennas from ArrayComm. Finally, Internet protocol version 6 (IPv6) is designed to mitigate the increasing scarcity of Web address space, while its enhanced security, autoconfiguration, and quality-of-service features will facilitate new services. Markets that could be opened up by the technology include inventory control, secure wireless access, and Internet telephony, but switching over to IPv6 will require government agencies to replace or upgrade their networking equipment as well as their server and desktop software.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Putting Content in Context"
CIO (07/15/02) Vol. 15, No. 19, P. 82; Kalin, Sari
Digital objects such as video, audio, and images can be stored and arranged through digital asset management (DAM) software, which simplifies their location, modification, and reuse. Many enterprises are using DAM to provide a fast, centralized method that workers and partners can use to locate and manipulate content. For example, DaimlerChrysler will debut a DAM system this month that will facilitate the central storage and management of video, images, graphics, and data culled from corporate Web sites, print material, and electronic kiosks in an effort to curb duplication costs. To bring three separate databases of still images, moving images, and textual information together under a single digital asset management system, Coca-Cola turned to a content management program. Because converting analog assets into a digital medium can be an expensive and arduous investment, many companies have to narrow their choices down: At the beginning of its conversion, Coca-Cola archives director Phil Mooney selected only those objects that would probably be frequently used. Companies also need to decide who they will make their digital assets available to, and how such usage will be facilitated. International Data (IDC) predicts that sales revenues of software for "rich media asset management" will skyrocket from $117 million to $1.8 billion between 2000 and 2004. As time does on, DAM software will be enhanced with more digital rights management features and natural language-based searching, among other things.
- "Making the Grid"
EDiT (06/02) Vol. 2, No. 5, P. 16; Kenway, Richard
The Grid is a flexible infrastructure linking together a vast network of geographically distributed computers, storage, data, and software that people will be able to tap into to solve complex problems. It is an evolutionary step up from the Web, driven by three factors: A massive amount of data that will grow as pervasive networking spreads; more businesses becoming global and dynamic; and researchers working on a way to extract data and resources from these environments. For instance, CERN will use the Grid to study the tremendous amount of raw data generated by its Large Hadron Collider (LHC), with the processing itself split up among numerous institutions and physicists around the world. Other projects poised to benefit from the Grid model include astronomical and genomic research, medical diagnosis, aircraft fault detection, and the virtual coordination of emergency response teams. Many of the challenges presented by such efforts also exist in business, which can also benefit from the Grid--in fact, the Grid will be furnished through a collaborative, global effort between business and academia, although the challenges of scientific data analysis will far outweigh commercial applications, and are much more urgent. Automatically generating knowledge from raw data is another pressing need, as is the addition of scalability, security, and reliability across disparate platforms and networks. Furthermore, developers will need to make the Grid self-healing, capable of defending itself against hackers, and attractive to systems managers. The universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow are coordinating the U.K. National e-Science Center, which is working to set up a unified U.K. Grid infrastructure and support applications.