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 389: Wednesday, August 21, 2002
- "Firms Wringing Value From IT Units"
Investor's Business Daily (08/21/02) P. A7; Bonasia, J.
Fifty percent of IT managers polled by InformationWeek's Optimize magazine say they are under increasing pressure to demonstrate that their tech investments are showing positive returns. "The trick to IT being more effective is treating it as if it's a separate business," contends Ed Pillard of PricewaterhouseCoopers Consulting. Other business units are defined as customers, and Pillard says that IT units can shave costs from other departments by billing these "clients" according to IT resource use. He explains that billing based on floor space or staff size is an indication that business unit leaders have little influence on IT spending. CMX Group President Sid Finehirsh says that IT teams should have a more collaborative relationship with the other business units, and assist them in using technology to gain an edge. Still, Pillard notes that CIOs should keep in mind that some services can only be run by third-party outsourcers. Outsourcing is an especially sensible choice for small companies with finite budgets. Starbucks Coffee follows both these strategies: Karen Metro, vice president of Starbucks' North American business systems, says that IT staffers report directly to their business units, which set their own IT budgets, while the chief financial officer, IT managers, and unit heads meet on a regular basis to prioritize the company's IT costs; meanwhile, the company outsourced its Starbucks Card program last year to ValueLink, a third-party vendor.
- "Tactics Toughen on Music Piracy"
Los Angeles Times (08/21/02) P. C1; Pham, Alex
The music industry is becoming more aggressive in its efforts to clamp down on digital piracy. Most recently, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) filed a motion to force Verizon Communications to disclose the name of a customer reportedly trafficking hundreds of pirated songs, and sued four Internet backbone providers to block access to a China-based site that supplies pirated albums. Such maneuvers are intended to urge backbone providers to be more proactive in monitoring their networks; they also warn pirates--even those who operate outside the United States--that they can be tracked and stopped. David Farber of the University of Pennsylvania notes that the majority of North America's Internet traffic is channeled through four major backbone providers--UUNet, AT&T, Sprint, and Cable & Wireless. Such traffic heading for a blocked site could quickly and instantly be diverted, which is cause for worry among experts. "The concern is that the people who run these sites may never get their day in court," explains Mark Lemley of the University of California, Berkeley. Gartner analyst P.J. McNealy adds that policing the Internet "opens up a huge can of worms for [providers]." RIAA counsel Matthew Oppenheim describes suing backbone providers as a last resort.
- "U.S. Probes Firm In Security Breach"
Washington Post (08/21/02) P. E3; O'Harrow Jr., Robert
Hours after the Washington Post reported that ForensicTec Solutions consultants were able to break into computers at Fort Hood, the Energy Department, NASA, and other government centers using freely available software, federal law enforcement investigators searched the systems of the San Diego-based security company, according to officials. ForensicTec consultants said they accidentally discovered the vulnerabilities two months ago, and decided to explore them out of curiosity and amazement at such poor security. Sensitive files contained in the vulnerable machines were available for those in the know, or protected by easily guessed or easily circumvented passwords, the consultants explained. ForensicTec officials claimed that they disclosed the vulnerabilities in order to alert the government and "get some positive exposure." However, federal authorities consider this to be a criminal case. "Unauthorized intrusion into Army computers, regardless of the justification, violates federal law," declared Marc Raimondi of the Army Criminal Investigation Command. Tiffany Olson of the President's Critical Infrastructure Protection Board insisted that it is people's duty to report such vulnerabilities, not exploit them.
- "A Map of Wireless Controversy?"
ABC News Online (08/20/02); Stevenson, David
"Warchalking" and "wardriving" are activities designed to locate where people can establish an easy Wi-Fi connection. Wardrivers, for example, roam throughout neighborhoods on cars or bicycles, using laptops with Wi-Fi cards to identify strong wireless connections. These practices have drawn the attention of federal authorities. FBI special agent Bill Shore is concerned that warchalk maps could be used by terrorists, and urged members of Pittsburgh's business community to protect their wireless networks. "If someone has malicious intent, they can identify the network that is open, use that to log on and execute the attack, and then be gone," he adds. The Electronic Frontier Foundation's Cory Doctorow notes that Wi-Fi operators in cities such as New York and San Francisco advocate the sharing of wireless network access, and he says that the FBI's actions infringe on their rights. Furthermore, he contends that warchalkers are not responsible, and insists that the real culprit behind poor wireless network security is companies' failure to comply with security protocols.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Group Fear EU Surveillance Mission"
ZDNet (08/20/02); Wearden, Graeme
The European Parliament is discussing the revision of the 1997 EU Directive on privacy in telecommunications, which currently authorizes that communications-related data can only be retained for billing purposes and then must be erased. The British Internet organization Statewatch says that it has seen a copy of a binding "framework decision" that would force all European telephone carriers, ISPs, and mobile network operators to retain such data--customers' Web use, emails, and phone calls, for example--for up to 24 months so that governments and law enforcement agencies can access it. Statewatch editor Tony Bunyan notes that this goes against the EU governments' promise not to make amendments to the directive binding on member states. "Now we know that all along they were intending to make it binding, compulsory across Europe," he contends. Furthermore, Bunyan says that the basic rights of data protection, supervisory oversight, and judicial review would be eliminated by the draft network decision.
- "Moving Pages From Web to Wireless"
Wireless Newsfactor (08/20/02); Lyman, Jay
- "Plans Emerging for National Security Data Sharing"
Computerworld (08/20/02); Verton, Dan
In Philadelphia, over 900 defense and intelligence community specialists from both government and the private sector met yesterday to debate how to improve data sharing and collaborative efforts between federal, state, and local agencies in the event of a terrorist attack on the United States. Attendees agreed that the best course of action is to use federal IT investments to devise a national data-sharing framework, rather than build one from the ground up. One information-sharing project that dates back before Sept. 11 is the Intelligence Community System for Information Sharing (ICSIS), which supplies networks that have different security controls and classification levels with secure gateway interfaces and would allow analysts to exchange top-secret intelligence reports that have been cleaned up for public consumption. ICSIS is expected to be a step up from the Intelink classified intelligence community intranet, according to ICSIS director of architecture Dolly Greenwood. The system is in the first phase of development, and components being created include a public-key infrastructure, a directory to identify experts and analysts throughout the many intelligence community agencies, a collaborative tool suite, metadata and interoperability specs to maintain data discovery, and trusted and controlled interfaces between agency-specific communities. Meanwhile, Stephen Selwyn of the Intelligence Community CIO Office says that the Web-based Intelligence Community Collaborative Presence (ICCP) will be ready for implementation by November. ICCP will depend on digital certificates and Secure Socket Layer, and enable real-time, cross-community collaboration via a software-based tool kit. Meanwhile, Intelink's John Brantley notes that officials are developing more virtual private network links to supply secure interfaces between ICSIS and state, local, and federal agencies.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Pushing Back the Boundaries"
Financial Times (08/20/02) P. 8; Cane, Alan
Microsoft's Madelyn Bryant McIntire leads an effort to embed functionality within computers so that they are accessible to handicapped users whose disabilities range from slight to severe. She says the initiative is business-driven rather than philanthropic. Early Microsoft innovations for the disabled include Sticky Keys software that allows users to press one key at a time; ToggleKeys, a program that produces a musical note whenever a visually impaired user hits a locking key; and FilterKeys, which tweaks keyboard response to account for errors made by users afflicted with neuromuscular ailments. The release of Windows 2000 and Windows XP has brought with it a host of new accessibility options. Such tools include Magnifier, a program that enlarges text for the visually impaired, and Narrator, which assists blind users by reading words displayed on the screen. McIntire explains that the 14-year lag time between the launch of Sticky Keys and these latest applications is due to the complexity of the operating system, and some experts say that the accessibility tools are as much a marketing ploy as they are aids for the handicapped. In a manual published this year, Microsoft argues that businesses need to incorporate utilities for disabled personnel so that they can comply with regulations and avoid discrimination. McIntire adds that the new products are designed to aid handicapped users who occasionally need to use different computers, so it is not a matter of trying to vie with other software developers for the disabled market.
Click Here to View Full Article
(Access for paying subscribers only.)
- "The Cosmic Code"
U.S. News & World Report (08/19/02) Vol. 133, No. 7, P. 48; Petit, Charles W.
In his book "A New Kind of Science," physicist Stephen Wolfram boils down the universe to a simple computer program, one whose instructions have yet to be revealed. He uses a cellular automaton (CA) as the basis for his theory: A CA forms an architecture that dictates how discrete cells on a fixed grid change states as a result of changes in nearby cells. His research in the CA phenomenon led to an intuitive leap that the complexity of the universe follows the same model. Some scientists regard Wolfram's findings with skepticism, since such bold theories have been presented before without making a significant impact on mainstream science. Former director of MIT's computer science laboratory Ed Fredkin proposed a similar theory over three decades ago, stating that the universe is determined by integers. Princeton University mathematician John Conway disputes such notions, saying, "A CA behaves in a fundamentally different way than the rest of the universe." He notes that the CA model cannot account for certain things, such as the wave-like behavior of certain particles dictated by quantum mechanics, or the differing perception of events according to frame of reference, as outlined by Einstein. However, there are scientists who view physical interactions as calculations and flows of data, and MIT physicist Seth Lloyd acknowledges that it is conceivable to think of the universe as a vast computer, although it probably does not resemble the computers we are familiar with.
- "Nanoscale Metal Deposition Eyed for MRAMs"
EE Times (08/19/02); Johnson, R. Colin
Researchers at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory have discovered a way to reduce the energy needed to power magnetoresistive random-access memories (MRAMs), making the hardware more durable in the process. The scientists worked with colleagues from Sandia National Laboratories to create magnetic tunnel junctions just atoms thick. The thickness of these junctions determines the amount of power needed to change the magnetic properties that store data. Scientists had previously been forced to create magnetic tunnel junctions at unsuitable thicknesses, in order to keep the metal films from developing clumps. By introducing water fragments, the researchers were able to help the metal films crystallize much faster, before atoms began clustering. Chief scientist Scott Chambers says the discovery will help in the construction of instant-on computers, since the new technology would be able to store much more data while using far less power than existing nonvolatile storage technologies.
- "Notebook Overhaul on the Horizon"
CNet (08/19/02); Kanellos, Michael
Notebook computer designs are continuing to improve, especially as the notebook market continues to grow as the overall PC market declines. Gartner estimates that notebook sales rose 6.1 percent in the second quarter, adding fuel to the fires of innovation at notebook manufacturers. Notebook makers are constantly looking for new ways to add power, storage, and larger displays while extending battery life. Fuel cell technologies, which generate electricity from the molecular breakdown of methanol gas, are set to appear in notebooks in 2004 or 2005, according to Intel Capital's Mike Rocke. Intel is investing in several startups touting potential notebook technologies, including fuel cell firm PolyFuel and Cap-XX, which creates supercapacitors. Another upcoming feature for notebooks is always-on wireless network connections, which allow users to move in and out of Wi-Fi network coverage, using cellular coverage in between. IBM and startup OQO are also separately releasing handheld computers this year with all the capabilities of a full-fledged computer. Synaptics is also ready with a new touch pad that incorporates a second screen display on the pad itself, allowing for a number of auxiliary functions, such as messaging on-the-side and a separate application launch pad.
- "Report: Average Worker's Tech Skills Not Keeping Pace"
NewsFactor Network (08/19/02); Dudek, Virginia
The average professional will not have enough IT skills to compete in a job market that increasingly relies on workers well-versed in technology, according to a report from the National Policy Association. The nonprofit's senior vice president, James Auerbach, concludes that the lack of IT workers will therefore continue even after the economy starts to bounce back. The report was issued by the Digital Economic Opportunity Committee, which is developing training programs to boost the average worker's skills with the help of business, labor, education, government, and nonprofits. Auerbach insists that employee education is a continuous process, and all sectors need to be more proactive in the development of training programs. The viaLink Company's Jack Scott observes that the last 10 years has witnessed "a steady decline" in U.S. computer science graduates, and cites discouraging factors such as the field's lack of "sexiness" to students and "farm" programs that companies such as Microsoft and IBM require employees to complete. He also points out that tech expertise has shifted away from the United States to overseas regions in the same period. RHI Consulting's John Reed notes that more employee positions have opened up in the last month, but says that "The most successful candidates have years of experience and have been working for large companies."
- "Internet2's Network Adopts New Protocol for Addressing and Packaging Data"
Chronicle of Higher Education Online (08/16/02); Olsen, Florence
The Internet2 network serving many U.S. universities is now running Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6) alongside the old code used to manage Internet traffic. IPv6 will provide for virtually limitless Internet addresses and avoid the impending shortage of addresses many networking experts fear with IPv4, which only allows for about 4 billion addresses. In addition, IPv6 routes Internet traffic more efficiently and provides more streamlined operations for things such as multicasting video streams to many destinations. Internet2 operators expect to support both versions of the software on the Abilene network backbone until most users switch over to the new system, a changeover which may take several years, especially in the United States. Networks and users in other countries have been more quick to adopt IPv6 technologies, with France's Renater and the Dutch SURFnet advanced networks running IPv6, for example. For now, the Internet2 consortium and the IPv6 Forum will work to educate university network engineers about the new Internet standard by holding workshops.
- "New Act Tightens Software Licensing Laws"
VNUNet (08/16/02); Fielding, Rachel
Britain's Copyright and Trade Marks Act 2002 will target businesses that use unlicensed software, according to Bristows partner Rachel Burnett. Under the new legislation, businesses that make unsanctioned copies of copyrighted works will be subject to a maximum penalty of 10 years instead of two. Furthermore, the use of search warrants will be justified. In addition, Burnett says that the act would fortify previously enacted software usage laws, such as the Computer Misuse Act 1990 and the Copyright, Designs, and Patents Act 1988. She explains that "It may be difficult for some businesses to check up on the business-wide use of all their software, but they ought to be doing so for three reasons: to ensure that they are not paying out more in licensing and support fees than they should be; to be commercially aware of what they have available to them, whether software, machinery, or other resources; and to comply with the law." Burnett says it is unlikely in most cases that IT directors will draw a prison sentence for copyright offenses. However, the Federation Against Software Theft's latest Software Licensing Survey finds that 40 percent of 2,500 U.K. organizations lack software compliance management policies, which makes company directors liable for violations. The same survey notes that the percentage of organizations that consider software compliance a board-level issue has risen from 19 percent to 56 percent in the last year.
- "Sony Scientist: Robots Need Culture"
ZDNet UK (08/16/02); Broersma, Matthew
University of Brussels Professor Luc Steels, who also heads Sony's Computer Science Laboratories in Paris, believes that robots can become more intelligent by allowing them to interact with one another and develop their own forms of communication and "culture." Steels has overseen projects in which thousands of software agents control robots around the world by traveling throughout the Internet. These agents are capable of being "taught" to associate objects seen by the robots with certain words, and of interacting with other agents using those words; words and meanings therefore proliferate among the agents in much the same way they do in human culture. Steels's argument runs counter to that of experts who believe the key to robotic intelligence is the creation of increasingly complex machines. It also goes against the fundamental principle of the Turing test, in which a machine is considered to have human-like intelligence only if a person cannot distinguish between it and a human being in a conversation. The type of machine intelligence Steels envisions cannot be judged by such criteria, according to him. "There is a danger in the field of viewing humans as machines, as automata, the way biology looks at humans as complex machines," he says. Steels presented his theories at a conference in Bristol last week, where they were greeted with skepticism from other researchers.
- "Portable Plastic Power"
CIO (08/15/02); Brown, Justine
University of California, Berkeley researchers Paul Alivisatos and Janke Dittmer have developed a semiconductor-polymer voltaic cell that they claim can be painted onto any surface, enabling devices to be powered by solar energy whenever their batteries run low. Such cells are much more robust than silicon-based cells. "You could design a pocket calculator with a flexible solar cell, and it could take any shape--even round--and would be fully flexible," says Dittmer, who adds that the technology could also be applied to wearable electronics. The cells are composed of a nanorod-plastic combination positioned between a pair of electrodes; one electrode is made from transparent plastic and the other is fashioned from flexible aluminum. The cells do not need to be assembled in clean rooms or vacuum chambers, which means their manufacture will be simpler and cheaper than that of traditional cells. However, Dittmer notes that the technology needs to be made more efficient before it can be commercialized.