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 397: Wednesday, September 11, 2002
- "A Year Later, Online Privacy and Security Still Weak"
PCWorld.com (09/11/02); Brandt, Andrew
Online privacy has been eroded and security remains loose since the Sept. 11 attacks a year ago. Although resistance from the IT community helped prevent a national ID rollout and restrictions on encryption software, the government has more leeway to pilfer cyberspace for personal communications, as outlined in the Patriot Act. However, Electronic Frontier Foundation senior staff attorney Lee Tien says that new information is unlikely to benefit authorities unless they can deploy technology that will make their data useful. Likewise, on the industry front, Clyde Wayne Crews Jr. of the Cato Institute says that systems administrators need to have tighter procedures that enable them to keep up-to-date with security patches--of which Microsoft has issued an unprecedented amount this year. Meanwhile, Justice Department deputy chief Christopher Painter says the government has taken positive steps in this regard, emphasizing the FBI's private-sector liaison group, InfraGard, and putting more resources toward investigating cybercrimes, for example. Tien notes that "there's a new interest in surveillance technologies, even when its not required," as a result of Sept. 11. There is more interest in biometric security, for example, although he comments that it "not ready for prime time in a high-security environment." Privacy proponents are urging caution when it comes to extending authority, and particularly emphasize the need for oversight bodies. "Most of us do our job better if we're held accountable for how we do it," declares Ohio State University's Peter Swire.
- "Administration Pares Cyber-Security Plan"
Washington Post (09/10/02) P. A4; Cha, Ariana Eunjung
The Bush administration has made some revisions to the National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace in the hopes that industry will voluntarily adopt the plan, according to a government official. Companies have argued against certain recommendations as being anathema to innovation, but others contend that they are really trying to avoid implementation costs. "I've been really shocked at how companies have been acting in their own interest rather than in the national interest," declares SANS Institute director Alan Paller. Changes made to the plan include the omission of a recommendation that ISPs be required to bundle software and security technology together--instead, ISPs will be encouraged to give home users easier access to such safeguards. Several people involved in drafting the plan say the administration will not suggest that companies elect a privacy czar to monitor the corporate use of clients' personal data. The plan's most wide-ranging recommendations would limit the use of certain wireless technologies by federal workers, and require that government agencies only buy software certified as secure. Other recommendations being considered include federal and industry collaboration to ensure the security of computers that control critical infrastructure; the creation of a facility dedicated to the study of computer worms and viruses; programs to gather and study network information that flows through universities; and educating home users on basic computer security.
- "Worldwide 'War Drive' Exposes Insecure Wireless LANs"
Computerworld Online (09/09/02); Brewin, Bob
Many wireless LAN users do not deploy basic security measures, according to the results of a "Worldwide Wardrive" that was conducted in Europe and North America over the past week. Self-proclaimed hobbyists carried out the wardrive using free NetStumbler software downloaded off the Web, but analysts caution that malicious hackers or spies could take advantage of the security flaws uncovered. The results of the wardrive, which were posted to the Security Tribe Web site, include geographical locations of vulnerable wireless LAN access points (APs) derived from Global Positioning System (GPS) technology. Although most of the potentially vulnerable APs the hobbyists sniffed out were installed in households, hundreds more were business or government networks; this determination was made through the presence of a "tsunami" default Service Set Identifier (SSID). Meta Group analyst Chris Kozup notes that deactivating an AP SSID provides the most basic level of wireless LAN security, and the continued broadcast of SSIDs by so many corporate and consumer users demonstrates that security warnings appear to have fallen on mostly deaf ears. He also says the failure to turn off default SSIDs probably indicates that Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) encryption has likewise not been turned on. Kozup suggests that corporate IT departments should heed the findings of the Worldwide Wardrive and become more proactive in installing wireless LAN security. Areas that were surveyed by war drivers include California's Silicon Valley and Orange and San Diego counties, Chicago, Denver, Cleveland, and Barcelona and Cologne in Europe.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Organic Electronics"
Beyond 2000 (09/09/02)
The University of Arizona Optical Sciences Center is focusing on the deposition of ultrathin organic molecules onto plastic substrates in an effort to create electronics such as radio frequency (RF) tags that could, for instance, allow grocery items to communicate wirelessly with cash registers so that a bill is ready for customers by the time they reach checkout. "We can make multi-layer films with metal and organic layers that are then organic-electronic devices," explains Associate Professor Bernard Kippelen, who believes that such devices could be used as a low-cost substitute for silicon-based microelectronics in use today. His team not only hopes that the technology will yield RF grocery tags, but also smart cards equipped with flash memories, programmable wireless plastic keys, displays and light sources that can be folded up, and electronic ID tags. The plastic-organic substrate could cost only one penny per square centimeter to manufacture, whereas its silicon equivalent currently costs about a dollar. Organic semiconductors began to be incorporated into LCD light valves and xerography when it was discovered that exposure to visible light induces photoconductivity. Before then, the materials were mainly thought of as scientific curiosities. Kippelen's team wants to create organic electronic and optical devices whose low cost makes them highly versatile.
- "Firms Offer to Recycle TVs, Monitors to Avoid Government Fees"
Los Angeles Times Online (09/10/02); Bustillo, Miguel
Television manufacturers Panasonic, Sony, and Sharp plan to demonstrate that they can recycle their discarded products responsibly through the Electronics Recycling Shared Responsibility Program, thus obviating the need for government-imposed fees currently being debated. A proposal from California Sens. Byron Sher (D-Stanford) and Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles) calls for a maximum fee of $30 to be added to new purchases of televisions and computer monitors in order to fund recycling programs, but strong opposition from electronic industry trade groups and computer manufacturers has stalled its passage. Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.) has proposed similar measures in Congress. Panasonic, Sharp, and Sony will collaborate with California, Utah, and Idaho municipalities this fall in programs where they will pay most of the costs for recycling old products; Los Angeles and San Diego will be among the participants. The companies, which have established Midwest and Northeast initiatives as well, also hope to draw insight on the costs of a national recycling program. The recycling and safe disposal of e-waste is becoming a more and more serious political concern: Over 10,000 televisions and computer monitors containing toxic substances are thrown out each day in California alone, according to studies. Meanwhile, environmentalists note that a sizable portion of U.S. e-waste is exported to Asia, where inadequate disposal leads to public health problems and polluted groundwater.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "The UI of the Fifth Revolution"
The so-called Fifth revolution of computing will require a radical user interface that takes into consideration several aspects of mobile computing, including: A small form factor, voice input, profiling that allows devices to operate according to user preferences and common usage, simplicity, little necessity for a keyboard, and direct alerts. Interfaces based on Windows or Web browsers are not up to the job, given their complexity, poor voice integration, and dependence on visual representation. Increasing the variety of such interfaces to satisfy the needs of experienced users only serves to bewilder new users. Adapting all existing applications to a new UI is an arduous and difficult proposition. Web sites will have to transition to XML if they wish to take advantage of the new mobile technology. By including a number of components, the Fifth-revolution generation of interfaces could be far more effective. Such components include a message-oriented model that features an email-like menu of incoming messages that are sorted and prioritized; a display; voice integration and the use of voice input as a control cue; voice output; profiling that cuts down on menu options and organizes the way users employ mobile technology; and a spreadsheet that incorporates diverse applications such as Web access and associated security, messaging, transactional and payment capabilities, remote appliance control, and geolocation.
- "Hewlett Takes A Step Forward In the World Of Tiny Chips"
New York Times (09/10/02) P. C1; Markoff, John
Hewlett-Packard scientists have unveiled a process for manufacturing molecular electronics at lower cost and much higher density than the most sophisticated semiconductor chips being used today. The breakthrough was disclosed today by Dr. R. Stanley Williams of HP's Quantum Science Research unit at a symposium in honor of the 175th anniversary of Sweden's Royal Institute of Technology; the researchers announced that they have been using the process to produce working circuits for almost 12 months. Using a technique pioneered by Stephen Y. Chou of Princeton University's nanostructures laboratory, the HP team created a master mold for an array of parallel platinum wires via electron beam lithography. A layer of switchable molecules was placed atop the wires, and a second layer of wires was molded, crisscrossing the first; electronically adjusting the properties of the molecules positioned at each wire junction allows digital ones and zeros to be read and written. Dr. Williams believes that the wires could be scaled down to a width of 2 nm and spaced apart in 10-nm intervals, and such dimensions could yield devices capable of storing one trillion bits of data per square centimeter, compared to the half-billion-bit limit of current semiconductor memories. HP's breakthrough is the latest in a number of recent developments in the field of molecular electronics; up to a dozen private-sector startups are also pursuing similar goals. The HP researchers say they can scale down the process so that they can build 16,000-bit memories by 2004, per a challenge from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. One unusual property of the switches produced by HP's process is a huge fluctuation in electrical resistance that existing theoretical physics cannot account for.
(Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors must register.)
- "Quantum Software Gets the Picture"
Technology Research News (09/11/02); Smalley, Eric
University of British Columbia physicist Ralf Schutzhold has developed an algorithm that proves that a quantum computer would be able to discern a linear pattern faster than a conventional machine. His algorithm draws patterns from raw data, which is a critical first step in pattern recognition applications. Using the algorithm, a quantum computer would be able to find an 8x8 grid of alternating black and white squares incorporated into a randomly distributed 640-square configuration. A classical computer would have to carry out approximately 6,000 steps to arrive at a solution, whereas the unique properties of quantum bits (qubits) would enable a quantum computer to study all possible solutions simultaneously. Schutzhold notes that detecting patterns is an important component of software designed to recognize speech, faces, and handwriting, as well as sort through massive quantities of scientific data. He contends that the exponential processing speed provided by quantum computers would enable scientists to solve problems that would take regular computers "longer than the age of the universe" to crack. The main purpose of Schutzhold's algorithm is to demonstrate that quantum computers can accelerate image processing, according to David Meyer of the University of California at San Diego. Analysts say it likely will take two decades to develop practical quantum computers.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Mozilla Rising"
Salon.com (09/10/02); Manjoo, Farhad
- "An Insider's Look at Homeland Security and Technology"
PC Magazine Online (09/06/02); Ulanoff, Lance
In an interview with PC Magazine, Office of Homeland Security CIO Steve I. Cooper discusses how his group characterizes and implements anti-terror technologies. Component areas he cites include intelligence-gathering; integration; information security; sensing and detection; knowledge management; wireless devices; and geospatial technology. Cooper notes that his office has consulted with about 1,000 companies to work out a technology plan, and lists three major strategies the government employs to balance technology's protective capabilities with emerging security threats: the establishment of information sharing and analysis centers (ISACs) that encompass critical infrastructure; maintaining close relationships with vendors who sell software to federal agencies; and Red Teams positioned in key agencies that constantly challenge IT security to spot holes. He notes that his office is working to rapidly deploy technologies designed to prevent another terrorist attack, such as more sophisticated screeners for airports, consolidated watch lists, and intelligent software that can analyze non-obvious relationships. He admits that although the Internet can be exploited by terrorists, it offers far more advantages in terms of incident management and disaster response and recovery; he also extols instant messaging, groupware and collaboration products, and EAI software as applications that could be potentially beneficial to government. Cooper describes his office's development of a technology framework as a two-pronged strategy: an IT investment review board meets each week to hash out the decision process and criteria for promoting new technologies, while the CIOs of all the agencies included in the Office of Homeland Security will concentrate on IT infrastructure. Both groups will benefit from a national enterprise architecture that is currently under construction. Cooper maintains that a careful balance must be struck between security and civil liberties, and expects an XML tag to be used as a meta-standard for monitoring information stored in government databases.
- "Hot Spots"
Boston Globe (09/09/02) P. C1; Denison, D.C.
The Boston area's roughly 100 public Wi-Fi access points, or hot spots, are a mix of free and for-fee services, reflecting a growing trend nationwide to create both free "community networks" for individuals and "for-pay" projects aimed at business users. There are 61 wireless-enabled Starbucks cafes in Boston, which have been equipped with dedicated T1 connections in partnership with T-Mobile, which sees the service as complementary to their other wireless offerings. T-Mobile's Frank Ramirez says the Starbucks rollout is aimed at business users, and provides the reliability of service not found with free providers. Although usage is at a bare minimum right now, Ramirez says it will pick up as Wi-Fi becomes more pervasive, especially as it is built into new laptops as a default amenity. Meanwhile, Michael Oh, president of a local Apple retailer, has set up a free Wi-Fi service for businesses and other users neighboring his office. He and other local enthusiasts have set up free, ad hoc Wi-Fi networks throughout the country, though there are more concentrations of them in San Francisco and New York. Yankee Group wireless analyst Sarah Kim says that Wi-Fi adoption will be helped by both groups, as well as the influx of graduated college students, who have wireless-equipped laptops and a familiarity with Wi-Fi technology already. She predicts that Wi-Fi will expand "in fits and starts," with developments in both the free and for-fee services.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "National Science Foundation Launches Grid Testbed"
Internet.com (09/06/02); Shread, Paul
The National Science Foundation is overseeing a program that uses eight American universities as trial sites for grid computing technologies developed under the aegis of the National Science Foundation Middleware Initiative (NMI). The NMI Integration Testbed is being used to deploy and assess software designed to enable academic researchers and faculty to share applications, information, and scientific equipment over the Internet. The efforts of the eight academic sites, which include the University of Florida, the University of Texas' Texas Advanced Computing Center, and Georgia State University (GSU), will be coordinated by the Southeastern Universities Research Association (SURA) and focus on the practical components of the technologies, such as performance, ease of use, technical support, and durability. NMI Release 1 is currently being evaluated by the testbed, while the assessment of NMI Release 2, which will be available in the fall, is forthcoming. The Texas Advanced Computing Center's Mary Thomas explains that her institution is taking advantage of the technology supplied by NMI to build campus-wide and state-wide grids that boast unified software environments that will allow a shared computational infrastructure to be built quickly. Meanwhile, Art Vandenberg of GSU says that his university is building an eUniversity infrastructure based on NMI elements, which will be used "to support our online teaching, research, and administrative services."
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Single Atom Memory Device Stores Data"
New Scientist Online (09/10/02); Knight, Will
Researchers from the University of Wisconsin and Switzerland's University of Basel collaborated on the development of an atomic memory system that allows data to be stored in individual atoms. The system enables one atom to represent the difference between a one and a zero, notes the University of Wisconsin's Franz Himpsel. Such a system could store millions of times more information onto a computer disk than current hard drives. The scientists employed a scanning tunneling microscope to add or remove an individual atom of silicon from a block of 20 other atoms, which are held in an array of dimples formed by evaporating a layer of gold on a silicon wafer; the data bits were also read with the microscope. The atomic drive can function at room temperature because the atoms are tightly packed, while the microscope is used to pluck the atoms rather than push them. The researchers stored several dozen bits in the demonstration, although the storage density achievable with their technique is equivalent to 250 TB per square inch. However, Himpsel and his team note that low energy levels and the time it takes to write information using their method cannot match current memory technology speeds. Tom Theis of IBM's T.J. Watson Research Center says the work of scientists such as Himpsel may clear a path to the development of memory systems that mirror the behavior of DNA and other biological systems.
- "Digital Divide"
National Journal (09/07/02) Vol. 34, No. 36, P. 2532; Clark, Drew; Vaida, Bara
Legislators have become embroiled in the heated argument between Silicon Valley and the entertainment industry over the enforcement of copyright protection on the Internet. Earlier this year, top Hollywood executives such as Peter Chernin and Michael Eisner claimed that tech companies have supported digital piracy by delaying efforts to shield TV shows from unauthorized duplication, and voiced their support of legislation requiring these companies to develop copy protection technology within a year; Silicon Valley figures such as Intel's Les Vadasz countered that such a move would "do irreparable damage" to "the dynamics of the technology industry." Battle lines have been drawn, and a raft of digital content protection bills have been introduced, supported by Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-Calif.), and Rep. Howard Coble (R-N.C.), among others. Vadasz and others in the tech industry contend that music companies and movie studios have encouraged digital piracy by refusing to adopt an online business model and supply the digital content that consumers want. MPAA President Jack Valenti organized a strategy that all the studios could agree upon: To lobby Congress to legislate broadcast flag technology, make copy protection technology a basic component of all digital devices, and force tech firms to find ways to block peer-to-peer distribution of copyrighted content. Hollywood's leading champion is Sen. Ernest F. Hollings (D-S.C.), who proposed the one-year deadline for tech companies to enhance electronics with anti-copying safeguards. House Energy and Committee Chairman W.J. "Billy" Tauzin (R-La.) wants both sides to cooperate, if legislators are to ensure that digital TV technology will be adopted by all broadcasters by 2006. In the meantime, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and other civil libertarian groups are raising their voices to see that consumers' rights are not trampled on.
- "Electronics in the Round: Mixing Plastics and Silicon Yields Form-Fitting Circuitry"
Science News (08/31/02) Vol. 162, No. 9, P. 133; Weiss, Peter
In the Aug. 26 issue of Applied Physics Letters, Princeton University's Pai-Hui I. Hsu and colleagues describe their efforts to combine silicon-based transistors with polyimide plastic in order to create circuitry that can be molded to any surface. Such circuits would offer even more capabilities than current flexible electronic technology. Study co-author Sigurd Wagner notes that one potential future application is a compact camera with an enlarged field of view, while other possibilities include an artificial skin that could form the basis for enhanced prostheses and environmentally-sensitive robots that exhibit more human-like behavior. The Princeton team patterned the transistors onto the plastic films using conventional microcircuit fabrication techniques, then heated the films to around 200 degrees Celsius while simultaneously inflating them from below, creating a curved shape. Metal wires were positioned between the transistors. Challenges that still need to be met include finding a way to prevent surface shrinkage during cooling, and making sure that all the deposited wires are functional. The Princeton project "seems practical and a good direction to pursue in further development," says Harvard University's George M. Whitesides.
- "Seeking CRM Integration"
InfoWorld (09/02/02) Vol. 24, No. 35, P. 1; April, Carolyn A.; Harreld, Heather
Companies that must integrate their diverse CRM applications while minimizing deployment costs are turning to a number of solutions. Best-of-breed applications can be linked together via EAI or messaging middleware, while data warehousing, Web services, and one-stop shopping are also viable options. International Data's Michele Rosen explains that integrating CRM applications "comes after the fact," and aligning different silos of customer information is a difficult process. Judith Franklin of the Minnesota Department of Vehicle Services (DVS) transformed the organization from a paper-bound model that forced drivers to wait an average of two weeks to renew their licenses to an efficient system of integrated CRM applications that enables real-time customer data exchange and electronic transactions. She chose Web-to-host software to merge DVS' stateside systems network with the mainframe database. Business models and Web-based applications were built by an internal development team. Meanwhile, in April Siebel Systems released its Universal Application Network (UAN) strategy; using UAN architecture, which is vendor-independent and standards-based, businesses would be able to quickly roll out prepackaged business processes as well as revise processes at a moment's notice. Other vendors that ERP companies are hiring to handle CRM integration include Oracle, WRQ, SAP, and PeopleSoft.
- "Retaining Top Talent"
PM Network (08/02) Vol. 16, No. 8, P. 6
Many countries are stepping up efforts to prevent the loss of highly skilled professionals to other countries, according to a study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Developing countries suffer the most brain drain as researchers, scientists, and IT experts emigrate to developed countries. The study suggests countries should staunch this movement by establishing centers of excellence promoting scientific research, innovation, and entrepreneurship. The OECD acknowledges that the effort will be long-term and difficult to carry out. The loss of top thinkers remains a problem for India and China especially, as 79 percent of PhD recipients from India and 88 percent from China in 1990-91 were still working in the United States in 1995, OECD says. Taiwan is also facing a brain drain as professionals leave for better salaries and benefits in mainland China. Australia, Canada, and the United States are the biggest recipients of foreign-born talent, reports OECD. Meanwhile, Germany, France, and the United Kingdom are implementing new initiatives to attract more professionals.
- "Business Process Management"
CIO Insight (08/02) No. 17, P. 59; Kirkpatrick, Terry A.
Approximately 70 percent of 727 executives polled by CIO Insight in August report that their companies are continuously improving their business processes and are very committed to such a goal, but little more than one-third describe their processes as well-defined; IT, customer service, and finance boast the most well-defined processes. More than three-quarters of respondents report that their business managers are satisfied with IT support for business processes, while 34 percent designate enterprise resource planning (ERP) as helpful in improving overall business process management. Follow-up conversations with survey participants show that understanding corporate operations and the needs of personnel is even more highly valued than technical skills, while more than one department is likely to be involved in process change nowadays. The sales department appears to have the most difficulty in effecting process change, since sales staff have trouble aligning their routines with new technologies and information, according to Paul Bascobert of Braun Consulting. S&D Coffee CIO Barry Hobbs points out that gaining sales managers' trust is another critical element of process change. The majority of the respondents lists cutting costs as the primary driver of their companies' business process change strategies, followed by improving productivity and increasing revenue. Barriers to business process change include a lack of clear value from process management software and strained relations between the sales and marketing departments. However, the survey finds that most companies are accepting IT as a partner in business process change.
- "A Year After 9/11: Where Are We Now?"
Communications of the ACM (09/02) Vol. 45, No. 9, P. 35; Davies, Simon
One year after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, digital technologies and communications media have drawn fire from key figures as contributing to the tragedy. These same parties are pressuring Congress, state governments, and international administrations to severely limit open-source information, encryption, and the right to privacy, while increasing surveillance measures and proscribing ID cards, among other things. Advocates maintain that the reevaluation of civil liberties implied by such developments is necessary in order to make society safer. However, the debate is raging on how genuinely helpful public security measures can be discerned from those that are merely opportunistic, and government agencies are not immune to this opportunism. For instance, the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act Congress passed is strongly supported by nations eager to equip their entry points with biometric technology, even though it lacks reliability. This could lead to disastrous human and technical errors, as could the clampdown on money laundering proscribed by the Patriot Act. Policies pioneered by American legislation are influencing legislation around the world: The European Commission is urging all EU members to categorize hacker attacks as terrorist acts if their intention is to destabilize "the political, economic, or social structures;" the French government has authorized the police to search private property without warrants; and Germany has eased up phone tapping and email surveillance strictures. Meanwhile, the United States has scaled back the oversight for communication and traffic data access, and added more exceptions to the Freedom of Information Act.