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 5, Issue 447: Friday, January 17, 2003
- "Increase in Electronic Attacks Leads to Warning on Iraqi Hackers and U.S. Safety"
New York Times (01/17/03) P. A10; Lichtblau, Eric
An evaluation prepared last week by the FBI's National Infrastructure Protection Center warns that a national security crisis could be looming, as evidenced by a recent increase in electronic attacks on military and government networks. These disruptions took the form of low-level Web page defacements, denial of service attacks, and "probes" and "scans" designed to gauge how vulnerable networks are. The FBI report indicated that pro-Iraqi hackers could be behind the attacks, and advised intelligence officials to prepare for broader, "more dangerous" intrusions stemming from growing tension over a possible military conflict with Iraq. "A cyberattack really fits Saddam Hussein's paradigm for attacking us," commented Rep. Robert E. Andrews (D-N.J.), a member of the House Armed Service Committee. However, Gordon Johndroe of the Homeland Security Department said that no connection has as yet been established between hacks into government networks and Hussein's regime, adding that Iraq is more focused on building a stockpile of physical weapons. Dartmouth College's Michael Vatis, former director of the FBI cybercrime unit, noted that Iraq may have a cyberwarfare program under development, but it is probably nowhere near as sophisticated as Chinese and Russian initiatives. Still, he cautioned, "Even a middling capability can cause serious harm." Tim Madden, a spokesman for Maj. Gen. J. David Bryan of Joint Task Force-Computer Network Operations, reported that assaults on the U.S. military's computer networks are launched and dealt with "on a daily basis," while their success rate is below 2 percent.
(Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors must register.)
- "Justices OK Copyright Extension"
Los Angeles Times (01/16/03) P. A1; Savage, David G.
The Supreme Court ruled 7-2 this week that a 1998 federal law extending copyrights for another 20 years was constitutional, handing a big win to the entertainment industry, which still reaps large profits from icons and classics that are being reworked in new formats such as DVDs. On the losing side, however, are Internet archivists and scholars who want to make older, out-of-circulation works accessible again. The court said that Congress' decision to grant another extension to copyrights might not be wise, but that it was within its constitutional right to do so. With the 14th copyright extension granted owners by Congress, works by individuals are secured for 70 years after the author or composer's death, while films are protected for 95 years. The movie industry argued that exclusive ownership gave it incentive to restore and preserve aging movies, while the archivists and academics on the other side said private groups and individuals would provide the resources necessary to restore and distribute old works. In support of the copyright extension were many trade groups, including the Writers Guild of America, the Directors Guild of America, and the Screen Actors Guild. In the majority ruling, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg did not mention the fairness of the law upheld or whether it was beneficial, but stuck to the core question of whether Congress adhered to wording in the Constitution. Stanford law professor Lawrence Lessig, who represented Internet archivist Eric Eldred in the case, said Congress was ignoring language that said copyrights should be issued for "limited times."
Click Here to View Full Article
(Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors must register.)
- "Senators Vow to Halt 'Data Mining' Project"
SiliconValley.com (01/17/03); Puzzanghera, Jim
The Pentagon's Total Information Awareness project aims to build a database of electronic information on Americans and root out suspected terrorists via data mining, but this has raised the ire of civil libertarians as well as members of Congress. In response, Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) outlined a revision to the proposed $390 billion federal budget Thursday night that would halt the project pending a serious assessment of the technology involved and how it could affect civil liberties. Furthermore, the amendment would include a ban preventing the Pentagon or any other agency from scrutinizing Americans with the system, thus restricting its use to foreign intelligence analysis or overseas military operations. Feinstein press officer Scott Gerber says that Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) will add the revision to the spending bill. "Our country must fight terrorists, but America should not unleash virtual bloodhounds to sniff into the financial, educational, travel and medical records of millions of Americans," Wyden declared. Meanwhile, Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) announced a bill Thursday calling for the suspension of all data mining projects in the Pentagon and the Homeland Security Department. Supporting his proposal was Wyden, Sen. John Corzine (D-N.J.), ACLU officials, electronic-privacy proponents, Americans for Tax Reform, and the Free Congress Foundation. It is estimated that data-mining projects in the Pentagon will cost $137 million in fiscal 2003, while the Congressional Research Service reckons that they could total up to $575 million between 2004 and 2007.
- "Spam Confab: Hackers to Rescue?"
Wired News (01/15/03); Jaffe, Justin
Hackers are gathering at MIT this week in order to discuss anti-spam technology, since email spam has become the bane of the Internet, according to many users. According to a Harris Interactive survey, 74 percent of respondents favor legislation making spam illegal, while 80 percent describe spam as "very annoying." Conference organizer Paul Graham rallied the hacking community in August 2002 with his "A Plan For Spam" publication, which some have criticized for giving spammers insight into anti-spam efforts. But Graham says anti-spam technology will have to work with spammers knowing the code inside and out, and predicts that some of the conference's 500 attendees may be spammers doing reconnaissance. Bill Yazerunis says his CRM114 Discriminator filter blocks 99.9 percent of undesirable mass mailings, but that it will not be able to solve the entire problem until it is deployed on major email providers such as Hotmail and Yahoo. One MIT researcher, Michael Smith, plans to weigh in with his anti-spam technology that he derived from work in electro-engineering, while hacking guru John Draper will unveil a new spam management system that will let users report infractions more easily to authorities. Other attendees say technological weapons are not enough, and that serious threats such as spam need to have legal solutions as well.
- "Gadget Makers Join the Scramble to Zap the 'Power Gap'"
Wall Street Journal (01/16/03) P. B1; Tam, Pui-Wing
Mobile device manufacturers are struggling to power their gadgets, to which extra power-hungry features are being added all the time. Cell phones and handhelds now commonly feature digital cameras and color screens, for example. But while the need for power continues to ratchet up in scale quickly, traditional mobile power sources--lithium-ion and nickel-based batteries--are increasing by just 8 percent to 10 percent each year. H-P Labs emerging technologies project manager Alfred Pan says that in the next four to five years a sizeable power gap will be evident. In response, many companies are working on products that will alleviate this problem, such as fuel-cell maker MTI MicroFuel Cells, which claims fuel cells will eventually produce five to 10 times more power than regular rechargeable batteries. Intermec, which makes handheld devices for industrial use, plans to use a MTI MicroFuel Cells product soon. Meanwhile, MobileWise unveiled a wireless recharging technology last October that uses a tiny microchip embedded in the device that taps power from a recharging base station pad. The system works only at close range and would not provide any performance advantage over current systems except that it eliminates wires. Gartner analyst Jim Tully says about a half dozen other fuel-cell companies are working on fuel cells for mobile devices, some in conjunction with cell phone makers, but he adds that the technology will not be widely used for another five to 10 years. Meanwhile, Valence Technology has build a new lithium-ion battery that is as thin as paper and can be shaped in odd forms, making it ideal for mobile devices with slim form factors. In addition, the company changed the chemistry of the battery so that it will not combust if malfunctioning, as some lithium-ion batteries have in the past.
- "WSIS: Delegates Fail to Agree on Open-Source 'Support'"
IDG News Service (01/15/03); Williams, Martyn
Delegates to the Asian Regional Conference, a precursor to the U.N. World Summit on the Information Society to take place in December, failed to agree on language "supporting" open-source software. The final draft instead "encouraged" open-source software and standards to be developed by member nations, a change backed by a U.S. delegation worried about its proprietary software industry. Among the multitude of issues discussed at the conference were information security, intellectual property rights, and the digital divide. Topics are proposed at the conference for further discussion at the U.N. summit in December. Participants included delegates from 48 nations, 21 international groups, 53 private-sector representatives, and 116 non-governmental organizations (NGOs), who agreed the Asian region was especially susceptible to cyberterrorism and cybercrime. Delegates also said intellectual property rights needed protection in order to foster innovation, but with safeguards for users as well. Japanese official Yoshio Tsukio reiterated a consensus view that an international framework was needed to address issues of intellectual property and information security. In addition, the top U.N. official in Asia, Kim Hak Su, said other developed nations should follow Japan's lead in offering IT assistance to poorer nations without strategies and means to connect their populace. He also said governments alone would not be able to stop the digital divide from widening, but needed the help of the private sector.
- "Bouncing Signals Push the Limits of Bandwidth"
New York Times (01/16/03) P. E5; Austen, Ian
Radio spectrum may not be as constrained as once thought, since work at Bell Labs has uncovered a signal diffusion method that can dramatically increase transmission speed and quality. The Blast technology works on 3G cellular networks and is based on the work of Bell Labs researcher Gerard J. Foschini, who was revisiting the seminal information theory work of Bell Labs mathematician Claude Shannon. Foschini found that wireless system capacity could be multiplied when data was parsed and sent and received via multiple antennas instead of just one in traditional systems. The signals are sent over the same frequency, which in traditional wireless transmissions would produce unintelligible noise. But Blast depends on processing power to recreate the original signal from multiple transmissions, and the more antennas, the greater the capacity, up to eight times faster than normal 3G transmissions. Foschini says he was surprised at the system's measure of success, and especially that quality improved as the number of same-frequency transmissions increased. In traditional systems, signals that bounce off buildings and similar barriers collide and cancel one another out, causing "dead spots" in coverage. Bell Labs has already made prototype chips for cell phones and handheld computers that enables Blast to operate at 19.2 Mbps on 3G networks, but achieving higher speeds would require chips too powerful for handhelds. Current wireless systems can use Blast technology by adding new base stations and other inexpensive upgrades, but the military is likely to be the first users of the technology.
(Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors must register.)
- "NASA, Universities to Launch Nanoelectronics Institute"
The NASA Institute for Nanoelectronics and Computing is a joint project between the space agency and six universities--Purdue, Cornell, Yale, the University of California at San Diego, and the University of Florida. The facility, which will be officially launched on Thursday in West Lafayette, Ind., will be based at Purdue's Birck Nanotechnology Center, and incorporate the Burton D. Morgan Center for Entrepreneurship, the Bindley Bioscience Center, and an e-Enterprise center. The research conducted at the center will be critical to producing autonomous spacecraft that use miniature supercomputers for brains, enabling them to function in space with little guidance from mission control, according to Meyya Meyyappan of NASA Ames Research Center. Researchers from the half-dozen participating universities will focus on creating nanoscale electronics that will support the data collection, storage, computation, sensing, and communication requirements of such intelligent ships. "Innovative technologies developed under the auspices of the institute will benefit the U.S. space program for decades to come," declared Purdue President Martin C. Jischke. "The research also will benefit Indiana and society in general through possible technology spinoffs; and it will provide learning opportunities for our best students, who represent the coming generation of scientists and engineers." NASA has founded seven new university research, engineering, and technology centers, the NASA Institute for Nanoelectronics being one of them.
- "Quantum Bits Need to Catch a Virtual Bus"
NewsFactor Network (01/16/03); Martin, Mike
Researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) say that most proposals for a quantum computer lack a key component--namely, a mechanism that can transfer quantum bits (qubits) between computer elements. NIST atomic physicist Carl Williams writes in a recent paper that he and two colleagues have proposed the division of the machine's physical qubits into static nodes of quantum memory linked together by "a dynamic bus of qubits." This bus is virtual, rather than physical--in fact, Manny Knill of the Los Alamos National Laboratory characterizes it as "a virtual interconnection network for the [necessarily] massively parallel quantum computer architectures." Williams explains that this concept would give quantum computers a configuration similar to that of classical computers as outlined by John von Neumann. Other researchers have proposed an alternative solution in which the physical qubit is converted into a photon, notes NIST scientist Gavin Brennen, a colleague of Williams. Such "flying qubits" can transfer quantum data between locations, unlike corporeal, "stationary qubits" used to store quantum memory. However, Brennen explains that connecting flying and stationary qubits is usually complicated, and adds that the bus concept obviates the need to convert between these two states.
- "Lack of a Viable Business Model Is Stifling Software Innovation"
InternetWeek (01/14/03); Wagner, Mitch
Serial software entrepreneur Dave Winer believes Silicon Valley will no longer serve as a breeding ground for software innovation because it lacks a business model for funding creativity in software development. The dotcom bust did not convince venture capitalists to abandon tech funding, says Winer, who maintains tech companies were never given money for technology. Instead, the former CEO of Userland Software says venture capitalists were more concerned about generating hype, and using their money for advertising, buying office space, and throwing parties. Winer, who left Userland to become a fellow at the Berkman Center for the Internet & Society at Harvard Law School, acknowledges that big companies are innovative when it comes to enterprise applications such as customer relationship management, but desktop applications for personal productivity and Web publishing are the domain of small vendors, which tend to lack the funding to improve products. The open source community is unlikely to fill this role because making good desktop software demands user interface design and usability testing, and developers who are willing to endure the tedious task of observing how users interact with products. Small vendors may have to rely on endowments or donations from users. Winer believes when consumers buy products, essentially, "they were saying, 'Hey, I like this software, I want to give you more money so you can create more software like this." And he believes Weblogs will serve as a helpful communications tool for developers of desktop applications.
- "UN Summit Could Spark Net Regulation Talks"
InfoWorld.com (01/13/03); Williams, Martyn
International Telecommunications Union Secretary General Yoshio Utsumi hopes an upcoming U.N. summit on the information society will spur talks on an international framework for intellectual property rights, tax, law, and individual rights on the Internet. He says the World Summit on the Information Society will not likely tackle any specific issues at that time, but he says a general agreement that such talks are needed would be very good. Utsumi envisions nations coming together to lay out a common framework establishing people's freedom of speech and privacy rights, while at the same time protecting business interests. A draft declaration of a three-day Tokyo conference Utsumi attended this week supports this goal, and the necessary talks leading up to it. Utsumi says the U.N. summit, which will take place in December, should produce an action plan that ensures talks will be carried out. He says, "We need a common framework or regulatory regime because [the information society] is borderless...we have to solve the problem of taxation, cybercrime or confidence in the Internet."
- "Senators Introduce Wireless Broadband Bill"
InternetNews.com (01/15/03); Mark, Roy
Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) says the debate over broadband rollout has so far been limited to the two dominant technologies, cable and digital subscriber line (DSL), but that alternative technologies could provide a good solution. His Jumpstart Broadband Act, co-sponsored by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), would require the Federal Communications Commission to allocate 255 megahertz or more of uninterrupted spectrum in the 5-gigahertz band to wireless broadband providers for unlicensed use. The act also lays down important rules, such as those defining interference protection and a mandate that Department of Defense systems not be disturbed. Allen says the legislation will give Wi-Fi wireless broadband technology more credence among customers, companies, and investors, and that it will enable new business models to be built using that technology. Like other broadband Internet proponents, Allen expects increased broadband adoption to revive the IT and telecommunications sectors, as well as improve quality of life. He says, "The goal of the Jumpstart Broadband Act is to create an environment that embraces innovation and encourages the adoption of next-generation wireless broadband Internet devices."
- "Grid Computing Good for Business"
Wired News (01/16/03); Dotinga, Randy
Commercial interest in grid computing is picking up. The technology allows companies to share computing resources within their own firms, as well as with partners outside. Ian Foster, University of Chicago professor and co-leader of the Globus Project, said the involvement of businesses in the field will likely influence grid computing development. Foster recently announced the pre-beta version of the open-source Globus Toolkit 3.0 at the GlobusWorld conference in San Diego. IBM grid computing general manager Tom Hawk describes the technology's appeal to companies as being able to share computing resources the same way information is shared on the Web. He says, "It's kind of like the Borg--all the resources become part of the collective, but in a good way." Grid computing for companies is similar to the SETI@home distributed computing project, which tapped home users' PCs, except now it uses enterprises' supercomputing power and more complex software. Many firms already employ limited grid computing when they link machines into clusters, but advanced tools will one day enable them to scale beyond the enterprise and share resources among many firms. Still, Globus Project co-leader Carl Kesselman warns against uninformed enthusiasm about grid computing, and predicts that its impact will not be obvious to many users in the form of any single "killer app." For some, grid computing has become a competitive advantage, such as with multiplayer online gaming company Butterfly.net or Charles Schwab, which uses grid computing for data analysis.
- "Tech's Future--Smart Dust and Ratbots"
CNet (01/15/03); Kawamoto, Dawn
Smart dust, ratbots, and lily pads are three of nine technologies that could one day change peoples lives, according to IDC analysts John Gantz and David Emberely. Ratbots, for example, may help rats and other creatures send brain messages to a PC through implants. A ratbot configuration has rats wear a special backpack connected to sensors that are placed inside their brains. If used for humans, such technology could aid people with artificial limbs and those experiencing memory loss, or for tracking individuals, say Gantz. Smart dust, meanwhile, alludes to small, intelligent sensors used for civilian and military purposes such as logistics, tracking, and maintenance; an Australian company is already using the technology to pinpoint deteriorating wheel bearings on train wheels. Another potential technology is the nanotube, which is extra-strong and gives off light. Nanotubes could be adapted for use in flat panel displays or computer circuits. But some sectors may be opposed to the idea of lily pads, or connecting wireless networks together--carriers would be reluctant to share data over their networks because of commercial interests, say Gantz. Other promising technologies identified by IDC include grid computing, nanomachines, plastic transistors, quantum computing, and the Semantic Web.
- "Feds Seek Public Input on Hacker Sentencing"
SecurityFocus Online (01/13/03); Poulsen, Kevin
The United States Sentencing Commission (USSC) engaged the public for advice last week on whether prison or probation sentences for cybercriminals are adequate enough, or should be stronger. Michael O'Neill of George Mason University Law School says, "We want to know whether or not the relevant community...believes that serious penalties will deter people from engaging in that sort of conduct." The public can provide suggestions by accessing a formal "Issue for Comment" posted on the USSC Web site; the period for public comment will continue until Feb. 18. In addition to a general overview of the question of whether penalties for cyber miscreants are strong enough, the forum seeks advice on eight proposals to take additional factors into consideration when determining a sentence. One proposal suggests adding points--and thus extra jail time--to sentences if the hackers commit their crimes for financial gain, or to violate a person's privacy. For now, the sentencing guidelines for computer crimes are the same as those for larceny, embezzlement, and theft, in which the financial loss inflicted is the primary consideration. However, the Homeland Security Act and the congressional emphasis on cyberterrorism required the USSC to review its cyber crime sentencing guidelines so that they take into account "the serious nature of such offenses, the growing incidence of such offenses, and the need for an effective deterrent and appropriate punishment to prevent such offenses." The Homeland Security Act also authorized the creation of penalties for hackers whose activities result in a loss of human life. Orin Kerr of George Washington University Law School thinks that computer crime sentences are as harsh as normal sentences, if not harsher, according to some provisions.
- "Consumer Electronics Show Panel Addresses E-Waste"
Environment News Service (01/13/03)
Electronic waste was the big topic of discussion Saturday during the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The consumer electronics industry addressed the tough issue of e-waste with a panel on electronics recycling, which included representatives from Panasonic and Dell Computers. The big consumer electronics manufacturer and computer maker used the panel discussion to explain their efforts to collect their products, dismantle them, and dispose of lead and other potential toxics such as chromium, cadmium, mercury, beryllium, nickel, zinc, and brominated flame retardants. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says U.S. landfills are accumulating more than 3.2 million tons of e-waste every year, and there will be nearly 250 million obsolete computers in the next five years. In 2001, the EPA says just 11 percent of retired PCs were recycled. Dell Computer's e-waste efforts include a takeback program, which has recovered 170,000 products over the past three years. The company is also redesigning its machines to reduce "at risk materials" such as halogenated flame retardants and polyvinyl chloride. The company's also reducing the amount of total materials each PC contains; desktop PCs have shrunk 21 percent. Panasonic says it spends $100 million annually on environmental redesign projects such as developing lead-free solder. At the CES conference on Saturday, the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition launched the Plug-In to Recycling Campaign, an effort backed by a variety of firms to increase awareness and develop recycling opportunities. David Wood, organizing director of the coalition's Computer TakeBack Campaign, said model solutions for the United States already exist in the European Union and Japan.
- "The Two Faces of Linux"
InfoWorld.com (01/13/03); Fonseca, Brian; Scannell, Ed
The increasing popularity of Linux in corporate accounts makes it a more attractive target for hackers, and experts say the open-source operating system's security mystique is evaporating as a result. The Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT) reports 16 of 29 security advisories for the first 10 months of 2002 were attributed to the Linux system. Aberdeen Group warns that as Linux is deployed on more routers, Web servers, and in security applications, it will attract the attention of hackers who are looking for carriers for their viruses. Aberdeen researcher Eric Hemmindinger says companies cannot depend solely upon their software provider, but must take action to protect their system software themselves. However, Linux does have some benefits over proprietary software, including the number of different versions that makes it hard to learn for hackers with minimal experience. And the open-source community is generally much faster in developing solutions for vulnerabilities than are software companies, according to IBM Linux expert Dan Frye. Linux Version 2.6, expected out later this year, will have a security module blueprint that should provide better protection. In addition, security vendors Guardian Digital and Guardent announced new products for the upcoming LinuxWorld Conference & Expo in New York. Guardian Digital will unveil new enterprise application software products securing Linux-based programs, while Guardent said it would add more managed security services offerings for Linux, including the ability to analyze log details, identify backdoors, and stop denial-of-service attacks.
- "Will Innovation Flourish in the Future?"
Industrial Physicist (01/03) Vol. 8, No. 6, P. 22; Friedman, Jerome I.
MIT physics professor Jerome I. Friedman writes that the future of basic research, which forms the basis of innovation that significantly impacts society and the quality of life, may be in doubt. He cites Walter Brattain, who co-patented the transistor and noted that its creation stemmed from fundamental physics research, not from a conscious pursuit of a practical product. Friedman points out that the transistor's development relied on the convergence of basic research, applied research, and product development, which often overlap; a similar situation led to innovations such as magnetic resonance imaging, the Global Positioning System, and the World Wide Web. However, increased global competition has prompted many of the companies that support basic research to slash their long-term research and development budgets, while the long development time for practical applications of basic research has made the public and politicians question its validity and downgrade its status as a national priority. Strong research universities play a key role in producing the future founders and workforce of knowledge-based companies that fuel innovation. To nurture creativity, Friedman recommends that pre-university schools of excellence and corporate- and government-sponsored educational programs be established; interdisciplinary research and risky projects be encouraged; young people be given a wide latitude in research; and innovators be recognized and rewarded. Furthermore, the science and technology communities should address concerns about the perceived negative consequences of technological advancement. Although specific examples are hard to predict, Friedman confidently expects basic research to lead to significant breakthroughs in the fields of biotechnology, communication, artificial intelligence, materials, sensors, energy production, computation, miniaturization, and robotics.