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Volume 5, Issue 467: March 10, 2003
- "Military Now Often Enlists Commercial Technology"
New York Times (03/10/03) P. C1; Romero, Simon
Whereas 20 years ago most information technologies were developed by the U.S. military and later commercialized for civilian use, today the flow has reversed, with the military adapting commercial products such as wearable computers, global phone networks, etc. For instance, the satellite-based Iridium wireless communications system developed by Motorola was saved from bankruptcy by the Defense Department, which contracted with Iridium Satellite to give government personnel unlimited access to its network, which enables users to place calls or send and receive text messages from almost any global location. The adoption also involved encryption services developed by General Dynamics, while the Pentagon constructed a Hawaii-based ground station as a gateway for connecting Iridium calls. Meanwhile, Xybernaut sells wearable computing products to the Defense Department, where they have found use in the Marine Corps, Air Force, and Navy for equipment maintenance and repairs. Other commercial products being adapted for military use include a sturdy laptop from Itronix that is resistant to heavy rains and extremes of temperature, comes equipped with an easy-to-read screen and a luminescent keyboard, and features three different kinds of radios. Another relatively new development is the military's transitory role as a commercial incubator, an example being the Army Soldier Systems Center, where technologies for soldiers in the field are being developed with the participation of startups. Two decades ago, military research was chiefly responsible for trend-setting technologies that were later marketed, such as the Global Positioning System and spread-spectrum communications. "The military quit trying to develop anything significant in communications 20 years ago because it took too long and wasn't cheap," explains retired Air Force Colonel Alan D. Campen.
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- "Digital Copyrights Challenged"
Medill News Service (03/07/03); Stock, Kyle; Gross, Grant
In response to consumers clamoring for exemptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), more than half of whom are complaining about DVDs bought overseas that will not play on U.S. players, film and recording industry association lawyers Steven Metalitz and Eric Schwartz have filed a counterclaim in which they describe the submitted suggestions as "a broad-gauge attack on the DVD-related access control technology." They also argue that the complaints submitted in the latest DMCA review authorized by the Copyright Office are oriented around "inconveniences" rather than proof of "actual or likely harm." Civil rights organizations and programmers complain that few access exemptions are actually granted--the first DMCA review, for example, resulted in only two approvals out of 235 proposed exemptions. "If we really want to get at this and not have this fight come up every couple years, we ought to just eliminate the DMCA altogether," suggests CATO policy analyst Adam Thierer. The Copyright Office will set dates for public hearings on the proposed exemptions over the next several weeks, and is required to decide by the end of the year what exemptions, if any, will be approved. Meanwhile, several lawmakers are trying to amend the DMCA so that consumers are treated more fairly. Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) revived a proposal requiring companies to plainly label copy-protected CDs and DVDs, while Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) reintroduced the Benefit Authors without Limiting Advancement of Net Consumer Expectations (BALANCE Act), which would allow consumers to circumvent anti-copying technology that restricts their fair-use rights. Consumers would have the authorization to make backup copies and play digital works on any device they choose, while non-negotiable, "shrink-wrap" licenses would be outlawed under the BALANCE Act.
For more information on DMCA, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm.
- "Rising Threat"
InformationWeek (03/10/03); Hulme, George V.
As war draws nearer, government and companies responsible for the nation's critical infrastructure are cooperatively strengthening their cyber-defenses. The recent Sendmail vulnerability that put over 1.5 million email systems around the world at risk is a good example of the heightened collaboration going on between government and the private sector. Alerted to the vulnerability by software security firm Internet Security Systems, the National Infrastructure Protection Center, now part of the Homeland Security Department, worked quietly to protect important systems in the weeks before the flaw was announced. Altogether, SANS Institute research director Alan Paller says almost 20 software vendors, the White House, the Office of Management and Budget, and government CIO councils collaborated under the direction of the new Homeland Security Department. Former presidential cybersecurity advisor Richard Clarke recently told attendees of the InformationWeek Spring Conference that captured al-Qaida computers showed the group used the Internet to research targets and download hacking tools. He said the recently released Slammer worm indicated groups might be probing possibilities for future assaults. However, other experts discount scenarios were Internet-borne attacks catastrophically disrupt physical systems, but warn about serious threats to the Internet itself. Internet protocol co-inventor Vinton Cerf said an attack on the Border Gateway Protocol used by routers to send data could knock entire portions of the Internet offline. He cited hash codes that verify routing table updates and senders' identities as one way to prevent that occurrence.
- "Bridging the Digital Divide"
University at Buffalo Reporter (03/06/03) Vol. 34, No. 16; Goldbaum, Ellen
University at Buffalo researchers are working on a optical character recognition (OCR) tool that would make a vast library of Sanskrit and other Devanagari-based documents searchable online. The Center of Excellence in Document Analysis and Recognition (CEDAR) is the world's largest research group devoted to handwriting recognition for computers, and developed the first comprehensive OCR for the English language about 15 years ago. That milestone led directly to handwriting-recognition software common today, such as that used for PDAs. Computer science and engineering professor Venu Govidaraju is CEDAR's associate director and an expert in Sanskrit and other South Asian languages based on the Devanagari script. He is working with a number of other Sanskrit experts, including some at the top-flight Indian Statistical Institute in Kolkata, to compile the "truthed" data necessary to allow computers to read handwritten text on their own. By comparing new text with stored examples, the OCR can tag characters with digital data search engines can use. Govidaraju says digitizing Indian languages will bring half a billion people whose first language is Hindi into the information revolution. A working Devanagari OCR is scheduled for availability on the Web by the end of March, and was financed by a grant from the National Science Foundation's International Digital Libraries project. The CEDAR researchers plan to tackle other languages not based on Roman characters after the Devanagari OCR, including Tamil, Arabic, and Urdu.
- "HP Tests Mobile Unit as Personal Navigation Tool"
EE Times (03/10/03); Wilson, Ron
Hewlett-Packard's Websign project aims to test the usability of a palmtop that can allow users to locate places, people, and services by wirelessly picking up Web pages or "signs" created by vendors. These virtual signs could include basic information such as type of service or location, as well as dynamic data that could, for instance, list the available seating in a restaurant, detail items on the menu, and so on. The device could also receive information directly from local service hotspots. However, in order to use the device, users must disclose their location to a server farm, and many users may be reluctant to do so in order to protect their privacy. But doing so would give users the advantage of using the device to locate friends in rush hour, or call for cabs or ambulances. The handheld is also incredibly intricate, because it includes a CPU with limited Web browser capability and memory, a Cellular-Data-Packet-Data (CDPD) wireless link, a Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver, and an orientation device such as a magnetic compass. The receiver's performance could be hampered by inclement weather, dense urban surroundings, or rapid motion, while the compass is sensitive to nearby ferrous objects, local magnetic fluctuations, motion, and orientation. Some of these difficulties can be overcome by modifying the software inside the palmtop, and the HP researchers demonstrated that the effects of motion or orientation on the
compass can be mitigated with the addition of accelerometers.
- "More Powerful, Longer-Lasting Lithium Batteries on the Horizon"
Sandia National Laboratories researchers have developed silicon/graphite composite anode materials that could significantly boost the power and longevity of rechargeable lithium-ion batteries while reducing their size. Sandia Analytical Materials Science manager Jim Wang says the capabilities of commercial graphite anode materials could be improved by as much as 400 percent thanks to this breakthrough. "Our newly discovered anode materials can improve the performance of [hybrid] microsystems by allowing for more powerful, sophisticated electronic components and by reducing the size and weight of the overall system," he explains. Scott Vaupen of Sandia/California's Business Development Department says the beneficiaries of the breakthrough could include manufacturers of hybrid microsystems such as electrical vehicles, power tools, and cell phones. Ken Wilson of Sandia's Materials and Engineering Sciences Center says the lab's microsystems initiative is oriented around microsensor systems and devices used for homeland security, such as wireless radiation detectors. Sandia researcher Karl Gross says the composites could be manufactured via a simple milling process that is well-established within the battery industry, while the raw electrode elements are cheap and widely available. Sandia Post Doctoral team member Greg Roberts notes that the silicon/graphite electrode materials could be particularly useful for applications that call for high capacities with low-to-moderate rates of delivery. However, he adds that silicon-based electrodes will still probably suffer from fading of long-term cycling capacity, although this could be reduced to a minimum by the design of a microstructure composed of carbon and silicon.
- "Data Mining Software Digs Up Buzzwords"
Associated Press (03/06/03)
Predicting trends by studying the frequency of words or phrases that appear online could become easier thanks to the work of innovators such as Cornell University associate professor Jon Kleinberg, who has devised software that can search documents to find "word bursts" that may indicate significant topics and when they emerge. Thus far, his software has been used to find trends of the past, such as scanning State of the Union addresses dating as far back as the late 18th century to uncover verbal signals that reflected important events--"depression" and "recovery" for the 1930s, and "atomic" for the late 1940s and 1950s, for instance. Verity CTO Prabhakar Raghavan has used Kleinberg's software to sift through Weblogs for bursts of references and Web site links that outline emerging trends; such an ability would allow advertisers to target specific groups more accurately. "E-tymologist" Paul McFedries also searches Internet databases to find new language usage, and has uncovered both tech-related terms such as "ham" (legitimate email mistakenly identified as spam by filters because of similar wording) and free-floating buzzwords such as "induhvidual," a synonym for a foolish person. However, friction can occur if people reference buzzwords that happen to be trademarked in a context other than its brand, as McFedries found out when the Google search engine warned him not to use "google" as a verb.
- "Tech to Help Drivers Brake Sooner"
Wired News (03/10/03); Dean, Katie
Using a $50,000 grant from MIT's Deshpande Center for Technological Innovation, professor Eric Feron plans to integrate the Global Positioning System (GPS), in-vehicle wireless communications technology, and advanced traffic-flow models into an advance warning system that can prevent drivers from hitting the brakes suddenly in response to abrupt traffic slowdowns, a situation that can cause a chain reaction of car accidents. Feron reports that such a system would be "completely decentralized," while drivers would be alerted to an anticipated slowdown by a flashing dashboard light even before the car ahead of them flashes its brake lights. The prevention of car accidents is the goal of the Intelligent Vehicle Initiative (IVI) created by U.S. Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater three years ago; Slater predicts that 10 percent of new light vehicles and 25 percent of new commercial vehicles should be equipped with at least one IVI system by 2010, a development that should reduce crash fatalities by 20 percent. Decentralized communications also lies at the heart of the Office of Naval Research's Autonomous Intelligent Network and Systems (AINS) project, which aims to build a network of independent drones by 2020. Partnership for Safe Driving executive director Lisa Shiekh believes that collision-avoidance systems such as Feron's are useless without speed management via Intelligent Speed Adaptation, which is currently undergoing testing in the United Kingdom, Sweden, and the Netherlands. Intelligent Speed Adaptation automatically regulates a vehicle's maximum speed by charting speed limits on each road through the use of GPS and an in-vehicle digital roadmap.
- "ACM's CHI03 To Offer Element of Persuasion"
The upcoming ACM Computer-Human Interaction (CHI) conference will spotlight three intertwining themes: persuasion, mass communication and interaction, and the effectiveness of e-learning. The annual conference, to be held April 5-10 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, will feature 34 tutorials including a presentation on how computers can be used (and software can be designed) to influence and motivate users. The U.S. Army, Microsoft, Amazon, and eBay are just a few entities already employing persuasive technology to influence users and customers and to alter behavior. B.J. Fogg, a persuasion pioneer and head of the Persuasion Technology Lab at Stanford, will lead a tutorial on the effectiveness and ethics of such technologies. "If only powerful companies understand how computers influence people, the general public will be at a disadvantage," Fogg points out. "People need to understand how software can be designed to change their beliefs and their behavior." CHI03 will also feature a panel discussion on the lack of imagination and innovation in forms of mass communication. Panelists will include Neil Budde, former editor and publisher of the Wall Street Journal Online; Dan Gillmor, columnist for the San Jose Mercury News, Andrew Zolli, lead partner of Z + Partners, and Michael Schrage, of MIT Media Lab and Fortune magazine. Nico Macdonald, founder of the UK-based electronic publishing consultancy, Spy, will spearhead the panel. Building rich and effective e-learning environments for users of vastly different needs and backgrounds will also be featured in CHI03 technical sessions, discussions, and a tutorial. The CHI conference is the premier worldwide forum for exchanging information about how people interact with computers.
- "Internet Traffic to Keep Doubling"
IDG News Service (03/06/03); Legard, David
The amount of information transmitted over the Internet will go on doubling each year for the next five years, reaching 5,175 petabits per day by 2007, up from last year's 180 petabits per day, according to new research from International Data (IDC). IDC says the main reason for this will be current users' move into broadband access instead of subscriber growth, with consumer broadband adoption being the biggest and fastest-growing sector of the Internet traffic market by 2007. Consumers will account for 60 percent of Internet traffic, with mobile Internet users not having much effect on traffic. IDC adds that the slowing telecommunications market cannot be blamed on slowing Internet traffic growth, and predicts that carriers will want next-generation optical equipment.
- "Tiny Computer Lock Simplifies Security"
ZDNet Australia (03/06/03); Goodwins, Rupert
Sandia National Laboratories has unveiled the Recodable Locking Device, a combination lock about the size of a dime that uses microelectromechanical system (MEMS) technology. The lock has six tiny gear wheels that resemble the locking system on a silicon chip. Like a traditional combination lock, the Recodable Locking Device will accept only a single code. However, the mechanism gives a user only one chance to select a preset code, and if the code is wrong, the lock will be shut until the owner resets it. Since it operates using electrical signals, the lock might be appropriate for use on computer networks. "It would make it virtually impossible to break into Web sites," says Frank Peter, the engineer who developed the lock. Sandia estimates that the chip-based lock can be mass produced cheaply using existing silicon fabrication techniques, and can also be easily checked for vulnerabilities. Other applications for the device include turning off a radiation therapy system if radiation overdosing occurs.
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- "Unleashing the Dogs of Cyber-War on Iraq"
Salon.com (03/06/03); McWilliams, Brian
If a U.S.-led war with Iraq is imminent, Iraqi Internet professionals expect the first strike will be against the country's Internet access via hacking, computer viruses, and electromagnetic pulse bombs. However, blocking Iraq's Internet connectivity could be a simple matter, because its only ISP transmits and receives almost all of its traffic over satellite networks supplied by companies operating in the United States and England, according to a study of network records and routing patterns. Export sanctions against Iraq could be leveraged in order to force the U.S. operator, Atlanta International Teleport, to cut off Iraq's email and Web access; meanwhile, the British operator, SMS Internet, could be pressured to do the same because of a U.N. trade embargo. Furthermore, Iraq's Internet-connected systems can be easily exploited by hackers because of misconfigured DNS servers, and reliance on buggy and possibly outdated software, which Iraqi tech experts blame on trade sanctions. Other vulnerabilities in Iraq's network access include the relatively poor skills and resources of the country's tech talent, and a lack of broadband access or affordable home dial-up access. "It's as though they're extending an invitation to be hacked," comments government security researcher Robert G. Ferrell. In addition, experts such as Iraqi Prospect Organization Chairman Ahmed Shames find it unlikely that Iraq is able to launch a cyberattack of its own, noting that the government seems to be more occupied with online censorship and Web-based monitoring of Iraq's citizenry. An Iraqi computer scientist who uses the pseudonym "Sameer" believes that such a cyber-assault would be carried out by computer mercenaries or Iraq sympathizers.
- "Farewell to Floppies?"
eWeek (03/03/03) Vol. 20, No. 9, P. 25; Koblentz, Evan
There is a movement among the world's leading computer manufacturers to phase out floppy drives in desktops by replacing them with superior alternatives. The elimination of floppies is more important than the replacement technology, according to IT buyers. Although users and IT administrators will be happy to see floppies go, they are still expected to hang around for a while, because they cost less than newer removable storage technologies. In addition, many IT departments still rely on legacy computers that lack updated basic input/output systems (BIOSes) that can support USB, FireWire, Wi-Fi, and other new types of connections. Nevertheless, Gartner analyst Fara Yale predicts that legacy floppy drives will not be included in 42 percent of new PCs shipped in 2006. Dell Computer has already taken steps to eliminate floppy disks by making floppy drives optional for its Dimension consumer desktops and its OptiPlex corporate desktops. Hewlett-Packard officials say floppy drives will be optional for its D310 and D510 corporate desktops, while their complete phase-out will be debated in 2004. Meanwhile, a spokesman for Sun Microsystems says that floppy drives, currently a standard component of the entry-level Sun Blade 150, will become an option within a year, and the company is promoting CD-ROMs for driver updates. Still, officials at these companies expect the floppy disk to be in use for at least four more years because of the vast numbers of computers with older BIOSes still out there.
- "A Visa Loophole as Big as a Mainframe"
Business Week (03/10/03) No. 3823, P. 82; Grow, Brian; Kripalani, Manjeet
With Congress prohibiting the replacement of American employees with foreign workers holding H-1B visas in 2001, more cost-conscious companies turned to the less well-known L-1 visas to bring in low-wage labor. "Is my government telling me that if an H-1B visa holder replaces me it's illegal, but if an L-1 replaces me, it's O.K.?" fumes former Siemens systems analyst Patricia Fluno, who was replaced along with 11 colleagues by L-1 holders brought in by India's Tata Consultancy Services. "If this is a loophole, it needs to be stopped." Tata, Wipro Technologies, Infosys Technologies, and other outsourcers are sending thousands of replacement IT workers to the United States on L-1 visas; their U.S. customers include Siemens, Bank of America, GE, Dell Computer, and Merrill Lynch. Critics claim the L-1 program is being abused so that people can enter the country illegally, and an Immigration and Naturalization Service official says the agency is evaluating the program "to assess whether companies are using the L-1 to circumvent the H-1B program." The Justice Department is also investigating the matter, thanks to complaints from Fluno and her fellow workers. The State Department estimates that new L-1s increased by 50 percent to 58,000 visas between 1998 and 2002, and an additional 10 percent in the first five months of fiscal 2003. H-1B visas allow individual holders to reside in the United States for six years, while L-1s tack on an additional year and can be used to bring in more than one worker. The L-1 program was originally created to facilitate intracompany transfers by multinationals.
- "Hear My Voice"
New Scientist (02/22/03) Vol. 177, No. 2383, P. 36; Spinney, Laura
People who are physically incapacitated to the point where they cannot perform the slightest communicative gestures, either because of paralysis or degenerative disease, can use a thought-controlled interface called the Thought Translation Device (TTD), developed by Niels Birbaumer of Germany's University of Tubingen. TDD is the mostly widely tested brain-computer interface for humans. With external electrodes hooked up to the head, a person using the TTD can move a cursor by thought and select letters to compose messages. However, it is a slow, laborious exercise requiring the user to learn a complex, two-phase thought process, according to TTD user Hans-Peter Salzmann. "In the first phase, when the cursor cannot be moved, I try to build up tension with the help of certain images, such as a bow being drawn or a traffic light changing from red to yellow," he explains. "In the second phase, when the cursor can be moved, I try to use the tension built up in the first phase and kind of make it explode by imagining the arrow shooting from the bow or the traffic light changing to green." Birbaumer notes several hindering factors to TTD adoption, and warns that the field of brain-computer communication is "doomed to failure" until researchers understand a person's motivation for using such devices. He says a mode of communication such as the TTD is worthless if no one is listening, for instance, discouraging its use. Brown University neuroscientist John Donoghue thinks implanting electrodes directly into the brain will make it much easier for TTD users to control the cursor. The slowness of the TTD and the intense effort the locked-in user must make may be the biggest drawbacks, says Birbaumer.
- "Day of the Smart Mobs"
Time (03/10/03) Vol. 161, No. 9, P. 53; Taylor, Chris
The White House and Congress learned first hand the power of the smart mob last Wednesday as more than 400,000 antiwar protesters flooded their switchboards with phone calls, faxes, and emails, part of a national virtual demonstration. Smart mobs have also been used by a jailed Brazilian drug lord to organize bombings and gang operations from his prison cell, as well as by opponents of former Philippines President Joseph Estrada, who coordinate actions in the streets of Manila toppling his government. Veteran technology watcher and futurist Howard Rheingold, author of "Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution," describes smart mobs as large, geographically dispersed groups of people brought together on a moment's notice by messages from cell phones, two-way pagers, email, instant messaging, and Web sites for a collective action. Smart mobs got their start in Tokyo and Helsinki as teenage "thumb tribes" used communications technology for gathering at impromptu raves or for stalking their favorite celebrities. Smart mobs are not as prevalent in the United States because text messaging is relatively expensive and not ubiquitous, but more Americans are able to send text messages over their cell phones, and wireless connections for personal computers are growing. Peer-to-peer networks such as Gnutella also enable the dynamic formation of smart mobs that trade files.
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- "Leading By Example"
Government Executive (02/03) Vol. 35, No. 2, P. 64; Harris, Shane
Although federal agencies have suffered notorious security breaches are often criticized for their weak information security practices, many federal agencies are now taking cybersecurity more seriously, and some are on the cutting-edge of computer security. The government now has a plan to monitor systems in real time for security vulnerabilities and issue patches for problems before hackers can attack. The Federal Computer Incident Response Center (FedCIRC), a government security watchdog, is developing a Web-based program for instantly detecting security holes. Meanwhile, the 2002 E-Government Act forces agencies to implement the new security guidelines from the Office of Management and Budget and puts future funding in jeopardy if they fail to do so. Ultimately, the White House's cybersecurity office expects that government action on cybersecurity will encourage businesses to improve the security of their systems and networks. In the past, the private sector has had a reputation of having better security than government agencies, but the government has taken drastic steps to shore up its systems and networks to protect against a potential cyberterrorism attack. The government plans to show the private sector that security needs to be taken to another level. Improved cybersecurity is needed in the private sector because much of the vital infrastructure of the United States, such as power grids and dams, is controlled from private networks.
- "Complexity: How to Stave Off Chaos"
CIO Insight (02/03) No. 23, P. 34; Kirkpatrick, Terry A.
IT complexity is increasing: 42 percent of nearly 500 IT executives polled by CIO Insight in January reported that their IT systems were excessively complex, and added that, on average, 29 percent of their IT budgets were spent on maintenance and support. Novell's Don Morrison selected XML to integrate 170 applications and IT services into one unified workflow process that tracks employees from recruitment to dismissal, supplies access to authorized managers, and automatically synchronizes changes; Novell estimates it has achieved a 323 percent return on investment, and attained quarterly savings of $47,000 in employee productivity, help-desk work, new-hire setups, etc. IT experts say complexity consists of not just the number of machines and users in the company, but the amount of point-to-point links between systems, increasingly complex layers of heterogeneous platforms and applications accompanying client/server networks and Internet computing, and centers of excellence associated with each layer. "I see complexity as the non-value-added redundancy across all the dimensions of your applications or infrastructure or data store," explains Bob Reinhold of Cap Gemini Ernst & Young. A short-term complexity-cutting strategy CIOs can employ is for them to implement automatic monitoring and configuration solutions. Companies seeking to eliminate complexity must obtain a clear, all-encompassing overview of their IT architectures, after which rationalization or integration can take place. IBM CIO Phil Thompson urges clients to first establish a formal system of governance in which each participant's role is clearly defined, and then set up an enterprise architecture board that can deliver a clear architectural overview. Meanwhile, Forrester Research's Frank Gillett believes "organic IT" architectures capable of automatic resource sharing and management can eliminate the problems caused by underused hardware and uncommunicative applications.