Timely Topics for IT Professionals
About ACM TechNews
ACM TechNews is published every week on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
ACM TechNews is intended as an objective news digest for busy IT Professionals. Views expressed are not necessarily those of either HP or ACM.
To send comments, please write to email@example.com.
Volume 5, Issue 471: Wednesday, March 19, 2003
- "U.S. Heightens Cybersecurity Monitoring"
Technews.com (03/18/03); MacMillan, Robert
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) today announced that it is stepping up its Internet monitoring efforts as the U.S. prepares for war with Iraq. The department will work with other government agencies to "monitor the Internet for signs of a potential terrorist attack and state-sponsored information warfare," announced Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge. DHS also asked that individuals and industry members report unusual activity. The increase in monitoring is one of the steps the department takes to increase security when it raises the national terrorist threat level to "code orange," indicating a high risk of terrorist attack. Still, there has been no "specific indication" of an attack, according to HDS' David Wray, and the DHS announcement does not indicate any changes to the government's cyber-defense efforts, says SANS Institute research director Alan Paller. Nevertheless, the threat of war could provoke an cyber attack, and Jim Lewis, director of the Technology Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, says "we'll probably see a lot of interest [from] skilled programmers in the Middle East, China, and Pakistan...We'll probably see an effort to do something back [to us]." Experts are most concerned about attacks against the Internet's backbone infrastructure, particularly key root servers. HDS recently consolidated government cybersecurity efforts and created the Global Early Warning Information System to monitor Internet traffic. The government is also developing a separate, backup network to the Internet called the Cyber Warning Information Network, to function in the event the Internet is successfully sabotaged.
- "236,000 Tech Jobs Were Cut in 2002"
Washington Post (03/19/03) P. E5; McCarthy, Ellen
The U.S. technology industry lost 236,000 jobs last year, according to the American Electronics Association's Tech Employment Update, and has lost 10 percent of its workforce in the last two years. Many of the jobs were lost in the high-tech manufacturing sector, particularly among computer, electronic, and communication equipment makers, with the AEA survey based on Bureau of Labor statistics showing declines in each month of 2002. Still, workers in some sectors fared better. AEA President William T. Archey said, "I think if you work in the field of software you should feel pretty optimistic about your own future and that of the software industry, because software continues to grow." Archey said that since technology is a worldwide industry, a global economic recovery is needed to boost the industry, and cautioned that due to production innovations jobs that were lost may not return with an economic revival. The software and computer-related services sector lost 9,300 jobs in the past two years, according to the survey, while the communications services sector lost 135,000 jobs.
- "Senate Wants Oversight of CAPPS II Program"
InternetNews.com (03/17/03); Mark, Roy
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) has called for congressional oversight of the Transportation Security Administration's proposed Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System (CAPPS II). Wyden also led the legislation that cancelled funding for the Total Information Awareness project because of privacy concerns. His motive is the same in this instance, and he wants Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge to report to Congress about how CAPPS II will work before being allowed to proceed. CAPPS II would require travelers to submit their name, phone number, and birth date upon purchase of an airline ticket. That information would be checked against commercial and government databases and passengers would be assigned a green, yellow, or red score based on criminal, credit, banking, and other historical data. Those scores would then be encoded onto the passenger's ticket and trigger specific actions when the plane gets ready to board. Wyden has asked Secretary Tom Ridge to submit a report detailing how the data will be stored and for how long, what other agencies scores would be shared with, what roles commercial firms play, and what safeguards and remedial procedures will be included.
- "Computer Virus Writers Mostly Obsessed Males--Expert"
Reuters (03/18/03); Tan, Jennifer
Virus writers are mostly socially inadequate males, between 14- and 34-years-old, who are obsessed with computers and creating self-replicating code. This generalization was offered by Jan Hruska, CEO of U.K.-based Sophos, the world's fourth-largest anti-virus firm. Recently, Simon Vallor, 22, of the United Kingdom was sentenced to two years in jail for creating three computer viruses that spread to 27,000 systems in 42 countries. Hruska, noting that 1,000 viruses are created each month, predicted that the number of computer viruses would continue to rise in coming years as hackers target new systems. Additionally, Hruska said operating systems today contain more executables, which serve as carriers for computer virus infection, than older systems. In the coming years, Hruska warned about attacks that target Microsoft's .Net Web services architecture, which is growing in popularity and reach. Even old viruses continue to be a problem, and Hruska noted that the source code for the Klez worm continues to be used by many hackers to create and relaunch variants.
- "NASA Launches New IT R&D Programs"
NASA's Advanced Information Systems Technology program has selected 20 IT projects for funding, with the goal of building more efficient, less costly systems for in-flight use and on the ground. Altogether, the selected projects will receive $19.4 million. More than 200 submissions were considered, but the 20 chosen projects show NASA's specific interest in mission automation, communication networks in space, on-board computing, and grid-computing technologies used for modeling. Among the outstanding research selected are the virtual private network planned by researchers at the University of Oklahoma, which would utilize multiple satellites and specifically run space applications. NASA's own Jet Propulsion Laboratory will develop a reconfigurable protocol chip for use in satellite networks. On-board computing research includes projects for an in-space Doppler precipitation radar, radiation-tolerant intelligent memory, and technologies meant to allow more flexible computing options within and between space vehicles. NASA also plans several grid-computing projects to ease earth-bound modeling tasks.
- "Redesigning the Net to Save It From Spam"
Associated Press (03/17/03)
The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) on Thursday is convening for the first time a physical meeting where anti-spam experts and Internet engineers will discuss radical solutions to solving the problem of unwanted email. Companies such as Brightmail and Mirapoint, along with desktop email product makers Microsoft and Apple Computer, try to stop spam in-route or on the door of a user's inbox. But many of the solutions talked about within the IETF's Anti-Spam Research Group involve changes to Internet infrastructure that mean to stop spam as close to its source as possible. Group chairman Paul Judge, who is also a research director at email security company CipherTrust, says he aims to analyze each proposal, form a consensus, and then pass recommendations on to standards bodies. Some participants have suggested changing the Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP), which the IETF itself defined in 1982. Other solutions include paid-postage, an entirely new mail system, or verifying the sender's identity with every sent message. David Berlind, executive director for the technology news Web site ZDNet, has founded JamSpam in order to monitor the impact of any proposed solutions. Berlind notes he experienced the unintended effects of anti-spam efforts in October, when a story he emailed to an editor was lost in-route because it was sent from a black-listed server.
- "Apple Dips Toes Into Clustering"
CNet (03/18/03); Shankland, Stephen
Apple Computer has tailored its Xserve machine for clustered settings, joining the popular trend toward networking server computers for greater processing power. So-called Beowulf clusters are commonly built using cheap Intel-based servers running the Linux operating system, but Illuminata analyst Gordon Haff says Apple's pared-down Xserve will prove competitive in that space economically and performance-wise. Apple has some software advantages when it comes to clustered computing because its Mac OS X is a variant of FreeBSD, which like Linux is a derivative of Unix. Commercial and academic users of Apple computers already often create their own software, but popular clustered computing software such as the BLAST DNA analysis tool and Message Passing Interface already can operate on the Mac platform as well. The Xserve for clusters is economically competitive because Apple took out the CD-ROM, video card, second Ethernet port, and slots for additional hard drives. Illuminata's Haff says the 1.75-inch model, or 1U form factor for server racks, performs comparably to Intel-based servers, but he notes that Apple cannot compete with Intel technology in the 3.5-inch, or 2U, form factor. Apple server software director Tom Goguen says the Xserve has software that allows central administration and configurations to be changed network-wide by rebooting from a central network disk. Xserve product manager Doug Brooks notes that some Apple customers have already created clustered systems using regular Xserve machines.
- "PARC Cedes AspectJ Technology to Eclipse"
InternetNews.com (03/18/03); Boulton, Clint
Developers dealing with large software systems will soon have open-source access, through the Eclipse project, to the AspectJ Java language extension. Created at the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) with funding from the Department of Defense, AspectJ has matured to the point where PARC resources are not sufficient to keep improving it, says PARC researcher Jim Hugunin, who co-created AspectJ. AspectJ allows software developers to deal with problems in a modular setting, even when those components being fixed are intertwined with other system functions, a behavior called crosscutting. Instead of looking at all 10 million lines of code for the system, developers can focus on just 1,000 lines of code at a time, Hugunin says. AspectJ helps resolve the myriad of unintended consequences when developers implement a fix in functions such as logging and security policy enforcement. AspectJ was originally derived from the Aspect Oriented Software Development programming practice, and Eclipse Technology Project leader Dr. Brian Barry expects future development will include integration with core Eclipse functions.
- "Setting a Course for Shipshape Software"
Financial Times--FTIT Survey (03/19/03) P. 7; Newing, Rod
Economic belt-tightening means companies must better utilize resources, and this traditional concept is carrying over into the IT department in the form of more efficient software that is focused on business performance. Whereas free-wheeling IT departments simply added hardware and hashed out quick software during the economic boom, they are now paring down their software in order to cut back on hardware costs. Gartner's Andy Kyte explains that hardware was relatively cheap during the boom times while programmers were expensive, but now the inverse is true. Rational Software general manager Greg Meyers says many firms do not have good software development practices and leave testing till the end of the production cycle, when it is most expensive and difficult. Existing software applications can also be refined, but that requires making inner workings visible so managers can monitor performance, according to Wily Technology's Lewis Cirne. Business technology optimization (BTO) is also emerging as a way companies can get more value out of their IT systems. Such software solutions provide managers with dashboards monitoring business-related metrics, such as orders processed and on-time deliveries, instead of more technical metrics such as ERP transactions and database updates. Accenture's Tim Murfet says it is critical for companies to closely link their IT systems with actual business value, and says BTO is one tool helping IT departments make that association.
- "Chip Device Gets to the Point"
Technology Research News (03/19/03); Smalley, Eric
University of Wisconsin at Madison researchers have built a microelectromechanical system (MEMS) positioner that is able to move individual atoms, a development that could give rise to ultra-high capacity data storage and molecule-size machines. That work previously was relegated to expensive atomic force microscopes, which use about 100 volts to change the shape of piezoelectric crystals. The MEMS-based positioner, on the other hand, uses strips of semiconductor or metal that bend when heated on one side by an electric charge and are called electrothermal positioners. The MEMS-based device uses just 12 volts of electricity, so can be built on a computer chip. University of Wisconsin research associate Larry L. Chu says 60 of the MEMS positioners can be created from one silicon wafer using a type of lithography called deep reactive ion etching. Such a positioner-on-a-chip would be necessary for future computing devices that work on the atomic scale, such as molectronics and ultrahigh-density memory. Chu said work is currently under way to make the positioner easier to control and use, and expects practical applications available in three years.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Open Source Gets Booster Program"
IDG News Service (03/17/03); Gross, Grant
A new hybrid software licensing program promises to let vendors reap profits from their product while reassuring buyers their purchases do not lead to proprietary lock-in. Former U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission lawyer Tony Stanco is advocating the Open Source Threshold Escrow Program (O-STEP), which would be run by his Center of Open Source and Government at George Washington University. Software vendors that submit products for the program would prescribe a threshold number of sold licenses they want before promising to release the product under an open-source license. Stanco says he has been talking with government agencies and financial advisors about the program and sees an opportunity for both vendors and buyers. Software companies such as Corel, whose WordPerfect struggles against Microsoft's Office product, would be able to generate more sales to institutional customers and make their technology a de facto standard. Meanwhile, government agencies and large companies worry about vendor lock-in, according to Stanco. "They're very concerned that their first move [when making a large infrastructure purchase] might be the last one within their control," he says. Under O-STEP, they know that they will eventually be able to tailor their purchased systems. Stanco has not approached vendors en masse with the idea, but is talking with purchasers and investors about the benefits of the system. Stanco says O-STEP offers a balance between open-source licenses and copyright law and provides incentives for developers to create more open source software.
- "Privacy Advocate Warns of Microchip Invasion"
Boston Globe (03/17/03) P. C1; Bray, Hiawatha
Radio-frequency identification (RFID) holds tremendous promise for manufacturers and retailers in being able to control their inventory and product, but also market to individuals based on databased personal information. This information could be gathered by tiny, cheap RFID tags embedded in nearly every consumer product, warns privacy advocate Katherine Albrecht, who formed a group called CASPIAN (Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion and Numbering). Although her group originally targeted the now ubiquitous grocery discount card, Albrecht says they are setting sights on a more ominous privacy threat in RFID. CASPIAN is calling for government regulation of RFID chips, which she fears companies will insert into home products and collect household data in return for discounts. Commercial interests could then build databases with information such as how much milk a person drinks, and then tailor advertisements accordingly in nearly every place equipped with a RFID reader. Advocates, however, point out that RFID tags promise huge conveniences for consumers as well, such as the ability to return items verifiably without a receipt. Companies that have already launched RFID efforts, such as Italian clothier Benetton and razor company Gillette, say their purpose is not marketing, but inventory tracking. Gillette is exploring "smart shelves" in retail stores that would alert store security when large numbers of expensive razors go missing at once, for example, helping combat $70 billion in misplaced and stolen inventory costs each year. MIT graduate student Simson Garfinkel is suggesting a voluntary RFID Bill of Rights, under which companies would tell consumers about RFID use and allow them to switch tags off.
- "Software Issues Hinder Bluetooth Interoperability"
CommsDesign (03/16/03); Keenan, Robert
Bluetooth devices may or may not interoperate, depending on which software profiles they have installed, warned a panel at the CTIA Wireless 2003 showcase in New Orleans. Although hardware interoperability was pretty much "watertight," CSR's Eric Janson said getting different software profiles in sync was a much more difficult task. The profiles in question are pieces of code that optimize the Bluetooth chip for the specific job at hand, such as linking mice to the keyboard or for printing, and the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) has already laid out profiles for a number of functions. The problem is that there are no absolute rules about what definitions to use, a decision that Janson said should remain with the manufacturer. Still, the Bluetooth SIG, under pressure from industry players, has begun formulating basic profile guidelines for PCs, cell phones, and other mobile devices. Bluetooth SIG's Eric Schneider expects that two of these guidelines would be released by the second quarter of this year. Although interoperability issues take some of the luster off Bluetooth technology, the panelists also noted that chip manufacturers had achieved important price thresholds for Bluetooth components, and can put an entire Bluetooth solution in a device for about $4. The panelists also discussed making installed Bluetooth profiles easy to understand for end users, and suggested a GUI interface, as well as an open application-programming interface (API) that would enable end users to use profiles on different platforms.
- "Virtual Reality Training and Terrorist Attack Preparation"
Newswise (03/15/03); Faucett, Claire
The University of Missouri-Rolla (UMR) plans to develop a virtual reality system to train police officers, firefighters, and hazardous material personnel, especially in regard to possible terrorist acts, says Dr. Ming Leu, a professor in the university's department of mechanical and aerospace engineering. The initiative is being funded by a $1.05 million grant from TACOM, the Army's Tank-Automotive and Armament Command. The proposed system is intended to allow first responders to train in several virtual environments as arranged by training supervisors. UMR researchers are targeting situations that entail chemical agents and other weapons of mass destruction, Leu says, who adds that the system will allow training to become more effective and less costly. Leu notes that a simulated environment helps protect workers from real physical risks, and provides some scenarios difficult to simulate in reality. Trainees would wear essentially the same gear they would use in a real catastrophe, and they would be challenged physically and mentally. Leu says they would "perform tasks to the same standard that they would be required to in a real situation in order to complete their mission."
- "Real World Robots"
Newsweek (03/24/03) Vol. 141, No. 12, P. 42; Stone, Brad
Real world applications for robots, or machines that make decisions by themselves, are on the rise. At the hospital at the University of California, San Francisco, for example, a 600-pound, five-foot robotic cabinet called Elvis carries blood samples and medications to locations across the entire building. It maneuvers in the hallways and calls elevators wirelessly, and can steer clear of people and objects. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries is developing Wakamaru, a three-foot-tall robotic health care worker to be unveiled in early 2004 and priced at $10,000. It is intended to take care of elderly people at their homes and can talk, give hugs, and email people if something appears unusual. Meanwhile, Honeybee Robotics will release the torpedo-shaped Wisor later this year, which is expected to creep though steam pipes in New York City and weld cracks to stop leaks. The robot pinpoints the leak, cleans the area, fixes it, and also uses five cameras to maneuver through curvy pipes. In addition, the U.S. military is spending some $1.14 billion between 2004 to 2009 to develop robotic, unmanned airplanes, such as Boeing's X-45, that can attack targets from 40,000 feet, open and close bay doors, and land by itself. Meanwhile, work on multipurpose robots is underway at Sony and other firms. Five years ago Carnegie Mellon University robotics guru Hans Moravec predicted that such robots would be available today, but he now says it will just take a little longer. In fact, Sony believes that in 30 years the robot industry will be bigger than the computer industry.
- "Flu Shots for Computers"
Economist (03/15/03) Vol. 366, No. 8135, P. 8
Researchers have applied computing to biology to map the human genome, but now biology is being applied to computing to fight electronic viruses and worms. Sana Security has borrowed the concept of the human immune system in its effort to create software that protects computers from security breaches. Sana's Primary Response software, based on research done at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, is designed to work similar to the way the body's natural immune system fights off illness by creating a profile of itself. Primary Response monitors programs running on computers such as remote-login, Web, email, and database servers, looking at patterns of system access requests to build up the profile. This method is distinct from others that rely on built-in assumptions of what an attack will look like. The software considers a deviation from the profile an attack, and moves to block all file access associated with a program under attack, protecting files from being stolen, modified, and deleted, and stopping new programs from being launched. Primary Response also does a forensic investigation of file-access details, log files, and open network connections to determine what happened. Besides hacker break-ins, Sana Security founder Steven Hofmeyr says the system also alerts administrators to malfunctions and other cases of irregular behavior. Customers who use Sana's solution report only a few false alarms each month.
- "Microprocessors March On"
Computerworld (03/10/03) Vol. 37, No. 10, P. 25; Anthes, Gary H.
Chipmakers expect to get another 10 years or so of progress out of the silicon semiconductor before it may be necessary to switch to another technology, but even now as the number of transistors per chip proceeds toward a billion, the cost of designing and manufacturing chips will be scaling upward rapidly--and physical properties at the "deep submicron" level will bring great hurdles in terms of power dissipation and other problems. Some 60 percent of the performance gains in microprocessors have come from higher clock frequencies, with the balance coming from processing architectures that improve throughput by predicting instructions ahead of time and thus allowing more than one instruction per clock tick, but the number of instructions that can be executed "speculatively" is also becoming difficult and expensive. Carnegie Mellon University engineering professor James Hoe says developers will increasingly be relying on tricks such as multithreading, simultaneous multithreading, chip multiprocessing, and runtime optimization to squeeze more parallelism from programs and job streams. For ordinary desktop users, the ever-increasing clock speeds could eventually reach a plateau of usefulness, according to Kevin Krewell of MicroDesign Resources "Microprocessor Report" newsletter, who predicts that desktop processor designs, particularly notebooks, will increasingly be oriented toward low power consumption, quiet operation, and low mass rather than raw speed. Meanwhile, companies such as IBM that are looking to avoid the power dissipation problems at smaller and smaller manufacturing nodes are turning to techniques such as "strained silicon" as well as new materials and methods for improving the speed and efficiency of gates while also reducing their size. IBM also predicts that it may someday find a way to include hundreds of processors with dynamic RAM and logic on a single chip, as well as to produce processor chips with application-specific functions such as encryption, video compression, or speech processing.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Harnessing Quantum Bits"
Technology Review (03/03) Vol. 106, No. 2, P. 58; Hiltzik, Michael
Quantum computers designed to exploit the unique nature of quantum physics to carry out calculations far beyond the capacity of conventional computers have begun to move out of the conceptual phase, thanks to pioneering work by researchers such as Isaac Chuang, who is investigating ways to trap quantum bits (qubits). Central to quantum computers' superior problem-solving abilities are the phenomena of superposition, in which the qubit exists as 1 and 0 simultaneously, and entanglement, whereby the properties of quantum particles are linked even when the particles are separated by great distances. Nine years ago, AT&T Bell Labs mathematician Peter W. Shor algorithmically proved that a quantum computer could factor large numbers exponentially faster than conventional techniques, but practical applications have eluded researchers for some time; the last two years have seen better comprehension of qubit mechanisms, which in turn has re-ignited interest in finding practical uses. Edward Farhi of MIT's Center for Theoretical Physics notes that a quantum computer would be able to travel all paths between two points at once, though mapping out an optimum route is currently beyond its capabilities. However, this same property would make quantum computers ideal for exponentially faster database searches, according to Bell Labs' Lov Grover. Chuang and fellow MIT researcher Neil Gershenfeld were able to control and measure the spin of seven qubits via nuclear magnetic resonance, but Chuang admits that meaningful computation will involve "thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of qubits." A team lead by David J. Wineland of the National Institute of Standards and Technology is investigating an alternative approach involving "ion traps" that theoretically could be used to create a quantum memory. Wineland notes that quantum entanglement research could be used to significantly boost the precision of atomic clocks, which are a key element of mobile communications networks, satellite tracking technologies, and geographic positioning systems. Philip Kuekes of HP Labs adds that quantum cryptography, which is also supported by entanglement, could emerge soon.