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 512: Wednesday, June 25, 2003
- "Senator Presses Pentagon on Spy Plan"
CNet (06/24/03); McCullagh, Declan
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) wrote a letter to the director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) on June 24 asking 11 questions concerning the scope, privacy ramifications, and other details of Terrorist (formerly Total) Information Awareness (TIA), a data-mining initiative that aims to comb databases for indications of terrorist activity. "I remain very deeply concerned that TIA technology will be used to plow through large amounts of private information on individual Americans in the United States in search of hypothetical threat situations," Wyden wrote. Congress instructed DARPA earlier this year to furnish a report on how the final deployment of TIA would be covered by existing statutes. In response, DARPA submitted a lengthy study on May 20 and insisted that TIA would not be used to build master profiles of every American citizen. In his letter, Wyden asked what specific types of information--wire transfers, loan applications, credit card activity, and so on--would be stored in the databases involved in TIA, and inquired how DARPA would successfully locate 1 million photos for its Next Generation Face Recognition Program. A further point of inquiry concerned how much authority would be assigned to a newly organized privacy advisory committee.
For information regarding ACM's arguments against TIA, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm/Issues/TIA.htm.
- "New California Law Forces Companies to Disclose Hacking"
Associated Press (06/23/03)
A California law that takes effect on July 1, 2003, requires companies to notify state customers about network intrusions that compromise the security of their personal information. Personal information, according to the bill, refers to an individual's first name, or initial and last name; along with either a Social Security number, driver's license number, credit or debit card account number and security code, or state ID number. Companies must expediently alert clients to break-ins via snail mail or email, except in cases where such disclosure might interfere with a criminal probe. Failure to comply with the law would damage companies' reputations and make them vulnerable to litigation, although no specific fines would be levied against them according to the new California law. Companies subject to the law include any company that stores data electronically and conducts business in California.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "PlanetLab 'Slices' Into Alternate Universe"
InternetNews.com (06/24/03); Singer, Michael
PlanetLab, which was launched June 24 by a consortium of academic institutions and high-tech companies, is an Internet-based testbed for online services that uses overlay networks and distributed computing. Organizers say its purpose is to allow educational agencies and private enterprise to develop next-generation Internet applications without toppling the current Internet system. "This is about pooling resources and to build out the infrastructure, but in the end this about lowering the barrier to entry to developing on the Internet," explains Larry Peterson of Princeton University, which is hosting PlanetLab. Peterson adds that the success of the project is riding on the participation of high-tech companies such as Intel, which has contributed seed funds and 100 computers; Hewlett-Packard has donated an additional 10 computers, while more tech companies are expected to become PlanetLab sponsors over the next several months. PlanetLab currently consists of 60 universities and 160 computers distributed among 65 sites throughout the globe, mostly in the United States, Europe, and Australia. PlanetLab has been used as a experimental platform for over 70 academic research projects involving distributed storage, network mapping, distributed query processing, peer-to-peer systems, and other technologies. PlanetLab, which uses software derived from the Linux operating system, can also assign "slices" of the testbed's worldwide hardware resources to an application. PlanetLab organizers note that network services implemented on the testbed follow real-world Internet behavior patterns where unpredictability is the only certainty, and PlanetLab offers a perspective on the Internet that combines many different viewpoints, which can facilitate the creation of a new category of services.
- "Hackers Move on to Hijacking"
CNBC News (06/24/03); Cobb, Jerry
Hackers are commandeering Web sites and using them as platforms to launch all kinds of unauthorized activity--transmission of unsolicited commercial email, pornographic site hosting, searching for more computers to victimize and so on--via an intrusion method known as corporate identity theft or cyberjacking. "Its part of an overall trend of spammers becoming more fraudulent and more criminal in the means that they use to get their spam out," notes SecurityFocus computer security expert Kevin Poulsen, who says that cyberjacking may not even be considered a crime yet, given that no one has been prosecuted for the practice. He says the primary targets for cyberjackers are large companies and local governments with idle Internet addresses. Hackers disguise themselves as the authentic owners of these addresses by presenting counterfeit documents and setting up shell companies. The unused addresses number in the hundreds of thousands, a fact that prompts experts to think that many victims exist who are unaware that their computers have been hijacked. The growth of cyberjacking is partly attributed to an increasing shortage of addresses in the current version of the Internet, a problem that may be solved with the emergence of Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6). However, IPv6 is not expected to be ready for 10 years or longer.
- "Sony's Flexible Approach Pays Dividends in Lab"
Financial Times (06/25/03) P. 9; Fitzpatrick, Michael
Sony's Tokyo-based interactive research laboratory plays host to a research team that has been gathered to explore novel computer interface concepts such as Gummi, a flexible handheld device that is sensitive to touching and bending, and GestureWrist, a gadget worn on the wrist that can transmit instructions to a computer in response to muscular signals in the user's arm. Most of the Sony lab's ideas stem from haptics, which focuses on tactile sensations that elicit responses. One of the lab's major innovations is TouchEngine, a technology that causes a liquid crystal display (LCD) screen to jump slightly when touched, a key development toward the goal of a responsive touch screen. Lab director Jun Rekimoto says his philosophy is to encourage researchers to consider any concept no matter how absurd it may seem, as well as develop prototypes even when they have no apparent practical value. Rekimoto is the creator of SmartSkin, an interactive surface that reacts to hand and finger gestures and features completely integrated sensor components. "We like to look five to 10 years ahead and ask ourselves the big 'what if?' question, without constraining ourselves with the current state of technology," explains Ivan Poupyrev, one of Gummi's developers. "That will allow us to stay ahead of the current trends and push Sony's vision into the future." Poupyrev and other researchers appreciate the lab's atmosphere, which encourages the design of products that are fun as well as useful, and is a comfortable fit with people with whimsical minds.
- "Bill Aims to Cut Computer Clutter"
Wired News (06/25/03); Dean, Katie
The National Computer Recycling Act sponsored by Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.) aims to curb the growing stockpile of discarded computers by attaching a fee of about $10 to new computer or monitor purchases to fund recycling initiatives. Both computer manufacturers and environmental boosters applaud the move, but agree that the bill needs to be developed further: For one thing, environmentalists think that manufacturers, rather than consumers, should be responsible for recycling. Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition executive director Ted Smith argues that Thompson's legislation "doesn't really create any incentive for the producers to develop easier-to-recycle and less-toxic equipment." On the other hand, Heather Bowman of the Electronic Industry Alliance says that producers are in favor of a national recycling law, but opinion is divided on the proposed fee. Some think the consumer fee is a good policy, while others such as Hewlett-Packard believe recycling should be a shared responsibility between manufacturers, consumers, and the government. Smith also notes that Congress is currently ill-disposed toward any new environmental rules, which lowers the odds of quick congressional action on Thompson's bill. Adam Schafer of the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators reports that roughly half the U.S. states have proposed some type of e-waste legislation, and Thompson explains that his bill is not an attempt to override individual state regulations, but to institute a more coordinated recycling strategy. "[The legislators] are just happy that someone in Congress is coming out to address this issue, so there is at least legislation out there that will provide some monetary support to get these programs funded," says Schafer.
- "Quantum Computing Is Out There, and It Just Got Funding"
USA Today (06/25/03) P. 3B; Maney, Kevin
Venture-capitalist firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson (DFJ) has funded Canada-based D-Wave Systems, the only startup in the world that aims to build a working quantum computer. Quantum computers, which rely on the quirky science of quantum mechanics to operate, could potentially calculate millions or billions of times faster than current leading supercomputers. The key to quantum computing is atomic spins' characteristic ability to be simultaneously up and down, a trait that allows a series of atoms, or qubits, to perform all possible calculations synchronically. But coaxing an individual qubit to work is extraordinarily difficult, because even a single photon of light can halt the calculation process. To solve this problem, D-Wave physicist Alexandre Zagoskin is attempting to harness the phenomenon of entanglement--the instantaneous communication between two atoms no matter how much distance separates them. D-Wave claims it could have a working quantum computer ready in five years. However, Sam Braunstein of Bangor University in the United Kingdom notes, "Going to a full-scale quantum computer is a big job, and most people conservatively think it will take 20 to 50 years." DFJ decided to invest in D-Wave as a complement to its nanotechnology funding initiative, partly in response to nanotech executives' need to be able to model atomic forces in order to design and create atomic structures.
- "Software Referees Group Calls"
Technology Research News (06/25/03); Patch, Kimberly
A collaboration between researchers at Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), Carnegie Mellon University, and Stanford University has yielded a prototype audio interface featuring software that mediates group teleconferencing with more flexibility by automatically adjusting the audio levels when it ascertains that certain members of the group are engaged in intimate conversations. The software determines discourse between individual persons by using patterns outlined through conversation analysis, and PARC researcher Paul Aoki explains, "The techniques we use are simple enough that all of the processing easily runs in real time on a desktop PC." He notes, for example, that if four people split into two pairs start to converse, the system is programmed to notice this and adjust the audio so that neither pair is distracted by the other's conversation. However, if a member of one pair starts addressing the other pair, the system will automatically return the audio to a normal volume level. The prototype interface was tested with two groups of four people who were able to work with the system without being told its function, according to Aoki. When the prototype sessions were compared to regular teleconferencing sessions, the researchers noticed a significant difference in speech patterns: Aoki says that participants in the adjusted audio environment spoke more naturally than those in the regular teleconference, whose conversations were punctuated by pauses and interruptions. Aoki notes that the system's automatic audio configuration saves handset users the trouble of manually punching in commands, or missing important information from one group by cutting off their audio to converse with another person or group. Aoki says the system can be easily embedded in current mobile phones, and expects practical applications to be ready within three to five years.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Exhibiting Technology"
Boston Globe (06/23/03) P. C1; Denison, D.C.
Museums and tourist exhibits are providing cutting-edge technology with an incubator of sorts, and emphasize experiences rather than the return-on-investment demanded in the wider business world. Seattle museum planner Howard Litwak explains that museums compete with stimulating activities such as video games and theme parks, and need to keep their exhibits and experience fresh, and can do so by employing new technology. The Portland Museum of Art in Maine features an interactive kiosk where visitors can take virtual tours of the nearby McLellan House, which the museum restored. Users can view 360-degree pictures of each room that were taken with Peace Rivers Studios' PixOrb camera, an experimental project. The Current Science & Technology Center at the Museum of Science in Boston allows visitors to experience navigating a virtual version of the mechanical marble maze game. The system, designed by MIT expert Ron MacNeil, tracks participants' movements and calculates how their shifting body mass would affect the projected display. Personal digital assistant (PDA) systems are also changing the museum experience by allowing visitors to tap more information--audio, text, and visual--about displays they are intrigued by. At Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen's Experience Music Project in Seattle, for example, visitors can access a wealth of additional content via MEGs, or Mobile Exhibit Guides. The Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Mass., recently built a 7,000-square-foot interactive learning center where visitors use "Acoustiguide" wands to not only retrieve extra information, but also send it to their email accounts.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "New Bill Injects FBI Into P2P Battle"
CNet (06/20/03); Becker, David
The Piracy Deterrence and Education Act of 2003 presented to Congress by Reps. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and Howard Berman (D-Calif.) on June 19 this year would command the FBI to organize a program to investigate and prosecute online copyright infringement. The bill instructs the FBI to develop an alert message--bearing the bureau insignia--that copyright owners could send to suspected infringers, and the bill also takes steps to increase the exchange of information on suspected violators among ISPs, law enforcement, and copyright holders. Furthermore, the Justice Department would be required to recruit agents familiar with intellectual property issues and computer hacking, while the U.S. Attorney General would be instructed to develop programs to spread awareness of copyright issues throughout the public in tandem with the U.S. Commerce and Education Departments. Entertainment industry organizations such as the Motion Picture Association of America and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) are enthusiastic about the proposal. "This common sense, bipartisan bill will help ensure that federal prosecutors across the country have the resources and expertise to fully enforce the copyright laws on the books--especially against those who illegally distribute massive quantities of copyrighted music online," declares RIAA President Cary Sherman. However, Electronic Frontier Foundation staff attorney Wendy Seltzer warns the bill muddies the difference between civil and criminal enforcement methods used against suspected copyright violators, and Seltzer says the bill is an attempt to entangle the FBI in copyright disputes and issues. In addition, Seltzer notes that forcing ISPs to share information with law enforcement and copyright holders could endanger the right to privacy. The legislation would enable the FBI to pressure ISPs and tell ISPs, "You also need to give information on users to the RIAA whenever they ask," contends Seltzer.
- "Researchers Demonstrate Tunable Schottky Barrier, Aim for Ferroelectric"
EE Times (06/23/03); Johnson, R. Colin
Scientists have redefined one of the tenets of electronic computing with the discovery of a flexible Schottky barrier, the intersection of semiconductor and oxide material regulating the flow of electrons from one to the other. Named for Siemens engineer Walter Schottky, the barrier was long understood through the original assumptions about the intrinsic properties of both sides, according to Oak Ridge National Laboratories scientist Dr. Rodney McKee. McKee asked North Carolina State University physicist Marco Buongiorno Nardelli to help create an accurate model of the Schottky barrier, and found a third component that results from the interaction of semiconductor junction. The scientists believe the new discovery will open up possibilities previously not considered in semiconductor research, and eventually lead to faster and smaller computers, perhaps stabilizing a ferroelectric transistor. The researchers are currently testing different ways to tune both sides of the junction to affect electron flow. A ferroelectric transistor switches on and off simply by reversing the polarity of the junction.
- "Virtual Voting"
ABCNews.com (06/24/03); Eng, Paul
The Department of Defense will use the general and presidential elections of 2004 as a testbed for its Secure Electronic Registration and Voting Experiment (SERVE), an e-voting project designed to streamline the absentee voting process for Americans living overseas as well as address potential problems, such as confirming votes without jeopardizing voter anonymity, and securing the system against hackers and other malicious parties. SERVE has been primarily developed for servicemen and women stationed abroad, whose absentee voting is often complicated by the capriciousness of overseas mail. American citizens living outside the country can log onto a secure DoD Web site to register, and provide personal details that would be verified by local election officials. Voters then receive a digital certificate to identify them, and can access the Web server from any Internet-enabled computer, where they can download an electronic ballot that is encrypted and sent back to the server once the votes have been cast; the military's Web computer transmits the e-ballots to the proper election county computer once it has confirmed that each e-ballot contains a valid digital certificate. Notable Software President Rebecca Mercuri believes social barriers could impede the rollout of e-voting systems outside the military: For one thing, citizens may be opposed to disclosing personal information just to exercise the right to vote electronically. Furthermore, election counties cannot participate in SERVE without the approval of local legislatures, and the infrastructure for SERVE must be funded and sustained by state government. Constituencies in just 10 U.S. states are currently participating in SERVE, even though the program is open to every state in the Union. Okaloosa County, Fla., election supervisor Pat Hollarn is also skeptical that an e-voting system would significantly boost voter turnout.
Click Here to View Full Article
To learn more about ACM's efforts regarding e-voting, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm/Issues/EVoting.htm.
- "Mentors Help Students Build a Better Robot"
Los Angeles Times (06/24/03); Krikorian, Michael
The For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) robotics competition, now in its 11th year, pits teams of students against each other in the design and performance of robots, and assigns science and engineering professionals as mentors to help the teams successfully implement their designs. Raytheon Systems, Northrup Grumman, and other major firms are among those that supply mentors as well as pay for robot components. King-Drew Medical Magnet High School teacher Major Wilburn notes that the program allows kids to get hands-on experience in the real-world applications of math, science, and engineering. Each team participating in the FIRST competition is given an identical series of robot parts six weeks prior to the contest, and is told what function the robot is supposed to perform. The King-Drew team, whose challenge this year included creating a machine that could move a series of boxes into the middle of a field, was assisted in meeting that challenge by six engineers from Raytheon, Grumman, and Aerospace. Raytheon prototype machinist Nathaniel Bowman was instrumental in mentoring the students and keeping their spirits up when their machine malfunctioned. He dedicated 14 hours a week to the King-Drew team for the six weeks leading up to the competition, and saw his contribution to the program as an opportunity to repay his community.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "In Search of Africa's Silicon Valley"
BBC News (06/23/03); Hale, Briony
Several countries in Africa are attempting to follow India's lead by developing high-tech hubs and become the African equivalent of India's Bangalore. The African nations of Uganda, Togo, Senegal, and Ghana, for example, are trying to break into the global low-cost outsourcing market that is already flourishing in Eastern Europe, Central America, and the Philippines. Ghana recently attracted the interest of several large American firms seeking alternatives to India, where they say competition is already too intense. U.S. contract call center operator Global Response is expanding its operations in Ghana and will soon employ 2,500 people in the capital city of Accra. Global Response Chairman Frank Schooster considers Ghana's talent and resources equal to that of India, and just lagging those in the Philippines. Affiliated Computer Services (ACS) is moving more of its basic data entry operations to Accra, where it will employ 2,000 people in a new building near the airport. ACS has a Bangalore facility that is smaller and handles more sophisticated analytical and technical work, and turned to Ghana for its abundant labor pool. ACS' Jim Charles says he regularly receives calls from U.S. ambassadors and other firms about his company's operations in Ghana. "It just hasn't caught on yet, but more companies will start coming over soon," he predicts. International Computer Science Institute research fellow Gregg Pascal Zachary says Africa needs a concentration of technology firms that will attract others. The goal is build a critical mass of operations, generating a magnet effect that will attract other firms and concentrate talent.
- "The Sentient Office Is Coming"
Economist Technology Quarterly (06/19/03) Vol. 367, No. 8329, P. 27
Sentient computer systems that can perceive their environment and intuitively anticipate users' needs are expected to become ubiquitous due to a number of factors. Usability is one reason, since consumers desire an easier way to program and operate multiple electronic devices throughout households, as well as deal with the flood of data that comes in through such devices, phone lines, and Internet connections. Additionally, technological advances and the proliferation of mobile and wireless networks is laying the groundwork for a sentient computing infrastructure. Philips Research's Emile Aarts observes that sentient computing's popularity is being driven not only by these factors, but by the move toward an "experience-based" economy. Initiatives to develop sentient computing include MIT's Project Oxygen and Interuniversitair Micro-Elektronica Centrum's multi-mode multi-media program, which aims to create the mobile electronic equivalent of a Swiss army-knife. Challenges to sentient computing include the seamless integration of wireless networks, the spread of sensors throughout products and the environment, the accurate provision of location data, and the ability of sentient systems to merge vast volumes of widely disseminated data and customize its delivery for users. Other problems researchers will have to tackle include scalability, the development of cooperative file systems, and sentient applications' ability to find screens and network devices in close proximity to users. The security and privacy implications of sentient computing are also drawing concern.
- "How Do I Know Who You Are?"
New Scientist (06/21/03) Vol. 178, No. 2400, P. 48; Grossman, Wendy M.
Biometrics advisor James L. Wayman of San Jose State University argues that biometrics security popularized in recent years is deeply flawed for a variety of reasons, including a lack of standards, legal controversy, and the current level of technology. He explains that iris and face scanners have difficulty in accounting for abnormalities such as damaged irises and baldness, as well as moving subjects. Wayman contends that biometric systems are far more useful for negative rather than positive identification, given the difficulty in trying to identify people who are sometimes not seen for months at a time, are interrogated by several interviewers, and whose racial characteristics may complicate matters. Wayman insists that DNA should not be considered biometrics, because collecting DNA samples is invasive and constitutes a breach of privacy since, unlike irises and fingerprints, DNA reveals personal information. Definitions and international standards for biometrics security have yet to be settled upon, and there is no coordination between the various government organizations currently testing biometric systems. Successful biometric systems are not unheard of: Wayman cites Disney World's system, which uses finger geometry, and the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service's INSPACS system, which is based on hand geometry. He also calls attention to an Australian project where customs agents employ a system that takes photos of a traveler's face at multiple angles, keeps the pictures up to date, and captures people entering border crossings with three cameras to ensure that at least one image matches the multi-angle images on file. Wayman sees potential in research he is carrying out investigating the possibilities of a composite biometric system.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Defensive Postures"
CIO (06/15/03) Vol. 16, No. 17, P. 95; Tweney, Dylan
The growth of computer system vulnerabilities and hacking incidents is boosting the popularity of intrusion prevention systems (IPSes), which are split into two general categories: Host-based intrusion prevention (HIP) systems that shield servers and workstations using software agents that reside between applications and the operating system kernel, and network-based IPSes that intercept network traffic and scan it for suspicious activity. HIP solutions, which permit or shut down activity according to predetermined rules, can block unanticipated attacks, but cannot prevent denial-of-service or other generalized network intrusions. In addition, the HIP product must be deployed on every system that needs to be secured, which can be an arduous task. Network-based systems are particularly compelling in circumstances where host-based solutions are inapplicable and firewalls are ineffective, such as against assaults that emanate from within the organization's network. The disadvantages of network-based systems include their need to be updated constantly, their difficulty in dealing with unforeseen attacks, and their potential to accidentally impede legitimate traffic. Although Infonetics predicts a $1.6 billion market for intrusion detection and intrusion prevention products--with the latter category accounting for the most growth--by 2006, the sector is currently swamped with vendor offerings. Spire Security research director Pete Lindstrom and other analysts believe the confusion can be cleared up by setting distinctions between true IPSes and older systems that have added "prevention" measures. Many analysts agree that IPSes should not be viewed as a replacement technology for more traditional network security measures, but rather as a supplement for them.
- "From Virtual Communities to Smart Mobs"
Futurist (06/03) Vol. 37, No. 3, P. 6
In his book, "Smart Mobs," author Howard Rheingold envisions how group and individual interactions can be revolutionized through Web-connected cell phones that can wirelessly transmit and receive content. Text messaging via cell phones removes psychological barriers that inhibit communications in face-to-face situations; as a result, users of cell phones with text messaging capabilities--adolescents especially--are more likely to open up to relative strangers. Wireless connections can also allow disparate groups of people to organize and coordinate their actions, even in chaotic environments. These "smart mobs" fit into Rheingold's overall vision of a virtual society where interaction is not limited by geography. Other technologies giving this concept momentum include wearable computers and chips embedded into everyday objects. However, Steve Mann of the University of Toronto cautions that such an environment can infringe on an individual's privacy; to solve this dilemma, he advocates that wearable computers should be solely controlled by wearers in order to "create and foster independence and community interaction." Another technology gaining force is peer-to-peer computing, which enables large numbers of people to participate in a variety of causes or projects--cancer research, drug discovery, problem-solving, etc.--by allowing the background space on their PCs to be tapped for data processing power. But Rheingold warns that the same technology could give anonymous groups the power to exploit Internet resources to commit violence and foment anarchy.