ACM TechNews is intended as an objective news digest for busy IT Professionals. Views expressed are not necessarily those of either Gateway Inc. or ACM.

To send comments, please write to [email protected].

Volume 2, Issue 61:  Friday, May 26, 2000

  • "Computer Associates Says New Virus Can Flood E-Mail Systems"
    InfoWorld.com (05/25/00); Niccolai, James

    Computer Associates on Thursday reported that a new virus called Cybernet can flood email networks and reformat hard drives, posing a major threat to e-businesses and home users. By contrast, other antivirus software firms do not view Cybernet as a significant threat. Still, CA says Cybernet is similar to the Melissa virus and has been discovered in the wild. Infected emails arrive with the subject line "You've GOT Mail!!!" and a message assuring targets that the attached document is virus-free. The virus targets Microsoft Outlook, sending itself to the first 50 names in a user's address book. When a user reboots the computer, the virus attempts to reformat the hard drive.

  • "U.S. Judge Calls Abrupt End to Microsoft Trial"
    Wall Street Journal (05/25/00) P. A3; Wilke, John R.; Buckman, Rebecca

    The Microsoft trial is moving quickly toward a conclusion as Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson yesterday denied the company's request for more time and suggested that breaking up Microsoft may not be a strong enough remedy. Jackson asked that the government's proposed remedy be submitted by tomorrow, and allotted Microsoft only two days to respond, meaning the case could be in his possession by Wednesday, and a decision would be made shortly thereafter. Jackson, concerned that two monopolies may form if Microsoft is simply split in two, appeared to lean toward a plan to break Microsoft into three companies. Meanwhile, the Justice Department counsel said a three-way breakup had been rejected as potentially disruptive, inefficient, and damaging to consumers. The government also wants to place restrictions on Microsoft's conduct during the appeal process, and filed two emails written by Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates to support this need. Microsoft plans to appeal with the argument that Jackson hurried the judgment on the remedy, while observers point out that Microsoft benefits from a longer trial.
    (Access for paying subscribers only.)

  • "House Approves China Trade Bill"
    SiliconValley.com (05/24/00); Puzzanghera, Jim

    The House of Representatives voted on Wednesday to grant permanent normal trade relations to China, clearing the path for that country to join the World Trade Organization (WTO) this year. Silicon Valley has a high potential to profit from the House's vote and China's subsequent acceptance into the WTO, which will give high-tech companies access to the 1.3 billion consumers in China and reduce tariffs on American and other foreign goods. The U.S. could benefit from the trade concessions that China had agreed to provide to all WTO members only if Congress granted China normal trade status permanently under WTO rules. Support for China's acceptance came from farmers and businesses, especially high-tech firms, congressional Republican leaders, President Clinton, and both presidential nominees. Organized labor, environmental activists, religious groups, veterans' organizations, human-rights advocates, anti-Communists, and most House Democrats opposed the vote, saying the trade deal will cost American jobs. Further, removing the annual review of China's trade status will eliminate any leverage the government had to press reforms in China, critics say. Opponents also point out that the U.S. trade deficit with China has continued to increase primarily because China does not comply with trade laws.

  • "Internet Spreads Its Web to Interactive E-Government"
    Financial Times (05/26/00) P. 4; Lerner, Dan

    The Internet is changing the way the government works by revolutionizing the way it interacts with citizens. The use of technology will make governments more efficient and less expensive, and will improve the speed and quality of their services. The U.S. government, which is currently discussing in Congress how to best take advantage of the new technology, is quickly finding that placing large amounts of information on the Web is not enough. The key will be integration. Users should be able to find information on specific topics provided by several different government departments at a single Web site. Government agencies have created a CIO council, made up of CIOs from all the departments, that shares practices in an effort to find the best way to develop integrated e-government systems. Congress views Virginia, one of the most technologically advanced states, as an example of how to use the Internet. All of the agencies in Virginia are required to explain how they will interact with citizens over the Web by June 1, and all the forms of each agency must be made available for download by year's end. Meanwhile, an increase in the number of business-to-government companies signals the private sector's faith in e-government. Others believe government-to-government systems will begin to appear as more information becomes available to share.

  • "Flaws in 2 Pocket PCs May Cause a Glitch in Consumer Interest"
    Los Angeles Times (05/25/00) P. C1; Kaplan, Karen

    The handheld market might suffer a setback with consumers as a result of two flaws announced this week by leading handheld makers Palm and Hewlett-Packard. More than a dozen users of the Palm IIIc, Palm's first handheld with a color screen, reported hairline cracks on the back of the device. Palm is offering free replacements for its cracked handhelds. Meanwhile, HP announced that its Jornada 540 Series Pocket PC only displays 4,000 colors rather than the 65,000 hues the company originally promised. The flaw stems from a 12-bit chip that accidentally made its way into the device instead of one of the 16-bit chips that are supposed to power the screen, HP says. Jornada 540 users who are dissatisfied with their purchase can return the device, but most users will not notice the difference, says HP. The negative publicity generated by the Palm and HP flaws could further shake consumer confidence in the costly devices, even as handheld makers work to expand their consumer base, analysts say.

  • "Code War"
    ABCNews.com (05/25/00); Segan, Sascha

    As of Monday, European Union countries will be free from export restrictions on encryption software. Member nations will be able to sell virtually any type of encryption product to all EU countries, as well as 10 others, including the U.S., Canada, Australia, and Japan. Governments regulated the export of encryption devices in the past due to national security concerns, but the new policy is designed to boost consumer confidence in e-commerce by allowing products to be sold that can keep personal data such as credit card numbers safe from Internet criminals. American firms are expected to suffer as a result of the EU's newly liberalized export rules. Although the U.S. significantly loosened its own encryption export regulations in January, industry insiders say a large amount of bureaucracy can still delay product launches for nearly a month. Observers also say the U.S. government keeps a wary eye on the export of certain types of programs to all foreign governments. However, the U.S. Commerce Department is expected to review the new EU rules in June and change American export rules in order to keep U.S. firms on a level playing field.

  • "Indian Software Workers Spurn Jobs In Germany"
    Washington Times (05/25/00) P. A17; Harding, Luke

    Germany's plan to fill its IT worker shortage by luring thousands of high-tech workers from India has failed to draw much interest so far. Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's proposed visa program, which would permit 20,000 foreign high-tech workers to come to Germany on five-year visas, has attracted only 160 Indians. High-tech workers in India say they would rather work in the U.S. than in Germany, where salaries are lower, visas are restricted to five years, immigration is difficult, and families are discouraged from accompanying employees. The visa program was suggested as a way to tap India and Eastern Europe for the 75,000 workers currently lacking in the German IT industry, which is creating 30,000 to 40,000 new positions a year. Despite the push to recruit foreign workers, Christian Democrat politician Jurgen Ruttgers repelled many Indians with an election slogan calling for German children rather than Indian software workers to fill the IT void.

  • "Net Registration Bill Could Trigger Exodus From French Web Sites"
    New York Times Online (05/23/00)

    In a move apparently unprecedented in Europe or the United States, the French government is currently sponsoring a bill, the Liberty of Communications Act, that would require that the names of all people who publish pages on the Web be registered with authorities. The bill came about in response to a 1999 case involving a nude photograph of a model that was placed on a free Web site without her consent; under the provisions of the bill, legal liability for what is published on the Web would be placed on the individual who created it, rather than on Internet Web hosting firms. France's biggest free Web hosting company, Libertysurf.com, argues that the bill would destroy its business through additional maintenance costs and would draw users away to places on the Web where this kind of registration is not a legal requirement. A technical advisor for the French Culture Ministry, Philippe Chantepie, says that the primary objective of the bill is to eliminate anonymity in Web page publishing, although the bill would also allow for easier pursuit of criminals on the Internet.

  • "U.K. E-Commerce Minister Is Ineffective, Say Dot.Coms"
    (05/19/00); Lewell, John

    Despite Prime Minister Tony Blair's commitment to make the U.K. "the best place to trade electronically by 2002," leading dot-coms give the U.K. government poor marks when it comes to supporting e-commerce, according to a survey conducted for Penton Media's Internet World. Only 15 percent of the dot-com and blue chip companies that responded to the survey believe that the government is playing a positive role in e-commerce, and 72 percent think the government needs to step up its efforts. A mere 7 percent of respondents feel E-commerce Minister Patricia Hewitt is doing a good job, and only 20 percent are even aware that Alex Allen is the U.K.'s e-envoy. Organizers of the upcoming Internet World UK 2000 are disappointed that the prime minister will not be giving the keynote address at the show.

  • "CERT Urges Users to Install Office 2000 Patch"
    InfoWorld.com (05/25/00); Vijayan, Jaikumar

    The Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT) at Carnegie Mellon on Wednesday released an a warning for Office 2000 users to immediately install Microsoft's patch for the flaw found this month in the ActiveX Control called Microsoft Office UA Control. Although no users have actually been affected by the problem, the vulnerability is so large that CERT felt the advisory was in order. Hackers could exploit the flaw to execute random code that could distribute itself to all the names in a user's address book, disable macro warnings in Office 2000, and reduce a company's level of antivirus security. The flaw, discovered by AtStake's Lopht Research Labs, affects Office 2000 and its components, including Word 2000, Excel 2000, PowerPoint 2000, and Outlook 2000. CERT also contradicts some of Microsoft's advice for handling the problem. For example, Microsoft's Web site says the flaw does not affect users who run their email programs in Outlook 2000's Restricted Zone, but CERT says these users might still be affected if they do not apply the patch.

  • "Web's 'Rational' Phase on Way"
    USA Today (05/25/00) P. 5B; McMahon, Patrick

    Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates predicts that the Internet is entering a "rational" phase in which the gross revenue-based transaction mania of the past few years will be replaced by an emphasis on long term outlook and the bottom line. The sun is also setting on the "keyboard centric" era of the Internet, and Gates predicts the next phase will witness a blurring of the boundaries between disparate elements such as computer messages, Internet text, calendars, notebooks, and lengthy manuscripts. Gates allows that Internet access via high-speed phone lines has come about slower than first thought.

  • "Value of E-Mail? About $9,000 Per Worker"
    Investor's Business Daily (05/25/00) P. A8; Korzeniowski, Paul

    Ferris Research conducted a survey this year attempting to determine the effect of email on the bottom line of companies. Email is thought of as a business tool and is used by organizations of all sizes, yet many companies with email have not decided whether the service promotes or harms employee productivity. The survey found that email is more efficient than the regular mail and facsimiles and reduces the number of phone messages for employees and the time necessary to go through those messages and copy the information. However, message volume increases with email, causing some important business information to be put aside. Email also provides distractions and an environment where inappropriate material can be more easily posted. Considering all these factors, the report determined that email does improve employee productivity by an average of 326 hours annually. Using a complex formula to convert the hours to a dollar value, Ferris Research reported that companies gain approximately $9,000 net per employee annually, or about a 15 percent gain in productivity. To improve on this percentage, Ferris Research recommends more efficient management of company email systems by assisting users in recognizing junk email, reducing company distribution lists, and dissuading employees from using email for personal reasons. Companies have been working to make email more productive, and time management courses dealing with the service are becoming more common.

  • "States Wrestle With Touchy Issue of Info E-Sharing"
    Washington Technology (05/22/00) Vol. 15, No. 4, P. 1; LeSueur, Steve

    As government services increasingly move online, states are struggling to preserve citizens' privacy while also providing public access to information. State governments gather a wide range of data about residents, including credit card numbers, child support payments, criminal histories, driving records, Social Security numbers, and medical records. Jeffrey Eisenach of the Progress & Freedom Foundation, a group that is studying the issue of e-government and privacy, warns that a hacker will succeed in posting sensitive government-owned data about citizens on a Web site within the next 12 months. To counter this threat, government officials are considering how e-government will affect privacy. For example, the IT Task Force of the National Governors' Association will meet this month to increase privacy awareness among governors moving toward digital government. Meanwhile, the National Electronic Commerce Coordinating Council is working on a Web site that will contain federal, state, and local privacy policies. Privacy and efficiency are often contradictory demands, especially in the area of criminal justice, says Paul Kendall of the Office of Justice Programs. Although police can prevent crime more effectively if information is easily accessible, making this type of data available can also infringe on privacy. However, some legislators believe privacy concerns are overblown and citizens appear to accept some of their data being available online in exchange for greater convenience.

  • "Whistle (Illegally?) While You Work"
    Industry Standard (05/29/00) Vol. 3, No. 20, P. 147; Newitz, Annalee

    Dot-coms the world over continue to use their servers to churn out extensive music collections for their employees, even though MP3.com's My.MP3 software has been dealt a blow by a recent copyright infringement ruling and Napster faces pending lawsuits. High-tech companies continue to create databases of copyrighted music and make it available to employees in the workplace, which is the same thing MP3.com was sued for. Although most observers say the sharing of copyrighted digital files in the workplace is illegal, they add that it is impossible to keep it from happening. Nevertheless, universities across the country have decided to block the use of Napster and the downloading of MP3s. Neil Rosini, the attorney who represents MP3.com competitor MyPlay.com, says juries may be more willing to punish money-making companies than nonprofit universities. Rosini, who believes such activity is not allowed under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, says companies are benefiting commercially by allowing the sharing of digital audio. In addition to the illegal copying, "performing music in a public place by transmission from a central location" is wrong because companies are not paying a public performance fee, says Rosini. Some companies have gone as far as mentioning MP3 servers during interviews as a job perk. However, other companies are trying to get around the copyright issue in other ways. Web-design firm Phoenix Pop has started an in-house radio station that operates on a license that is similar to what a college radio station would have.

  • "Proposed New Law an Insult to Freedom"
    Boardwatch (05/00) Vol. 14, No. 5, P. 24; Thompson, Jim

    Several major software companies are using their money and political sway to force the passage of the Uniform Computer Information Transaction Act (UCITA) at the expense of consumer protection laws and basic constitutional rights, writes Jim Thompson, managing editor of Western News Service. The proposed law would apply to software contracts as well as most contracts for information in an electronic format. UCITA redefines software sales as licensing agreements, which could prevent buyers from reselling or even donating the software. Under UCITA, software vendors could bill customers for technical support of known glitches. In addition, all contract terms except for price could be concealed until the consumer buys the product, and then software vendors could alter contract terms via email, without being required to prove that the consumer received the message. Most disturbing to Thompson is UCITA's provision that would allow the fine print of non-disclosure clauses to block the publication of product reviews--a measure Thompson says is contrary to freedom of the press and freedom of speech. After fighting hundreds of years to win these rights, "a few nerds with pocket protectors and a promise of money are trying to take away these fundamental freedoms," Thompson says. UCITA's supporters, including Microsoft, Intuit, Novell, and Lotus argue that the bill would bring contract law up to date for e-commerce and make the laws consistent across all the states. Opponents of the measure include the Attorneys General of 26 states, many law professors, Sun Microsystems, the Free Software Foundation, and several other groups.

[ Archives ] [ Home ]