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 3, Issue 209:  Friday, June 1, 2001

  • "Apache Survives Server Crack Attack"
    InternetNews (05/31/01); Boulton, Clint

    The Apache Software Foundation (ASF) revealed Thursday that a hacker had infiltrated its server. The server in question handles public mail lists, various Web services, and critical repositories of source code for ASF projects, but ASF officials said they took the server offline in time to prevent damage. ASF President Brian Behlendorf said the open source software model was a key reason why ASF workers were able to prevent the hacker from doing serious harm. "Through an extra verification step available to the ASF, the integrity of all source code repositories is being individually verified by developers," he said in a public statement. "This is possible because ASF source code is distributed under an open-source license, and the source code is publicly and freely available." The source of the attack is unknown, but ASF officials said they were able to uncover a great deal about the hacker's method. The hacker, apparently an Apache developer, gained access to a shell at apache.org by going through the SourceForge Web site; the hacker then was able to exploit flaws in the apache.org ssh daemon, giving him or her root privileges. The hacker next modified the existing ssh client so that it would track log-on names as well as passwords; at this point, the hacker's activities were detected by automated security audits.

  • "A Constitutional Right to Decode?"
    Wired News (05/31/01); McCullagh, Declan

    The federal appeals court presiding over the movie industry's lawsuit against 2600 Magazine recently asked both sides critical questions as to whether the DeCSS DVD-descrambling code in question enjoys free speech protection. In arguments on behalf of the magazine, the Electronic Frontier Foundation argued that the DeCSS code published by 2600 is a language to be read by a computer-savvy audience and has many non-copyright-infringing uses. For their part, the Hollywood studios attacking the DeCSS code said it is akin to gambling devices, terrorist instructions, and other illegal information and utilities. Previous court judgments have touched upon the free speech protection granted to computer code, basically upholding the argument that source code, which must be written and interpreted by humans, has constitutional protection while executable code in many cases does not. In the DeCSS case, which covers both the executable and source version of the code, the two sides have vowed to bring their argument all the way to the Supreme Court.

  • "Report: Dot-Com Layoffs Slowing Down"
    E-Commerce Times (05/30/01); Enos, Lori

    Layoffs in the dot-com sector decreased 24% from April to May, according to a new report from outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. Dot-com layoffs in May totaled 13,419, compared with 17,554 in April, but still much greater than the 2,600 dot-com layoffs in May of last year. Overall, dot-com layoffs in the first five months of 2001 total 64,983. Challenger CEO John Challenger says this month's decrease in layoffs could indicate that a balance has been reached in the dot-com sector, as firms finally begin to understand how many employees they actually need to make their business models succeed. That may be especially true among e-tailers, which saw only 310 layoffs this month, compared with 2,284 layoffs in April; Challenger says the weakest e-tailers have already folded, allowing the strongest firms to work toward profitability. Sectors that saw the most layoffs include dot-com infrastructure firms, with 5,860 layoffs in May, customer service firms, with 3,462 layoffs, and professional service firms, with 2,265 layoffs. Challenger says the large number of layoffs this year could convince IT professionals to leave IT hubs such as Seattle and Silicon Valley for areas where the demand for their expertise is still very high.

  • "Layoffs Lead to Revenge Hacking"
    USA Today Online (05/31/01)

    According to a survey of 538 businesses, universities, and government agencies by San Francisco-based Computer Security Institute, 85% had their computer systems broken into last year, and of the 186 companies that put a monetary value on the damages incurred, $378 million was reported lost as a result. Increasingly, disgruntled and fired employees are to blame for hacking into computer networks. Although many companies use plainclothes police and security guards to escort laid-off workers off their premises, more needs to be done, according to Richard Power, the editorial director of the institute, who says that in times of downsizing, employees need to be watched closely. FBI agent Greg Walton points to another problem, citing that the failure of businesses to alert network administrators when a worker is fired causes delays in cutting off the worker's access to computer systems. Walton is a member of the FBI's San Francisco computer intrusion squad, which is currently investigating about 10 cases involving hacking by unhappy or laid-off workers, a heavy load considering that the agency usually handles a total 50 cases at a time involving computer crime. A factor contributing to the increased numbers of cases being handled by law enforcement agencies is that more companies are reporting such crimes to authorities, when in the past they kept it quiet, fearing negative publicity.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Don't Lay Off Staff; Instead, Buy Fewer Computers"
    Investor's Business Daily (06/01/01) P. A4; Prado, Antonio A.

    Analysts say firms should be careful when considering layoffs during the current economic downturn. Instead, they should look to other strategies to pare their costs. Investing in money-saving technology such as an integrated copier/scanner/fax and consolidating service contracts--such as data, phone, and mobile communications--could help firms cut expenditures. Mass layoffs, while effective in boosting short-term profits, prove costly when the company has to hire new employees as the economy improves. Mercer Management Consulting senior partner Robert Atkins cites the example of Intel, which continued to ramp up crucial investments in marketing and research during the 1990-1991 recession to gain market position. Atkins advises a two-to-one investment strategy when facing a depressed economy: spending one dollar in moneymaking investments for every two dollars cut from other parts of the company budget.

  • "More Cuts in Tech Spending Mean Slump Will Drag On"
    SiliconValley.com (06/01/01); Sylvester, David A.

    A recent Deutsche Banc Alex. Brown/CIO Magazine survey of 260 CIOs suggests that the tech slump could drag on longer than expected, as many corporations are continuing to revise their tech spending downward. Because CIOs expect to do significantly less business over the Internet than previously thought, they are cutting Internet budgets correspondingly, down to 14% of overall IT budgets in May compared to 30% in August. In total, the CIOs surveyed said they had lowered expected IT expenditure growth to only 3.8% in the next year, down from estimates of 19% in November and 7.2% in April. Declining profits were cited as the greatest single factor in spending cuts, while only 21% of those surveyed said they had enough technology--a key indicator that the downturn will be a short-term rather than long-term situation, comments Deutsche Banc chief investment strategist Edward Yardeni.

  • "For Efficiency, Light-Emitting Diodes May Turn to Carbon"
    New York Times (05/31/01) P. E9; Austen, Ian

    New organic light-emitting diode (OLED) displays promise to enhance the resolution and energy-efficiency of electronic device screens. While older liquid crystal display (LCD) technology uses small filters to block backlit light and produce images, OLEDs glow themselves and do not use any filters. Additionally, OLEDs use less energy because they turn off the light instead of simply shuttering it, as LCDs do. When a screen is black, for example, OLEDs will consume no power, while a LCD display will continue to shine, although the light is blocked. Dr. Ching Tang, a research chemist with Kodak, one of the companies developing more effective LED displays, says OLEDs hold the promise of unlimited resolution. However, problems persist as LED display lifespans are 10 times shorter than LCDs and are expensive to produce. Current projects include screens for cell phones, video cameras, and virtual-reality headsets.
    (Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors will need to register.)

  • "For a Premium, INS to Expedite Visa Processing"
    Washington Post (05/31/01) P. A1; Eggen, Dan

    The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) has instituted a new visa application process that could affect how quickly foreign tech workers who are seeking visas under the H-1B process receive approval. Under the terms of the new process, certain visa applicants will be able to pay $1,000 to receive expedited processing of their applications--rather than having to wait between 60 and 90 days, as they currently must, these applicants will be processed in 15 days or less. The $1,000 fee will go toward hiring the staff needed to process the applications this quickly. Applicants covered by the new process are, in general, foreign citizens seeking work in the United States for a limited period of time, including athletes, artists, celebrities, and scientists; these will be among the first categories covered by the process, with H-1B applicants added to the program later this year. H-1B applicants will still have to pay the $1,100 H-1B application fee on top of the $1,000 fee. INS officials say the $1,000 fee does not guarantee that an application will be granted; if it is not, officials explain, the money will be returned. Critics charge that the new program will discriminate against more ordinary visa applications and will likely cause even greater delays in processing those applications because resources will be too focused on the new program.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Feds Raise Bar for Disabled"
    Wired News (05/30/01); Benner, Jeffery

    Legislation mandating that new electronics purchases by federal agencies be accessible to the disabled is creating a stir in the technology sector. An amendment to the Rehabilitation Act, the law goes into affect Jun. 21 and will open up government offices to lawsuits from citizens and employees who cannot access technology purchased after that date. Although some have feared that uncertainty over the accessibility requirements may lead to agencies foregoing technology purchases, many have lauded the move because it has forced the industry to make changes in their products. Many firms believe that the government is too big a purchaser to ignore updating their offerings. Already, significant interest has been shown in reworking government Web sites so they work with screen readers and other tools disabled people employ in order to use computers. Microsoft has mobilized a 40-member task force to rework software products so that they are accessible by the disabled. Information Technology Association of America policy expert Olga Grkavac says the new requirements will make software and hardware vendors include accessibility tools in all of their products.

  • "To Improve High-Speed 'Flip Chip,' Scientists Follow the Bouncing Droplets"
    SiliconValley.com (05/30/01)

    The promise of flip-chips has Dataquest analyst Jim Walker projecting that the presence of the technology will quadruple in all chip-package types by 2004, up from only 2% last year. Already in use in microprocessors such as Intel's Pentium II and III, flip-chips are seen as an advancement that could make cell phones more powerful, allow global positioning technology in watches, and offer richer graphics. Compared to conventional chips, flip-chips are smaller, thinner, and faster. However, flip-chips are five to 10 times as expensive to manufacture. MicroFab Technologies is attempting to meet the demand that chip makers have for flip-chips--for the past five years, the company has been producing solder-jets for manufacturing flip-chips. The only company active in this area, MicroFab's commitment to finding a cheaper way to apply solder bumps to the chips, similar to an ink-jet printer, has it working with a team of scientists at the University of Illinois at Chicago that has taken its research aboard NASA's zero-gravity training and research plane, the KC-135. By studying how liquids fall and land in zero gravity, the researchers hope to show MicroFab how to improve the formation of dozens of tiny solder droplets on chips for faster, cheaper, and more reliable manufacturing.

  • "High-Speed Links Fuel Electronic Commuting"
    Philadelphia Inquirer (05/31/01) P. F1; Kanaley, Reid

    Telecommuting experts say high-speed cable modems and DSL connections are driving the work-at-home trend. The International Telework Association and Council says the number of Americans involved in telework has risen 20% from a year ago to more than 21 million people. Some companies are starting to realize how cost-effective telecommuting can be now that the monthly cost of high-speed Internet access has come down from between $1,500 and $1,700 to between $59 and $79. Companies can save as much as $1,000 for each worker who is not part of the corporate cubicle farm. Many companies are also aware that setting up a home office is much easier to do today than in years past. The federal government sees telecommuting as a potential way to reduce traffic and smog and has started pilot programs in Philadelphia, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C., this month that will allow companies to earn tax credits. Under the program, companies are required to use the government's Teletrips software, which calculates the impact that each day of telecommuting will have on auto emissions. Government officials will then convert the reduced emissions results into tax credits for employers.

  • "ICANN's I Can't Attitude Alienating Internet Community"
    InternetNews.com (05/30/01); Wagner, Jim

    ICANN's board will be meeting in Stockholm starting June 1, and this meeting has sparked a flurry of press releases, some supporting and others denouncing ICANN. VeriSign, U.S. government officials, and ICANN officials tend to be ICANN's biggest supporters, and everyone else seems to be a critic. A key issue will be how ICANN handles alternative root servers like Atlantic Root Network, which offers .biz domain name addresses that could conflict with ICANN's soon-to-be-introduced .biz addresses. Although ICANN claims it wants to maintain the Internet's stability, ICANN's decision to introduce the .biz top level domain conflicts with Atlantic Root Network's offering, and therefore ICANN's actions contradict its own ideals, according to critics. The .biz overlap "is proof that time and time again ICANN has been very inconsistent in their policies and at times show a logic that is not in accordance to the long-term safety and long-term procedures of this whole system," says ABC Namebank President Naseem Javed. Jason Higgs of Higgs Communications wrote two papers for the Internet Engineering Task Force that outline how to go about introducing a virtual inclusive root. One method would be to create a "super root," or a group of root servers, including ICANN, that would all be placed under an oversight body, while the other proposal suggests that ICANN endorse the alternative root servers. New.net suggests that "innovators" be allowed to come up with new TLDs, which ICANN would then place in its root server if they proved successful.
    For information regarding ACM's Internet governance work related to ICANN, visit http://www.acm.org/serving/IG.html

  • "IBM, Others Aim to 'Refine Features' of Linux for Enterprises"
    Computer Reseller News Online (05/30/01); Rooney, Paula

    IBM, Fujitsu, and NEC announced Wednesday they are combining their resources to enhance the open-source Linux operating system's suitability to large enterprise implementations. The companies' efforts will concentrate on improving the platform's scalability and non-uniform access (NUMA) capabilities. With the increased level of support from such industry heavyweights, Linux "kernel developers will be able to pick the best technological solutions for CPU scalability and the NUMA architecture from the various corporate development efforts," says Linux reseller Awtrey Consulting's Anthony Awtrey. "I expect great things to come from this level of support." The current Linux kernel, 2.4, was released in January, while the next, 2.5, which will be better suited to mobile and enterprise use, is tentatively scheduled for release sometime next year.

  • "Making IT Accessible"
    Computerworld (05/28/01) Vol. 35, No. 22, P. 56; Anthes, Gary H.

    The U.S. Census Bureau reports that the United States has 60 million disabled individuals, 70% of whom say they are underemployed or without employment at all because of that disability. Disabled individuals confront a particular challenge in IT-related positions, as computers and other hardware can often be difficult or even impossible to use. This will likely become an even greater problem in the future, as many IT users age and must deal with a diminished physical capacity--handhelds, for example, with their small screens, can be difficult for those with weakened eyesight to use. Those who specialize in IT accessibility say accounting for those with disabilities can be of benefit to many. "An accessible IT site or service is almost always easier to use by a greater majority of people," says Wells Fargo Bank senior vice president for IT Neil Jacobson. Jacobson's company provides its workers with a wide range of accessibility-enhancing tools, such as screen magnifiers, screen readers, and text-to-speech translators. At the Department of Education, which has as many as 400 disabled employees, IT adaptations include ergonomic keyboards, voice-based Caller ID, and Braille embossers and translators, and Craig B. Luigart, the department's CIO, says the cost of such adaptations is low, often adding no more than 1% to the price. Microsoft's new Office XP program features a host of accessibility tools, including voice-recognition software and a tool that can describe for blind users how the formatting of their document actually appears.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "From the Dustbin, Cobol Rises"
    eWeek (05/28/01) Vol. 18, No. 21, P. 58; Wilkinson, Stephanie

    The IT industry is suffering an acute lack of programmers who know Cobol, the 40-year-old language in which much of the world's business data is written. Gartner Group reports that 200 billion lines of Cobol code existed as of last year, with an expected growth of 5 billion lines of code per year for the next four years. At the same time, Gartner reports, as of last year there were only 90,000 Cobol programmers in North America, and that number will fall as those programmers retire or pass away. As Gartner reports that Cobol houses 60% of the global code base and 85% of global business data, the decline in programmers could soon present a severe problem to firms in nearly every sector. Complicating matters further, few universities still teach Cobol as part of their computer-science curriculum, and few students seem interested in learning the language. "You can't get the new kids--the dot-commers--to take a second look at Cobol," says Bill Payson, the president of the Senior Staff Job Information Search. "It's far easier to teach a Coboler the dot-com stuff than vice versa." However, Payson says his company's database has some 2,500 Cobol programmers, and he believes that as many as 10,000 retired but still employable Cobol programmers currently live in the United States. Paul Halpern, director of traditional solutions marketing at Cobol firm Merant, says businesses in need of Cobol programmers might want to look at community colleges, where computer-science departments are more likely to teach students tools that are in demand by local businesses.

  • "Israel on Edge"
    Interactive Week (05/28/01) Vol. 8, No. 21, P. 51; Gruenwald, Juliana

    The escalating violence between Palestinians and Israelis has many industry observers worried that Israel's tech sector could be gravely damaged. Israel, dependent on the latest technology because of its unique security and military needs, has become a global leader in cutting-edge technology, with a tech sector that now comprises 15% of its overall economy. An influx of Russian engineers in recent years has boosted the tech sector to the point that Israel has more engineers, per capita, than any other country. Officials from the Israeli government and its tech sector maintain that the violence, which erupted last September and shows no sign of abating, has not had much of an impact on day-to-day business operations at Israeli firms. They contend that the current economic downturn in the United States, where most customers of Israeli tech firms are located and where many firms keep their headquarters, is a greater threat to the tech sector's health. Still, a recent warning from the U.S. State Department that travelers avoid Israel has prevented many business officials from visiting the country to work on deals, and investors, especially those with no experience in the region, are skittish about providing money to firms in such an unstable area. The fledgling Palestinian tech sector has been most dramatically impacted by the violence, with many employees unable to leave the Palestinian-controlled areas of Israel, thereby greatly reducing what they can do, and with many potential deals with Israeli firms called off.

  • "Engineering Complexities"
    IEEE Internet Computing (05/01) Vol. 5, No. 3, P. 8; Goth, Greg

    The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) has grown significantly from 12 years ago, when its 200-odd members met on college campuses, to become an organization comprised of as many as 8,000 participants spread across over 100 working groups. Still, its members say, the IETF has remained remarkably true to its ideals. Despite how important the Internet has become to business and everyday life, says Steve Deering, who works with the Internet Architecture Board and Internet Protocol version 6, "still, to a large degree, decisions end up getting made based on engineering judgments and not commercial pressure." An example of the complexities the IETF now faces can be seen in its ongoing work to develop an internationalized domain name (IDN) standard that can somehow take into account the vast number of languages that Internet users speak as well as the intricate ways in which they use those languages. The situation is further complicated by the lucrative domain-name business, as companies such as VeriSign have pushed forward with their own IDN initiatives. Complicating matters even more, the Chinese government has laid claim to control over Chinese-language domain names. IETF officials say they will work to ensure that these disputes and competing interest will not lead to incompatible systems.

[ Archives ] [ Home ]