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Volume 3, Issue 279: Wednesday, November 21, 2001

  • "U.S. Tech Firms Abusing Visa Program, Critics Say"
    Los Angeles Times (11/21/01) P. A1; Shiver Jr., Jube

    The record 163,200 H-1B work visas issued last fiscal year has raised the ire of many domestic information technology workers who say those people misplaced some of the 600,000 IT workers laid off over the last 10 months. However, technology firms including Motorola, Intel, and Sun Microsystems argue that these foreign workers are necessary to fill the skills gap in the marketplace. "The dot-com boom may be over but we are still in the middle of a skills shortage," says Theresa Cardinal Brown of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The Immigrants Support Network points out that not all of the visas granted translate into actual jobs and that many applications were submitted before the slump really took effect. But statistics show H-1B applications have been steady, and that the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) has even carried over 29,000 pending cases to the current fiscal year. Fired tech workers charge that companies are turning to H-1B workers to save money. Former Genuity employee Gene Nelson says, "Big companies basically want a workforce of independent contractors." At least one bill has recently been introduced in Congress to scale back the H-1B program. Meanwhile, some H-1B visa holders say they are not being paid the same as their American counterparts, as the law states, and want better oversight of the program from INS.

  • "FBI Software Cracks Encryption Wall"
    MSNBC (11/20/01); Sullivan, Bob

    The FBI is developed a new computer virus technique for stealing the encryption keys of suspected criminals through software, called Magic Lantern, serendipitously deployed on that person's computer. By obtaining encryption keys, agents would be able to harness the full powers of their electronic surveillance tools, such as Carnivore. Without the keys, law enforcement has no way to break the encrypted messages. Magic Lantern could be installed remotely on a suspect's computer through an FBI hack or via email, and would log the keystrokes used when the suspect opens the common encryption software, Pretty Good Privacy. A spokesperson for Rep. Dick Armey (R-Texas) said the Magic Lantern approach was a fair compromise between privacy advocates who want all encryption protected and the FBI's previous request for a key escrow that would database all encryption keys for the government.

  • "Government Reviving Ties to Scientists"
    New York Times (11/20/01) P. D1; Broad, William J.

    The Bush administration is making overtures to the nation's scientific community through the National Academies of the United States, which includes the most prestigious scientific bodies in the world. Some are pointing to the sudden enthusiasm as evidence that the government should be faulted for ignoring the scientific community, unlike during the Cold War and even World War II, when much of the nation's basic science was government-funded. The new efforts include an antiterror panel within the National Academies headed by Dr. Lewis M. Branscomb, a Harvard physicist, and increased scientific support for the Technology Support Working Group, which consists of representatives from the nation's law enforcement and investigative agencies. However, Dr. Richard L. Garwin, a long-time advisor to government leaders, says the bureaucratic structure of today's government hinders the influence of science advisors, which had more direct access to and consensus from top decision makers in the past. Still, the acadamies welcome the latest government interest, noting that the Bush administration started out very cool to the scientific community. The acamadies expect to help gather information and ideas on fighting terrorism, including ways to protect the nation's computer networks and other key systems.
    (Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors must register.)

  • "Open-Source Approach Fades in Tough Times"
    CNet (11/20/01); Shankland, Stephen

    Many open-source software companies have changed their tactics recently to issuing licenses for their software instead of depending solely upon a services and support revenue stream. Open-source notables, such as VA Linux Systems, have begun charging for new versions of their software or are building proprietary add-ons they hope will keep their businesses afloat. Red Hat, one of the most famous Linux firms, says open-source companies should not think that switching to a proprietary model will save them financially. Red Hat CTO Michael Tiemann says there is little to differentiate open-source products from smaller companies from their bigger and more experienced competitors other than the open-source development process. Firms that do switch face the specter of their previous projects developing on an open-source track without them. The Free Software Foundation is ensuring those products, such as VA Linux's SourceForge and Sistina's Global File System, evolve even as their sponsoring companies try to release new programs.

  • "EU Moves to Ratify Cybercrime Terms, Penalties"
    Newsbytes (11/20/01); Krebs, Brian; McGuire, David

    The European Union is expected to quickly pass a resolution unifying the penalties and criminal definitions for cybercrime among its 15 member states later this month. The action coincides with the imminent passage of the "Convention on Cyber Crime" treaty expected to be ratified by 43 nations, including the United States. Congress would still have to approve of the measure for it to take effect in the United States, but U.S. law enforcement officials would have more leeway to pursue international cybercriminals in any case. Civil liberties groups worry over the new measures because they say it may create an international electronic surveillance network or serve to provide U.S. law enforcement officials a way to bypass U.S. law.

  • "Pentagon Looks to Civilian IT For Clues"
    eWeek Online (11/19/01); Carlson, Caron

    The military is investigating IT technology developed in the private sector that could be used to fight wars and combat terrorists. The emphasis on commercial IT advancements is appropriate, since the military originally developed the technology that private industry has commercialized. For example, Anteon's Pocketmultimedia, a video distribution application currently being tested by traders at the New York Stock Exchange, was developed by the U.S. Navy to relay highly compressed data aboard ships. Meanwhile, the military is collaborating with visualization companies to produce better video communications for battlefield situations; the Department of Defense, for example, is using visualization technologies from Silicon Graphics that are often used by car manufacturers and filmmakers. Innovation takes place at a rapid clip in the private sector, which is why the armed forces are so interested, according to Anteon chief scientist Robert Manchise. The sophisticated IT tools that the military develops can be spun back into the private sector, translating into gains for the commercial industry. Both the military and the private sector could use their relationship to overcome some of the more difficult obstacles they face in deploying such technologies. Bandwidth allocation methods developed by the military could be applied to business, while privacy concerns over wireless data and video networking from consumers could be allayed by the military's adoption of the technology.

  • "Researchers Assemble Building Blocks of Nanocomputers"
    Scientific American Online (11/01); Minkel, J.R.

    Recent nanotechnology research has yielded some important breakthroughs by many separate teams of researchers, pointing to the validity of microscale computer processors. The latest breakthroughs have come as scientists working separately at Harvard University, Delft University, and Bell Laboratories have created simple logic circuits from carbon molecules. Harvard chemist Charles Lieber says his team's solution tests an assembly procedure that could lead to the scaled mass production of molecular electronics. Other groups, reporting in the most recent issue of the journal Science, say they have built the first complex circuits using carbon nanotubes and nanowires. Nanotechnologists Greg Tseng and James Ellenbogen praise the latest advances, but note that the researchers still need to create molecular-size circuits and then find a way to make them economically. Still, they say the work shows "how far molecular electronics and nanotechnology have come and is very encouraging."

  • "Gartner Analyst Warns Info Tech Managers of Server Software Bugs"
    Investor's Business Daily (11/20/01) P. A7; Coleman, Murray

    Gartner analyst John Pescatore terrorists and virus writers are targeting the software that runs large Web sites and warns companies that increased vigilance is vital. He recommends that companies dump Microsoft's Internet Information Server (IIS) software because it was the worst hit by recent Code Red and Nimda attacks. Other analysts do not dispute the seriousness of the vulnerabilities exposed, but question whether it would be too costly to switch software rather than use the software patches made easily available by Microsoft. Microsoft, for its part, has also ramped up its server security program and issued a new set of software tools to help IT staff fight virus attacks. Both Microsoft's IIS and the open-source Apache software have little upfront costs, but Apache holds an estimated 60 percent of the market, according to Pescatore. He says Microsoft IIS holds 30 percent. Sun Microsystems iPlanet President Mark Tolliver says his company's competing product has seen significant demand recently.

  • "Asia Wakes Up to Need for IT Security"
    Reuters (11/19/01)

    Asian companies are realizing IT security expenditures cannot be pared down even in the economic downturn, and many vendors are reporting increased security spending at the expense of other IT projects. AT&T regional general manager Choo Hock Lye says businesses value the ability to communicate even more when under threat of physical attack. Analysts say security spending will focus on mission-critical processes. Avaya's Mack Leathurby says companies are focusing on virtual private networks as a way to provide secure Internet connections when working with other firms. He also says videoconferencing software, wireless networks, telecommuting, and disaster recovery plans are increasingly popular. Overall, IDC says this year's Asian IT spending, excluding Japan, will gain a paltry 1.3 percent, but will rebound next year with 13.5 percent growth. Marc van Teeseling, regional director for software firm Logica, says Asian banks are also upping their investment in software that will help them stem the flow of laundered money that could be used by terrorists.

  • "UN Task Force to Address Technology"
    Associated Press (11/20/01); Jesdanun, Anick

    The United Nations has organized a technology task force organized to combat poverty, unemployment, and poor education by giving developing nations more access to the Internet and other communications media. The task force is chaired by former Costa Rican President Jose Maria Figueres and is comprised of corporate executives, leaders of nonprofit organizations, and UN and government officials. The group has created a draft action plan in which it will search for partners to donate up to $50 million for initiatives, rather than fund them directly. In addition, the task force intends to team up with a separate Digital Opportunities Task Force, an organization formed by the leaders of the seven wealthiest industrialized countries and Russia.

  • "Researchers Probe Net's 'Dark Address Space'"
    Register Online (11/15/01); Poulsen, Kevin

    Roughly 5 percent of the Internet's address space is not globally connected, report researchers from Arbor Networks, who have dubbed this lost Web zone "dark address space." The researchers ascribe this phenomena to aggressive route-filtering by network operators who are looking to streamline traffic and relieve heavy burdens, as well as because of occasional address misconfigurations. U.S. military Web sites using the outdated "Milnet" address blocks, and cable-modem and broadband customers are the groups most likely to be shipwrecked in dark address space. Arbor Networks' Craig Labovitz says that Arbor researchers do not know why cable-modem customers are a group most often afloat in dark address space, but that research so far is only preliminary. The Arbor research group came across another Internet phenomena, which they have dubbed "murky address space," which signifies the use of dormant blocks of Internet address space by hackers and spammers to launch mass emails and hack attacks against visible pillars of the Internet. Murky address space is possible because under current routing protocol, if a router claims to possess a block of Internet address space, the general Internet infrastructure takes the router "at its word," allowing hackers to seize routers and launch attacks from untraceable, murky address space that soon disappears once an action finishes.

  • "Video, Music Cell-Phone Era Might Arrive With Whimper"
    Investor's Business Daily (11/20/01) P. A8; Krause, Reinhardt

    Sprint PCS is expected to be one of the first wireless carriers in the United States to offer streaming audio and video in near future as it completes an upgrade to its network in mid 2002. Other carriers, including AT&T Wireless and VoiceStream, are expected to follow suit with NTT DoCoMo of Japan showing the way. DoCoMo has already rolled out extensive multimedia services for its wireless Internet subscribers. Audio applications are likely to come first, with video later as bandwidth and in-phone processors improve. Sprint PCS is working with a number of content developers to provide services for its new offerings, including compression technology firm PacketVideo. PacketVideo is using a new MPEG-4 format to compress video into more easily deliverable files. PacketVideo's Robert Tercek says wireless carriers should learn from the example of AOL, which cultivates a profitable proprietary service, when developing the strategy for their multimedia offerings.

  • "Tech, Data Systems Go Underground for Security Concerns"
    USA Today (11/21/01) P. 3B; Jones, Del

    The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks have prompted many companies that rely on computers to move integral network infrastructures underground, in an effort to protect sensitive data and keep systems running in case of emergency. Underground Secure Data Center Operations offers its 22 clients a safe place to operate their important systems from, 85 feet below Grand Rapids, Mich., in an abandoned gypsum mine. British-based The Bunker utilizes an old NATO station that was built during the Cold War, and touts enough backup generation to keep systems running through a 40-hour outage. Iron Mountain, initially used to store paper-based documents in case of a nuclear attack, has eight underground facilities, including its largest one, a 200-foot deep mine in Pennsylvania, which handles 2,300 customers. Mines provide an attractive site for data protection because cool underground temperatures eliminate the need for air conditioning and heating to reduce static electricity that is harmful to computers.

  • "The Incredible Shrinking Gadget"
    Baltimore Sun (11/19/01) P. 1C; Frey, Christine

    Although high-tech companies are coming out with smaller devices from computers to cell phones, some consumers are hanging on to their larger gadgets that have buttons that are not too small to push and displays that are not too small to read. Tech experts are starting to realize that there is fine line between creating devices that are fashionably small and too small to use. "If you do the naive thing, making things smaller is almost always making things harder to use," says Joseph Konstan, a computer science and engineering professor at the University of Minnesota. Industry experts say where devices are used and what they do tends to determine its size. However, they are aware that one size does not fit all. As a result, companies manufacture devices that take into consideration the reduced dexterity of older adults, the developing motor skills of children, and the hand size of Asians, which is generally smaller than North Americans. And now that high-tech companies are starting to create devices that share functions, gadgets that offer Internet access will need a larger screen. Still, companies are now working on devices that are so small that they are almost invisible and may be imbedded into the human body.
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  • "Web Conferences Lax on Security"
    USA Today (11/20/01) P. 2B; Kessler, Michelle

    About 31 million people across the globe are expected to use Web conferencing by the end of this year, a jump of 138 percent from last year, fueled largely by cutbacks on air travel caused by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The quick rate at which these technologies are being deployed has led many experts to question whether adequate security measures have been taken to keep an unauthorized person from eavesdropping. Although encryption programs can scramble communications being sent through the Internet, many companies do not want to pay the extra costs to install them, or are simply unaware that the capability exists. The ease with which a hacker can access Web conferences is also worrying. By using an Internet browser, a person can ascertain which company is using a particular conferencing system, thereby accessing meeting times, topics, and hosts. With more work, these individuals can even break into the conference by guessing the password required for access, which is often the name of a company product or simply the word "sales."

  • "ICANN's Lynn: Don't Expect New Domains Anytime Soon"
    Computerworld (11/19/01) Vol. 35, No. 47, P. 12; Thibodeau, Patrick

    ICANN CEO Stuart Lynn told Computerworld recently that he is chairing a task force that is evaluating the launch of .info, .biz, and other new TLDs, and that the task force's first report will be released in one or two months. Currently, the task force is exploring whether or not new TLDs jeopardize the stability of the Internet in terms of technical, traffic-flow, trademark, and cybersquatting issues. Although proponents of new TLDs are the most vocal, there are many who do not want additional TLDs introduced, says Lynn. Lynn says the board has not yet decided whether to introduce new TLDs. Lynn neither endorses nor is set against adding more TLDs, but says that TLDs must be evaluated within the context of ensuring a level playing-field, preventing general destabilization, and meeting specific consumer needs. "If there is no demanding, pressing consumer need that's perceived," says Lynn, "then why risk destabilization in other areas?"

  • "Strong Java"
    CIO (11/15/01) Vol. 15, No. 4, P. 145; Tweney, D.F.

    Java has matured into one of the most popular computing languages, although its usage has shifted from Sun Microsystems' original vision. The language has migrated from client-side applications to the application servers behind corporate Web sites and line-of-business applications. This was accomplished through the advent of Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE), a series of standards and methodologies that furnished an operating system for enterprise applications that garnered wide industry support. Standardizing on a single platform and language simplifies the replacement of software, enables Java specialists to work on multiple projects, and eases integration. Furthermore, Java developers are more productive than those who work on languages such as C or C++, according to author and programmer Richard Monson-Haefel. Experts are anticipating a heated rivalry between Java and Microsoft within the next five years. Large companies are likely to stick with Java due to its cross-platform abilities, as well as the fact that the firms already enjoy relationships with Unix vendors; however, small and midsize companies may gravitate to Microsoft's .Net. There are expected to be about 3 million experienced Java developers by 2005, according to Gartner.

  • "The Electronic Paper Chase"
    Scientific American (11/01) Vol. 285, No. 5, P. 50; Ditlea, Steve

    Instantaneous erasure and reuse are likely to be the essential traits that convince the world to abandon traditional ink on paper for electronic ink on paper. Although scientists have researched the concept of electronic paper over the past 30 years, only recently have companies taken digital paper very seriously. Gyricon Media and E Ink Corporation in Cambridge, Ma., two startup companies, are at the forefront of producing electronic paper commercially for electronically configurable paper-like displays that rely on microscopic beads that change color in response to charges on nearby electrodes. Gyricon's SmartPaper makes use of two-tone solid beads that twist around in place to pour black and white resin onto a rapidly spinning disk. Meanwhile, Electronic Ink from E Ink uses see-through microcapsules with pigment chips, which move through a liquid medium. Observers now see digital paper as the answer for updating store signs and billboards, providing the interface for e-books, and for delivering magazine and newspaper content wirelessly to thin, flexible displays. However, electronic paper will have to compete with organic light-emitting diodes, an alternative Eastman Kodak, IBM, and others are developing.

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