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Volume 3, Issue 281: Wednesday, November 28, 2001

  • "Microsoft Move May Hasten Settlement of European Case"
    New York Times (11/28/01) P. C1; Lohr, Steve; Meller, Paul

    Microsoft made a significant demonstration of its eagerness to settle with the European Commission over its antitrust suit there, after agreeing to settle two other major antitrust cases in the United States. The company said yesterday that it would forego its scheduled two-day hearing in Europe in order to proceed with negotiations faster. In the European case, Microsoft has been accused mainly for abusing its desktop dominance to gain market share in server software. The nine states that have decided to pursue their litigation in the United States have cited similar lingering concerns over interoperability as the Europeans have. Moreover, the European Commission accuses Microsoft of bundling multimedia software with Windows in order to kill competition. Recent events have signaled a dramatic change in tactics for Microsoft, which in years past has used prolonged legal battles and resolute denial as a means to evade legal defeat. Still, European officials say no agreement has been struck with Microsoft, nor is one necessarily imminient. The U.S. case continues with a court hearing scheduled for Dec. 7.
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  • "Outlook Bleak for Technology Budgets"
    Financial Times (11/28/01) P. 21; Foremski, Tom

    Corporate technology spending is likely to remain depressed next year, according to surveys of IT managers by a number of investment and research firms. Merrill Lynch's TechStrat survey says next year's IT budgets will grow by 2 percent to 5 percent, compared to 12 percent growth last year. Meta Group, meanwhile, says tech spending will decline next year by up to 5 percent in the United States while remaining flat abroad. International Data (IDC) downgraded this year's growth estimate for application software from 12 percent to approximately 7 percent. Experts attribute the anticipated down climate to overspending last year coupled with the effect of layoffs now, since IT spending traditionally lags employee cutbacks by several months. Goldman Sachs says its surveys also show IT spending declining. Goldman's Laura Conigliaro says, "IT managers seem to be saying that IT spending will remain sluggish until at least the second half of 2002."
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  • "Judge Sets Appeal Hearings in Sklyarov Case"
    InfoWorld.com (11/26/01); Costello, Sam; Lawson, Stephen

    Judge Ronald Whyte of the U.S. District Court in San Jose, Calif., has set a date for the appeal hearing of Russian programmer Dmitry Sklyarov, who was arrested in July for allegedly violating the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) by trafficking in software that circumvents e-book copyright safeguards. Although Adobe Systems, producer of the e-books that Sklyarov's software decrypts, dropped the charges against the programmer, the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California opted to prosecute. At the hearing, which is scheduled for March 4 of next year, Sklyarov's attorney, John Keker, will argue that the U.S. government's jurisdiction does not apply to his client's case. At a second hearing slated for April 1, Keker will question the constitutionality of the DCMA in reference to the First Amendment. If Sklyarov is convicted, a conspiracy charge could mean a maximum prison sentence of 25 years and a $2.25 million fine.
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  • "U.S. Lags in Recycling Computer Junk"
    SiliconValley.com (11/26/01); Rogers, Paul

    The United States has fallen behind Japan and Europe in its efforts to recycle obsolete or unwanted computers, according to a report from the Computer Take Back Coalition. The National Safety Council reports that only 14 percent of 24 million outdated computers in 1999 were recycled or donated to charity. Computer monitors, circuit boards and PCs contain hazardous metals; dumping them in landfills or burning them releases toxic substances. Japanese companies such as Canon, Fujitsu, Sony, and Toshiba were among those who received the highest environmental grades in the Coalition report, while IBM, Hewlett-Packard, and Apple were the only American companies to be ranked in the top 10. The report also notes that European and Japanese computer makers are now required by law to take back old machines for free. IBM and Hewlett-Packard are among the few U.S. manufacturers that do the same, but at a price. Meanwhile, computer cleanup legislature has been proposed in 33 states this year, but E-Scrap News editor Jerry Powell says that only three states passed laws--all of them minor.

  • "Scientists Build Tiny Computer Using DNA Molecules"
    New York Times (11/27/01) P. D3

    Israeli researchers report in this week's Nature that they have constructed a computer entirely out of DNA molecules. "The living cell contains incredible molecular machines that manipulate information-encoding molecules like DNA and RNA in ways that are fundamentally very similar to computation," says Professor Ehud Shapiro of the Weizmann Institute of Science. The scientists report that the model for their DNA computer is the automaton that answers certain yes or no questions. Molecule pairs on a strand of DNA are the data, while the hardware to read, copy, and manipulate the code is represented by two naturally occurring enzymes; mixing the combination in a test tube produces the output. The researchers say that their model could lay the groundwork for machines that can screen DNA libraries in parallel without the need for sequencing each individual molecule. They claim that the computer is so small that a test tube could hold a trillion such devices. Furthermore, the computer is highly energy-efficient.
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  • "Search Engines Find the Forbidden"
    ZDNet (11/26/01); Festa, Paul

    Search engine results often turn up sensitive information, including many tools and information for hackers. A new Google search tool expands this reach by allowing users to look for specific file types other than HTML. Google search bots voluntarily do not read pages tagged with the "robots.txt" file, but critics say hackers can still find those pages using their own search engines and software programs. The "robots.txt" file may even serve as a sign that sensitive information is being held back. Further security concerns include the greater ease with which Internet-based viruses can be spread through file types other than HTML, which is generally a sterile programming environment. Although Google does not claim responsibility for the security vulnerability, it has started investigating techniques to capture sensitive data before public disclosure.

  • "Worm Hitting Home for the Holidays"
    CNet (11/26/01); Lemos, Robert; McAuliffe, Wendy

    SirCam has been knocked from its position as MessageLabs' No. 1 computer bug by BadTrans.B, a variant of the BadTrans computer worm. BadTrans.B, a virus that spreads as an email message, started popping up in home computers over the weekend. By Sunday, infected messages reported to MessageLabs numbered in the thousands. McAfee.com's April Goostree says that relaxed security over the holidays is contributing directly to the worm's propagation. "The fact that it comes around this time makes more end users vulnerable, because they are expecting holiday emails," she adds. TruSecure's Roger Thompson warns that that virus could start hitting corporations on Monday. BadTrans.B proliferates by transmitting itself as a reply to any unread messages in the victim's Outlook mailbox. Its main function is to install a keylogger on infected systems, enabling the virus writer to know what the user is typing.

  • "House Approves Short Term Export Act Extension"
    Newsbytes (11/27/01); Krebs, Brian

    The U.S. House yesterday passed a bill that extends the Export Administration Act (EAA) until April 2002 while the House and Senate work out differences in their bills. The House bill seeks to impose more controls over the exporting of high-performance technologies such as computers and software, while the Senate legislation would repeal restrictions based on the MTOPS processing benchmark, among other provisions. The Senate bill also would relax licensing restrictions, but increase penalties for violators. The high-tech industry says an updated EAA is necessary to compete with foreign companies, which they say have less restrictive export regulations. However, supporters of the House bill say more oversight is needed to protect national security. EAA expired in 1994, but has been extended by executive order every year since, including August 20 this year, when President Bush signed a one-year continuation.

  • "Energy Researcher Bridging Gap Between Micro and Nano Worlds"
    Small Times (11/26/01); McIntyre, Jo

    Oregon State University's (OSU) Microtechnology-based Energy and Chemical Systems (MECS) program is working on two projects that will bridge the gap between micro- and nano-scale machines. One project headed by MECS director M. Kevin Drost is a small heat pump that would utilize nanotechnology to place catalysts on the surface of micro-sized metal strips in the pump. OSU plans to commercialize the product in the next few years, possibly by turning it into a government contract. Another important research experiment involves producing super-low wattage to power MEMS devices. Drost notes that all conventional power sources produce far too much power for nano-machines, and he is developing a catalytic combustion process that creates only 0.8 watt of power. Drost says, "We have moved from mesoscale to microscale...The next step is the 1 micron to 10 micron size level."
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  • "Cash-Strapped Companies Embrace Linux"
    SiliconValley.com (11/24/01); Ackerman, Elise

    Businesses are adopting Linux at record rates even though many of the companies formed around the free operating software have closed or are in financial straits. Jeff Davis, the IT point man for the Standard School District in Bakersfield, Calif., says the price factor and Linux's easy-to-configure open source code made it his choice over Sun Solaris machines running proprietary software. IDC analyst Dan Kusnetzky expects that Linux will keep gaining on Microsoft in the server arena as well, growing to 41 percent of the market compared to Microsoft's 46 percent by 2005. Linux is also likely to get a big boost from big technology companies such as IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Compaq, and Dell as they bundle the free software with their products in order to increase sales. Developing nations such as India, China, and Brazil are investing in Linux desktop operating systems, notes HP's Martin Fink, Meanwhile, Linux is also showing up more and more in embedded devices, according to industry experts.

  • "Electronic Mind Over Gray Matter"
    Wired News (11/24/01); Anderson, Mark K.

    Scientists at the University of Texas at Austin are trying to connect neurons with semiconductors, the first step toward neural computers and brain-controlled prosthetics. Currently, the team is using peptide biomolecules, also known as a "quantum dot," to form the nanometer-scale connections and is preparing to explore how they can influence the neurons. University of Texas researcher Brian Korgel says the technique could one day be used to meld neurons with semiconductor points to create a neural computer. Christine Schmidt, another member of the University of Texas research team, says, "When we activate the dots, that would then activate an electrical signal within the nueron." An immediate goal of the group is developing a brain interface for robotic limbs, while Korgel says long-term applications of the technology could lead to new forms of computing.

  • "Record-Breaking Year for Security Incidents Expected"
    Computerworld Online (11/26/01); Verton, Dan

    Internet security incidents are likely to more than double this year, according to Carnegie Mellon University's CERT Coordination Center; they have the potential to turn into serious threats akin to major virus outbreaks such as Code Red and Nimda. Internet Security Alliance executive director Dave McCurdy told a House subcommittee that a more proactive rather than reactive response to security threats is necessary. "Most companies lack the necessary rigor and scale of recovery systems to respond to a national attack or a cohesive cyberterrorism threat," noted Ernst & Young security analyst Mark Doll. Oracle's Mary Ann Davidson urged IT users and consumers to make security a requirement for purchase, and pressed the need for vendors to join a group for sharing information. "Either we hang together or we all hang separately," she warned. Warren Axelrod of Donaldson, Lufkin and Jenrette Securities has called for Congress to subsidize the creation of separate government intranets, fund an Information Coordination Center much like the one created to handle the Y2K bug, and pass laws to protect corporate data shared with the government from disclosure.

  • "White House Resurrects Plan to Track Computer Break-Ins"
    GovExec.com (11/26/01); Vaida, Bara

    The Federal Intrusion Detection Network (FIDNet), proposed by President Clinton in 1999 but dropped after heated criticism from civil rights groups, is currently being used by the Defense Department to track cyber attacks on agency computer systems. President Bush's cybersecurity adviser, Richard Clarke, would like to see it used by all agencies. FIDNet is a database that would gather information on hacker attacks on government networks, so analysts can study who is attacking the computers, when they are attacking, their methods, and which weaknesses are being taken advantage of. However, before FIDNet, Clarke says that he has other priorities, specifically: creating a strategy for national cybersecurity, as well as increasing related educational programs and establishing an early-warning system; building the Govnet government Intranet; and creating an infrastructure and analysis center.

  • "Companies Go Offshore for Programmers"
    Associated Press (11/26/01); Dalesio, Emery P.

    Companies are saving money by outsourcing programming to offshore companies. India currently leads the tech outsourcing sector, with Indian software firms representing 60 percent to 80 percent of all global outsourcing business; Israeli, Irish, Filipino, and Pakistani companies also get considerable business. Offshore Software Consulting's Tom Lovely says that almost all Fortune 500 companies outsource programming overseas or have offshore offices. Midsize companies are also jumping on the offshore outsourcing bandwagon. Offshore outsourcing by U.S. companies will account for about $7 billion in spending this year, the Adventis consulting group estimates. Of the 45 companies with $1 billion or more in revenues surveyed recently by Forrester Research, 20 plan to use offshore providers, but two-thirds are expected to go offshore by 2003 while also doubling their spending for services. Aberdeen Group's Stephen Lane says, "There are lots of reasons, but...cost is it."

  • "House Passes Federal Computer Security Bill"
    Newsbytes (11/28/01); Krebs, Brian; MacMillan, Robert

    The U.S. House of Representatives voted 391-4 on Tuesday to approve Rep. Connie Morella's (R-Md.) Computer Security Enhancement Act. The bill makes the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) a decisive force in national computer security issues. NIST's duties under the act include assisting the private sector in the organization of voluntary interoperability standards for public-key infrastructure systems. Furthermore, the bill requires the undersecretary of commerce to set up a publicly available database on computer security threats. Former House Science Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.) made a similar proposal last year, but the Senate did not approve it. Current House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.) has pledged to build Senate support. In a floor speech preceding the House vote, Morella insisted that "We need to protect ourselves in cyberspace."

  • "Cyberspace Seen as Potential Battleground"
    New York Times Online (11/23/01); Schwartz, John

    Government cyber-security groups are warning that the Internet is increasingly vulnerable to attack as terrorists become more techno-savvy and hacker tools become more powerful. New security warnings are highlighting the dangerous new nature of these attacks, such as the CERT Coordination Center alert that hackers are targeting routers more often and with new worms like Nimda. Although various groups such as the President's Commission on Critical Infrastructure Protection, formed during the Clinton administration, have warned as early as 1997 that cyber attacks could disrupt institutions such as electric power, finance, and military coordination, recent events have ignited interest in the topic. President Bush's cyber-security advisor, Richard Clarke, says that his visit to Silicon Valley was met with much more enthusiasm than any visit before Sept. 11. Security expert Paul A. Vixie, speaking at ICANN's security-focused meeting earlier this month, warned that even the Web's 13 crucial "root" servers and 10 top-level domain servers were at risk from denial-of-service attacks. Meanwhile, others fear that hackers have learned to exploit a potential vulnerability in Unix's SSH protocol. Although the Unix hole was discovered earlier this year and patches are available, experts say hackers have begun probing Unix servers to find ones that are still vulnerable.
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  • "Are IT Pros Willing to Go Public?"
    eWeek (11/19/01) Vol. 18, No. 45, P. 47; Moad, Jeff

    Federal, state, and local government agencies have not had much success hiring IT professionals, even though the public sector can offer IT workers relative security during a slowing economy. Although the pay gap is a major reason why IT professionals continue to overlook the public sector, there are other concerns, such as being able to work with the latest technology, a lack of workplace and work-hour flexibility, and the red tape associated with the public-sector hiring process. Over the past two years, the public sector has tried to make their agencies more appealing to IT workers by offering recruitment and retention bonuses, cutting hiring red tape, as well as broadbanding job classifications and removing IT jobs from the civil service system, in an effort to boost pay and workplace flexibility. Still, IT experts acknowledge that government agencies are no longer hiring as much because tax revenues and the economy are slipping. Some government agencies have had to put their IT projects on hold because of the economic uncertainty. However, experts say the public sector must continue to make itself as attractive as possible to IT professionals. They say demand for IT skills will continue to outpace the number of IT workers. Furthermore, a report from the National Academy of Public Administration reveals that half of all federal agencies' IT workers are eligible to retire over the next five years.

  • "Germany's New Immigration Plan"
    Europe (11/01) No. 411, P. 10; Martin, Terry

    Germany's Parliament will vote by the end of the year on a new immigration plan designed to address a grim scenario of massive population loss in the near future. In early August, Interior Minister Otto Schily introduced a draft immigration plan that makes use of a recruitment model Germany has already set up to attract foreign computer experts. The draft immigration law would offer highly qualified workers, such as computer specialists, engineers, mathematicians, and leading scientists, permanent residence status immediately. Even though Germany currently grants five-year work and residence permits, the nation has been unable to reach its goal of attracting 20,000 IT specialists because many IT professionals chose to work in the United States instead. Immigration has become a major issue in Germany as a result of new population forecasts, which show huge losses in the nation's population and employment numbers as early as 2015. The economy would contract significantly with such a loss in human numbers. Although it now appears that welcoming foreigners would be in the best interests of Germany, creating a policy that accommodates and encourages immigration remains a difficult task for lawmakers. The center-left government expects to resolve the matter this year so that right-wing conservatives will not be able to make immigration a divisive issue next year for the general election.

  • "IT Security Outlook Appears Gloomy"
    InfoWorld (11/19/01) Vol. 23, No. 47, P. 48; Connolly, P.J.

    Corporate technology strategists and decision-makers polled in the 2001 InfoWorld Security Solutions Survey are more worried about potential security breaches. Seventy-three percent of respondents fear attacks from viruses such as Nimda and Sircam; 44 percent reported that their company experienced such intrusions in the past 12 months. Meanwhile, 56 percent are concerned with system penetration, while 52 percent harbor fears about external hacking. Thirty-six percent of those polled are concerned with internal hacking, although only 5 percent reported actual cases of internal hacking, indicating that the threat is not as great as imagined. Some 46 percent of respondents believe "independent hackers" are responsible for the security breaches in the last year, while 39 percent have no idea. Nearly everyone polled uses anti-virus software, while 10 percent of respondents either use or plan to use biometric access controls. Eighty percent of companies are keeping IT security operations in-house.

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