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Volume 3, Issue 288: Friday, December 14, 2001

  • "In Digital Copyright Case, Programmer Can Go Home"
    New York Times (12/14/01) P. C4; Lee, Jennifer 8.

    The federal government has made a deal with Russian programmer Dmitri Sklyarov's lawyers in which he will not be prosecuted, on the condition that he testifies against his employer, ElcomSoft. Sklyarov was charged with violating the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act for distributing software that disables e-book encryption codes. Both he and ElcomSoft were indicted, but the technology community rallied around Sklyarov in protest. His arrest prompted the Russian government to warn programmers that visiting the United States is a risky proposition, if activities considered legal in Russia are prosecutable in America. Under the terms of the deal, Sklyarov will be subject to court supervision for at least a year, or until the case against ElcomSoft is resolved; if he has not broken any laws during that time, the charges against him will be dropped. Sklyarov is expected to return to Moscow with his family at the end of next week.
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  • "Silicon Valley Given Call to Arms"
    CNet (12/13/01); Lemos, Robert

    Silicon Valley firms are being urged by government officials, security experts, and others to develop new weapons and protective measures against terrorism. A major cyber terrorist attack on the U.S. infrastructure has yet to occur, but special technology advisor to President Bush Floyd Kvamme said businesses need to prepare for one. Kvamme and security specialists were on hand at the Silicon Valley Technology & Homeland Security Summit in San Jose to discuss now companies can combat bioterrorism and cyberterrorism. "The systems we have today are so highly connected that if we knock out [a central system], then that's an effective attack," warned consultant and Justice Department representative Ron Moritz. Hewlett-Packard's chief security officer Rich DeMillo lauded the progress of open-source systems as a step closer to better security. Silicon Valley companies need to remind themselves that they began in the defense industry, according to Kvamme. "The message is: We are at war," he said. "And war requires special activities on the part of everyone."

  • "Lawmaker: Net Security Bill Will Pass This Year"
    Newsbytes (12/12/01); MacMillan, Robert

    House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.) is confident that his Cyber Security Research and Development Act will be approved by Congress before 2002. Speaking at an Information Technology Association of America conference, Boehlert claimed that House leaders and senators had given him encouraging signs that the measure will pass. The bill would give the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) about $900 million to fund cyber-security research. Part of NIST's share would be poured into "high-risk" research ventures. Meanwhile, the money earmarked for NSF would be distributed as cyber-security research grants and cash incentives to institutions that build cyber-security research centers. Boehlert introduced the bill after a committee hearing highlighted major shortcomings in safety measures for U.S. computers and networks. Boehlert says current federal investment in computer security is paltry, there are not enough researchers tackling the problem, focused agency resources are insufficient, and market forces give private industry "little incentive to invest in computer security even as their reliance on the Internet grows." A previous bill introduced by Rep. Connie Morella (R-Md.) and passed by the House makes NIST the controlling organization for federal computer security initiatives.

  • "Meet the Newest Recruits: Robots"
    Wall Street Journal (12/13/01) P. B1; Squeo, Anne Marie

    The excellent performance of unmanned reconnaissance aircraft in Kosovo and Afghanistan has rekindled interest in military robots that could be used to reduce casualties and offer more surveillance, even in the face of staff cutbacks. "We're entering an era in which unmanned vehicles of all kinds will take on greater importance, in space, on land, in the air, and at sea," declared President Bush in an address at the Citadel military academy. The robo-lobster, for example, is an eight-legged underwater machine that can search and destroy coastal land mines; the robo-crab can survey beaches and transmit images of the area to soldiers. The Army is developing land-based systems designed to provide troops with ammunition or confuse the enemy. General Dynamics has created computer-controlled four-wheel-drive vehicles that can be used to carry out missions remotely over rough terrain. There are still challenges to be worked out before these robots are ready for military use. For one thing, more efficient batteries are needed, and researchers are investigating the possibilities of fuel cells and diesel engines. The vehicles also need to be taught what kinds of obstacles and difficulties they might expect to encounter on the battlefield.

  • "Google's Gaggle of Discussions"
    Wired News (12/11/01); Delio, Michelle

    Internet historians can now peruse through an archive of 700 million Usenet postings made available by the Google search Web site. Google acquired the archive from dot-com casualty DejaNews, but angered a lot of people by shutting it out from searchers. It reversed that decision on Tuesday, allowing users to research the records of a communications medium that predates the World Wide Web by over 10 years. There are other Usenet archives, but they usually cover one particular topic; Google's archive encompasses more than 35,000 subjects going as far back as May 1981. The Usenet posts with the most historical significance are arranged along a timeline. "It's a historian's dream of primary sources," declares research librarian Patrick Venner. "Two decades of history, and you can search through it with a single click instead of pawing hopefully through a box of moldy papers."

  • "Virus Experts Connect to Combat Blended Threats"
    News Factor Network (12/11/01); Lyman, Jay

    Antivirus and computer security companies are cooperating to thwart new viruses that also carry hacker code. Whereas viruses used to be mostly just nuisances that propagated on the Internet, many of the most recent and publicized ones allow hackers to take over target computers and use them in distributed denial of service attacks. Goner and Code Red are examples of such hacker viruses that prompted collaboration between antivirus and computer security companies. Antivirus companies track the design and propagation of viruses, says Security Focus analyst Ryan Russell, while computer security firms focus on where the hacker code is located on a computer and how it is executed. Still, there are limits to the sharing since collaborating computer security companies are often in competition with one another and antivirus firms guard their decoding techniques as trade secrets, says Network Associates antivirus director Vincent Gullotto.

  • "Court Just One Venue Still Available to Punish Microsoft"
    SiliconValley.com (12/11/01); Gillmor, Dan

    Microsoft's deal with the federal government lacks honesty, Dan Gillmor says, but the nine remaining states fighting against the company in court could succeed in preventing the company from continuing its illegal practices. The objecting plaintiffs did so because the proposed remedies did not significantly change Microsoft's behavior. Instead, they asked for a more powerful "special master" to oversee the company's compliance, for example. The Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the case is unlikely to significantly influence the case, and Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly may approve of the deal since it is normal for judges to do so unless there is obvious evidence of unsavory dealings. While Microsoft's other U.S. antitrust case is in settlement stage--with terms that would give Microsoft a huge tax break and boost in the education technology market--antitrust enforcers in Europe could still inflict damage to the company. Gillmor notes that Microsoft, remarkably, has yet to admit to any wrongdoing, but he says that is in keeping with the essentially meaningless penalties proposed by the Justice Department. He argues that to protect the public interest Judge Kollar-Kotelly should not simply rubber-stamp the agreement, and also looks to the congressional hearings to at least keep public attention on the case.

  • "Tech Firms Are In Position to Benefit Most From Stimulus"
    Wall Street Journal (12/14/01) P. A16; Murray, Shailagh; McKinnon, John D.

    High-tech companies stand to benefit a great deal from the $100 million economic stimulus bill, which would boost demand for computers and other capital equipment through an "accelerated depreciation" scheme organized by the Information Technology Industry Council. The scheme would make computers cheaper for companies, encourage procurement, and provide a three-year, 30 percent bonus; it has also drawn the support of President Bush and leading bipartisan lawmakers. Much of the credit for this goes to Ralph Hellmann of the IT Industry Council, who got Democrats such as California senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer into his camp. On the other hand, this spells trouble for the National Association of Manufacturers, which has been struggling to repeal the corporate alternative minimum tax. Such a development would give some manufacturers billions of dollars in cash. Many members of Hellmann's group also stand to gain much from the tax repeal, so Hellmann must walk a political tightrope.

  • "Pooh-Poohing the Purists, a Scholar Revels in Netspeak"
    New York Times (12/13/01) P. F7; Eisenberg, Anne

    In his book, "Language and the Internet," Dr. David Crystal argues that the Web is actually enriching rather than degrading language. Indeed, he calls it "A whole new medium of communication." Crystal even claims that the Internet may one day become the primary mode of human discourse. Internet-mediated language, he proposes, is the third major communications medium after speech and writing. Crystal analyzed Internet language by studying transcripts from chat rooms, Web pages, email, and virtual reality games. "Electronic texts simply aren't the same as other texts in their fluidity, simultaneity and availability on an indefinite number of machines," he concludes. Crystal believes that Internet communications will be as varied and unique as each person and situation.
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  • "Scientists Activate Neurons with Quantum Dots"
    EETimes.com (12/04/01); Johnson, R. Colin

    A group of scientists led by assistant professor of biomedical engineering Christine Schmidt have grafted cadmium sulfide-based quantum dots to neurons using molecular recognition. This represents the first electrical interface between neural cells and other objects, Schmidt says. She explains that the material used to bind the quantum dots to the cells is peptide molecules with specific protein sequences. The quantum dots and the cells they are attached to are triggered by wavelengths of light. This breakthrough eliminates the need for implanting external electrodes into patients. It also reduces the gap between electrodes and neurons from 1 micron to 3 nanometers. The research by Schmidt's team could possibly lead to the remote control of neural activity through the activation of specific neurons.

  • "Is Linux a Black Art?"
    VNUNet (12/13/01)

    Linux advocates should avoid complicating open-source use in order to become competitive with Microsoft in the mass market. Although there are ways around commonly lamented problems, expert open-source programmers often fail to put together simpler solutions for those new to open-source computing. Linux-focused newsgroups often talk about the inability to produce PowerPoint presentations, for example, but Sun Microsystems' Star Office suite allows open-source programs to be encoded as PowerPoint files. Flash animation from Macromedia is also often unable to run on Linux users' computers because they do not install necessary plug-ins or find appropriate downloads. An easy-to-use Linux is necessary for its success in the mass market.

  • "At the Core of Apple's OS X"
    Boston Globe (12/13/01) P. D1; Bray, Hiawatha

    Jordan Hubbard, a creator of the open-source FreeBSD system, now works on Apple's new OS X, which the company put together in an open-source fashion. Although OS X's user interface and other code is still closed, the majority of OS X is open to developers. Included in each OS X package is a CD of software writing tools Apple hopes will encourage open-source programmers to migrate to their platform. Just as the first Macs capitalized on applications developed outside the company, they now hope that the open-source movement will embrace OS X as a ready medium to launch their programs to the masses. Apple software development executive Richard Kerris calls the software tool CD the company's "little secret weapon." For Hubbard, OS X was the only reason he joined with Apple. He says other open-source programmers will be similarly lured with the chance to promote a more open platform with an established and easy-to-use interface such as Apple's Mac.
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  • "Hackers, Programmers "Improve" Xbox"
    CNet (12/12/01); Becker, David

    Hackers have already begun exploring the possibilities of using Microsoft's Xbox gaming console for more than it was intended to do. Given the amount of attention the Xbox has garnered, the limited number of compromises to the system is testimony to the effort Microsoft has made to protect it. However, because the Xbox is PC-based, with many PC components, hackers are on more familiar territory than with other gaming consoles that use a proprietary architecture and formats. Computer builder Keith Whitsitt sees significant interest in putting Windows and Linux software on the Xbox while others want to bring Xbox games to the PC. Even if hackers successfully ported Xbox games to a file format for online trading, the financial effect on Microsoft would likely be limited given the small number of DVD burners on the market, says Gartner analyst P.J. McNealy. So far, Microsoft has tolerated an effort to bring Xbox networked games online prior to its official broadband service, due out in mid 2002.

  • "Will Vietnam's Software Industry Ever Take Off?"
    Internetnews.com (12/07/01); Yen, Dao

    Vietnamese prime minister Phan Van Khai has pledged to grow that country's fledgling software industry to a $500 million part of the economy, up from just $25 million last year. He also wants 1.5 percent of the population connected to the Internet and 50,000 Vietnamese IT experts trained. As proof of that commitment, Vietnam has substantially cut taxes for both foreign-invested and domestic software firms. However, many problems are keeping Vietnam's IT industry from growing stronger, including rampant software piracy in the country, few graduated programmers, and a lack of international business savvy. An estimated 5,000 programmers represent the entire country's software development workforce and there are only 95 registered software firms. In order to further its software industry, Vietnam needs to look beyond simple tax cuts and foster a more robust IT infrastructure and train more skilled workers in order to attract foreign investment.

  • "Slowdown Goes On"
    Financial Times (12/12/01) P. 4; George, Nicholas

    Sweden's IT sector is experiencing a downturn unforeseen 18 months ago. The country was poised to profit from a mobile Internet boom that has yet to come. Sweden's IT companies have suffered from layoffs, cutbacks, and dwindling venture capital. Ericsson is also experiencing financial worries and has reduced staff and sold businesses. The firm's wireless handset business has partnered with Sony in a joint venture. Ericsson's infrastructure business has also been affected due to a delay in 3G mobile telephony deployment. Zaheed Haque, founder of a mobile services firm that went bankrupt in November, also blames the bungled launch of WAP services and an absence of financing. Oracle Sweden's Anders Kalmerstrom believes much of the 3G venture capital supported unusual business models and "bad" ideas.

  • "NIPC Urges Heightened Attention to Domain Name Servers"
    Computerworld Online (12/11/01); Vijayan, Jaikumar

    The National Infrastructure Protection Center (NIPC) warns that many companies do not adequately ensure their domain name servers (DNS) against failure. DNS systems translate Internet Protocol addresses both to and from the text addresses typed into browser location bars. The NIPC suggests outsourcing backup for DNS systems, running updated software, and placing multiple servers on different parts of the network. DNS specialist Men & Mice says one-quarter of all Fortune 1,000 companies house their servers on the same network branch, which could lead to the type of Web access failure that Microsoft experienced in January when a glitch sent the company's DNS cluster offline. Mice & Men Chairman Jon Adalsteinsson says, "The funny thing is companies have redundant Web servers and [around-the-clock] monitoring and on-call service but forget about the DNS servers that control access to all of this."

  • "Coming Together"
    InfoWorld (12/10/01) Vol. 23, No. 50, P. 36; Sanborn, Stephanie; Moore, Cathleen

    Peer-to-peer technology, portal/enterprise application integration, and email application delivery are emerging as viable collaboration options for end users who want to boost productivity and enhance enterprise business processes, but whose traditional method of collaborating via email is too cumbersome. Such applications offer enterprises a central hub where people can converge to avail themselves of instant messaging, document sharing, whiteboarding, and other collaborative tools. But implementing collaboration efforts depends on the revision of end-user work habits and existing business processes, according to vendors and users. Justifying the return on investment of collaborative technologies is also a challenge: ROI is measured by how well it combines knowledge, eliminates communications congestion, and improves data redundancies; but these benefits are incredibly difficult to pin down numerically, according to Lotus Advanced Collaboration's Brendan O'Hara. Peer-to-peer networks are well-suited for collaboration because they can link file-sharing groups and can handle multiple sessions simultaneously. Contextual collaboration incorporates collaboration into portals and other applications, to give them "the edge they need and take away that impersonal feeling you have when you're looking for something and you're not able to see what others have done," says Lotus' Bethann Cregg.

  • "Public Sector Job-Appeal Improves"
    InformationWeek (12/10/01) No. 867, P. 89; Goodridge, Elisabeth; Chabrow, Eric; Khirallah, Diane Rezendes

    The public sector has been enjoying much greater success hiring information technology professionals these days as the IT sector sputters and as widespread layoffs continue. In the past, IT professionals practically ignored state and local governments as places of employment. But now that the overall economy is in a downturn, IT professionals are reconsidering public sector positions. "People are more flexible because they want to be employed," says RHI Consulting's Ryan Gilmore. Just this summer, Gartner conducted a survey that found that 80 percent of responding municipalities and 90 percent of responding states had a critical shortage involving their IT staff. One of the primary reasons why IT professionals often overlook the public sector is because of the pay, which could mean the difference in earning another $12,000 for IT manager, or $4,000 for IT staffers. A recent RHI Consulting survey concluded that the IT job market is not likely to improve through the first quarter of 2002. Nevertheless, market experts say the public sector will have to do more to make working for the government more appealing because the IT sector will eventually turn around and IT workers are likely to look to the private sector once again.

  • "Write Here, Write Now"
    New Scientist (12/01/01) Vol. 172, No. 2319, P. 38; Daviss, Bennett

    People could one day post and receive messages on the Global Positioning System (GPS) using Web-enabled handheld devices; diners could recommend or warn others about restaurants, drivers involved in accidents could report them so that other motorists are alerted via their in-car navigation systems, etc. The driving force behind this development is the spread of GPS receiver systems around the world, due to shrinking cost and size. Locator technology is poised to become embedded in cell phones throughout the United States as a standard component, while European manufacturers are currently mulling the issue. Hewlett-Packard made early strides toward mid-air messaging with the development of CoolTown, an information environment in which even the most mundane appliances have Web pages. GPS messaging came into the picture when Bristol University student Alistair Mann demonstrated that a "cyberjacket" with a mobile phone and GPS locator could link to the Internet to receive messages. A prototype mid-air messaging system is currently operating in HP's Bristol lab, but CoolTown messaging project head Simon Crouch says adoption will not happen overnight. About five years or more will pass before wireless connectivity is widespread, he says; the interlude will allow engineers to solve technical problems. Meanwhile, infrastructure management must be established to coordinate the enormous amount of traffic that will result, and security and privacy safeguards must also be developed.

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