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Volume 4, Issue 388: Monday, August 19, 2002

  • "Opposition to Nanotechnology"
    New York Times (08/19/02) P. C3; Feder, Barnaby J.

    Nanotechnology opponents are gaining credibility and a stronger voice now that the technology is on a path toward commercialization, and has already found limited use in products such as clothing, sunscreen, and wound dressings. The Science and Environmental Health Network, for example, is advocating a go-slow or precautionary approach to nanotech, which has had a major influence on European policy in recent years. The ETC Group, which opposed biotechnology such as genetically engineered plants back when it was the Rural Advancement Foundation International, is also a go-slow proponent. The organization recently noted that there is little published research on the interaction between nanoparticles and living cells, an issue that already concerns the EPA; furthermore, it mentions research suggesting that nanoparticle drug-delivery systems could also be used to carry poisons. ETC also warns of the possibility that nanoparticles could be passed into the food chain by bacteria. The most conservative go-slow supporters are calling for proof that establishes beyond a reasonable doubt that the potential risks of nanotech have been thoroughly researched, and alternative, less risky techniques have been considered. Both nanotech supporters and opponents are pushing for more research funding in order to start evaluating the technology's risks in detail, and both say there is still time to avoid the confrontations that have stymied the biotech movement by developing a dialogue and consensus. Meanwhile, ETC executive director Pat Mooney is calling for other advocates to join up and urge heads of state meeting at next week's World Summit on Sustainable Development to suspend the commercial manufacture of nanomaterials, and establish "a transparent global process" for assessing nanotech's social, medical, and environmental hazards.

  • "Technology: Digital Copying Rules May Change"
    Christian Science Monitor (08/18/02); Paul, Noel C.

    New rules from the FCC and legislation currently working its way through Congress would severely restrict the copying and distribution of digital content, and consumer proponents charge that such measures will curtail consumers' fair-use rights. The new regulations, which could make it impossible for someone to freely copy a song off a CD, watch recorded DVDs on other players, or store a copy of a TV show for more than 24 hours, are supposed to choke off digital piracy. In early August, the FCC approved a new policy requiring TV producers to incorporate anti-copying technology into next-generation TVs, so that consumers cannot copy programs free of charge. Meanwhile, Congress is debating a bill that would make copyright protection systems a required component of all digital devices and associated software. Advocates claim that such measures would encourage the entertainment industry to disclose more digital content and fuel consumer use of high-definition TV and broadband, among other technologies. However, DigitalConsumer.org President Joe Kraus says that fair-use rights are violated by such policies. "The only way [copyright holders] can charge you, they realized, is to first take away your legal right, and then sell that right back to you," he contends.
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  • "Tech's 'Dirty Little Secret'--Cybersecurity"
    ZDNet (08/14/02); Ozzie, Ray

    Groove Networks CEO and Lotus Notes creator Ray Ozzie argues that both the government and the technology industry have been irresponsible, and have contributed to the insecurity of computer network devices. He notes that all online corporate communications can be and probably are being monitored. Corporate IT administrators believe they can shield sensitive information by bolstering their companies' firewalls, but Ozzie writes that such measures are useless when professionals work from home; they can transmit valuable documents or presentations to their home PCs via email or take them home on memory cards. Meanwhile, the government has used national security to discourage the embedding of end-to-end encryption into the base standards of the Internet. "It's clear by now that real security comes not just from strong crypto, but from recognizing and embracing human strengths, frailties and common behaviors in building, managing, and using complex systems," Ozzie contends. He writes that the industry must investigate alternative security methods to the firewall and virtual private network approach, and adopt more cellular trust and data-sharing strategies. Ozzie adds that such protection can be quickly and inexpensively provided by existing products: For example, IT departments could implement enterprise message encryption with Microsoft Exchange and Lotus Notes, while laptops could be made more secure via an Encrypting File System supported by Windows XP.

  • "The Trouble with Software Patches"
    NewsFactor Network (08/16/02); Lyman, Jay

    Experts say the sheer quantity of software patches being issued, as well as the increasing frequency of their release, is inhibiting their deployment by IT departments. Many companies do not have enough IT staff to keep abreast of new releases, but Forrester analyst Laura Koetzle notes that software vendors are shirking their responsibility to alert enterprises of the importance of patch installation. "It's for you to figure out which ones you need, which ones are important," she explains. Furthermore, patch testing is also company responsibility. Giga Information Group research director Mike Rasmussen says that companies must formulate a patch implementation policy and make someone responsible for fixes. However, intricate legacy and heterogeneous systems may not necessarily respond to patches upon actual installation as they do in tests. Koetzle observes that software developers are increasing their quality assurance staff in response to a directive to produce higher-quality software, but she adds that companies would do well to invest in patch management software. She explains that virus outbreaks such as Nimda and Code Red occur because companies have so many patches to choose from to deploy on a large number of machines.

  • "The Age of Assisted Cognition"
    Wired News (08/15/02); Baard, Mark

    Speakers at an Oregon conference hosted by Intel Research say that the elderly, particularly those stricken with Alzheimer's disease, will be the earliest beneficiaries of pervasive computing. Dr. Eric Tangalos of the Alzheimer's Disease Research Center expects that technology will mitigate the loss of problem-solving skills for sufferers of the disease. Artificial intelligence (AI) is being looked into for applications, but current AI models tend to crumble when it comes to offering specific advice for individual patients. AI researchers are suggesting an alternative approach in which systems can adapt to patients' changing requirements and can respond quickly when they are having trouble. Catherine D'Ambrosio of the University of Washington School of Nursing has conceived of an AI system that gathers patient data from sensors deployed throughout an eldercare center, and supplies caregivers with accurate analysis based on the collected information. Pervasive systems currently being developed include Elite Care's Oatfield Estates, which uses electronic badges, infrared detectors, and load sensing beds to keep tabs on elderly residents' whereabouts; a gesture pendant from the Georgia Institute of Technology that senses the trembling symptoms of Parkinson's Disease or medication side effects; and Chester, an AI health adviser from the University of Rochester's Center for Future Health that gives drug interaction data to patients and incorporates voice recognition technology. MIT Media Laboratory researcher Henry Lieberman declares that it will be a long time before medical advice systems are able "to connect personal information with generally available medical literature, and provide only what's interesting and relevant to the patient."

  • "Linux Makes a Run for Government"
    CNet (08/16/02); Lemos, Robert

    Linux may get its first federal government certification through an effort by a university think tank, The Cyberspace Policy Institute (CPI). The CPI wants to add some authentication and key management features to a Security-Enhanced Linux (SE Linux) version developed by the National Security Agency and the private firm Secure Computing. SE Linux adds mandatory access controls, which limits the maneuverability of a hacker if they gain access to a system through a buffer overflow attack, for example. The CPI version of SE Linux aspires to receive a basic Common Criteria rating required before government agencies can deploy a technology for use in sensitive applications. Microsoft's Windows 2000 is just now finishing its certification process, an indication of how rigorous the process is. CPI's Tony Stanco says the government's certification process is stilted toward proprietary software that comes from a single vendor, and that getting open-source software through that gauntlet will prove difficult. For instance, Secure Computing, which co-developed SE Linux, plans to enforce patents it has issued on segments of the access control technologies included in the software. In general, however, Linux has been making significant inroads into the government market with a favorable analysis by the MITRE defense firm in July and the recent announcement by the British government that it would consider open-source technology as an alternative to buying Microsoft technology.

  • "NIPC Asks for Help on Cyber Alerts"
    NewsFactor Network (08/16/02); Lyman, Jay

    Just a week after issuing a warning of widespread hacker attacks, the National Infrastructure Protection Center (NIPC) announced a call for outside contractors to help with keeping tabs on Internet threats and security incidents, as well as notifying the public. Security expert Ryan Russell notes that the NIPC is tardy when it comes to posting alerts and publishing technical details of security holes, especially when compared to the Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT) and other cybersecurity organizations. Debra Weierman of the FBI says that the NIPC is after computer scientists, network engineers, and national infrastructure specialists in an effort to shore up its threat analysis and public disclosure initiatives. Russell explains that the agency's real strength is reporting statistical and historical incident data, and he urges that it should focus on those areas rather than try to boost its vulnerability notification. The cyberattacks that the NIPC warned of a week ago failed to materialize, and both Weierman and Russell agree that the warning itself helped deter the assaults.

  • "Language Barriers on the Web?"
    CNet (08/14/02); Festa, Paul

    Last week, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) approved a new Web design standard, XHTML, to replace HTML, although experts agree the transition is far off in the future. Two drafts are being worked on: XHTML 1.0 corrects some errors in the published edition of XHTML, and XHTML 2.0 is styled slightly differently because XHTML 2.0 is not backwards compatible with XHTML 1.0 or HTML, according to the W3C. Webmaster Frances Currit-Dhaseleer says that if XHTML 2.0 is not backwards compatible, it would make Web pages in predecessor languages obsolete. If so, Currit-Dhaseleer is not interested in using XHTML 2.0 in the near future. W3C recommended XHTML adoption first in January 2000 because HTML is seen as a less elegant, controlled language. Replacing HTML with XHTML would enable developers to embed the Internet within the tighter structures of XML, and would allow developers to create task-specific and industry-specific markup languages. "XHTML 1.0 was designed as a bridge between HTML and XML," says WebGeek founder Ann Navarro; she describes XHTML 2.0 as "the other side of that bridge, dropping much of the deprecated content and moving forward into new, more XML methods of accomplishing tasks." Once XHTML 2.0 is incorporated into Web browsers--something experts believe will not happen for some time--then Internet users will experience incompatibility when trying to surf pre-XHTML 2.0-written Web pages.
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  • "Foreign Flood to IT Courses"
    Australian IT (08/13/02)

    More international students are enrolling in IT programs at Australia's universities. Australian Computer Society's Richard Hogg fears the trend will reduce job opportunities for local residents. Norman Lacy, executive director of the Information Technology Contract and Recruitment Association, says recent efforts by the federal government to limit the immigration of skilled IT professionals may be inadequate as increasing numbers of international students remain in Australia after graduation. The saturation by foreign students seems to be driven by expectations of economic recovery, says David Wilson, the Faculty of IT Associate Dean at the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS). "A number of IT markets are depressed in the IT world, but others, particularly China, are still growing, so there are opportunities there," he says. At Monash University, more than 42 percent of the IT students are international students, mostly from Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, India, and Hong Kong, says Robin Pollard of the Monash Faculty of IT Associate Dean (International).
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  • "Egypt Gets Into Gear on the IT Superhighway"
    Reuters (08/15/02); Noeman, Rachel

    To build itself into a major IT development hub, Egypt has instituted free Internet access in some cities as well as government-supported IT clubs in about 390 locations, where low-income citizens can expand their computing skills. Such initiatives have helped raise the local IT industry's status considerably, but low Internet penetration--1 million subscribers out of approximately 70 million people--remains a formidable challenge. The success of private IT ventures such as Otlob.com and LINKdotNET is also an encouraging sign, one demonstrating that Egypt's greatest strength is in its domestic talent pool, according to Microsoft's regional general manager Ali Faramawy. Other indicators of a rapidly growing Egyptian IT base include the proliferation of cybercafes and the construction of IT business parks. Communication and Information Minister Ahmed Nazif notes that new IT investments skyrocketed from 290 million pounds to 1.05 billion pounds between 1999 and 2001.
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  • "Researchers Observe Electroluminescence from Individual Molecules"
    Nanotech Planet (08/12/02)

    In the Aug. 6 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Georgia Tech scientists detailed their observation of electroluminescence from individual molecules. Robert Dickson of Georgia Tech's School of Chemistry and Biochemistry, in collaboration with Tae-Hee Lee and Jose Gonzalez, subjected thin films of non-electroluminescent silver oxide to an electrical current of roughly 1 amp, and then applied an alternating current via electrodes, which caused a line of silver clusters to emit light at room temperature. The scientists discovered that high-frequency AC voltage triggered a much brighter response in the molecules than DC voltage--up to 10,000 times brighter. Dickson explains that the AC current injects the electron charge at precisely the right time, minimizing the amount of energy lost as heat output. The researchers say that clusters of copper molecules also exhibit electroluminescence. Potential applications of this research include nanometer-scale optical interconnects and lithography, cryptography, and quantum data processing.
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  • "Could Broadband Get Simpler Soon?"
    Medill News Service (08/15/02); Chiger, Stephen

    Lawmakers and federal regulators are still working to figure out a way to speed broadband deployment, improve network infrastructure, and make the market more competitive. The Yankee Group's Matthew Davis says the issue is high-strung politically because two powerful lobbies are on either side of the battle--long-distance carriers such as Sprint and AT&T against network operators such as SBC and Verizon. A large number of bills pending in Congress aim to amend or replace the 1996 Telecommunications Act, which requires network operators to lease access to the local loop to competing ISPs, who use it to offer DSL services. So far, DSL technology only makes up nearly one-third of residential broadband services, but is more popular with businesses. Network operators say that removing the restrictions would allow them to offer more competitive rates against cable broadband operators, who operate in a unregulated environment. While the president's statements on broadband defer the issue to the FCC, The Yankee Group's Davis says he seems to be leaning toward more market deregulation.

  • "SIP Breathes New Life Into Voice Over IP"
    Network World (08/12/02) Vol. 19, No. 32, P. 41; Breidenbach, Susan

    Session Initiation Protocol (SIP)-enabled multimedia applications that are flexible and instantaneous could drive corporate deployment of deeply converged networks. Nortel's Dave Moore states that such applications are beyond the capabilities of TDM, and predicts that voice over IP (VoIP) adoption rates will increase once firms figure out how they can integrate their businesses and these technologies. With SIP, users can instantly organize interactive communications sessions that can accommodate any blend of voice, data, and video, while the equipment running SIP features automated recognition of each participant's presence. Businesses would be able to respond to crises faster. One of the key challenges for implementing VoIP is realizing solid return on investment (ROI); although VoIP can cut the cost of moves, adds, and changes, as well as save money through toll bypass, these savings cannot offset the costs of bandwidth and bandwidth management. Digirad IT manager Christopher Roth anticipates that the advent of integrated voice/data applications, which are not far off, will represent VoIP's real ROI. "Entire call centers will move to SIP to erase the seam between voice communication and CRM applications," he explains. "And SIP will change the way businesses do [video teleconferencing], and put this very rich mode of communication within the reach of more people."
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  • "Shrinking Toward the Ultimate Transistor"
    Science News (08/10/02) Vol. 162, No. 6, P. 88; Weiss, Peter

    Since its invention in 1947, the transistor has become approximately 10 billion times smaller than its original size, but traditional photolithographic techniques will one day no longer be able to shrink transistor components without having performance impeded by the laws of physics. So researchers are investigating new fabrication methods and alternatives to conventional transistor materials, with the ultimate goal being a single-atom transistor. The approach with the most success involves fabricating a very fine wire with a gap large enough to accommodate one atom; three years ago, University of California, Berkeley researchers were able to harness the electromigration of atoms to induce 1-nm gaps in gold wires that could be filled by a single molecule or nanocrystal. The team split up into two separate groups, both of which reported new breakthroughs this spring. Both groups created tailor-made molecules that can be plugged into gold nanowires, with the gate voltage regulating the flow of electrons. However, researchers still face the challenge of fitting the transistor into an atomic space, and getting the devices to work at room temperature. Still, scientists say the devices can be useful in drawing insights on the behavior of quantum dots and how they relate to the Kondo effect. The electrical resistance of a quantum dot disappears after the temperature falls below a certain point, and Stanford University's David Goldhaber-Gordon says this effect makes the devices more practical as computer components.

  • "GIS Goes Worldwide"
    CIO (08/01/02) Vol. 15, No. 20, P. 70; Duffy, Daintry

    Geographic information systems (GIS) applications will penetrate the mainstream even further thanks to increased collection and cheap availability of GIS-useful data and the development of industry-standard databases and programming interfaces. Utility companies use GIS-enabled technologies to keep tabs on their distribution pipeline networks and monitor vehicle movement. There is also greater demand for GIS services as a result of the homeland security push, while organizations such as the Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Forest Service are deploying GIS applications to link multiple agencies and map out fire outbreaks, respectively. Meanwhile, Eastman Kodak digital cameras feature serial ports for global positioning system (GPS) receivers that enable photographers to record when and where pictures are taken; they are also useful for producing highly accurate aerial maps. GIS Web services have also started to emerge: Questerra and Vicinity, for instance, offer companies spatial query applications via a Web interface. Momentum is also building for location-based services, such as onboard vehicle navigation systems as well as navigation by cell phone. Such GIS infrastructure rollouts are already taking place in Europe and Japan, and soon the U.S. will be able to take advantage of the technology.

  • "Data Path Architecture Reconfigures on Its Own"
    EE Times Online (08/13/02); Robinson, Gail

    Carnegie Mellon University researchers collaborated with STMicroelectronics to develop PipeRench, a data path architecture capable of reconfiguration without intervention from hosts or users. The architecture utilizes a six-metal-layer 0.18-micron CMOS technology, which clears the way for 3.65 million transistors operating at 120 MHz. The research team reports that the architecture's performance levels compete with high-end DSP architectures, while its speed is over five times that of commercial microprocessors. For instance, PipeRench can execute the Idea encryption algorithm at 450 Mbps, compared to the Pentium III's rate of 75.4 Mbps. The self-reconfiguring architecture scheme could make it easier to decide between DSP and dedicated processors for real-time critical designs. The processor is designed to be portable and scalable without the need for redesign. A paper presented at the Custom Integrated Circuits conference earlier this year reveals that the architecture features a virtual hardware pipeline composed of six stripes, each of which contains 16 processing elements (PEs). On-chip configuration bits that specify the virtual hardware are what give PipeRench its self-reconfiguration capability; the configuration file is transferred from on-chip memory into the configurable pipeline.

  • "Filling the Infosec Ranks"
    Federal Computer Week (08/12/02) Vol. 16, No. 28, P. 29; Frank, Diane

    With the assistance of a $400,000 grant from the National Science Foundation's Federal Cyber Service program, Carnegie Mellon University has started an initiative to help other higher-learning institutions build information security academic programs, which are designed to help fill the future ranks of federal and private-sector IT security professionals. Carnegie Mellon is using the money to hold training sessions that focus on capacity-building. The first four-week session, which was held in July, brought in nine faculty members from Howard University, Morgan State University, and the University of Texas at El Paso. They were introduced to information security teaching methods and ways to integrate the topic with other academic subjects, and then shown how to develop an appropriate security curriculum. At the end of the session, current and future research opportunities that the government could benefit from were studied. Staff involved in the session were drawn from institutions deemed centers of excellence by the National Security Agency's Infosec Education and Training Program. "The more schools that can develop these [information security] programs, then the more students we can turn out with this kind of expertise," declares Don McGillen of Carnegie Mellon's Center for Computer and Communications Security. A portion of the NSF funding will be funneled into the maintenance of a Web site where program participants can collaborate on research proposals.
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