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Volume 5, Issue 479: April 7, 2003

  • "Untethering From Clunky PC Box, Silicon Valley Hikes Wireless Frontier"
    New York Times (04/07/03) P. C1; Lohr, Steve

    Computer industry insiders see the center of gravity shifting from the PC to wireless platforms and say the mobile industry today resembles the nascent PC market almost 30 years ago. Still, although money and expertise is now moving to the wireless frontier, experts predict that fewer than 10% of the more than 450 million cell phones sold globally will be so-called "smart phones" that incorporate both voice and data functions, including games, email, and other Internet applications. Meanwhile, the shape of the future mobile market is far from certain with numerous network and operating system standards to be hashed out. Government regulation and the sheer number of companies moving into the market also make for an unpredictable mix. Besides the global tug-of-war between GSM and CDMA wireless standards, a number of vendors are trying to establish an accepted platform for mobile applications. Microsoft is a presence with its Stinger operating system, but analysts say wariness over that company's monopoly on computing ensures a number of other standard systems, such as Symbian, Palm OS, Java, and even systems based on Linux. Other computing companies are offering "seamless roaming" between cell phone and Wi-Fi networks as cash-strapped telecommunications firms struggle with 3G. The Open Mobile Alliance, created last June, represents a widespread effort to create mobile data standards so that information and applications can work across technical and proprietary lines as they do on the Internet. Already, text messages are increasingly sent to different carrier networks and the same is expected of multimedia messages soon.
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  • "Disconnects on Wi-Fi and Cell Phones"
    CNet (04/07/03); Charny, Ben

    Thirty years after he invented the cell phone, Martin Cooper believes the technology is nearing the end of its life cycle, and thinks that carriers should redirect their efforts on improving telecommunications rather than adding new features to cell phones. He argues that the consolidation of many functions into a single device, supposedly to create a universal tool, only increases the phone's complexity and undermines its usability. Cooper anticipates an industry regression that will focus on creating a reliable cell phone that always works, and is bewildered that carriers "have not yet achieved the original dream" of delivering a wireless phone that is as cheap and reliable as a wired device. "[Carriers] ought to focus instead of looking for different applications and forcing these applications on people; they ought to be fixing the fundamental problem: getting voice right," he explains. Cooper says that short messaging service (SMS) is not fast enough for most Internet applications, and predicts that the practice of installing Wi-Fi hot spots will become obsolete. He compares hot spots to phone booths, which were outdated with the proliferation of mobile phones, and claims that using Wi-Fi to facilitate wide-area coverage has no economic or practical applications. Cooper argues that carriers are currently "a trillion times better today" at exploiting spectrum than in 1896, when Marconi made the first transatlantic call. He adds that smart antennas are the next generation of telecom technology, one that will enable users to reduce spectrum usage.

  • "Wireless PDA Software Helps Grocery Shoppers Find Items"
    EurekAlert (04/04/03)

    A prototype wireless personal digital assistant (PDA) system developed by Georgia Institute of Technology researchers was field-tested in a Kroger store in Atlanta by five grocery shoppers. Prior to the technology's development, extensive background research on the device's practicality was conducted. Under the supervision of Georgia Tech's John Stasko, then-students Erica Newcomb and Toni Pashley conceived of a PDA that displays a list of wanted items that ties into a local grocery store's always-on information system; the list is either brought from home or is provided by the store once the shopper is identified as a member of the frequent shoppers' club. Upon entering the store, the list is reorganized to outline the shortest, most efficient path the shopper should take to retrieve every item on the list. The shopper scans the items upon checkout, and an updated list is sent to the PDA so the grocery bill's total can be verified, and then beamed to the checkout. Stasko reports the test of the prototype system was encouraging, and Newcomb and Pashley note the feature most appreciated--and most frequently used--by the testers was item locating. On the other hand, testers found it difficult to shop with their hands while simultaneously holding the PDA, so Newcomb and Pashley conceived of a way to mount the device on a shopping cart. Stasko hopes other students will follow up on this research, answering such questions as to whether the system should feature shopper-owned or store-furnished PDAs, and what privacy problems are inherent in such a project. Newcomb and Pashley will present their paper, "Mobile Computing in the Retail Arena," at ACM's CHI 2003 Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems this week in Fort Lauderdale, FL.

  • "FBI Computers Enter the 21st Century"
    Medill News Service (04/03/03); Wenzel, Elsa M.

    The FBI is attempting to modernize its computer systems with the $600 million Trilogy network, while civil liberties proponents are keeping a close eye on the project to see if it strikes a balance between privacy and security-related information gathering. The network will feature a new database designed to infer relationships between 26 million agency records; the database can store 100 TB of data culled from federal, state, and local law enforcement as well as news media. Audio, video, and 3D mapping files will also be stored within the database, while the FBI's Virtual Case File, used to track terrorists and other offenders, will be made available to all authorized employees by December. Although FBI executive assistant director Wilson Lowery says the system will only include legally obtained information, privacy advocates are concerned that the massive amount of data in the system will be rife with inaccuracies. Furthermore, some of the data may come from the National Crime Information Center, which was recently exempted from the Privacy Act of 1974. Trilogy features a search engine that can carry out natural-language queries and chart or map out relationships between suspected criminals, while its scope covers almost 600 Web sites. Trilogy was conceived as early as 1999, and was revised in 2001 to incorporate more security safeguards. The FBI's Paul Bresson says the next phase of the Trilogy project will be to make the system's information accessible to other federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies.

  • "Why We May Never Regain the Liberties That We've Lost"
    SiliconValley.com (04/06/03); Gillmor, Dan

    Although the government has routinely rolled back civil liberties in times of crisis, they have usually been restored once the crisis passes; that may not be the case for the liberties rescinded as a result of the war against terrorism, writes Dan Gillmor. There are two factors that could inhibit the restoration of privacy rights that the Bush administration, with the endorsement of Congress, is scaling back: The impossibility of winning the war on terrorism, given that there will always be malicious individuals or organizations dedicated to injuring America, no matter what the court of world opinion may think; and the increasing proliferation of technology that supports a surveillance society, which is being deployed by what Gillmor describes as "an unholy, if loose, alliance of government, private industry and just plain nosy regular folks." For every government initiative to monitor Americans that is put on hold, such as the Total Information Awareness project, another is proposed, an example being the Transportation Department's CAPPS II air traveler profiling system. In the meantime, the war against Iraq has been the perfect cover to allow the White House to slip an exemption to the 1974 Privacy Act under the media's radar. The exemption would allow the FBI to forego ensuring the accuracy of the National Crime Information Center database. Such a move could allow the government to arrest or harass innocent citizens because of erroneous or outdated records. Gillmor speculates that these federal mandates could do "incalculable" damage to America's entrepreneurism, as well as other countries' vision of the U.S. as a model government to aspire to.
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  • "U.S. Military Helps Fund Calgary Hacker"
    Globe and Mail (04/06/03); Akin, David

    The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has indirectly allocated $2.3 million to Calgary hacker Theo de Raadt in the hopes that his OpenBSD operating system could shield U.S. military networks from cyber-attacks launched by terrorists. De Raadt's group receives the money through the computer science department of University of Pennsylvania professor Jonathan Smith, who is a strong proponent of OpenBSD, a Unix-based open-source project that is most frequently used to power the server systems running corporate networks or Web sites. De Raadt notes that renewed emphasis on network security has not led to widescale improvement of leading operating systems offered by commercial software vendors such as Microsoft. OpenBSD, whose development is largely volunteer-driven, has reported only one vulnerability or security flaw over the past seven years of its existence; in contrast, Microsoft has released 68 product security alerts in the past 12 months. De Raadt has used the DARPA funding to employ the equivalent of four full-time developers for the OpenBSD project, but he does not want critics to think he is a tool of the U.S. military. For one thing, he is a outspoken critic of the military, and a vocal opponent of the war in Iraq. De Raadt says the OpenBSD software can be downloaded from the Internet for free or is available from a CD for a nominal fee, and his group notes that the U.S. Justice Department has deployed the software to trace and apprehend hackers and cyber-terrorists. Universities and companies in both Canada and the U.S. are also using the operating system.
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  • "Experts Assess Bush's 2004 R&D Budget Request"
    IEEE Spectrum (04/01/03); Goldstein, Harry

    Accompanying President Bush's proposed $122.5 billion 2004 federal research and development budget is a heavier emphasis on anti-terrorist and homeland security technologies, compared to past R&D budgets chiefly focusing on civilian medical research. The request, which is about 4.4% higher than the 2003 R&D budget, will allocate most of the funding to the Defense Department, which will divert more than three-quarters of the money to weapons systems development, notes Kei Koizumi of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The non-defense sector's R&D budget will increase a mere 1.2% over 2003 levels, with the National Institutes of Health receiving the lion's share of the funding. Koizumi observes that NASA and Energy Department funding will remain unchanged under the 2004 R&D budget request, while rising Defense development funding will trigger a decline in Defense research and Commerce appropriations. At a March symposium, David Trinkle of the Office of Management and Budget outlined the Bush administration's spending priorities, which include networking and IT, nanotechnology, the war against terrorism, climate change, the physical sciences, K-12 math and science, and fuel cell development; the counterterrorism initiative and homeland security will be the White House's leading focus. The costs for the war against Iraq and the postwar cleanup will be taken out of the R&D budget, although spending cuts and the sectors affected are still unclear. Adding to the uncertainty is the current status of the Homeland Security Department, which will not be fully organized for several months. Other concerns among Bush's advisors include falling numbers of science and technology doctorates in the U.S., as well as a reverse brain drain of foreign-born U.S.-trained tech professionals returning to their homelands.
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  • "Blogs Step Up in Stature as Harvard Begins Study"
    Mass High Tech (03/31/03); Dinan, Elizabeth

    Universities will be watching Harvard Law School's Berkman Center for Internet & Society as it conducts an academic study of blogs, described as publishing for people by study leader Dave Winer, former contributing editor to HotWired. The academic community is interested in finding out how blogs, formally known as Weblogs, can be used in disciplines such as law, government, and medicine. Harvard considers a blog to be "a Web site updated frequently with links, commentary, and anything else you like." Winer, also former UserLand and Living Videotext CEO, has developed software for Harvard's project that he says dramatically simplifies the Web publishing process into just three steps. Working with an open-ended Harvard fellowship, Winer intends to get as close as possible to participants--all of whom have Harvard email addresses--with weekly meetings for feedback, to determine how they use the software, which he says makes blogging as easy as email. Winer believes a blog could help provide information and updates on a recently ill family member, for example, as well as provide a permanent record. Military families have popularized warblogs as tool for providing real-time information, news, and e-contact.
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  • "Internet Connected Real-Time Systems Vulnerable to Attack?"
    Electronic Engineering Times--Asia (04/01/03); Jones, Richard

    Connected real-time systems offer many advantages to users, including a richer interface, resource and information sharing, and easier upgradeability, but the trade-off is vulnerability to a variety of assaults; the trick is to adequately protect real-time systems without imperiling performance. Hackers can overload connected real-time systems using denial of service (DoS) attacks in which the communications channel is swamped with messages, or fool them into compromising their data by sending "spoofed" messages. To prevent the latter kind of attack, the connected system should be able to validate incoming messages, and encryption is the most reliable form of protection in this regard. However, encryption can be circumvented, while the encryption algorithms themselves can strain the real-time system's CPU resources; the problem can be mitigated through the addition of a security co-processor or the use of a CPU with embedded encryption functionality. Other safeguards are needed in order to shield the system from malicious programs that originate from seemingly authorized sources, which could be external or internal. One solution is to modify the real-time operating system (RTOS) to assign privilege-based access controls to critical system functions, even though this could reduce performance. Although access control functionality is not available in commercial RTOSes, preliminary research demonstrates that judicious software engineering can limit impact. Ratcheting up the real-time system's clock speed can offset the performance downgrades caused by access control and protocol stack changes.
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  • "Four IT Predictions to Watch"
    Tech Update (04/01/03); Farber, Dan

    Gartner's Symposium ITxpo 2003 showcased four IT trends that enterprises can expect to play a significant role over the coming decade. Portal software, already widespread, will become even more important for large firms as it is integrated with content management and collaboration features. Gartner predicts that larger portal software suites will mean small, best-of-breed players lose out and companies have simpler vendor relationships. On the downside, fewer providers usually means less innovation. Radio frequency identification (RFID) tags are expected to be widely adopted by 2012, with factory, warehouse, and distribution uses coming first. Gartner research director Carl Claunch predicts that resourceful firms will later think of ways to create new value-added service opportunities using RFID technology. Gartner also forecasts near-ubiquitous, always-on wireless Internet available through tens of thousands of WLAN hotspots worldwide. Security and roaming issues are the biggest barriers to this scenario, but already a number of technology and consumer services companies are rushing to provide WLAN hardware and connectivity. Lastly, Gartner says the utility model of enterprise IT should be considered for functions companies derive no strategic value from. Rather than make large, risky investments in infrastructure, businesses could simply plug into vendor networks and tap IT resources similar to how they get electricity. Gartner estimates that over 30% of enterprises will subscribe to the IT utility model by 2006, and forecasts that the market for such services will grow from $8.6 billion today to more than $25 billion in 2006.
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  • "DNS Pioneer Warns of Internet Security"
    EE Times (04/01/03); Quan, Margaret

    Paul Mockapetris, co-inventor of the DNS system, says "the majority of the work to be done still lies ahead of us." Mockapetris wants DNS security buffeted not only in response to the October 2002 DDoS attacks, but also in response to the recent attack on al-Jazeera's Web site, an attack that was partially DNS-based. Mockapetris says these attacks will lead to further and greater attacks, and he notes that the DNS does not have a security model standard yet, despite nearly a decade of work by the Internet Engineering Task Force. In 1983, Mockapetris worked with the late Jonathan B. Postel to invent the DNS. Mockapetris says the "attacks illustrate that we need more secure and fail-safe models [for the Internet] in the future." He says a secure DNS could lead to no-call lists for telemarketers, IP telephony phone numbers, and security keys and certificates.

  • "Indiana Spam Bill Passes Legislature"
    InternetNews.com (04/02/03); Morrissey, Brian

    Indiana's House of Representatives has passed an anti-spam bill on an unanimous vote and the bill is now heading to Indiana Gov. Frank O'Bannon. The legislation, HB 1083, includes a provision that would penalize spam senders for up to $500 per spam message sent; it requires senders to specify "ADV" for commercial email in the subject line. It requires bulk emailers to include an unsubscribe option, and it bars spam senders from obscuring the email's origin or using a third-party domain name without that domain administrator's permission. The California Senate recently approved a similar bill that would apply the same $500 liability to spam senders, and SpamLaws.com says that 29 states are working on anti-spam legislation. Email marketers have stopped trying to block spam legislation, and both the Direct Marketing Association and the Network Advertising Initiative's E-mail Service Providers coalition are pushing for federal legislation to avoid having to comply with multiple state laws. The Federal Trade Commission is to convene a symposium on spam later in April 2003; one poll found that 75% of people support legal remedies to fight spam.

  • "Thwarting the Zombies"
    eWeek (03/31/03) Vol. 20, No. 13, P. 25; Fisher, Dennis

    Massive numbers of Internet-connected machines acting as a hacker's zombie army are becoming more common as security experts work on defenses. These botnets, or networks of bot-controlled computers, are used to conduct denial-of-service (DoS) attacks against specific Internet nodes in order to knock out downstream connections. Government agencies, security firms, and universities have been studying the problem, often using "honey pot" machines that experts intentionally leave vulnerable so they can study botnets. Azusa Pacific University associate professor Bill McCarty says one botnet that drafted his honey pot machine was able to gather over 18,000 conscripts in roughly 24 hours, while the CERT Coordination Center in Pittsburgh reported botnets as large as 140,000 machines earlier this month. Improving the security of individually owned and company computers is one way to prevent these zombie armies, but Dartmouth College security technology researcher George Bakos says it is a daunting task to change normal PC users' behavior. To stop the DoS attacks launched by botnets, security firm Arbor Networks has released software to help ISPs employ standard countermeasures, such as black-hole and sinkhole routing. In those scenarios, malicious traffic is either channeled to a non-existent address or a containment address where it can be studied. Although such techniques are commonly used at the enterprise level, they are more effective at the ISP level because they would keep the attack further from the end user. Dartmouth's Bakos says a final solution will necessarily involve all parties from the end user to the ISP.

  • "Pictures Only a Computer Could Love"
    Science News (03/29/03) Vol. 163, No. 13, P. 200; Weiss, Peter

    New lenses keyed to computers' strengths are being engineered for a variety of purposes. "Once you break away from thinking that the optics have to form something [people] recognize as an image, there are many things that you can do," notes National Defense University's Joseph N. Mait. Osaka University researchers are working with integrated computational imaging in which a computer processes a multitude of perspectives captured by an array of lenslets in order to calculate a scene with superior resolution; practical applications of this technology include credit-card-thin cameras and wraparound cameras that can be built into military vehicles. Duke University's David J. Brady has developed a motion-tracker studded with precise perforations that focus light from multiple viewpoints onto photodetectors, thus allowing the device to reconstruct an object's movement without capturing or studying any images of the object. The U.S. military is interested in using the technology for inexpensive and rapid motion sensors, while Brady notes that it could also enhance computer-human interaction and give robots a new dimension of spatial awareness. Edward R. Dowski Jr. and W. Thomas Cathey founded CDM-Optics to capitalize on a breakthrough method Dowski developed when he was a student: The technique, known as wavefront coding, is based on a specially developed, saddle-shaped lens that presents a seemingly blurry image to a computer, which deciphers it on a point-by-point basis; the overall effect is extended depth of field, and the technique is being applied to microscopes, telescopes, endoscopes, and corrective vision. Dowski expects machine-vision systems to be upgraded as a result of enhancements in wavefront coding. Meanwhile, a University of Arizona research team led by Eustace L. Dereniak and Michael R. Descour has developed a lens that can simultaneously capture light spectra across an entire scene.

  • "Point, Click...Fire"
    Business Week (04/07/03) No. 3827, P. 34; Carey, John; Ante, Spencer E.; Balfour, Frederik

    The Iraqi battlefield is serving as the proving ground for advanced technologies, including networking, IT, and precision weaponry designed to give American forces a strategic advantage. The digital war currently being fought uses a computing grid composed of integrated sensors, weapons, communications systems, officers, and troops that provides the U.S. military with unprecedented battlefield visibility. Commanders and soldiers in the field can keep track of enemy movements through in-vehicle computer systems linked to a network, while aerial reconnaissance can map out Iraqi forces and outposts for satellite-guided air strikes. The safety of strategic personnel increases thanks to the technology's mobility, and troops can operate effectively even when widely dispersed. The battlefield grid is linked via the tactical Internet, which is used by soldiers to relay and exchange data, while information is processed and managed more efficiently thanks to innovations such as the Joint Operations Center. However, problems with the technology have begun to surface: Several friendly-fire incidents have been attributed to glitches in Patriot missile systems, while advanced weaponry and sensors will be less effective when the fighting moves to urban areas, where enemy troops can use crowds and buildings for cover; in addition, chemical and biological warfare cannot be prevented by the new technology, though it will allow troops to respond faster to such attacks. Furthermore, not all U.S. soldiers have been equipped with the latest technology, a disadvantage that has proven lethal in at least one instance. Other potential threats to U.S. battlefield supremacy include hacker-directed attacks on the communications infrastructure and a lack of interoperability.
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  • "Spectrum for All"
    CIO Insight (03/03) No. 24, P. 31; Lessig, Lawrence

    FCC Chairman Michael Powell is preparing the way for a free and open radio spectrum, writes policy and law expert Lawrence Lessig. While on the one hand catering to vested interests that want radio spectrum as property, Powell is at the same time preparing a revolution that would make large parts of the spectrum free to all comers. This commons-area concept has been boosted by the success of Wi-Fi, the wireless Internet technology sprung from a small, unlicensed portion of spectrum. Those that want to replace the property structure with an open one say it would encourage innovation similar to Wi-Fi. Lessig writes that an open spectrum, with a small set of defining protocols, would be similar to the Internet in terms of benefits and detriments. While critical tasks on the Internet are assigned the same priority as frivolous or even harmful activity, the overall cost-benefit balance favors an open structure. Last November, the FCC suggested a large auction that would make 23% of radio spectrum owned property, but at the same time, the Spectrum Policy Task Force at the Commission recommended balancing property and commons structure. If this scenario is implemented, where open and proprietary structures compete fairly, Lessig says the open system will soon prove its worth in comparison.

  • "Semantic Applications, or Revenge of the Librarians"
    Darwin (03/03); Moschella, David

    The supplier-centric IT industry will become customer-centric when Web services shift to semantic applications that enable interoperability between computer systems, thus systematizing data searches and transaction processing, writes David Moschella, author of "Customer-Driven IT: How Users are Shaping Technology Industry Growth." Web pioneer and World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) director Tim Berners-Lee has long championed the concept of a semantic Web that can interpret the context of content with greater precision. Semantic applications are often lumped into one of two categories: Web content management and intelligent applications. Elements common to both categories include metadata, taxonomies, ontologies, and directly addressable, self-contained information objects, and initiatives are underway to standardize these various terminologies in nearly every major industry. A good portion of these projects involve business exchanges and cross-industry entities. For example, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's DARPA Agent Markup Language (DAML) initiative is designed to extend HTML and XML to accommodate ontologies. Improved business interoperability can only be leveraged if customers can settle on and adopt common ontologies and taxonomies, and then deploy them consistently and cautiously, both for structured and unstructured data. New business skills will be needed to take advantage of semantic systems, and the propagation of such skills must proceed on an industry-by-industry basis.

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