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Volume 5, Issue 484: Friday, April 18, 2003

  • "Eluding the Web's Snare"
    New York Times (04/17/03) P. F1; Hafner, Katie

    Results from the Pew Internet and American Life Project's 2002 survey show that 42% of American adults still do not regularly use the Internet despite many of them being able to if they chose to do so. Project director Lee Rainie said the results were surprising, given previous assumptions that unconnected people were hindered by lack of training or access. In actuality, 74% of the 1,294 survey participants reported having close friends or relatives who used the Internet regularly, and 20% said they lived in the same house as regular Internet users. The study labeled these people Net evaders, though Edward Tenner, who wrote "Why Things Bite Back: Technology and the Revenge of Unintended Consequences," suggests Net circumventers as a better title, since many non-users reap the benefits of the Internet via their connected friends and family. In discussions with those who remain offline, many reasons were given, including fear of technology and commitment to traditional communications. A woman whose husband lived 300 miles away for nine years preferred phone calls and handwritten letters to email and instant messaging because of "romantic attachment." Jerilou Hammett, co-publisher of the magazine Designer/Builder, maintains strict avoidance of the Internet in both her business and personal life, and requires that article submissions be sent through postal mail. She says she and her husband connected to the Internet early, in 1996, but soon stopped because they realized it was consuming too much time and believed the quality of information was not as good.
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  • "Debate: Should You Hire a Hacker?"
    Business Week Online (04/17/03); Radcliff, Deborah

    Reformed hackers make terrific security advisors for corporations, argued onetime hacker Kevin Mitnick during a panel session at the RSA Security Conference today. Taking the opposing view was fellow panelist Christopher Painter, current deputy chief of the Justice Department's Computer Crime Section and the man who prosecuted Mitnick for computer crime eight years ago. Painter said that hiring ex-hackers, even if they are reformed, sends a bad message to the young, impressionable IT work force. "If you were a Fortune 500 company and you hired a hacker with a criminal record to test your systems, what would you tell your shareholders?" asked Hewlett-Packard chief security strategist Ira Winkler, who sided with Painter. "Besides, what specialty skills do criminal hackers bring to the table that security experts without records don't already have?" Winkler added that hackers may be adept at breaking into computer systems, but are sorely lacking when it comes to patching up security vulnerabilities. In Mitnick's corner was Stanford Law School faculty member and attorney Jennifer Granick, who contended that people with Mitnick's experience would be a valuable resource for corporations, not least for their ability to elevate corporate awareness of how employees can be "socially engineered" by others to give away sensitive information. She also said that the current legal definition of computer crime is too broad in scope.
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  • "Wi-Fi Could Let Iraq Skip Steps to Leap Into Broadband"
    USA Today (04/17/03) P. 1B; Kessler, Michelle

    The reconstruction of Iraq following the downfall of Saddam Hussein's regime could involve a Wi-Fi deployment that outpaces that of the U.S., because Iraq will not be plagued by traditional phone and cable networks that would otherwise hamper the penetration. Gartner projects the number of international Wi-Fi access points to total more than 24,000 by the end of 2003, and Wi-Fi manufacturers such as Cisco Systems, Nomadix, and Proxim are discussing Iraqi Wi-Fi implementations with nonprofits and government agencies. CARE director Bob MacPherson notes that the technology could "lower our overhead and increase our capability to do our jobs." Wi-Fi has proven its worth as a way to connect rural areas and villages in Third World countries such as Bhutan and Indonesia, and is also used to supply Internet access to schools and police stations in Native American reservations. Wi-Fi uses a portion of the radio frequency spectrum to transmit data, which saves money that would otherwise be spent to lay out cables.

  • "Women Need Widescreen for Virtual Navigation"
    New Scientist (04/17/03); Marks, Paul

    Computer scientists from Microsoft's Redmond, Wash., research lab and Carnegie Mellon University told attendees at a Florida computer usability conference last week that men are better than women when it comes to navigating through virtual environments using typical computer displays and graphics software. This is related to men being generally faster than women in being able to mentally map out the environment and their spatial relation to it--a talent that extends to the real world, according to Microsoft researcher Mary Czerwinski. She and fellow researcher George Robertson, along with Carnegie Mellon's Desney Tan, ran a series of tests on volunteers to see if they could improve females' virtual navigation skills. The results indicated women can become just as adept as men with certain modifications, such as a larger screen to provide a wider field of view and smoother, more realistic animation. "You have to generate each image frame so the optical flow simulates accurately the experience of walking down, say, a hallway," Robertson explained. It is much less disorienting for women if the animation is not jerky, but many 3D software applications do not support smooth image rendering. Female architects, designers, trainee pilots, and video gamers are among those who could benefit from a modified virtual navigation system.

  • "Fiber Loop Makes Quantum Memory"
    Technology Research News (04/16/03); Smalley, Eric

    New quantum computing research has yielded a short-term memory device that uses an optical fiber loop to store quantum information. Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory has created a simple device that traps photons in an optical loop so that their quantum state can be stored as binary information. A polarizing beam splitter channels photons into the loop, where they flip between polar states until the switch is opened and the photon emerges once again in superposition, or the quantum state of having both polarizations at the same time. Johns Hopkins researcher James D. Franson says the device fits well with quantum computing architectures now being worked on, since the optical loop design would easily synchronize with the laser-powered clock cycles of a quantum computer. However, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory principal scientist Jonathan Dowling says the device can only store information reliably for a short time. Franson says each 13-nanosecond cycle means an approximately 19% photon loss, making the device unsuitable for applications such as quantum communications signal boosting. Franson estimates a five- to 10-year wait before the optical fiber loop device is ready for practical applications.
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  • "Glowing Beads Make Tiny Bar Codes"
    Technology Research News (04/16/03); Patch, Kimberly

    Corning scientists have devised a process to synthesize minuscule barcoded beads through the fusion of glass doped with lanthanide metal oxide ions, which glow at certain wavelengths under ultraviolet light. The mixture is drawn into a rectangular ribbon fiber, which is then etched with a laser, and immersed in a ultrasonic water bath to break apart the beads. Corning biochemical sciences manager Joydeep Lahiri says the breakthrough could make it possible to tag currency and other documents to prevent counterfeiting, or track various types of DNA or other kinds of molecules in drug discovery research. He notes the technique could be used to generate 100 billion distinctive barcodes, and this volume could be increased with further experimentation. The next phase of the project is to manufacture DNA and peptides on the micro-beads so that biological experiments can be performed. Lahiri says that commercialization of the technology could be three to six years away. Shuming Nie of the Georgia Institute of Technology and Emery University sees several barriers that may limit the microbarcodes' practical applications: The material is fluorescent at multiple wavelengths, has limited light absorption capability, and its long excited-state lifespans will restrict the speed at which the codes can be read out.
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  • "Battlefield Internet Gets First War Use"
    Associated Press (04/16/03); Rising, David

    Wednesday's raid by the U.S. Army's 4th Infantry Division on the Taji air base in Iraq inaugurated the Force 21 Battle Command Brigade and Below (FBCB2), an advanced networking system that monitors the movement of combat vehicles in a sort of "battlefield Internet." The system maps out the position of friendly and unfriendly forces on the battlefield via a videogame-like overview commanders can use to coordinate troop movements from a tactical operation center. The FBCB2 is a mesh network of touchscreen computers installed in vehicles; the screens display icons--blue to represent friendly forces and red to represent enemy forces--that soldiers can touch to access target information or send text messages to other vehicles or the command center, thus allowing battlefield data to be quickly updated with a minimum of radio chatter. Vehicle positions are tracked by a GPS satellite navigation system, thus reducing incidents of friendly fire or deviations from the battlefield strategy. FBCB2 computers are protected from heat by shock-absorbent cases designed by Northrup Grumman, and have no cooling fans to avoid contamination by sand or water; they are also equipped with a remote-controlled self-destruct system, and can re-scale battlefield maps or overlay them with terrain features or satellite imagery thanks to Sun Microsystems' Solaris operating system.

  • "Expert Warns of Cyberthreats"
    IDG News Service (04/16/03); Roberts, Paul

    Samuel Berger, who served the Clinton administration as national security advisor, told reporters at this week's RSA Conference that the U.S. should increase funding for both physical and cyberspace-related security measures, and warned the country has become complacent about the threat of international terrorism. Although the military action in Afghanistan and the capture of senior Al Qaeda personnel may have dealt that particular terrorist group a mortal blow, this does not mean the overall threat has been quashed. Berger argued that the dearth of coordinated cyberattacks is not an indication international terrorists lack the ability to launch them against the U.S., and there is no reason to think that other organizations do not possess the means to attack the nation's information infrastructure just because Al Qaeda may not. He remarked that Congress has allocated significant funds to bureaucratic restructuring, while cybersecurity funding requests are proceeding "at a snail's pace." Berger added that ratcheting up funding will allow the U.S. to address border security and other pressing issues while building a foundation for IT infrastructure revisions to uphold domestic security. He contended that the country should also adhere to a long-term vision of resolving the economic and technological divides between rich and poor nations in order to ensure its security. Still, Berger praised the progress cybersecurity has made thus far, claiming the White House's National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace is a step in the right direction. "I think the effort on cybersecurity strategy is some of the best work that's been done on homeland security, and that's because there was continuity from the late 1990s with [former Bush Special Advisor for Cyberspace Security] Richard Clarke," he noted.

  • "Feds, Tech Industry Partner to Fight Cyberterrorism"
    Associated Press (04/16/03); Konrad, Rachel

    The federal government and leading technology vendors have agreed to develop voluntary computer security standards meant to raise the baseline of Web security and customer trust online; companies that pass the standards, which will not be quickly outmoded technical specifications, will be able to display a logo akin to the "Good Housekeeping seal of approval," according to the CEO Cyber Security Task Force, which will develop the standards via collaboration between members of the TechNet industry trade group and government cybersecurity specialists. Requirements would differ according to the type of activity done on a Web site. Critics of the plan say the standards will simply provide more incentive to hackers and will have little effect on offshore outsourcing companies, to whom a majority of large U.S. firms farm out some of their IT work. The program is part of the National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace, unveiled in February. Presidential advisor for Cyberspace Security Howard Schmidt says the voluntary standards are necessary because the government does not have the capability to monitor and enforce mandatory cybersecurity rules.
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  • "Making More of a Noise"
    Financial Times - FTIT Survey (04/16/03) P. 11; Hayward, Douglas

    While currently inflexible and expensive to deploy, voice technology is making improvements and gaining acceptance in certain areas. Experts say voice commands would be most useful in factory or vehicle settings where users cannot easily use manual input tools, but so far the largest adopters have been financial services and telecommunications companies. Already, voice technology is used in a large percentage of call centers, augmented by human agents who are brought in for call activity of greater business value. Voice technology also plays a significant role in self-service, letting customers buy tickets on the phone, check flight schedules, and receive audible email and SMS messages. Still, voice technology systems are segmented from other technology components and require special skills to install and fine-tune; companies such as IBM tout a "multimodal" development environment where coders would be able to create voice features at the same time they program a traditional Web application, for example. But a standards battle between VoiceXML and Microsoft's Salt protocols is creating some hesitancy in the developer community. With those issues unresolved, people in the voice technology industry say more capable systems--that could interact more fluidly with users--are unrealistic for mass deployment. ScanSoft international vice president Peter Hauser cites a voice-enabled PDA due out this year as just the first of a deluge of voice-enabled products, such as cell phones without keypads and voice-responsive remote controls.

  • "Tech Sector Starts to Feel the Effects of SARS Virus"
    Bangkok Post (04/16/03)

    Arabia.com, based in the British islet of Guernsey, has announced that it plans to sell Iraq.com but will not release its target price. In other Internet and computing news, Intel has cancelled forums to be held in Beijing and Taipei because of the SARS outbreaks in Asia. Also because of the SARS outbreak, Sun has also cancelled a product launch show in Shanghai, and ATI--a chipmaking company--has postponed a product launch directed at the Asian market. At a Hewlett-Packard Hong Kong office, one employee has contracted SARS. HP has responded by closing the office and sending all 300 employees home.

  • "Uncle Sam: Share Your System Secrets"
    CNet (04/16/03); McCullagh, Declan

    The Homeland Security Department issued a proposal on Tuesday that will supposedly quell industry groups' fears about disclosing infrastructure security data to the government by promising to keep such data confidential. The proposal encompasses any data involving actual and potential attacks, both physical and online, against "critical infrastructure and protected systems," as well as glitches, bugs, or programming errors that could hamper the Internet, utilities, telephone networks, and other essential services. Private-sector concerns caused an amendment to be inserted into Homeland Security Department legislation allowing information voluntarily submitted to the government to be exempt from the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Proponents of open government opposed this action, claiming that sensitive information was already protected under the FOIA. "Any claimed private-sector reluctance to share important data with the government grows out of, at best, a misperception of current law," argued the Electronic Privacy Information Center's David Sobel at a congressional hearing last July. "Exemption proponents have not cited a single instance in which a federal agency has disclosed voluntarily submitted data against the express wishes of an industry submitter." The information analysis infrastructure protection directorate can publish some information when issuing a general alert, but the proposal bans the exposure of the information's source, as well as any data "that is proprietary, business-sensitive, relates specifically to the submitting person or entity, or is otherwise not appropriately in the public domain." The collection and archiving of infrastructure security vulnerabilities in the Critical Infrastructure Information Management System will be coordinated by an undersecretary of the directorate.

  • "Analyst Predicts Next-Generation Super Network"
    Wireless Newsfactor (04/15/03); Jaques, Robert

    Gartner expects all future communications needs to be supported by a hybrid next-generation network (NGN) that melds the Internet with wireless and public switched telephone, and industry experts predict such a network will arrive within two years. The unification of the three infrastructures will allow communications services to be tailored to individual subscribers, be they on the corporate or consumer levels. "In the future, calls will include voice, video, data, TV broadcasts and multimedia collaboration," says Gartner analyst David Fraley. "In many cases, these will be combined into a single communications session." Experts such as Gartner's Bettina Tratz-Ryan advise ISPs and telecommunications providers to invest in the NGN's infrastructure right away, or face having to spend more money to accommodate exorbitant and complicated traffic demands as well as rapidly create additional service revenue sources. Gartner projects that the NGN gear deployment market will start to recover in 2005, while NGN and voice over IP (VoIP) will mature over the next several years. The equipment will support the highest quality of service-based traffic in nearly any network, while service providers will augment implementation plans that involve the upgrade or substitution of selective network components towards a wide-scale deployment for VoIP and NGN solutions.

  • "Study: Techies Could Use Some PR"
    CNet (04/15/03); Gilbert, Alorie

    A Deloitte & Touche/IDG Research Services survey of 200 IT managers finds that two-thirds of respondents have been unable to relate the value of their IT departments' contributions to executives, which has led to a "murky view of technology" among business managers. This in turn could be partially responsible for the current IT industry downturn. "CIOs and other IT leaders are under increasing pressure to deliver real business value from IT investments but are challenged when it comes to quantifying and communicating that value," explains Dean Nelson of Deloitte & Touche's Integration, Development, and Infrastructure Group. Still, 90% of those polled consider IT to be a critical or valuable enterprise component. There is also an absence of clear priorities among IT departments, according to the study. Many respondents describe their IT budgets as being equally divided among hardware, software, and security investments. Eighty-four percent of respondents characterized as IT leaders note that they lack decision-making authority, suggesting that the clout IT managers wielded during the last technology boom has shrunk significantly.

  • "H-1B Debate Flares as EE Jobless Rate Hits 7 Percent"
    EE Times (04/14/03); Quan, Margaret

    The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) disclosed last week that 7% of U.S. electronic engineers were unemployed in the first quarter of 2003, compared to 3.9% in the fourth quarter of 2002. The BLS also reported that unemployment among computer scientists and systems analysts has remained relatively unchanged at 4.9%, although the addition of new job categories following a January overhaul of the BLS' occupational-classification system re-catalogued some EEs as computer hardware engineers, 6.5% of which were jobless in the first quarter. IEEE-USA President John Steadman says the high percentage of EE unemployment is not a complete shock, and adds that the H-1B visa program which allows U.S. companies to bring in foreign workers has likely added to the difficulty and joblessness that American computer scientists and engineers are currently facing. He argues that the national economy is suffering because the unemployed are not making any economic contributions, while state and federal resources are being strained in order to provide unemployment benefits. The current annual H-1B visa cap of 195,000 will revert to 65,000 on Sept. 30, but University of California, Davis' Norm Matloff believes that advocates will push for a new law that sets a higher cap or creates a new visa category with no specified quota. Jessica Vaughan of the Center for Immigration Studies reports that high-tech employers are fond of the H-1B program because it has allowed them to import cheaper labor, and adds that they also resort to L-1 visas, which have fewer limits and are easy to exploit. A House Judiciary Committee representative assures that the committee will investigate H-1B caps before the current legislation adjourns in the autumn.

  • "Listening In"
    IEEE Spectrum (04/03); Cass, Stephen

    The signals intelligence (Sigint) network of ground-based antennas and orbiting satellites was once considered the most effective electronic surveillance system in the world, but that effectiveness was undercut in recent years by the collapse of the Soviet Union and the proliferation of fiber-optic-based international communications. To deal with a communications environment that has changed dramatically since the termination of the Cold War, modern-day Sigint strategies attempt to bypass problems rather than solve them using effective--if sometimes underhanded--measures. It is possible to tap into fiber-optic lines directly, but the challenge is formidable because most operations involve cables located thousands of meters under the sea; Jeffrey T. Richelson, author of "The U.S. Intelligence Community," reports that the U.S. is modifying a Seawolf-class submarine for such operations. Land-based fiber-optic eavesdropping is also possible, but must be done clandestinely in non-UK/USA-controlled regions. Another solution is to knock out a country's fiber-optic network with brute force, forcing the target to rely on airwave transmissions, while Wayne Madsen of the Electronic Privacy Information Center notes a more subtle option is to conduct "surreptitious black-bag operations" such as computer bugging and the recruitment of moles positioned in target governments--practices that the U.S. Special Collection Service is known for. Ross Anderson of the University of Cambridge says that NSA code-breaking successes, which are often credited to superior mathematical and computer science talent, are usually the result of "some form of sabotage, blackmail, theft, corruption, or whatever." The Sigint community is able to circumvent seemingly unbreakable encryption by exploiting software vulnerabilities and poorly configured systems, which are symptomatic of countries with underdeveloped communications infrastructures. In order to handle the flood of raw information the NSA and other Sigint agencies intercept, tech experts are developing automatic filters and other technologies to extract only the most vital data.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Almost Human"
    Maryland Daily Record (04/01/03) P. 6; Grzanka, Patrick

    Human simulation technology has advanced significantly over the past few years, and Maryland-based companies such as SIMmersion, BreakAway Games, and Immersion Medical are cresting the simulation technology wave and refining programs that can be experienced in multisensory environments. Entrepreneurs such as SIMmersion CEO Dale Olsen say that their products can support experiential learning and safer mediums for military and medical training. With SIMmersion's character software programs, a user can interact orally or via a computer mouse with digital characters such as Mike Simmen, an artificial businessman that Olsen originally developed for the FBI as a tool to train agents in establishing rapport with witnesses to and perpetrators of crimes; another SIMmersion innovation is Andy Newman, a computer-generated boy used to develop child social skills. Olsen thinks the simulation technology could be especially lucrative to the entertainment industry. BreakAway Games caters to the entertainment sector, but also contracts with the government and the military to develop software that models potential disaster scenarios, which have been a very intense area of concentration since Sept. 11. BreakAway CEO Douglas Whatley hopes his company's simulation products will one day penetrate the consumer retail market. Immersion Medical has devised a system to train medical students on various procedures by combining visual and tactile simulation. For example, a user who inserts a needle into simulated skin will see surface deformation and feel the needle penetrate.

  • "Teen Technology Goes to Battle"
    Los Angeles Times (03/29/03); Menn, Joseph

    Peer-to-peer technology, popular among song-trading teenagers on the Internet, is seeing action in the military and in humanitarian efforts. The U.S. Defense Department is employing off-the-shelf products such as Microsoft NetMeeting, and software from Groove Networks and Appian. Decentralized collaboration systems allow units and individuals to conduct work on their own systems, and then upload it once they connect to the network; this allows mobile Army units and Navy ships to make better use of limited bandwidth, and helps collaborative humanitarian efforts by engendering trust, since no one entity owns the data. The most extensive military use of peer-to-peer technology is during Army war games, where thousands of soldiers participate together using cell phones and other wireless devices. The Total Information Awareness program is looking at the same Groove Networks software used by non-governmental aid groups, except the project has designs to use it for tracking down national security threats. Army Knowledge Online, the Army's massive intranet, is the epitome of centralization for reasons of information security, but some are suggesting it be split up in order to improve performance for field units. The Defense Information Systems Agency is the most influential group in terms of promoting distributed systems, and has certified six commercial solutions for military collaboration use, with another 17 products under review. Distributed systems are more resilient, faster, and easier to use, and Mitre military technology adviser Stanley Manoski suggests many more peer-to-peer designs used in military systems within five years, especially as security issues are resolved.
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