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Volume 5, Issue 514:  Monday, June 30, 2003

  • "A Safer System for Home PC's Feels Like Jail to Some Critics"
    New York Times (06/30/03) P. C1; Markoff, John

    IBM and Hewlett-Packard have introduced new computers for corporate customers that feature built-in hardware and software encryption designed to protect corporate data, personal privacy, and the illegal use of digital content. The new machines are part of Intel and Microsoft's "trusted computing" concept, and while the first such PCs are aimed at the business market, companies such as Dell Computer and Gateway that cater to consumers are also being pushed to join the trusted computing movement. Advocates of trusted computing say a new layer of encryption is needed in computers to not only prevent online pirates from stealing digital movies and music, but to also protect corporate data and personal information from identity theft. However, critics of safer PCs, including smaller tech companies, say trusted computing software would allow larger computer companies to gain control of the applications that run on their computers, killing innovation and forcing them out of business. Furthermore, upstart tech companies maintain that trusted computing would do nothing to curb spam or protect against viruses. Intel security architect Bob Meinschein, who describes trusted computing as "having a little safe in your computer," says the corporate benefit of such technology already is clear, but adds that the growth of e-commerce could enhance its consumer value. Trusted computing involves housing a hardware system in a set of separate electronics connected to a PC microprocessor chip. This Trusted Platform Module would include secret digital keys that would be difficult to alter. However, others such as Apple Computer CEO Steve Jobs say software rather than hardware can be used for effective security, while others warn that new hardware-based security systems could provide the means to create very security, illegal networks that would be tough to crack.
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  • "Technology Transmits Sensation of Touch Over Internet"
    Newswise (06/28/03)

    Researchers at the University of Buffalo's Virtual Reality Laboratory have developed a technology that conveys tactile sensations over the Internet, a breakthrough known as "sympathetic haptics." One person feels an object wearing a virtual-reality data glove, which transmits the sensation to another person sitting at a terminal and equipped with a sensing instrument. The second person "feels" the object the first person is touching via exerted force and positional data. "When the person receiving the sensation matches the movements of the person feeling the object, he not only understands how the person moved his hand, but at the same time he feels exactly the kind of forces the other person is feeling," notes UB Virtual Reality Lab director Thenkurussi Kesavadas. Sympathetic haptics could potentially be used to remotely teach people surgical techniques, golf, and sculpture, among other things. Kesavadas explains that sympathetic haptics is superior to "master-slave" or "collaborative" haptic technologies, which do not truly impart a sense of touch. "With the other technologies, you're being forced to feel what the other person is doing, but you're not actually feeling what the other person is feeling," he says. Medical applications are of particular interest to Kesavadas and his colleagues, who are developing methods to transmit to students the sensations a surgeon feels as he or she makes incisions with a scalpel; the technology could also be a diagnostic tool, enabling a physician to inspect an organ's health by touch over the Internet, for example. Furthermore, sympathetic haptics could be beneficial for manufacturing techniques such as grinding or polishing, and physical therapy.

  • "New Agency to Ensure Internet Security in Europe"
    Web Host Industry Review (06/27/03); Eisner, Adam

    The European Commission recently introduced the European Network and Information Security Agency, whose mission is to boost IT security levels throughout European Union member nations and enable information-sharing between those nations' individual IT security agencies. "Today, there is no systematic cross-border cooperation on network and information security between member states, although security issues cannot be an isolated issue for only one country," European Commissioner for Enterprise and Information Society Erkki Liikanen declared earlier this year. The Commission published a proposal noting that an Europe-wide cybersecurity agency is a necessity, given how technology and the Internet have become deeply embedded in the daily life of European citizens. The EC estimates that over 90 percent of EU-based businesses and about 40 percent of EU households maintain an Internet connection, while the proliferation of broadband and wireless technologies as well as the spread of computer viruses further justifies the need for a pan-European IT security agency. The agency's overall goal is to build "common understanding" IT security-related issues, but the Commission also wants the organization to serve as both an advisor and coordinator, as well as help businesses and governments defend themselves against viruses, hackers, and other cyberspace-based threats. To do this, the agency's duties will include standardization, co-development of a European information society, and facilitating communications between emergency response teams. The EC expects that the agency, which is the first cybersecurity institution of its kind in Europe, will be up and running by next year.

  • "Nuala: Tech Not a Complete Fix"
    Wired News (06/30/03); Delio, Michelle

    Department of Homeland Security chief privacy officer Nuala O'Connor Kelly states that technology alone cannot be relied upon to strike a balance between privacy and security: Technology, policy, people, and practices must work together in order to accomplish this. O'Connor Kelly advocates the need for both internal and external education to give people the ability to understand her department's activities so they can have an informed opinion. One issue she thinks has an important bearing on DHS' mission--and an issue that needs to be understood more deeply--is how non-U.S. citizens may be affected by the increased security push. O'Connor Kelly believes that the skepticism some people feel toward the government's anti-terrorism surveillance effort is both healthy and a right that Americans should be allowed to exercise. She also feels it is DHS' duty "to be transparent and accountable and accessible" so that U.S. citizens fully understand the government's intentions. However, O'Connor Kelly acknowledges that such a goal may be difficult if revealing such information endangers ongoing criminal investigations. O'Connor Kelly believes that DHS is responsibly handling the development of the Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System (CAPPS II), and notes that several privacy provisions have been inserted into the CAPPS II proposal based on feedback from citizens, Congress, and advocacy groups; she adds that CAPPS II will be tested over the coming months to see if the system fulfills its functions according to an upcoming Privacy Act notice from DHS, one that sheds further light on the system's purpose, what information it would collect and archive, and how that data would be used. O'Connor Kelly explains that DHS has developed protocols that aim to maintain data accuracy and keep the collection and retention of information to a minimum.

  • "A Push From Homeland Security"
    New York Times (06/30/03) P. C3; Lohr, Steve

    Silicon Valley executives were heartened at a June 25 conference in Washington, D.C., by indications that the U.S. government would call upon the private sector to furnish software and hardware for cybersecurity and anti-terrorism surveillance, data collection, and analysis. "We will take the best and brightest ideas in the private sector and apply them to homeland security," announced Paul Kurtz of the White House Homeland Security Council. Technologies that industry executives promoted for homeland security included artificial intelligence, data-sifting software, iris recognition, and digital-video surveillance equipment. However, conference attendees expressed concern that both the government and industry could lose sight of the need to uphold personal privacy. George Washington University's Lance J. Hoffman warned that the homeland security initiative could channel all funding and research into computer security, while the maintenance of personal privacy would receive little attention. He suggested that the Human Genome Research project, which includes an annual federal allocation for a program focusing on the ethical and social ramifications of genetic research, should be used as a template if privacy and security are to be balanced. Former deputy secretary of defense and current president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies John J. Hamre told conference attendees that technology alone would not be able handle all security threats, and recommended that the protocols for sharing information on the approximately 40,000 individuals on terrorist "watch lists" should be clarified among federal agencies before federal, state, and local computer systems are integrated.
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  • "The Google Backlash"
    Salon.com (06/25/03); Manjoo, Farhad

    Google, the world's biggest search engine, has long boasted a reputation for fair-mindedness, but people are starting to question that reputation in light of events such as Robert Massa's lawsuit against Google for reducing the ranking of his Search King site. Google's influence spans practically the entire Web, over 100,000 businesses currently advertise on Google, and the service became the world's largest blogging company with its acquisition of Blogger in February. All of this enormous growth is inciting people to hit back, according to industry observers: Among those who find the search engine most irritating are engine optimizers like Massa, who rely on high site rankings to sustain their businesses. Another worrisome trend is the tendency for Google customers to read too much into the results, which can have serious political or economic ramifications. Google's ranking algorithm--which the company fiercely keeps a lid on--has engendered controversy and wild rumors, given how Google rankings have changed with the deployment of index upgrades in recent months: Some thought the lowered ranking of blogs after Google's Dominic index was implemented was a sign that the company had bowed to criticism that blogs had too much pull, but the elevation of blogs back to top listings when the next index, Esmerelda, was installed added to the confusion and frustration. Meanwhile, small- and medium-sized businesses who use Google's AdWords program have reaped considerable financial rewards, and the program's popularity among advertisers is soaring because it maintains parity between companies of all sizes. There are worries, however, that Google's search services could fall by the wayside if Google goes public and devotes most of its resources to advertising. There are also indications that other search services are gearing up to seriously compete with Google.

  • "Building Thinking Robots"
    Detroit Free Press (06/27/03); Wendland, Mike

    Michigan State University (MSU) researchers are developing artificial intelligence systems that are taught rather than programmed in order to build robots capable of learning from experience. "Instead of programming a computer how to solve some problem, we can take another approach by bring up an AI machine like a baby--teaching it how to read instead of programming it how to recognize characters and grammar," explains Arthur Tang of MSU's Media Interface and Network Design (MIND) lab. John Weng of the MSU Department of Computer Science and Engineering is working on a prototype machine named "Dav" that perceives its environment through cameras, microphones, audio processors, and sensors. Weng, who classifies Dav as an autonomous mental development (AMD) machine, says the goal of the project is to create robots that can develop skills and abilities beyond those of humans. So that the machines could learn to move by themselves, MSU researchers pushed the robots down hallways and around corners in the same way that parents supervise children learning to ride a bicycle. The robot was able to round corners and avoid wall collisions on its own after 10 supervised sessions. Tang acknowledges the possibility that artificially intelligent machines, if sufficiently developed, could turn on their human masters in the distant future, although he doubts this. "We will always be the programmers," he insists.

  • "Mobile-Phone Technology Moves Toward Nirvana"
    SiliconValley.com (06/29/03); Gillmor, Dan

    Dan Gillmor has a specific vision of an ideal handheld device, one that runs on General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) or similar networks and includes a phone, a personal organizer, a camera, a Web browser, and a flexible operating system compatible with third-party products. He notes that a slew of mobile phones--some of which come fairly close to his ideal--are appearing on the market. Mobile phone leader Nokia has developed many interesting devices, each with their share of advantages and drawbacks. Gillmor points out that the camera-equipped Nokia models lack useful keyboards, while the models with good keyboards do not have cameras. Gillmor expresses particular interest in Nokia's 9210i Communicator, which features an unusually large color display and keyboard, has email and Web browsing capabilities, and can support multimedia. Many Nokia phones are also outfitted with FM radios, which Gillmor considers to be a very attractive upgrade. Gillmor writes that he is considering a Sony-Ericsson P800, despite its high cost and lack of FM radio and keyboard; the device's pluses include a foldable numeric keypad and personal digital assistant-sized display, a Symbian operating system, Bluetooth connectivity, Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) network support, an MP3 player, and a camera. Gillmor currently uses an Ericsson T39m, which is compact and has GSM and GPRS support as well as Bluetooth, while its disadvantages include a small, monochrome display and manual data input.
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  • "Exec: No Shortage of Net Addresses"
    CNet (06/24/03); Lui, John

    Asia Pacific Network Information Center (APNIC) director Paul Wilson says there is no Internet address shortage in Asia and there will not be one for at least another 10 years, even if today's IPv4 system remains in place. Wilson says that for the last five years he has been trying to deflate this shortage myth, and notes that alarmist warnings about such a shortage have toned down recently, but not abated. APNIC allocates Internet addresses to ISPs and other entities in the Asia-Pacific region, and these addresses enable the provision of Internet access. APNIC is one of only four IP protocol registries in the world; the U.S.-based Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) is the technical and research body delegating these addresses to the four registries. Wilson notes that 100 blocks of "slash eight" addresses are left and that Internet users are using roughly five blocks per year. Analysts have been saying that, because the Asian-Pacific region is allocated a smaller proportion of these blocks than the United States, Asia will feel a crunch in as little as two years. Wilson dismisses this theory, and although he supports IPv6--which will provide even more address space than IPv4--he is also wary of private, vested interests that are seeking lightning-speed adoption of IPv6. Japan has set the goal of transitioning its technology economy to IPv6 by 2005; the U.S. Department of Defense has a self-imposed transition deadline of 2008.

  • "Hairy Truth About Computer Images"
    Raleigh News & Observer (06/25/03); Parker, Vicki Lee

    University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill professor Ming C. Lin's research has helped advance computer graphics technology and facilitate more lifelike computer-generated images that appear in animated films, computer games, and other media. One of her latest research projects involves injecting more realism into hair simulation and animation, which has attracted the interest of the special-effects industry. Lin notes that modeling hair with current technology is a painstaking, time-consuming task: For instance, a virtual character with 1,000 hairs has 1 million potential strand interactions, so simulating each interaction takes hours; worse, errors can eat up even more time and money because rectifying flaws requires processing simulation reruns, which also takes a long time. Lin's team has attempted to devise a graphical model based on physical laws using ingenious geometric algorithms and unique grades of detail representations, and the result is software that can not only accelerate simulation as much as 100 times, but can potentially widen the appearance options for characters. Lin points out that her simulation method utilizes three specific geometric representations--a smooth curve for individual strands, a cylindrical surface for hair bundles, and a surface patch for vast amounts of hair. She explains that the software is programmed to automatically select the representation that most efficiently suits the desired simulation. Lin says that members of her research team have been hired or are interning with computer animation companies for their expertise. Her software's potential applications outside of animated films include virtual reality systems and virtual hairstyling.
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  • "Prefab Key to Molecular Memory"
    Technology Research News (06/25/03); Patch, Kimberly

    Researchers at the University of Southern California, Rice University, and NASA Ames Research Center have assembled molecular memory by gently applying electrical contacts to a small array of electrodes coated with molecules, a breakthrough that "eliminates long-standing problems such as thermal damage and poor yield related to defects in the monolayer," according to Chongwu Zhou of USC. A quartet of 150-nm-wide gold electrodes separated by a distance of 200 nm was formed via electron beams, and a molecular layer was chemically deposited; the researchers then used an atomic force microscope to etch the molecules off one electrode. The next step was to lay prefabricated wires of palladium-coated nanotubes across the electrodes, which formed a direct contact with the monolayer-free electrode and molecular junctions where the other three electrodes converged. The researchers are currently investigating how the molecules flip between resistance states, although Zhou thinks a likely possibility is an interaction between a physical change and a chemical change. Rice University's James Tour says the technique boosts the yield of viable molecular memory 30 times up from just 1 percent or 2 percent. Zhou explains that the scientists are developing molecular memory processors capable of storing 1 KB (1,000 bits), while a shorter-term goal is the simplified creation of prototype devices. The breakthrough could be a significant step toward the development of nanodevices that use ultra-fast molecular computer circuits, boast a remarkable amount of data storage density, and can detect small traces of chemicals and organic substances.
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  • "Innovators Harness the Power of Touch"
    VNUNet (06/26/03); Fitzpatrick, Michael

    Sony's Tokyo-based Interactive Laboratories are straddling the cutting edge of haptics technology with the development of the Touch Engine, a prototype touchscreen interface that is bendable and offers users "feelable" graphics. The device, designed by a team led by Russian researcher Ivan Poupyrev, features flexible crystal strips or actuators placed underneath the liquid crystal display of a personal digital assistant (PDA). The actuators pulsate in response to tactile pressure, to the degree that the user feels a clicking sensation, explains Poupyrev. The Sony lab has devised a handheld device with four clickable graphical buttons and a desktop computer equipped with a display that enables users to feel textured surfaces. The touch-sensitive glass is shifted over the LCD in response to signals the four actuators receive when the user touches a graphical button. Sony has also fabricated a prototype credit-card-sized bendable PC named Gummi, which is built out of a flexible organic light-emitting display (OLED), a touch-sensitive rear panel, electronic circuits, and a sensor to measure bending. The advantages of a tactile screen interface include more accurate pointing, and better ease-of-use than Wimp (windows, icons, mouse, pointer) user interfaces typical of desktops, which are harder to operate on handhelds.

  • "Impatient Web Searchers Measure Web Sites' Appeal in Seconds"
    EurekAlert (06/25/03); Hopkins, Margaret

    Developers of Web sites and search engines would do well to continue improving their sites and engines, concludes a study by Penn State researchers. The paper, which was presented at this week's 2003 International Conference on Internet Computing in Las Vegas, reveals that four out of five Web users only visit the first three results of a search query, and one in five spend no more than one minute at a linked page. Dr. Jim Jansen, assistant professor at Penn State's School of Information Sciences and Technology (IST), says Web users make immediate judgments about the relevancy of a site, which means that the site must be well-designed and easy to load. Jansen and study co-author Amanda Spink were able to determine the picky and impatient nature of Web users after analyzing over 450,000 Web queries received by AlltheWeb.com during a 24-hour period. The research shows that it is important for Web-based organizations to be indexed by all search engines, and suggests the value of a good ranking on a major Web search engine. Jansen also points out that site abstracts need to be clear, considering over 80 percent of the time they convince Web users to try another site. "Niche search engines that focus on a narrow topic or search engines that cluster results by finding similarities and grouping them may be consumers' best bet for improving relevancy," says Jansen.
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  • "ICANN Introduces New Framework"
    IDG News Service (06/27/03); Pruitt, Scarlet

    ICANN has been criticized in the past for excluding the input of individual Internet users, and ICANN's decision to create a user-level participant structure under an so-called At-Large framework addresses this issue. The At-Large framework will facilitate user participation on local, region-wide, and trans-national levels, and possibly At-Large will enable users to affect ICANN decisions about the Internet. ICANN CEO Paul Twomey says At-Large participants will be able to impact ICANN. ICANN, at its recent Montreal meeting, also approved a formal agreement with ccTLD registries to create an official Country Code Names Supporting Organization (ccNSO) within ICANN. CcTLDs are national domain names such as .us for the United States, .cn for China, and .fr for France.
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  • "Wearing Wires"
    Newsweek (07/07/03); Beith, Malcolm

    Perhaps the biggest barrier to the adoption of electronic clothing is its fashion value, but that may change thanks to the work of Georgia Institute of Technology engineer Sundaresan Jayaraman. Jayaraman's breakthrough electronic fabric, which melds natural fibers with extremely thin wires and optical fibers, is the basis of the SmartShirt, a product from Sensatex that will be initially marketed for medical applications, such as monitoring vital signs and transmitting them to nearby computers, or alerting medical centers or emergency services if the wearer is suffering a heart attack or other medical episode. Jayaraman explains that the e-fabric acts as a sort of wearable motherboard that conducts electrical and optical signals to devices the wearer clips on externally. He says the fabric itself should only contain basic components--a power source, some memory, and a central processing unit. Marketing the technology for consumers will be especially challenging: Jayaraman notes that the key to wide consumer appeal is making the technology invisible as well as simple to use. The Georgia Tech engineer terms such technology interactive textiles (i-textiles), and foresees networks of e-clothing that communicate with each other. Other organizations working on e-fabric projects include the U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center, which is developing wired uniforms that can reduce the load a foot soldier has to carry. Meanwhile, Maggie Orth of International Fashion Machines recently created a fabric equipped with electrodes and thermochromic ink that can change color in response to shifts in room temperature.

  • "When to Shed Light"
    eWeek (06/16/03) Vol. 20, No. 24, P. 30; Fisher, Dennis

    In the past, software security flaws were typically announced to the public on a limited basis through bulletin boards or seminars. But many more people today are involved in finding flaws and alerting others to them, creating such tools as the BugTraq and Full Disclosure mailing lists. Some insiders feel that the widespread disclosures are hurtful rather than beneficial. For example, universally declaring flaws provides knowledge to both potential hackers and legitimate users. "Just think how much better our security might be if the highly skilled people who spend all day, every day, searching for vulnerabilities in software would try to design a security solution," says Pete Lindstrom, research director at Spire Security. Opponents of bug disclosure also argue that perpetrators tend to use known flaws, and the situation is made worse by people who fail to obtain patches. On the other hand, supporters of disclosure say that the knowledge allows administrators an opportunity to get a patch and make up for lost time. "The battle is somewhat more balanced" because IT professionals have a chance to develop and distribute patches in collaboration with vendors, says David Litchfield, one of the founders of UK-based Next Generation Security Software, which makes finding flaws harder for would-be hackers.

  • "Self-Repairing Computers: Striving for Dependability"
    Scientific American (06/03) Vol. 288, No. 6, P. 60; Fox, Armando; Patterson, David

    The computer industry is concerned about how the growing complexity and power of their products have impacted their dependability, and is now spending more time looking for ways to reduce the downtime of computer systems. Microsoft recently abandoned software development for a month because of its increasing concern about security holes, bugs, and other problems with its products. Called Trustworthy Computing, Microsoft's new program had operation-system developers attend classes focusing on security and reliability before moving on to refine Windows for the Palladium version. Meanwhile, Hewlett-Packard and IBM are focusing more on allowing their computer products to fix themselves. With the Planetary Computing project, Hewlett-Packard plans to create a self-monitoring and self-fixing global network of computational and storage resources, while IBM takes the concept even further by using elements of artificial intelligence to diagnose problems and respond with repairs or a defense against a hacker. IBM bases its Autonomic Computing strategy on the body's autonomic nervous system. Nonetheless, experts acknowledge that the problems that are more easy to solve are likely to be automated, while people will still have to work through the more difficult tasks.
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  • "All Present and Accounted For?"
    Network Magazine (06/03) Vol. 18, No. 6, P. 26; Greenfield, David

    Research from AT&T Labs and elsewhere indicates that workers could be significantly more productive and efficient through the deployment of instant messaging (IM) and other presence applications, which would reduce costs by scaling back an enterprise's dependence on other communications methods. However, presence-enablement cannot be implemented unless network managers first determine if their infrastructure can support such technology--in other words, the wide area network and other key junction points may have to be upgraded in order to support IM systems. One of the major challenges for large companies is consolidating all databases into a single directory to warehouse presence data. Database scalability could be another impediment, while the presence network's protocol could also complicate matters--for instance, IM traffic usually consists of short exchanges that do not align very well with Session Initiation Protocol/SIP for Instant Messaging and Presence Leveraging Extensions (SIMPLE) typically underlying networks. Presence-enablement technology has found wide use in internal and external call centers, allowing customers to check the availability of representatives rather than being put on hold. Presence is also penetrating general office and voice applications so that users can collaborate while keeping time investment and complexity to a minimum by allowing them to view another's availability within an application, by supplying automated presence via external application integration, and by bulletins of the user's current activity. Privacy is another issue network managers must consider when assessing presence deployment. No presence infrastructure currently exists that provides diverse presence distribution, but that situation should change in the future.
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