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Volume 7, Issue 866:  November 14, 2005

  • "Leaders of Supercomputing Industry Gathering in Seattle"
    San Jose Mercury News (CA) (11/14/05); Poletti, Therese

    This week Seattle is hosting the Supercomputing conference sponsored jointly by ACM and the IEEE Computer Society, where industry representatives will gather to discuss their most advanced systems and major trends that are shaping the supercomputing industry. The conference will present the list of the 500 fastest supercomputers that evidences the shift away from large models toward clustered systems powered by Intel and AMD microprocessors. "What's happened in the industry is the shifting toward lower-margin products," said ACM President David Patterson. "It's a great deal for customers, but with less margins, companies are doing less long-term research on their own." Unlike other companies, IBM, which occupied the top three spots on the list of 500, can subsidize its research through other, more profitable divisions. The BlueGene/L system, which tops the list, has doubled in two months due to the addition of more processors; the system has set a record of 280.6 teraflops. The fourth fastest computer, Columbia, is powered by Intel's Itanium chips, though use of those chips dropped by 50 percent as Intel's Xeon chips become more popular. Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates will give a keynote address tomorrow morning, discussing his thoughts on the future of high-performance computing, ranging from its impact on science and engineering to the challenges facing scientists as they have increasing amounts of data to deal with. Some look for Microsoft to issue a version of Windows geared toward supercomputers, in an overdue acknowledgement of the growing influence of Linux.
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    For more information on SC05, visit http://www.supercomp.org/sc2005

  • "Control the Internet? A Futile Pursuit, Some Say"
    New York Times (11/14/05) P. C4; Markoff, John

    When the Internet was first crafted it was designed for the academic community and the private sector, with minimal oversight planned from the government, though now that it wields considerable influence around the world, a debate has emerged over the extent to which the Internet can be regulated. The United Nations will take up the question in Tunis this week at the World Summit on the Information Society, as it entertains challenges to U.S. authority over ICANN, the organization designed to oversee the Domain Name System (DNS). Many in the industry argue that the debate is irrelevant, however, such as UCLA computer scientist Leonard Kleinrock, who maintains that the Internet cannot be governed by the DNS system or any other mechanism. "Who controls the flow of the ocean? Nobody controls it, and it works just fine. There are some things that can't be controlled and should be left distributed." ICANN was founded in 1998 with the intention of becoming a group with no particular national affiliation, and while it claims to be served by more than 80 countries in an advisory capacity, it is still essentially controlled by the Commerce Department. ICANN has become increasingly politicized in recent years, as countries such as China, Brazil, and Iran are coming to resent U.S. control over the group as a symbol of broad resistance to U.S. hegemony in the political and economic spheres. Robert Kahn, co-developer of the TCP/IP protocols, believes the Internet is inherently resistant to centralized management, and that "the idea of taking over ICANN is a nonstarter," arguing that there are more important issues for world governments to address. Kahn and others maintain that the fundamental design of the Internet is resistant to the sort of top-down controls that govern other networks.
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  • "The $100 Laptop Moves Closer to Reality"
    Wall Street Journal (11/14/05) P. B1; Stecklow, Steve

    MIT Media Lab's plan to distribute low-cost laptops to impoverished children in developing nations has drawn the attention of several governments and major players in the computer industry. Media Lab founder Nicholas Negroponte is scheduled to unveil a prototype of the $100 laptop to a UN technology conference on Wednesday with Secretary General Koffi Annan. Brazil and Thailand have expressed the strongest interest in purchasing the devices, though they are joined by several other countries, as well as a proposal by Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney to purchase one computer for every middle school and high school student in the state. Corporate interest has come from Google, AMD, Red Hat, News Corp., and Brightstar, which have each given $2 million to fund One Laptop Per Child, a nonprofit set up in support of the initiative. Preliminary estimates point to a production run of 5 million to 10 million units by 2006 or early 2007, though Negroponte is hopeful that eventually the laptops will be distributed to 100 million to 150 million children around the world. There remains a question as to how many countries could afford even a $100 laptop, and there are still some technical obstacles to be overcome. The preliminary plans call for an open-source Linux operating system provided by Red Hat and powered by an AMD processor, along with an eight-inch screen that could run in monochrome or color. A commercial version will be sold for around $200, with the profits used to subsidize the less expensive model. A unique design will discourage trade of the laptop on the black market.

  • "U.S. Pads Lead in Global Supercomputing Ranking"
    CNet (11/13/05); Kanellos, Michael

    Contrary to the concern that the United States is losing its advantage in the field of global supercomputing, 305 supercomputers in the list of the top 500 are in the United States, compared to 277 six months earlier. The United States also boasts 34 of the top 35, and IBM's Big Blue comprises 43.8 percent of the machines. IBM's BlueGene/L remains at the top of the list, now capable of churning 280.6 teraflops, and is likely to retain its top spot for the next few iterations of the list. Hewlett-Packard claims 33.8 percent of the top computers, and Dell cracked the top 10 with its 8,000-processor Thunderbird, which checked in at number five. A growing number of the supercomputers are powered by AMD chips, though a full two-thirds still have Intel microprocessors inside. The results, which will be unveiled at this week's SC05 Supercomputing Conference, are still produced by the Linpack benchmark, which does not offer a thorough examination of a computer's performance, and officials are in search of a new metric. The list has long been seen as a measure of a nation's stature in the technology sector, and the top spots are the subject of intense competition. IBM believes that its supercomputers should not be too far removed from consumer applications, and has constructed BlueGene/L out of building blocks that constitute 64 racks, so that selling a consumer half a rack is not too far-fetched. In addition to conserving space, IBM also advocates an efficient use of energy; BlueGene/L consumes between 1.5 and 1.7 megawatts. Among other trends, there is considerable turnover in the list, due largely to the ascendancy of clustered machines. Itanium is losing ground to Opteron, and commercial enterprises produce far more of the most powerful computers than does academia.
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  • "Firestorm Rages Over Lockdown on Digital Music"
    USA Today (11/14/05) P. 1B; Graham, Jefferson

    Digital rights management (DRM) has ignited a debate among consumers and members of the entertainment industry. The recent announcement that DRM software Sony applied to more than 20 discs contains a security vulnerability aggravated the tensions, and Sony has since stopped manufacturing the affected discs, but will leave the existing CDs on the market. There has long been a sense that entertainment companies are going too far in enforcing copy-restriction policies, though distributors counter that DRM software is necessary to keep one disc from being copied innumerable times and shared on the Internet for free. One of the least popular features of DRM is the difficulty consumers have transferring copy-protected CDs to Apple's iPod. DRM software not only imposes copy restrictions, but it can also dictate what players can be used to play the disc; Sony BMG CDs cannot be played using iTunes or Musicmatch, for example. In order to play a Sony title on a PC, the user must sign a licensing agreement and download software that includes the Sony media player as well as the recently discovered vulnerabilities, and the software cannot be removed without permission from Sony. Interoperability issues also infuriate many consumers, as music downloaded from the iTunes store cannot easily be played on Windows Media, and cannot be played on devices other than the iPod. As more distributors are incorporating DRM in their products with greater sharing restrictions and interoperability issues, there is an emerging fear that consumers will be driven back to online file-sharing networks in favor of purchasing music in stores.
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  • "From Passive Applications to Sentient Machines"
    IST Results (11/10/05)

    To develop sophisticated sentient mobile devices, researchers must address the limitations of existing middleware and architectures that are crafted on sequential programming schemes. In an attempt to overcome those limitations, the IST program's CORTEX project examined the core theoretical and engineering issues concerning sentient objects. Sequential programming models are largely ineffective when applied to sentient objects that must interpret unpredictable environments. Participants in the project developed a programming model that could serve as a basis for sentient objects. The system architecture is open and scalable, and supplies mappings to LANs, WANs, and controller area networks (CANs). Expanding on the information collected by their sensors, the robots learn about their environment by collaborating with each other, such as one demonstration where cars avoided collisions by communicating. The researchers created a software simulation model where the final hardware could be tested for large-scale safety-related applications, such as traffic situations. The simulation environment worked in tandem with existing software design techniques, such as defined methodologies for software and hardware system redundancy specification, development, and verification. "We gave these applications context-awareness, enabling them to understand what is going on in their immediate surroundings," says CORTEX project coordinator Paulo Verissimo. "For example, a robot that could go into a rescue area without prior knowledge of the area and its surroundings."
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  • "Cisco Promotes Careers For Women in IT"
    TechWeb (11/07/05); Sullivan, Laurie

    Cisco Systems has partnered with the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) to increase the number of women and girls in science, technology, math, and engineering, which has significantly declined in recent years. NCWIT reports a 42 percent drop in the number of girls majoring in computer science from 2001 to 2005, and to help counteract the decline it has raised $6 million from the National Science Foundation and $1.25 million from private companies to fund projects such as building a digital library. The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that over 2 million technology-related jobs will be available in the U.S. by the year 2012, but the Information Technology Association of America reports the number of women in the IT workforce in the U.S. has gone down 18.5 percent in the last eight years. "We have to think about ways to teach information technology and computing, so people see it for the creative endeavor it is as opposed to thinking it's a solitary career," said NCWIT CEO Lucy Sanders. "It is so important to bring more women into the IT industry because they bring a lot of creativity into the innovation process." Cisco has developed a Girls Get IT initiative and a Women's Action Network and will continue training to give women access to IT career opportunities through local clubs, programs, and summer camps for girls.
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  • "Feds Mull Regulation of Quantum Computers"
    CNet (11/09/05); McCullagh, Declan; Broache, Anne

    IBM researchers met with the Information Systems Technical Advisory Committee Wednesday to update the federal advisory committee on progress being made in quantum computing. Quantum computers are still in their early stages, and largely exist in the form of rough prototypes. But researchers are optimistic that a large-scale quantum computer will be built one day, and that it will be able to perform calculations millions of times faster than a conventional microprocessor. "It's clear there are promising avenues for doing this," IBM researcher David DiVincenzo told the panel. "There's lots and lots of work done at the basic research level and a sense of progress in the community." However, there are concerns that quantum computers would be fast enough to crack the encryption algorithms that are used to secure information within federal agencies, banking, and the Internet. The panel is charged with advising the Commerce Department on the development of quantum computers and existing rules for making such advanced technology available to foreign countries.
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  • "What in the World Is Info Sciences?"
    Pitt News (PA) (11/07/05); Womer, Mallory

    The curiosity surrounding information sciences can be attributed to the lack of knowledge about what it is exactly and what its main functions are. Kelly Shaffer, director of external affairs for the University of Pittsburgh's School of Information Sciences, has a simple answer: "Our programs are centered on the idea that people, information, and technology are all interconnected." The SIS was started in 1901 by Andrew Carnegie and has been transformed from a teaching ground for children's librarians to a technology problem-solving unit currently divided into two departments--information science and telecommunications, and library and information science. The big shift in the program occurred back in the 1970s when the school brought in Allen Kent, an information sciences expert, to initiate a program to tackle technological problems. Shaffer says what separates their program apart from others is the student's focus on solving societal programs such as stem cell research, to keep up with changing technology. Mary Biagini, associate dean for student affairs in SIS, agrees and says, "Technology is always developing and there is a great societal good that comes from these jobs because people need accurate information."
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  • "Cars Soon May 'Talk' to Roads, Each Other"
    USA Today (11/10/05) P. 1B; Woodyard, Chris

    A new high-tech intelligent-transportation system network where automobiles can communicate with each other is being developed, and may be available as soon as 2011 to improve highway safety conditions nationwide. If vehicles have the ability to communicate with one another, it will give a more accurate description of road conditions and may decrease collisions at intersections where cars swerve off the road, which made up roughly half of the 42,636 U.S. highway fatalities last year. "If you had cars talking to each other, it would tell people three, four or five cars back that traffic has stopped ahead," says Honda's John Mendel. The communication system will work by analyzing traffic conditions from camera images and then warning another vehicle who can then respond to the situation after being alerted of oncoming danger. The system will be tested in Japan next year and auto experts are anxiously waiting on U.S. government agencies to decide on the possibility of implementing a worldwide intelligent-transportation system; that decision may not come until 2008, but the excitement is mounting. "We are now at the dawn of a new era of auto electronics, better, safer, more fun to drive, said Honda's Kurt Antonius. The new plan for automobiles has issues that still need to be addressed before it is introduced to the market, such as the privacy of the driver, how the car will be controlled, and compatibility with other vehicles.
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  • "RSS Is a Mess: Many Dialects, Lack of Unity"
    SD Times (11/01/05) No. 137, P. 1; Patrizio, Andy

    The XML-based protocol Really Simple Syndication (RSS) is designed to coalesce the content of a Web site through the use of metadata, though the protocol itself is plagued by competing versions, inviting the question of whether it will have to resolve its current fragmentation as its popularity grows. The idea of RSS has been around for many years, having first appeared under that acronym in 1999, in Netscape's RDF Site Summary 0.9. After Netscape abandoned the format, a dedicated RSS working group appeared, producing RSS 1.0 in December 2000. RSS 2.0 appeared in September 2002, followed by the development of Atom in June 2003. Atom sought to address the shortcomings of the previous versions, and was eventually adopted by the IETF. There are currently nine different versions of RSS, though the format's simplicity has nonetheless made it widely popular. The fate of RSS is in the hands of a small and decentralized group of programmers, among which there is scant cooperation. Microsoft has announced its plans to minimize the complexity of RSS when it releases Internet Explorer 7 and Windows Vista. The company's Gary Share believes featuring RSS prominently in its software can help resolve the problem of competing versions by putting RSS in the hands of a large audience. Although Microsoft insists that it does not want to define the outcome of the RSS wars, it is influencing the format's evolution by introducing Simple List Extensions (SLE) to facilitate the exposure of sequenced lists of similar objects.
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  • "Enhancing Mobile Security"
    IST Results (11/07/05)

    Improving security and privacy for mobile communication was the focus of two projects from IST in Europe. The idea behind the SHAMAN project was to provide mobile communications users with the ability to roam globally and connect to the network and services using wireless LANs and Bluetooth, and to develop mobile terminals with wireless components that have dynamically configurable components. IST used an imprinting method for setting up a personal area network (PAN) around public keys and controlling how connections are made to the network, developed a public key infrastructure (PKI) for supporting PAN security mechanisms, and created non-subscription payment methods that keep users from having to subscribe to all mobile network services as they roam between networks. While the seamless mobility security of SHAMAN focuses on the network level, the UBISEC project addresses security at the application level, with the goal being ubiquitous computing that offers users privacy and protections for devices, software, and data. "A mobile user can roam around and securely and conveniently get access to certain services and applications, as well as background information associated with those applications," explains UBISEC coordinator Dr. Heinz-Josef Eikerling. IST developed architecture for distributing user profile information with a process that involves service discovery, authentication schemes, and customization. The specifications and design of the architecture are being tested in homes, cars, and offices.
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  • "Humanoid Robots on the Rise: Get Ready to Invite One Home"
    Electronic Design (10/27/05) Vol. 53, No. 24, P. 17; David, Mark

    The future of smart motion was on display at September's Robots and Vision show in Chicago, with Michael Lutomski of NASA presenting a humanoid robot designed to handle tools and repair missions considered to be too dangerous for astronauts. Although the Robonaut, which was developed by the Robot Systems Technology Branch at NASA's Johnson Space Center and DARPA, has the same range of motion and dexterity as an astronaut in a spacesuit, the technological developments of the specialized machine are unlikely to make their way into larger society over the next few years. However, the advances involving the partner robots of Toyota could become a part of everyday life soon, considering the walking, rolling, and ridable units are designed to serve as personal assistants, operate with emotional attributes, and have enough intelligence to handle elder care and mobile-work tasks, such as retrieving cups of coffee. Toyota's Yasuhiro Ota presented the robots at the show, where they played music instruments. Meanwhile, U.S. startup Gecko Systems showed off its version of the partner robot on the show floor, and its Mobile Service Robot has autonomous self-navigation capabilities that allow it to plan routes and maneuver around obstacles. Gecko is already moving toward production with the MSR. The concept of smart motion extends to Intuitive Surgical's daVinci Surgical System that older surgeons can turn to for making steadier surgical incisions.
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  • "Research Funding Teeters"
    EE Times (11/07/05) No. 1396, P. 1; Brown, Chappell

    A consensus is building throughout the technology community that the government is turning its back on critical funding of basic research. U.C. Berkeley computer science professor and ACM President David Patterson criticizes the government's policy attempts to place the burden of funding on private industry, which he says is a flawed model. "There is no way these companies with continually shrinking margins are going to fund fundamental research," he argues. Defense Department spending on research will decline dramatically by the end of the decade, according to a recent study that attributes this trend to the war in Iraq and a mounting deficit. More government projects are becoming classified as well, which typically excludes the academic community from participation. DARPA has also shied away from its funding of ambitious projects by corporations. Further exacerbating the situation is the specter of a talent drain, as classified projects are often closed off to foreign workers, and the general decline in funding could lead skilled foreign workers to look to countries that have made research a demonstrated priority, such as China. Political concerns have also curtailed immigration, reducing the statistical probability that the next major breakthrough will come from the United States. There is also a tendency in the United States to back off from a technology once it is developed, rather than aggressively pursuing its promotion on a global scale to create large amounts of revenue that could be reinvested in research. Patterson believes government funding for universities is the linchpin of innovation, and the role of the university only becomes more important as the scale of corporate labs diminishes. Although corporate funding of university research labs could eventually supplant the government's role, Patterson argues that it is not currently of a sufficient scale to fund a large number of graduate projects.
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  • "Brain Box"
    New Scientist (11/05/05) Vol. 188, No. 2524, P. 28; Fox, Douglas

    Scientists at the Neurosciences Institute (NSI) are developing robots that explore their surroundings by instinctively locking onto bright objects--in this case striped blocks--and defining them by how "tasty," or electrical, they are. This experiment serves as a test for theories on actual brain mechanics, and researchers are hoping it could help form the basis of a new approach to artificial intelligence (AI), in which machines are built by mimicking both the structure and function of living brains. By copying the brain's neurons and their interconnections, these systems would be able to survive in unpredictable real-world environments. Artificial neural networks currently featured in many computer systems cannot support even animal-level intelligence because they do not imitate the structure or function of living brains, but closer collaboration between AI researchers and neuroscientists has started to yield systems that can. Much research is devoted to developing software that realistically simulates brain structure and function, but the speed and capability of brain-based systems will remain limited until new hardware that emulates the brain's computational processes is created. NSI theoretical neuroscientist Anil Seth says the ability to configure neurons into clusters that each perform a specialized job, such as recognizing simple visual features, is an essential element for both living and artificial brains. A physical body is also a critical necessity of brain-based systems, as it facilitates movement that such systems can use to augment the knowledge they accumulate from the visual input they receive.
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  • "IBM Fostering Female Engineers"
    Nikkei Weekly (10/31/05) Vol. 43, No. 2207, P. 21; Sato, Makoto

    IBM Japan has seen the percentage of women that make up its workforce rise 4 percent over the past seven years to around 17 percent. A trailblazer in offering a female-friendly workplace environment, IBM Japan in 1998 launched the Japan Women's Council to help maximize their skills on the jobs, identify barriers to advancement and offer solutions, and create plans to develop and nurture women. The success of IBM Japan is occurring in a nation where only 14.4 percent of science and engineering graduates are women, according to a report in September by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Of all 30 OECD members, Japan ranks last. Nonetheless, IBM Japan knows that it must continue to be flexible in its approach to women as the 2007 problem looms, in which there is expected to be a chronic shortage of engineers due to the retirement of the baby boomers. Since 1998, IBM Japan has paid women while they trained and took correspondence courses, even while on child-care leave. "We need to promote a part-time work system, under which an employee is able to work for only 30-50 percent of the usual hours," suggests IBM Japan President Takuma Otoshi. "We have to seriously consider means to prevent resignations and bring more women into directorship positions."

  • "Retention Tension"
    InformationWeek (11/07/05) No. 1063, P. 50; McGee, Marianne Kolbasuk

    Keeping top talent as the IT job market improves requires a strategy of amending salaries, benefits, and workplace policies. Freeing up people to concentrate on pet projects that may be of value to the company, reinstating perks such as bonuses and skills premiums, and providing opportunities and training for career advancement are just some of the areas companies can focus on to retain employees. An InformationWeek.com online poll of 146 IT professionals estimated that 69 percent of respondents were actively or somewhat actively seeking a new job at another company, for reasons ranging from dislike of their current employers' culture or management to a desire for higher pay and more personal fulfillment to a need for more interesting and/or less stressful work. Fifty-three percent reported an IT worker shortage at their companies owing to turnover, trouble finding specific skills, and company growth. The problems employers face in hiring and holding on to IT workers are likely to be exacerbated by the looming retirement of baby-boomer employees and shrinking numbers of new workforce entrants. Still, employees such as tech-support professional Scott Grossweiler are hoping the departure of retiring baby boomers will translate into more advancement opportunities. Although making a better effort to help veteran and select workers further their careers is an important retention tactic, organizations must also commit more time and resources to cultivating the next crop of IT professionals. University of Miami CIO Lewis Temares says the education sector must do more than offer higher salaries to keep valued IT workers; it must offer benefits such as flexible scheduling, access to health services, and opportunities for personal and educational advancement.
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  • "Can You Understand Me Now?"
    Computerworld (11/07/05) P. 30; Rosencrance, Linda

    Voice recognition technology has long failed to live up to its potential, though a recent wave of research could soon bring the technology into the mainstream. Particularly in the financial services sector, where security has become a chief concern, voice recognition will likely move beyond simple touch-tone voice response systems in the next few years. Companies such as Nuance Communications are developing sophisticated authentication systems, where a caller creates a voiceprint that is stored on file to validate their identity in future calls. A closer alignment with speech applications will enhance the accuracy of speech engines, such as an airline reservation system that cannot understand the flight number spoken by the user, but through an understanding of the spoken city it could provide a list of flight numbers for the user to choose from. The systems will also become more human in their queries, and will become able to understand a user's responses in a variety of formats, rather than one highly specified manner of presenting information. It will also become easier to update voice applications through tools with sophisticated graphical user interfaces, making them more like Web sites. IBM is attempting to create software that can detect emotions in speech, so a speech engine's tone would match its user's mood. IBM is also working on technology that could identify dialects and accents. "We need to keep improving on the performance of all of these engines year to year, to be able to support and address the growth in expectation by users," said IBM's David Nahamoo.
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  • "High-Speed Transmissions Challenge Encryption Software"
    Government Security News (10/24/05) Vol. 3, No. 19, P. 1; Kalinoski, Gail

    The Department of Defense's (DoD) Global Information Grid (GIG), a common, high-speed grid used by all federal agencies and international organizations to share sensitive information, requires use of encryption technology at high speeds in order to avoid filling up bandwidth with wasted processes. The DOD's GIG Bandwidth Expansion (GIG-BE) program, scheduled for release later this year, will provide military bases in the United States with at least 100 times more bandwidth and military bases overseas with about 138 times more bandwidth, according to DoD's Defense Information Systems Agency CTO David Mihelcic. The DoD is utilizing SafeNet's SafeEnterprise SONET/SDH encryption technology and its SafeEnterprise security management center software to ensure data security while on the GIG. SafeNet's Chris Fedde says the encryption technology allows speeds of 155 Mbps to 10 Gbps in order to accomplish secure encryption without filling up bandwidth. Elliptic curve cryptography (ECC), a public key cryptosystem adopted by the National Security Agency to protect critical information, will replace legacy encryption systems due to increased functionality and decreased bandwidth utilization. ECC reduces the required bandwidth, memory, and power required to receive and translate encrypted information, so users can use the technology on cell phones, PDAs, and smart cards. Certicom's Mitch Blaser says ECC is becoming so widely accepted that most federal agencies will not consider products that do not come with standard ECC security protocols. Another potentially valuable technology is hardware-based full disc encryption for notebook PCs. Users of the technology will ensure data on their notebooks is not susceptible to attack when the device is lost or stolen, and disposing of the machine simply involves deleting the encryption key.
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