Saturday, April 30, 2005

Humor from Newcastle

Screenshot courtesy of Brian Randell.



Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Hacker deletes own hard drive

An Inquirer article relays an amusing story of a hacker getting his just deserts.

"A CHAT CHANNEL spat ended when a wannabe hacker was duped into deleting his own hard drive. The 26 year-old German claimed he was the baddest hacker in town and threatened to attack a moderator on #stopHipHop's RC Channel because he thought he'd been thrown out."



The Ithaca Address

A "blast from the past." The following is from William A. Whitaker's talk on "Ada--The Project" at the second History of Programming Languages conference.

I would like to close with a bit of re-creation of history. There was a conference in Cornell in 1976, which was the first time that a group of people who would eventually work on the Ada effort were assembled to address the WOODENMAN requirements at the time, writing a variety of papers, and so on. At the end of the first day of the conference, there was an after-dinner speech that was given by Jim Horning, who some of you may know. At the time he resided in Canada. I think he is in the U.S. now. Here from the proceedings it said, "Just after dinner on the first evening of the workshop, a tall gaunt and bearded man rose quietly and moved toward the front of the hall. He looked tired and worn as though exhausted by his long arduous journey from the night before. As he turned to speak, a hush fell upon the room. And with a soft and solemn voice, he began, 'Four score and seven weeks ago, ARPA brought forth upon this community a new specification conceived in desperation and dedicated to the proposition that all embedded computer applications are equal. Now we are engaged in a great verbal war, testing whether that specification or any specification so conceived and so dedicated can long be endured. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a proceedings of that battle as a final resting place for those papers that here gave their ideas that that specification might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. And now it is for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us, that from these honored papers, we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion, that we here highly resolve that these papers shall not have been written in vain. That this specification under DoD shall have a new birth of reason and that programming of common problems, by common programmers, in common languages shall not perish from the earth.'"

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Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Another Apple censorship attempt

A story in the San Jose Mercury-News details Apple's attempt to play hardball with a publisher.

"John Wiley & Sons, a leading publisher of technology books, said Apple Computer has removed all its titles from the shelves of Apple stores in apparent retaliation for the upcoming publication of a biography of Apple CEO Steve Jobs. The books disappeared from Apple stores last week after a month of increasingly contentious discussions about publication of the book, iCon Steve Jobs: The Greatest Second Act in the History of Business, said author Jeffrey S. Young. The book, co-written with William L. Simon, offers an unflinching account of the rise, fall and rebirth of one of Silicon Valley's most charismatic figures."

While Apple's boycott is no doubt legal, it certainly does not speak well for its support of the American value of free speech.


Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Privacy Committee Stacked with Anti-Privacy Advocates

An article in eWeek by Jim Rapoza is scathing in expressing his opinion that the feds' Data Privacy and Integrity Advisory Committee isn't likely to safeguard data privacy or integrity.

"So here I am, head of a large corporation, and it's time for me to pick a few top people to help run the company. But who should I pick for key positions such as CFO and CIO? My first pick is Marty, a person who can't track or control his spending, who is completely clueless and unorganized about his finances. The next time he saves a dollar will be the first time he saves a dollar. I'm going to make him chief financial officer. And then there's Gail, who avoids using e-mail, a PC or anything technology-related and who in a company meeting famously stated that all technology is bad and that the company should return to pencil, paper and Day-Timers. She is, of course, the perfect candidate for chief information officer. OK, I know you think I may be nuts with these decisions, but I'm just following the example of one of the biggest organizations around -- namely, the U.S. government. Lately it seems as if the main qualification to get a top position in a government agency is to be completely opposed to the stated goal of that agency."

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Has Your Identity Been Stolen?
What to do if it happens to you.

An informative article in Slate by Daniel Engber details the steps that should be taken by the hundreds of thousands of people recently alerted that their personal information has been fraudulently obtained from ChoicePoint, Lexis/Nexis, Bank of America, UCB, etc., etc.

"What do you do if you find out your identity might have been stolen? Paperwork--lots of paperwork."

"Once your personal information has been stolen, there's no good way to get it back. You just hope the thief will move on to easier targets who haven't done the same paperwork you have."

If you think this is a lot of work to put on people who have done nothing wrong, while the organization that improperly released the information only has to (at most) send one notification letter... well, you're right, but being right isn't going to help.



Friday, April 15, 2005

Pulling the Plug on Science?

Yet another article, this time in the Christian Science Monitor, deploring the decline in US support for basic science.

"For decades, American scientists have unlocked nature's secrets, generated an enormous number of patents, and earned a string of Nobel Prizes. These days, however, pride of accomplishment is mingling with angst as Washington contemplates research cuts on everything from space weather to high-energy physics. he concern? The United States unwittingly may be positioning itself for a long, steady decline in basic research - a key engine for economic growth - at a time when competitors from Europe and Asia are hot on America's heels. Observers point to several examples in the White House budget proposals for fiscal 2006, which begins in October."

"The next few years don't look good for basic science, says Robert Gagosian, director of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Woods Hole, Mass. 'We can't be No. 1 in everything, but it's important we stay No. 1' in areas vital to America's economy and its ability to monitor the environment, education, and national defense - areas where the US is cutting back. The atmosphere of uncertainty itself takes a toll, adds Tim Killeen, director of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colo., and president-elect of the American Geophysical Union. 'It doesn't take a lot to start to dismantle scientific capability.... The most creative people are the ones who leave early,' because they are the most highly prized and can find work elsewhere. So after months or years assembling top-notch teams to tackle difficult questions, what remains is a large proportion of second-string talent, he adds. Even a six-month lag in a field like biotechnology can be costly as foreign competitors file patents first, analysts say."

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Sunday, April 10, 2005

Goodbye to Privacy

William Safire reviews two books in The New York Times.

"In the past five years, what most of us only recently thought of as 'nobody's business' has become the big business of everybody's business. Perhaps you are one of the 30 million Americans who pay for what you think is an unlisted telephone number to protect your privacy. But when you order an item using an 800 number, your own number may become fair game for any retailer who subscribes to one of the booming corporate data-collection services. In turn, those services may be -- and some have been -- penetrated by identity thieves. The computer's ability to collect an infinity of data about individuals -- tracking every movement and purchase, assembling facts and traits in a personal dossier, forgetting nothing -- was in place before 9/11. But among the unremarked casualties of that day was a value that Americans once treasured: personal privacy. The first civil-liberty fire wall to fall was the one within government that separated the domestic security powers of the F.B.I. from the more intrusive foreign surveillance powers of the C.I.A. The 9/11 commission successfully mobilized public opinion to put dot-connection first and privacy protection last. But the second fire wall crumbled with far less public notice or approval: that was the separation between law enforcement recordkeeping and commercial market research. Almost overnight, the law's suspect list married the corporations' prospect list."

No Place to Hide


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Saturday, April 09, 2005

Our Incredible Shrinking Curiosity

An op-ed about the US turn away from basic science by Rick Weiss in the Washington Post makes depressing reading, but its points are important.

"After all, can it be anything but foolish to turn a deaf ear to the most distant human-made objects in the universe -- devices that after nearly three decades of travel are now registering and describing for us the first ripples of interstellar space? It would be less disheartening if the move to kill the Voyager program were an isolated example. But the U.S. scientific enterprise is riddled with evidence that Americans have lost sight of the value of non-applied, curiosity-driven research -- the open-ended sort of exploration that doesn't know exactly where it's going but so often leads to big payoffs. In discipline after discipline, the demand for specific products, profits or outcomes -- 'deliverables,' in the parlance of government -- has become the dominant force driving research agendas. Instead of being exploratory and expansive, science -- especially in the wake of 9/11 -- seems increasingly delimited and defensive. Take, for example, the Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency -- arguably the nation's premier funder of unencumbered scientific exploration, whose early dabbling in computer network design gave rise to the Internet. Agency officials recently acknowledged to Congress that they were shifting their focus away from blue-sky research and toward goal-oriented and increasingly classified endeavors..."

"Why should we care about this demand for results before the research begins? Isn't exploration for exploration's sake a luxury? Money is tight. Terrorists are trying to kill us. And what's a supersymmetric particle going to do for me, anyway? First, there are practical reasons to care. At least half of this nation's economic growth during the past half century has been the direct result of scientific innovation, according to the Task Force on the Future of American Innovation..."

"[T]the second, less practical -- yet arguably more important -- reason to support such endeavors [is] because our understanding of the world and our support of the quest for knowledge for knowledge's sake is a core measure of our success as a civilization. Our grasp, however tentative, of what we are and where we fit in the cosmos should be a source of pride to all of us. Our scientific achievements are a measure of ourselves that our children can honor and build upon..."

"Crouched today in a defensive posture, we are suffering from a lack of confidence and a shriveled sense of the optimism that once urged us to reach boldly into the unknown. Equally important, we seem to have forgotten that many good things come just from being open to them, without a formed idea of what they are or how they should come out."

See also Peter Harsha's comments in the CRA policy blog.



Friday, April 08, 2005

Data on 185,000 California patients stolen

A CNET News report:

"A California medical group is telling nearly 185,000 current and former patients that their financial and medical records may have been exposed following the theft of computers that contained personal data. Given the number of people affected, the theft from the San Jose Medical Group ranks among the largest in the nation. It follows a rash of other breaches that have raised concerns about the security of sensitive information. The theft occurred after the San Jose Medical Group had copied patient and financial information from its secured servers to two local PCs, said Mike Patel, vice president of information technology for the San Jose Medical Group."

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U.S. slips lower in computer programming contest

A report on CNET News notes a continuing decline in a contest that U.S. colleges and universities used to "own."

"In what could be an ominous sign for the U.S. tech industry, American universities slipped lower in an international programming contest.
The University of Illinois tied for 17th place in the world finals of the Association for Computing Machinery International Collegiate Programming Contest, which concluded Thursday. That's the lowest ranking for the top-performing U.S. school in the 29-year history of the competition. Shanghai Jiao Tong University of China took top honors this year, followed by Moscow State University and the St. Petersburg Institute of Fine Mechanics and Optics. Those results continued a gradual ascendance of Asian and East European schools during the past decade or so. A U.S. school hasn't won the world championship since 1997, when students at Harvey Mudd College achieved the honor. 'The U.S. used to dominate these kinds of programming Olympics,' said David Patterson, president of the Association for Computing Machinery and a computer science professor at the University of California, Berkeley. 'Now we're sort of falling behind.' "

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Rethinking the DMCA

A CNET News article is emphatically negative about the DMCA and its consequences.

"Time and again since its 1998 passage, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act has proved to be one of the worst-ever pieces of technology legislation. By now, nearly every sentient being in Silicon Valley must wonder why Congress couldn't have done a better job thinking through the implications of its handicraft before voting the DMCA into law. The act has been responsible for needless litigation and even transmogrified into something of a gag on free expression. More about that in a moment. I suppose it's a pipe dream to have hoped for a dramatically better outcome. Washington knows who butters its bread, and the power of corporate interest decides the day on Capitol Hill when big stakes are involved. Big stakes and big bucks."

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Warning over fake Windows update

A BBC News post warns: "Users are being warned to watch out for a fake Microsoft security update. Circulating as an e-mail the fake message points people at a bogus website that claims to host critical security updates. But anyone downloading from the site will get a virus installed that opens a backdoor into their computer the program's creators can exploit."

In general, it is no longer safe to download any software by following a link from email. Too bad.

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Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Homeland Security privacy panel picks controversial chief

A CNET News article: "A federal privacy board on Wednesday appointed a prominent champion of government data-mining as its first chairman. The Department of Homeland Security's privacy board chose as its chairman Paul Rosenzweig, a conservative lawyer best known in technology circles for his defense of the Pentagon's Total Information Awareness project. Bowing to privacy concerns, Congress pulled the plug on the program two years ago... The privacy advisory board has already raised eyebrows when an executive from 'adware' company Claria (formerly called Gator) was selected as a member in February. The group is charged with providing advice 'programmatic, policy, operational and technological issues that affect privacy, data integrity and data interoperability.' "



Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Cyber-Terrorism Analyst Warns Against Complacency

An eWeek article from the InfoSec World conference.

"Cyber-security and counterterrorism analyst Roger Cressey on Monday pleaded with IT executives not to underestimate the threat of 'national cyber-event' targeting critical infrastructure in the United States. During a keynote address at the InfoSec World 2005 conference here, Cressey warned against discounting the danger of the Internet being used in a terrorist-related attack. 'It may not be a terrorist attack, but a cyber-event is a very, very serious possibility. When it happens, it will have serious economic impact on our critical infrastructure.' Cressey, who served as chief of staff to the president's Critical Infrastructure Protection Board at the White House, said there was enough evidence that U.S. enemies were actively using the Web to recruit, organize and communicate terrorism activities."

Not news to those in the business. Many are wondering why there hasn't been a major attack yet...

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Saturday, April 02, 2005

E-thief nabbed

An AP article in SecurityFocusNews says this is one of the largest Internet banking thefts in Estonia.

"Estonian police said Friday they detained a 24-year-old man suspected of emptying out hundreds of bank accounts in several European countries using the Internet. Police would not identify the suspect by name, as is customary here, but said he lived in Tallinn. The suspect was detained last week after a yearlong investigation into what police believe could be the theft of millions of euros (dollars) from accounts in various banks in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Germany, Britain and Spain, said Aivar Pau, a spokesman for Estonia's central criminal police."

Although datelined April 1, I doubt it's a joke.



Pentagon Redirects Its Research Dollars

The New York Times has an excellent article by John Markoff about the significant decline in support for basic computer science research generally, and the specific moves by the director of DARPA that have exacerbated it.

"The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency at the Pentagon - which has long underwritten open-ended 'blue sky' research by the nation's best computer scientists - is sharply cutting such spending at universities, researchers say, in favor of financing more classified work and narrowly defined projects that promise a more immediate payoff. Hundreds of research projects supported by the agency, known as Darpa, have paid off handsomely in recent decades, leading not only to new weapons, but to commercial technologies from the personal computer to the Internet. The agency has devoted hundreds of millions of dollars to basic software research, too, including work that led to such recent advances as the Web search technologies that Google and others have introduced."

'The shift away from basic research is alarming many leading computer scientists and electrical engineers, who warn that there will be long-term consequences for the nation's economy. They are accusing the Pentagon of reining in an agency that has played a crucial role in fostering America's lead in computer and communications technologies. 'I'm worried and depressed,' said David Patterson, a computer scientist at the University of California, Berkeley who is president of the Association of Computing Machinery, an industry and academic trade group. 'I think there will be great technologies that won't be there down the road when we need them.' The shift away from basic research is alarming many leading computer scientists and electrical engineers, who warn that there will be long-term consequences for the nation's economy. They are accusing the Pentagon of reining in an agency that has played a crucial role in fostering America's lead in computer and communications technologies."

Note, however, that the Association for Computing Machinery is the leading professional society in information technology (IT), not an industry and academic trade group.



Alma Mater As Big Brother

An op-ed piece in the Washington Post criticises yet another proposal to generate a massive database of information that would be very useful for, among other things, identity theft.

"A proposal by the Education Department would force every college and university in America to report all their students' Social Security numbers and other information about each individual -- including credits earned, degree plan, race and ethnicity, and grants and loans received -- to a national databank. The government will record every student, regardless of whether he or she receives federal aid, in the databank. The government's plan is to track students individually and in full detail as they complete their post-secondary education. The threat to our students' privacy is of grave concern, and the government has not satisfactorily explained why it wants to collect individual information. Researchers at the Education Department say this mammoth project would give them better information on graduation rates and what students pay for college. Perhaps this would be interesting information to collect, but at what cost to individual privacy?"



Friday, April 01, 2005

The Aceville election controversy

Today seems like an appropriate time to revisit a column I wrote for the Communications of the ACM last year about the controversial election in Aceville, Ohio.

"The story of the Aceville elections has received some attention in the national press, but it is worth considering from a Risks perspective. This column is based on reports by AP (Affiliated Press, Unusual Election Results in Ohio Town, 2/30/04) and Rueters (Losers Question Ohio Election, 2/30/04). The Aceville, OH, municipal elections last February -- the city's first time using the SWERVE electronic voting system -- led to the election of the alphabetically first candidate in all 19 races. This is an astonishing coincidence. Furthermore, every winning candidate, and Measure A, garnered 100% of the votes counted."

"Ohio Supervisor of Elections Ava Anheuser expressed no surprise that the alphabetically first candidate won every race. 'Don't you believe in coincidence?' she asked. 'This is an example of Adam Murphy's Law: "If it's logically possible, sooner or later it's bound to happen." AAVM downloaded the totals from the voting machines three times. There's nothing else to recount.' "

On a somewhat different topic, note today's report on the Cisco/Nabisco "merger of equals."

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