24th > February > 2000 Archive
A distributed denial of service (DDoS) tool of the sort that made headlines this month by enabling intruders to interrupt service at high-profile Internet monuments like Yahoo, Excite and eBay has just been ported to the ubiquitous Win32 kernel, according to anti-virus outfit Trend Micro. The new tool, called Troj_Trin00, is capable of turning millions of Win-NT servers, along with individual Win-9x boxes connected to the Net via broadband connections -- which remain on constantly -- into unwitting clients for launching a spectacular wave of DDoS attacks. Not only can Troj_Trin00 exploit millions more boxes than its forebears could do, it can reach them more easily as well. The tool can be delivered as a trojan joined to seemingly innocuous files; it can be propagated as an e-mail attachment; or it can be installed and executed in the background by a malicious Active-X script. Previous versions had to be uploaded manually to a UNIX server or Linux box via an unprotected port. Port #111 on Solaris systems is a particular favourite, having a known and easily-exploitable weakness. But others can be found and exploited by performing a port scan. Automated tools exist to make it easy for a potential intruder to scan vast regions of bandwidth for vulnerable ports as a background operation, while doing other things, like going out to a movie, say. Easy as that sounds, things are now getting tremendously easier. No longer confined to the UNIX and Linux systems whose operators are at least minimally conscious of Internet architecture and network security procedures, the trojan edition of Trin00 is tailored specifically to exploit the innocent, point-and-drool 'Harry Homeowner' class of user, nearly all of whom depend on Win-9x and its plethora of dodgy default settings to get them connected. Once executed, Troj_Trin00 becomes resident in memory, waiting for the master server file it needs to function. In doing so, it opens port #34555 to welcome the malicious package and subsequent commands. Trend Micro reports that the trojan has already been seen in the wild. Detailed instructions for detecting and eliminating it are posted on the Trend Micro Web site. Meanwhile, The Register waits with bated breath for the Mother of all DDoS attacks to commence. See you in the fallout shelter.... ®
If former CIA Director John Deutch hasn't got sense enough to protect sensitive files stored on his computer, then we have to wonder how the US can hope to compete with its adversaries in the spook business. Deutch stored an incredible 17,000 pages of highly classified intelligence data on home computers, according to a report by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG), released this week. Forget about hackers; imagine the blow to US intelligence efforts if adversaries had simply broken into his house and stolen the bloody things. Or imagine if agents had compromised or merely bamboozled his domestic servant, a resident alien with no security clearance who typically remained in residence while the family was away. "Such an entry operation would not have posed a particularly difficult challenge, had a sophisticated operation been launched by opposition forces," the OIG report noted. The report noted no clear evidence that secrets were compromised, and predicted that calculating the loss, if any, might require months of further investigation. The data in question included CIA budget data, confidential communications with the President, and details of extremely secret Pentagon operations known as "black ops". Deutch appeared before a closed session of the Senate Intelligence Committee to explain how this incredibly sensitive information came to be stored on his personal computers, even after leaving the Agency in 1996. He is said to have apologised sincerely and profusely to Congress. Translation: he has no explanation. Sorry as he may be, the OIG suspects that Deutch deliberately deleted classified files on his home computers after being caught in December of 1995. Worse, there are concerns now of a CIA cover-up to protect Deutch from punishment and the Agency from ridicule. Present CIA Director George Tenet waited a full 18 months before notifying Congress of Deutch's lapse of sanity, the OIG notes. Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (Republican, Alabama) characterised the delay as "troubling." "I don't believe this was George Tenet and his staff's finest hour," Shelby observed dryly. "All of the delay, the lack of notification to the committees, the FBI, and so forth is....inexplicable." Shelby said the Committee is conducting its own investigation, and is considering the possibility that Tenet should be sacked. ®
Intel's VC arm, Intel Capital, has bought a stake into Cambridge, UK-based Bluetooth startup Cambridge Silicon Radio (CSR). The company, which was founded in 1998, is due to ship its first product, a fully integrated 2.4GHz radio, baseband and microcontroller on one CMOS chip, in the middle of this year. Integration of Bluetooth functionality into single chips is vital if the standard is to become ubiquitous, linking PCs, notebooks, PDAs, phones and anything else you'd care to name. By funding CSR Intel intends accelerate the development of low-cost, highly-integrated, low-power Bluetooth components. No doubt Intel Capital, which has a Midas-like record, also intends to make a few bucks. CSR is currently backed by 3i, Amadeus Capital Partners and Gilde IT Fund - Vulture Capitalists all. ®
MS on Trial Microsoft's antitrust efforts have received unexpected help from Lawrence Lessig, trial Judge Jackson's favoured helper and the target of Microsoft 'bias' attacks earlier in the trial. Talking to the Washington Post, Lessig says that he doesn't think breaking Microsoft up would be helpful, and also rules out other 'nuclear' options. Microsoft will be less comforted by his view that increasing government impatience with Microsoft's behaviour may induce the prosecution to try to push the button. Earlier this week Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, a definite hawk, assured the world on the courthouse steps that the government would seek "drastic and far-reaching" remedies, and that the language of the judge's preliminary ruling justified this. Lessig isn't currently advising the judge, just wandering around making observations, but they undoubtedly carry some weight. He thinks it would be difficult to draw breakup lines that would be both rational and would tackle antitrust issues. And he doesn't think making the Windows source public would help either, because as Netscape found, simply opening the source doesn't automatically result in widespread developer enthusiasm. If Microsoft source was opened and few either wanted or could afford to try to build rivals to Windows, then the monopoly wouldn't be addressed. But he does think opening up on the APIs would be helpful. This is a tricky issue because Microsoft reckons Windows APIs are public. Over the years and during the trial there have been persuasive arguments made that Microsoft gives preferred customers preferential access to APIs, and the judge concluded that this does happen. There's also the old accusation from the days of the productivity suite wars that Microsoft's own Office developers used 'secret' APIs, and of course got early access to the non-secret ones. You can however see the making of a possible deal here, if the judge consults Lessig further, and favours his views over the hawks in the government camp. Microsoft could present an opening of the APIs as a no-change or not much change situation, and in the short term at least a levelling of the playing field wouldn't hurt it much; it beat the hell out of the apps competition years ago, and has a lot of spare fat to burn before reinvigorated rivals would actually hurt it. But that could only be one component of a deal. It might conceivably help Linux carve out a more credible space as a Windows rival, but Judge Jackson would find it tricky to accept this as a serious way to tackle the monopoly. We might not all agree with him, but he's already set down his view that Linux is not a serious, immediate competitor for Windows, so by going the API route he'd also have to complicate matters by imposing other controls. ®
Two laptop companies have been advertised for sale this week in the Financial Times. DIP Systems Ltd, trading as Pico Direct, is being sold by London administrative receivers Horwath Clark Whitehill. Up for grabs at the Surrey reseller is: The "PICO" trade mark and Web site; stock of portable computers, spares and components; leasehold premises in Guildford; a back order book worth £300k and the company's distributor operation in Germany. Dip Systems Ltd has annual sales of £20 million. The second advert kept the identity of its seller under wraps. The company was described only as "market leaders in direct and on-line supply of new, 'B' stock, end-of-line and 2nd-user notebooks to corporate accounts". It was said to be looking for a "trade sale to [a] large IT organisation". The company, started 12 months ago, was also advertising its sales as £3 million, with pre-tax profit at £550,000. Interested parties should contact the Robert James Partnership in Middlesex. ®
Dotcom hysteria took to the streets yesterday as hoards of investors in Honk Kong rushed to hand in their share applications for entertainment portal, Tom.com. Traffic came to a standstill, shops had to shut down and police were called as tens of thousands of would-be investors queued outside branches of HSBC bank. The FT reported that 50,000 people queued outside one branch alone. What makes Tom.com so appealing is that it is owned by Li Ka-shing (Stress the "shing" and his name makes the sound of an old fashioned cash register, apt don't you think?), a tycoon with a mass following in Hong Kong. The thinking goes that if anyone is to succeed in this dotcom game, it's going to be him, claim those clinging tightly to their application forms. His nickname is "Superman". Apparently, this latest rush to cash in on the e-revolution apparently went off without a scuffle. Of course, yesterday's events may well have been orderly, but it may be a different story if/when dotcom mania take a tumble. ®
Two weeks after it was named in a patent infringement lawsuit, Compaq is staring at the business end of another writ. This time one of its own shareholders has filed suit seeking to gain access to Compaq's accounts in order to check up on alleged insider dealing by Big Q big cheeses. The shareholder is the Public Employees' Retirement Association of Colorado. It claims that Compaq insiders off-loaded shares ahead of a profit warning being made public. According to a report in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), the plaintiff's solicitor has said the action may be followed up with a shareholder-derivative suit. This would enable the Association to recover any profits made from the insider dealing. The WSJ quoted Alan Hodel, a Compaq representative, saying that "many of the allegations in the complaint are inaccurate" but, he continued, Compaq was hoping to resolve the matter amicably. ® See also: Compaq, Dell, Gateway sued over comms patent
Let no one accuse Psion's founder David Potter of lacking a sense of humour. In the parallel universe of ZDNet News UK, a strange and shadowy world where year-old facts are "disclosed", or breathlessly "revealed" ... or just made up, Potter has been having some fun at the expense of the channel and Richard Barry, its accident-prone editor.
Microsoft.com has beaten off a hacker attack, the company claimed yesterday, possibly somewhat rashly, considering the number of people out there who fancy a challenge. The attack, which the company says took place on Tuesday, is claimed to have only caused a short slowdown in page viewing of 3-7 per cent, and was unable to melt the scads of hardware Microsoft has ready and waiting for bright-eyed and bushy-tailed users downloading vast Windows Update files. But it wasn't one of the dreaded DDoS attacks - a Microsoft spokesman told Reuters it was a syn-flood, which directs packets at a server port and leaves the server with half-open ports. Typically servers don't have too many of these available, so it can be a pretty cost-effective mechanism for knocking sites over. Effectively, the attack is faking the conditions where a client crashes or the connection is broken. Microsoft's success in beating one of those off may of course tell you something about Windows... ®
Too much email could damage your sex-drive, according to a report published today.
Viglen is still looking for a disgruntled e-ntrepreneur to head up its VigEcom, its new Net investment subsidiary. The search has not stopped VigEcom from making its first punt -- a 26 per cent shareholding in Intelligent Network Technology for £2.5 million. The news accompanies the publication of Viglen's results for the six months ending 31 December. Sales for the period stood at £47.7 million, with pre-tax profit of £2.5 million. For the same period in 1998 sales were £47 million, with pre-tax profit of £2.5 million. An interim dividend of 0.6p per ordinary share will be paid on 5 May to shareholders on record on 7 April. Known primarily as a PC builder, Viglen says it no longer relies on cash sales of PCs to remain profitable, thanks to an increase in networking-related business. This now represents 16 per cent of the company's turnover. The education market remains a key part of Viglen's business, and accounts for more than half of the company's sales. In the six months ending 31 December, sales to this sector climbed 30 per cent to £24.9 million. In the stocks Viglen's plans to set up an Internet division sparked an investigation of UK newspaper journalists tipping stock they hold and using insider information to line their pockets. Piers Morgan, editor of The Mirror found himself in hot water when he was found to have bought £20,000 of Viglen stock the day before his newspaper's City Slickers column ran a so-called exclusive story on Viglen's e-biz venture in its 17 January edition. But luckily for old Piers, The Register was on hand to pour cold water on talk of the being an exclusive. How come? Because we wrote about it on 14 December. Exclusive? Yeah, that'd be about right. ® See related stories: Mirror editor in Viglen share-deal row Viglen unveils e-biz division Sugar advertises for 'Unrewarded Internet Entrepreneur'
Hard drive Specialist yesterday unveiled what it claims is the fastest hard drive in the world. The Cheetah X15 breaks no records for capacity -- it's an 18GB unit -- or size -- it has a 3.5in form factor -- but it does take drive speeds to a new level. The X15 spins at 15,000rpm, 50 per cent faster than current high-speed drives, which typically rotate at just 10,000rpm. For the X15, that translates to data transfer rates of up to 48MB per second. It also brings drive latency down to just two milliseconds. By comparison, 7200rpm drives typically have latencies of 4.17ms and 10,000rpm drives 2.99ms, Seagate said. The company also said the drive can handled 140 input/output operations every second, compared to 105 for 10,000rpm units and 84 for 7200rpm drives. The X15 has an average seek time of 3.9ms, the company added, down from its 10,000rpm drives' 5.2ms rating. Aimed at high-speed servers, the drive will ship with 4MB or 16MB of cache memory, and with Ultra 160 SCSI and 2Gb Fibre Channel interface options. Samples of the Cheetah X15 18GB drive will be available for major OEMs early in the year's second quarter, with volume production planned the following quarter. Single-unit street pricing is expected to be less than $1000. ®
Information has started leaking out about Microsoft's "Mars" project, which is being developed as a kind of combination user interface and Internet access system for MSN. Veteran PC Mag columnist John C Dvorak sounded off on the subject earlier this week, and ActiveWin and BetaNews have since teamed up to produce a combined report. Aside from John C's screenshots and observations about hideous clutter, it's still not entirely clear what Mars actuallyis, but ActiveWin managed to extract a gnomic quote from Microsoft: "Mars is a codename for a project designed to simplify and enhance the Internet experience for MSN users." The spokesperson then declined to give details of features and release dates. So what is it? Go back to where it lives first of all, in the Consumer Services Division of Microsoft's Consumer Group. The CSD is headed by Dave Cole, who'd been in charge of the Consumer Windows project before the multi-dimensional morphing session that was last December's Microsoft reorg. According to the statement Microsoft released at the time, CSD's mission "is to provide an intuitive and empowering consumer experience, world-class communication and collaboration services, and high-quality Internet access that consumers need to access the Everday Web, anytime, anywhere, and on any device." If you fell asleep during that par, go back and try again - it's important, particularly that "on any device." Mars looks pretty much like a future rev of the MSN access software you currently run on a PC, and Dvorak points to similarities between it and what he saw of Neptune's UI last year, but MSN has demoed a CE-based access device, the MSN Web Companion, and it's logical for Mars to be implemented on this as well. Loaded on a PC Mars could operate pretty much like current MSN client software, while also giving users the opportunity to use it as their UI. Dvorak thinks Microsoft would like users to do this, but that the users aren't going to like it. We'd agree with him there, and suspect that even if somebody within MS has the notion of using it for a general next generation UI, they're not going to get their way. On some kind of appliance, however, it could actually be hard-wired as the UI, and it would make sense for Microsoft to do this as part of the big MSN push it's currently mounting. Broadband satellite access, cheap and/or subsidised MSN-only CE appliances sold through the MSN outlets at the likes of RadioShack, Best Buy et al? That'd be an attractive package for consumers wanting to get onto the Web, and a helpful one for Microsoft Consumer Group bosses with a mission to ramp MSN fast. ®
Apple has been telling market analysts it expects to achieve double-digit revenue and unit sales growth during fiscal 2000. However, what's really interesting about the Apple analyst briefing is the company's hints at an entry into the information appliance market. According to Merrill Lynch analyst Steve Fortuna (as reported by Bloomberg), the Mac maker has targets to sell 40 per cent more iMacs, iBooks, Power Macs and PowerBooks this year than it did during 1999. That translates to revenues rising by around 36 per cent. He also reported that the company is "happy" with Street estimates of Q2 2000 earnings in the region of 80 cents a share. Apple second quarter ends on 31 March. Its first quarter, which included the traditionally lucrative Christmas period, generated earnings of 103 cents a share. Fortuna also noted that Apple bosses "alluded" to the "possibility" of an information appliance in the works. Apple has, of course, been here before with its ill-fated Pippin. The PowerPC-based device suffered at the hands of a developer that simply couldn't make up its mind whether it wanted the machine to be a games console, a cut-down family-oriented PC, an Internet access device or all three. Apple only managed to licence Pippin design to a couple of companies, one of which was Power Rangers toy company Bandai, the only operation to bring a Pippin-based machine to market. Apple went on to develop the iMac, a far more sensible system (from a marketing perspective at least) since people tend to want to by what they consider to be 'real' PCs rather than cut-down boxes. The conundrum for Apple is that having sold the iMac on the ease and speed with which it can be hooked up to the Net, it's now considering an appliance the whole point of which is the... er... ease and speed with which it can be hooked up to the Net. Fortuna is keeping mum on any details Apple may have given him, so at this stage almost nothing about Apple's thoughts on the matter is known for certain. However, it has to be said, for such a consumer-oriented company as Apple not to be thinking about an entry into the appliance market even though no such market really exists yet would be, well, unthinkable (though not, as long-time Apple watchers will admit, beyond the bounds of a company that's not always been known for its joined-up thinking). So can we expect some kind of MacOS-based rival to the PlayStation 2 or Microsoft's not-so-secret X-Box? A games oriented unit seems unlikely, since while a Mac-based machine could be made that offers comparable performance to the Sony box, the parlous lack of A-stream titles would seriously hinder its sales prospects (as it did for Pippin). Instead, we'd expect something more Net oriented, something to tie in with Apple's growing interest in the Internet as a revenue generator. Apple is already offering Mac users 25MB of online storage, that could easily be expanded to allow diskless, TV-connected appliances to store bookmarks, game scores and save-states, etc. Cutting out hardware like drives and a monitor could easily allow Apple to offer a cheat 'iMac Jr'. MacOS X's FreeBSD microkernel-based architecture makes it an ideal basis for a high-stable (if hi-fis and VCRs don't crash, neither can consumer electronics Net appliances) yet compact (store it in Flash RAM) appliance OS. Just add a cut-back Mac GUI and you're away. Oh, and an AirPort-connected wireless keyboard would finish it off very nicely, particularly if a built-in LCD allowed to you use it anywhere within your home... Apple clearly has both the motive and opportunity to execute an entry into the appliance market. It also has the branding and the desire to be seen as something more than a PC company. We'll have to wait and see whether it does the deed. ®
Toshiba is set to launch its Secure Digital (SD) memory card digital music player next month, three months ahead of Aiwa, whose own player will be based around the Multimedia Card (MMC) spec, a rival to both SD and Sony's Memory Stick technology. Toshiba's offering was originally believed to have been scheduled for a Christmas 1999 launch. Called the DiGo, device was planned to be Toshiba's first product to be sold exclusively via the Internet. It's not clear if the March launch marks a delayed attempt to get DiGo through the door or is the full-scale follow up to December's trial run. We suspect the former. DiGo's size and specification certainly match details and pics of the upcoming player posted on AsiaBizTech today. The DiGo was believed to have been priced at Y29,800 ($290), though today's AsiaBizTech report claims that neither the price nor the name of the device has been set. Downloaded songs are stored on an SD card, and encoded using a format called SolidAudio, developed by Nippon Telegraph and Telephone (NTT) and others. SolidAudio essentially integrates the storage format with a compression scheme called TwinVQ and a copyright protection mechanism called InfoBind. The SD spec was developed by Toshiba, Matsushita and SanDisk. Aiwa's MM-FX500 MP3 player is due to go on sale in Japan on 1 June, to be followed later by US and European roll-outs. The player's key feature is a built-in MP3 encoder, allowing CDs to be 'ripped' to the MP3 format without the need for a PC, though presumably not as quickly since the output from the CD player is processed by the player in real time. Despite the use of MP3, Aiwa's machine does appear to be SDMI compliant. Tracks are held on Multimedia Cards (the player has two slots, and ships with a single 32MB MMC). Data is pegged to a specific card by the use of serial numbers, and tracks cannot be copied to other MMCs, even if they're copied via a PC, presumably. Aiwa said the MM-FX500 will retail for Y39,800 ($390). Related Stories NTT DoCoMo to offer digital music via cellphone Japanese trio unveil MP3-on-cellphone system Kenwood unveils first MP3 hi-fi system
CeBIT 2000 3dfx launched its Voodoo 4 and 5 cards in Europe today, along with a Web site for the region. Gamers clustered around the company's stand at CeBIT, eagerly awaiting tomorrow's appearance of the 'real' Lara Croft and gazing fixedly at games using the latest, much delayed Voodoo cards. Forthcoming and current titles supporting the cards shown on the stand included Eidos' Tomb Raider 4 and Final Fantasy VIII, Activision's Star Trek Voyager Elite Force, and Virgin Interactive's Messiah and Evolva. The cards, one for PCs and the other for Apple computers, are due to be on European shop shelves this spring. Pricing is still not available. The company has also started a multilingual Web site for the EMEA region, offering information on distributors, OEM partners and retailers of its products. The site offers developers and gamers the chance to download the latest versions of Glide, OpenGL and DirectX, as well as authoring tools and runtime engines. The facility is available in English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, Dutch, Portuguese, Finnish and Russian. The company was also keen to point out that 3dfx fanatics would be able to visit an online shop, which will offer all manner of 3dfx-branded merchandise, "from T-shirts, caps and a leather jacket, to specialist items such as golf balls, umbrellas and a stylish 3dfx attache case". ®