17th > March > 2000 Archive

The Register breaking news

Sun scientist Joy on the future that doesn't need us

Bill Joy, the developer of the vi editor and Berkeley Unix, and later chief scientist of Sun Microsystems and co-designer of Sparc, picoJava and MAJC, has written a landmark essay in the current issue of Wired. It's entitled: "Why the future doesn't need us" and it's scary stuff - well worth reading. Sensationalists, or perhaps Sun's business rivals, have pounced on one extract from his essay - a quotation from Theodore Kaczynski, the Unabomber - in which the human control of machines is discussed, although Joy's thesis deals with the risks of future technology. His main concern is with destructive self-replication as a result of advances in genetics, nanotechnology and robotics (GNR), which he thinks pose greater dangers than weapons of mass destruction in the 20th century, for the simple reason that GNR technologies do not require massive research facilities. He is particularly exercised by the possibility of robots going out of human control. Joy is optimistic that Moore's law will continue for another 30 years, and that a fundamental technology shift will be to molecular electronics this decade: indeed, he notes that this is now beginning to be practical. The subsequent move in the next 20 years, Joy suggests, will be to molecular-level "assemblers" that could enable very low-cost solar power, as well as cures for cancer and the common cold by the augmentation of the human immune system, and ultra-cheap, very powerful pocket computers. Some of the mechanisms and evil intentions that concern him exist already: there would be no virus software industry without malicious intent, and now that we have it, there is every reason to believe that the virus threat will become more dangerous - although it has to be said that for most users it is minimal, and that sellers of virus software thrive on scares. A particular fear that Joy discusses is the ease with which nanotechnology could be used destructively, rather than constructively, for example in geographically localised situations, or on genetically-distinct populations. At worst, the biosphere could even be destroyed by what nanotechnologists call grey goo, as a result of self-replication, which is a key goal of genetic engineering. Already we can see ethically questionable uses of genetic engineering - geared towards economic success rather than evolutionary success - but as Joy points out, the US Drugs Administration has approved 50 genetically engineered crops for unlimited release, and we now have more than half the world's soya beans and a third of the world's corn having genes from other species. Joy also expresses concern about the evil use of GNR technology, and begins to examine what might be needed to enforce the relinquishment of certain technologies. His suggestion of a verification regime like that for biological weapons does not seem to be very practical, but he makes an interesting suggestion when he points to the need for control through intellectual property rights. Joy thinks it may be necessary to provide new forms of protection for intellectual property. Joy declares himself as a supporter of the thesis that more reliable software would make the world a safer and better place, and few would disagree with this, or his conclusion: "Whether we are to succeed or fail, to survive or fall victim to these technologies, is not yet decided." It is right that Joy should be drawing attention to such dangers and opportunities, but we confess to considerable cynicism as to whether a robotic world is possible in our lifetimes, if at all. Discoveries like self-replication in peptides still appear to be a quantum leap from the replication of machines. The relative failure of artificial intelligence is an important object lesson here, and could presage an ultimately provable principle, like Heisenberg's, that machine intelligence cannot exceed that of the inventor of the machine. ®
Graham Lea, 17 Mar 2000
The Register breaking news

SAS ports its software to Linux

SAS will port its data warehousing and decision support packages to Linux by the end of this year. They will be available first with the Red Hat distribution, followed by at least Caldera, SuSE, TurboLinux and Corel. Keith Collins, vp for R&D, said that "Based on positive customer feedback, as well as the increasing number of Fortune 1000 companies looking seriously at Linux as a viable operating system for their enterprise applications, we felt that the time was right for us to offer a Linux version of SAS software" and went on to note the moves to support Linux by IBM, Intel, and "other SAS technology partners". This is just one more significant endorsement for Linux, and tends to neutralise the unsupported and rather shrill claims by Microsoft as to the success of Windows 2000. The arguments about the lack of industrial-strength software available for Linux no longer hold water. IBM's DB2 and the Corel WordPerfect Suite make very good starters, and there are daily new announcements of other important packages being ported. Maybe Sun will reflect that Linux is probably good news for the company in that some companies that use Linux may well become attracted to running on Sun hardware, if they realise that a move from Linux to Solaris is not that difficult. Moves from Solaris to Linux will also happen of course, but it is for Sun to ensure that its value proposition is sufficiently attractive. And could it be that Fortune 1000 companies are seriously looking at Linux because of its value proposition? That seems to be what SAS is suggesting, although it might also be thinking privately that quite a few companies were hanging on to Unix because of their SAS Unix applications, so the inclusion of Linux is an act of comfort for them - and a reason not to bet the enterprise on Windows 2000. ®
Graham Lea, 17 Mar 2000
The Register breaking news

US Patent Office appears to trash laws of physics

Thanks to a reader who has pointed us to a US patent which describes a device which can perform faster than the speed of light. He suggests that it is lucky that the US Patent Office pays for itself, otherwise US taxpayers might want to know why the organisation is hiring people who haven't got even the slightest clue about modern physics. And he also suggests a new column for The Register, called BPEFH -- the bastard patent examiner from hell. Here's the patent in question, titled Hyper Light Speed Antenna. But, a doctor who knows what he's talking about, writes, this is not as daft as it first appears. He said: "Although it is not possible for a physical object to travel faster than light, E=mc^2 etc, it is possible for a signal, which is the case in this instance, to be transmitted faster than the speed of light. I believe it's all down to things refered to as phase and group velocities of the electromagnetic wave. I could point you in the direction of a pile of physics texts on electromagnetic waves that would bore the knackers off you, but I don't think that that's what you want. I would send you the references of some papers on the subject, but I don't have any to hand." One reader pointed us, rather helpfully, to the background information on the patent, which makes for astonishing reading and points to...a new dimension "All known radio transmissions use known models of time and space dimensions for sending the RF signal. The present invention has discovered the apparent existence of a new dimension capable of acting as a medium for RE signals. "Initial benefits of penetrating this new dimension include sending RF signals faster than the speed of light, extending the effective distance of RF transmitters at the same power radiated, penetrating known RF shielding devices, and accelerating plant growth exposed to the by-product. The present invention...takes a transmission of energy, and instead of sending it through normal time and space, it pokes a small hole into another dimension, thus, sending the energy through a place which allows transmission of energy to exceed the speed of light." Wow. So there you go. Another reader says that a thread about this particular patent is growing like topsy on Usenet forum sci.electronics.design, and quips that if this technology works, he may be able to receive data before it's even been sent... ®
Adamson Rust, 17 Mar 2000
The Register breaking news

China to use Sun boxes for warplane systems

The US government has approved sales of supercomputers to an Israeli firm which is designing a top end defence radar system for Red China. Bill Clinton's administration reluctantly approved a deal to ship Sun boxes to Israeli firm Elta Electronics, the Washington Post reports. Elta will use the machines to design an early-warning radar system for Red China. The Washington Post says the radar system will be able to detect targets up to 250 miles away. It points out that if the USA is ever dragged into a confrontation with Red China over the island of Taiwan, it could lead to a nightmare scenario where American pilots are targeted by radar based on US kit. The report adds that the Chinese Harbin Institute of Technology and the Nanjing Public Security Bureau need fast supercomputers, in the first case for designing parts of Chinese ICBMs, and in the second case for tracking dissidents in the country. You can find the full report on World Tribune. Two days ago, Intel's CEO, Craig Barrett, urged that the US give Red China full trading partner status. The US government had previously banned exports of computers which could be used in anger. But President Bill Clinton has relaxed the rules this year. ®
Mike Magee, 17 Mar 2000
The Register breaking news

Compaq's Wildfire gets May 16 debut

The latest issue of newsletter Shannon knows Compaq is reporting that May 16th is now the official date for the launch of The Big Q's Wildfire, Alpha based systems. According to Terry Shannon, editor of the newsletter, AlphaServer GS80 up to GS320 WildFire systems are now all up and running smoothly. Shannon visited the Wildfire laboratories in Marlboro in January and then Compaq had over 60 systems up and running in house. Worldwide, over 100 systems were functional, he says. He reports that the Wildfire run rate was in double digit numbers during this month, and production will rise to three digits per month by the middle of the year. Full volume is expected to start in the second half of this year. Volume production systems will be built in Compaq Scotland and in New Hampshire, he says. The firm has said sales of Wildfire systems will reach $1 billion during this year, and Shannon adds that the firm will have "at least" 200 firm orders on release day. Compaq has already shipped a large number of "seed systems" to its customers. Audited TPC numbers for Wildfire are not available, but Shannon reckons that a system will "wrest single-system tpmC bragging rights from IBM’s S80 system. A 24-CPU S80 delivers about ~138K tpmC." Systems running 32 Alpha processors will deliver over seven times the performance of a four CPU system, he adds. There will be an EV7 version of Wildfire in the middle of next year. ®
Mike Magee, 17 Mar 2000
The Register breaking news

Debt collectors coming to get you online

Debt collection will go online from March 27 thanks to a Web site aimed at recouping small claims on a pay-as-you go basis. The Credit Protection Association (CPA) will launch a new Web site called getaresult.co.uk that will let smaller businesses grass on late payers. For an advance fee of £22 plus VAT per debt, the CPA will chase the culprits until they squeal. Well, it'll send them a few nasty letters at least. The debt-collecting organisation has invested almost £500,000 in the Web site in the hope of attracting smaller business claimants. In the past, it required customers to pay an upfront annual fee of at least £1,200. The latest service is designed for SMEs chasing a one-off invoice or a series of smaller claims. "With half the UK's small businesses running an average £8,000 overdraft, busy owner-managers need easily implemented strategies for improving credit control," said Ross Clarkson, Credit Protection Association MD. Here are some scary details for the Nation of Shopkeepers: *UK small businesses have a combined overdraft of £4 billion *40 per cent of companies pay their bills at least 15 days late *At any one time, about £20 billion is outstanding in trade debt to SMEs in the UK *Customers logging on to the Web site will lodge their order and pay online. The Credit Protection Association, which claims an 80 per cent success rate in chasing outstanding bills, will do the rest. It will send three letters to the offender, and a solicitor's letter is also included in the fee. *The CPA, founded in 1914, has 2,000 members.® Top excuses not to fall for regarding late payment Waiting for cheque to be signed Lost invoice Cashflow problems Cheque in the post New computer system being installed We pay on 60/90 days not 30 Run out of cheques
Linda Harrison, 17 Mar 2000
The Register breaking news

Tecmar warns about tapes and Windows 2000

Updated Got a peripheral tape solution based on floppy and parallel port tape drives? Thinking of upgrading your operating system to Windows 2000? Be careful. Tecmar has just issued a warning that its Ditto drives will not work with Windows 2000. According to a statement from the firm, the operating system does not provide drivers for floppy and parallel port drives and there is no intention to support them in the future. The new Ditto Max Professional drives may also have a problem, it has emerged. One customer who contacted Tecmar was told that now there is no Windows 2000 support for the 14GB and 20GB products, although there may be in the future. Veritas, who write the software, have not been able to give Tecmar a lead time. It has also emerged that the new Ditto products will use Travan 5 technology, and this means that while they will conform to the rest of the Travan 5 products on the market, they will not be backward read compatible with the existing or older Ditto products. The same customer has also contacted Iomega asking about its support strategy for Windows 2000, but so far has not received any reply from the firm. Tecmar says in its statement that it does offer tape solutions that will work with Windows 2000, in particular its SCSI and ATAPI/IDE drives. The message, then, is pretty clear. If you've spent a small fortune in the past on drives based on parallel port and floppy systems, check with the manufacturer to see whether they'll work with Windows 2000 or not. You can find Tecmar's statement here. ®
Mike Magee, 17 Mar 2000
The Register breaking news

Why Intel's Foster will use DDR memory

When Intel announced its up-and-coming Willamette processor at last month's Developer Forum, many were puzzled as to why the company said that the server version of the 1.4GHz processor, codenamed Foster, would use double date rate (DDR) memory rather than the Rambus memory recommended for its desktop chip. Now, at last, there is clarification on the topic, from a savvy reader, as well as a leading industry analyst. According to Nathan Brookwood, principal analyst at Insight 64 in the US, the reason that server vendors have avoided Rambus memory is that they use lots of DRAM in these systems, and would end up paying between four to six times the cost per megabyte if they use RDRAM. Also, he adds, the ServerWork (formerly Reliance) chipsets support a 128-bit wide memory system, so they get more than enough memory bandwidth (~2.1GB/second) using "plain old" PC133 SDRAM. At the same time, Brookwood clarified market share projections for Rambus chips, following our story yesterday. He said: "The most aggressive RDRAM forecasts for this year call for ~120M chips, enough for ~15M RIMMs. Since a typical high-end PC has slightly more than 128MB of memory, this translates into 10-12M PC's, which is consistent with the positioning of Rambus-based systems in the performance and/or enthusiast segments." Dataquest forecasting 200 million Rambus chips (not RIMMs) for this year, a figure that is probably far too optimistic. Semico, another chip market research firm, is projecting output of 80 million units. A reader adds: "Intel is expecting that desktops with the Willamette processor will be running with 128MB PC700 RIMMs. This configuration does OK for speed, although the memory will lag severely behind the processor. "Rambus memory, however, because of its internal serial packet design, slows with each memory chip added to the configuration, with a noticeable change occurring with each new RIMM. With a typical server specification including 1G+ of RAM, the Rambus protocol design slows to the point that even current single data rate memory is faster. He adds that if you expect to use a lot of memory in a system, Rambus is far from ideal. "Intel expects desktops to stay in the low memory range so Rambus is fine. An eight way processor system with 8GB of memory is only possible if Rambus is kept out of the box (assuming Gigahertz speeds)." ®
Mike Magee, 17 Mar 2000
The Register breaking news

Blair in Women's Weekly online storm

The Number 10 Downing Street Web site has once again caused a storm by bowing to party politics. The site was designed as a place for the Government to post announcements and for the public to put questions to the country's leaders online. Since its inception in February, the site has been at the centre of controversy – from racist and personal attacks appearing on the public forums to the Government's apparent lack of replies to public questions. Labour was also accused of censoring the site and using it as a political tool for the London Mayor elections. Pro-Ken comments were moved or taken off the online discussions, some contributors alleged. This week the site hit the headlines again due to a pro-Blair interview from that most uncontroversial of publications, Women's Weekly. The site published the article by Weekly's assistant editor Sue Pilkington, where she asked the mighty Blair if he's like a second term in office. "That would be nice," Tony replied. What has angered opponents to the site is that the Number 10 site is meant to be a Government venture, not part of the Labour spin machine. It is funded by taxpayers and should therefore not contain party political matter. Thatcherite Sir Bernard Ingham told yesterday's Evening Standard: "The whole Web site is a clear example of abuse of power…The Labour Party is once again pushing at the boundaries between what is party and what is government". Downing Street's view is: "Obviously there are going to be party issues on the site...A site about number 10 will inevitably be linked to the Labour Party."® Related stories Govt censors pro-Livingstone Net post William Plague defaces No. 10 Website site
Linda Harrison, 17 Mar 2000
The Register breaking news

Lastminute shares rally at err… last minute

Update: It looked at one point today as though the unthinkable could be about to happen - and it still might. Despite rallying to close at 391p investors in lastminute.com are facing up to the reality that share prices - even in dotcoms - can go down as well as up. The over-hyped and over-subscribed float of Lastminute on Tuesday saw shares soar to a price of 532.5p well up on the offer price of 380p. The picture has changed since then. Yesterday, Lastminute shares closed at 387.5p and by this lunchtime had slipped to 382.5 – that's just two and a half pence away from the offer price and a massive fall from Tuesday's high point. Private investors in Lastminute are not able to sell until they have held on to their shares for at least a week. With the situation getting progressively worse (every day this week Lastminute's closing price has been lower than the day before) by the time they are able to sell, many small investors may find their dreams of instant and guaranteed e-profits have come to nothing. Perhaps it's just as well that no one got more than about £150 worth of shares in the first place. ® See also: Lastminute: What the Papers Say Lastminute jumps -- but punters get next to no shares 250,000 flock to register for Lastminute shares The wit and wisdom of Martha Lane Fox
Sean Fleming, 17 Mar 2000
The Register breaking news

ZDNet posts CRAP Demon Story

Oh dear. This CRAP Demon story from the increasingly accident-prone ZD Net UK, has the hallmarks of a classic sub/copy-editing error. It looks like the journalist's tagline was imported wholesale into the space reserved for the headline in ZD Net UK's content management system. The floating "Kris" -- and the real suggested …
Drew Cullen, 17 Mar 2000
The Register breaking news

Intel notebook chip glitch not just Tosh problem

Updated A problem with some 400MHz mobile Intel processors in notebooks has caused Toshiba to issue a warning to its resellers after it discovered machines failing last month. The problem is not just confined to Toshiba notebooks, we now understand, but also affects other PC vendors, some of which have only just woken up to the issue. The glitch in the chips, which causes some systems to overheat and then shut down is caused by a faulty batch of mobile 400MHz processors, both Celerons and Pentiums, an Intel US representative confirmed. Intel said it has now addressed the problem and issued Toshiba with a fresh batch of healthy microprocessors. While there is no figure on how many machines worldwide are affected, a Toshiba spokesman said that it had first noticed the problem here in Europe because of its quality control process and alerted Intel to the problem. Toshiba then notified its resellers, and worked on a fix, which is a comparatively simple process, the spokesman said. An Intel UK representative said that the company here was aware of the problem, which is now resolved. But other vendors have now begun to notice similar glitches in notebooks using the faulty batches of 400MHz mobile chips. According to one reliable source, Intel and Toshiba are likely to make a joint statement on the problem at some point next week. The 400MHz processors made by Intel are a popular choice for end users. ® There is a CRN story about Toshiba notebooks here. ®
Mike Magee, 17 Mar 2000
The Register breaking news

Text me, Cindy (my Bluetooth baby)

Clutching their mobile phones and muttering, "The gateways don’t work...", application developers and Ericsson executives tried to demonstrate their Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) on that very rare device, the WAP-enabled mobile phone. But technical glitches such as these didn’t dampen spirits at the Ericsson Mobile Data Conference in Zurich. With the optimism and accepting demeanour that only early adopters seem to possess, conference participants heard that shops in Sweden are developing "Bluetooth Bubbles" and that you can’t date a girl in Finland until you’ve sent her at least three SMS (Short Message Service) messages. Furthermore, consumers will use their mobile phones to buy "instant insurance" before traversing a snow covered Furkapass. The CEO of the country’s digital certificate agency, Swisskey, who offered this scenario, seemed genuinely hurt when the crowd burst into laughter at the thought of upping your insurance coverage rather than a; turning back or b; putting on tyre chains. Despite all the hype, the GSM-based mobile Internet service is beset by problems, volume delivery of the handsets has yet to take place and now there are apparent problems with the current version of WAP gateway software. The conference is the first of a series of events, dubbed SWAP, sponsored by Ericsson to help grow the market for its WAP, GPRS (packet data over GSM), and UMTS (third generation cellular with broadband capacity) infrastructure equipment and end user products. Ericsson’s vision of people sending digital photos, instead of picture postcards, from holiday destinations to the slightly larger than postage stamps sized screens of friends’ mobile phones was a stretch. But when queried on that, Jan van Hemert, Manager Business Development Wireless and GSM Systems, assured The Register that the majority of digital camera manufacturers are selling new models with Bluetooth built in. What really seems to make sense is the concept of location based services, exploiting either cellular network technology or GPS (global positioning system) chips built into the cellular phone. The idea of using the handy as a compass and map replacement seems to be a sure thing. More interestingly, there are dozens of other types of applications enabled if you know the location of the caller, for both consumer and corporate users. If the diversity of attendees at the Zurich event is any indication, then this next and the following generation of mobile data services will be spread across a lot more industries than current wireless data services. There were IT groups from most of Switzerland’s blue chip companies, for example, ABB, Novartis, SAir, Bank Julius Baer, Credit Suisse, UBS, and Kühne & Nagel. There were also representatives from regional hospitals, insurers, news agencies, couriers, newspapers, fixed network operators, and of course, portal owners. ®
The Register breaking news

Sony PS2 is 21 times more popular than Win2k

1.Microsoft says Windows 2000 sold a million copies in the first three weeks. But PlayStation 2 shipped a million copies in the first day. Therefore, PlayStation must be 21 times more popular than Windows 2000. Right? 2.In the PR skirmish between Microsoft and RealNetworks over the latter's licensing the former's Windows Media , there's a great (if late) riposte from RealNetworks: adding the Windows product would "enable RealJukebox to support an additional two per cent of audio programming available on the Internet." If this is true, it looks as though Microsoft's claim to be "the most used multimedia player in US households" needs examining carefully. ®
Graham Lea, 17 Mar 2000
The Register breaking news

Channel Flannel: Resellers charged with handling pirate MS goods

Time for this week's round-up of the UK channel press. Computer Reseller News Police have charged three Microsoft resellers from London with handling stolen goods. Pirated copies of Windows NT, Windows 98, Publisher and FrontPage worth £3 million were seized.
Linda Harrison, 17 Mar 2000
The Register breaking news

AMD Athlon 550 rises from the dead

System builders and distributors around the world are reporting that the AMD Athlon 550MHz processor, which many thought would disappear as the firm ramped up higher clock speeds, is once more for sale. The processor is being offered in OEM packaging to dealers at a cost of around $169, which makes it, let us say, rather competitive with Intel's range of Celeron processors. The move is part of AMD's attempt to capitalise on Intel's embarrassment over being unable to supply enough of its Coppermine Pentium III processors at a competitive price. According to distributors close to AMD and Intel's plans, the move also reflects the very aggressive pricing strategy that the smaller firm will implement in the second and third quarters of this year. Intel is reacting to the threat to its margins and has instituted programmes such as Goldarrow, which offers discounts and coop marketing rebates. Meanwhile, reports on different Web hardware sites are suggesting that AMD may be able to get an Athlon mobile processor out of the door faster than anyone suspected, perhaps as early as this summer. AMD was unavailable for comment at press time. ® See Also AMD prices set to kybosh Intel Celermine plans
Mike Magee, 17 Mar 2000
The Register breaking news

Sony may fix copy protection in mass PS2 recall

Sony may recall all PlayStation 2s shipped so far...to stop the consoles being used to play US DVDs. A Sony representative said the manufacturer was considering recalling or exchanging the one million PlayStation2's in use, Bloomberg reports. The Japanese company refused to say how much it would cost to fix the machines already shipped. As reported here earlier this week, a glitch in the much-hyped PlayStation 2 means Region 1 DVD games can be played on the Region 2 device. This breaks the global rules where DVDs are concerned, and could get Sony into hot water with filmmakers over copyright infringement. This is the second DVD-related problem found in the consoles. Sony has received more than 1,000 complaints from users regarding a memory card fault that can erase data or programs needed to play DVDs. Sony said it was investigating both problems and expected to start making glitch-free disks next week. Meanwhile, another warning for all PlayStation 2 users in the UK. According to games company sources, PlayStation 2s have been dying horrible deaths because fuses in the consoles are not compatible with the transformer used for the Japanese and US Dreamcasts. The fuse inside the console will blow up if you use this transformer.® The Register welcomes any readers' comments on which transformer can be used. Mail us here. Related stories Sony plugs US DVD PS2 grey market Sony asks buyers to return faulty PlayStation 2 MCs
Linda Harrison, 17 Mar 2000
The Register breaking news

Biggest online credit card heist leaked to MSNBC

An unknown network intruder stole details of nearly a half million credit card accounts from an e-commerce site and tauntingly stored them on a US government computer, MSNBC reports. Credit card companies notified financial institutions, but many of the compromised accounts remain open because the banks neither closed them nor notified customers of the theft, the news service says. The theft occurred over a year ago, but only a few whispers have thus far been made public. The crime is mentioned in a letter dated 27 December from Visa USA to its member financial institutions. US Secret Service spokesman Jim Macken confirmed that the incident had occurred and added a few details in an interview with MSNBC on Thursday. "This government Web administrator noticed that a lot of the memory was chewed up for no reason, so he checked and found the file," Macken said. There was no evidence that any of the cards have been used fraudulently, he added. The letter leaked to MSNBC said that authorities had not identified the thief, but Macken said investigators have since traced the criminal to Eastern Europe. The investigation is continuing and involves diplomatic contacts with the country in question, he said. The Internet retail site from which the data was stolen has also been identified, but Macken declined to name it. MSNBC originally received a copy of the letter from an employee at the Navy Federal Credit Union, quoting federal authorities saying that the credit card information including expiration dates and cardholder names and addresses was stolen from an un-named Internet retail site by an intruder. Officials at the credit union took no action to warn customers whose account numbers were among those stolen, said the whistle blower. Instead, they ordered a spot check of 50 to 100 accounts and then decided that no further action was necessary, according to the source. The source said the credit union followed the same procedure two weeks later, when Visa alerted the institution of a separate theft of data on 300,000 credit cards from the CD Universe Web site -- the biggest theft of credit card data over the Internet previously made public. "It was decided that....it would be too much of an inconvenience and too costly to shut down the accounts and issue new numbers," said the source. "It was deemed not the credit union’s responsibility." Green Wall of Silence A spokeswoman for the credit union declined to return MSNBC's calls Thursday. Calls to American Express and several banks seeking information on their response when notified of the theft also went unanswered. Scott Lynch, a spokesman for Visa USA, told MSNBC he could not comment on the case. Alicia Zatkowski, a spokeswoman for Discover Financial Services, said the firm’s fraud investigators were not aware of such a case. Vincent DeLuca, vice president of fraud control at MasterCard International, said, "We are aware of some cases but we’re not at liberty to talk about any ongoing investigations." Several financial institutions ordered the replacement of cards that were compromised in the recent CD Universe case, also currently under investigation. Such replacement programs are normally well publicised in an effort to reassure consumers, MSNBC notes. Such wholesale compromises, on the other hand, are usually kept as tightly-guarded as possible, lest customers learn how poorly their personal data is protected by most commercial Web sites. We wonder how many other such incidents have yet to be revealed. Perhaps this outrageous incident will convince our elected officials that it's time for retail Web sites to be held accountable for their blunders. The current emphasis on expanded online law-enforcement is doomed. Only a trivial number of malicious intruders will ever be caught; indeed, not a single foreign intruder known to have compromised credit card information stored on US servers ever has been. US House Commerce Committee Chairman Thomas Bliley (Republican, Virginia) summed up the US Government's Pollyannaish view of e-commerce when he called it "the goose that lays the golden eggs" during a recent Internet conference at George Mason University. But the golden goose is already shaping up as an irresponsible little honking dictator. It will only get worse if e-commerce is allowed to continue developing without accountability. E-commerce demands tax exemptions; it demands a suspension of the normal rules of customer privacy protection; it demands self-regulation and market-driven solutions to all its various follies. Then it has its under-protected servers whacked by some fifteen-year-old script kiddie, and goes whingeing to the Secret Service or the FBI. It's not merely an ethical issue; it's practical as well. The outrages will continue -- and largely in secret -- until the dot.coms are forced, like the rest of us, to pay for their mistakes. ®
Thomas C Greene, 17 Mar 2000