22nd > November > 2001 Archive

Beyond the Valley of the Polyphonic RingTones

Nokia MDCNokia MDC At Nokia's Multimedia Developer Conference in Barcelona this week, the distant rumble of 16-bit mobile phone ring tones could be heard. Nokia demonstrated a MIDI player for phones and Beatnik showed off its Audio Engine running on the Symbian-based 9210 phone, and the two share plenty in common. Beatnik's Audio Engine is something we'd very much like to see bundled with new phones, as once you've got the Engine installed you can playback XMF (extensible music format) files, which compresses audio into files about 100 times smaller than MP3. Yesterday Beatnik announced it was integrating the Audio Engine with the Symbian Media Server. XMF, which is really a wrapper format, produces such small files by starting with the original MIDI data, and the files can take advantage of instruments on the client device, as well as custom downloadable sounds and instruments. Compression gurus might consider this cheating, but you can't argue with the results: a pop song arrives at around 50k - it can be much smaller - and you can remix the song to your heart's content. Although Beatnik was the leading light behind the XMF format it's a now an open standard, and you only have to pony up $20 for the specification document. Beatnik's Audio Engine also makes life easier for games developers and lets you send little multimedia greetings cards. Thomas Dolby's company has been making consistently cool stuff for some time - some of which is very visible like the Mixman Studio software, and some of which isn't: it provides the audio system for WebTV and Liberate's set-top box. Simply finding an audio company that's willing to open its file formats, and compete honestly by making the best tools, is pretty refreshing these days. ® Related Link The XML FAQ (MIDI Association)
Andrew Orlowski, 22 Nov 2001

Man sued for venting auto-service blues on BBS

UpdatedUpdated Georgia Tech graduate student George Mantis has been sued for libel by a local Volkswagen dealership after detailing his unpleasant experience with the company's service department on a BBS at VW enthusiast Web site VWvortex. According to Mantis' original post, Cobb County, Georgia dealership Jim Ellis Motors twice accepted service appointments for minor repairs to his 2001 GTI, at the conclusion of which nothing had been done. After agreeing to leave the GTI for a third day, during which he needed transportation, Mantis says he inquired about hiring a car. Unfortunately, none were available at the time, "But my [service] advisor assured me that they have a special deal with Enterprise: $30/day for Jim Ellis customers. So it's off to Enterprise, where they never heard of such an arrangement!" And when the car was finally finished, two minor issues remained unresolved, a new glitch had mysteriously appeared, and oily handprints presented themselves for inspection on the leather upholstery, we're told. The service manager, Mantis says, went so far as to give him a hard time because he'd bought the car from another VW dealer. Not that we've ever experienced anything like this ourselves.... So after starting his thread at VWvortex entitled "Worst service ever" back in July, he recently had the pleasure of entertaining a Cobb County Sheriff's deputy bearing a warrant for him to appear in court and answer libel charges. This would be outrageous hands down if Mantis hadn't closed his original post thus: "With no other recourse, I'm seeking revenge as best I can. This is one way: telling all of you to avoid this dealership, for sales or service, like the plague." It's that unfortunate word 'revenge' we worry about. Any greenhorn corporate PR flack or political speech writer knows that the universally-accepted substitute for 'revenge' is 'justice'. See how much better it reads with the substitution. In any case, the dealership had sought a preliminary injunction barring Mantis from posting at VWvortex, but that was denied. A temporary restraining order barring him from contacting or visiting Jim Ellis Motors was granted, but Mantis says it's irrelevant as he wouldn't touch the place with a ten-foot pole in any case. The dealership is also seeking removal of the offending BBS thread and a pile of cash to ease its pain and suffering. Thus "Vortex Media" is named as a co-defendant, though the correct defendant would be Jamie Vondruska, as a ten-second Whois query reveals. Whether this error is sufficient to shield the Web site operators from collateral damage we don't yet know. So now it's off to court, where we'll eventually find out if anecdotal reports slamming car dealers are exempt from First Amendment protection, and whether Web sites should be held liable for the postings of visitors. We'll also be quite eager to learn how well the idea of suing consumers catches on in customer relations circles. Update As of Wednesday night, Jim Ellis Motors has invited Mantis and his lawyer to negotiate a settlement. Because of the quaint American turkey festival going on at the moment, it may be several days before we learn if this will avert a civil trial. Mantis says that if he can avoid one, he's inclined to donate the contents of his legal defence fund to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). The relevant post is on page 22 of the incredibly long thread he started four months ago. ®
Thomas C Greene, 22 Nov 2001

Security: the enemy within

Senior managers are ignoring the internal risks to their computer systems, thinking instead that the biggest threats come from outsiders, says KPMG. KPMG surveyed more than 1,200 IT directors and senior managers from some of the world's largest organisations, and found that 79 per cent believed that a security breach to one of their e-commerce systems would be the result of an external force. KMPG's stud yhighlights a string of misconceptions and, in some cases ignorance, that may contribute to the security problem within organisations. The majority of security breaches are caused by members of staff - and it seems strange that IT directors are unaware of this. The study also found that only 35 per cent of the organisations polled regularly run security audits; and only 22 per cent have 'forensic response experts' - whatever they are. There is still a huge reluctance to report security breaches because of the damage it can do to the organisation - 72 per cent say this is their main worry. One trend is important - 62 per cent of the organisations polled say that they always run checks when hiring IT staff. The attacks, despite the security precautions of even the largest organisations, carry on regardless. Nine per cent say they have been attacked in the last twelve months. Unsurprisingly, 83 per cent of victims did not take legal action. Companies should overcome their embarrassment and call in the police when rogue IT staff steal from them or sabotage their systems. In this way internal security breaches may be demoted from epidemic to occasional unfortunate outbreak. © IT-Analysis.com. All rights reserved.
IT-Analysis, 22 Nov 2001

Small WinXP sales boom – not many sold

News is filtering out of what must surely be one of the smallest sales booms ever - Microsoft, it would appear, has run out of Additional Family License packs for Windows XP. Microsoft, to its slight credit, doesn't seem to be making a big thing of this; it is merely telling the scribes that it made an unspecified estimate of how many of these things would be sold in the first 90 days, and that demand has far exceeded expectations. Naturally that won't stop some of them hollering that the packs have turned out to be a huge hit, but frankly, we have our doubts. The deal for the packs, such as it is, is that if you buy a full copy of XP you can buy additional XP licences for a small discount. The intention here is to offer at least something to the people who used to buy a single upgrade pack at retail then put the software on several machines. This has always been a breach of Microsoft's licensing agreements, but it's one of those things that tends to fall into the 'not really stealing' category, as far as Harry Homeowner is concerned. WPA is at least in part designed to do a better job of getting over the message to Harry that it is really stealing. Some Harries will surely find themselves sufficiently defeated by the protection technology to stop stealing, others will grab whatever WPA circumvention routines they can and do multi-installs anyway, but at least they'll be a little more conscious of the legal aspect. If they consider that, uh, it might be kind of stealing but... Well, Microsoft's anti-piracy team will no doubt see it as an improvement. The Family License procedure is sort of intended to provide a mechanism for former arch-criminals to legitimise themselves by actually having a proper licence for each and every machine running XP. It is not, however, what you'd call a steal (we phrased that one badly, didn't we?). You get a discount in the region of $10 on extra licences, so if you're putting the software on two machines, instead of paying double you're paying double minus $10. As you're dealing with full copies here, then you're paying more than you would if either or both of the machines had an upgrade-qualifying MS operating system on it already, because you could then buy two copies of the cheaper XP upgrade version. So actually, it's really extremely difficult to figure out why anybody would spend money on the Family License pack. Microsoft's sales teams might be barracudas, but they're not stupid, so we can surely presume that the number of these things they expected to sell in the first 90 days was low, very, very, low indeed. On the other hand, you say, if they've run out, somebody must have bought some? Well, maybe not exactly. Microsoft's retail "sales" numbers are badly fuzzed by the fact that the company knows what it's shipped to retail outlets, but not what the retail outlets have sold. It's therefore conceivable that retailers have ordered sufficient additional licence packs to clear the Microsoft end of the channel, but that these are now destined to sit in the warehouses unsold, for a long, long time. As a reality check, The Register this morning attempted to buy some, via a couple of UK online retailers, and via Microsoft itself. We couldn't actually find any mention of the things on any of these, far less check the stock situation, but no doubt we weren't looking hard enough. We did notice that the UK retailers were reporting loads of copies of XP being available. On a related topic NPD Intelect, which you'll recall came up with some supporting data for early XP retail sales, now reports that PC sales stayed flat in XP's first week, and rose only 1 per cent the week after that. This indicates that XP, as we've been arguing for some time, is not going to have any effect in fueling a happy holiday season. ® Related stories: Huge Windows XP sales save the world
John Lettice, 22 Nov 2001

Emachines sells itself to founder

Budget PC maker eMachines has agreed to a $161 million buyout offer from EM Holdings. At the centre of the deal is Lap Shun "John" Hui, a founder and director of eMachines, and sole owner of EM Holdings. At $1.06 per share, the offer is 36 per cent higher than an earlier proposal tabled by Hui. The deal as constructed by EM Holdings will see a seamless transfer on current retail distribution, technical support and existing warranties. Existing management, including president and chief executive Wayne Inouye, will be retained. eMachines last year awarded exclusive European representation rights to Dixons Stores Group, and solus retail rights in countries where the electronics retail giant operated. The company has never been profitable - as of September 29, it had racked up losses of $301.1 million - but executives recently told analysts that it hopes to break even or report a small profit at the end of the year. In May it was delisted from the Nasdaq, as its share fell below the one dollar level. This came shortly after the company pegged a 'for sale' sign on itself and shed 16 per cent of its staff. eMachines is Korean-owned but based in America. It sells PCs as cheap as they come, building huge market share in 1999 through deals with MSN and others which saw customers receive PCs as part of bundled ISP contracts. Since the end of those deals sales have fallen by half. In October 2000, the company announced plans to cut PC manufacture by 20 per cent, in advance of the Christmas season. In retrospect that was probably the wisest call on the market of any US PC maker - even though it was prompted more by financial exigencies than by an ability to read a crystal ball. It sold 311,000 units in Q4 2000, down 49 percent from the fourth quarter of 1999. In an October IDG.net user survey tracking reliability and service, EMachines was rated 'poor' for its service on home PCs. The deal is contingent on shareholder approval. ® Related Stories eMachines loses Nasdaq listing eMachines looks for buyer Related Link eMachines Press Release
James Watson, 22 Nov 2001

One2One cuts 900 jobs

Mobile operator One2One is to make 900 UK staff (out of 7,000) redundant, citing a slowdown in the market. The staff cuts include voluntary and involuntary redundancies but apart from that, the company is giving previous little information about where the cuts will be, what the terms of redundancy are and the amount it expects to save from the measure. Here is the internal One2One memo sent to staff and leaked to us today. One2One confirms the memo is genuine. The company says the job cuts are not a cost-saving plan but simply a "refocussing of resources". Last month, competitor Vodafone announced redundancies for 650 UK staff. And mmO2 is also cutting jobs across Europe. One2One will soon change its name to T-Mobile to tie in with its parent company's mobile arm across Europe. ®
Kieren McCarthy, 22 Nov 2001

Boltblue adopts NTL orphans

Mobile portal Boltblue is to adopt 90,000 NTL's non-cable ISP customers from the end of the month. It was feared that the customers would be left orphaned with no ISP after the cableco's pledge to support the former Cable & Wireless Communications (CWC) customers expires on November 30. Last year NTL acquired the retail cable business of CWC but "technical reasons" meant that not all these could be migrated to the NTL service. In September, NTL caused an uproar when it wrote to these customers explaining that the service would be terminated at the end of November. Now, though, Boltblue has stepped in to offer a service for some 90,000 customers. Said Michael Brown, CEO of Boltblue: "We have set up the smoothest possible transition: no change in password or email address will be required." The result should be that customers see no change in their service. ® Related Story NTL terminates Net access for CWC customers
Tim Richardson, 22 Nov 2001

My debt is my telco bond

France Telecom and KPN Telecom are issuing bonds to cut massive debt. France Telecom has gone for a record-breaking £2.2 billion convertible bond offer, taking advantage of what it says are "favourable market conditions" and bringing its convertible debt up to £3.9 billion. KPN Telecom has gone for a £3.1 billion rights issue. Both deals have hit the companies' share price - France Telecom was down seven per cent and KPN Telecom down 17 per cent. A similar thing happened when British Telecom resolved to cut its debt in June with a £5.9 billion rights issue. The two companies are among the most indebted in the world, thanks to the huge cost of 3G licences and the slump in the telecoms market - France Telecom owes just over £40 billion and KPN just under £14 billion. And they join just about every major European telco in having to come up with debt reduction policies as operating losses and credit downgrades make the cost of holding debt even harsher. ® Related Stories BT share issue off and running Deutsche Telekom soothes market with debt reduction plan
Kieren McCarthy, 22 Nov 2001

Tiny subbie reins in Scots ops

Contract computer assembler Fullarton Computer Industries, responsible for putting together Tiny's PCs and notebooks, will cut 250 jobs, nearly 36 per cent of its 700-strong Scottish workforce, by the end of the year. Workers are furious because the company revealed that any growth in orders will be fulfilled by temporary staff, rather than rehired permanent workers, says Scotland's Daily Record. Tiny this month moved its line of business-targeted machines to the assembler. The professional series, which includes PCs and notebooks, represents about 15 per cent of Tiny's business. A spokeswoman for Tiny says the assembler's decisions will have no effect on the computer retailer as it has agreed delivery and service levels that must be met. In August, Tiny moved its manufacturing facilities from China to Scotland, signing a five-year deal with Fullarton worth £200 million. Tiny said the move would allow it to react faster to market changes and lower its production costs. Globally, Fullarton employs more than 4000 people and includes Compaq, IBM, HP and Xerox on its customer list. A notice on Fullarton's site says it is a "people business ... the company has grown strong on a commitment to staff development". Executives at the company declined to speak to The Reg. ® Related Stories Tiny does cellphones Tiny goes on customer service offensive Tiny goes large
James Watson, 22 Nov 2001
SGI logo hardware close-up

Nokia takes charge at Symbian

Decoding mobile telecoms announcements has often required the skills of a Kremlinologist: working out who's up and who's down from dress details in the annual Politburo photograph. During negotiations to set the 3G standard a few years ago, the warring parties fired long-range press releases at each other, indicated shifting loyalties with the most arcane announcements about voltages. We'd barely finished parsing Nokia's Comdex announcements when we noticed that Symbian has a new-look mission statement, the first change to the text since mid-1998 when the company was founded. It isn't a ground-up rewrite, but it is subtly different, and provides a context for the platform pitch Nokia's CEO Jorma Ollila made at Comdex and re-emphasised in Barcelona this week. Fishing the old Symbian mission statement out of Google's cache shows what's changed. Gone is the primary mission "to set the standard for mobile wireless operating systems". Gone too is the "Evangelizing standards" promise. In its place, the new mission statement begins: "Symbian is a software licensing company, owned by wireless industry leaders, that is the trusted supplier of the advanced, open, standard operating system - Symbian OS - for data-enabled mobile phones." Which is a lot clearer, at least. References to "wireless information devices" have been replaced by "phones", so everybody knows what they're talking about. This is significant when Wintel's idea of a wireless information device is something running a flavour of 802.11 wireless Ethernet. Instant Message But companies don't usually change their mission statements unless there's an accompanying strategy shift, do they? "The mission hasn't changed," Symbian's communications chief Paul Cockerton tells us. "Nokia is working very hard to attract developers to the Symbian platform, and we're going after licensees and technology partners too: with the networks such as Vodafone and Orange." But isn't Nokia now performing much of the evangelising role that dropped out of Symbian's mission statement this week? "Nokia are a very prominent brand," says Cockerton. Symbian has no bones to pick with its shareholders if the message is "appropriate". Symbian was and is in the OS business, so there's no change there. While Nokia, Matsuishita, Sony-Ericsson, Motorola and Psion have roughly equal stakes, the Finns are leading from the front: "Nokia has definitely taken charge," says Nomura analyst Keith Woolcock. "They'll take Symbian and run with it." Which makes sense, he figures. "If you look at the industry now, only Nokia is making profits - it's the ubermensch." With Symbian still collecting $5 for every phone, it's probably not going to mind too much about Nokia taking the credit. However the Finnish company's increased profile is bound to increase tensions with the other Symbian shareholders, thinks Canalys analyst Chris Jones. "Nokia is flexing its muscles. There's no doubting its commitment to Symbian, but the question is its involvement as a level pegging shareholder with the other co-founders. The others may do something themselves or pull back their involvement." Psion CEO David Levin last week rated the prospect of Psion selling its stake as likely - but for financial, rather than political reasons. Last week's platform initiative by Nokia - with the backing of 20 carriers and handset rivals it will license the source code to everything except the air interfaces from the base OS North - was a momentous announcement, reckons Woolcock. "You can license the air interfaces from Motorola or Ericsson or others, and the middleware and UI from Nokia. Add in an OS of your own or Symbian, and you have everything you need to make an advanced Nokia smartphone." Headless Ah, the UI. In Barcelona this week at the launch of the Nokia 7650 phone, Nokia referred to the Series 60 user interface. The 7650 is a Symbian Pearl phone, but Pearl was always "headless" in terms of leaving the UI to licensees, says Cockerton - so don't read too much into that. However, things seem to be moving on from the three family reference designs, or DFRDs (Device Family Reference Designs), which have been canned. Sources at one Symbian licensee tell us that the company's as-yet unannounced smartphone follows neither the Crystal, Quartz or Pearl designs, although it's very much based around the core Symbian OS. Licensees prefer dining a la carte, rather than paying for a set menu. Cockerton says the DFRDs are still current, but our money is on this line being one of these things that doesn't change, until it does. A bit like a mission statement. You'll notice we haven't mentioned The Beast yet. That's part of the bigger picture which we'll follow-up with in a sequel. Coming soon. ® External Links New Look Symbian mission statement ...and here's one we wrote earlier (Google) Related Stories Nokia touts Sony alliance, licenses phone apps Nokia 7650: smart phone, shame about the price
Andrew Orlowski, 22 Nov 2001

Bridge offers UK satellite broadband service

UK businesses can now get broadband services over satellite following the launch of a commercially available service from Bridge Broadband. Aimed specifically at small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and home workers, the service has been launched in tandem with Hughes Network, part of the giant Hughes Electronics Corporation. Bridge Broadband - part of IT and communications outfit Flexia Plc - pulls no punches when it discusses the benefits of its service. Taking aim at the lack of availability of ADSL services, Bridge Broadband claims the service will be a lifeline for those businesses outside major metropolitan areas where access to a broadband services is limited. With the continuing lack of ADSL penetration, Bridge Broadband is the only immediately available solution for SMEs and home workers across most of the UK, the company said in press statement. Said Steve Smith, co-founder and managing partner of Bridge Broadband: "Until now, the UK's small businesses have been poorly served when it comes to broadband Internet connectivity. "And this situation is not about to get any better for businesses waiting for an ADSL service," he said. Bridge Broadband is offering four different service levels. Among them, the Enterprise service for SMEs offers a down path of 512Kbps with a 128 Kbps return and is priced at £269 per month (excluding VAT) The SoHo service for home workers also offers a 512 Kbps down path with a 128 Kbps return and is priced at £159 per month (excluding VAT). Both tariffs include installation and maintenance. Bridge Broadband hopes to attract around 5,000 customers in its first year. Earlier this month BTopenworld published the pricing details for its Business Satellite 500/1 service will allow a user to connect a single PC to the service. Currently undergoing trials in Scotland and Northern Ireland the service costs £69.99 a month plus a whopping one-off connection charge of £899 (prices are exclusive of VAT). Tiscali - which was due to introduce a satellite-based broadband service in the UK this year - has delayed the roll-out until next year. ® Related Stories Tiscali UK delays broadband satellite roll-out until 2002 BTopenworld charges £900 for satellite broadband service
Tim Richardson, 22 Nov 2001

Judge postpones Hynix Rambus patent suit

A US District Court has postponed a patent infringement lawsuit filed by embattled memory-maker Hynix against Rambus. The court indicated that Hynix's case may be postponed indefinitely pending resolution of Rambus' appeal to the US Federal Circuit regarding its case against Infineon, as the two cases cover mutual territory. In May, a similar case involving Micron was delayed until October so that a resolution with the Infineon lawsuit could be found. In September Rambus requested the case be delayed until 2003. Rambus is currently appealing a number of rulings in the Federal Circuit, which it says have an, "erroneous jury instruction," and that the patent claim rulings are, "overly narrow, misconstrue Rambus' patents, and ignore well-settled law". The memory designer has battled Infineon for a long time in US courts - mostly on the losing end. It originally bought 57 patent infringements against the German memory maker, which were all dismissed by the court in June. Following that decision, the court found Rambus guilty of fraud regarding its means of filing patents for its high-speed memory technology. It awarded Infineon $3.5 million in punitive damages, which was later reduced to £350,000 due to Virginia state law restrictions on damages. In August, the ruling was changed, declaring that Rambus was guilty on SDRAM, but not on DDR SDRAM, paving the way for a new round of legal bouts. In the same ruling, Rambus got caned with a $7.12 million fine that it had to pay Infineon for legal fees. The saga continues. ® Related Stories Rambus must pay Infineon $7.12 million Rambus seeks 18-month Micron trial delay Infineon lets Rambus retain SDRAM patents Rambus damns fraud trial as a 'miscarriage of justice' Infineon damages slashed Guilty! Rambus committed fraud Rambus loses patent fight Rambus, Micron SDRAM patent trial delayed
James Watson, 22 Nov 2001

One2One internal memo on job cuts

An internal memo, leaked to us, spells out the full details of the One2One job cuts announced today. There will be 915 redundancies against the 900 widely quoted and they will be across the board. These split into: 266 from Commercial and Corporate, 215 from Technology and Information Services , 434 from Customer Services. The email, sent to all One2One staff, explains: "The Business Review has highlighted a number of changes the organisation will need to take... It was proposed that there would be an overall reduction in the headcount, comprising voluntary redundancy, reduction in temporary and contract staff, natural attrition and compulsory redundancy." Discussion over which staff will go will take 90 days and "within that period, roles which have been identified for redundancy will be highlighted and communication will begin with those individuals affected, decision reached and implementation commenced". It ends: "I realise that this has been a period of uncertainty for many within One 2 One but it is my responsibility to ensure the future success of our company and all those involved. We will take every step to accelerate the process while being sensitive to the impact this whole review will have on certain individuals. My commitment is to keep you well informed as we progress towards the Review's conclusion." The email was sent out by Harris Jones, One2One's managing director. A One2One spokeswoman confirmed the email was genuine. ®
Kieren McCarthy, 22 Nov 2001

3A security software to boom

The European market for administration, authorisation and authentication (3A) security software will grow from $742 million in 2000 to $2.4 billion in 2005, an annual increase of 27 per cent. This trio of software technologies are key tools for enabling online transactions and expanding customer bases in ebusinesses. This makes the sector both the largest and fastest growing segment of the security software market, outpacing both the firewall and antivirus software sectors, according to a new IDC report. Within the 3A market, Web single sign-on and email scanning software will experience the highest growth rates (61 and 45 per cent, respectively). The report lists the leading software vendors vying for Europe's business in this sector (and their primary product): IBM-Tivoli (SecureWay) Computer Associates (ACF2 and Top Secret) Ubizen (MultiSecure) RSA (SecurID) Evidian, Groupe Bull (AccessMaster) Baltimore Technologies (MIMEsweeper) HP (VirtualVault) Symantec (Ghost) Internet Security Systems (RealSecure) SurfControl (SuperScout) Utimaco (SafeGuard) Netegrity (SiteMinder) Market leader IBM-Tivoli focuses on authorisation, while CA is traditionally strong in the mainframe and Unix environments. Belgian-based Ubizen, RSA Security and France's Evidian make up the balance of the top five vendors in the region. ® Related Stories Security: the enemy within Personal firewalls are 'futile'
James Watson, 22 Nov 2001

ElcomSoft shies away from Black Hat Europe

Black Hat EuropeBlack Hat Europe ElcomSoft, the Russian employer of Dimitri Sklyarov, has cancelled its planned participation in the Black Hat Europe hacking conference, on legal advice. Sklyarov who helped develop the Advance eBook Processor (an app which busts the access controls on Adobe's eBook reader) was charged in August with five counts of copyright violation under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). In a statement announcing its withdrawal from Europe 2001 Black Hat, ElcomSoft said its first priority has to be its legal defence while charges are pending against the company and its employee. The fear is that if ElcomSoft were to make a presentation discussing the flaws in digital rights management software, which are the subject of the case against it, this would inflame an already difficult situation. Sklyarov was arrested and slung into jail in July following a court case instigated by Adobe. The California software company pulled the legal trigger in response to a presentation made by the Russian programmer pointing out the shortcomings of eBook security at this year's Defcon conference in Las Vegas. Adobe attracted huge opprobrium for its actions, and in the face of a self-inflicted public relations nightmare, quickly withdrew support for prosecution. However, the Department of Justice took the reins. Sklyarov is currently out on bail, pending trial. ElcomSoft say it regrets the effect the case against it and Sklyarov, which has become a cause celebre among white hat hackers, has had on security research. It looks forward to its participation in future conferences, once the case is behind it. The Russian firm remains dedicated to clearing its name through the legal system. ®
John Leyden, 22 Nov 2001

SecurityFocus finds new DDoS tool

SecurityFocus has identified a new hybrid tool that combines distributed denial of service (DDoS) tools, with the automated propagation techniques previously seen only in worms. On 20 November, at approximately 4 AM PST, SecurityFocus ARIS Incident Analysts identified a rapidly growing network of controlled agents or "bots", increasing 600% in the last 6 hours, which can be used to launch a DDoS attack. The tool is propagated through incorrectly configured Microsoft SQL server systems by scanning the System Administrator accounts that contain a password specified by the attacker. SecurityFocus recommendations: Verify that the System Administrator "sa" account does not have a blank password if running Microsoft SQL server. Use a firewall to block port 1433. The tool named "Voyager Alpha Force," a modified and enhanced version of the DDoS tool, Kaiten, is human controlled through Internet Relay Chat (IRC) communications by connecting to an IRC server and joining a password-protected channel. An attacker is effectively able to control a large number of agents residing on compromised hosts, by issuing commands that would initiate a DDoS attack or cause the program to continue propagating. SecurityFocus ARIS and SIA premium customers received early warning as part of their service. Additional information about the DDoS Tool can be found here. © 2001 SecurityFocus.com, all rights reserved.
Elias Levy, 22 Nov 2001

Sun ‘defies gravity’ with USIII benchmark

Sun's spectacular benchmarks for its first 1GHz chip may be just too stellar. The 1050 MHz UltraSPARC III was officially announced this week, and along with it the SPEC benchmarks. One of these, a floating point neural network simulation benchmark (art.179) is truly remarkable, as the graph here illustrates. As the regulars point out at comp.arch this is five times faster than the fastest Alpha chip, more than three times faster than the 900Mhz UltraSPARC predecessor, and 20 times faster than the speediest Athlon or P4. There's some speculation about whether this is due to an extraordinary compiler optimisation, or whether Sun has achieved the CPU equivalent of cold fusion. And the answer? Well it should go in this space here. Unfortunately, the good people at Sun are like the rest of United States, tucking into a Thanksgiving Turkey. After which they can tuck into this turkey of a benchmark. We'll keep you posted. ® Related Stories Sun takes UltraSPARC past 1GHz Sun declares war on TPC benchmarks HP looks beyond Superdome 'sabotage' Worker 'rigged' HP Superdome benchmarks
Andrew Orlowski, 22 Nov 2001

Fasthosts email system collapses

Fasthosts, The UK's largest web hosting company, has had a complete email failure, leaving hundreds of companies which run their Web sites on its servers fuming. One in particular, Skyco International Food Club - a company which specialises in American food - says it has lost thousands of pounds worth of orders over Thanksgiving, its busiest time of the year. Problems with Fasthosts customers started at the weekend and were unresolved at time of writing. The Web sites are still up and email can be sent from accounts but none are being received. We spoke to a director of Sodaweb, Nick Slack, who has around 50 clients running on Fasthosts servers and he told us that he called the company first thing on Monday, having received hundreds of emails over the weekend. "I eventually got through after an hour and a half, and was told they didn't know what wrong but would be back as soon as possible - at least within 24 hours," he told us. "But that was on Monday and I've heard nothing. When I called just now, I was number 26 in the queue. This is not a good use of my time." We had no more luck either. Eventually we got through to the company and were told that the managing director Andrew Michael was on holiday this week and the marketing director Phil Doherty had already left the office. No one else was qualified to talk about the situation, we were told. Fasthosts suffered a similar meltdown in May. Then, all email was put out for 36 hours and at a cost of £400,000, according to Mr Michael. With email down for at least four days this time, the cost could be much higher. In May, Fasthosts put the blame on BT, saying a routing software bug or a denial of service attack at BT's Reading exchange may be to blame. BT denied any responsibility. When we spoke to BT this morning, a spokesman told us that the company had heard nothing about Fasthosts current problem. ® Related Stories Fasthosts outage outrage Fasthosts redundancy redundant
Kieren McCarthy, 22 Nov 2001