1st > September > 2003 Archive

We are all time wasters now

One in three small business owners and managers are setting a bad example to their workforce by wasting time on the internet and sending humorous emails rather than working. The new survey, by Bibby Financial Services, reveals that 34 per cent of company bosses admitted to browsing various websites for their own entertainment and sending jokes and social messages by email during work hours. Owners and managers in the Greater London area were the biggest time wasters, with 53 per cent owning up to surfing the Internet for pleasure rather than getting on with their job. East Midlands bosses are the best behaved in the UK, with just 11 per cent owning up to Net time-wasting. Bibby's survey comes in the wake of recent efforts by many firms to clampdown on excessive Internet use. An estimated 231 million working hours a week are lost lost due to workers surfing the web or sending emails to friends. A recent government report states that this lost time costs the British economy a massive £158 billion a year, with the average worker wasting two hours 45 minutes a day. Bibby’s research also found that 30 per cent of business bosses admit to switching off their mobile phone to avoid taking an incoming call, with those working in agriculture the biggest offenders – nearly half of farmers and their workers reach for the off switch when faced with a tricky call. Technology has also become a convenient scapegoat for many managers, with 13 per cent of those quizzed admitting to shifting the blame for poor performance onto ‘missed’ emails or mobiles that suddenly lose reception. According to David Robertson, chief executive of Bibby, these findings beg the question of whether technology is, on the whole, a help or a hindrance to the UK business sector. “Many firms are losing precious working hours as a result of email abuse and it would appear that business owners and managers, like their employees are not immune to the lure of the worldwide web. “That said, information technology has revolutionised the way in which firms do business and owners and managers, if they are to meet the demands of their customers and suppliers and keep pace with the competition, need to fully embrace the opportunities that the information superhighway brings them,” he said. Copyright © 2003,
Startups.co.uk, 01 Sep 2003

Hacking by subpoena ruled illegal

Issuing an egregiously overbroad subpoena for stored e-mail qualifies as a computer intrusion in violation of anti-hacking laws, a federal appeals court ruled Thursday, deciding a case in which a litigant in a civil matter subpoenaed every single piece of e-mail his courtroom adversary sent or received. Alwyn Farey-Jones was embroiled in commercial litigation with two officers of Integrated Capital Associates (ICA) when he instructed his attorney, Iryna Kwasny, to send a subpoena to the company's Internet service provider -- California-based NetGate. Under federal civil rules, a litigant can issue such a subpoena without prior approval from the court, but is required to "take reasonable steps to avoid imposing undue burden or expense" on the recipient. "One might have thought, then, that the subpoena would request only e-mail related to the subject matter of the litigation, or maybe messages sent during some relevant time period, or at the very least those sent to or from employees in some way connected to the litigation," reads the decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. "But Kwasny ordered production of '[a]ll copies of emails sent or received by anyone' at ICA, with no limitation as to time or scope." By the time ICA learned of the subpoena, NetGate had already provided Farey-Jones with a sample of 339 e-mails from ICA officers and employees -- most of them unrelated to the matter under litigation, and many of them privileged or personal. When ICA found out, they quickly got the subpoena quashed. An outraged district court magistrate termed the subpoena "massively overbroad" and "patently unlawful," and hit Farey-Jones with over $9,000 in sanctions. The ICA officers and employees whose e-mail was accessed went on to sue Farey-Jones and his attorney under the civil provisions of three federal privacy and computer protection laws, but a federal judge threw out the lawsuit. On Thursday, the Ninth Circuit partially reversed that ruling, finding that the subpoena didn't violate federal wiretap law, but could constitute a violation of the Stored Communications Act and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act -- both of which outlaw unauthorized access to computers and stored e-mail. The three-judge panel rejected a defense argument that the e-mail access was "authorized" by NetGate's failure to challenge the subpoena. "Allowing consent procured by known mistake to serve as a defense would seriously impair the statute's operation," the court wrote. "A hacker could use someone else's password to break into a mail server and then claim the server 'authorized' his access. Congress surely did not intend to exempt such intrusions -- indeed, they seem the paradigm of what it sought to prohibit." Although the ruling addressed a civil suite, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act includes criminal penalties, and is the most common weapon for prosecutors in federal computer crime cases. That means civil attorneys issuing overbroad subpoenas -- not an uncommon event -- now risk lawsuits, and even potential criminal prosecution as computer intruders. The ruling got a mixed reaction from Internet law experts. "To equate an overbroad subpoena to breaking in is outrageous," says Mark Rasch, an attorney and former Justice Department cybercrime prosecutor. "The real crime here is the ISP getting the subpoena didn't contact the customer immediately and say, 'what do you want to do?' Every subpoena is overbroad. It's the responsibility of the party receiving the subpoena to try and narrow it." A NetGate spokesperson said no one was available to comment on the case late Friday. Stanford University cyberlaw expert Jennifer Granick says the ruling is good for online privacy, but that it spotlights serious problems in the federal computer crime law. "I like privacy, but I'm more concerned about the breadth of the criminal law," says Granick. "The language 'unauthorized access' is really vague. Here the defendant never even touched a computer, except to perhaps print out the subpoena." Cindy Cohn, legal director at the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation, says she's bothered by one aspect of the ruling: the court found that you don't have to own or operate a computer that's been improperly accessed in order to sue under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act -- you need only have been harmed by the intrusion. "I think it could be troubling for people who are poking around on the Internet and stumble into something," says Cohn. "This widens the community of people who can complain they've been hurt by what you did." But Cohn is pleased by the court's crackdown on subpoena-aided fishing expeditions, and says EFF plans to cite the case in arguments against the Recording Industry Association of America, which has begun subpoenaing ISPs to identify file traders. "It's going to be pretty useful to us," says Cohn. "It buttresses the idea that you have a serious level of responsibility in issuing these legal instruments." Copyright © 2003,
Kevin Poulsen, 01 Sep 2003

Motorola picks Linux for phone of the future

The fact that Motorola is selling its stake in Symbian (the corporation) doesn't mean that Motorola is stopping selling Symbian (the software) in its phones. But it does mean that Motorola thinks the future in phone software is elsewhere. Linux, to be precise. The company will be carrying on with its licensing of Symbian, with a Symbian-based 3G phone, the A920, shipping in the next weeks into the UK. But the Chinese Government's focus is on Linux, and they expect to see Linux as the operating system in everything. Not only is China potentially, the world's largest mobile phone market, but it's also where most phones are built. Even more significantly, it's where the next generation of all mobile devices will be based, thinks Motorola; a small empire called Linux, China will rule the world. Back in July, the "Open PDA" was announced as a joint venture, by Motorola and Metrowerks - a software tool maker which Motorola owns - for the i.MX1 microprocessor. Open PDA is a development solution based on Linux, "for the creation of next generation wireless devices". "The platform and silicon combine to help developers significantly shorten design cycles and speed time to market," Motorola said at the time, failing to mention the low royalty fees involved. "The OpenPDA Development Studio for the Motorola i.MX1 eliminates the need for manual integration of the kernel, device drivers, applications and middleware required for the creation of wireless devices," said the July announcement. The processor is yet another ARM derivative, already a player in the PDA market. But if the partnership with the Chinese Government takes off, the OpenPDA could take over from both PocketPC and Palm. Right now, Motorola is sticking to the one universal platform - Java - which runs on all existing phones and PDAs, whatever OS - and that's the angle the corporate publicity spin suggests. It's true: in February, Motorola announced its first Linux-powered handset, which uses Java technology. It has done a deal with Microsoft, though no phone has appeared yet - but when it does, it will support Java apps. And it is carrying on with the Java-supporting Symbian phone range. But what matters, is Linux. The deal with Symbian is simple enough; Motorola owns nearly 20 per cent, and Nokia is expected to buy the majority of that, while Psion, the parent of Symbian, will buy the rest. ® Copyright © 2003, NewsWireless.Net Related Stories Motorola sells Symbian stake to Nokia, Psion Motorola launches first Linux smartphone
Guy Kewney, 01 Sep 2003

France Telecom mops up the Orange minorities

France Telecom today confirmed its intention to buy out minority shareholders in Orange. It is offering €7.1bn in new shares and treasury shares in France Telecom. The telco notes that this represents a premium of 21 per cent on Orange's average price over the last three months - but swapping shares in a mobile network operator for a debt-laden fixed line operator - may seem less than attractive to many. France Telecom is not in a position to offer much in the way of money, as it owes too much already. As of July 31, net debt stood at € 49.3bn, down €18bn on December 31, 2002. By gaining full control of Orange, France Telecom also gains access to Orange's free cash flow and - soon-ish - net profitability. Orange will continue to run as a standalone business, according to reports. France Telecom is itself back in the black. Today it revealed that net profit for the first half of 2003 was €2.5bn, against a loss of €12.2bn a year ago. At some point, we infer, France Telecom will also seek to buy out minority shareholders in Wanadoo, its Internet unit. But the company told Reuters today that this is not currently on its agenda. ®
Drew Cullen, 01 Sep 2003

AOL and Dixons confirm ISP distie deal

It's been confirmed that Freeserve is to lose its favoured place in Dixons' stores trumped by rivals AOL UK. Financial details surrounding the deal were not disclosed although some sources claim it will cost AOL around £100 million for the privilege of flogging its ISP services in Dixons' stores. AOL will become the preferred ISP to Dixons customers through the retailer's 1,100 PC World, Dixons, Currys and The Link stores in the UK. The agreement will also enable AOL to be preloaded on all Dixons own-brand PCs. AOL's narrowband products will be plugged in Dixons' stores from February 2004. AOL's broadband product will replace Freeserve's ADSL offering on the shelves from February 2005. Predictably, AOL is pitching today's announcement as a brilliant deal. Freeserve's take on it is somewhat different. Essentially, it claims that it has decided "not to renew its…distribution agreements". In fact, had it been forced to match AOL's cash offer (estimated to be anywhere between £10 million and £100 million depending on who you speak to) it might have affected Freeserve's stated aim of "reaching profitability in 2004". Either way, Freeserve insists that it has been "steadily reducing its reliance on Dixons for customer sign-ups" - so the loss of this potentially marketing deal is not an issue. Said Freeserve chief exec Eric Abensur: "We have been prepared for the possibility of a non-renewal of the Dixons contract for some time. Over the past two years a major part of our efforts have focused on diversifying our distribution channels across the UK, both offline and online." ® Related Stories BT admits distribution talks with Dixons Dixons and Freeserve deny split
Tim Richardson, 01 Sep 2003

Intel to base convergence efforts in Asia-Pacific

Intel chief Craig Barrett rounded off his trip to the Far East last week by promising that the company will set up an R&D centre in South Korea. That's in addition to the R&D facility it's planning to establish in Taiwan, announced exactly a week ago, and the joint R&D project it's partnering with Chinese PC maker Legend on, also announced last week. The South Korean centre will specialise in wireless networking for the home, and processor technology for consumer electronics and wireless systems, local government officials said, according to the Korea Herald. Wireless is also one of the Taiwanese centre's areas of specialisation, while building links between consumer electronics and PCs via WLANs is the core role of the Legend initiative. In each case, there's a clear focus on the convergence of computing and consumer electronics in the home, with the Internet and wireless networking providing the glue that binds these systems together. That concept has been a keynote of Barrett's visit to the region, which not only contributes around 40 per cent of Intel's revenue but manufacturers almost all of the electronic goods that end up in the world's homes. So far the South Korea centre exists solely as a concept - details are expected to be finalised in October, the paper said. Apparently, South Korea's President Roh asked Intel to establish a research center in Korea when he visited the US in May, so the details to be worked out will undoubtedly focus in part on how much the South Korean government will subsidise the centre. ® Related Stories Intel's signs R&D deal with China's Legend Intel adds $375m to Asia-Pacific investment tally
Tony Smith, 01 Sep 2003

Palm issues, sells shares for $19.1m

Palm sold $19.1 million worth of shares on Friday, just a week after offloading $18 million. In both cases, Palm sold 1.2 million shares - all of them freshly issued common stock - in the first instance at $15 a pop to a single unnamed institutional investor, and this time round at a price of $15.90 per share to a number of unnamed institutional investors. Both prices attracted a "nominal" volume discount over their respected 15- and ten-day volume-weighted average prices. The proceeds of both sales go to Palm's Solutions Group, to be renamed PalmOne when the OS group, PalmSource, becomes an independent company later this quarter. ®
Tony Smith, 01 Sep 2003

US software sales start picking up

Encouraging signs for software sales Monday 1st September 2003 Times have been bad for many businesses recently, but the enterprise software sector has been especially hard hit, writes Fran Howarth of Bloor Research. A large part of the reason why the sector has fared worse than might have been expected is that so many companies have had bad experiences implementing technology such as enterprise resource planning systems. Other business applications implementations have also caught out companies - not only is this technology complicated to implement, but integration and customisation needs add greatly to the time and cost involved in a project. As a result, enterprise application vendors have closed fewer sales; these sales have taken longer to close than previously and are smaller generally than deals of recent years. Companies have reacted to the downturn and to the problem of runaway projects by choosing to implement point solutions for areas of particular pain, rather than trying to fix everything in one go. But signs from the US may show the tide is turning. People have tried to predict the long-overdue economic uptick for some time, but their hopes were dashed time and time again. The first signs of economic recovery came with the second quarter results of this year. Companies from banks to pharmaceutical concerns are coming out of the woodwork with better results - some even showing a return to profit. Even some of the software vendors have shown an improved performance, including SAP and PeopleSoft, although some industry watchers are wondering whether they can repeat their "rabbit out of a hat" second-quarter performance. According to the US Commerce Department, the US' GDP grew at 3.1% in the second quarter of this year, compared to an earlier performance expectation of 2.4%. For the whole of 2003, the International Monetary Fund expects growth to accelerate in the second half of the year, with growth of 3.5% in 2004. This contrasts with growth rates of 0.3% in 2001 and 2.4% for 2002. But the largest surprise contained in the figures is that the overall growth rate has been boosted by an 8.2% rise in sales of equipment and software. This is the fastest that such spending has risen for approximately three years, according to the Financial Times. While a return to the previous stellar rates of growth may be some way off and may never happen, perhaps the end is at least in sight. © IT-Analysis.com
IT-Analysis, 01 Sep 2003

Panasonic intros credit card camcorder

Reg Kit WatchReg Kit Watch Panasonic announced three products based on SD Card technology, at the Consumer Electronics Show IFA in Berlin last week. All three devices are small enough to fit in a trouser pocket: the world’s first MPEG2 SD camcorder, the world’s thinnest digital camera, and an all-rounder product with functions for taking films, taking photos, recording memos and listening to music. The D-snap camcorder SV-AV100 weighs a mere 156g and is a small as a credit card. It attains the standards of the current large camcorders with 10x optical zoom and records in MPEG 2 format (which is also used in DVD videos), and in MPEG 4 format. A 512MB SD memory card can store up to 20 minutes of DVD-quality video, or 3.5 hours of standard MPEG 4 video. Photo snapshots are made by the camera in VGA quality (640 x 480 pixels). The photo camera SV-AS10 shoots photos with a two megapixel CCD. Its lens can be turned by 180 degrees. The device also functions as an audio player for MP3, AAC and WMA formats. The D-snap AV20, which accompanied Lara Croft in Tomb Raider: the Cradle of Life, combines all functions for €449. The AV20 has a rotating LC display and two Record and Stop buttons, making filming and taking pictures possible from any angle. Panasonic hopes the products will boost the sales of the SD Card, which is becoming the leading format in memory card industry, largely because of its compact size, high capacity and transfer speed. The card is already available with a storage capacity of 512MB and a data-transfer-rate of 10MBps and will soon crack the gigabyte limit. PDA Accessory Palm PDAs can already operate as MP3 players thanks to a variety of software apps, including the free RealOne Player. Now they can be used as radios, too, thanks to iBIZ's plug-in FM receiver, which has just started shipping. The receiver fits into an SD IO slot, so most Palm m series machines are supported, along with the i705 and Tungstens T, T2 and W. The radio's software will auto-scan for stations, which can be saved into one of 18 pre-sets. Programming can be routed through the radio's own headphone socket or the PDA's built-in speaker - and presumably the Tungsten's own headphone socket. The software support's Palm OS 5's multi-tasking, so the user has access to the device's other applications while the radio is playing. Available now, the SD Pocket Radio costs $49.95. iBIZ will ship outside the US. A CompactFlash version is also available for Pocket PC users. ®
Jan Libbenga, 01 Sep 2003

Apple ‘will not participate’ in Boston Macworld

Macworld Expo organiser IDG World Expo has confirmed its decision to site next summer's show in Boston rather than New York, the event's home for the past few years. The announcement came this past Friday, just ahead of the self-imposed 1 September deadline revealed by company chief David Korse in August. Apple was quick to confirm its own decision not to attend the show if it moved away from the Big Apple. Early last month, Korse told the Boston Herald that he was reconsidering the decision made by a predecessor, Charlie Greco, to move the summer Macworld Expo from New York back to Boston, the show's original home. Fans and exhibitors applauded: the show was going back to its roots, and - more to the point - accommodation in Boston is rather cheaper than it is in New York. The main dissenter was Apple, which believes the bigger city is more suitable for such a key event in the Mac calendar, attracting as it does media and visitors from around the world. At the time of the original news of the move to Boston, Apple said it would not participate in the show if such a change of venue took place. And sure enough: "Our position stands and Apple will not be participating in Macworld Boston," the company said in statement. That follows a statement from Korse announcing that, having weighed up the merits of both locations, he's gone for Boston. That, he says, is what vendors and attendees want. Not to mention Boston's own local administration, which has been building new conference facilities during the past few years. "After research and discussions with key stakeholders, including vendors, consultants and attendees, it is clear that [holding the] Macworld Conference & Expo in Boston will provide great value to the Mac community," said David Korse. How much value it will provide without Apple's participation remains to be seen. Increasingly, Apple CEO Steve Jobs' show keynote has proved the main draw for both the summer event and its Winter West Coast counterpart in San Francisco - which Apple says it still supports, incidentally. With the keynotes streamed on the Internet, supported by reams of Net-based coverage, there's simply less reason for Mac users to attend the show. That, in turn, makes it less attractive to exhibitors. Remove Apple entirely from the picture and that trend is more likely to be exacerbated. Presumably IDG World Expo believes there's still sufficient interest from large East Coast publishers to warrant running a second show for a platform whose market share really warrants one only. ® Related Story Macworld Expo to stay in Big Apple?
Tony Smith, 01 Sep 2003

Bath church casts net, catches 500

Some 500 worshippers flocked to take part in what was billed as the UK's first Sunday Service Webcast yesterday. Telewest teamed up with St Philip and St James Anglican Church in Bath to webcast the service, which was viewed by people as far away as Japan. Around 170 people attended the service in person. Except for a 30-second downtime, the online service went without a hitch. Such was the success of the event there are now plans to do it all again at Christmas. What's more, Telewest has received a number of requests from other churches to carry out similar online services. Reverend Alan Bain, who conducted the first virtual sermon as part of his regular Sunday service, denied that the Webcast was a gimmick and insisted that it helped to attract a wider, younger congregation. "We hope by breaking down barriers to religion our church will become more accessible to those who are unable or unwilling to attend the service," he said. Separately, Telewest is relaunching its blueyonder.co.uk Web site to provide content and services for both dial-up and broadband punters. "Our customers are more savvy and no longer need their ISP to nanny them when viewing content," said Telewest's Chad Raube in tatement. ®
Tim Richardson, 01 Sep 2003

Sobig beats Blaster in Top of the Viral Pops

Sobig eclipsed Blaster in the August viral charts. More than a third of support calls (37.6 per cent) logged by AV firm Sophos in August involved Sobig, twice as many (18.8 per cent) as that received about the prolific Blaster worm. Managed services firm MessageLabs has blocked more than 12.8 million Sobig-infected emails, since the appearance of Sobig-F on August 18. At the peak of infection, one in 17 emails MessageLabs scanned harboured the virus. IntY, which provides malicious code screening services for SMEs, reckons one in three emails in a sample of UK small businesses contained the virus at the peak of the outbreak. August 2003 was the worst month for malicious code on record, according to Sophos, with four of the top ten viral entries in the firm's chart arriving for the first time this month. ® August 2003 Virus Chart, by Sophos Sobig-F Blaster-A Nachi-A Mimail-A Yaha-P Klez-H Bugbear-B Yaha-E Dumaru-A Sobig-A Related stories FBI arrests Blaster suspect Why Sobig is bad for privacy and AV vendors Sobig second wave attack fails to strike Sobig-F is fastest growing virus ever - official Blaster rewrites Windows worm rules
John Leyden, 01 Sep 2003

Freeserve in ‘no risk’ BB offer

Freeserve today announced a "no risk" offer for its broadband service - on the same day that news of its distribution deal with Dixons had finally collapsed. Punters signing up for Freeserve's broadband service will receive their modem and connection kit for free, and will be charged £27.99 for the first month's fee. If they like it, then they carry on paying each month as usual. If they don't, they can hand back their modem and connection kit and have their £27.99 refunded. According to Freeserve's research, customers are reluctant to sign up for broadband because it is a "great unknown". "They are afraid to commit to Broadband without having trialled the product first," said Keith Hawkins of Freeserve. "Our new offer allows them to do just that." Freeserve's "no risk" offer runs until the end of December. ® Related Story AOL and Dixons confirm ISP distie deal
Tim Richardson, 01 Sep 2003

Sex, lies and Data Protection Act leave SMEs in peril

Firms trying to protect themselves against claims for sex discrimination by completing equal pay questionnaires submitted by employees risk falling foul of the Data Protection Act, legal experts have warned. UK commercial law practice Reynolds Porter Chamberlain (RPC) said the danger - which is most acute for small companies - centres on the fact that employees who suspect that they may have a claim under the Equal Pay Act 1970 are now allowed to submit a questionnaire to their employer requesting information on the pay of a comparable colleague, either by name or by job title. However, any such information on the pay of co-workers constitutes confidential personal data; under the Data Protection Act this should only be disclosed to a third party in accordance with strict guidelines, RPC says. Geraldine Elliott, head of employment at RPC, said: "There is no legal obligation on the employer to respond fully, or at all, to an equal pay questionnaire. For companies with equal and fair pay policies who have nothing to hide, not disclosing the pay information could pose two problems. "If they don't disclose, it will be harder to prevent a case going unnecessarily to an employment tribunal in the first place. Then, once a claim is made, the tribunal can draw its own inferences from a company's failure to provide adequate answers to the questionnaire." According to RPC, obtaining the written permission of an employee is one way an firm can disclose information concerning an individual's pay. However, because remuneration is often a contentious issue, and the information could subsequently be disclosed in tribunal proceedings, consent is likely to be withheld. RPC advises that companies may be able to avoid breaching the Act by maintaining the anonymity of a comparable employee, for example, by providing general information such as details of how the pay scheme operates or how job grading systems work, rather than data on a specific individual. However, Elliott warned: "In smaller businesses, where there are fewer comparable colleagues, anonymity is likely to be much more difficult to ensure. "If the employer is unable to disclose confidential information because they can't get consent, they should say so when responding to the questionnaire or an employment tribunal is far more likely to come to a negative conclusion." ®
Robert Jaques, 01 Sep 2003

Freeserve makes first (monthly) profit

Freeserve has made its first profit, the ISP revealed today. Exact details were not revealed but it seems that during August, Freeserve made more cash than it spent. The use of black ink comes a month before the ISP celebrates its fifth anniversary. A spokeswoman for the ISP told The Register that Freeserve doesn't expect to be in profit for the whole of the year, but is on target to be break-even for 2004. In 2002 Freeserve - part off French ISP Wanadoo - racked up increased losses of €92 million (£65 million), up from €74 million (£52 million) the year before. ® Related Story Wanadoo makes a profit
Tim Richardson, 01 Sep 2003

Telstra plays host to world's largest party line

Thousands of subscribers to the Telstra mobile network in Australia become unwitting participants in other callers' conversations last week. Subscribers were also given access to the voicemail of other users due to a mysterious snafu, the Sydney Morning Herald reports. Telstra said the crossed line cock-up affected thousands of subscribers along the New South Wales Coast north of Sydney. After other attempts to restore normal service failed, Telstra was forced to reset it network. David Jenkins, network manager for the Catholic Schools Office in Newcastle (NSW's second city), gave the Sydney Morning Herald an account of the problem. "When people called in you'd get their caller-ID number, so you'd know who was trying to call you, but when you answered the call you'd be connected to someone else's conversation," he said. Both the caller and recipient could hear the same crossed-line conversation, but could not talk either to each other or the participants in the other call. Later, Jenkins was put through to another person's voicemail. Telstra said it was the first time such a failure had occurred on its network. The mobile operator is downplaying the privacy implications of the cock-up. But it still doesn't know what went wrong. The company is investigating...® Related stories Aussies chew over enforced Net filters 'World's biggest Luddite' in Telstra plasma TV row Ballmer heads for Oz to staunch Telstra Windows defection
John Leyden, 01 Sep 2003

Hardware sales carry on falling at Morse

It's been another tough year for Morse, with the mid-range reseller recording a 24 per cent drop in sales to £351.3m for the 12 months to June 30 (2002: £465.2m). The company also fell deeper into the red with net losses, after restructuring costs, of £14.1m (2002: -£140,000). At the heart of its sales problems lies a huge drop in hardware sales ,falling from 2002’s £358.4m to £239.1m in 2003. Morse attributes this to lack of demand in telecommunications and financial services, historically its two key customer sectors. But the company says it is maintaining market share in both areas, so is well placed to pick up business if and when... Morse meanwhile increased service revenues as a proportion of turnover, a long stated aim. However, as service sales rose just a little to £112.2m (2002: £106.8m), this change in the revenue mix was achieved largely by the corresponding hardware slump. Morse' press statement is here. ®
Drew Cullen, 01 Sep 2003

Mobile calls at landline prices

mQuery has developed a software tool that will let mobiles function as landlines. The Irish company is to begin trialling its new Cicero application with customers, after signing a partnership with a fixed-line carrier. A full commercial launch could take place as soon as the first quarter of 2004. Cicero, formerly called Open Communicator, uses Bluetooth or Wi-Fi capabilities in newer mobile devices to wirelessly connect users to a landline through which calls can be made at lower prices compared to standard mobile calls. Cicero users must be within range of a Bluetooth or Wi-Fi access point. The implications of the new technology could be significant. First and foremost, Cicero users will be able to make fixed-line priced calls on their mobile phones. This would effectively let fixed-line telecoms capture a larger part of the mobile market, while GSM or UMTS operators will have customers who are more dependent on their mobile handsets. Once a connection is made between a Cicero-enabled mobile phone, PDA or laptop (clients) and the nearest WLAN (wireless local area network) access point, the IP call is pushed onto a connected server running Cicero Server. From the server, calls are sent on to an office PBX or the PSTN, allowing the rest of the call to follow the path of any normal fixed-line calls. "The business case for this is pretty compelling," Ross Brennan, CEO of mQuery, told ElectricNews.Net. "For years, everyone has been talking about discovering the killer application for mobile phones. The killer application is voice and it will remain so for many more years." mQuery's application is hardware independent, meaning that it will work with either Bluetooth or Wi-Fi on newer handsets made by any vendor. Wireless access points needed to make Cicero work may also come from any vendor, although Cicero Servers must be Windows-based. With Cicero installed in a company with multiple offices tied together through a VPN (virtual private network), Cicero phone calls could be made between offices over the network and would cost only pennies. The technology could also be rolled out in Wi-hotspots, such as an airport lounge, where operators could allow users with Cicero-enabled devices to make calls at lower prices than typical mobile calls. Dublin-based mQuery was founded in 2000 and has so far recorded two profitable years. It has not raised venture capital, though Brennan said that the company is willing to look for funding if venture markets improve. mQuery is not the only company looking to let people use Bluetooth or Wi-Fi for mobile calls. At its Mobile Data Day in London earlier this year, mobile operator mmO2 said it was looking closely at a Bluetooth device that would do much the same thing for home users with DSL connections, although the company released few details. British Telecom has also said that it is pondering similar technology based on 802.11, but it too has said little publicly about its investigation into the area. © ENN
ElectricNews.net, 01 Sep 2003

Freeserve mulls Wanadoo rebranding – again

In what appears to be a monster U-turn Freeserve is once again considering plans to ditch its brand and replace it with the livery of its French parent Wanadoo. In January, Freeserve confirmed that it had ditched plans to scrap its famous Freeserve brand. The idea to rename Freeserve Wanadoo had originally been floated by chief exec, Nicolas Dufourcq in 2002. At the time a spokeswoman for the ISP said that the decision not to go-ahead with the £30 million makeover had been made after an "extensive evaluation" found that there was "a huge strength of feeling for the Freeserve brand in the UK". With Freeserve struggling to make a profit, it seemed that the makeover plans had been canned for good. Now, though, it seems they were merely put on the back-burner. For it's been confirmed that the matter of rebranding is being discussed once again in a move that could eventually see millions of Freeserve punters forced to change their email addresses, although the ISP denies that any makeover would lead to such upheaval for customers. A press release detailing Wanadoo's half-year results today makes no reference to Freeserve by name, except to call it "Wanadoo United Kingdom". So does this mean that a name change is back on the agenda? A spokeswoman for Freeserve told The Register: "It never went off the agenda. The matter of rebranding is continually under review. "It was not the right thing to do at the time," she explained. "We wouldn't do it today, but it's not to say that we wouldn't do it in the future," she said. One of the things preventing Freeserve from going ahead with a rebranding is Wanadoo's lack of awareness in the UK. However, earlier this summer Freeserve changed it logo to include the line "Freeserve - A Wanadoo Company". This is likely to gain even more coverage as Freeserve embarks on its autumn schedule of press and TV ads. ® Related Stories Freeserve abandons plan to change name to Wanadoo Freeserve punters to get Wanadoo email addys
Tim Richardson, 01 Sep 2003

Parson not dumbest virus writer ever, shock!

Security experts are expressing caution about the FBI's confident prediction that it will catch all the culprits behind the two viral epidemics which ravaged the Internet last month. Although quick to praise to authorities for nabbing Jeffrey Lee Parson, 18, on suspicion of writing a copycat version of the Blaster worm last Friday, AV specialists warn that other suspects in the Blaster and Sobig-F outbreaks may be much more difficult to track down. Alex Shipp, anti-virus technologist at MessageLabs, drew a distinction between script kiddie-style virus authors such as Parson, who often brag about their exploits, and the unknown creators of the Sobig mass mailer series, who cover their tracks. "There's a big difference between virus authors like Simon Vallor, who was caught after he boasted about creating a series of viruses in a chatroom, who are crying out for attention and whoever wrote the Sobig series," Shipp told The Register. "Virus writers put their name inside viruses or leave a trail from where a virus is first posted on the Net back to them. The people behind Sobig have left no such clues. It'll be difficult to track them down but with more variants coming out over time this may help the authorities, especially if the people behind the virus make a mistake," he added. Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant for Sophos Anti-Virus, agrees that there are "no obvious clues" in the code of the Sobig mass mailers. However Sobig-F did attempt to contact 20 computers just over a week ago in a failed attempt to download a 'second-phase' payload. Analysing these computers might be a useful line of inquiry, Cluley suggests. Investigators think the original Blaster worm was posted onto a pornographic newsgroup via Arizona ISP Easynews.com using an account purchased with a stolen credit card. Meanwhile the variant of the worm allegedly created by Parson contained a Trojan horse component, which communicated with a virus-writing Web site owned by the teenager. For good measure Parsons' online nickname teekid is coded into Blaster-B. Sometimes, as in the case Jan de Wit, author of the Anna Kournikova worm, virus authors turn themselves into the authorities out of remorse for their actions. but virus writers are seldom discreet. Cluley comments: "What pleasure can you get in creating a virus if you don't tell anyone?" Vanity isn't the only factor that gives virus authors away. Stupidity often plays a decisive role. Although this charge has been levelled at Parsons, Cluley reckons Michael Buen - a virus writer who included his CV in the malicious code he produced - is easily the dumbest he has ever come across. The unlikely lads: virus writers in the dock In November 1988, Cornell graduate student Robert Morris wrote the first worm to propagate over the Internet. The Morris Worm exploited a Unix-related vulnerability to spread. Morris, the son of a security expert at the National Security Agency, was convicted of computer abuse offences and sentenced to three years probation, 400 hours of community service and a $10,000 fine. In November 1995, Christopher Pile (alias "The Black Baron") appeared for sentencing for eleven offences under the Sections two and three of the Computer Misuse Act at Exeter Crown Court. Pile, who had earlier pleaded guilty to all charges against him, was sentenced to eighteen months in prison. Cheng Ing-hau, a sergeant in the Taiwanese Army, wrote the destructive Chernobyl (CIH) virus in 1998, reportedly out of a grievance he harboured against AV companies. The virus was programmed to erase the contents of infected hard disks on April 26, the anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster of 1986. He was detained by the Taiwanese military authorities in April 1999 but later released without charge because (scarcely believably) no Taiwanese firms came forward to admit they had been affected by the virus. He was re-arrested in September 2000 after a complaint by a Taiwanese student but again managed to escape serious punishment. David L Smith of New Jersey wrote the Melissa mass mailing virus, which he released in March 1999, reportedly as a 'tribute' to a Florida lap dancer he was fixated upon. The worm created a message storm which forced major IT companies including Microsoft, Intel and Lucent Technologies to shut down their email gateways and left a trail of destruction in its wake. Smith pleaded guilty to releasing the virus in December 1999 but the authorities left him waiting for sentencing until May 2002, when he was sent to jail for 20 months and fined $5,000. Smith, who's in his 30s, launched the prolific Melissa mass mailing worm by posting infected documents to an alt.sex Usenet newsgroup using a stolen AOL account. Investigators eventually traced Smith from this illicit posting. Filipino computer studies student Onel de Guzman was prime suspect in the release of the LoveBug computer virus in 2000. A lack of relevant computer crime laws in the Philippines meant he was never prosecuted. Guzman was mates with Michael Buen, who somehow reckoned bundling his CV with a computer virus might inprove his chances of geting a job. Jan de Wit (AKA On the Fly), of The Netherlands, wrote the Anna Kournikova virus in 2001 using virus creation toolkit. Shocked at the success of his creation, de Wit turned himself into the authorities and pleaded guilty to releasing the prolific mass mailing worm. He claimed he released the virus as an experiment after reading a survey which suggested users hadn't learnt any lessons from the spread of the LoveBug. At de Wit's September 2001 trial, US investigators were only able to list 55 incidents of infection, causing just $166,827 worth of damage (independent commentators believe this figure grossly underestimated the damage caused by the virus). After pleading guilty, de Wit was sentenced to 150 hours of community service for computer crime offences. Many thought this sentence unduly lenient but de Wit appealed anyway. His punishment was upheld on appeal. Last year, 22 year-old Welsh Web designer Simon Vallor admitted creating the Gokar, Redesi and Admirer mass mailers. In January 2003, he was sentenced to two years imprisonment. Jeffrey Lee Parson, 18, arrested for releasing a copycat version of the Blaster worm. The original authors of the worm remain at large. The ones that got away... Dark Avenger, the author of one of the first polymorphic virus (i.e. a virus that changes its characteristics in an attempt to fool AV scanners,) was one of the most prolific virus authors of the late 1980s. However his viruses had no major impact. He was never charged with any criminal offence but frequently commented on the virus writing scene and was largely responsible for earning his home country, Bulgaria, and the wider Balkan region, the reputation as the world centre for virus writing up until the mid 1990s. The threat of the Code Red IIS infecting worm was arguably overhyped, but after the FBI and Microsoft made the unprecedented step of staging a joint press conference to warn about its spread you might think its author(s) would soon be apprehended. Think again. Although more prolific than Code Red, Nimda spread by exploiting the same underlying flaw in Microsoft IIS Web Server software to even more devastating effect. Nada on any arrests. SirCam the bandwidth-hogging, privacy-threatening worm has also failed to generate any arrests. Slammer, arguably the most destructive worm ever, knocked South Korean ISPs offline and rendered some bank automatic teller machines temporarily inoperable back in January. The worm even took out the PC network of a Ohio nuclear power plant. There's no sign of any progress towards identifying the perpetrators in the release of the worm. The author of Klez, the most prolific virus of 2002, which remains a nuisance even now, likewise remains at large. The Sobig virus series, linked to spammers, the author(s) of the prolific mass-mailer remains free to create yet more mischief. Jeffrey Lee Parsons has been arrested but the authors of the original Blaster worm, which floored home PCs and small business networks last month, remain out of reach of the authorities. Authors of the Blaster 'clean-up' worm, Nachi, which caused almost as many problems as the worm it was meant to eradicate, have also avoided having their collar felt. ®
John Leyden, 01 Sep 2003

CD-Rs deliver degrading experience

Keeping data CDs in the dark for two years isn't a good idea. According to the Dutch magazine PC Active some CD-Rs degrade in months, even at room temperature without sunlight. PC Active tested data disks from 30 manufacturers that were recorded 20 months ago. Several data CDs developed serious errors, or became virtually unreadable. A graphic shows what can happen when CD-Rs are left too long in the drawer. The colours of the CD-R on the right indicate the severity of the errors; white specifies that the disk can be read well, red that it can't be read. Some manufacturers claim that their CDs are good for at least 10 years, if you keep them out of the sunlight. Some even say that their CDs will last up to a century; but the Dutch test seems to suggest that CD-R is the wrong medium to store photos, music or data files for posterity. It makes you wonder how the various DVD disk formats stack up. PC Active believes that different dye systems used for CD-R disks are the root of the evil. Some dyes are more stable than others. The most stable dyes are used primarily in premium brands. A combination of heat and light and marginal drives also contributes to the deterioration. Higher recording speeds are not the issue. PC Active tested 30 brands, some of them sold exclusively through a Dutch chemist chain. Unfortunately, the article seems to focus on white label CD-Rs, and doesn't mention any premium brands that performed well. ®
Jan Libbenga, 01 Sep 2003