23rd > September > 2004 Archive

Senator calls for Patriot Act scale-back

A proposal in the US Senate would scale back a federal surveillance law that permits law enforcement agencies to electronically monitor a computer trespasser without a warrant with the consent of the victim. Under a provision of the 2001 USA Patriot Act intended to give system owners the ability to work with officials to combat intruders, the FBI and other agencies can surveil the communications of an electronic trespasser to, from or through a computer, provided the "owner or operator of the protected computer authorizes the interception." But in addition to intruders, the provision - called Section 217 - leaves legitimate users of public computers at libraries, Internet cafes, business lounges and hotels vulnerable to warrantless surveillance, based only on a suspicion that the user is engaged in some kind of unauthorized activity, argues senator Russ Feingold (D-Wisconsin), who introduced the Computer Trespass Clarification Act earlier this month. "The computer owner authorizes the surveillance, and the FBI carries it out," said Feingold, in introducing the bill. "There is no warrant, no court proceeding, no opportunity even for the subject of the surveillance to challenge the assertion of the computer owner that some unauthorized use of the computer has occurred." Section 217 protects users who have a contract with the computer's owner granting them access; Feingold's bill would expand that protection to users who have any authorized access to the computer, even without a contract. The proposal would also narrow the range of cases qualifying for warrantless law enforcement surveillance to those in which the computer's owner or operator "is attempting to respond to communications activity that threatens the integrity or operation of such computer and requests assistance to protect rights and property of the owner or operator." Additionally, it would permit officials to conduct the surveillance for only 96 hours before they'd have to go to court and get a warrant, and it would require the Justice Department to report annually to Congress on its use of the provision. "I strongly supported the goal of giving computer system owners the ability to call in law enforcement to help defend themselves against hacking," said Feingold. "Unfortunately, the drafters of the provision made it much broader than necessary." Enacted in response to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the 132-page USA Patriot Act passed in the Senate 98 to 1, with Feingold casting the only dissenting vote. It passed in the House 356 to 66. Section 217 is among the provisions set to expire, or "sunset," in December, 2005, unless it's renewed by Congress. In a July report arguing the importance of USA Patriot, attorney general John Ashcroft wrote that Section 217 merely "places cyber-intruders on the same footing as physical intruders." "Hacking victims can seek law-enforcement assistance to combat hackers just as burglary victims can invite police officers into their homes to catch burglars," wrote Ashcroft. Copyright © 2004, Related stories Footing the Big Brother webtap bill Senators propose Patriot Act limitations FBI bypasses First Amendment to nail a hacker
Kevin Poulsen, 23 Sep 2004

Nominet wins UK domain scammers case in Australia

An Aussie judge has branded the actions of two internet domain conmen as "nothing less than deceitful" after they sent out 50,000 fake invoices to domain name holders in the UK. The dodgy invoices from UK Internet Registry were sent out last year after Chesley Rafferty, Bradley Norrish and their three companies had hoovered up the details of thousands of domain name holders following a data mining attack on the .uk WHOIS database. The attack in February 2003 was so bad it forced Nominet - the .uk Internet domain name registry - to suspend its WHOIS database for nine hours to prevent the theft of further details. After pursuing UK Internet Registry for 18 months, Nominet has won a milestone legal battle that centres on infringement of copyright, a breach of Australian fair trade laws and the issuing of misleading notices. Just before the hearing at the Federal Court of Australia, four of the five respondents coughed to the scam. As a result, the trial went ahead against Norrish pnly. The judge found he had authorised copyright infringement, and was involved in misleading or deceptive conduct. Justice French said that the notices sent by UK Internet Registry were "nothing less than deceitful. It lies beyond the limits of credulity to suppose that Mr Norrish...had no idea of [what was going on]. ...He was in the scheme with Mr Rafferty." For Nominet, the ruling confirms its right to prevent information on its databases being ripped off by others. It also reinforces Nominet's authority to impose terms and conditions on the use of the data it holds. Nominet MD Lesley Cowley is "delighted by this result, particularly as it upholds our ability to protect information relating to .uk registrants. "Naturally, we want to control use of the intellectual property that we hold and to have succeeded in protecting our copyright ownership is a significant outcome for us, the industry globally and for registrants who do not want to receive scam notices. "By fighting, and winning, this case we are saying very clearly that scamming is a serious industry issue which will not be tolerated and anyone caught doing it will be pursued and brought to justice." With the ruling in its favour, Nominet now plans to pursue Mr Rafferty, Mr Norrish and their companies for costs and damages. It will also seek additional damages for the "flagrancy and extent of the copyright infringement". ® Related stories ASA raps UK Internet Registry Punters warned about UK Internet Registry Ltd UK WHOIS service suspended after rogue attack Watch out for the bogus invoice man
Tim Richardson, 23 Sep 2004

Six more months for Mars rovers

Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity will spend another six months crawling over the surface of the red planet and sending data back to Earth. The Rovers were designed to spend just three months exploring Mars, and have already exeeded those expectations. NASA scientists the two vehicles are showing few signs of their age, even though they are "well past warranty". "We really don't know how long they will keep working, whether days or months. We will do our best to continue getting the maximum possible benefit from these great national resources," said Jim Erickson, project manager for both rovers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The twin vehicles have just emerged from a 12-day period of no contact with the ground teams on Earth. As Mars passed behind the Sun, the interference from solar particles made the Rovers' radio signals unreliable. Erikson said it is a relief to get through this period, because as well as being out of contact, Spirit and Opportunity have been enduring the full force of a Martian winter, when the temperature at the poles can plummet to almost -150°C. Also, with less solar energy reaching the Martian surface, the rovers' activities have been curtailed by battery life. Now, scientists are planning new daily activities for their Martian colleagues, and work on Mars will resume as before. Work on Earth, however, will be slightly different. Instead of working at JPL, the scienstist will continue their research from their home institutions. NASA is also cutting the working week from seven to five days, but only from October to the end of December. This inactivity could be thought of as weekend sunbathing, as it will give the rovers a chance to recharge their photovoltaic cells after a low energy winter. ® Related stories Methane on Mars: aliens - or farts in a jacuzzi? Beagle 2 team none the wiser on failure Mercury mission blasts into solar orbit
Lucy Sherriff, 23 Sep 2004

Union lobbies Jowell over BBC Technology sell-off

Culture Minister Tessa Jowell is still mulling over whether to approve the privatisation of BBC Technology in a move fiercely opposed by employees of the division. Tech staff at the Beeb have voted overwhelmingly to reject plans to sell off BBC Technology to Siemens as part of a cost-saving inititive by the broadcaster, although strike action was shelved following threats of legal action. Last week BECTU, the union representing BBC tech staff, met Jowell to air their concerns. Offcials told the minister that other outsourcing initiatives at the BBC had led to job losses, raising fears that redundancies at BBC Technology were "inevitable" once Siemens takes over. She was also warned that the proposed sale involved most of the BBC's broadcast critical infrastructure - kit essential to keep public information services going in the event of a national emergency - and not just desktop IT activities. Describing the BBC Technology sale as the most complex outsourcing exercise in the BBC's history, BECTU forecasts that the contract with Siemens would "prove to have gaps where services currently provided to the BBC by the company had been missed out". A Department of Culture spokeswoman said the minister had listened to what the union had to say and that the union's views were being considered. Jowell's decision is due "imminently". ® Related stories BBC Tech staff reject Siemens sell-off - again Legal threat halts second proposed BBC Tech strike BBC Technology strike off BBC Tech staff to vote again for strike action BBC outsource deal includes staff black list BBC to flog technology division
Tim Richardson, 23 Sep 2004

UK gov awards £1m to bio-terror detector firm

The government has handed £1m in grants and awards to a nanotech company that has developed a new way of detecting a bioterror attack. The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (Nesta) both contributed to the funding package. The company concerned, Nanosight, is cagey about explaining its technology because its patents are all still under review. What it will say is that it has developed a way of replicating viral antibodies using non-biological means, specifically "computer and microelectronics technology". When exposed to an antigen, that is a virus or a bacterium, the body produces antibodies. These are proteins that are able to combine with and neutralise the antigen. They are a very specific match to the virus concerned, much as a key is a match to a particular lock. When they encounter the antigen, they 'lock' into it, stopping it from interacting with anything else. Traditionally, antibodies can be grown in a lab. A lab animal is infected with a disease. Its immune system produces the antibody which is then grown in a petri dish. However, as CEO John Knowles explains, growing antibodies is a difficult process, and once grown, the antibodies don't live very long. He says his company's technique will save researchers time and money, and the results will be longer lasting. The immediate goal is to develop the technology into a portable detector that could be used in the field. The company has partnered with Smith Detection in this endeavour, "to help protect our IP", Knowles explains. In the very long term, he sees the technology being deployed across cities in passive sensors that would sound the alarm if they detected a bio-agent: "That could be one way of using the technology, but it is a long way off," he said. The company has made full disclosure to the DTI, in confidence, and that the work has been subject to peer review. The technology also has applications in the pharmaceutical business, Knowles says. ® Related stories Nanotech aids green hydrogen production Scientists call for nanotech caution Prince Charles gives forth on nanotech US army dips into nanotech research
Lucy Sherriff, 23 Sep 2004

Music boss can't wait to sue British file sharers

The boss of Universal Music Group UK John Kennedy can't wait to start suing British music sharers. John who? Although he's well known in the British music business, Kennedy will have a bigger pulpit fairly soon. The combative former shipping lawyer will succeed Jay Berman as head of the lobby group the IPFI - the international version of the Recording Industry Ass. of America (RIAA) - and he defended both the the lawsuits and file poisoning at the In The City music conference in Manchester this week. In the past the record industry had lobbied governments, only be told that it needed to deal with the problem through civil legislation. The lawsuits gave it new credibility, he said. Kennedy spoke repeatedly about "stealing", but didn't use the occasion to offer any new ideas on monetizing file sharing. He also vowed to fight hard to extend European copyright past the 50 year limit, "to bring it into line with the rest of the world," he said. The UMG boss had little sympathy for the twelve-year-old girl in a New York housing project who had harbored an MP3 of the theme tune to her favorite show on her computer, and had been sued by the RIAA. Her family paid out thousands of dollars in a settlement. She was a "serious file sharer", insisted Kennedy. But he had even less sympathy for songwriters, who receive only a small fraction of royalties that recordings owners receive. that was fair, he insisted, as hits were down to investment in marketing, he said. At Polygram (which became Universal), Kennedy had stopped the practice of chart-fixing, he said, "because we were so bad at it. Songs that were supposed to chart at No.6 were coming in at No.34". He'd be more sympathetic to songwriters, he said, the day that record companies had "50 per cent margins". In fact, he claimed that record companies spend more on R&D than technology companies, because of the marketing spend required to create a hit [*]. The implication was clear: the success of an artist was down to the Shock and Awe bombing of the record company's marketing team, which is very expensive. (Alert readers will be wondering why, if the songwriter's contribution is so ephemeral, UMG doesn't score a number one hit with every record it releases. John could then write all the hits himself, on a toy piano). Smacking students Kennedy said that the practice of sueing file sharers had government support and had begun to make a difference, especially in US colleges. Students knew that if they were caught drink-driving they'd face jail, or downloading an exam cheat from the Internet, they'd face expulsion; but students could download music with impunity. The music industry is keen to impose a per-college tax on students for sharing files, although the students lose the music when they graduate. Kennedy was bullish about the new music download stores, which is not surprising since it's early days, the press has been favorable, and very few have gone bust yet. In the past labels had "got greedy and decided to be retailers as well as wholesalers," he said, and had forgotten that the record company isn't a brand that means anything to the mass market. Asked by The Observer's Faisal Ahmed why it took a technology company, Apple Computer, to create the online goldrush, Kennedy said it was down to the iPod. "A hardware company came up with a sexy piece of hardware. A record company couldn't do that," he said. Nevertheless, he enthused about the quality and value of the downloadable song. "For 79p you've got a work of art that's like a Picasso, only one that's as close to the original as you can get," he said. [**] But record companies were still needed, he said, because "no unsigned band has been broken by the internet," he said. "Bands are screaming in space on the internet." Every pigopolist has a hard luck story, it seems, and Kennedy's was that he'd turned down the chance to manage George Michael in the Wham! days. That decision cost him £20m, he said, and he now goes home on the bus. Later, Kennedy had extracted The Stone Roses from their first indie contract but then went into bat against George Michael when the pop star wanted to extract himself from his own contract with EMI. After the session, a member of the audience who buys his own music and doesn't work for a record company asked your reporter what the average person in the street would think, if he'd heard Kennedy's performance. Although the UMG chief could undoubtedly give as good as he got, I suggested that the instinctive reaction wouldn't be verbal. ® [*] On the balance sheets that the rest of the world must use, marketing expenditure is filed under "cost of sale", not R&D. [**] Don't write to us - we'll find him a good earwax specialist. Related stories I poisoned P2P networks for the RIAA - whistleblower
Andrew Orlowski, 23 Sep 2004

Internet junkies in chilling cold turkey experiment

If you've ever seen a smack-head handcuffed to a bed gibbering uncontrollably because he can't get a fix, then be afraid, because that's what you'll look like after two weeks of internet-free cold turkey. That, at least, is according to an "Internet Deprivation Study" carried out by Yahoo! and advertising outfit OMD. Participants in the human experiment were deprived of the web for 14 days, and found themselves quickly succumbing to "withdrawal and feelings of loss, frustration and disconnectedness". The reason for the rapid collapse of their universe is - say the researchers - because "internet users feel confident, secure and empowered. The internet has become, to some, the ultimate symbol of modernity to the point that participants were hobbled without convenient access to routine information like maps and telephone numbers. The pervasive nature of the internet is such that participants often forgot or lost the desire to use 'old fashioned tools' like the phone book, newspapers and telephone-based customer service." And it gets worse. While this cruel "qualitative" torture was inflicted on just 13 households containing 28 guinea pigs, a broader "quantitative" trawl of 1,000 web addicts found that 48 per cent of respondents could not go without the internet for two weeks. This unwillingness to even contemplate disconnection from the digital world was confirmed by Yahoo! chief sales officer Wenda Harris Millard, who reported: "This study is entirely indicative of the myriad ways that the internet, in just ten short years of mainstream consumer consumption, has irrevocably changed the daily lives of consumers. This is true to the extent that it was incredibly difficult to recruit participants for this study, as people weren't willing to be without the internet for two weeks." The chilling effects of the cold turkey on those who were willing to risk all in the name of science are recounted thus: "I haven't talked to people I usually talk to and have been tempted to go on instant-messenger because I feel out of the loop," sobbed study participant Kristin S. Penny C was likewise suffering: "I'm starting to miss emailing my friends - I feel out of the loop," she said unloopedly. Worse still was this sobering proof of how a temporary lack of an internet connection could reduce one's life to ruins in days: "We couldn't plan a weekend getaway," confirmed Kim V, presumably from the house in which she had been imprisoned since the web embargo. Mercifully, those participants who are doubtless still undergoing group therapy as a result of their trauma can take solace from the fact that there is a positive side to the Internet Deprivation Study's findings. Take it away Wenda Harris Millard: "Deep ethnographic research like this enables us to do much more than look at consumer trends, it allows a rare glimpse into the reasons consumers make the choices they do and how they are emotionally impacted. We can then help marketers apply these insights to reach their target audiences." Terrific. If you'll excuse me, I think I'm going to turn off the computer for two weeks. Now where did I leave that five-pound bag of golden brown? ® Related stories Internet addicts sent home from Finnish military Chinese teenagers find Net just too damned attractive The Internet is the root of all evil
Lester Haines, 23 Sep 2004

US credit card firm fights DDoS attack

US credit card processing firm Authorize.Net is fighting a sustained distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack that has left it struggling to stay online. In a statement to users posted yesterday, Authorize.Net said it "continues to experience intermittent distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks. Our system engineers have successfully minimised the impact of each attack and have quickly restored services to affected merchants. Industry experts are onsite and working with Authorize.Net to expedite a resolution. Please be aware that the stability and reliability of the Authorize.Net platform remains our top priority; and we are doing everything we can to restore and maintain secure transaction processing despite these unforeseen attacks." Glen Zimmerman, a spokesman for Authorize.Net's parent company, Lightbridge, told the Boston Globe that the attacks followed an extortion letter. Lightbridge said it was working with law enforcements officials to track down the attackers. The Authorize.Net attack follows the usual modus operandi of the DDOS extortionists, who kick off with blackmail threats, before progressing to various attempts to take a site offline using progressively more sophisticated techniques. In recent months, DDoS extortion attacks have become endemic in the online gambling industry. In July three men suspected of masterminding a cyber-extortion racket targeting online bookies were arrested in a joint operation between the UK's National Hi-Tech Crime Unit and its counterparts in the Russian Federation. The trio, who investigators reckon netted hundreds of thousands of pounds from the shakedowns, were picked up in a series of raids both in St Petersburg, and in the Saratov and Stavropol regions in southwest Russia. Extortion is not the only motive behind DDoS attacks. In August six men were charged by the Californian courts over the first-ever case involving the use of sophisticated denial of service attacks directed against business rivals. Jay Echouafni, chief exec of Orbit Communication Corporation in Massachusetts, along with a business partner allegedly hired computer hackers in Arizona, Louisiana, Ohio, and the UK to launch computer attacks against Orbit online competitors. "These sustained attacks allegedly began in October 2003 and caused the victims to lose over $2m in revenue and costs associated with responding to the attacks," according to investigators. Echouafni, who faces a five-count federal indictment, is on the run. The modus operandi of DDoS attacks, whatever their motives, remains broadly consistent. Worms such as MyDoom and Bagle (and Trojans such as Phatbot) surrender the control of infected PCs to hackers. These expanding networks of zombie PCs (dubbed 'botnets' by the computer underground) are most often used for spam distribution but they also serve as effective platforms for DDoS attacks. Attacks typically start with crude SYN Flood attacks. If that doesn't scare targets into paying then attackers resort to more sophisticated attacks (SYN Floods, UDP Floods, NB-Gets, ICMP Ping Floods and UDP Fragment Attacks). The effect on unprotected sites can be devastating. ® Related stories Feds bust DDoS 'Mafia' Extradition ruled out in bookie extortion case DDoSers attack DoubleClick Online extortionists target Cheltenham WorldPay recovers from massive attack
John Leyden, 23 Sep 2004

Virus-obsessed firms ignore insider risk

Company chiefs are aware of the threats of information security breaches posed by their employees, but are failing to safeguard their assets against insider attack. Keeping control of security will only get more difficult as organisations move toward increasingly decentralised business models through outsourcing and other external partnerships, Ernst & Young's 2004 Information Security Survey warns. "Companies can outsource their work, but they can't outsource responsibility for its security," Edwin Bennett, global director of Ernst & Young's technology and security risk services, said. "Fewer than one-third of those companies conduct a regular assessment of their IT providers to monitor compliance with information security policies - they are simply relying on trust. Organisations have to demand higher levels of security from their business partners." The Ernst & Young survey found that organisations remain focused on external threats such as viruses, while internal threats are consistently under-emphasised. Companies will readily commit to technology purchases such as firewalls and virus protection, but are hesitant to assign priority to human capital. And that leads to "damage from insiders' misconduct, omissions, oversights, or an organizational culture that violates existing standards". More than 70 per cent of the 1,233 organizations questioned by Ernst & Young failed to list training and raising employee awareness of information security issues as a top initiative. That's just not good enough, it says. "More could and should be done to transform the skills and awareness of their people, who often present the greatest opportunity for vulnerabilities - and convert them into its strongest layer of defence," Ernst & Young's Bennett concludes. ® Related stories Investors fret about IT security FBI publishes computer crime and security stats Curious employees are biggest security risk
John Leyden, 23 Sep 2004

Nokia touts content filter for mobiles

Nokia is launching a content filter which will let adults stop their kids from accessing porn by way of mobile phone. The filter can bar user access to services based on the content service category, but also restrict access based on price or file size. The technology won't be hardwired into Nokia handsets; instead, the company is flogging it to mobile operators to incorporate into their own services. The filter, part of Nokia's "Intelligent Content Delivery" package, will be available during the last quarter of this year. No pricing yet. Access control will inevitably become more of an issue as mobile content services increase in number, according to Olli Oittinen, Nokia veep, who says the "ability to safely and securely control access is important for both operators and their subscribers. For example, most parents would like to control which services...their children access," In the UK, mobile operators are working towards an end-of-year deadline to implement content-filtering for their mobile services. Vodafone launched its filter in July this year, to a somewhat mixed reception. ® Related stories Vodafone defends buggy content filter So why does Vodafone filter block Sky News? Porn and the handset
Lucy Sherriff, 23 Sep 2004

14 knifed in Chinese cybercafe attack

Fourteen people have been knifed in a Chinese internet cafe after two men ran amok in a terrifying 20 minute attack. Most of those hurt in the Beijing attack received knife wounds to the back and face. One woman is in a serious condition, according to the Beijing Times by way of AFP. The motive is not known although there's speculation it could be revenge. Police have detained a number of suspects in connection with the incident. Violence at Chinese internet cafes is nothing new. In May staff at one cybercafe resigned after they were beaten up by a gang of 16 teenagers who were barred from entering the cybercafe. The gang of youths beat one worker with bins and fire extinguishers before trashing the premises. Earlier, two cybercafe workers in Shanghai were chased and killed by a gang of ten men over an argument concerning the use of computers. ® Related stories Chinese youths trash Internet cafe LA plans cybercafe teen curfew China shuts 8,600 cybercafes Pornsters face life in China smut crackdown China jails woman in porn crackdown Chinese sales staff sent to beg in streets China terminates 700 sites in porn crackdown
Tim Richardson, 23 Sep 2004

Sony to support MP3 - shock

Sony Electronics has indicated that some of its portable music hardware will support the MP3 format in the future, in preference to its own proprietary ATRAC (Adaptive Transform Acoustic Coding) codec. Solid state players based on flash memory will be the first to support MP3, and Sony has also said that some existing devices will be upgradeable to play MP3 files too. The company says it will continue to support ATRAC, but in reality it's being dispatched to the Homophone section of the Dead Format Museum, where it will join RCA's 8-track cartridge. Sony's ATRAC typically requires special software and an extra conversion step, leading to lower sound quality. The codec made its debut in 1992 on Sony's first MiniDisk player. Although widely supported - Sharp and Panasonic have their own interoperable codecs - only Sony has stubbornly kept it as the default compression codec on its media players. Support could come early next year, a spokesperson said. ® Related stories Apple's Jobs 'offered iTunes team-up deal to Sony' Sony unveils HDD Walkman Sony to ship portable video, MP3 player next month Sony unveils colour 'iPod killer' Sony US music service an 'embarrassment' Sony opens US music download store
Andrew Orlowski, 23 Sep 2004

How the music biz can live forever, get even richer, and be loved

[Earlier this week Register San Francisco bureau chief Andrew Orlowski spoke at the In the City convention in the UK, telling the cream of the music industry it's never had it so good, that it's been swindled by the technologists, and that it should dump DRM and embrace freedom. As, to our knowledge, he got out alive, we think it's possible they listened just a little. What follows is the text of his speech. -Editors]
Andrew Orlowski, 23 Sep 2004

Em@iler drives Amstrad to increased profit

Amserve - the ISP business of consumer electronics outfit Amstrad - has helped the company increase turnover and profit. Last year, the Amserve business racked up a £6.1m loss on sales of £9.4m. Publishing today its prelims for the year to the end of June, Amserve turned that loss around into a pre-tax profit of £3.1m on increased sales of £12.1m. This improvement has been brought about by an increase in sales of Amstrads's em@iler phone-cum-internet device. Over the last year Amstrad has flogged an extra 113,000 em@ilers - taking the total number sold to around 368,000. With so many em@ilers in circulation, Amstrad is now generating around £25,000 a day in revenue from its punters who pay to use the email service. It has also racked up a number of high profile advertisers - AOL, BT, Halifax, BSkyB and OneTel - all of whom regularly advertise on the e-m@iler's dinky little screen. Overall, Amstrad saw group pre-tax profit climb to £15.6m compared to £3.8m last year on the back of increased sales from 43.8m to £57.3m in 2004. News of Amstrad's improved financial comes a week after boss Sir Alan Sugar unveiled his third generation email terminal - dubbed the "E3" - in a bid to bring video telephony to the masses. The E3 provides the same voice telephony and email services as its predecessors, the em@iler and em@iler plus, but adds a colour display, an integrated digicam and support for MMS messaging, both incoming and outgoing. Retailing at £99, Amstrad is hoping it will appeal to punters in the run-up to the busy Christmas shopping period. By mid afternoon shares in Amstrad were up 7p (3.5 per cent) at 210.00p. ® Related stories Amstrad unveils £99 videophone Amstrad's em@iler makes a profit Amstrad slashes em@iler prices Em@iler set to make a profit
Tim Richardson, 23 Sep 2004

Senegal seeks bridge across digital divide

African leaders want to help the poorest nations on the continent deal with poverty by persuading wealthier nations to subsidise mobile phones and internet access. Abdoulaye Wade, the President of Senegal, told reporters at the UN General Assembly that he is launching a global fund to help widen access to technology. He said that there is still a digital divide between poor and rich nations, stating that "there are more telephones in Manhattan than in all Africa", Reuters reports. He argued that access to IT and communications technologies could help countries promote economic growth, and combat poverty, but that the cost of entry was still too high when set against the resources of developing nations. Wade added that the fund would benefit richer nations too, because "millions and millions of dollars" would be generated in sales of the tech equipment. He said the fund, launching on 17 November, would be financed by pooling donations from people buying high tech goods. ® Related stories Indian Simputer to bridge digital divide Warning: lack of technology may harm your prospects Cambodian data entry outfit provokes sweatshop slur
Lucy Sherriff, 23 Sep 2004

Virgin.net unveils 'Plan Two' broadband offer

Virgin.net - a joint venture between The Virgin Group and cableco NTL - has cut the cord on new broadband product. Imaginatively called "Plan Two", the 512k package costs £17.99 a month with no 12 month contract and a three gig cap. For the curious among you, "Virgin.net Broadband 512K Plan One" comes with no 12 month contract, no cap and costs £24.99 a month. Said Virgin.net's Peter Tuomey: "We now offer two different broadband options to reflect what broadband users want. Everyone wants a fast connection and both our options provide that. "However, the majority of broadband users don't actually download vast amounts of data and they are more interested in high speeds at a lower monthly price. But, that said, if any Virgin.net Broadband customer finds that things change, they can switch freely between our 2 options without any ridiculous admin fees, penalties or other nonsense." In December last year Virgin.net stopped accepting new broadband customers because its service was being strangled by a string of technical problems. The decision to halt sign-ups for six weeks was part of a number of "precautionary" decisions the ISP took to resolve what it admitted was a "deterioration in service". ® Related stories Virgin.net opens doors again to new BB punters Tesco touts broadband for the masses Wanadoo UK punts 1Mb ADSL for £18 Telewest warns punters off cheap broadband deals
Tim Richardson, 23 Sep 2004

IBM and others blamed in E-rate scandal hearing

IBM and a couple of other IT vendors have been fingered by the Feds for having troubling roles in the scandalous E-rate program that was designed to bring Internet and telecommunications technology to US schools. IBM was called out this week during a hearing by the House Commerce Committee unpleasantly called "Waste, Fraud, and Abuse Concerns in the Wiring of Our Nation's Schools to the Internet." Evidence presented during the hearing suggested that IBM offered certain education bodies a "kickback" if they would help the vendor secure a part in receiving federal E-rate funds. This is just the latest in a string of revelations as to how corrupt the E-rate program - started during the Clinton administration - has been. Evidence, including videos and documents, showed that IBM, NEC-Business Network Solutions and Video Network Communications Inc. (VNCI) goaded the National Alliance of Black School Educators (NABSE) into going after more federal E-rate funds in exchange for a 1.5 percent cut of the contracts. An IBM representative stated that an employee who signed this offer has left the company. NEC-Business Networks Solutions has already pleaded guilty to charges including collusion and wire fraud related to the E-rate program. Two former VNCI staffers required to attend the hearing refused to testify. The IBM representative denied that the firm ever dolled out kickbacks for extra E-rate business. Earlier this month, the Chicago Tribune broke a damaging story on the city's E-rate failures. Cities across the US were meant to benefit from a tax placed on consumer phone lines that would fund the expansion of technology at schools and help shrink the digital divide. The paper found that Chicago has squandered millions in federal funds and awarded no-bid contracts to companies with ties to the E-rate administrators. Chicago's lack of action could cost it $50m in funding. To this day, only half of Chicago's schools have Internet access in every classroom, the paper discovered, despite city claims of 85 percent coverage. ® Related links Forbes take on the hearing IDG's take Related stories Chicago schools hurt by web project gone wrong NEC sub defrauds US gov EU ministers in broadband powwow
Ashlee Vance, 23 Sep 2004

CA's Kumar pleads not guilty to fraud

Former Computer Associates boss Sanjay Kumar today pleaded not guilty to fraud and a host of other charges thrown at the onetime software kingpin by the Feds. The US DoJ (Department of Justice) this week unsealed a 10-count indictment against Kumar and former CA head of sales Stephen Richards. Both men could face up to a century-long prison sentence for seccurities fraud, obstruction of justice and conspiracy. The two executives, however, deny any wrongdoing in the accounting scandal that has seen CA restate $2.2bn in earnings. CA has agreed to send $225m back to shareholders as a result of the now infamous "35-day month" accounting scheme in which the company kept its books open longer than is legally allowed to pad in extra revenue. Kumar and Richards put their homes up as collateral for their $5m bond. Kumar's lawyer did most of the talking during his arraignment and suggested that the former CA chief had been unfairly targeted by the government. CA will have a government watchdog looking over its book for the next 18 months and is trying to put years of bad bookings and investigations behind it. ® Related stories Former CA Chief Kumar indicted as firm coughs up $225m Former CA boss Kumar exits stage left CA 2003 results delayed CA puts 35-day month and $2.2bn in revenue behind it
Ashlee Vance, 23 Sep 2004

Nokia guns for PDA, home surveillance rivals

Reviving its tradition of finally putting a sensible keyboard onto a phone - once all the alternatives have been exhausted - Nokia launched its 6670 model today. It's a cross between the 7610 consumer camera phone and the 6600/6630 business line, although it owes much more to the former. The asymmetric teardrop case is preferred over the stubby, barrel-chested design of Nokia's flagship business phone. In terms of features, there are no great surprises: the 6670 boasts tri-band GPRS, a megapixel camera, and (alas) only a 64MB reduced-size MMS. Clearly, it's too early to expect the fruits of Nokia's recent conversion of SD cards to bear fruit. Stateside users might be disappointed that it doesn't support EDGE, and the battery life is creeping downwards. Nokia now quotes a range, rather than a single figure; but the 6600 was advertised as being capable of four hours and the 7610 three. With the 6670, expect "two to four". The most significant point is that it supports Nokia's wireless Bluetooth keyboard. The inclusion of a VPN and a decent file viewer also points to this being pitched as a PDA replacement. But PalmOne, Toshiba and HP aren't the only companies in Nokia's sights. So is the reviled home surveillance outfit X.10, notorious for its popups. Nokia has launched a megapixel camera with a GSM card slot. It sends back audio or pictures, via MMS, of what it sees. The Nokia Remote Camera, as it's creatively called, can also send back pictures over Bluetooth. More expensive and less portable than commonplace baby-monitors, its success will probably depend on whether resellers can bundle cut-price airtime, or a special deal on MMS rates. At a retail price €450, the only kids who'll be able to gurgle back to Mom and Pop will be called "Beckham". ® Related stories Nokia makes stealth moves on your living room Picture messaging - it's worse than you thought Nokia touts content filter for mobiles
Andrew Orlowski, 23 Sep 2004

Welsh billionaire backs broadband futures

Welsh billionaire Sir Terry Matthews outlined the latest advances in broadband technology during a seminar at the London Stock Exchange today. Sir Terry told an audience of journalists and analysts that the need for next generation communication networks remains compelling despite the financial problems of many companies in the networking sector over recent years. Matthews said he always sought to build solid businesses and had "zero time" for financially mismanaged firms like WorldCom or the dot com boosters in the networking market who came unstuck when the bubble burst. "Some of the mobile and router vendors were guilty of hyping things like there was no tomorrow," Matthews told El Reg. "I hate hype. Nothing I have done has been an overnight success; I've always tried to build solid - not flaky - businesses. There were astronomical valuations in the dot-com era but that's over now and people are behaving appropriately." "Next generation networks deliver tangible user and business benefits. The technology will progress with or without the hype as surely as we moved from canals to railways," he added. The 61-year-old Welsh-born, Ottawa-based telecomms tycoon was making a rare visit to London to champion the networking companies he has invested in through Wesley Clover Corporation, his private holding company. Wesley Clover continued to support its investments throughout the telecoms downturn and currently has a portfolio of some 20 private companies. Some set up mini-demos in the Stock Exchange today designed to woo potential investors. Among the companies exhibiting were Newport Networks, which floated on AIM back in May, Ubiquity Software Corporation and content-based routing firm Solace Systems. Sir Terry's previous successes include Newbridge Networks, which he founded in 1986 and sold to French company Alcatel for $7.1bn in 2000. He also co-founded Mitel in 1971 before selling majority control of it to BT for £350m in 1985. He subsequently re-purchased Mitel's communication systems division in 2001. Matthews has also invested heavily in property. His £120m Celtic Manor Resort in Newport, Wales will host Golf's Ryder Cup in 2010. ® Related stories Newport Networks set for float Welsh dotcoms set free from incubation Mitel founder honour enrages Canada Newbridge billionaire buys Mitel Networks
John Leyden, 23 Sep 2004

Sun carves off a few more UK, US workers

After being slow to act, Sun Microsystems appears to have its layoff machine fully tuned, sending workers packing in the UK and California. Sources in the UK bring word that 69 staffers felt the pain of the axe today. The cuts aren't said to be contained to a single division or function but rather selective moves across a broad range of Sun businesses. Sun shelved 200 staffers in the UK and Ireland back in May. These cuts were focused and went right at the heart of a server division. Closer to home, Sun has cleared the path for hundreds of layoffs at its Newark, California offices. Information provided by Alameda County shows that Sun plans to trim its staff twice in September and then once in October. All of these cuts are part of the grand 3,300 worker dismissal Sun announced in April. Sun has taken its time getting rid of these staffers and has vowed to increase the pace of the firings. The word from the UK and US seems to back up this sentiment. The company has been pressured over the past two years by analysts to cleave off large chunks of its workforce. Sun managed to eke out a rare profit in its last quarter on the back of the Microsoft settlement and believes that the firings along with a real estate consolidation can bring back steady profitability. ® Related stories Sun does dancing bear act for Wall Street IBM and HP take shots at Sun IBM mocks Itanium server sales - again Sun downsizes revenue results
Ashlee Vance, 23 Sep 2004