11th > October > 2004 Archive

Home Office in frame over FBI's London server seizures

The US seizure of two Indymedia servers in London last Thursday is likely to have needed the approval of UK Home Secretary David Blunkett, but Blunkett may have acted on tenuous legal grounds, according to a Statewatch analysis. Statewatch considers that the seizure is likely to have been made under a US-UK Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) of 1996, but it seems doubtful that the Indymedia request could have been justified under even the broad terms of this treaty. Indymedia itself does not know why its servers were seized, while Rackspace, the hosting company which was compelled to hand them over, issued a statement saying it was complying with a court order under an MLAT, and that the court prohibited it from commenting further. Under the terms of this MLAT (there are more in the works, and others now litter the globe's legal systems) the Home Office may not admit that a request has been made. The FBI commented to Agence France Presse that this was not an FBI operation but a subpoena issued "on behalf of a third country" and that the FBI was acting for the Swiss and Italian governments. This, as The Register reported here, provides some clues regarding the justification for the seizure. Indymedia had been contacted recently by the FBI and Swiss authorities regarding two photos of Swiss undercover police published on Indymedia's French site, IMC Nantes. The police had been handling the G8 events in Switzerland in 2003, but their identities do not appear to have been clear in the photos. Rackspace had also been contacted by the FBI, but according to Indymedia, correspondence it received from Rackspace on Tuesday indicated that the matter was closed. Or not. Indymedia is unable to identify a recent, particular reason for Italian involvement, aside from the Italian government's having been "overtly hostile ever since the 2001 G8 Summit in Genoa." The likeliest grounds for the MLAT request would therefore seem flimsy, while the FBI's role as some kind of Uncle Enforcer for the Swiss and Italians seems a dubious use of a US-UK treaty. And even if there were something far more serious involved than just a couple of photos, the procedure ought to send shivers down the spine of every publishing organisation on the Internet. It is clearly perfectly possible for their operations to be crippled without warning, without their being told what it is they've done, and without explanation. Depending on whether the authorities (under the international MLAT regime this could be many, many authorities) want something you've got or just want to stop you doing something, the crippling could be pretty extensive and pretty long term. If they want you to stop doing something then they'll quite likely want your backups as well, and if you've no servers, no backups, and no idea when/if you're getting them back, two photos is going to be the least of your worries. Paradoxically, Indymedia may be rather less vulnerable to this kind of action than a conventional company or news organisation. Indymedia's decentralised structure (it describes itself as "a network of collectively run media outlets") gives it a certain amount of resilience - anybody wishing to knock it out entirely must recognise it has numerous heads in numerous jurisdictions to be cut off. The more structured IT setups of conventional publishing organisations, on the other hand, make it a far simpler task for their key infrastructure to be identified and impounded. Standing between the press and such an unfortunate fate we have, in the UK, David Blunkett's Home Office. The terms of the 1996 MLAT would have permitted Blunkett to refuse assistance if he felt granting the request would impair sovereignty, security or "other essential interests or would be contrary to important public policy", or if the request relates to "an offence of a political character." The request itself should include a description of the proceedings to which the request relates, a summary of the information giving rise to the request, a description of the evidence sought, and the purpose for which it is sought. It should also include "a precise description of the place or person to be searched and of the articles to be seized". David Blunkett's MLAT unit should therefore have in its possession details of proceedings to be brought against Indymedia and/or Rackspace by Italy and/or Switzerland. It should also be relatively confident that any alleged offence is not of a political character (photos of secret policemen seldom are, right?) and have a clear indication that the obtaining of the evidence sought necessitated the removal of whole servers or hard disks. Or not. According to Indymedia in the AFP report: "The order was so short-term that Rackspace had to give away our hard drives in the UK." This suggests that the FBI requested something that was on the hard disk, now and that handing over the hard disk or the server was the only way to comply. So although the authorities will have known very well that they would be carrying off the hardware, the request itself quite possibly did not specify this. It is however clear from the MLAT's terms that it was devised primarily in order to detain or question individuals, and that if it has indeed been used here, the treaty has been to some extent repurposed. The treaty does however provide for the "return of documents or articles... as soon as is practicable unless the Central Authority of the Requested Party waives the return of the documents or articles". The custodian here is the US, which presumably does not face insurmountable problems in extracting whatever it was its friends wanted, and sending the kit straight back. Statewatch editor Tony Bunyan has called on Blunkett to explain himself: "Why did the Home Office agree? What grounds did the USA give for the seizure of the servers? Were these grounds of a 'political' nature? Has the Home Office requested that the servers be returned? What does this action say about freedom of expression and freedom of the press?", he says. "A trail that started in Switzerland and Italy has now ended fairly and squarely in the lap of the UK Home Secretary to justify." ® Related links Indymedia The AFP report Statewatch analysis Feds seize Indymedia servers
John Lettice, 11 Oct 2004

How key Microsoft legal emails 'autodestruct'

The latest court documents to be unsealed by Judge Frederick Motz in Burst.com's suit against Microsoft paint a picture of Microsoft document handling procedures which destroyed the very emails that were likely to be most relevant to several antitrust actions, Burst's included. According to Burst's lawyers Microsoft's status as "a defendant in major antitrust cases since at least 1995" means that it has a duty to preserve potentially relevant evidence. But "Microsoft adopted policies that, to put it mildly, encouraged document destruction from 1995 forward." Microsoft is still resisting Burst's attempts to have it hand over documents defining its retention policies, but a Burst brief of 27th September puts forward a forensic examination of the net effect of whatever these policies might be, accompanied by a certain amount of rolling of eyes. We, and the technology press in general, are indebted to PBS columnist Robert X Cringely for his dogged and single-handed pursuit of Burst v Microsoft. You can read his take on the latest developments here, and links to the court documents here. As Microsoft's retention policies remain for the moment a closely-guarded secret it would be absolutely wrong of us to draw any inference as to what they might be solely from what happens. What happens, though, is pretty damn peculiar. The system as a whole defaults to swift destruction of employees' emails, while there is clear evidence that Microsoft takes a very narrow view of whose documents may be relevant to a particular case. In some cases its choice of 'relevant' employees to be subject to retention seems perverse and misleading. So in the normal course of events documents would be destroyed swiftly, documents would be saved only by a document retention notice, and if document retention notices were not sent to the right people (the Burst brief argues that they were not), then by the time those people were properly identified the documents would almost certainly have been destroyed. Microsoft exec Jim Allchin, who seems to be shaping up as a star exhibit, instructed Windows division employees in January 2000 to delete emails from their hard drives after 30 days. "Do not be foolish," he said, "do not archive your e-mail." In response to emails about this instruction Allchin sends another which confirms the existence of an "official policy" on document retention sent company-wide in the summer of 1996, and says that this is the only written policy. Allchin however reiterates his 30 day instruction, adding an exception only for those who "have received specific instructions from Legal to retain certain documents or email that may be related to pending litigation. These instructions override the general policy." Microsoft has not yet yielded the 1996 policy, but Allchin's reference to it plus his insistence on 30 days suggests that the general policy was 30 days, from 1996 onwards. The retention of legally-relevant documents is therefore clearly dependent on Legal sending retention notices to the right people at the right time. Burst's brief at this point notes that Microsoft has confirmed it did not produce any of the Allchin email string in 12 prior cases, including DoJ v Microsoft, on the basis that, it claims, nobody asked for them. But in Sun v Microsoft, Microsoft undertook to "produce documents concerning Microsoft business policies, procedures or guidelines for document retention, to the extent such documents exist, for the period January 1, 1998 to November 30, 2002." This period covers the Allchin string, but the string was not produced, so when Microsoft confirmed that it had completed the production of documents, it was not telling the truth. The general policy, if it is the policy, of 30 days covers local storage. Email could also be saved on the Exchange servers. Microsoft however enforces rigorous limits on employee storage on these servers, and on average there appears to be space for about a month's emails per employee. No storage allocation left, no email until you delete some. In addition, emails could be saved on servers maintained by the Operations Technology Group. But as made clear previously in this case (reported here), company policy is that emails should not be archived on these servers. This policy was strengthened by the addition of the words "Due to legal reasons..." in 1997, but weirdly, Microsoft claims that this bit was made up by information technology employee Candy Stark, purely to add weight to her campaign to save on storage costs. In fairness, therefore, we should consider the possibility that many other apparently incriminating things in surviving emails have been made up too. Is there a company policy on when to believe what an exec is telling you? And if there is, has it been made up? Frightening, isn't it? But the Burst brief declines to believe Stark made it up, and suggests the "legal reasons" may track back to the elusive 1996 policy, which again is cited by Stark. Archive location number four at Microsoft is provided by the servers maintained by the IT person for each individual business group. The servers most relevant to the Burst case were maintained by a Mr Ochs, who did not receive a retention notice, and who testified to routinely destroying documents on the servers. These are the very servers Microsoft has previously said it cannot reasonably search for documents, because it does not know who uses which servers. The brief puts forward several examples of cases where Microsoft failed to identify relevant employees and send them retention notices. In response to a DoJ request in 1997 it failed to identify Chris Phillips and his boss Eric Engstrom, although Phillips had led negotiations with RealNetworks and the ensuing deal was sometimes referred to internally as "the Chris Phillips deal." Microsoft did identify the in-house lawyer brought in to draft the contracts, but not Phillips or Engstrom, so both destroyed their emails. Neatly, as a Microsoft attorney the lawyer's emails were protected by attorney-client privilege, so Microsoft doesn't have to release them. Similarly Engstrom emails relevant to Intel's decision to drop development of its JMF Java Media Player have been destroyed. The Burst brief only asks for Microsoft's retention policies to be produced in camera, so even if Redmond does cough up there's no certainty we'll ever know if they explain the apparent weirdness of Microsoft document and archiving policies. But if Microsoft does have a policy to diligently retain relevant documents, well, it clearly needs to write a new policy that works instead. We at The Register have a humble suggestion. Seeing Rick Rashid of MS Labs is in the habit of touring the world telling people that storage is now pretty well cheap enough for you to just record your whole life in a lifeblog, couldn't everybody at Microsoft just... ® Related links Allchin named, as proof of MS email destruction policy is sought Cringely PBS column Links to court documents
John Lettice, 11 Oct 2004

UK ID cards to be issued with first biometric passports

What's left of the 'voluntary' figleaf to the UK's ID scheme will erode in the next few months, when Home Secretary David Blunkett introduces legislation that will allow implementation of the scheme and include provision for a rolling programme to issue ID cards along with passport renewals. The new model passports are closely linked to the scheme anyway, so even without the ID card, being issued one would mean you were added to the national identity register, but the arrival of an actual card along with the new passport will make its presence far more visible, far earlier, to the general public. Previously the Home Office had said it would designate passports and driving licences as ID documents, but hadn't mentioned issuing actual ID cards with them. Blunkett announced the move some considerable way into his speech to the Labour Party Conference ten days ago. Reporting of the speech at the time concentrated on anti-crime measures and more funding for counter-terrorism, and the full text of the speech was mysteriously unavailable until a few days ago. According to this text: "... we will legislate this winter to upgrade our secure passport system, to create a new, clean database on which we will understand and know who is in or country, who is entitled to work, to services, to the something for something society which we value. As people renew their passports, they will receive their new identity card. The cost of biometrics and the card will be added to the total of passports." The increased cost of the new model passport has previously been justified on the basis that the biometrics will be needed in order for the passport to conform to new international standards. Adding the cost of the "voluntary" ID card to the passport is therefore a novel innovation. A similar approach could be adopted as the ID system rolls out to driving licences, with the licence-renewing public having no choice but to accept the ID card if they want a licence, and no choice then but to pay for it. Blunkett did not cover this in his speech, but it may be covered in the forthcoming legislation, and once these two key ID document areas are covered, the rest of the population can be slowly mopped up. The David Blunkett who announced this effectively compulsory ID regime is, strange but true, the very same David Blunkett who, in his introduction to "Legislation on Identity Cards - A Consultation" (CM6178, presented to Parliament in April 2004) said: "...we would proceed by incremental steps, building first on existing, widely held voluntary identity documents, and only taking a final decision later to move to compulsion. Eventually everyone lawfully resident in the UK would be required to register for a card - but there would be no compulsion to carry the card or to produce it without good reason. This move to compulsion would only happen once the initial stage of the scheme had proved to be successful and following a further debate and the approval of both Houses of Parliament." This is actually a pretty useful way to put it, because it allows MPs to kid themselves that we have here an incremental scheme that Parliament will have the final say-so on while giving Blunkett the freedom to crash along as fast as he likes without having actually told a flat-out lie. In this picture compulsion comes in two flavours, compulsion to register for a card and compulsion to carry one. It will not - at least in the current rounds of legislation - be compulsory to carry a card, so Parliament's approval of the move towards compulsion covers compulsion to register. The fact that people who want passports, then probably driving licences (then benefits and healthcare, as indicated in the "consultation") will have no choice but to be registered need not be viewed as tripping the compulsion switch, because within a steadily shrinking service-free pen it will be possible for people to exist without being registered. The draft bill does however include powers "to set a date when it would become compulsory to register and be issued with a card" and "This provision could only be brought in once the initial stage of the identity cards scheme was in place and following a vote in both Houses of Parliament on a detailed report which sets out all the reasons for the proposed move to compulsion." We think we can save the Home Office some money here. The report should say: "We might as well because nearly everyone has a card already." And, Blunkett hopes, because it's loved. In his speech he went on to say: "We will have, for the first time, an opportunity to use the card not simply in terms of protection, but to promote our citizenship, to value the fact that being a citizen, taking on citizenship is a tremendous step as part of our mutuality, as communities and a nation." So once we've all been compelled to register for it and pay for it, we'll rejoice over it, and the ID card will become a symbol of national pride, social cohesion and unity. Nice hive you've got there, David... Blunkett's speech also mentioned Tony Blair's electronic border surveillance announcement, made the previous day with considerably more fanfare. This meant, he said: "In two years time we will have up and running the most sophisticated system in the world." Which, as we pointed out here, is tripe. It checks the lists of passengers bound for the UK against "databases of individuals who pose a security risk," and if this counts as sophistication round at the Home Office we're in just as bad a mess as we think we're in. ® Related links Full text of Blunkett speech Biometric gear to be deployed in hospitals and GPs' surgeries UK gov pilots passenger tracking in fight against terror Tag, track, watch, analyse - UK goes mad on crime and terror IT Everything you never wanted to know about the UK ID card
John Lettice, 11 Oct 2004

Deutsche Telekom returns internet unit to the fold

Deutsche Telekom is buying back its internet unit, spun off as a separate company in 2000. DT is offering shareholders in T-Online €8.99 in cash for each share, valuing the unit at just less than €3bn. Most share holders are expected to exchange T-Online shares for shares in Deutsche Telekom. T-Online floated in April 2000 for €27 per share. The telco says it no longer makes sense to have a separate unit for internet services. The deal will allow it to offer better bundled offerings of internet access, voice calls and TV services. Convergence means that the two firms would end up competing for customers. Kai-Uwe Ricke, CEO of Deutsche Telekom, said: "Broadband has revolutionized fixed-line-based Internet business. We are in the middle of an ever increasing convergence of telecom and Internet service provider business models. This progressive merging also means that from a customer perspective - and that is the only gauge relevant for us - the Internet is losing its status as a separate, independent business segment." He said the deal was not about cuttting jobs but about expanding fixed line/broadband services. Deutsche Telekom's supervisory board approved the merger plan on Saturday. The deal does not mark the end of the company's ambitions. Sources told the Daily Telegraph the newly merged firm would be looking for more acquisitions and named AOL and Tiscali as possible targets. The firm has cash reserves of €4bn to fund further acquisitions. Shareholders are unlikely to stop the deal because under German corporate law the deal goes through automatically once DT acquires 75 per cent of shares. The full statement is available in English here. ® Related stories
John Oates, 11 Oct 2004

Best Buy sells Motorola MPx220 smart phone

US retail chain Best Buy has begun advertising and selling Motorola's keenly anticipated Windows Mobile 2003 smart phone, the MPx220, to residents of southern California. However, Motorola isn't going to launch the handset formally until 18 October, sources familiar with the company's plans informed The Register. Spotted in yesterday's local papers by PhoneMag, Best Buy is advertising the MPx220 for $500. Buy it with a Cingular contract and you can have it for $350. Take out a two-year Cingular contracts and you pay $350 now, but get a $100 mail-in rebate coupon. And, dashing to a Best Buy in San Mateo, the website discovered that the MPx220 is indeed on sale. It even went so far as to snap up a couple. PhoneMag's own sources suggest an 18 October launch too. The Best Buy store guy claimed the company had signed and exclusive deal with Motorola and Cingular. Motorola posted a preliminary MPx220 launch release on its web site in June 2004. A month later, it came clean and formally launched the handset, which had been the subject of speculation since the previous December At the time of the announcement, Motorola said the MPx220 would ship in Q4 this year. As previously reported, the handset features a 176 x 220 270,000-colour display and an integrated 1.23 megapixel digicam with a 3x digital zoom and flash. It will offer quad-band support - 850, 900, 1800 and 1900MHz - GSM and GPRS connectivity. The handset supports Bluetooth, and includes 64MB of Flash ROM. There's a Mini SD card slot capable of taking a 512MB memory card. The unit weighs 113g and measures 8.9 x 4.8 x 2.7cm. Its design is broadly similar to that of the 200, but the screen hinge is mounted further down the keypad half of the clamshell device. The 220 will be offered in silver - which is what Best Buy has - and black colour schemes. ® Related stories Motorola delays MPx220 MS smart phone Motorola smart phone to offer 1.3Mp cam, Bluetooth Motorola widens Microsoft smartphone line MS smart phones gain in-car nav kit Apple - Moto 'iPhone' deal full of promise... Motorola touts 'razor thin' metal mobile
Tony Smith, 11 Oct 2004
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Chip biz slowdown to stretch through Q1 '05

The chip business' current slowdown will last well into Q1 2005 and possibly beyond that, foundry chiefs have warned. However, they believe the industry will pick up again once as customers' inventory correction schemes come to fruition during that period. Certainly, a number of foundry executives interviewed by Silicon Strategies last week at the Fabless Semiconductor Association Expo in San Jose, claim the downturn is not a severe one, though it's undoubtedly long-lasting. "There is quite an inventory correction taking place right now," said Thomas Hartung, VP of marketing and sales at X-Fab Semiconductor Foundries. "But our customers are not saying that they are going into a recession. In Q1 2005, they are saying: 'We need to order again'." "We see a slowdown now, but it's not severe," said Doron Simon, president of Tower Semiconductor's US wing. "The demand is not as high as anticipated, but it's not a catastrophe. I don't see the end markets collapsing." The inventory correction follows the high chip-purchasing levels seen during the first half of the year. As chip buyers have cut orders in order to reduce stockpiles of semiconductors, so too have chip designers, their foundry partners and firms now make their own chips. The problem first emerged late Q2/early Q3 and has been dampening chip industry sales growth ever since. The Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA), for one, reckons sales will come back through Q4, pushing growth levels up again to the point where its forecast for 2004's sales - $216bn, up 28 per cent on 2003's figure - will become a reality. Next year is expected to see a much lower growth rate than 2004 - 4.2 per cent, according to the SIA - through market analysts have been reducing their expectations of late, largely on the back of the industry-wide inventory correction. Indeed, with even the bullish SIA anticipating a slowdown in 2006 - down just under one percentage point on 2005 - next year may offer less of a window for growth than previously thought. ® Related stories Analyst lifts 2004 chip capex forecast... World chip sales flat in August IDC ups '04 PC sales forecast Slowing H2 chip sales to hit 2005's growth - report Global chip sales slow on inventory build-up Intel Q3 sales to barely meet guidance - report SIA: 2004 will be chip biz's best yet
Tony Smith, 11 Oct 2004

Virgin space tourists will blast off to Bowie

The first customers of Brit entrepreneur Richard Branson's space tourism programme - dubbed Virgin Galactic - will enjoy several minutes of weightlessness to the sound of David Bowie's Space Oddity. The 1969 classic topped a poll of Virgin Radio listeners who were asked to vote on a suitable playlist for the £100,000 jaunts. Bowie pipped REM's Man on the Moon and Walking on the Moon by The Police to claim poll position in the VSS Enterprise's CD multichanger. Branson hopes to have Virgin Galactica fully up-and-running by 2007. He has ordered four vehicles based on Burt Rutan's SpaceShipOne, which recently claimed the $10m Ansari X-Prize for the first private spacecraft to complete two trips to above 100km within a fortnight. ® Related stories SpaceShipOne claims X-Prize Virgin to offer space flights SpaceShipOne triumphs
Lester Haines, 11 Oct 2004

Parents must do more to protect kids online

Parents must do more to ensure their kids are safe online, the UK internet group ISPA says. Web-savvy parents insist that their kids use the internet in a communal room, nag their children about being safe online, know who their children are talking to online, surf the net with their little treasures and ensure that their PC is tooled up with the latest online safety software. However, research conducted by ICM on behalf of ISPA found that fewer than one in ten mums and dads employ these five key measures, raising concerns about the safety of kids online. Said Jessica Hendrie-Liaño, the chair of the ISPA Council: "Although there is a great deal of awareness about online safety hazards in the UK, this research highlights a worrying lack of action by many parents to help children have a safer online experience. Only eight per cent of parents with children aged five to fifteen have implemented five of the most simple and important child safety guidelines." And while much has been done by the government and industry to protect children, ISPA reckons parents must not be complacent and instead take an active role in their children's online activities. Then again, research published earlier this year found that parental fears about the internet mean that children are not being given the information they need to behave safely and sensibly online. Unfounded fears that children are meeting murderers online and that chatrooms lead to sexual abuse mean that real and more frequent dangers of web use are ignored. While blanket restrictions on internet use leave children unprepared and unable to protect themselves. Last week the government announced a new radio and web advertising campaign warning kids of the perils of the internet. ® Related stories UK gov ads warn kids of net perils Parents clueless about kids online Parental Internet fears put kids at risk
Tim Richardson, 11 Oct 2004
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Intel defeats AMD in court

AMD's attempt to persuade the US court to sanction the release of over 60,000 pages of Intel documentation to a European Commission anti-trust enquiry has failed. The documents in question were brought to court during Intel's legal battle with Intergraph. AMD believes they show its arch-rival to be guilty of anti-competitive behaviour, which is why it wanted the EC to take a look. The Commission is currently investigating AMD's allegations that Intel used is marketing muscle to discourage European PC makers from sourcing processors from AMD. Intel understandably refused to hand them over, and AMD has been pursuing its rival through the US court to force disclosure. The irony is that the EC has always said it doesn't want to see the Intel documents. Indeed, that very fact weighed heavily in US District of San Jose Judge James Ware's decision, made on 4 October, to deny AMD's request. "The EC's determination that the requested documents are unwanted and unlikely to be reviewed, weighs against granting any portion of AMD's application," Ware wrote. He also cited the "breadth" of AMD's application - essentially demanding the release of documents not directly relevant to the EC's investigation - as another factor in his decision. Bizarrely, AMD originally won the right to pass on the documents, thanks to a 2003 San Jose District Court judgment, the result of a case launched in October 2001. However, Intel appealed, claiming it was not within the court's remit to make such a decision. While US law permits documents presented to one court to be made available to other courts, even overseas ones, Intel argued that the EC's investigation had no legal powers and so was not equivalent to a court hearing. "They're seeking to get access to documents that are under court-ordered seal in discovery for litigation that doesn't exist," Intel spokesman Chuck Mulloy said at the time. Intel's appeal went to the Supreme Court in April this year. In June, addressing the point of law raised by Intel, it said the lower court could authorise the release of such documents to the likes of the EC. AMD appears to have used that ruling to return to the District Court with a much longer list of documents it wants the EC to see. Reuters claims the new request extends to "hundreds of thousands of pages" - clearly more than originally listed. Following complaints made by AMD in October 2000, the EC launched an enquiry into Intel's behaviour but later suspended the investigation for lack of evidence. It re-opened the case in June 2004 on the back of "new evidence" provided by AMD. ® Related stories AMD defeats Intel in US Supreme Court EC relaunches Intel antitrust probe AMD, Intel to meet in court - again EC threatens court action over Intel-only contracts AMD, Intel to meet in court
Tony Smith, 11 Oct 2004

802.11a comes out fighting

AnalysisAnalysis A year ago, many were writing off 802.11a in the home market, claiming that 802.11g had won the battle and that the 5GHz variant would only carve out a market in the enterprise, if at all. However, the ‘a’ strand of Wi-Fi is biting back in the digital home as frustration with interference problems in the overcrowded 2.4GHz band mount, and in the past week, both Linksys and Netgear have announced dual-band products that work in both frequencies simultaneously. This signifies not just that 802.11a will carve out a niche after all, but that it stands a strong chance of dominating the areas of Wi-Fi that carry the highest margins and are therefore most attractive to the innovative vendors. As such, we could see a swing against 802.11g, especially as chipmakers like Atheros start to work round the limitations of 802.11a in terms of range, and the problems of overcrowding in the 2.4GHz band become ever more threatening. Markets for 802.11a There will be three key sectors where 5GHz Wi-Fi will flourish – outdoors, the enterprise and the multimedia home. In the first of these, its most natural home, it will ironically face the greatest obstacles – from WiMAX, 802.11b mesh and regulatory complexities around outdoor 5.8GHz. In the enterprise, we believe 802.11a has a fairly clear run, given the low penetration of other WLANs and the cautiousness of corporate buyers in moving towards newer developments such as WiMAX or pre-standard 802.11n. (The most talked about market for Wi-Fi, indoor internet access, is the least likely to boost upgrade moves from 802.11b because of the limitations on typical backhaul in home and hotspot sectors.) In the home, 802.11a is up against the large installed base of 802.11g, and is facing the emergence of products running at over 100Mbps, usually operating in 2.4GHz (and labelled as either ‘standards-plus’ 802.11g or ‘pre-standard’ 802.11n). There is also the nascent challenge from technologies that are optimized for fast multimedia, notably 802.15.3 or WiMedia. The belated success of 802.11a in these three sectors will depend on three factors – the level of real user frustration with 2.4GHz interference, the pricing of ‘a’ equipment, and the performance comparison with alternatives. The attitude of large influencers like Microsoft and Intel will also play a part. If users start to see real benefits to investing in ‘a’ in terms of cleaner spectrum and specific applications like video streaming, there will be a genuine market demand for the first time and an increasing awareness of the different advantages of the two 54Mbps Wi-Fi standards. It will then be up to the chipmakers to ensure that they achieve the pricing and performance to meet this demand in an attractive way. Will that user demand materialize? In the enterprise, the answer is almost certainly yes, now that dual-band products are available that can protect any existing investment in 802.11b. Enterprises full of Bluetooth gadgets and Wi-Fi laptops will be keen to avoid interference problems and to take advantage of other advantages of 802.11a in terms of real world performance. Plus, its shorter range, and the resulting denser pattern of APs required, is less problematic in an enterprise setting. Outdoor market Outdoors, ironically, given that this was seen only recently as 802.11a’s main haven, is where there will be the biggest question marks. This is partly because of the cheaper alternative of mesh for unwiring large districts, and the promise of pre- WiMAX gear for WISPs or enterprises seeking to cover a metro or campus aream with high bandwidth services. There is confusion in the Upper Band of 5GHz (5.725-5.825GHz) - in some countries the only piece of spectrum allocated for outdoor Wi-Fi - because WLAN allocations overlap with the ISM frequencies (5.725-5.850GHz), which allow a far wider range of devices, raising the threat of interference from ISM devices to 802.11a signals. For instance, some DECT cordless phones are being developed for the ISM range. The Upper Band overlaps with 802.16 profiles and other broadband wireless services as well and has a higher 4W EIRP, which has not been verified in all countries (for instance, India, parts of Europe, Korea). This band is allocated to fixed wireless as the primary service in India, Korea, Australia, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Japan, Thailand and Vietnam and so is likely to be dominated by WiMAX rather than Wi-Fi. This is not to say that there will be no place for 802.11a in the outdoor market – companies like Vivato have made a strong contribution to getting around its limitations in range using smart antennas and other techniques. The digital home sector But the real prize will be a mass home market. According to recent research from Parks Associates, home networking will be a $12bn business in the US alone by 2008, while In-Stat/MDR is more cautious, predicting $17.1bn globally by the same date, split about equally between the US, Asia and EMEA. Both companies believe the Microsoft XP Media Center and the PC will be the key drivers and that Wi-Fi will be the primary network. The defensive driver behind 802.11a, as we have seen, will be dissatisfaction with performance of 2.4GHz technologies. With a huge number of home devices, from microwaves to baby monitors to Bluetooth handsets, operating in this spectrum, the potential for interference degrading performance to unacceptable levels is high, especially when users are looking for quality-sensitive applications such as VoIP and video streaming. There is far less risk of such problems in 5GHz, partly because there is far more spectrum available (only 83.5MHz of 2.4GHz spectrum for WLANs, compared to 455MHz and, in some countries, more, for 5GHz WLANs). And, outside the ISM bands, apart from incumbent radar devices, it is reserved just for WLANs. Also, the technology of 802.11a is more spectrally efficient because its is OFDM-based – a more efficient approach than 802.11gt’s direct spread spectrum, and incorporates support for interference mitigation techniques (see box). Because 802.11a WLANs support as many as 24 non-overlapping channels, they are less susceptible to interference than 802.11b or 802.11g. As well as interference issues, 802.11a is better able to cope with other difficulties in the home environment, such as severe multipath channel impairment, with subsequent negative impact on performance, from the large number of in-home reflections and obstacles. OFDM avoids many of the channel impairment issues, though the higher frequency requires stronger antennas to penetrate walls and to achieve long ranges. Such devices are starting to be developed and to enter the mainstream, and the development of CMOS radios, and more compact 802.11a chipsets and antennas, will narrow the cost difference with the 2.4GHz Wi-Fi variants, and make the technology more appealing to consumers. Advances connected to chips and to OFDM will also help to mitigate 802.11a’s native disadvantages, compared to 802.11g, in terms of range and antenna size. New applications A positive driver will be needed, however, to make consumers decide en masse to stop putting up with the quirks of 2.4GHz and turn to a new generation of equipment – or for consumer electronics equipment vendors to make the investment of incorporating 802.11a, or dual-band, as standard. This driver will be superiority of 802.11a for multimedia, high bandwidth applications, particularly video. Though in its early stages, the demand for in-home wireless video and audio networks is expected to mushroom from 2005 onwards and 802.11a is increasingly being seen as the best basis for such networks, at least before 802.11n and UltraWideBand-based 802.15.3 are widely available – a window of around two years, possibly longer if the standards committees working on both these specifications fail to achieve a united proposal. Many experts feel that Wi-Fi is being stretched to its limits by digital home applications, being forced to support speed, quality of service and other requirements that were never envisaged for a wireless extension of the common Lan. This is why, we believe, the winner in the second generation digital home market will be UltraWideBand (whether based on IEEE or de facto standards) with fast DSL or WiMAX backhaul. But for the early adopters, 802.11a is the best currently available solution, offering higher real world speeds than 802.11g, better quality of service, better indoor coverage and greater spectral efficiency. Chipmaker moves Home equipment suppliers are waking up to this fact, and they are being encouraged by the chipmakers’ moves to make 802.11a more optimized as well as cheaper. Intel’s eventual announcement of its tri-mode Centrino, which will ship in PCs and consumer electronics devices early next year, was a major boost to the market and Atheros, in particular, has been at the cutting edge of extending 802.11a’s range, data rate and price/performance. Even more significant in the digital home market is Toshiba’s work on a chip based on a variant of 802.11a technology, optimized for home entertainment equipment. The Japanese giant is working on a version that would work with devices based on the vanilla standard but would make it easier for televisions and other non-PC equipment to receive video and other multimedia files. Toshiba has created chips using the new specification and will incorporate them in some of its own consumer equipment, though it would not give details on availability to other vendors beyond saying it would submit its developments to the IEEE. A success for 802.11a would, in the short term, benefit one company more than any others – Atheros, which provided the silicon for the new Netgear dual-band range. Atheros bet its marketing strategy and many R&D dollars on the standard in 2002, only to see Broadcom crashing into 802.11g before it was even standardized and achieving a Wi- Fi market lead almost overnight. Since then, Atheros has focused on superfast Wi-Fi silicon for all three variants, and on ever more compact chipsets, targeting the digital home and consumer electronics markets, but it is still looking for a significant payback on its extensive 802.11a R&D, and a chance to leapfrog Broadcom again. Linksys and Netgear The moves by Linksys and Netgear show that the connoisseurs of the consumer WLAN market are starting to take 802.11a seriously. The lack of 802.11a client products has held back dualband products – those supporting 5GHz for 802.11a and 2.4GHz for 802.11b/g in one device – but this situation will change as the interest in 802.11a’s strengths for multimedia applications intensifies. With dual-band, users can connect simultaneously to both networks, relying on ‘a’ for video and ‘g’ for email and surfing. Netgear’s new range is labelled ‘Double’ to reflect the dual bands and the boost in speed and range from the Atheros chipsets – up to 108Mbps data rate from its SuperA/G technology and range of 400 feet through walls using its XR enhancements. The Double is the first consumer range to incorporate XR, which was announced earlier this year. Its first two products are the Double-108Mbps Wireless Router, priced at $129 with WPA security and firewall, and a $79 PC Card. A USB adapter is due later this year. Meanwhile, Linksys’ dual-band offering is Wireless A+G, which includes the WRT55AG router Linksys has had since 2003, though with a significantly lower price, down from $299 to $109. It has also launched a new notebook PC Card and desktop PCI adapter for $89 each and an external USB adapter for $99. All the products are targeted at users of multiplayer games and video streaming, the strongest applications for 802.11a. The real breakthroughs will come when Linksys and Netgear start to incorporate such devices into their home multimedia gateway products, and still more, when the likes of Sony and Toshiba are embedding 802.11a in their products. 802.11a will be dependent on the expected boom in home multimedia networks materializing in the 2005-6 timeframe, if it is not to be a footnote in Wi-Fi history. But so far, its chances are looking strong. Copyright © 2004, Wireless Watch Wireless Watch is published by Rethink Research, a London-based IT publishing and consulting firm. This weekly newsletter delivers in-depth analysis and market research of mobile and wireless for business. Subscription details are here. Further background 802.11h The ITU has laid down common conditions for sharing spectrum with incumbents such as military radar in 5GHz bands. These rely on two agile radio techniques for reducing interference, Dynamic Frequency Selection (DFS) and Transmit Power Control (TPC). These are enshrined in the 802.11h standard extension, which also helps mitigate interference between different WLAN devices and which defines mechanisms that allow 802.11a devices to comply with the ITU’s recommendations. The main significance of 802.11h is that it enables vendors to create a ‘world mode’ 802.11a product that addresses interference rules in all major markets. Similar mechanisms will be devised for 802.16. While the main objective is to avoid conflict with incumbent users such as the military, the 802.11h standard and its 802.16 equivalent will also help reduce interference between all unlicensed and/or secondary use equipment. The 5GHz bands In 1996 the FCC opened up new unlicensed spectrum - 350MHz in the 5GHz bands at 5.15-5.35GHz and 5.725-5.875GHz, for use by a new category of unlicensed equipment, called NII/SuperNet devices and mainly concerned with fast wireless Lans. This band became known as the UNII band. Canada followed with virtually identical rulings. The new band would avoid the free-for-all of the 2.4GHz spectrum by restricting usage to wideband communications radios (though in 1996 there was no conception of how widely such devices would be used by a decade later). Other countries began to make similar rulings and at the ITU World Radio Conference of 2003 (WRC-03) there was a significant move to global harmonization of 5GHz open bands, their usage and anti-interference mechanisms. At this conference, the ITU laid down global recommendations that allocated the 5.47-5.725GHz band for WLANs, following European precedents for HiperLan, in addition to the 5.15-5.35GHz frequencies, a total of 455MHz of new global spectrum for WLANs. Unlike in 2.4GHz, the ITU effectively locks out competing devices from the 5GHz WLAN bands, although it requires that WLANs do not interfere with primary users such as radar and satellite. But WLANs also get primary status, which comes with rights of protection from interference from any future users of these frequencies that the ITU may consider. Some countries are considering additional spectrum in 4.9-5.0GHz, notably Japan, or above 5.825GHz, notably the US, which has reserved 75MHz of spectrum in 5.85-5.925GHz for its Dedicated Short Range Communications Service, aimed at roadside and vehicular communications and to be based on 802.11a. However, the Wi-Fi Alliance may not certify 5GHz devices below 5.15GHz or above 5.85GHz, at least until after 2005, and some countries like Japan and India have not opened up all the available bands recommended by the ITU. Also, countries vary in which sections of the band they reserve for indoor or outdoor usage – Europe, for instance, has yet to harmonize policy on outdoor usage in the Upper Band. The ITU had also, in 1997, declared some new bands for international unlicensed usage, which overlapped with UNII, but were for different purposes. These are for unlicensed ISM usage (industrial, scientific and medical) and, unlike UNII, are not restricted to a particular type of radio. The most relevant ISM bands to WLANs are 2.4-2.5GHz and 5.725-5.875GHz. The latter is open in most countries for commercial fixed access wireless communications and overlaps with the Upper Band of UNII. This overlap is the most serious source of confusion and potential interference for 5GHz WLANs going forward, especially in the outdoor market. It is worth noting that the ITU’s ISM band (5.725-5.85GHz) is open in many countries for WLANs, but is not officially part of the ITU allocation for WLAN. This Upper Band is not uniformly available across Europe or in Japan and European nations will roll it out at very different and often unspecified paces, while Japan has not made a final decision on opening it up at all. This upper band is mainly relevant to outdoor 802.11a systems delivering hotzone or broadband wireless access services, and to 802.16. Related stories Linksys sends corporate WLAN standard home Intel unveils tri-mode Wi-Fi for Centrino Agere refocuses on Wi-Fi
Wireless Watch, 11 Oct 2004

Bloated Wi-Fi market brings out its dead

The shake-out in the overcrowded Wi- Fi chip market has been predicted for a year now, and it seems finally to be starting. Chipmaker Bermai has closed its doors, and there are strong reports that AirFlow is also shutting down (as well as switchmaker Legra) Two of the top four WLan chipmakers, Conexant and Atheros, recently issued revenue warnings and consolidation looks set to continue. Conexant itself last year bought GlobespanVirata, which had in turn taken over Wi-Fi specialist Intersil, and now it appears that the acquisitive Broadcom may be after Agere. RIP AirFlow and Bermai In April, AirFlow Networks announced a “new strategic direction", centred on licensing its switch-on-a-chip technology to third parties. Now analysts say the company is down to three employees and is looking to sell its intellectual property to a former rival. AirFlow was focused on voice but needed another year before this would be a mainstream requirement. Bermai closed down last week after apparently failing to raise a third round of funding. Bermai raised $34 million in its first two rounds from Mobius Venture Capital, ATV and others. The company was headed by wireless veteran Bruce Sanguinetti, who had founded BreezeCom and was a key player in the development of the 802.11e quality of service standard-tobe, which Bermai supported in a prefinalization form. But Sanguinetti left the company earlier this year. Wi-Fi is following the classic cycle - dominated by start-ups in the innovation phase, which gradually give way to the larger firms as the technology becomes lower cost and addresses the mass market. To survive, Wi-Fi chip specialists will need the economies of scale, channels and cost efficiency to address a volume market, as well as the R&D resources to stay ahead of the technological curve and counter commoditization with more cutting edge, and therefore high margin, offerings. Start-ups will survive only through intellectual property revenues or very specialist activities, or by becoming part of a larger group. And even the bigger players are looking to grow larger still through acquisition of rivals with complementary strengths. Broadcom after Agere? The latest deal could be for Broadcom to take over Agere, which would boost the former’s GPRS and UMTS chip business, into which it has been putting significant efforts this year, as well as its WLan technology and market share. (It would also bring a new business line for Broadcom in storage, where Agere is market leader in providing integrated circuits for hard disk drives, and one in base station DSPs). The speculation has been sparked by the settlement of outstanding lawsuits between the two companies. Broadcom agreed this week to take a charge of $27.5m to settle all patent litigation with Agere. Agere, a spin-off from Lucent, was an early player in Wi-Fi, Lucent having acquired an 802.11b chip pioneer, WaveLan. It supplied silicon for many early wireless products, such as the first generation from Linksys and Apple. However, it subsequently defocused on Wi-Fi, selling its WLan equipment business to Proxim and becoming stagnant in the 802.11 chip market. Between 2002 and 2003 it slipped from number two to number five in the Wi-Fi chip sector by revenue and in 2004 will be lower than that, despite some renewed signs of interest in the market. It has struggled with independence and has long looked ripe to be acquired, combining strong technology and partnerships with a shaky financial record – last November it reported its first quarterly profit since going public in March 2001, but warned it would go back into the red in first quarter of fiscal 2004, because of restructuring costs. It reported net income of $2m for its latest quarter, Q3, compared with a net loss of $78m a year ago, but saw a decline on Q2, being hit by industry-wide inventory glut problems and by issues with three of its major 3G chipset customers, particularly slow roll-out by Hutchison. On the Wi-Fi technology side, Agere would complement Broadcom’s approach perfectly. Broadcom has based its success in this market at staying at the forefront of performance and anticipating standards, as it did to best effect with its prestandard 802.11g onslaught, a move that caught all its rivals offguard and brought the company hurtling into the top three WLan chipmakers. Agere, though less commercially successful and with none of Broadcom’s sense of timing, has very advanced performance-enhanced Wi-Fi technology. In March, it introduced a semi-proprietary, turbocharged 802.11a/g/b chipset, claiming peak rates of 150Mbps, faster than any rival. It is also spearheading one of the proposals for the upcoming 802.11n 100Mbps-plus Wi-Fi standard. And now it has announced methods of speeding up its WaveLAN 802.11a/b/g chips using a software overlay that uses a mixture of heightened receiver sensitivity, packet bursting, compression and quality of service (QoS) techniques to boost throughput. All this would be valuable grist to Broadcom’s mill, as it comes under intensified new pressure from Atheros. Wrongfooted by a strong focus on 802.11a and by Broadcom’s aggressiveness in ‘g’, Atheros has been hitting back with strong turbocharged offerings for all three Wi-Fi variants, and with innovative singlechip solutions. Broadcom needs to ensure it does not slip behind. As margins on standard Wi-Fi chipsets crash, survival will be about two factors – being first to technology advances that appeal to the OEMs, and sheer scale. Agere would help Broadcom advance in both respects, and make Atheros, the only Wi-Fi specialist left in the front row, looking exposed. Copyright © 2004, Wireless Watch Wireless Watch is published by Rethink Research, a London-based IT publishing and consulting firm. This weekly newsletter delivers in-depth analysis and market research of mobile and wireless for business. Subscription details are here. Related stories Broadcom simplifies Wi-Fi security set-up Broadcom acquires Sand Video Agere refocuses on Wi-Fi
Wireless Watch, 11 Oct 2004

Creative, Dell prep iPod Mini rivals

Creative is preparing a second music player to challenge Apple's iPod Mini, even as Dell is gearing up to launch against it too, reports on the web suggest. Creative's existing iPod Mini rival is the MuVo2, which it recently updated as the 5GB MuVo2 FM - offered in a range of pastel-colour casings. According to a Gizmodo report, its second pitch will called the Zen Micro. Incorporating 5GB of hard disk storage - believed to come courtesy of Seagate, which launched its 1in product in June - the new player will ship in ten (bright this time) colours, if a picture of a promo sheet is to be believed. The gadget provides 12 hours' of playback on a single charge, and includes an FM radio and voice recorder. The slightly curved shell sports a large LCD and moulded touchpad to enable one-hand operation. The unit measures 8.3 x 5 x 1.8cm, which makes it slightly shorter than the Mini, but a little thicker. What strikes us from the Gizmodo picture is the very iPod-like user interface. So too is the price, apparently: €279 - just like the iPod Mini - and the facility for contacts and calendar synchronisation and display, according to one of the site's correspondents, citing details provided by Creative under non-disclosure agreement at a recent European press event. The Zen Micro will ship on 18 November, apparently, after Dell ships its Pocket DJ5, a 5GB player set to ship for $199, below the Mini, which retails for around $249, according to an Engadget report. The DJ5 will be white - it's not known if it will ship in other colours too - and run for nine hours on a single charge, the site claims. It's due in a "few weeks". ® Related stories Creative unveils iPod Mini-coloured MuVo2 update Sony apes Apple with coloured music players Toshiba tilts digital music player line at iPod T-Mobile to battle iPod with music smart phone Samsung shows 'world's first' hard drive phone Packard Bell preps iPod Mini clone Alleged Apple Flash iPod 'partner' signs with Rio Related review Creative MuVo 2 4GB MP3 Player
Tony Smith, 11 Oct 2004

UK hosts anti-spam summit

International anti-spam enforcement agencies are meeting in London today to work up a joint plan of action for tackling junk mail. The conference is billed as the "first international meeting of spam enforcers". Hosted by the OFT (Office of Fair Trading) and the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the talking shop brings together consumer and data protection officers with telecoms execs from more than 20 countries. They are also discussing how to tackle the online fraud and computer viruses. Three years ago only one in ten messages were spam - now it's up to 60 per cent, according to anti-spam vendor Brightmail. An estimated 80 per cent of spam hitting the in-box of UK net users originates from overseas, underlining the importance of cross-border enforcement. The OFT is keen to build on its successes to date in co-operating with its peers overseas. These include a joint investigation between the OFT and the US Federal Trade Commission into a UK-based firm (called TLD Networks) which spammed US consumers with a patriotic message in an attempt to con them into buying fake domain names. In another case, the OFT teamed up with the Italian competition authority over a case that linked spam with modem hijacking. Italian consumers were targeted by junk mail sent by a UK company, directing recipients to a "cookery" website. This site contained malicious code. If this code was activated, a recipient's modem connections were redirected to a premium rate line. The company withdrew the website and closed its office,s following the OFT's intervention. Today's conference will include sessions on comparing the enforcement powers of different government agencies and departments, best practice on evidence collection, cooperation with the private sector, and devising a practical framework for international law enforcement action. ® Related stories 'Together we can defeat spam in two years' EU ruling set to can business spam Enforcement is key to fighting cybercrime Fighting the army of byte-eating zombies
John Leyden, 11 Oct 2004

US gov targets spyware outfit

A company which makes software that infiltrates users' computers and demands $30 to be removed has been targeted by US authorities. The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is has asked a federal court to shut down the operations of Seismic Entertainment Productions and SmartBot.Net. The FTC action was initiated after it received a complaint from a Washington consumer group, the Center for Democracy and Technology. This is the first time that the FTC has taken action against a company that produces so-called "spyware". The software exploits a flaw in Microsoft's Internet Explorer to gain access to a computer without the users' knowledge. The spyware interferes with the operation of the web browser, causes CD-ROM trays to slide open, slows down the computer or causes it to stop working entirely. The spyware then invokes a number of pop-up messages which urge consumers to buy programs called Spy Wiper or Spy Deleter to fix the problem for a fee of $30. Regardless of the veracity of the FTC's allegations, this tactic is not unknown among unethical spyware developers. "There are questions over the ethics of some anti-spyware producers, because they get rid of the competition and then install something themselves," said Conor Flynn, technical director of Rits, speaking to ElectricNews.net. "If you're thinking of using freeware, then do a Google search to get comments and see if there has been any negative feedback from other users." The FTC cited laws against deceptive-business in its action against New Hampshire resident Sanford Wallace, the principal of both Seismic Entertainment Productions and SmartBot.Net. The FTC asked the court to shut down Wallace's operations and force him to return any money he has made. Spyware comes in many forms, many of which are relatively harmless. The more benign spyware monitors web usage patterns, which are used for targeted marketing and pop-up ads. The more malicious kind can monitor keystrokes to capture passwords, credit-card numbers and other sensitive data. Currently there are no federal anti-spyware laws in the US, though legislation is in place in several states. But the US House of Representatives has passed two anti-spyware bills this week and another is pending in the Senate. The Internet Spyware Prevention Act would give the Justice Department $10m to crack down on companies and others that secretly install spyware and those who attempt to dupe victims into releasing personal details and financial information in email scams. Anyone caught installing spyware to change a computer's security settings or steal a victim's personal information could be sentenced up to two years in prison. The other bill would add hefty civil penalties over the use of spyware. There is no specific law against spyware in Ireland, although the Computer Misuse Act makes provisions for viruses that are written with malicious intent and the disseminators of spyware could face criminal prosecution if the information collected was used for criminal activities. This would include gathering credit card information with a view to committing credit card fraud. Flynn said that stronger anti-spyware legislation is being drafted at the EU level and the Ireland is likely to use this as a basis for its own legislation. Copyright © 2004, ENN Related stories House approves anti-spyware bill Myopic Congress lacks spyware focus There is no anti-spyware silver bullet
ElectricNews.net, 11 Oct 2004

SMEs get Data Protection Act guide

The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) has published a new guide for small businesses (SMEs) concerning their responsibilities under the Data Protection Act (DPA). The guide - Getting it right - is supposed to provide a straightforward explanation of data protection and what businesses need to know to meet the requirements of the DPA. Under the DPA all businesses need to follow the Act's eight principles including making sure that records held on employees and punters are stored securely, used for the right reasons and are always accurate and up to date. Some businesses that process personal information may also need to register with the ICO. Said Assistant Information Commissioner Jonathan Bamford: "Small businesses can have a lot of legislation to comply with and we are trying to cut out the jargon. Our simple guide has been designed to help businesses understand and easily follow data protection rules." Anyhow, SMEs unsure about their responsibilities can have a gander at the guidelines on the ICO's web site. Separately, the Information Commissioner is still warning businesses throughout the UK to ignore bogus data protection agencies which continue to send notices demanding money to register under the DPA. More than 200 businesses a month in the UK fall victim to fake data protection agencies posing as official government bodies. The letters, which request sums of between £95 and £135 to register under the DPA, often use threatening language and are on official-looking headed notepaper. The statutory fee for notification is just £35 a year and businesses that need to do so should go directly to the Information Commissioner's Office. Said Bob Turnbull, assistant commissioner for Scotland: "If you receive a letter demanding more than £35 to register under the DPA this will be a scam. Our simple message to businesses is to throw the letter in the bin and don't pay the fee." ® Related stories OFT fingers Bristol man over misleading data protection ad Freedom of Information means grief for small biz Watchdog mauls internet directory for bogus invoices Data Protection getting it right
Tim Richardson, 11 Oct 2004
channel

Market float for reseller consolidator

Maxima Holdings has taken over SAP reseller Azur for £16.7m. The firm intends to fund the takeover by floating on the Alternative Investment Market (AIM) later this month. Maxima is a new venture set up by Kelvin Harrison and Geoff Bicknell. The firm is looking for more acquisition targets among UK reseller and service companies. Kelvin Harrison, Maxima’s chief executive, said: “Azur is the platform from which we aim to build a focused IT services group - a professional services company rather than one that is vulnerable to IT product development...We are going to build a business that creates value through the provision of exemplary service to customers and the efforts of a skilled and motivated delivery team... The sector is highly fragmented and there are a significant number of targets, application software and service companies generating between £2m and £20m of revenues.They are constrained because they lack a number of key ingredients - critical mass, management experience, finance to expand and the ability to attract talent to help them.” Geoff Bicknell, Maxima finance director, said: “There is constant talk about the need for consolidation within the sector but, in reality, very little has been done about it...The executive team has the ability to run a business many times the size of Azur and with a good second tier management in place, the directors will be concentrating on the next steps. Naturally we are already looking towards further acquistions and are already working on a pipeline of opportunities. Our aim is to become a major European software services business within three to five years.” Azur employs more than 100 staff and for the year ended May 2004 it made a pre-tax profit of £1.87m on turnover of £12.4m. It operates three divisions: Azur for SAP, Azur Business Solutions for manufacturing and construction customers and Minerva Industrial Systems which distributes QAD enterprise software for manufacturing firms. Michael Brooke and Jeremy Prescott will join the firm as non-executive directors. ® Related stories Business Serve snaps up Vital Online Computacenter duo clean up again Systemax completes UK restructuring
John Oates, 11 Oct 2004

StorageTek seizes Storability

A week or two ago witnessed yet another consolidation in the storage sector when StorageTek bought Storability to further strengthen its information lifecycle management (ILM) offerings. In a transaction for which the financial details were not revealed, StorageTek purchased the assets of Storability Software. StorageTek has been active on many fronts over the last year and the acquisition of Storability covers all of the company’s intellectual property, existing software license agreements and customer contracts. Under the terms of the agreement it is expected that approximately 70 employees will join StorageTek. Storability is best known for its Enterprise Storage Resource Management (ESRM) solutions. The company’s Global Storage Manager (GSM) software enables customers to visualise and optimise multi-vendor data storage environments and reduces total cost of ownership. The recently announced GSM V4 is designed to add sophisticated business analytics that can transform data into “actionable” information. The move is a logical step for StorageTek as it seeks to add to its lifecycle management capabilities, especially as the two organisations have been working together for over two years. Indeed, StorageTek had previously acquired (in July 2002) Storability’s Storage Operations Center (SOC) and launched its Remote Managed Storage service. The GSM software is a solution focussed on the administration and management of storage assets in a business service management fashion; in effect BSM for storage. GSM provides a central view of storage components, including online and near line storage, network fabrics and switches, databases and backup applications. Tim Leisman, President and CEO of Storability, said: “This acquisition is a natural extension to the relationship we have developed with StorageTek over the years. By combining the power of the Global Storage Manager offering with the power of StorageTek’s customer relationships and global services capabilities, we believe we have created a smart solution for companies seeking to get greater productivity and better returns on their IT investments.” He added: “We know that today’s transaction will benefit enterprise customers as StorageTek expands its ILM product offerings.” StorageTek is one of the most widely recognised brands in the storage arena, yet many IT professionals today lack clarity on the full range of areas in which the company operates today. This lack of awareness leaves StorageTek on a mission to raise the visibility of its solutions, not simply in the tape space where its capabilities are well known, but in ILM and in the increasing range of Global Services. StorageTek needs to be more forceful in promoting its software capabilities, and the acquisition of Storability certainly delivers a good platform from which to shout. The software solutions that StorageTek now possesses, especially around ILM and its strong service delivery capabilities, provides the company a suite of offerings. Now it needs to promote them vigorously. Watch out for more from StorageTek. Copyright © 2004, IT-Analysis.com Related stories StorageTek runs higher on revenue boost StorageTek gives early look at tape library behemoth StorageTek bulks up tape, trims disk
Tony Lock, 11 Oct 2004

Man sacked for hunting ET at work

A computer programmer at the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services was last week sacked after running Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) software on his bosses' server, wcpo.com reports. Charles E. Smith, 63, claimed that it wasn't a problem since he was only running the SETI programme between 7pm and 7am and at weekends. Department director Tom Hayes clearly didn't see it like that, and showed Smith the door. Hayes later displayed the kind of biting wit which was doubtless instrumental in his rise to power at the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services when he said of Smith: "I understand his desire to search for intelligent life in outer space, because obviously he doesn't find it in the mirror in the morning. I think that people can be comfortable that security has beamed this man out of our building." Wcpo.com has attempted to contact Smith but he has to date proved as elusive as ET. ® Related stories SETI has not found ET: official Earth to disappear from alien radar Vulture Central SETI@Home team
Lester Haines, 11 Oct 2004

Sony: PSP will ship by year's end

Sony has once again reiterated its plan to ship PlayStation Portable (PSP) in Japan by the end of the year and in Europe and the US during Q1 2005. Sony Computer Entertainment CTO Masa Chatani - interviewed by Japanese gaming site Famitsu, with a translation coming courtesy of GamesIndustry.biz - said last week that the handheld console will ship by the end of 2004. "Our plan to sell the PSP within the year is secure as well," he said, "so please be at ease." Sony's proposed ship date has certainly been called into question. Analysts have pointed to the relative late arrival of PSP software development kits with console hardware, and the knock-on effect that will have on the availability of games for the new machine. Games developers are believed to have been working with emulators, so the arrival of quality titles may not be as much of an issue as previously thought. Sony may well have enough games of its own up its sleeve to ship the product to gadget-hungry Japanese. That would give it up to three months to build up sufficient titles to win over European and US buyers. Questions remain over aspects of the PSP's design, including battery life - just two hours, claimed a Nintendo executive last week - its size and the availability of content on the handheld's Universal Media Disc format. It has to be said, most of the folk mentioning these potential pitfalls are Sony competitors. The manufacturer itself is keeping very quiet about it, presumably after having last year to drop a number of promised PSX features in order to meet its ship date. ® Related stories Sony rebuffs PlayStation Portable delay claim Sony talks up PlayStation Portable's chips Sony licenses VIA tech for PSP Sony delays US, Euro PlayStation Portable launch Sony to unveil PlayStation 3 early '05
Tony Smith, 11 Oct 2004

Germans demo working quantum register

Physicists at the University of Bonn have successfully demonstrated a five-qubit quantum register, using neutral atoms. Registers are the central memory of a computer, in which information is stored in 1s and 0s. Neutral atoms are considered natural candidates for building a register because they can exist in an abundance of quantum states, and these individual states can be manipulated relatively simply. (Not to mention the fact that they can be counted – quite a useful property, when building a register.) In Physical Review Letters, the researchers explain how they set up the register experimentally. You can access their paper here. The team cooled five caesium atoms until they were almost stationary, and then loaded them into an optical lattice. An optical lattice is a light grid created by the interference of two or more laser beams. More poetically, it can be thought of as an "artificial crystal of light". In this particular case, the researchers loaded the atoms on to a so-called standing wave trap. This lattice can trap the neutral atoms in potential wells because the electric fields of the lasers induce a dipole moment in the atom. Depending on the frequency of this dipole moment, and the frequency of the electric field, an atom will either be pushed into the areas of maximum light intensity, or into the areas of minimum light intensity. Once the atoms were loaded onto the grid, the team initialised the register, that is, they set all the atoms to the state corresponding with 0 (zero). The team took photographs of the atoms in their potential wells using an intensified CCD camera. Then, using a polarised laser, the team performed an operation known as a spin-flip on two of the atoms, switching them to the state corresponding to 1. Next, the team bombarded the array with a laser tuned to the state-0 atoms, to check that the information had genuinely been transferred to the register. The laser knocked the state-0 atoms off the carrier wave, leaving the state-1 atoms behind. Another picture from their CCD imaging system shows the state-1 atoms are exactly where they were at the beginning of the experiment. The team is now working to create a quantum gate in which two or more qubits of the register will interact in a controlled way. Dominik Schrader, the lead scientist, he hopes to get there in two years. ® Related stories Computing needs a Grand Challenge Supercool atoms and quantum computing Japanese boffins advance quantum computing
Lucy Sherriff, 11 Oct 2004
channel

Cisco offers security certification

Cisco is offering a new certification for resellers who sell to small and medium businesses. The Cisco Security Virtual Private Network and Firewall Express specialisation is the third programme aimed at the SME market. It is aimed at single site, or limited site, entry level network security projects. Luca Marinelli, managing director for channels at Cisco, said: “The introduction of the Cisco Security VPN/Firewall Express specialisation is the third to be adapted for the SMB market. We understand that channel partners who sell into the SMB space have different needs and we are focused on creating programs to help them be successful.” Cisco resellers who qualify will get formal training, 10 points towards their company’s certification and recoginition on the Cisco Partner Locator. More details available here Related stories Paradise Computers goes titsup BT buys Belfast computer dealer for £17m Cisco resellers get incentive rebates
John Oates, 11 Oct 2004

NTL disconnects 2,000 Dubliners

NTL is blaming a "safety issue" for suspending 2,000 phone lines in Dublin. Punters have already been warned of the issue and had their services unplugged. Instead, they've told to find another company to provide their telco services. In a statement the cableco said: "NTL Ireland has taken the decision to suspend its domestic direct telephone service in Dublin. All 2,000 customers are being advised of this decision and we are recommending that each customer contact an alternative telecoms provider with immediate effect. "We sincerely regret any inconvenience caused as a result of this. The issue does not affect any other service provided by NTL. The company has taken this decision after identifying a safety issue associated with its domestic direct telephone equipment." A spokeswoman for the company declined to comment further on the nature of the "safety issue" citing "legal reasons" for NTL staying schtum. ® Related stories NTL customers told to 'f**k off' Third of Irish phone lines fail broadband test NTL tunes in to video-on-demand NTL takes control of Virgin.net
Tim Richardson, 11 Oct 2004

The IT security vuln league table of fear

A list of the worst 20 security vulnerabilities bedevilling Windows and *Nix systems was unveiled last Friday by the SANS (SysAdmin, Audit, Network, Security) Institute. The list, now in its fifth year, is designed to help admins to prioritise their efforts so that they can close the most dangerous security holes first. It highlights the top 10 Windows and top 10 Unix issues in their relative order of importance. The roll of infamy is decided by a panel of IT security industry reps, academics, users organisations and the SANS Institute. Top Vulnerabilities to Windows Systems Web servers & services Workstation service Windows remote access services Microsoft SQL Server Windows authentication Web browsers File-sharing applications Window’s Local Security Authority Subsystem Service risks Mail client Instant messaging Top Vulnerabilities in Unix and Linux Systems BIND Domain Name System Web server Authentication Version control systems Mail transport service Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) Open Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) Misconfiguration of Enterprise Services NIS/NFS Databases Kernel As with previous years the list is fairly general and will generate few surprises among security pros. Despite this the vulnerabilities it recounts are frequently ignored. These ommissions are a key factor in the spread of destructive worms. SANS line is that simple precautions, prompted by raised awareness, can save far greater problems further down the line. In a statement SANS said: "The vast majority of worms and other successful cyber attacks are made possible by vulnerabilities in a small number of common operating system services. Attackers are opportunistic. They take the easiest and most convenient route and exploit the best-known flaws with the most effective and widely available attack tools. They count on organizations not fixing the problems, and they often attack indiscriminately, scanning the Internet for any vulnerable systems. The easy and destructive spread of worms, such as Blaster, Slammer, and Code Red, can be traced directly to exploitation of unpatched vulnerabilities." "Although there are thousands of security incidents each year affecting these operating systems, the overwhelming majority of successful attacks target one or more of these twenty vulnerable services," it added. ® Related Stories FBI names 20 most unwanted security flaws Sasser creates European pandemonium Blaster worm spreading rapidly
John Leyden, 11 Oct 2004

MP3 music service draws industry fire

UpdateUpdate A fledgling online music service targeting dance music fans this week attempted to convince the music industry that it is legitimate following complaints from a number of independent labels that the site was offering unlicensed music content. JetGroove was launched on 5 October as the "first legal service for MP3 downloads which offers such a vast choice of music made by independent record labels in one place". The "English" site claims its catalogue stretches to "half a million" tracks, all in MP3 format. "Our database contains more alternative music than you can find anywhere else," its registration rubric boasts. Perhaps the site does, but it quickly emerged that the site may also offer songs that have not been authorised. A number of independent labels and artists who visited the site after its launch claimed to have found their content apparently available for purchase, even though JetGroove had not sought their permission. UK music industry trade body the BPI today confirmed that it had received a "number of complaints from its independent members about the possible posting of unlicensed content" A spokesman saud: "Our anti-piracy division is aware of the site and is taking steps to investigate it." The Association of Independent Music (AIM) told The Register it too is investigating complaints from its members. And Register sources say anti-piracy operatives from the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) are also keeping an eye on JetGroove, whose servers are believed to be located in Russia. In fact, many, if not all, unauthorised songs, although listed, are not available for download. While that may yet leave the site on the right side of the law, "all it seems to have done is piss off a whole load of artists and labels and give the impression that the site is an extremely dodgy operation," wrote a poster to the Record of the Day music industry web site this weekend, neatly summing up what a number of industry insiders have said to us. Clarification Yesterday, JetGroove responded to such complaints with a statement that seeks to clarify its position. "The music community was disappointed at some parts of the website and made some wrong assumptions," it said, admitting that the attention it had received "brought some contradictions to the light [sic]". JetGroove claims it is committed to "legal sales only". Where it has a license to sell a song, that song will be made available "to be purchased and downloaded". Where permission to offer the song has yet to be granted, the song will be listed but not available for sale - they are put "on hold", JetGroove said. "As soon as this happens, record label or artist to whom this track belongs is contacted with the offer of doing business with JetGroove." That makes JetGroove sound like those 'services' who list websites for free but then regularly email them with the suggestion that they pay to get a 'premier' link. JetGroove doesn't appear to have added spam to its business-development methodologies, but it does appear to be listing songs ahead of a deal, in the hope of building a commercial relationship with labels in due course. Requests for database entries to be removed are followed up with a letter that runs along the lines of the statement issued yesterday: "The experience of showing your music on our website without distributing aimed to draw your attention to us, with further goal to make contacts with you on friendly terms with a perspective of mutually beneficial partnership. We're glad to inform you that your music is getting popular indeed through our website and we can let you know at any time how many of your tracks were put on hold and which ones," it says. If a label or artist continues to refuse to license their content, songs and references to them do appear to be removed. Warp Records and Subversive Records are among the labels who issued cease and desist letters last week and had their songs removed from JetGroove's database, The Register understands. How much unlicensed content, if any, the site makes available for purchase is not known. It's possible that none is - the company is simply listing unlicensed content, not offering it. Indeed, while it's possible to select a broad range of tracks for purchase, many appear in online shopping baskets as "not yet available for purchase". "The least thing JetGroove planned to do is to violate rights of record labels, publishers, artists or authors," the company said. "The project was created to give independents a good chance of being known in the world, and earning money, not to make them suffer again as they do from p2p systems [sic]." Maybe, but the company has certainly taken an unusual path to achieving that aim. Its decision to list some content before seeking permission to offer the songs for sale is not a move guaranteed to win support among members of the independent music community, no matter how willing it is to remove the songs when requested to do so. Nor will offering song previews, which require licensing as much as the complete tracks do. It's entirely possible that the site only plays host to legitimately licensed content - which is why the BPI, IFPI and organisations like it are moving cautiously for now. But by listing material it does not have the online resale rights to, even if it doesn't make the stuff available, JetGroove has undoubtedly weakened its credibility. ® Related stories Russian 5c MP3 site 'unlicensed' Love DRM or my family starves: why Steve Ballmer doesn't Get It iPod owners very honest, not thieves at all, says MS Most songs on iPods 'stolen' - Microsoft CEO How the music biz can live forever, get even richer, and be loved 9 out of 10 cats prefer CDs to downloads Is SunnComm a sham or the next, big DRM success? Music biz should shift to flat-fee, P2P model - industry exec
Tony Smith, 11 Oct 2004

Nvidia pushes GeForce 6200 at value end

Nvidia today released its latest GeForce 6-class graphics chip, the low-end - or "mainstream", as Nvidia puts it - GeForce 6200. Like the mid-range 6600 and high-end 6800, the 6200 provides PCI Express connectivity and full support for DirectX 9, including Shader Model 3.0. Like the 6600, it uses a 128-bit memory bus, but lacks the other parts' GDDR 3 support - the 6200 is vanilla DDR only. The 6200 doesn't support 64-bit texture filtering and processor, or provide colour, texture or z-buffer compression, as the higher end chips all do. Nor does it support Nvidia's SLI ' two cards, one image' technology. The 110nm part contains four pixel processing pipelines, compared to the 6600GT's eight and the 6800 Ultra's 16. Nvidia claimed the 6200 is capable of a 1.2bn texels per second fill rate and processing 225m vertices per second. GeForce 6200-based boards are scheduled to ship in November 2004, Nvidia said. ® Related stories Nvidia to launch nForce 4 October 2004 Athlon 64 PCI-E chipset here by end of year 'for sure' Nvidia 'nForce 4' details leak Nvidia revs GeForce 6600, 6600 GT Nvidia unveils Quadro FX 4400 Nvidia Q2 sales, income slide Related reviews Nvidia 6800 Ultra head-to-head
Tony Smith, 11 Oct 2004

3G must embrace TV

The broadcasting of television and video clips to mobile phones may be the key to 3G's success, a report claims. Research outfit Analysys has said that mobile operators offering television programming or video services over 3G may be able to generate significantly more revenues than peers that offer only voice and high-speed data messaging. In fact, the report goes as far as to say that TV and video over 3G could be as lucrative to operators as SMS and other current messaging services. "TVs are found in almost every household and consumers spend far more time watching TV than they currently do using their mobile phone," says Alastair Brydon, the report's co-author. "However, the results of consumer studies and the rapid take-up of 3G TV and video services in some countries suggest strong latent demand for consuming this type of content over mobile networks. By focusing strongly on mobile TV and video on demand, South Korean operators have already managed to achieve nearly three times the 3G penetration of Japanese operators, despite the later launch of their services." Still, video over mobile is by no means a sure thing. Analysys notes that the service could be prohibitively expensive for consumers to use, given the cost of current 3G services. "A two-hour movie, transmitted at 384kbps, would consume over 300Mb of data and operators would have to charge over $300 if they wanted to achieve similar margins to voice telephony," says report co-author Mark Heath. "Making long programmes affordable would devastate their revenue per Mb and create network congestion," Heath commented. The trick, according to the report, is to offer short video clips that generate acceptable levels of profit, but are also affordable and in demand. Another problem is the lack of capacity on 3G networks to accommodate large numbers of users. Moreover, current 3G networks are unable to transmit data at a rate that would consistently allow for high-quality streaming video. But the research firm notes that new developments in video coding as well as 3G enhancements such as HSDPA (High Speed Downlink Packet Access) from the end of 2005 will, in principle, relieve some of the limitations of current 3G technology, reducing by a quarter the cost of carrying a given quality of video clips. "However," says Analysys' Alastair Brydon, "even with significant enhancements such as HSDPA, wide-area 3G technology will not be able to support extensive viewing of TV and video-on-demand services by a large proportion of mass-market users." But even with all of the road blocks, Analysys claims that 3G operators will, in time, face more competition in the mobile video market, and as such should seek to launch services early. Much of that competition will come from emerging broadcasting technologies such as DVB-H (Digital Video Broadcasting: Handhelds), an extension of the DVB-T standard. In reality, video broadcasting over 3G will require not only enhancements such as HSDPA, it may also rely on the use of multiple technologies in tandem, including DVB-H or satellite, the researchers say. What's more, billing and content delivery will become complicated and the market is liable to involve a mixture of delivery networks, owned by different organisations, requiring revenue-sharing arrangements between network operators, broadcasters, content owners and various intermediaries. "It is vital for mobile operators to seize first-mover advantage and take a proactive role in defining the future value chain," adds Heath. Copyright © 2004, ENN Related stories Apple colour-screen 'PhotoPod' said to be in production Autumn offers at the Reg Mobile Shop MS, Apple pitch music at mobile phone makers
ElectricNews.net, 11 Oct 2004

Atheros unveils 'world first' 802.11a/b/g chip

Wi-Fi chip maker Atheros has begun sampling what it claims is the world's first single-chip 802.11a, b and g part, the company announced today. The AR5006X combines 2.4GHz and 5GHz radio, baseband processor and MAC on a single slab of silicon. The device also provides full support for the 802.11i hardware-accelerated wireless security spec, also known as Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) 2. Atheros didn't mention WPA 2 by name, so the AR5006X may not yet be formally certified as supporting the technology. However, the company did say the AR5006X supports the Wi-Fi Alliance's Wi-Fi Multimedia (WMM) spec, a subset of the as-yet-unratified 802.11e quality of service standards. Like other recent Atheros releases, the single-chip tri-mode solution also incorporates the company's proprietary range extending and 108Mbps performance enhancements, XR and Super AG, though of course these only work with network equipment that also contains Atheros' chips. Atheros already offers a dual-chip tri-mode offering, and the company touted the new part as a lower-cost solution, cutting the number of components that need to go into its Wi-Fi adaptor reference designs by 15 parts, with a corresponding reduction in cost. Atheros said it expects to put the AR5006X into volume production later this quarter. Each chip costs "under $12" ($11.99?) in 10,000 unit quantities. ® Related stories Atheros updates Wi-Fi speed booster tech Bloated Wi-Fi market brings out its dead 802.11a comes out fighting Wi-Fi group updates security system Wi-Fi Alliance cracks down on 'standards-plus' kit Wi-Fi Alliance acts on dodgy wireless kit
Tony Smith, 11 Oct 2004

NASA field tests ISS robosurgeon

Four astronauts will assist in a landmark surgical procedure tomorrow which will lay the groundwork for remote surgery on astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS). The operation will take place in an undersea theatre in the US, with the aid of a robot, while the surgeon will be 2000 miles away in Canada. For the first time the instructions will be sent by radio, rather than by cable. The NASA team will travel to the underwater lab today. Surgeon Mehran Anvari of St Joseph’s Hospital in Hamilton, Ontario, will perform the operation on a surgical dummy, New Scientist reports. He will use the Zeus robotic surgical system to control a robot in the Aquarius lab, 19 metres under water in Florida. The robot has three arms, one of which features an endoscope. The system was originally developed to give the surgeon more control over very delicate operations. Although the robot was designed to operate in the vicinity of the patient, Anvari will have sufficient control over the robot to carry out minor surgeries, like a gall bladder removal, provided the signal is not delayed by more than 0.7s. Signal latency should not be an issue in orbit, either. As well as assisting in the wireless, remote surgery, the NASA astronauts will try to perform various procedures on themselves under Anvari's remote direction. The idea is to find out how much medical knowledge and expertise is needed to carry out various medical procedures. Tim Broderick of the University of Cincinnati, says that the Aquarius lab is a good facsimile of the ISS. He points out that people can’t be ferried quickly to and from an underwater station any more than they can be shuttled speedily in and out of orbit. The results of the experiment might help answer the question of whether to install a robotic surgeon on board the ISS, or continue to bring astronauts back to Earth if they need surgery. Bringing an astronaut down is an expensive business, and NASA would surely prefer to avoid it if possible. ® Related stories Broken oxygen generator threatens space station ESA commissions super spacesuit US space tourist set for blast-off
Lucy Sherriff, 11 Oct 2004

Wi-Fi group says 'no' to pre-standard 802.11n kit

The Wi-Fi Alliance (WFA) today formally avowed its aversion to so-called 'pre-standard' wireless products by pledging not to certify kit featuring 802.11n technologies until the standard has been ratified by the IEEE. That's not expected to take place until November 2006, but if past versions of Wi-Fi are anything to go by, a number of WLAN chip makers and equipment makers will undoubtedly try to beat the rest to market by offering products that match the latest draft specification. That happened with both 802.11b and 802.11g, particularly the latter, as vendors attempted to steal a march on their rivals. Now, with even more of the world running wireless networks, the WFA fears there's a far greater opportunity for confusing consumers and businesses, which will do little to progress the concepts of standards and interoperability. The WFA also threatened to withdraw Wi-Fi certification from products that claim to offer IEEE 802.11n capabilities but adversely affect the interoperability of other Wi-Fi certified products. It has to do this anyway, of course, since its existence is founded on the maintenance of interoperability between products carrying the Wi-Fi brand. Whether it will make a difference, however, is doubtful. Vendors may choose to offer pre-standard 802.11n kit that doesn't offer backwards compatibility, but as the 802.11b to 802.11g not 802.11a upgrade path has shown, backwards compatibility is something most WLAN buyers value. And if your 802.11n component interferes with the necessary 802.11b/g backward compatibility module, you'll lose your 802.11b/g certification. But that's unlikely to bother many of the newer, Asia Pacific-based WLAN chip makers who could see 802.11n as a way of beating the established players. Plenty of 802.11 kit coming out of the Far East doesn't come with the Wi-Fi logo, and the vendors - or their customers - don't seem to bothered by the fact. As for the better-known names, well the pre-standard 802.11g releases may have caused a few early interoperability headaches, but vendors were quick to offer updates once the standard had been approved. Is that approach - and, like it, the addition pre-standard 802.11n - any worse than the so-called 'standards plus' kit that offer to extend 802.11a/b/g's range and/or data throughput, but only with equipment from the same supplier? Again, the WFA has expressed its dissatisfaction with these products and threatened to revoke their Wi-Fi certification if they're proved to reduce Wi-Fi interoperability. But nothing it has said or done has prevented Atheros, Broadcom, Agere, Globespan Virata and all the others from offering such products. And today's announcement won't stop anyone shipping pre-ratification 802.11n kit either. ® Related stories Second consortium unveils 'broadband Wi-Fi' proposal Wi-Fi Alliance unveils media streaming quality tech Wi-Fi group updates security system Wi-Fi Alliance cracks down on 'standards-plus' kit Wi-Fi Alliance acts on dodgy wireless kit Tests confirm Atheros' Super G degrades rival WLANs Broadcom blames Atheros for bad WLAN performance Intel blasts proprietary Wi-Fi tweaks
Tony Smith, 11 Oct 2004

Phishing websites breed like rabbits

Websense Security Labs has issued figures showing a massive increase in phishing websites. According to the Anti-Phishing Working Group (APWG), the number of phishing scam websites is rising by roughly 50 per cent month on month. Phishing sites trick people into revealing confidential information such as social security numbers and credit card information details by imitating legitimate business sites. However, Websense's research also shows that a new type of phishing website has emerged. These do not imitate established companies, but pretend to be an entirely new company, offering products or services over the internet. Accordingly, Websense advises punters to watch out for the following: Fraudulent pharmacy, banks, mortgage and loan websites. These are reckoned to be the most popular scam portals. Sites lacking proper contact info. Most scam websites have fake contact information, don't have contact information (except occasional email), or the sites are out of service. Short life: Fraud-based websites survive an average of 8.5 days - longer than phishing sites but a good indicator of nefarious activity. Where's the site based? The majority of fraud-based websites are hosted outside the USA. And, naturally, you should never give confidential information to anyone unless you are absolutely certain that they are legit. ® Related stories UK banks launch anti-phishing website UK police issue 'vicious' Trojan alert File traders put an end to Lollapalooza
Robin Lettice, 11 Oct 2004

ID thieves target enterprises

ID thieves are going corporate. Assuming the identity of consumers to obtain loans and credit cards under assumed names has become the US's fastest growing crime. Now fraudsters are applying similar tricks against potential enterprise victims. Here's how it works. Crooks set up websites under the names of legitimate companies and apply for merchant status with credit card payment processing firms. Next they put orders through these bogus sites using credit cards, raking off a tidy percentage in the process. Crooks direct these illicit revenues to separate accounts in the hope they'll be able to draw out a sizable wedge by the time their ruse is rumbled. The trick is to obtain numerous merchant accounts for each bogus site. The scam sounds inefficient and straightforward to spot but numerous companies have already fallen victim. New-York based software company T-Data was landed with a bill for $15,000 in credit card fees. "They are flying under the radar on each transaction unless someone does a whole lot of work," said Jeff Duhl, T-Data's owner, who remains critical of merchant's patchy record in recognising bogus transactions. T-Data is far from alone in suffering because of the scam. More than 50 other organisations have already become victims to corporate identity theft, MSNBC reports. ® Related stories Invasion of the identity snatchers World's largest ID theft felon faces 14 years' jail Spammer charged in huge Acxiom personal data theft Gov.uk launches anti-fraud website
John Leyden, 11 Oct 2004