September 19, 2003 10:00 AM PDT

Week in review: Web hijacking

VeriSign raised the hackles of the Internet community with its surprise decision to take control of all unassigned .com and .net domain names, a move that has wreaked havoc on many e-mail utilities and antispam filters.

The company is redirecting domain lookups for misspelled or nonexistent names to its own site, a process that has confused Internet e-mail utilities and drawn angry denunciations of the company's business practices from frustrated network administrators.

The new policy is intended to generate more advertising revenue from additional visitors to its network of Web sites. But the change has snarled antispam mechanisms that check to see if the sender's domain exists, complicating the analysis of network problems, and possibly even polluting search engine results.

In an unusual kind of grassroots movement, some network administrators have begun to invent and launch technical countermeasures against VeriSign.

VeriSign said that it would respond to technical complaints, but it said it would not pull the plug on the service. The company would not disclose what changes it might make to address technical complaints about its Site Finder service.

A representative said that people have embraced the service. "We've seen nothing but very positive results from the Internet community," he said. "Usage is extraordinary. Both individual users and enterprises are giving very positive feedback."

Virus battles
A new e-mail worm spread quickly, taking advantage of an Internet Explorer vulnerability that was first disclosed two years ago. The bug, which has been alternately dubbed Swen and Gibe.F, appears to exploit a flaw that Microsoft first disclosed in a March 2001 security bulletin.

The worm masquerades as an e-mail that purports to be a security update from Microsoft and is programmed to send an official-looking e-mail that says it contains a "cumulative patch" for several Internet Explorer, Outlook and Outlook Express vulnerabilities. The virus turns on file sharing--if it is not already turned on--and creates a shared directory with multiple copies of itself under various file names.

As the new worm was spreading, Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer warned that recent security vulnerabilities represent a "new and growing challenge to innovation." He conceded that his company is under attack from "thieves, con artists, terrorists and hackers." In response, the software giant plans to develop new means for thwarting such attackers and aims to shut down the invasions before they wreak the havoc seen with recent viruses such as MSBlast.

"The most important technology area we are focused on is shield technology," Ballmer said in a speech to the Churchill Club, a forum of Silicon Valley businesspeople. "We know bad guys keep writing viruses. The goal is to block them before they get on PCs."

On another front, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is teaming with the Net's top virus-tracking facility to create an organization to fight cyberbugs. The partnership with Carnegie Mellon University's CERT Coordination Center is intended to create a new group that would work to prevent, monitor and respond to "cyberattacks" across the Internet.

The new organization hopes to jump-start communication between companies, security researchers, networks and other entities affected by digital security problems, many of which have historically been loath to share detailed information on break-ins by hackers, software vulnerabilities or other security problems.

In the chips
Intel announced a new version of the Pentium 4 processor with an extra dose of cache, a move that seems calculated to undercut the launch of the Athlon64 from Advanced Micro Devices. The Pentium 4 Extreme Edition will run at 3.2GHz and come with 2MB of level-three cache.

Current Pentium 4 chips come with a 512KB secondary cache and no level-three cache. Increasing caches, reservoirs of memory located on the processor, typically boost performance. Computer makers are expected to begin to sell PCs with the chip in the next 30 to 60 days.

The announcement was intended to steal a little thunder from AMD's plans to expand its family of processors based on the x86 architecture to fit a broader range of computing devices. The chipmaker will launch its Athlon64, a new high-performance processor for desktop and notebook PCs, next week.

AMD aims to employ what one might call an "x86 everywhere" strategy, under which it will expand the use of the x86 architecture, the basic design that underlies all of its PC chips and those from competitors Intel and Via Technologies.

Intel also gave details of new initiatives aimed at reducing the power consumption of notebook displays and at adding communications capabilities to portable computing devices. The company launched the 855GME, a new chipset that features a power-saving technology for displays, at the Intel Developer Forum in San Jose, Calif.

Intel also introduced the next-generation XScale processor for mobile devices, code-named Bulverde, which is designed to add computing capabilities to cell phones, wireless handhelds and similar gadgets. Intel executives also described a new blueprint for notebook PCs, called Sonoma, which represents a future generation of the company's Centrino mobile technology, comprises a processor, a chipset and a Wi-Fi wireless module.

All for Sun
Customers are paying up to 10 times what they should to buy and run computers, but a correction will come soon, according to Sun Microsystems CEO Scott McNealy. "The world has to be getting a little disappointed in our industry," McNealy said in his address at the company's SunNetwork conference in San Francisco.

Sun believes it has the answer to the problem: Customers should buy collections of hardware and software already assembled and suited to the task at hand, and they should run multiple tasks on those systems to ensure computing capacity isn't going unused.

Sun hopes to change the expectations of corporate software buyers, with two new software suites that each cost a low $100 per employee per year to use. One initiative, code-named Orion and now officially called the Java Enterprise System, will include a broad collection of software to run on the powerful data processing computers called servers, Sun's specialty.

The second, code-named Mad Hatter and now called Java Desktop System, is for running Linux, an office suite and other programs for desktop computers. The desktop and server package will cost $100 each per employee per year, or $150 for both. Both software packages will be generally available in November.

Sun also released new lower-end servers, the company's effort to provide computers using its own chips that are competitive with those using Intel's. The Sun Fire V440, with up to four 1.06GHz UltraSparc IIIi "Jalapeno" processors, has a starting price of $9,995 for a two-processor model with 4GB of memory. Filling all four processor slots and bumping to 8GB of memory pushes the price to $15,995.

Also of note
A federal appeals court scrutinized the details of a 1998 copyright law, wondering whether it permits the wide-scale unmasking of alleged peer-to-peer pirates by the music industry...Time Warner Cable filed a lawsuit charging a New York apartment complex and its wireless Internet provider with illegally reselling its high-speed Road Runner service over a wireless network...AOL Time Warner's board of directors has approved a proposal to remove the "AOL" from its name and become simply Time Warner...IBM unveiled two prototype ThinkPad notebook PCs, designed to illustrate how laptops could be more comfortable for everyday use...Apple replaced the last of its titanium PowerBooks with aluminum versions, as it updated its entire line of high-end portables.

 

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