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because a comparison of the information in the encrypted messages can significantly shorten the search for the correct key to unlock the messages.

The Office flaw is the latest issue that Microsoft has had with implementing encryption in its products. Security researchers have taken the company to task repeatedly in the past for the weak passwords in previous versions of the Windows operating system.

Meanwhile, Apple Computer was wrestling with its own reports of flaws. A source-code audit of the open-source operating system from which Apple borrowed much of the code for Mac OS X revealed four vulnerabilities of varying severity in Apple's software, a security company said.

The flaws in the Darwin OS affect Mac OS X version 10.3--code-named Panther--and are caused by memory errors in the kernel, according to an advisory released by ImmunitySec, the security company that found the flaws. The flaws include a bug in Mac OS X's SearchFS function, several kernel memory overflows and a logic bug in the AT command, which is used to schedule tasks by the operating system.

Apple attack
Despite its booming sales, the iPod isn't impressing everyone. Dell Chief Executive Kevin Rollins is dismissing the iPod as a "fad" and claiming the new Mac Mini won't dent the PC market. In an interview, Rollins said that the number of headlines Apple grabs does not worry him and that the company isn't "in the same league" as Dell.

"It's interesting the iPod has been out for three years and it's only this past year it's become a raging success," Rollins said. "Well, those things that become fads rage, and then they drop off." But Rollins was careful to add that this wasn't meant as any kind of disparagement of Apple. "They've done a nice job," he said.

There's also rancor in the ranks of Mac fans, as European shoppers petition Apple to bring EU pricing for the Mac Mini more in line with that of the United States. The petition's writers also claim the higher EU pricing is counterproductive for Apple's business strategy and will serve to discourage potential PC-to-Mac switchers.

The Mac Mini sells for $499 in the United States--around 268 pounds. However, the same Mac in the United Kingdom costs 339 pounds, or about $632.

Rumors of the Mac Mini's imminent unveiling at last week's Macworld Expo landed a 19-year-old Harvard student in big trouble with Apple. Apple sued the publisher of Mac enthusiast site Think Secret and other unnamed individuals, alleging that recent postings on the site contain Apple trade secrets.

Nicholas Ciarelli, the publisher and editor of Think Secret, warned earlier this week that he would be struggling to pay for his defense. His plea for help did not go unheard.

Ciarelli said in a later article on his site that he is being represented free of charge by Terry Gross, a lawyer who once represented the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an agency that is backing two other Macintosh sites that are in Apple's legal crosshairs.

Search wars
America Online unveiled an expanded search offering that lets consumers quickly narrow queries and gives them new ways to seek out information and products. AOL also announced several partnerships and plans that will enable it to let people search both for online information and computer files from one location on its Web site.

In addition, the online giant is expanding its local search offerings and giving advertisers a way to track which local markets their customers

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