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Week of November 25, 2001 News Archive

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Monday November 26, 2001 Top

New Virus, BadTrans.B, Has Spread Quickly

A new computer worm that installs hacking software on infected computers hit home e-mail users hard last weekend and could spread to businesses Monday, warned antivirus experts. Known as BadTrans.B, the worm is spreading mainly due to people's relaxed approach to security during the holiday season, said April Goostree, virus research manager for computer security company "The fact that it comes around this time makes more end-users vulnerable, because they are expecting holiday e-mails," she said. Reports of the worm, a variant of the original BadTrans virus that started spreading last April, started coming in Friday night. By Saturday, Goostree said, had intercepted several hundred copies of the worm. On Sunday, reports of worm infections were coming in at a rate of three to five every minute. Data provided online by e-mail screening service MessageLabs showed the virus accelerating quickly, with more than 700 infected e-mail messages intercepted on Saturday and several thousand stopped on Sunday.

The numbers knocked SirCam from the No. 1 slot in MessageLabs' daily rankings of the Top 10 bugs, a spot the persistent e-mail worm has held for more than four months. The worm doesn't play on the holidays, however. Aside from a handful of general names for the e-mail attachment that spreads the worm--such as "card" and "pics"--the worm makes no overt connection to either Thanksgiving or Christmas. While Badtrans.B is not destructive, it does install a keylogger, a program that records what a person using the infected PC types and then sends the information to the virus writer's e-mail address. The key-logging program, known as Backdoor-NK.server, focuses specifically on four software functions that are used by programs to allow a person to enter a password, so it mainly records account information entered.

The virus uses a vulnerability in Microsoft's Internet Explorer 5.01 and 5.5 to automatically execute itself on PCs that don't have a patched Web browser. Opening the e-mail in a separate window or Outlook's preview pane will cause the worm to execute on unpatched machines. The vulnerability had also been used by the Nimda worm as one of its four ways of spreading. "That's the vulnerability du jour," said Roger Thompson, lead antivirus researcher for security firm TruSecure. On PCs with patched Web browsers, a dialog box will open, asking the person what to do. While many home consumers got hit with the worm over the weekend, Thompson fears that corporations will start feeling the sting Monday. "It looks like the worm is gestating in the fertile ground of the home-user base. But corporate users will be coming into work (Monday) and setting it off on business networks," added Mark Sunner, chief technology officer at MessageLabs.

Rambus Loses Court Decision to Infineon

German chipmaker Infineon Technologies on Monday claimed another success in its long-running legal dispute with memory-chip designer Rambus, after a judge barred Rambus from asserting certain of its patents against some of Infineon's memory chips. Specifically, the injunction issued by Judge Robert Payne of the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia will prohibit Los Altos, Calif.-based Rambus from asserting its patents against Infineon for standard SDRAM and faster DDR SDRAM memory chips it makes according to open industry standards, Munich-based Infineon said in a statement. In August, Payne denied a motion from Rambus to set aside a jury verdict that held Rambus liable for fraud in relation to the development of industry standards for SDRAM chips. That original case centered on a dispute between Rambus and other semiconductor makers led by the German company over who held patent rights to SDRAM and DDR SDRAM chips. Rambus claimed Infineon owed it royalties on SDRAM and DDR SDRAM chips, which it said were developed using its technology. Infineon in turn claimed Rambus deliberately hid the fact it was applying for patents on SDRAM at the time JEDEC, an industry body of which both groups were members, was working on common standards for the chips. Rambus has already been ordered to pay Infineon $7.4 million in punitive damages, attorneys' fees and costs.

Microsoft Introduces eHome Unit

Microsoft is starting to open the doors to its eHome division, a unit whose goal is to mesh the PC with home entertainment. The eHome unit was formed earlier this year, but the software giant has been mum about its goals and status. On Monday, Microsoft will begin what could be an effort to make eHome more visible. The Redmond, Wash.-based company recently announced a pact to work with Samsung on a "new breed" of consumer electronics products that will use Samsung hardware and Windows software. Mike Toutonghi, 39, vice president of eHome, will speak at 12 p.m. PT at Microsoft's Mountain View, Calif., campus. He's expected to talk about how to integrate the PC seamlessly with entertainment devices and simplify new digital technology. Toutonghi previously helped engineer and manage Microsoft's .Net developer platform. That vision of extending the PC into home entertainment has been largely a pipe dream--unless you're a billionaire like Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, who has incorporated a host of futuristic technologies into his mansion, which took seven years and about $60 million to build. Microsoft said that eHome's goal is to bring the technology found in Gates' house to the masses. "eHome will develop technologies that will make these experiences fun, affordable and easy to use for everyday consumers," the company said.

Tuesday November 27, 2001 Top

Work Has Begun on Serial SCSI

Compaq Computer, IBM and the biggest hard drive manufacturers have begun a program to revamp high-end disk drives with the same technology being brought to lower-end models. For years, there have been two competing standards for plugging disk drives into computers: the ATA technique used in PCs and the faster but more expensive SCSI method used in servers. To ensure ATA keeps pace with ever-faster computers, a consortium has begun work on a new standard called Serial ATA. Now SCSI is receiving the same makeover, a new consortium with many of the same members announced Monday. The Serial Attached SCSI Working Group includes several top hard drive makers--Seagate, Maxtor and IBM--along with chipmaker LSI Logic and Compaq. Endorsing the move was Western Digital, another hard disk maker, along with Adaptec, Fujitsu, Hitachi, QLogic and Broadcom subsidiary ServerWorks. The working group expects products supporting its technology to arrive in 2004. The group didn't release expected transfer speeds for the new standard, but a significant boost can be expected if the Serial ATA experience is indicative. Serial ATA promises speeds of 1.5 gigabits per second, nearly twice the 800 megabits per second supplied by the current version, ATA 100.

Linux Trovalds Discusses Maturity of Linux

Linus Torvalds, creator of the core code that drives the Linux open-source operating system, acknowledged in an e-mail message this week that Linux isn't yet fully mature, which can make development difficult. Torvalds was commenting on the recent release of version 2.5.0 of the kernel, or heart, of Linux, which on Monday had to be replaced because of a file-system bug. The 2.5 kernel is only for software developers working on future versions of Linux. Current retail versions of Linux use variations on the 2.4 kernel. In a note to a Linux developer, Torvalds said a major release like kernel 2.5 or 2.4 is always difficult, because once a large number of people get their hands on the software, they are statistically more likely to discover errors. "The people you really want to test it won't test it until it is stable, and you cannot make it stable before you have lots of testers," he wrote in the message, later posted on a Linux developer site. "A basic chicken-and-egg problem, in short."

With Linux, things are more difficult because the OS is relatively young, and is still changing quickly. "The real solution is to make fewer fundamental changes between stable kernels, and that's a real solution that I expect to become more and more realistic as the kernel stabilizes," Torvalds wrote. "But you also have to realize that fewer fundamental changes is a mark of a system that isn't evolving as quickly and that is reaching middle age. We are probably not quite there yet." However, he said the 2.5 version of the kernel, released last week, is "off to a good start." "The system does look fairly stable, with just some silly problems that have known solutions and aren't a major pain to handle," Torvalds wrote. One problem with kernel 2.5.0 was corrected on Monday, when version 2.4.15, also known as 2.5.0, was replaced by 2.5.16 because the earlier version could corrupt file systems. The file-system corruption bug had earlier cropped up in pre-release version 9 of kernel 2.4.15.

Samsung Denies That it Drove Down Memory Prices

Samsung Electronics denied comments Tuesday by Germany's Infineon Technologies that suggested the world's top memory chipmaker had helped drive down chip prices to pressure smaller players. Infineon Chief Executive Ulrich Schumacher told the Financial Times newspaper Monday that a Korean rival had been driving down chip prices. "Those comments are total nonsense," Samsung spokesman James Chung said. "Just one company could not decide the price," he said, adding the downturn in chip prices had also hurt Samsung. Schumacher told the newspaper a Korean firm had held down chip prices but stopped after a recent bailout of local rival Hynix Semiconductor indicated the tactic would not drive Hynix from the market. "The guy who artificially pushed prices down realized it did not make sense now... If they (Hynix) are going to be around for another four to five months, they realised they would not have enough money to do that," he was quoted as saying. Hynix officials declined to comment. The world's top four memory chipmakers, including Micron Technology, are battling a record downturn in global chip prices that has forced Hynix creditors to offer about $11 billion in support this year. Schumacher said a recent rise in chip prices, which has helped sector shares, was due to an end to efforts to hold prices down rather than renewed demand, and forecast no recovery for the next two quarters.

Apple Release Details of Recent Mac OS X Update

Apple released a document detailing enhancements delivered with the Mac OS X 10.1.1 update. It details information on peripheral device enhancements; iTunes and CD burning-related enhancements; iDisk, internet connectivity, networking, and web sharing enhancements; printing and PDF-related enhancements; finder, dock, sleep, and system settings enhancements; enhancements to the application Mail; application-related enhancements. To read the document please use the link below.

Wednesday November 28, 2001 Top

AMD and Intel Processors in High Demand

Despite the prevailing gloomy outlook, demand for PC processors is slightly higher than expected, a phenomenon modestly boosting prices and hopes for the chip industry. Supplies of certain Intel and Advanced Micro Devices chips remain tight, according to analysts and computer dealers. Pentium III and Pentium 4 chips for servers are difficult to find, while there are sporadic difficulties in obtaining some of the less expensive Pentium 4 desktop chips. AMD, meanwhile, has sold out of at least two versions of its Athlon chip this quarter. While shortages are usually bad news for chip companies, they come as a welcome sign in the current environment. With demand running higher than expected, companies can clear out inventories and don't have to resort as quickly to price cuts. "This is a win-win condition," said John Joseph, semiconductor analyst for Salomon Smith Barney. "There is no availability for Pentium 4 at 1.5GHz and below.

Intel isn't fulfilling the low end, and AMD is picking it up." "Figuring out what consumer demand is going to be this quarter is just impossible," said Dean McCarron, principal analyst at Mercury Research, who added that conservative forecasts and overaggressive price cuts might be behind some of the shortages. An Intel representative declined to comment on the financial outlook but acknowledged that demand for Pentium 4 chips remained greater than expected. Intel CFO Andy Bryant said Tuesday that he was "comfortable" with company revenue projections of $6.2 billion to $6.8 billion for the quarter. Earlier in the month, AMD executives said Athlon sales for the quarter were running ahead of expectations. New chips are also on the way. As previously reported, Intel will release the first "Northwood" Pentium 4s in the first part of January. The Northwood Pentium 4s are made on the 130-nanometer manufacturing process and will contain 512KB of cache memory, double current Pentium 4s, and run at faster speeds.

New Vulnerability Found Linux FTP Software

A vulnerability in the most widely used FTP server program for Linux has left numerous sites open to online attackers, a situation worsened when Red Hat mistakenly released information on the flaw early, leaving other Linux companies scrambling to get a fix out. "Other vendors didn't have a patch," said Alfred Huger, vice president of engineering for network security information provider SecurityFocus. The company has been working with vendors to fix the vulnerability after computer security company Core Security Technologies alerted them to the problem Nov. 14. "The fix is not rocket science," Huger said. "But we weren't working at a breakneck pace to get a patch out, because everyone was working together." The software flaw affects all versions of wu-FTP, a program originally created at Washington University at St. Louis for servers running FTP (file transfer protocol) functions for transferring files over the Internet.

While the exact number of active FTP servers on the Internet is not known, the software is the most commonly installed file server and accompanies most major Linux distributions, including those from Red Hat, SuSE, Caldera International, Turbolinux, Connectiva, Cobalt Networks, MandrakeSoft and Wirex. The problem, known in security circles as the wu-FTP Globbing Heap Corruption Vulnerability, allows attackers to get remote access to all files on a server, provided they can access the FTP service. Since most such servers provide anonymous access to anyone on the Internet, a great number will be vulnerable. Huger called the flaw "serious." The impact of the software vulnerability was exacerbated because many Linux software companies were caught flat-footed by a surprise early release of information regarding the vulnerability.

While the group that discovered the flaw, Core ST, informed Linux software companies and the open-source group that manages development for wu-FTP of the flaw, Red Hat mistakenly released a security advisory to its customers on Tuesday. Normally, an advisory is a good thing, but other Linux software sellers had expected any advisories to be published Dec. 3, giving them time to work on fixes. Instead, the surprise announcement left the customers of other companies' products vulnerable. "We were releasing some advisories on the same day, and an overzealous administrator pushed this out as well," said Mark Cox, senior engineering director for Red Hat. The company is adding new safeguards to its publishing system to avoid similar problems in the future, he said. "We put a stop to this," Cox said. "This will not happen again. It was a bad mistake."

Opera Releasing Final Version of Opera 6.0

Opera Software said it has fixed a security problem in the latest version of its Web browser, which will be officially released Thursday. The updated Opera 6.0 closes a security hole involving JavaScript that allowed malicious programmers to gain unauthorized access to certain files--the first known security vulnerability associated with the Opera browser, which first appeared in 1996. It also fixes several other issues, including problems accessing Web pages. "This is the first time we had such (a security) issue, and obviously it's embarrassing," said Jon S. von Tetzchner, chief executive of the Oslo, Norway-based company. "But at least...we have fixed it." The final release of Opera 6.0 comes two weeks after the company offered a beta version at Comdex Fall 2001.

"What we are hoping is that we can continue to grow our new user base and significantly open all these new markets, such as the Asian market (and Eastern European) market," Tetzchner said. "What we're trying to do is be the emulative browser in the marketplace--being the one to come up with new ideas and do the new things." Opera 6.0 lets people read online content that is written in non-Roman alphabets, such as Chinese and Japanese. The browser also offers enhanced display windows, including a choice of single or multiple document interfaces. Opera 6.0 for Windows is available for free if the Web user agrees to view advertising. An ad-free version, however, requires a one-time registration fee of $39.

Thursday November 29, 2001 Top

Two Top Memory Makers May Make Alliance

South Korea's Hynix Semiconductor denied a media report on Friday that it was in discussions with U.S. rival Micron Technology on a strategic alliance and merger. The Dong-a Ilbo newspaper reported Micron Chief Executive Steven Appleton had been in Seoul and discussed with Hynix several ways of forging a partnership, including asset sales, a merger and the sale of a Hynix stake held by creditors. "As far as I know, the Dong-a Ilbo report is not true," Park Chan-jong, vice president of Hynix's corporate communications team, told Reuters. Despite Hynix's repeated denials, local media keep floating the idea of a merger between the world's second largest and third biggest memory chipmakers. Such a merger would create the world's largest memory maker, topping Korea's Samsung Electronics. The newspaper also quoted a creditor bank official as saying creditors, who had about 70 percent of Hynix, might unload part of the stake to Micron. Officials at Korea Exchange Bank Hynix's main creditor, could not be reached for comment early in the morning.

Excite May Stop Providing Service Friday

Bankrupt cable Internet access provider Excite@Home said Tuesday that it could cease providing service to its 4.1 million U.S. customers on Friday if it cannot renegotiate agreements with the cable companies that carry its service. Representatives of Redwood City, Calif.-based Excite@Home will appear in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in San Francisco on Friday, where a judge will decide whether to have the service blocked if current negotiations fail, spokeswoman Stephanie Xavier said. "It depends on the decision of the judge," she said. "All I can say is we're in active negotiations with the cable companies. We're doing all that we can to maintain service." Xavier said many of the cable companies that carry Excite@Home have informed users that their service could cease after Friday. "They've been notifying them and giving them a heads-up,'' she said.

Apple Updates DVD Player

DVD Player update delivers improved performance and stability, as well as support for Blue and White Power Mac G3 and Power Mac G4 systems with PCI-based graphics.

Friday November 30, 2001 Top

Nvidia Releases New Drivers for Linux

Graphics chipmaker Nvidia has released new drivers for its video cards used in computers running the Linux operating system, the company said Friday. The new drivers support the OpenGL graphics technology and Nvidia's extensions. They also offer better performance on graphics-intensive software such as "Quake" and improved support for mobile computers and those using CPUs from Advanced Micro Devices. In addition, the drivers add support for Nvidia's newer nForce 220D, 420 and 420D integrated graphics chips.

Steve Ballmer Explains Settlement to Employees

In an e-mail to Microsoft employees, CEO Steve Ballmer on Thursday sought to explain the terms of the company's legal settlement with the government while also exhorting workers to meet the obligations and restrictions outlined in the settlement. "I take this settlement very seriously and am personally committed to making it a success and ensuring that everyone at Microsoft complies fully with the terms," Ballmer wrote in an e-mail seen by CNET "This settlement imposes important restrictions and obligations on us as a company, and on many business units and individual employees. Every Microsoft employee has a responsibility to understand these restrictions and obligations and to conduct our business accordingly." The e-mail also contained a lengthy explanation of the settlement by Dave Heiner, an attorney in Microsoft's law department, with guidance on how it will affect specific employees and business units. Although a consent decree has not been officially approved by the court, Microsoft agreed to begin complying with it Dec. 16.

Heiner noted that some provisions will be pertinent to the work of large numbers of Microsoft employees. "These are primarily the provisions that relate to Microsoft's relationships with other companies," Heiner wrote. "Other provisions, while equally important, will be implemented by far smaller groups of employees." But the attorney stressed that everyone at Microsoft must be aware generally of the terms of the settlement. Heiner's note instructed employees on the definition of a consent decree, a contract imposed by the court. "That means that the consent decree is a court order--an injunction prohibiting or requiring certain conduct. Court orders must be observed faithfully," he wrote. "A violation of a court order is punishable by contempt of court, a serious offense." He further addressed the role that the nine holdout states that declined to settle are now playing in the case. These states refused to accept an agreement between the Justice Department and Microsoft, choosing instead to press further antitrust litigation against the company because they believed the proposed settlement was soft on the software giant.

Court Decision Leaves Excite Customers Dangling

A bankruptcy court judge ruled Friday that angry bondholders and cable partners of Excite@Home must go back to the bargaining table, leaving 4 million customers of the high-speed Internet service in limbo. Judge Thomas Carlson said Excite@Home could cancel contracts with its cable partners. Carlson didn't rule on whether the cable-modem service would be shut down. But the cable companies have threatened to cut off service if their contracts, which expire at midnight Friday, are terminated. Attorneys for the cable companies said Friday afternoon that they were unsure whether or when they would shut off the service. Representatives for Excite@Home would not say whether they planned to unplug the service, but the company issued a statement saying that "the cable companies must negotiate new agreements acceptable to the company or risk the possibility that the @Home service may be terminated." Despite the threats, Carlson and numerous attorneys for bondholders and unsecured creditors said that shutting off service was highly unlikely--chiefly because such a move would be detrimental to all parties involved. Excite@Home and various cable partners, including AT&T Broadband, Cox Communications and Comcast, share infrastructure and content, and the companies split revenue that comes from paying subscribers.

If cable companies enrage customers by switching off their high-speed Internet service, the judge and bondholders argued, then the cable companies would harm themselves and shrink their customer ranks. One bondholder said cable companies would engage in a "murder-suicide" pact with Excite@Home if they switched off service. "It's clear that the continued operations have substantial interests to the cable companies," Carlson said to a packed courtroom where attorneys, Excite@Home executives, journalists and others jockeyed for seats and flooded into the courtroom's aisle and rear. Even the cable companies say that the odds of a shutdown are slim. Cox and Excite@Home executives were busy trying to negotiate contracts Friday afternoon in an attempt to "do everything possible to avoid an outage." According to Cox's updated Web site, the judge's ruling "does not necessarily mean that Excite@Home will turn off the service, and at this time, we are not aware of any planned interruptions."

Weekend December 1 & 2, 2001 Top

Microsoft Faces Major Antitrust Hurdle With European Union

Microsoft's opponents see the European Union's antitrust case as their last, best hope to get tough sanctions against the U.S. software giant for allegedly rigging its Windows software to damage competitors. They had been preparing to make their case next month at a hearing on European Commission allegations against Microsoft, but the company--fresh from settling its U.S. antitrust case--decided to dump that hearing. "There is very little point in reiterating the points you made in writing at a hearing where lots of people are shouting at you," said a Brussels lawyer, who asked not to be identified. Microsoft's critics will have a chance to put their case to the European Commission in writing. They say they hope Brussels will deal with today's dominant computer giant the way it handled IBM nearly two decades ago--by acting more firmly than the United States. "We believe the European Union has now moved front and center," said Ken Wasch, president of the Software & Information Industry Association in Washington. "Reining in Microsoft's anti-competitive practices is more likely to happen in Europe than in the United States."

James Love, an expert on intellectual property who heads the Consumer Project on Technology, says the European Commission should look at its own archives for guidance. It could apply fruitfully two provisions it used against IBM in 1984, he said. First, IBM had to provide interface information to competitors as it developed new software--an issue in the Microsoft case. Second, the European Commission reviewed IBM's compliance periodically to make sure it was not trying to evade the deal. "That's one of the things that made the agreement work," Love said. The European Commission alleges that Microsoft has designed Windows to work better with its own server software than with that of rivals. The company has been making steady inroads into the server market. It also says Microsoft tied the Windows operating system to Media Player software, giving it an advantage over competitors. Media Player is what is called "middleware," which includes Web browsers and other software that runs something else, such as movies or music recordings.

AT&T Customers Lose Excite@Home Connection

At least one cable partner of Excite@Home has terminated high-speed Internet access to its customers in wake of a Friday court ruling that threatened to shut down the service, and others may be preparing to do the same thing. AT&T and Excite@Home confirmed Saturday afternoon that most of the 850,000 AT&T cable modem subscribers around the country were without high-speed Internet access. AT&T said it had transfered about 10 percent of its Excite@Home customers--all of them in Oregon and southwest Washington state--to an independent AT&T service, but it didn't have immediate alternatives for the remaining 90 percent. "AT&T continued negotiations with At Home Corporation late into Friday evening and early Saturday morning only to see the Excite@Home service cut off," AT&T Broadband said in a statement. In a separate statement, Excite@Home said it was continuing to negotiate with all its remaining cable partners, including Cox Communications and Comcast.

The announcement came as no surprise to AT&T Broadband customers, most of whom woke up Saturday morning to find that they couldn't send e-mail or surf the Web from their high-speed connections. Many had to rely on slower dial-up connections to access information on AT&T's Web site, but it contained no service updates. AT&T representatives staffing a toll-free hotline--which was bombarded with callers and often busy or unavailable--told customers who could get through that service was disconnected at 2:15 a.m. PT. Call center agents also told subscribers that their service would not be restored for "a few weeks," possibly until AT&T can provide Internet access without the help of Excite@Home's infrastructure. According to AT&T, customers in Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Connecticut, Pittsburgh, Sacramento, Salt Lake City, Seattle and the San Francisco Bay Area will be transferred to its new network in the next two to 10 days. Some customers in Michigan and the Rocky Mountain region will also be switched to the new network. AT&T warned that customers "may experience temporary service disruption during the migration."

File-Swapping Software Maker Kazaa Loses Court Case

A Dutch court on Thursday ordered file-swapping software maker Kazaa to prevent people using its product from engaging in copyright infringement or face thousands of dollars in fines. The order takes effect in 14 days and imposes a fine around $45,000 (100,000 guilders) a day. "We don't know how the judge wants us to stop copyright infringement," Kazaa attorney Christiaan Alberdinck Thijm told CNET's affiliate in the Netherlands on Thursday. "We feel as if the judge didn't put much time and effort into this part of the verdict." The court's decision comes in a suit brought by Dutch copyright organization Buma/Stemra, which has been in on-and-off licensing negotiations with Kazaa. The software maker has counter-sued, charging Buma/Stemra with antitrust violations for refusing to negotiate. Thursday's decision ordered Buma/Stemra to resume licensing talks, which were broken off last month after the Recording Industry Association of America and the Motion Picture Association of America filed a copyright infringement suit in the United States against Kazaa and several other makers of file-swapping software.

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