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Week in review: Security breach

Despite heightened awareness of security vulnerabilities, prying eyes are still making very public intrusions.

Despite heightened awareness of security vulnerabilities, prying eyes are still making very public intrusions.

The complete source code for a forthcoming online game was stolen recently when digital thieves compromised the game maker's Internet security, raising the specter that online players of the coming game may be vulnerable to attack. Valve Software confirmed the theft of "Half Life 2" in response to rumors that the code had been leaked.

While some reports have focused on speculation that the digital thieves wanted a leg up in finding ways to cheat in the game, the company's co-founder stressed that the leaked source code could be used by hackers and others to find security holes in the program. This could mean that people who play the game online may be vulnerable to attack.

Even efforts designed to protect content aren't safe. A Princeton University student has published instructions for disabling the new anticopying measures being tested on CDs by BMG Entertainment--and they're as simple as holding down a computer's Shift key. In a paper published on his Web site, Princeton Ph.D. student John Halderman explained how he disabled a new kind of copy-protection technology, distributed as part of a new album by BMG soul artist Anthony Hamilton.

Under normal circumstances, the antipiracy software is automatically loaded onto a Windows machine whenever the Hamilton album is run in a computer's CD drive, making traditional copying or MP3 ripping impossible. However, simply holding down the Shift key prevents Windows' AutoRun feature from loading the copy-protection software, leaving the music free to copy, Halderman said.

The developer of the antipiracy technology had promised legal action against Halderman, but backed off those threats.

Microsoft is no stranger to the security spotlight, and this week it announced that it will focus on adding new security technologies to its products, educating its customers and improving its process of releasing patches. One major change is that Microsoft will immediately start to release software updates once a month, unless the security flaw needs to be fixed immediately to help customers avoid an attack.

Technology in court
A federal judge permanently barred Minnesota from applying traditional telephone rules to Vonage, a pioneer in technology that lets consumers bypass the traditional phone network by making voice calls over a broadband connection.

The ruling for now frees Vonage to sell its Internet phone service in Minnesota without obtaining a telephone operator's license or paying fees to support 911 services. More importantly, the order is the first to address the authority of a state to oversee so-called voice over Internet Protocol providers and could thus affect efforts by other states to regulate the Net telephony providers.

Another burgeoning technology is the target of a lawsuit filed by parents of schoolchildren in Illinois. The suit alleges that the use of Wi-Fi technology and its low-level radio waves in classrooms is damaging students' health. According to the complaint, the district, its board and its superintendent have implemented Wi-Fi wireless networking technology in classrooms, ignoring evidence that electromagnetic radiation from Wi-Fi networks poses health risks, particularly to children.

The school district said it has determined that it is following all safety regulations and that there is no hard evidence that suggests wireless technology is dangerous. The district has been using Wi-Fi technology since 1999, as have some of the high schools in neighboring districts and some hospitals in the community.

Internet battle
As legal and political challenges to VeriSign's Site Finder domain name redirector mount, network operators have taken technical steps to bypass the controversial service. VeriSign recently bowed to public outcry and temporarily pulled the plug on Site Finder, which redirected Internet traffic addressed to nonexistent .com and .net domain names to the company's own advertising site.

But even before that step was taken, network administrators had disabled Site Finder for about 9 percent of all Internet users. Roughly half of the blocking comes from China, with most of the remainder originating in nations such as Greece, Korea and Russia, a study found.

The service was unpopular with many in the Internet community. At an unprecedented public meeting to discuss Site Finder redirection, an XO Communications executive described in detail how the changes had increased XO's network traffic, confused customers' e-mail utilities, and disabled a test that previously snared about one-fifth of the spam directed at XO's network.

The Site Finder server also chokes on large e-mail messages that are addressed to nonexistent domain names and does not work with software created for people with handicaps, he said. He predicted that the work required to fix similar problems in thousands of software programs is smaller in scope but "similar in kind" to the massive year 2000 bug effort--amounting to a kind of "tax on the Internet."

VeriSign fired back at Site Finder critics, saying that Net regulators had no authority to force the company to shut it down. In a press conference, VeriSign executives said that the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers did not have authority over the new service and that the company would fight back against the "prejudice and bias of a few folks who have a set way of doing things."

Coming attractions
Microsoft is developing an Internet-based TV technology for cable and telecom operators that lets them deliver advanced video services, such as on-demand movies, using its Windows Media compression software. The technology is designed to let telecommunications and cable companies offer new subscriber services using their two-way broadband networks.

Planned features for Microsoft IPTV include instant channel changing, interactive programming guides with integrated video, and multiple picture-in-picture capability on standard TV sets. The technology will support high-definition television, next-generation digital video recording, and video-on-demand functionality.

Apple Computer said its Mac OS X version 10.3 operating system, dubbed Panther, will become available Oct. 24. Among the features in Panther are a new look for Finder, Apple's file-searching tool, which is purported to be six times faster than it was in the company's Mac OS X version 10.2, known as Jaguar. The release also will introduce Expose, a feature designed to make it easier to find a desired window on a crowded desktop.

Also of note
Eolas Technologies has filed a motion to permanently enjoin Microsoft's distribution of its Internet Explorer browser amid a flurry of court filings by both sides in the pivotal patent infringement case?Microsoft has won a patent for an instant messaging feature that notifies people when the person they are communicating with is typing a message?The new Napster unveiled its digital face, one year after the once-proud-file-swapping service was sold in pieces in bankruptcy court?Carly Fiorina, Hewlett-Packard's chief executive, has been chosen to join California Governor-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger's transition team.