HolidayBuyer's Guide

Week in review: Terror and technology

Security issues--both online and offline--made headlines during a week marred by a terror attack in London.

Technology--and the human spirit--were put to the test this week after four blasts ripped through London, killing at least 50 people.

E-mail traffic doubled, mobile networks were overloaded and record numbers of visitors deluged British Web sites following the attack, which shut down London's public transit system.

The explosions underscored the problem of picking out a terrorist in a crowd, something that Los Altos, Calif.-based Pixlogic is trying to solve through new software that uses visual pattern recognition and search technologies to match archived still or video images with pictures gathered from security cameras or other sources.

Meanwhile, online security has also been in the news during this workweek, which was shortened in the United States by the Fourth of July holiday.

A German court found confessed Sasser author Sven Jaschan guilty on four counts of altering data and three counts of computer sabotage. The 19-year-old was given a suspended sentence of one year and nine months. He must also complete 30 hours of community service while on probation. The case is significant because authors of malicious code have typically proved difficult for law enforcement to track and catch.

At the same time, experts say, there's a shift under way that could mean the end of big worms like Sasser. In the past, hackers wanted to gain notoriety by writing the most disruptive worm they could. But now they're more likely to be motivated by money. And though the shift could lead to a drop-off in global worms, it still spells trouble. Attacks crafted by businesslike hackers are likely to hit harder.

In the same vein, security company Sophos has seen a dramatic rise in the number of viruses, worms and Trojan horses this year, as more organized criminals turn to cybercrime. The company reported last week that it had detected 7,944 new pieces of such malicious software in the first six months of this year--almost 60 percent more than at the same time last year.

In other security news, a lawsuit related to a data breach at payment processor CardSystems Solutions now also demands unspecified monetary damages for consumers and merchants.

Millions of credit card accounts were compromised by the data breach, first disclosed in June by MasterCard. As originally filed, the class action suit called for CardSystems, Visa and MasterCard inform consumers whose personal data was exposed and give all involved access to a credit-monitoring service. The amended complaint, filed Wednesday, seeks monetary damages and says that credit card companies should waive any charge-back penalties to merchants in the case of fraudulent transactions involving credit cards affected by the breach.

Redmond regroups
Microsoft over the years has developed a reputation for arrogance in its hiring and personnel practices, which has put off some would-be job candidates. But a News.com article this week, which generated a slew of reader feedback, shows how the software maker is working on its recruiting efforts.

Many readers took the time to share their frustrating Microsoft interview experiences, saying that there were internal communications problems, among others.

But reader Anthony Potts defended the software giant and said it's important for companies to grill potential hires, as Microsoft is known for doing.

"And as for being arrogant, why shouldn't they be?" he said. "I personally know several Microsoft employees and they get paid well, get great benefits, have every piece of hardware/software they ask for..."

Also at Microsoft this week, the company released details of the long-awaited update to its customer relationship management software, adding new tools and making the system available on demand. The unveiling of the new applications set, which will be known as Microsoft CRM 3.0, was done in conjunction with the software giant's Tech Ed 2005 conference in Europe and its Worldwide Partner Conference 2005 in the United States.

And in what could be a prelude to a new server product for midsize businesses, Microsoft announced a if they buy a set of Microsoft programs. The promotion combines three Windows Server operating

system licenses, one server license for the Exchange calendar and e-mail software, and a single server license for Microsoft Operations Manager 2005 (MOM)--along with the right to access the software from up to 50 computers.

Also on the software front, the European Parliament this week rejected a controversial measure that would have legalized software patents in the European Union. On Wednesday, 648 out of 729 members of Parliament voted to reject the proposal, called the Computer Implemented Inventions Directive.

The story got readers talking, including some who said the resulting lack of patent protection in Europe will diminish incentive to innovate.

But reader J.W. disagreed. "People who provide new ideas will do so anyway; they don't need legal crutches to do so," he said. "When the U.S. put a man on the moon, it wasn't the opportunity for patents that took them there."

Digital living
The number of people who download audio programs known as podcasts is set to explode over the next few years, according to a new report.

Researchers at the Diffusion Group predicted this week that the U.S. podcast audience will climb from 840,000 last year to 56 million by 2010. By that time, three-quarters of all people who own portable digital music players will listen to podcasts, up from less than 15 percent last year, the research group said.

PC makers such as Hewlett-Packard, Dell and Gateway are gearing up for an aggressive back-to-school buying season. And while the companies are targeting college freshmen with promotional prices for their latest revved-up desktop systems, many universities and colleges recommend that students use notebook computers.

Intel and actor Morgan Freeman's movie production company, Revelations Entertainment, have formed a new venture aimed at distributing first-run movies over the Internet. The new company, called ClickStar, is taking on an unfamiliar and potentially controversial role in Hollywood. Such services have historically been hampered by lack of content and Hollywood's fear of undermining DVD sales, but some experts say things may be changing.

Meanwhile, grassroots groups concerned about the next U.S. Supreme Court vacancy are mounting cybercampaigns they couldn't have imagined more than a decade ago, when the last seat was up for grabs. Both the conservative Progress for America and the liberal People for the American Way, for example, have created Web sites aimed at influencing the nomination and confirmation process.

Also of note
A group of investors has created a venture capital fund to raise $100 million to back start-ups and others developing technology based on the RSS Web publishing format...Yahoo has launched a new mobile search feature designed to let people send short text message queries and receive results via their phones...An outbreak of Trojan horse programs is hitting networks around the world...A security flaw in a widely used data compression technology could put many software programs at risk of attack.

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