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Tech Industry

Week in review: War in Iraq

The long-anticipated war against Iraq begins, and though its impact on the tech industry is expected to be minimal, tech is playing an increasingly important role in the conflict.

America at war President Bush launched a long-anticipated war against Iraq to dislodge President Saddam Hussein, and though the war's impact on the tech industry is expected to be minimal, tech is playing an increasingly important role in the conflict.

As the first missiles fell on Iraq, technology helped people sort out their emotions about the conflict, extend a lifeline to loved ones and mount protests. Military families revealed their darkest fears in blogs, Iraqis documented life in Baghdad on the Web and antiwar activists exchanged frantic e-mails urging people to shut down city intersections and, by all means, bring digital cameras to document it.

Advances in technology are giving people immediate insight into war-related events--and the public's feelings about them--more than ever before. No medium is doing it faster than war blogs. One of the most widely linked-to blogs is "Where is Raed?", run by a man who claims to be living in Baghdad.

Though media coverage of major parts of the last Gulf war were limited to voice and text reports, new technology is expected to make the current conflict a full multimedia experience. Enabling that effort are systems such as the IPT Suitcase, a briefcase-size satellite broadcasting system. The 75-pound system is designed to transmit video and audio via satellite using standard Internet protocols at speeds of up to 2 megabits per second--equivalent to an average DSL (digital subscriber line) connection.

Some officials worry that information may be moving to the public too quickly. Israel's top government censor warned Web sites in her country not to publish sensitive information about the war with Iraq. A letter sent to "scoop" news sites instructed editors to seek government permission before publishing information about "materials that could pose a threat to the security of the State of Israel and its residents."

The letter warned sites such as and not to publish the locations of any missile strikes, information about Israeli Cabinet deliberations or information about Israeli wartime cooperation with other governments such as that of the United States.

Companies and analysts say the war in Iraq is in the short run and may help it. But they caution that extended geopolitical tensions could harm the industry. The campaign has not disrupted sales or operations at tech giants such as Intel and IBM. "There's been no impact on us so far," an Intel representative said.

A technology analyst said conflict "really doesn't have a tremendous direct effect on the technology industry immediately." But a quick U.S. victory may improve the global business climate, which in turn could spark companies to invest in new information technology about 18 months from now, he said.

Virus writers have taken advantage of the onset of war by releasing an e-mail supposedly offering a variety of war-themed attachments, ranging from secret U.S. spy pictures to screensavers mocking President Bush. However, the e-mails actually contain a new e-mail worm called Ganda.

Security holes
Just days before the war's start, a vulnerability in Microsoft's Web software allowed an online attacker to take control of a publicly accessible U.S. Department of Defense server. Representatives of the armed forces wouldn't elaborate on which part of the services operated the computer.

"The military sites that were attacked did not belong to the Army," said Col. Ted Dmuchowski, director of information assurance for the U.S. Army's Network Technology Enterprise Command, who underscored that the Army took such threats seriously. "For security reasons...we don't discuss what specific measures we take under these circumstances."

Civilians found themselves at risk too when it was revealed that a vulnerability in all versions of Windows could allow attackers to use a malicious Web site or HTML e-mail message to take control of their PCs. The flaw in the scripting component of the operating system lets attackers run code through the scripting engine as if the program had been executed locally on a PC, allowing them to run their own programs or to take over the system.

Though the flaw can be found in every version of Windows--from Windows 98 to Windows XP--the potential danger is offset by two factors. First, security measures already in place in e-mail clients are designed to defeat such HTML message attacks. Second, exploiting such flaws through Web pages requires that the person under attack actually visit the malicious site.

Perhaps security is worse than one thought when a hacker steals three unreleased security advisories from a corporate computer and posts them to a public mailing list. The online vandal claims to have stolen advisories detailing flaws in a common set of Unix code from a company that had been working with the Computer Emergency Response Team Coordination Center.

The outing of the advisories caused some consternation in the security world, because the companies involved didn't have time to create patches for the problems before the information became publicly known. When a security problem is found in their products, software makers prefer to release the information after a patch is available.

Apple harvest
Five years after debuting the original iMac, Apple Computer has stopped selling the machine to the public. The original iMac, which many credit for restoring Apple to fiscal health and profitability, has been on its last legs for some time, though Apple continued to sell it even after debuting the flat-panel iMac in January 2002 and later the eMac.

On Tuesday, Apple removed the lone CRT-based iMac from Apple's main online store, and a source confirmed that Apple does not plan to keep selling it publicly. The machine is still listed on Apple's online education store, and schools have been the main reason Apple has continued to make the device.

Another Apple device becoming scarce is its lowest-priced iPod MP3 player. The device has been largely unavailable for the past two months, a situation that the company has called "temporary" but that analysts worry has become all too permanent.

For weeks rumors swirled that Apple was on the verge of replacing its 5GB, entry-level model with a model that offered twice the capacity at the same price, $299. Instead, for much of the past two months the low-end model has been listed on Apple's online store as "temporarily unavailable." The low-end model is also unavailable through most other outlets. Amazon has been stating for some time that "this item is not stocked or has been discontinued."

And while President Bush was busy launching an assault on Iraq, his presidential opponent, former Vice President Al Gore, was named to Apple's board of directors. CEO Steve Jobs noted that Gore was an avid Mac user who edits his own videos using Final Cut Pro. However, Gore's support of the Mac has not been unwavering, with the politician having said three years ago that he had switched from a Mac to a PC.

The former veep is a noted champion of technology who helped popularize the term "information superhighway." However, he also earned the scorn of the tech community for once saying that he "took the initiative in creating the Internet."

Calling on wireless
Cell phone companies gathered at the industry's largest trade show to place new bets on business-focused phone services, better handsets and Wi-Fi networking.

Texas Instruments used the conference to introduce a new chipset and related design for making cell phones that can connect with three different kinds of wireless networks. The design package, called Wanda, is meant to create a cell phone that TI said would connect to each of these technologies: a Wi-Fi hot spot, a cell phone network using the global system for mobile communications), and any device using the short-range wireless standard called Bluetooth.

Verizon Wireless plans to offer a speedy wireless service based on the new CDMA2000 1xEV-DO standard in the third quarter of this year in two cities. Customers in San Diego and Washington will be able to access the network through their corporate systems, so they can work from anywhere as if they were in the office.

The new 1xEV-DO standard is supposed to at least double the number of calls the network can transmit at a time and eventually create a wireless Web network capable of broadband speeds of 3mbps (megabits per second) to 5mbps. The company said its 1xEV-DO service, which has a peak data transmission speed of up to 2.4mbps, will allow customers to download a 1MB e-mail attachment in less than 20 seconds.

Despite these offers, Motorola CEO Chris Galvin told wireless executives at the conference that the industry should "get back to basics by improving their chief product--voice calls--instead of developing new data-centric features like multiple-player games. Galvin's comments run counter to what other CEOs had to say in their keynote addresses.

Galvin said such ventures are fine, but not while America's cell phone networks still need to be worked on to improve the quality of a call and to expand networks' geographic reach. If infrastructure isn't improved, Galvin said, the industry could seriously delay the day when more phone calls are made by cell phones than landline phones, something he predicted would happen.

Also of note
The Recording Industry Association of America sent letters to about 300 companies providing evidence of specific instances of their internal networks being used to swap copyrighted songs and warning of potential legal liability? said it would not fill the orders of customers who took advantage of a pricing error on its U.K. site to buy iPaq handheld computers for less than $12?Consumer-electronics manufacturer Sharp said it is on track to bring a 3D flat-panel display to market before the end of the year.