The week in review: Safe swapping

The battle over peer-to-peer file swapping rages on with new developments, including a revelation that has Web surfers and security experts concerned.

Steven Musil Night Editor / News
Steven Musil is the night news editor at CNET News. He's been hooked on tech since learning BASIC in the late '70s. When not cleaning up after his daughter and son, Steven can be found pedaling around the San Francisco Bay Area. Before joining CNET in 2000, Steven spent 10 years at various Bay Area newspapers.
Expertise I have more than 30 years' experience in journalism in the heart of the Silicon Valley.
Steven Musil
4 min read
The battle over peer-to-peer file swapping raged on this week with new developments, including a revelation that concerns both Web surfers and security experts alike.

People that trade files over the file-swapping network Gnutella are sharing much more than they realize. A recent search showed that sensitive data files could expose people to identity theft. Putting these would-be file swappers at risk are electronic markers, known as cookies, left automatically on their computers through Netscape or Internet Explorer Web browsers. Web sites place cookies as a way to identify surfers, using them to create personalized Web sites or accounts at shopping sites.

The actual risk of any given file depends on what sites a person has visited and what level of security those sites maintain.

After a dark period, file-swapping service Scour may be ready to come back to life. CenterSpan Communications, the small company that bought the technology assets and brand name of Scour late last year, has started asking for online beta testers to try out a new version of Scour's file-swapping service. CenterSpan hopes to launch its new service by the end of March.

Other security news has some people in stitches. Fed up with pirates who download and distribute intellectual property ranging from needlepoint patterns to stencil designs, the Hobby Industry Association is marshalling more than 4,000 member companies to combat copyright theft on the Internet. The international trade group hopes to create an education campaign to inform would-be pirates that they're robbing crafts designers of their livelihood.

Pink slip planning
The economic slowdown this week forced some more staff reductions in the tech world. Dell Computer is gearing up for large-scale layoffs, according to analysts, and has already slashed its temporary staff in an effort to cut costs.

A weaker PC market is forcing the cuts at the company, which has more than doubled in size in the past three years as it increased its share of the growing computer market. One analyst said the cuts could eliminate as many as 5,000 jobs.

Smaller-scale employers also issued layoffs this week. Linux seller SuSE laid off 30 of the 45 people in its Oakland, Calif., office, while InfoSpace plans to cut 21 percent of its work force. Separately, struggling toy e-tailer eToys issued layoff notices to its remaining 293 employees as it anticipates going out of business in early April.

Happy anniversary?
A year after DDoS (distributed denial of service) attacks knocked out some of the most popular sites on the Web, one network security researcher warned that major e-commerce and information sites worldwide remain vulnerable because "there are (still) no strong defenses deployed."

Other anniversaries have raised political questions. As the landmark Telecommunications Act of 1996 marked its fifth year this week, about the only agreement among telecom companies, regulators and legislators is that it hasn't quite been effective. The voices in Washington, D.C. now are calling to change or rework the document.

Critics have specifically cited the lack of competition in the local phone and broadband markets--issues the act was supposed to have addressed.

Released nearly one year after Windows 2000, Windows 2000 Server is expected to have sold 1 million licenses by the end of this month. But the company still won't talk about Active Directory, the high-end version of its Windows operating system, which is designed to run corporate networks and Internet servers. Among customers who have adopted Windows 2000 Server, how many are actually using the supposed crown jewel of the product? According to a recent survey, not many.

Coming attractions
In what could be yet another harbinger of new iMacs, supplies of Apple Computer's two high-end models have dwindled at retailers and vanished from the Mac maker's online store. Apple announced rebates on the DV+ and DV Special Edition models, both including a DVD drive, last month.

Analysts have been speculating recently that Apple may quickly augment or replace the DVD drive with a CD-rewritable drive to take advantage of the company's new iTunes software, which allows people to play MP3 files and record their own CDs.

Sony is looking to light up the lives of gadget lovers with a new type of display that promises to provide brighter images at a lower cost than current technologies. The consumer electronics giant announced a prototype active-matrix display that takes advantage of organic electroluminescence (OEL) display technology. The display technology allows for thin, bright monitors that respond well to fast-moving images, such as those found in video.

Texas Instruments unveiled its entry into the networked classroom business with a wireless system so sophisticated students don't have to raise their hands to get attention from a teacher. The TI-Navigator, now being tested in a half dozen U.S. schools, is meant to take on Palm and Dell Computer, which have introduced their own networked classroom systems. All three are vying for a share of the $50 billion that the National Education Association estimates it will take to modernize America's schools in the coming years.

Also of note
Covad Communications shut down the high-speed Internet connections it leases to DSLnetworks and Internet Express, and terminated their partnerships, leaving many DSL customers without service...Microsoft and Net2Phone placed limits on free Internet phone calls offered over MSN Messenger, marking the latest disappointment for consumers hoping to wipe out long-distance bills by turning to the Web?Microsoft is branding Office 10 for Windows as Office XP and its Windows 2000 successor, currently code-named Whistler, as Windows XP...After delivering beer and wine in Seattle for the past seven months, Kozmo began offering the service to its New York customers.