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The week in review: Net insecurity

Despite assurances from tech giants that shoring up security is of critical importance, Web surfers and programmers alike are bombarded with alerts concerning network vulnerabilities.

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
5 min read
Despite assurances from tech giants that shoring up security is of critical importance, Web surfers and programmers alike are still bombarded with alerts concerning software and network vulnerabilities.

A fundamental language of the Internet has software flaws that leave the Net's basic infrastructure in danger of disruption. The Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT) Coordination Center, a major clearinghouse for security-related information on the Internet, issued an advisory and urged system administrators and network engineers to test any device that is centrally managed using the Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP).

SNMP is a popular digital language for communicating with routers, switches and other network devices. The advisory listed the responses of nearly 50 companies that make products affected by the flaw, including Sun Microsystems, Cisco Systems, 3Com, Nortel Networks, Hewlett-Packard and Microsoft.

Microsoft was especially busy this week. The software giant released a collection of software fixes for six security problems in its Internet Explorer browser, including one that could be exploited to take over a person's computer.

The advisory deemed as critical a vulnerability in the way Microsoft's browser opens external documents, something the software giant has been tight-lipped about for the past two months. The collection of software fixes, known as a cumulative patch, also fixes two flaws in the way Internet Explorer handles HTML, opens files, and executes certain scripts.

Also, a flaw in a software tool Microsoft just released could lead software developers to inadvertently write programs that are vulnerable to attack. The security problem is said to lie with the compiler that accompanies the new Visual C++.Net, just one of several tools included in Visual Studio.Net that Microsoft just shipped.

Software security company Cigital says the compiler contains a flaw that can allow an attack called a "buffer overflow" to be initiated. A compiler is software that translates the code that programmers write into a language that computers understand.

However, some security experts criticized Cigital for the way it disclosed the bug, saying the company didn't give Microsoft sufficient time to respond to the issue.

Love on the Net
Tired of crowded bars and awkward encounters, many people are putting down their drinks and reaching for the computer mouse to find romance. Digital yentas such as Matchmaker.com, Match.com and Yahoo Personals' ClubConnect are all the rage these days among singles searching for sweethearts.

A recent study found that 59 percent of men and 55 percent of women surveyed said they were seeking committed relationships or marriage, up from just 37 percent of men and 40 percent of women a year ago. Such quests are giving major sites such as Match.com surges in traffic. The number of paid subscribers to Match.com has jumped 153 percent in the past year. What's more, online dating services are some of the few Web ventures actually turning a profit.

The place to propose marriage with maximum prominence this week was Slashdot.org, the premier Internet nerd discussion forum. Slashdot co-founder Rob "CmdrTaco" Malda successfully proposed to Kathleen Fent on his own "News for Nerds" site on Valentine's Day morning.

People who waited until the last minute to send electronic Valentine's Day cards may have been out of luck--especially those looking for a bargain. At least one site offering free e-greetings experienced some traffic problems. Other sites have stopped providing free Valentine's services altogether.

Gadgets be gone
As new devices come to market, frequently existing products must yield to make room. IBM plans to discontinue the WorkPad, its line of Palm OS handhelds. The products are essentially Palm handhelds with an IBM logo on them.

The company is no longer actively developing WorkPad products and is focusing on other parts of its computing line as it tries to make its PC business more profitable. Last year, IBM shipped 180,900 WorkPads, or less than 2 percent of the 11.9 million handhelds sold last year, according to a preliminary estimate from market analysis firm IDC.

Compaq Computer confirmed that it is no longer selling the Web-surfing appliances it introduced two years ago. The company sold out of existing inventory of its iPaq Home Internet Appliance and does not plan to make more of the Web-surfing gadgets.

The discontinued line included two products, both designed to connect to the Internet using Microsoft's MSN Internet service. Compaq said it plans to introduce a new generation of non-PC Internet access products later this year, but it would not offer specifics or say why it has discontinued the previous product.

With all the recent product cancellations, one might wonder where discarded computers go--but would you guess prison? Inmates at a new federal facility in California will soon be able to join the burgeoning field of electronics recycling. The U.S. Penitentiary in Atwater, Calif., will employ approximately 350 prisoners in the handling of PCs, monitors and related devices that have reached the end of their useful lives in government agencies and private enterprises.

When the aging electronic goods get to the Atwater facility, the inmates will test them and then put them onto one of two tracks. The devices will either be cleaned up for resale or donation, or they will be "mined" for materials including glass, plastics and copper wiring.

Also of note
Apple Computer rejected proposed licensing terms for the emerging MPEG-4 video standard, leaving the future of its QuickTime multimedia technology in limbo...Eastman Kodak filed a patent-infringement lawsuit against computer maker Sun Microsystems that focuses on technologies found in Sun's Java programming language...The Alldas.de Web site, which archives copies of Web pages that have been digitally defaced by online hoodlums, announced that the founder of the site would be retiring and the site would be moving to a new domain...Taking a page out of Orbitz's playbook, five hotel chains are banding together to form their own distribution system for booking hotel rooms over the Web...Movie buffs from around the world were able to view the highly anticipated list of nominations for this year's Academy Awards on the Web, minutes after the list was read.

Want more? Check out all this week's News.com headlines.