Tech Industry

Week in review: Revenge of the feds

Feds don't mind if the Force is with you, but they do have a problem if you have a copy of the latest "Star Wars."

The federal government doesn't mind if the Force is with you, but it does have a problem if you have a copy of the newest "Star Wars" movie.

Agents shut down a popular Web site that allegedly had been distributing copyrighted music and movies, including versions of "Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith." Homeland Security agents from several divisions served search warrants on 10 people around the country suspected of being involved with the Elite Torrents site, and took over the group's main server.

The agency said it was the first criminal enforcement action aimed at copyright infringers who use the popular BitTorrent file-swapping technology.

According to the investigators, "Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith" was made available through the Elite Torrents site before being shown in theaters and was downloaded more than 10,000 times. Investigators said that the site had 133,000 members and that it distributed more than 17,000 individual movie, software and music titles.

Bram Cohen's BitTorrent program is one of the most widely used tools for legally and illegally downloading files such as movies and software, but it apparently has barely helped him earn a living. Now the programmer is aiming to turn his donation-supported work into a steadier business, with a San Francisco-area start-up devoted to BitTorrent products.

In other news:
Samsung's TV tech

The first product, to be released soon, will be an advertising-supported search engine that scours the Web for links to BitTorrent files. The search tool, which will be based on Web-crawling technology owned by Cohen's company, could be a boon to downloaders who previously have had little in the way of navigation for BitTorrent files.

While federal authorities ramp up the attack on domestic piracy, two U.S. senators are urging the Bush administration to increase pressure on Russia and China to respect copyright law, warning that those nations have become havens for movie and software piracy.

Orrin Hatch, the Utah Republican who chairs the Senate copyright subcommittee, made an ominous statement about what might happen if unfettered piracy continues.

"Before Russia enters the (World Trade Organization), many of us will have to be convinced that the Russian government is serious about cracking down on the theft of intellectual property," Hatch said during a hearing.

Copyright infringement is a serious offense--at least that's the message sixth-graders in American Fork, Utah, will be getting. At their elementary school commencement this week, the students were slated to receive a warning from the director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office about the ills of illegally downloading music, movies and games from the Web.

Gone phishing
Spammers and phishers are learning more about potential victims to better hone their attacks.

Web sites that use e-mail addresses as identifiers for password reminders and registration are open to exploitation by scammers that want to generate detailed profiles of people, security company Blue Security said in a research report.

with the technique described in the report, spammers and phishers automatically run thousands of e-mail addresses through Web site registration and password-reminder tools. Because many online businesses return a specific message when an e-mail address is registered with the site, attackers can find out whether that address represents a valid customer.

Using information gathered from a number of sites, attackers can tailor malicious e-mail messages for individual recipients. That makes it more difficult for Internet users to distinguish real messages from those that are junk or part of a cyberscam. Also, customized messages are less likely to be caught by spam filters, experts said.

As Internet scams proliferate, Bank of America is launching a double-edged system it says will better protect its online banking customers against phishing and spyware. The new service, SiteKey, is designed to let people know when they are on an authentic Bank of America site. It will also verify the identity of the customer.

When people register for SiteKey, they pick an image from a list and type in their own phrase to be associated with their account. When they enter their login name and hit the SiteKey button on the Bank of America site, that same image and phrase are displayed in response, said Sanjay Gupta, an electronic commerce executive at the bank. This verifies that the user is in fact on the real Bank of America Web site, he said.

Firefox users are getting extra protection from Internet service company Netcraft, which has released a version of its toolbar to help users of the Web browser avoid phishing scams. The Netcraft toolbar blocks phishing Web sites that have been reported by other users. A version of the plug-in for Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser has been available since December.

The Netcraft toolbar includes other features, too, to help people stay more security-aware when surfing. For example, it includes a risk rating for Web sites, as well as information about the popularity of a site and the country in which the site is hosted, according to the Netcraft site.

In the chips
Processors are in season as chipmakers harvest new crops.

Advanced Micro Devices is turning its attention to the consumer electronics market with a line of Geode chips for gadgets. The new Geode LX800 is an energy-efficient processor for small computers, set-top boxes, TVs and handhelds. The chip runs at 533MHz and is said to provide the equivalent performance of an 800MHz processor from Via Technologies.

Although that's far less oomph than comes with notebook and desktop chips, the processor only consumes about 0.9 watts and does not require heat sinks or fans. This lowers both cost and the overall volume of devices. At the same time, it's an x86 chip, so all the conventional software produced for desktops will run on it.

Find out what
Paul Otellini thinks
about talk of Apple
dumping IBM.

Meanwhile, Intel is keeping busy with its Pentium line. The chipmaker launched new dual-core Pentium D processors and supporting chipsets designed for home and business desktop PCs.

The chips are part of the second dual-core Pentium line Intel has unveiled in as many months. Intel's Pentium 4 Extreme Edition chips were released in April. Now, Intel will offer new 800-series desktop Pentiums in three speeds: 3.2GHz, 3GHz and 2.8GHz.

The initiative is part of the chipmaker's Professional Business Platform, or PBP, and the so-called "platform-ization" of its products--or Intel's effort to market chips based on capabilities other than simply clock speed and to sell supporting technologies along with them.

Intel is also reportedly in talks with Apple Computer to supply chips to the Mac maker. While the idea has been floated for years, this time there appears to be a little more impetus for Apple to convert.

Apple also needs a low-power chip, similar to the processor in Intel's Centrino bundle, for the growing laptop market. IBM currently supplies processors for Apple's G5 desktops, but the chip runs on a maximum of 100 watts--quite a bit of power--and dissipates so much heat that laptops with the chip haven't emerged.

But now comes the tough part. If Apple did port its OS and other applications so that the software would run on Intel chips, it opens the possibility that hackers and clone manufacturers could assemble their own Mac PCs with cheap, generic hardware and store-bought copies of Apple's software.

Coming attractions
Nokia has unveiled a pocket-size Web browser for wireless broadband networks, the Finnish company's first Linux-based device and its first portable product without a built-in mobile phone.

Nokia's tiny tablet
(click to view)

The Nokia 770 Internet Tablet is designed for browsing and e-mail functions, the phone maker said. The gizmo has a 4-inch horizontal touch screen with zoom and an on-screen keyboard. It can be connected to the Net either from a hot spot or using Bluetooth via a compatible mobile phone.

The tablet runs on the Linux-based Nokia Internet Tablet 2005 edition, which includes desktop Linux and other open-source tools.

The device includes software such as Internet radio, an RSS news reader, image viewer and media players for selected types of media. The company will provide tools to developers using the Maemo platform to work on future versions and OS releases.

For those with dingy kitchen floors, the makers of the Roomba will unleash later this year the Scooba, a robotic floor cleaner designed for hard floors made of materials such as tile and linoleum. It vacuums up loose particles and applies cleaner to soak up dirt, then dries the floor, which also makes it safe for wood.

Scooba tidies up
(click to view)

As with the Roomba and other projects, iRobot teamed up with an industrial giant to develop the Scooba. This time, it was Clorox. One of the big engineering challenges was creating the cleaning fluid. Most such fluids are slippery and would throw off a robot's steering systems.

Storage company Iomega is looking to clean up by increasing the capacity of DVDs up to 100 times, meaning it could, conceivably, create 800GB discs. The company has been issued a patent that covers a method of encoding data on the surface of a DVD so more data--on the order of 40 to 100 times that of current capacities--can be stored. Current DVDs can hold up to about 8.5GB of data. Data transfer speeds would also jump five to 30 times, according to the company.

Also of note
In a new type of online attack, extortionists remotely encrypt user files and then demand money for the key to decode the information...The U.S. House of Representatives approved a pair of bills supporters say will safeguard Internet users from spyware...PalmOne, which makes handhelds bearing the same name, plans to change its name to Palm later this year.