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Week in review: Seeking security

Security, one the few bright spots in the otherwise moribund tech sector, was the focus of a weeklong conference, and companies went out of their way to tout their wares.

Security, one the few bright spots in the otherwise moribund tech sector, was the focus of a weeklong conference, and companies went out of their way to tout their wares.

Network break-ins, data protection and the punishing of trespassers were hot topics at the RSA Conference 2003, which attracted thousands of attendees to the Moscone Convention Center in San Francisco.

Cryptographers and security companies took opposite sides on the potential privacy dangers of so-called trusted computing, an initiative to use encryption to keep information secure from hackers and, in some cases, the PC's user. Three companies that sell products and services aimed at securing corporate computers and data said that so-called trusted computers would help businesses secure their systems. However, the praise came two days after well-known cryptographers warned an audience that trusted computing could put the keys to a PC user's information in the hands of someone other than that user.

Proponents of the Liberty Alliance Project, a group developing online identity standards, provided details of its Phase 2 specifications and demonstrated new features. The group released a draft of the Phase 2 specs, which are expected to become finished standards later this year. "We've added permissions-based attribute sharing and other features," said Michael Barrett, president of the Liberty management board and vice president of Internet strategy at American Express.

A panel discussion on the role of hackers in the security sector turned into a verbal boxing match, reflecting the deep divide between those who believe that convicted cybercriminals shouldn't have a role in security and those who think that they should. "How do you explain to your shareholders that you are going to hire someone (to guard your networks) who has been jailed, not once, but multiple times?" asked Ira Winkler, chief security strategist for Hewlett-Packard. The question was aimed directly at former hacker Kevin Mitnick, who has multiple convictions for computer crimes and who also spoke on the panel. Mitnick contended (not surprisingly) that hackers should be hired, but only after close evaluation.

Meanwhile, some lawyers in attendance speculated (also not surprisingly) that corporate security could be the next big area of cyberlaw, especially as attacks become more prevalent and companies and their customers suffer substantial losses. What's more, hackers who breach company systems to steal and use credit card addresses are often difficult to find, meaning that victims will look for new targets to blame.

Check out CNET's complete coverage of the RSA conference, including exclusive videos.

Hardware evolves
An apparent glitch forced Intel to delay launching a new Pentium 4 processor. The chipmaker had planned to deliver both its new 875P chipset and a new 3GHz Pentium 4 processor, paving the way for a number of new desktop and workstation models from PC makers including Dell Computer, Hewlett-Packard and Gateway. The possibility of a problem, discovered at the last minute, with the 3GHz Pentium 4, forced the company to delay the chip late Sunday. During tests, Intel found "anomalies" with the new chip and decided not to deliver any more to PC manufacturers.

Also, the chip giant announced that Leslie Vadasz, employee No. 3 at Intel and head of the chipmaker's venture capital arm, is retiring.

Vadasz, 66, led the Intel design teams that helped develop the first DRAM (dynamic random access memory) chip, as well other innovations, including Intel's first general purpose microprocessor. He also served as director of engineering and general manager of Intel's microcomputer component division. In his most recent assignment, Vadasz served as president of Intel Capital, the investment unit he helped establish in 1991.

The Opteron processors for midrange servers coming next week from Intel competitor Advanced Micro Devices will range in speed from 1.4GHz to 1.8GHz, sources told CNET And AMD is apparently not thinking small on price.

The Opteron 240 will run at 1.4GHz and cost around $340 in volume quantities, while the Opteron 242 and 244 will run at, respectively, 1.6GHz and 1.8GHz and cost about $800 and $900. Prices could change, sources cautioned, and, historically, wide discrepancies have existed between AMD's posted prices and the actual prices for which the chips sell.

Although the chip speeds fall within the range of expectations, the pricing underscores the confidence AMD has in the chip's selling power and performance.

Hoping to spur sales, Hewlett-Packard said it is offering businesses a new trade-in and trade-up program for its desktop PCs. Under the program, the company will let its business customers trade in older, brand-name desktops for a credit on a new HP desktop. Depending on the type of desktop traded, the customers will receive a discount of up to $220 on a new HP Evo D510 system, the company said in a statement.

Typically, companies have replaced their desktop PCs every three or four years. But because of the economic downturn that started in late 2000, many companies have been keeping their PCs longer, stretching out the normal replacement cycle.

Dell Computer wrestled the top rank in worldwide PC shipments away from Hewlett-Packard in the first quarter of 2003, in a market that managed to grow slightly. Dell shipped about 450,000 more desktops, notebooks and Intel-based servers worldwide than did rival HP, according to research firm Gartner, giving Dell the top spot once again. The two companies have now traded the coveted designation four quarters in a row.

Dell accounted for 16.9 percent of the market worldwide, according to research firm Gartner, growing by 24.4 percent over the same quarter a year ago.

At the Office
IBM is preparing a slimmed-down alternative to Microsoft's omnipresent Office suite with a set of applications that run on corporate Web servers. The business productivity applications are comprised of word-processing, spreadsheet and e-mail software--features that are also part of Microsoft's package.

IBM said its applications are not intended to go head-to-head with the advanced features of Office. Instead, the company is aiming at what it says is a large percentage of people who do not use the full set of capabilities in Microsoft Office.

Microsoft said it will introduce a new branding convention for its server-software products to synch up with next week's launch of Windows Server 2003. The programs will be sold under the "Windows Server System" brand starting April 24, when Microsoft is set to ship its latest operating system. The shift will affect products that had been marketed under the .Net Enterprise Server label.

Dropping the .Net label from server software follows the company's decision earlier this year to do the same with the forthcoming Windows Server 2003 OS.

PeopleSoft released a set of business-management applications priced to appeal to midsize businesses, joining rivals in a drive to reach a largely untapped market segment. The software starts at $50,000 per component and is designed for U.S. companies with up to $500 million in annual revenue. The 13 new components are designed to streamline various business tasks such as purchasing and hiring.

Spam in the crosshairs
The Federal Trade Commission cracked down on a pornographic spam operation that it says has grossed more than $1 million in commissions and nearly 50,000 consumer complaints. The government agency asked a district court to bar a Missouri man from further sending unsolicited bulk e-mail that contains deceptive subject lines, bogus reply information and sexually explicit material designed to drive commerce to an adult Web site.

America Online filed five lawsuits against individuals and companies that are allegedly sending spam to AOL subscribers. The lawsuits, filed with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, seek at least $10 million in total damages along with court orders to immediately stop the alleged practices.

Subscribers routinely criticize AOL for the proliferation of unwanted e-mail, causing the company to take a litigious policy toward alleged spammers.

Microsoft detailed a future version of Windows that will make it easier to detect and isolate viruses and spam. The Windows Filter Manager Architecture is a set of application protocol interfaces (APIs) and code that will be added to Windows to handle some of the basic operational tasks of antivirus applications, such as how the application sets up an ordinary hard drive scan. In a sense, Filter Manager is analogous to printer drivers, the company said. In the past, printer makers did their own drivers. Now they write to a common set of APIs.

Browser bonanza
Mid-April marks the 10-year anniversary of the release of Mosaic, the browser that brought the Internet to the masses.

CNET's special coverage not only details the rise of Mosaic but also offers a historical perspective while examining the new technologies and industries that the browser has spawned.

In other browser news,, the open-source group that Netscape Communications founded to develop its browser code (before Netscape was purchased by AOL), has thus far released its browser under the name Mozilla. But after complaints that the browser had become too big and too slow, decided earlier this month to switch gears to Phoenix, a stripped-down version of Mozilla.

Phoenix, the new basis of AOL Time Warner's open-source browser, has undergone a name change to avoid a trademark dispute. But the new name, Firebird, has only succeeded in landing the browser in another trademark conflict--this time with another open-source group that produces a relational database.

After wrestling over the Phoenix name, Mozilla has found that controversy also plagues its choice of an alternative, Firebird. That's already being used by another open-source development project, which produces a relational database.

Opera Software released a test update to its Web browser for Windows and Linux, and pledged to continue developing its Mac version. The Oslo, Norway-based company, which commands only a sliver of market share but has gained some prominence for surviving first Netscape's and then Microsoft's stranglehold on the market, released a beta, or test, version of Opera 7.1 with new features that it said would speed surfing and ease customization. Opera typically releases its Mac version separately and later than its other browsers, but this time the delay was ominous to Mac users.

Web-filtering company SurfControl introduced new technology that helps companies block instant messaging--an application beloved by employees but a headache for some information technology managers. SurfControl Instant Message Filter lets companies thwart staff from installing and using IM applications from companies such as AOL Time Warner, Yahoo and MSN. In addition, the tool stops employees from using peer-to-peer networks such as Kazaa, which can be technologically cumbersome to corporate networks.

Also of note
CNN accidentally made obituaries of several living people publicly available?Apple Computer denied it would bid for a record company...Music-swapping software for the Mac made a comeback...A new CD-RW drive that packs more data was unveiled?Nokia developed a surveillance camera that sends video clips to cell phones.