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Week in Review: Defending the Net

Attackers fail in an attempt to cripple the computers that serve as the address books for the Internet, but don't feel bad if you didn't notice.

Attackers failed this week in an attempt to cripple the computers that serve as the address books for the Internet, but don't feel bad if you didn't notice.

A so-called distributed denial-of-service attack sent a barrage of data at the 13 domain-name service root servers on Monday. Traffic from several Internet service providers has been slightly delayed, but because the domain name system, or DNS, is spread out, and because the 13 root servers are the last resort for address searches, the attack had almost no effect on the Internet itself.

"There was never an end-user that said there was a problem," said a representative of a group that supports the open-source software on which many domain name servers run.

But that doesn't mean the system is immune. Security experts say a more sophisticated attack could have disrupted the root servers long enough to impair Net access. Had the attack prevented access to the servers for eight to 10 hours, the average computer user may have noticed slower response times.

Although the attack failed to hobble the Net, there were indications that it isn't over yet, continuing at a lower intensity. In addition, locating the perpetrators will be difficult because the type of attack they used--known as a distributed denial-of-service--typically mask the origins of the assault.

Microsoft's software spread
Microsoft was busy on the software launchpad, delivering the first test release of a new version of its Office software. The new version of Microsoft's cash cow, code-named Office 11, comes as sales of the desktop software begin to plateau.

The productivity suite will go out to about 6,000 testers within Microsoft and another 6,000 external beta testers. Only select testers will have access to this first beta version, although Microsoft plans a more widely available Office 11 test sometime in the first quarter. Office 11 will include greater XML integration and a revamped Outlook e-mail client.

The software giant also announced that its long-awaited Smartphone 2002 software is complete and said the first phones with the software would debut in Europe later this month. The United States is unlikely to see such devices until next year.

U.S. carriers Verizon Wireless, Cingular Wireless and AT&T Wireless are committed to releasing devices running Microsoft's operating system, with only AT&T publicly committing to a time frame. AT&T will have a device available some time before the middle of next year.

Microsoft also released an update to its version of Windows XP for embedded devices. Windows XP Embedded with Service Pack 1 resolves glitches discovered since Microsoft released the operating system last year and also adds new features to the product.

The software is a modular version of Microsoft's flagship operating system that can be installed on embedded devices, such as cash registers, slot machines and ATMs. The company also announced a six-month, $995 promotional price on kits for creating devices using Windows CE .Net and Windows XP Embedded.

Finding trouble on the Net
Google found itself on the receiving end of Net scrutiny when it was revealed that the popular search engine has quietly deleted more than 100 controversial sites from some search-result listings. Absent from Google's French and German listings are Web sites that are anti-Semitic, pro-Nazi and related to white supremacy.

Google confirmed that the sites had been removed from listings available at Google.fr and Google.de, but the removed sites continue to appear in listings on the main Google.com site. A Harvard report found 113 excluded sites, most with racial overtones.

Top billing in Google search results has become so coveted that one Web hosting company is suing for it. Search King, a Web site network and advertising seller, filed a lawsuit against Google, alleging the search giant unfairly bumped down its Web addresses from top rankings in search results.

The popular search service "purposefully reduced Search King?s value, as well as that of Web sites hosted by Search King," according to the complaint. This is "due to the fact that Search King was legally profiting from the page ranking assigned by Google to certain Web sites, with the intent to cause Search King?s clients to cancel contracts with Search King." Google's site explains that Web site rankings may change each time it updates its index, which is every four weeks.

Google and other search engines are also feeling heat from intellectual property owners who are more aggressively hounding small one-man-band Web sites, the Internet service providers that host or link to them, search engines, hoping to get pages or material removed.

Copyright holders also have gained additional ammunition to demand removal of material. The 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA)--designed to update copyright laws in the digital age and assuage piracy fears--carved out protections for ISPs that remove alleged violations when asked, but didn't require them to notify the site operator or to judge whether the claim was legitimate. Free speech advocates also fear that many companies and organizations are trying to shoehorn their trademark claims into DMCA claims in hopes of persuading ISPs to quickly take down the sites.

Processor power
In a deal that should buoy both computing companies, Sandia National Laboratories will install a $90 million supercomputer from Cray that will run on Opteron processors from Advanced Micro Devices. The supercomputer, code-named Red Storm, will contain approximately 10,000 Opteron chips and be capable of churning 40 trillion calculations per second (40 teraflops) when it becomes operational in 2004.

NEC's Earth Simulator, currently the world's most powerful computer, can perform 35.9 trillion calculations per second. Several supercomputers are in the pipeline that will surpass NEC's figure. The endorsement implied by the contract win will likely help AMD wedge its way deeper into the server market.

PC makers will show off systems containing Intel's 3GHz Pentium 4 a few days before the Comdex trade show in Las Vegas next month. Not only will the chip run at a higher clock speed than other desktop parts, but it will also contain Intel's hyperthreading technology, which lets one chip act almost like two.

Hyperthreading will likely be the most distinguishing characteristic of the new chip. With hyperthreading, different regions inside the processor, such as the floating-point unit for decimal math and the integer unit, can process different parts, or threads, of an application at the same time.

Not all is rosy for chipmakers, however. Graphics chip leader Nvidia is expected to unveil the fastest PC graphics processor yet at Comdex, but analysts say the new chip may be too little, too late.

Nvidia was expected to have its NV30 processor, to be sold as the GeForce 5, on the market by now. But problems stemming from shifting to a new chipmaking process have bumped back the chip by several months. Analysts now expect Nvidia to have a handful of new chips on the market by Christmas, but volume shipments won?t begin until early next year. "Basically, they missed the cycle," one analyst said.

Also of note
Microsoft officially launched the latest version of its online service, MSN 8, teaming with content partner Walt Disney as it looks to gain on subscriber behemoth America Online...Philips Electronics is aiming to use a new reference design to make newer, DVD-rewritable players as successful as the enormously popular everyday DVD player...A federal judge ruled that Southwest Airlines does not have to revamp its Web site to make it more accessible to the blind...AOL Time Warner updated Wall Street analysts on an internal investigation of accounting practices at its troubled AOL unit...CEO Steve Ballmer said Microsoft may pull its Xbox game console from the Australian market because of a court decision that legitimizes "mod chips" for hackers...An Israeli Web-application company has warned users of Internet Explorer that nine related security flaws in the program could be used by malicious hackers to gain access to a victim's computer files.