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Week in review: Message in a bottleneck

In what may have been retaliation for copyright legislation introduced last week, a denial-of-service attack rendered the Recording Industry Association of America's Web site unreachable for several days.

In what may have been a form of cyberprotest following the introduction of a tough bill that targets peer-to-peer file swapping, an attack rendered the Recording Industry Association of America's Web site unreachable for several days.

The denial-of-service attack left the RIAA.org site unavailable for portions of four days and came after the music industry group endorsed legislation to allow copyright holders to disrupt peer-to-peer networks. The four-day flood started on July 26 and did not involve any intrusion into the RIAA's internal network.

Denial-of-service attacks overwhelm an Internet site by enlisting hundreds or thousands of other machines to attempt to make simultaneous connections. The resulting overload resembles a physical traffic jam. The day before the attack began, the RIAA endorsed a bill written by Rep. Howard Berman, D-Calif., that would authorize copyright holders to begin "blocking, diverting or otherwise impairing" peer-to-peer networks.

Hacker exploits and security concerns have been of primary concern to corporations as well as politicians. President Bush's special adviser on cyberspace security said this week that software makers and Internet service providers must share the blame for vulnerable networks. Richard Clarke identified five specific groups responsible for the vulnerability and said that people who can secure the Internet must step up to the plate.

The major issue, Clarke said, is that companies and organizations that create the hardware, software and services that make up the Internet aren't doing enough to secure their products. In laying the blame for the vulnerabilities in the Internet, he pointed not only to software makers and ISPs, but also to those who create and use wireless networks, to the lack of a group responsible for securing the Internet, and to the government itself.

But maybe companies are starting to get the message. Antivirus firm Central Command reported that the number of Internet virus attacks fell in July compared with June--the first time this year that reported virus infections dropped month-on-month.

Hacker groups too are working to clean up their image. Many groups, trying to dispel the myth that hackers are just criminals bent on destruction, are educating their peers on how to learn about network security and on how to find ways to improve it without doing any harm. Read more in this News.com special report: "Hacking their image."

Software spotlight
The majority of Microsoft's customers seem to have passed on signing up for a controversial licensing plan that went into effect Thursday. Signing onto the plan, which would commit business customers to a two- or three-year annually paid contract guaranteeing the right to upgrade, will be the only way to continue buying Microsoft software at deep discounts.

The reason for stiff customer resistance is simple: cost. The plan, called Licensing 6, effectively raises volume-licensing fees from 33 percent to 107 percent. Microsoft also eliminated the most popular means of buying upgrades, which allowed companies to pay when they wanted new software, rather than spend money in advance for software upgrades.

Hewlett Packard may not be making any friends in software circles either. The company invoked the Digital Millennium Copyright Act in threats to sue researchers who publicized a vulnerability in the company's Tru64 Unix operating system. In a letter, an HP vice president warned SnoSoft, a loosely organized research collective, that its members "could be fined up to $500,000 and imprisoned for up to five years" for their role in publishing information on a bug that lets an intruder take over a Tru64 Unix system.

Hewlett-Packard late Thursday backed away from those threats, saying that it would not use the DMCA to pursue the researchers. The dramatic warning appeared to be the first time the DMCA has been suggested as a tool to stifle research related to computer security.

In other software news, a small software company may have the solution to stemming spam. The company's product categorizes e-mail on a scale from one to 100, then sorts messages according to the recipient's behavior and preferences. Important notes with high scores float to the top of the in-box, while unwanted spam, newsletters and other banalities sink to the bottom.

But the product has sparked debate among industrial psychologists and human resource executives, who argue that the program--and a wave of other content-categorizing applications--could be a political guillotine for aspiring managers. They worry that the software, even if it helps workers slog through e-mail faster, could offend those who rank at the bottom of priority lists.

Brave new worlds
Microsoft joined with AT&T Wireless in a deal that could open new channels for its .Net services and extend the Windows operating system into new markets. The alliance encompasses three broad areas: getting Microsoft software onto new devices, simplifying access to corporate information over wireless devices and enabling location-based services.

The deal is an important first step in bringing Microsoft's Pocket PC Phone Edition to the mass market. Microsoft and AT&T said that they were at the late stages of product development and would deliver devices using the software in the fourth quarter. AT&T Wireless will release devices based on the Pocket PC Phone Edition operating system and, eventually, those based on Microsoft's Smartphone operating system.

IBM, the biggest provider of services to help companies install and run computer systems, agreed to buy PricewaterhouseCoopers' consulting arm for an estimated $3.5 billion. The acquisition will likely affect other companies such as Sun Microsystems, Dell Computer, HP and EDS that have sought to beef up their own services.

HP in 2000 tried to buy PwC Consulting for about $18 billion, but later dropped the bid, saying the price was too high. HP got a second crack two weeks ago when PwC Consulting approached HP, but this time HP wasn't interested.

HP has its own shopping plans. The computer maker is putting a high-end spin on its efforts to target PC buyers at discount giants such as Costco Wholesale and Sam's Club. HP has been selling low-end computers in the club stores for some time.

But for the past few weeks, the company has been experimenting with offering several new, feature-laden PCs. Its test balloons include midrange desktops with large flat-panel displays. They also encompass desktops fitted with high-end features that previously were available only from the company directly, such as top-of-the-line graphics boards or large amounts of memory.

Also of note
Dell has developed an enviable reputation as a lean and mean PC manufacturer, but a debate is emerging over whether the company's efficiency engine can rev much higher...Microsoft released the third major service pack, or collection, of Windows 2000 bug fixes...AT&T Wireless executives made a rare admission: A portion of the carrier's wireless telephone network not only drops calls, but drops them at a rate below the quality standards the company sets for itself...Digital camera makers Olympus and Fuji Photo Film announced a new removable media format despite analyst concerns that camera buyers already have to deal with too many storage choices...Western Digital began shipping the 200GB "Drivezilla."

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