Innovation and Technology Weekly – No. 37, 2003

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Issue 37, 2003

This week's headlines:

EU plans biometric visa divide
October 09, 2003

The EU plans to include facial and fingerprint biometric data on travel documents for non-EU nationals by 2005. Two proposals have been adopted by the European Commission requiring member states to integrate the biometric identifiers into visa and residence permits for third-country nationals. Implementation has been brought forward from 2007 to 2005, and the proposals will now be discussed by the European Parliament.

The Commission is focusing on the mandatory storing of the digital facial image as the primary identity check, with fingerprints providing the best solution for 'background checks' in databases. Both will be stored on a 'contactless' chip embedded in a document.

Designed to improve border security and combat terrorism, this latest move will pave the way for similar digital data to be compulsory for EU citizens' passports.

Full story: VNUnet UK Back to top

'Patent war' could be sparked by EU directive
October 06, 2003

The European Parliament's decision to limit patents as they apply to software and business methods risks creating a 'patent war', with fallout that could make it illegal to access some European e-commerce sites from the US, analyst firm Gartner has warned.

The European Parliament recently voted to approve the Directive on the Patentability of Computer-Implemented Inventions, but with a series of amendments designed to limit the ways in which software can be patented. The amendments also sought to ban the patenting of 'business methods', such as Amazon's patent on 'One-Click' purchasing.

Now analyst firm Gartner has highlighted potential problems that could arise from the EU's patenting system being out of step with that of the US, even if the EU's system is more effective. For example, if a patented e-commerce technology is enforceable in the US but not the EU, US users could be breaking the law by accessing an EU website that used the technology, according to Gartner.

Full story: / ZDNet UK Back to top

Microsoft plans new PC fortifications
October 09, 2003

Microsoft has announced a new security drive designed to provide better protection for personal computers against worms and hackers.

A key initiative will see the company change its strategy for releasing code fixes. These software patches will be released monthly rather than weekly, as is the case currently. This is to provide less opportunity for hackers to study the patches in order to attack Windows PCs.

Microsoft will improve the firewall software built into Windows. The next major software upgrade for Windows XP and Windows Server 2003 will include enhancements to make firewalls more compatible with home networks and allow them to be remotely managed within a company.

The same update will include new software to prevent code being forced to operate outside an application's normal security controls by overloading its memory, a common trick used to gain access to a PC. Instead, a program will be more likely to crash than let a hacker in.

Full story: New Scientist Back to top

Microsoft to alter web browser
October 07, 2003

Microsoft said it will make technical adjustments to its Internet Explorer software as a result of an August ruling that Microsoft infringed on a patent licensed by Eolas Technologies. Microsoft, which is appealing the ruling and the $520 million award to Eolas, said the changes will be built into new shipments of IE starting next year.

The browser adjustments are designed to stop Microsoft from infringing on a patent owned by the University of California and licensed to Eolas. The patent covers technology which allows webpage authors to embed and automatically start certain specialised interactive programs.

The technology allowed for the embedding of small interactive programs such as 'plug-ins' or 'applets', into html documents. Such programs are central today to online commerce as they power everything from banner ads to interactive customer service. The IE changes will mean that users who come to a site that employs one of the specialised programs will be prompted with a dialogue box asking them to allow the program to run.

Full story: CNN / AP Back to top

Reliance on Microsoft makes firms vulnerable says Gartner
October 09, 2003

Exclusive reliance on Microsoft's Windows operating system could make companies vulnerable to greater damage during a cyberattack, according to an upcoming report from analyst Gartner. A draft copy of the Gartner research note mirrors the conclusions of seven prominent security researchers, who released a paper stating that Microsoft's dominance in software could have serious consequences for national cybersecurity.

Both reports argue that allowing the bulk of information infrastructure to rely on a single code base - or monoculture - could result in a cascading failure, taking down large parts of the internet. The research note argues that for companies, diversifying desktop operating systems could be a good defence against such catastrophe.

The report does not argue that Windows is inherently less secure. But absolute reliance on Windows computers could result in a major failure. The danger of monocultures is well accepted, the note says: A forest that only has a single species of tree could likewise be destroyed by a single virus; a greater diversity of trees means that many will survive.

Full story: Yahoo / CNET News Back to top

VeriSign suspends Site Finder service
October 07, 2003

VeriSign, which manages the .com and .net domain name registries, said it 'reluctantly' suspended its Site Finder service because ICANN, the main oversight body for the internet, ordered it to end the service.

The fight began last month when VeriSign began directing all mistyped URLs to Site Finder instead of sending back the usual 'page not found' error message. Web surfers who mistyped a URL were sent to a VeriSign controlled page that offered a search engine and links to what Site Finder guessed users were attempting to reach.

ICANN contends the Site Finder service had significant adverse effects on the internet, web browsing, E-mail, applications, and sequenced lookup services, and that it produced incompatibility problems with other services. Critics of VeriSign have alleged Site Finder produced problems with everything from spam filters to network printers. VeriSign disputed those allegations and said the service had little impact.

Full story: Yahoo / TechWeb Back to top

Steam age tech takes heat off chips
October 08, 2003

One of the key discoveries in steam engine technology was that multiple small pipes in the boiler extracted heat far more efficiently than a single pipe. Now Californian company Cooligy is applying a similar idea to cooling high performance chips. Cooligy's Active Micro-Channel Cooling System claims a heat removal capacity of 1000 watts per square centimetre. The existing limit is around 250 watts for passive systems.

The system has two innovative parts: a sheet of silicon with hundreds of microscopic channels etched into it, and an electrokinetic micropump. The silicon fits over the top of a microprocessor or other chip and the channels are filled with water. The silent electrokinetic micropump contains a porous bed through which water flows when a voltage is applied; ionic charges in the water push the liquid along.

After the water is pumped above the chip, passing a millimetre away from the active layers, it circulates through a radiator and releases the heat to the outside.

Full story: Yahoo / ZDNews UK Back to top

'Subversive' code aimed to kill off software piracy
October 08, 2003

A new anti-copying system, called Fade, is being introduced by US-based Macrovision and the British games developer Codemasters. The system makes unauthorised copies of games slowly degrade, so that cars no long steer, guns cannot be aimed and footballs fly away into space. But by that time the player has become addicted to the game, Fade's developers estimate.

Fade exploits the systems for error correction that computers use to cope with CD-ROMs that have become scratched. The Fade-protected game contains fragments of 'subversive' code designed to seem like scratches. The 'scratches' are arranged on the disc in a subtle pattern that the master program looks for. If it finds them, the game plays as usual.

When someone tries to copy the disc, however, the error correcting routines attempt to fix the bogus scratches. When the copied disc is played, the master program then cannot find the pattern, so it knows the disc is a copy. Instead of switching off the game and preventing it from playing at all, the master program begins to slowly disable it.

Full story: New Scientist Back to top

Blind 'see with sound'
October 07, 2003

Blind since birth, a volunteer testing a revolutionary new system, is able to recognise the walls and doors of her house, discern whether the lights are on or off and even distinguish a CD from a floppy disk after only a week using the new system.

The vOICe (the three middle letters standing for 'Oh I See'), developed by Peter Meijer at Philips Research Laboratories in the Netherlands, works by translating images from a camera on-the-fly into highly complex soundscapes, which are then transmitted to the user over headphones. A wearable setup consists of a head-mounted camera, stereo headphones and a notebook PC. In total it costs about $2,500.

Enabling users to get an audio snapshot of what is visually in front of them, The vOICe is taking a very different route from 'bionic eyes' - retinal and brain implants. It is non-invasive, offering a higher image resolution (up to several thousand pixels) and does not necessarily rely on the visual cortex.

Full story: BBC News Back to top

IBM launches drop-protected laptops
October 07, 2003

The world's first laptops incorporating automatic protection against the damage caused by a drop have been launched by US computer maker IBM.

The new ThinkPad systems use an onboard accelerometer to detect a sudden fall. If an impact seems imminent, then within a tenth of a second the computer's hard drive stops writing data and the read/write head is retracted to a safe position. This is to protect the drive from damage that can result from jarring. An impact can cause the drive's heads to skid across the magnetic disks used to store information inside a hard drive, creating unusable sectors and erasing data.

The components most prone to damage are a laptop's hard drive, its display and its keyboard. But losing information stored on the machine's hard drive is the biggest worry for users, IBM believes. Active Protection System technology comes with the Thinkpad R50 and T41 laptops. IBM plans to patent the idea.

Full story: New Scientist Back to top

CD writer generates holograms
October 07, 2003

Researchers from Cambridge University in England have found a way to turn an ordinary CD writer into a device that burns two-dimensional holograms onto CDs. The researchers' scheme bypasses the error correction system of a CD writer and interjects its own data as the device lays down CD tracks. The system monitors the CD's rotation in order to keep track of where on the CD it is writing.

Holograms are useful for routing light in a complicated fashion to, for example, switch light signals between optical fibres. Computer-generated holograms used for this purpose are generally created using a relatively expensive pressing process. The new method could also be used to watermark a disk during recording.

The modifications to an ordinary CD writer can be done at almost no cost, the hologram quality is similar to pressed holograms, and the method is very fast, according to the researchers. They are looking into modifying a DVD writer, which has narrower tracks and thus should be able to produce finer, and even three-dimensional, holograms.

Full story: Technology Review / TRN Back to top

Heart patients may benefit from sensors in clothes
October 08, 2003

Heart patients may soon be able to buy underwear designed to detect heart rhythm abnormalities and even call for an ambulance in case of emergency, according to Dutch researchers at Philips Electronics. The researchers have developed sensors that measure body signals such as heart rate information, which can be sown into bras and shorts and which connect to a thin chip module that monitors the signals.

Three months of data on body signals can be stored in the module. Abnormal signals will be detected by the module, and doctors can also use the information to analyse them, Philips said. Should the patient suffer a heart attack, the system can trigger local alarms or wirelessly link with a mobile phone. The thin module should be worn on the body, close to the sensors, and is designed to slip into a dedicated pocket.

It might take a few years before a commercial product will be on the market, because different interested parties such as doctors, telecoms operators and insurance companies will have to agree on how to use it.

Full story: New York Times / Reuters Back to top

A brighter outlook for handheld screens?
October 03, 2003

A Japanese company has developed lighting technology that it claims makes handheld screens brighter and clearer, with reduced power consumption.

Omron, of Kyoto, Japan, says the technique - dubbed hybrid-integration technology - uses very small, or 'nano', prism arrays to achieve a threefold improvement in contrast ratio compared to conventional front-lighting methods. The tiny prism array prevents reflection of unnecessary light and produces clear screen images. The design also allows a reduction in number of light-emitting diodes( LEDs), the screen's light source, and as a result reduces power consumption.

Existing front-lighting methods, in which LEDs light up the front of a liquid-crystal display (LCD), offer modest power consumption but low-contrast images. Backlighting methods, which put the LED at the back of the display, produce high-contrast images but consume more power. The screen brightness produced by the new technology could rival that of notebook computers, the company says.

Full story: ZDNet Back to top

CD copy protection trumped by Shift key
October 08, 2003

A Princeton graduate student this week said that he has figured out a way to defeat new software intended to keep music CDs from being copied on a computer - simply by pressing the Shift-key.

John Halderman said the MediaMax CD3 software developed by SunnComm Technologies could be defeated on computers running Windows by holding down the Shift key, disabling a Windows feature that automatically launches the encryption software on the disc. He said the protection could also be disabled by stopping the driver the CD installs when it is first inserted into a computer's drive. Moreover, computers running Linux and older versions of the Mac operating system are unable to run the software and are able to copy the disc freely, he said.

The CD in question released by BMG's Arista label last month was touted by BMG as a breakthrough in the music industry's efforts to prevent music piracy, which has been blamed for a prolonged slump in CD sales.

Full story: CNN / Reuters Back to top