Air Force leader calls on military to construct botnet for cyber attacks

A commentary in the May issue of the Armed Forces Journal suggests that the U.S. military should build its own "botnet," or network of remotely controlled computers, to prepare for responding to a cyber attack, the Associated Press reports. Written by Air Force Col. Charles Williamson III, the proposal calls on the military to use PCs it planned to throw away to create a botnet. The military could expand that botnet's computing horsepower by implanting its code on other government computers, according to the commentary. The AP reports that “Williamson's commentary has ignited a debate in the computer security community about the wisdom of building a military botnet — and the government's ability to control it.” Specifically, the proposed tactic is called a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack, which is what hackers used last year to cripple government and corporate computer networks housed in the highly computer-savvy nation of Estonia (Robertson, AP/Yahoo! News, 5/15/08).

Intel, Chinese firm partner for targeted computer initiative

Chinese e-commerce company Alibaba.com is joining with Intel to develop a computer that will specifically help small and medium-sized Chinese businesses get online, IDG News Service reports. Marking the first step in a broader alliance between the two companies, the planned computer will feature Intel components and include Alibaba's e-commerce applications preinstalled and use, according to a joint statement. The companies, however, have yet to release details such as the specific Intel components that will be used in the PC. IDG News, meanwhile, speculates that the company's upcoming Atom processor, due to be launched next month, will likely be leveraged for the project, considering its planned use in other affordable machines (Lemon, IDG News Service/CIO, 5/15/08). 

Verizon joins Linux-based OS development group, set to rival Google

Verizon Wireless on Wednesday announced that it has joined a consortium to develop a Linux-based mobile operating system (OS), which will likely rival a mobile system being developed by a group headed by Google Inc., Reuters reports. The consortium, called the LiMo Foundation, currently has roughly 40 members including Verizon Wireless handset suppliers Samsung Electronics Co Ltd and LG Electronics Inc., as well as Korea's SK Telecom Co Ltd. According to Verizon Wireless, the company will join the foundation's board and expects to sell its first phones based on the LiMo OS in 2009. Meanwhile, Reuters reports that the announcement comes just one month after AT&T Inc said it would support Android—the Linux OS being developed by Google and roughly 30 partners (Carew, Reuters, 5/14/08).

Experts say Internet use may interfere with wireless devices in hospitals

The Associated Press recently reported that hospitals and medical device makers are warning that the use of unoccupied television airwaves for high-speed Internet service could interfere with medical devices and disrupt the monitoring of patients' heart rates, blood oxygen levels and other vital signs. Specifically, medical device maker GE Healthcare last week requested that the Federal Communications Commission proceed carefully with its decision to allow broadband use in the idle TV channels ("white spaces"). GE asked the FCC for stricter standards to protect wireless patient-monitoring equipment from being affected by other equipment. In light of the issue, the FCC is conducting tests to determine an efficient way to use the spectrum for broadband without interference, however the AP reports that a number of trial devices have broken down or failed. The FCC in 2000 allocated channel 37 exclusively for medical monitoring equipment in response to a 1998 incident in which a TV broadcaster interfered with a hospital's low-powered heart monitors. Prior to 2000, hospitals had used other channels to operate unlicensed wireless patient-monitoring devices. Despite the change, however, some hospitals still operate outside the protected channel. Preceding this week’s filing, GE Healthcare had called on FCC to prohibit any operation within channels 33 to 36 until February 2010 to give hospitals more time to migrate to the new protected channel, according to one official. Moreover, he said that unlicensed, portable Internet devices operating in empty channels next to the channel dedicated for medical devices may be too powerful and "overload" hospital systems, which typically emit weaker wireless signals (Sarkar, AP/Chicago Tribune, 5/13/08).

NATO members plan cyber-defense facility

Seven NATO members on Wednesday signed a deal to provide staff and funds for a new research centre that aims to improve the alliance's cyber-terrorism defenses, The Guardian reports. Defense ministers from Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Germany, Italy, Spain and Slovakia met in Brussels have signed the agreement, which includes pledges to finance an Estonia-based dedicated cyber defense facility. Slated to start operations in August, the facility will house a staff of 30 specialists, which will be recruited from NATO member states, and will conduct research and training on cyber warfare. In addition, it will provide technical assistance to NATO members. Though America has not signed the agreement, the Guardian reports that the country has agreed to join the project as an observer (Stewart, The Guardian, 5/14/08).

Australia advances national Internet filtering plan

Australia’s Communications Minister has moved forward with the controversial national content filtering scheme by allocating a $125.8 million budget for the plan, Computerworld reports. Distributed across four years, the funds will precede a trial implementation of content filtering technology by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA). Under the national plan, all ISPs must filter "objectionable material" from Internet traffic, which is outlined in a blacklist created by the ACMA. Meanwhile, industry professionals and privacy groups note the plan is “technically impossible and economically infeasible to implement, police and maintain ISP-level content filtering,” according to Computerworld (Pauli, Computerworld-Australia, 5/14/08).

European Commission investigates Microsoft’s failure to meet interoperability standards

The British Educational Communications and Technology Agency this week filed a complaint with the European Commission stating that Microsoft Office lacks interoperability with software used in schools, which poses significant barriers for learners, teachers and parents, Reuters reports. Under national law, software programs must meet the interoperability standards, but the agency contends that Microsoft only offers its own "open standard" rather than effective support for Open Document Format (ODF). Currently, the European Commission is assessing whether Microsoft has “exerted improper influence over the International Standards Organization to expand the number of standards from one to two, to include both ODF and Microsoft's own competing OOXML,” Reuters reports (Lawsky, Reuters, 5/13/08).

Google application enables Web sites to tap social network features

Google on Monday previewed a new application that will enable all Web sites to host common social networking features free of charge, the AFP reports. Google Friend Connect specifically enables Web site owners to add social-networking features such as registration, member galleries, message boards, and fun or useful "widgets" by simply incorporating snippets of free computer code. According to the AFP, visitors to sites using Friend Connect will be able to interact with their contacts from online communities such as Facebook, Google Talk, orkut, Plaxo or hi5. The AFP notes, meanwhile, that Google unveiled plans for its Friend Connect just days after MySpace and Facebook announced plans to let members share profile information at other Web sites (Chapman, AFP/Yahoo! News, 5/12/08).

UN agency, HP develop pan-Africa IT training program

The United Nations Industrial Development Organization in partnership with Hewlett-Packard has developed a program to promote entrepreneurial and information technology (IT) skills among young Africans, IDG News Service reports. Initially launching in six African countries including Nigeria, Egypt, Uganda and South Africa before rolling out continent-wide, the Graduate Entrepreneurship Training through IT (GET-IT) program aims to train unemployed youth and graduates in IT skills, ultimately enabling them to run their own businesses, according to the U.N. Although GET-IT is not the first pan-African IT training initiative, it will focus on teaching “much-needed practical solutions for business in finance, management, marketing and technology management” and will help defray training costs for participants, IDG reports (Malakata, IDG News Service/CIO, 3/14/08).

DataPortability Project gains major tech supporters

Some of the largest tech companies, including Microsoft and Google, have recently joined the DataPortability Project, which is a grass-roots advocacy group working toward best practices in boosting data sharing among Internet services, the Wall Street Journal reports. One of the project's founders, Chris Saad, discussed the project’s goals for the story. First, he defined data portability as the ability of users to "choose to share some of their data between the services and being able to do so with peace of mind, security and safety." He noted that the group is working toward making data portability to be “as easy to use as Wi-Fi,” adding that it increases the value of and makes it easier to use multiple services on the Net. Commenting on the support of major tech companies, Saad said “they have endorsed the project as the place to come up with the best practices. But they have not yet actually committed to implementing anything.” Finally, Saad notes that the project currently is focusing on social data because of its high profile, but may later address other types of data (Gomes, Wall Street Journal, 5/13/08).

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