The week in review: Hack attacks and handheld wars

Summary:Hackers and scammers had a field day: Even the CERT Center, created to warn the public about computer-security threats, fell victim to an attack.

Just when you thought it was safe to surf the Internet, hackers and scammers are nipping at sites and surfers alike to make the experience somewhat less than a day at the beach.

Unknown attackers inundated the Computer Emergency Response Team Coordination Center with data for two days, cutting off the public's access to the organization largely responsible for warning others on the Internet about computer-security threats. Although the attack prevented anyone from accessing the security advisories on CERT's Web site, the center said it was able to get the word out on critical alerts.

Online vandals intent on lashing out at companies and rivals stage denial-of-service attacks more than 4,000 times every week. Among the common targets are some names that come as no surprise: Amazon.com, America Online and Microsoft's free e-mail service, Hotmail. However, a large number of individual users and small businesses are targeted by attacks as well. Denial-of-service attacks attempt to overload or crash computers connected to the Internet so people can't access them.

In the midst of the online vandalism boom, nonprofit security site Attrition.org announced it will stop tracking the defacement of Web pages by online vandals because the volunteer staff can no longer keep up with the volume of defacements. Attrition is home to what is perhaps the most complete archive of tagged Web pages on the Internet, stretching back more than five years.

U.S. government officials said an investigation has exposed Internet fraud schemes that affected thousands of people who lost a total of about $117 million. The probe, dubbed "Operation Cyber Loss," was sparked by complaints made to the Internet Fraud Complaint Center, a partnership between the FBI and the National White Collar Crime Center. The FBI and Justice Department said criminal charges were brought against approximately 90 individuals and companies as part of the investigation.

Hand-to-handheld combat
The current price war in the handheld computer market between heavyweights Palm and Handspring may have consumers on the fence, but analysts don't expect prices to go much lower. Palm and Handspring have been matching each other price cut for price cut, but the companies aren't likely to keep trimming prices at the expense of their bottom lines. One analyst said any further cuts would lower profit margins, which neither company--especially Palm--can afford.

Handhelds using Microsoft's Pocket PC operating system marched to the million-unit sales mark in less than a year. "Shipments technically hit a million after 10 months, but it took us awhile to count them up," a company representative said. "We're now over 1.25 million units in the high end of the market." Pocket PC, introduced in April 2000, is Microsoft's third attempt at an operating system for handheld devices and is found in products from Hewlett-Packard, Compaq Computer and Casio.

Some customers trying to subscribe to Palm's wireless service, Palm.net, have been unable to activate their accounts. The handheld maker confirmed the problem but would offer no details about when it began, what caused it or when it will be fixed. "We are aware of the problem and are working with suppliers to resolve the issue," said a spokesman who would not confirm the number of customers affected but said it was a "small group."

Palm is trying to lure its software developers into buying handheld computers by offering steep discounts. The No. 1 handheld maker highlighted the move in an e-mail sent to developers. In the e-mail, Palm General Manager Alan Kessler offers registered developers discounts of up to 40 percent on one to three handhelds. With 155,000 developers worldwide, the discounts could potentially help Palm reduce its excess inventory.

Swap it
Yesterday's technology is being used to swap tomorrow's TV programs on the Internet today. For years, tech-savvy satellite TV subscribers have had the ability to tap freely into the satellite streams meant for affiliate TV stations. But now these "pre-air" shows have started appearing on the Internet and are being traded like songs were in the early days of MP3 music--a practice known as TVRip.

Napster fans are trading entire albums as a way to get around copyright filters that have made it more difficult to find popular tracks on the file-swapping service. At least 50 record albums so far have been found on Napster, as reported by research firm Webnoize. The albums include music from Pink Floyd, the Beatles, Louis Armstrong and a host of other popular artists. Although Napster continues to make efforts to block songs from being traded on its service, some are still slipping through the cracks.

The record industry filed a lawsuit against file-swapping company Aimster, charging that it is violating copyrights much the same way as Napster or Scour, targets of previous lawsuits. The lawsuit caps a bad week for the small company, which lost the rights to its Aimster.com Web address to AOL Time Warner in an arbitration panel.

Coming soon
Many analysts have asserted that the storage industry is about to hit a physical limit for higher capacities. IBM says its new hard drive technology, however, can shatter what many in the industry have seen as an unbreakable barrier. Technically called "antiferromagnetically coupled media" and informally referred to as "pixie dust" at IBM, the innovation introduces a thin layer of the element ruthenium onto the disks inside hard drives where data is stored. AFC allows more data to be packed onto a disk.

As competition looms, FireWire backers finalized a plan to initially double the speed--and eventually offer eight times the speed--of the connection used to link PCs to camcorders and other peripherals. The speed boost for FireWire comes as a faster version of the universal serial bus heads to market. USB 2.0 and FireWire will compete directly for a spot on computers.

As technological innovation increases, sometimes prices do too. Internet giant America Online is raising monthly subscription rates by $1.95 for its 29 million subscribers, a move widely anticipated by Wall Street as the company attempts to meet near-term financial goals. Beginning in the July billing cycle, AOL will charge subscribers $23.90 for its monthly unlimited-use plan, a 9 percent increase from the current rate of $21.95. AOL has not raised the price of its unlimited-access service since April 1998.

Also of note
The chief executive of BlueLight.com stepped down amid a reorganization that shifted most marketing and merchandising duties to parent company Kmart...Oracle kept its lead as the No. 1 database-management software maker, but rival Microsoft is gaining ground in the highly competitive market...National Wireless Safety Week had researchers, academics, analysts and lobbyists arguing more vehemently about the potential dangers of wireless phones.

Topics: Hewlett-Packard, Amazon, Hardware, IBM, Legal, Microsoft, Nasa / Space, Oracle, PCs, Security

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