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The design of a device that could quickly unscramble computer-generated code that until now has been considered secure was presented in Prague by one of the world's foremost cryptographers, Adi Shamir, coinventor of R.S.A., the international standard for secure transmission. Shamir's idea combines existing technology into a special, reasonably priced computer that would make factoring numbers as long as 150 digits much easier, thus making it simpler to reveal messages scarambled with public-key encryption methods. Researchers say the machine could mean that cryptographic systems with keys of 512 bits or lessthat is, keys less than 150 digits longwould be vulnerable, an exposure that was unthinkable five years ago. The longer, 1,024-bit keys available today would not be vulnerable at present.

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"Growth in international registrations proves that 'dot.com' is one of the few phrases understood in every language on earth."Doug Wolford, Network Solutions Inc. senior vice president.


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Internet Phantom Video Menace

On the heels of bootlegged music on the Internet comes the inevitable: pirated movies. Movies currently in theaters are spreading across cyberspace, distributed with a data format similar to the MP3 technology used to compress music files at CD-quality sound for easy Internet distribution. Here's how the pirating works: movies come from either a mixing studio employee who steals a copy of a yet-to-be-released movie, or someone who makes an illegal copy by sneaking a camcorder into a theater. The video is then made into a digital file and distributed onto the Internet. The drawback: the size of the file and the quality of the picture.

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Computer as New Movie Venue

Legitimate Internet distribution of movie rentals is a growing concern for video stores as movie moguls and Internet upstarts realize the potential of the Web. As broadband connections increase, so do realistic download times for full-length features, which currently (at their fastest) take about 20 minutes and can be viewed on a Microsoft media player. An exact timeline for high-speed hook-ups to the majority of U.S. homes is unknown, but the process may have been sped up by recent technological breakthroughs in software compression, the now-routine digitizing of movies for the DVD format, and recent megadeals struck by telephone, cable, and entertainment companies. Internet movies for the masses must still wait for a variety of technical, economic, and regulatory problems to be sorted out. Best estimates predict Internet movie distribution booming in five to 10 years.

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Spybirds for Hire

Pentagon engineers are hard at work building a new breed of spy plane the size of a robin but minus the chirping, reports the Wall Street Journal. Avian robots that fly by flapping their wings are a military planners dreama birdlike device capable of flapping over the next hill or around the next corner in urban combat zones and sending back a TV picture of what it sees. The flapping-wing researchers, backed by $35 million in funding, have just this in mind: a remote-controlled device that not only moves forward and backward but hovers over a spot like a hummingbird. The chief innovation behind this futuristic idea is an experimental "artificial muscle" that uses electrical current and a rubber-like substance to do the same sort of work now performed by mechanical engines, cogs, and pulleys.

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NASA Computer Security Lax

NASA's computer security is so vulnerable to attack that hackers could easily disrupt command and control operations, including the tracking of orbiting spacecraft, says a government report. The General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of the U.S. Congress, says its teams penetrated NASA systems that process and distribute scientific data and broke into NASA's most vital networks. The GAO picked systems at one of NASA's 10 field centers, entering "using easily guessed passwords," the report said. NASA, working to improve security, contends the report may be exaggerated.

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Teaching a New Dog Old Tricks

About the size of a Chihuahua and called "AIBO," manufacturer Sony claims its robotic canine is smart enough to do a few tricks and can even let you know when it's happy with a wag of its tail or a flash of its green LED eyes. The battery-powered pooch has sensors in its paws and an antenna-like tail; a camera and infrared sensor help judge distances and detects objects. In addition to standard tricks, such as sitting and begging, AIBO is programmed to dance and even play an electronic tune. Still, the dog doesn't understand voice commands. Instead, owners use a remote-control device that emits musical tones the robot recognizes as commands. Price: about U.S. $2,000 in Japan and the U.S., sold only over the Internet.

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Lebanese Cellphone Virus

In cellphone-loving Lebanon, a fast-traveling rumor that the Chernobyl virus responsible for melting down at least 600,000 computers worldwide in April would wreak havoc on mobile phones, tangled landlines and briefly shut down the country's telephone network, Ad-Diyar, Lebanon's daily newspaper reported. Lebanese flipped off their mobiles and used traditional phones to warn friends and family to do the same, overloading the network and disrupting service. Losses from the drop in cellular calls amounted to U.S. $30,000. Parliament considered an investigation into the source of the rumor, which Lebanon's two cellular companies scrambled in vain to debunk as technically implausible. Reporters tried to contact the Lebanese communications minister about the scare on the day the rumor was circulated, according to London-based, Al Hayat newspaper. But he was unreachable. Apparently his two cell phones were shut off.

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