Thursday, September 20, 2007

Daily Reports

According to a USA Today report, DHS believes that the Great River Bridge crossing the Mississippi River between Iowa and Illinois represents a potential terrorist target. The span was listed among 44 other cable-stayed bridges in an analysis conducted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Homeland Security workers. The purpose of the study is to find innovative methods to protect bridge cables and connections from explosives (See item 13)

The Los Angeles Times reports that, in a move away from seeking federal funding or funding from specific water consumers, the governor of California is proposing a $9 billion bond package to help fund three dam and other water-related programs. California has been struggling with drought conditions and a federal court decision that has cut off a major source of water to large sections of the state (See item 22)

Information Technology

38. September 19, Infoworld (International) EU commissioner slams DOJ reaction to Microsoft antitrust ruling. The European Union Competition Commissioner has slammed comments from the U.S. Department of Justice about Monday's European court ruling on an antitrust judgment against Microsoft. The commissioner described the criticism of the ruling as “totally unacceptable” during a news conference in Brussels on Wednesday. The DOJ's Assistant Attorney General for Antitrust criticized the ruling sharply on Monday, warning that it could “have the unfortunate consequence of harming consumers by chilling innovation and discouraging competition.” In a Brussels news conference Wednesday the commissioner fired back: “I think it's totally unacceptable [that a representative of the U.S. government] should criticize an independent court's decision. The Commission doesn't pass judgment on rulings in U.S. courts. We expect the same respect,” she said. On Monday the Court of First Instance, Europe's second-highest court, dismissed an appeal by Microsoft against the Commission's 2004 antitrust ruling against the company.


39. September 18, IDG News Service (Nationwide) Group says e-voting paper trail wouldn't improve security. Requiring print-outs as a back-up to electronic voting machines would not improve security but would increase costs of U.S. voting systems, according to a report released Tuesday. The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), a tech-oriented think tank, said so-called voter-verified paper trail ballots used in conjunction with e-voting machines would “prevent the use of innovative voting technology that offers voters more security, transparency, and reliability” than paper-only balloting systems. The U.S. House has before it a bill that would require paper-trail ballots to be used with direct recording electronic voting machines. However, a paper trail would create several problems, according to the report. Paper audit trails would create an “even bigger dispute” than past elections with missing electronic votes, because the “people wouldn't know which record was accurate -- the paper or the electronic record.” Paper-trail ballots would also increase the cost of elections, because of potential printer and counting machine malfunctions and the introduction of the human element to counting, the report said. The same study claims that U.S. residents trust computers to run many other “critical applications” in banking, medicine and aviation. Nonetheless, supporters of paper-trail audits disputed the report's findings. “The argument that people trust computers in other places is specious -- safety-critical systems have been developed in other contexts using rigorous standards that are not applied to voting machines,” said the chairman of the Association for Computing Machinery's (ACM's) U.S. policy committee. ACM has not called for e-voting machines to be scrapped, but instead for the machines to go through two levels of audit, paper trails and random machine audits, he noted.


40. September 18, Computerworld (Nationwide) Facebook, MySpace users will trade privacy for features. Facebook and MySpace users are willing to let the sites sell their personal data in return for access to the sites' social networking features, according to new research from Pace University. Researchers at the university queried users of Facebook and MySpace in August, asking for their views of the privacy protections offered by the sites and their feelings about how much personal information they are willing to post on social networking sites. A professor at Pace who worked on the study noted that most Facebook and MySpace users said that they're willing to develop online relationships even though they believe that trust and privacy safeguards are weak. Users seem to view the social networking sites as a way to obtain online profiles, photos and the like for free while the sites “can take all their data and do whatever they want with it,” she noted. “Both sites are really interested in monetizing this information as much as possible,” according to the professor. “They don't exist to give people ways to upload photos.” Of those surveyed, less than 5 percent of MySpace users, and slightly more than 5 percent of Facebook users said they believe that the personal information they put on the sites is strongly protected. Still, the respondents told researchers that they are willing to share personal details with others on the sites. More than 85 percent of respondents in both groups reported that they would share a photo of themselves on a social networking site, and 91 percent of Facebook users and 62 percent of MySpace users said they use their real name on such sites, according to the study. In addition, 87 percent of Facebook users and 41 percent of MySpace users post their personal e-mail addresses on the sites.


Communications Sector

41. September 19, Associated Press (Nationwide) AG opposes satellite merger. Wisconsin's attorney general (AG) asked the federal government Tuesday to block the combination of the nation's only two satellite radio companies. In a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice, the state’s AG said the deal between Sirius Satellite Radio Inc. and XM Satellite Radio Holdings Inc. would create a monopoly that would not benefit their consumers. “The proposed merger would eliminate competition in the satellite radio industry and the combined XM-Sirius companies would be free to raise prices, stifle innovation, and reduce program diversity,” he wrote. Sirius Satellite Radio Inc. announced in February that it would acquire XM Satellite Radio Holdings Inc. for $4.7 billion. The combination requires approval from the Justice Department's antitrust regulators and the Federal Communications Commission. Sirius said in a regulatory filing this month that it expects the deal to be approved by the end of this year. The companies claim they would not be a monopoly since they compete with traditional broadcast radio and other forms of audio entertainment.


42. September 19, Associated Press (Colorado) Telecom to inspect wooden utility poles in Colorado after injury lawsuit. Qwest Communications International Inc. will inspect its wooden poles in Colorado for decay and other deterioration after a jury found the company liable for a 2004 accident that paralyzed a utility lineman. The Denver-based telecommunications company said in recent court filings that it will replace or reinforce defective poles during the review starting this month. Qwest has about 157,000 poles across the state. During the inspection, employees of Qwest and an outside firm will check its poles for lightning damage, cracks, woodpecker holes, broken wires and other warning signs. In May, a Denver District Court jury awarded nearly $40 million to an Xcel Energy Inc employee, who was injured when a Qwest-owned pole he was working on fell in suburban Adams County.


43. September 18, IDG News Service(Nationwide) Hacker publishes notorious Apple Wi-Fi attack. More than a year after claiming to have found a way to take over a Macintosh computer using a flaw in the system's wireless card, a controversial hacker has published details of his exploit. The details were included in a paper published in the September issue of, an online hacking magazine. The lengthy paper describes how to run unauthorized software on a Macintosh by taking advantage of a flaw in Apple's AirPort wireless drivers. Apple patched the bug in September 2006 without crediting the hacker for discovering the problem. Instead, Apple's engineers found the bug during an internal audit, the company said. The man and another researcher first described this type of problem during an August 2006 presentation at the Black Hat security conference in Las Vegas, though he was widely criticized by the Apple community for failing to back up his claims with technical details. He is releasing the paper now, he stated, because he is no longer bound by a nondisclosure agreement, which had prevented him from doing so a year ago. By going public with the information, Maynor hopes to help other Apple researchers with new documentation on things like Wi-Fi debugging and the Mac OS X kernel core dumping facility. “There's a lot of interesting information in the paper that, if you're doing vulnerability research on Apple, you'd find useful.”