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National

Issue: "Mel Gibson's passion," Feb. 28, 2004

Peer reviewing software

When secret formulas to Windows operating systems leaked onto the internet, it was a hacker's mother lode. Microsoft admitted the historic security breach as fears grew that criminals could use the information to create dangerous new computer attacks.

The stolen code came from Windows 2000 and NT 4.0, two older versions still in use on business and institutional computers. Microsoft said the leak did not come from its internal network-and investigators looked at outside companies that have access to Windows' secrets.

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Many Microsoft critics argue that the best way to keep Windows secure is to open its source code to outsiders. It could then be examined for problems, just as academic research is judged by peer review. Microsoft rejects such arguments.

Executives at the software giant announced they "will take all appropriate legal actions to protect its intellectual property." Yet the stolen data circulated far and wide across the net, in compressed files of over 200 megabytes each (a long download even with a broadband connection).

One company under scrutiny in the case is Mainsoft, which helps convert Windows software to other operating systems. Mainsoft Chairman Mike Gullard offered full cooperation to investigators.

Techno-Toms

Those tiny cameras built into cell phones are fast becoming a global privacy concern. What once was an expensive espionage technology now falls into ordinary hands-and lots of them-resulting in humiliation in public restrooms, locker rooms, and bus stops.

Some schools and gyms are reconsidering cell-phone bans because of the rise in websites showing embarrassing shots of unsuspecting people. Iowa, Colorado, and other states are considering legal restrictions as new technology creates a new wave of peeping Toms.

A few people desperate for privacy are turning to illegal phone jammers to keep cameras from clicking in their offices or living rooms. One company offers a unit that "will effectively block cellular telephone signals up to 20 meters" for just over $550, even though FCC regulations forbid such devices.

The Consumer Electronics Association reports that cell-phone sales grew from 1.2 million in 2001 to 6.3 million last year-and predicts they will double this year and triple in 2005.

Bits & megabytes

The MyDoom virus spawned a copycat sequel: Doomjuice strikes computers already infected by the previous worm-and launches an internet attack on Microsoft's website. Unlike MyDoom, which terminated itself on Feb. 12, Doomjuice can run indefinitely. It copies itself onto infected PCs and tricks them into downloading and running the virus.

The DVD Copy Control Association, a film-industry trade group, sued software maker 321 Studios, claiming patent infringement. The St. LouisÐbased company makes two popular programs, DVD Copy and DVD X Copy, which allow users to bypass copy protection and create backup discs. The developers admit no wrongdoing, saying they oppose piracy but support individuals' right to copy their own DVDs.

Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) threw their support behind a new two-year moratorium on internet access taxes, saying it will give regulators time to assess new services like broadband video and online telephony. They oppose a permanent ban, which is favored by those who say such a measure will prevent regressive taxes on high-speed internet accounts. Some state and local officials complain that they will lose billions in tax revenue if they cannot charge fees on internet use.

Federal prosecutors unsealed an indictment against 10 people charged with reaping more than $100 million from a phone scam allegedly linked to the Gambino crime family. Four defendants had already been charged with a $230 million internet fraud scheme, involving "free" porn sites that charged users $90 per month.

Intel researchers say they've developed a way for ordinary silicon to convert data into light beams, an invention that could eventually turbocharge home computers. They say they will soon be able to encode up to 10 billion bits per second; that is 500 times faster than previous experiments. Optical technology like this usually requires expensive fiber-optic technology; silicon will reduce costs dramatically.

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