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Technology

National | Technology

Issue: "Bush: Holding the line," June 5, 2004

Apple's worm

THOSE WHO THOUGHT ONLY PCs HAD SECURITY issues received a rude awakening when Apple admitted a flaw in Mac OS X, its current operating system. The company advised users to download and install a security patch.

Apple admitted only "a theoretical vulnerability in the Help Viewer application that could have been exposed when browsing the web" and directs Mac owners to download a security update from apple.com. What the company apparently means by "theoretical" is that a bug has been found which no known hacker has yet exploited. (Apple may be keeping mum about the flaw's exact nature to avoid tipping off vandals and criminals.)

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Such warnings are commonplace for those who use Windows, whose engineers issue regular patches to fix newly discovered problems. As a result, some turn to Macs as a safer alternative for everyday tasks. Yet Apple freely admits that no computer system is completely tamper-proof.

The Mac OS, like other operating systems based on UNIX, gains from what some geeks call "security by obscurity." Since Windows dominates the operating-system market, hackers are more likely to write malicious code for the more popular platform.

Will some dastardly character create a widespread worm like Blaster or Slammer that attacks Macs? To date, nothing like it has struck.

Raising Red Flag

CHINA WANTS COMPUTER USERS TO FLY A RED Flag. That's the name of an operating system the Chinese government is building as a bulwark against Microsoft.

Red Flag is a variation of Linux with a political twist. The Communist regime, citing concern about buggy foreign products like Microsoft Windows, claims it must turn to Red Flag as a more secure alternative.

Few outside China even know the software exists, but the communist software has some capitalist support: Red Flag's developers list IBM, Hewlett-Packard, and Oracle as partners. Dell announced this spring that many of its PCs are certified to run Red Flag.

China is well known for making its own versions of high-tech formats. While the country makes countless DVD players for export, for example, its leaders push the incompatible EVD (enhanced versatile disc) technology for domestic use.

When rumors of Red Flag first surfaced in 1999, an urban legend started that China would ban Windows outright. That hasn't happened, but the Chinese government can reduce its reliance on overseas products. Since China boasts a market of 1.3 billion people, an oddity like Red Flag becomes a major marketing chip.

BITS & MEGABYTES

A federal judge ordered Microsoft to look for proof that a vice president ordered employees to destroy important e-mails. Burst.com, which is suing the company over multimedia software, claims workers were told to delete messages after 30 days-instead of saving documents that are critical to pending litigation. Microsoft says it did nothing wrong.

Moira Greenslade of Great Britain faces two years in jail after pleading guilty to selling her unborn baby over the internet. The 33-year-old mother received $4,500 after agreeing to sell the same child to two different couples, whom she contacted through a website. (Prosecutors said a third arrangement was in the works as well.) The judge called the woman a "fraudster" who manipulated desperate couples.

Cometa, a once-promising internet startup that offered Wi-Fi hotspots to Barnes & Noble and other retailers, is closing down. The company was backed by investments from AT&T, Intel, and IBM-and its failure raises cynicism over whether such service can become a successful business model. Wi-Fi hotspots are becoming cheaper to operate and may become free services, like drinking fountains and public restrooms.

Eight airports will soon test new security systems that check fingerprints and eye scans stored on a special employee ID card. The Transportation Security Administration is experimenting with biometrics to spot trespassers and potential terrorists. If successful, about 2 million workers at airports, seaports, and rail yards will carry next-generation identification.

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