Notebook > Technology

Technology

Technology

Issue: "Summer Books 2004," July 3, 2004

Engine trouble Investigators want to know why Microsoft.com, Yahoo.com, Google.com and other major websites were hit by a purported cyber-attack last month. The incident made these destinations sluggish or inaccessible to many users for about two hours. This case is unusual because the attack did not focus on the well-known web powerhouses but on Akamai Technologies, a unique service provider that aims to make internet browsing more reliable. The company runs a giant network of 15,000 servers in 60 countries and uses them to distribute data for its 1,100 clients. The attack was apparently a distributed denial-of-service attack, in which some of Akamai's systems were hammered with junk data intended to make them slow down or stop working. The company said that the "sophisticated, large-scale" strike impacted its Domain Name Service, which converts monikers like "Microsoft.com" and "Yahoo.com" into numbers that internet routers can understand. When names could not be translated, many users found the sites inaccessible. Those reportedly affected included Symantec, FedEx, Apple Computer, AltaVista, and Lycos. Akamai says it is cooperating with the FBI and other government agencies in investigating the attack. Clearing the air Will digital radio upstage the familiar AM and FM bands? This new technology promises better sound quality and less static-and some call it as big a change as that from black-and-white to color TV. Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB) sends CD-quality sound over the air, along with text messages such as news headlines, weather reports, and song titles. Unlike satellite radio services, these stations are free to anyone who can receive the signal. The technology was designed by a startup called iBiquity, which is partially owned by ABC, Clear Channel, and Viacom, and billed as "HD radio" in the United States. Other countries have had the technology for several years. The recording industry is taking enough notice of the technology to express concern about piracy. Like normal radio, DAB signals can be recorded and played back. Last month music lobbyists asked that copy-protection be added to discourage people from distributing copies of songs. The FCC is still writing rules for digital radio, and anti-piracy measures could be mandated by law. Right now, only about 100 stations across America broadcast DAB signals, and the receivers are still pricey. Widespread adoption could take several years, just as the FM band slowly grew to prominence. Bits & Bytes » Drivers heading down long highway stretches in Texas may soon find an oasis of free wireless internet access at rest stops. Officials want to offer complimentary Wi-Fi to get motorists to take more frequent breaks. For those without laptops, they also plan to offer use of PCs with internet access for a fee. » A comScore Networks study of the nation's 10 largest financial institutions found that 22 million consumers logged in to their accounts in March, a nearly 30 percent increase from a year earlier. More than 4.6 million Americans paid at least one bill via a bank online payment service in the first quarter this year, up from 1.9 million two years earlier. » Chinese bureaucrats want internet service providers to sign a "self-discipline pact" meant to stop the spread of content that Beijing says threatens "national security" or "social stability." Signers are told to direct their users to "healthy online information." Existing laws already order online firms and cybercafes to censor any criticism of the Communist government. » Black market narcotics are easy to find on the web-and underground druggists are willing to sell them, according to the General Accounting Office. Investigators were able to buy the painkiller hydrocodone (also known under the brand name Vicodin) from eight U.S. sites without having to visit a doctor for a prescription. They paid three to 16 times the normal price, which suggests that these "pharmacies" target a clientele that cannot get medications conventionally.

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