Friday, July 29, 2005

Microsoft Windows Vista beta out now

Microsoft has released a beta 1 version of Windows Vista, the biggest update so far of its operating system since Windows XP.

The software giant said Windows Vista beta 1, which was in the past called Longhorn, is being delivered to more than 10,000 testers. It aims to improve the operating system’s fundamentals — security, deployment, manageability and performance.


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New features are designed to improve security in corporate, mobile and roaming environments, as well as reducing the total cost of ownership of PCs through simplified management, increased automation of tasks and improved diagnostics.

Windows Vista beta 1 has a built-in beta 1 version of the browser Internet Explorer 7, which includes features designed to help protect against malicious websites or malware and against phishing and spoofing attacks.

The first beta version of Windows Server, previously codenamed 'Longhorn', has also been released to participants in the Technical Beta Program, including hardware and software manufacturers, vendors and developers. The new server operating system is due for full release in 2007.

Windows Vista beta 1 also includes the first beta of Windows Presentation Foundation, formerly known as “Avalon”, and Windows Communication Foundation, formerly codenamed “Indigo”, which are part of the WinFX programming model.

Cisco, Security Researcher Settle Speech Dispute

After this week’s argument over a speech regarding Cisco router security, Cisco and the security researcher who gave the talk have agreed to disagree--with some additional provisions

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP)--Cisco Systems Inc. and a network security firm reached a settlement Thursday with a researcher who quit his job so he could deliver a speech on a serious flaw in Cisco software that routes data over the Internet.

Michael Lynn, who left his job at Internet Security Systems Inc. hours before his speech, agreed never to repeat the information he gave at the Black Hat conference in Las Vegas on Wednesday.

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He also must return any proprietary Cisco source code in his possession.

Cisco, the leading maker of Internet equipment, was supposed to join Lynn on stage. But the company and ISS changed course late last week and tried to cancel the session, going so far as to hire workers this week to yank pages from conference handouts and seek a court order.

The companies claimed the research was “premature” and would be presented at a later security conference. Lynn, however, said he felt obliged to report the problem before it was exploited in attacks that could endanger the Internet.

“Not to sensationalize, but it would be the digital Pearl Harbor we've heard about,” Lynn said in an interview Thursday. “I felt it was the right thing to do for the country and for the national critical infrastructure.”

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The incident highlights the thorny issue of when to go public with a security problem. Security firms and computer vendors generally agree to do so when there's a patch--or fix--available.

But it's not always so simple. In the latest case, Lynn and other researchers at Atlanta-based Internet Security Systems discovered a technique that could allow someone to seize control of a Cisco router by exploiting a vulnerability in its operating system.

That flaw was patched in April, but it's possible that the same technique could be used to exploit other vulnerabilities in Cisco routers. Lynn said the technique also could lead to the creation of a worm that targets routers, particularly when coupled with an upcoming version of Cisco's operating system.

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Cisco said it encourages independent security research but said in a statement that it felt Lynn's presentation “was presented prematurely and did not follow proper industry disclosure rules.”

Chris Rouland, chief technology officer at ISS, said his company and Cisco agreed the research was premature. Rouland said Cisco did not pressure ISS.

But Lynn, who said it was never clear to him who was pressuring ISS, said it was important to get word out now.

Worms--malicious programs that spread automatically--are less likely in today's version of Cisco's operating system because the underlying software is different enough for each device. That will change in the next release, making it possible to attack a wide swath of routers without adjusting the malware for each unique configuration.

Such attacks, Lynn said, could modify routers en masse so that they cannot receive updates so they are always infected. Worse, attackers could erase instructions that tell the machine how to turn on. Logo

“The purpose of doing this presentation was to prevent a worm from being made,” he said.

His Las Vegas demonstration was stripped of any information that would lead anyone to figure out how the technique works, Lynn said.

He also said he decided to defy his employer because Cisco's operating system source code had been stolen and posted on a hacker Web site. Additionally, Lynn said, he has seen discussions of Cisco vulnerabilities posted on Web sites for Chinese hackers.

“Cisco has never told anybody that it was possible to take over one of their routers,” Lynn said. “They fought that argument for a long time. You can see how far they're willing to go. I demonstrated it live on stage. That debate is over now.”

Such information is one of the key points of the Black Hat conference, said organizer Jeff Moss. The event attracts thousands of computer security experts from business, academia and government.

“The point of the talk was to demonstrate there's a problem--that you need to update all your software as soon as you can because of these types of problems,” said Moss. “It wasn't a roadmap to world destruction.”


As part of the settlement reached Thursday in San Francisco federal court, Black Hat also agreed to return any video of Lynn's presentation.

It's not clear why the decision to cancel the presentation was made only a few days before the conference was to begin. Moss said ISS first contacted Black Hat several weeks ago about the possibility of pulling presentation material from the handouts given to every attendee.

Until last week, ISS never followed through with a request to actually remove the material.

That changed when Cisco and ISS hired a team of temporary workers to yank about 20 pages from thousands of conference binders and replace compact discs with presentation materials.

“The speech had been vetted like two or three times through ISS's PR department. Everything was great, and ISS was contacting the media telling them to come see this talk,” Moss said. “Then last Thursday or last Friday there was a total about-face on ISS's part.”

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Ex-Microsoft Exec Barred From Google Job

SEATTLE - A judge has temporarily barred a former Microsoft executive from performing his job at Google, saying Microsoft has a well-grounded fear that leaked trade secrets could hurt its business

Superior Court Judge Steven Gonzalez granted Microsoft Corp.'s request for a temporary restraining order Thursday to prohibit Kai-Fu Lee from performing any duties at the search giant that are similar to those he performed at Microsoft.

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"We needed to take this step to protect our sensitive business information and to ensure that Google and Dr. Lee honor the confidentiality and noncompetition agreements he made when he started working here," Microsoft spokeswoman Stacy Drake said.

The judge's ruling will stand until a Sept. 6 hearing, she said.

Google Inc. hired Lee to lead a research and development center it will soon open in China. The company said Lee has not disclosed any Microsoft secrets and has filed a counter lawsuit against the software giant.

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Microsoft and Google, along with Yahoo Inc. (Nasdaq:YHOO - news), are locked in a fierce battle to dominate Internet search technology, both online and through desktop search programs.

In court documents, Google said a conversation Lee had with Microsoft Chairman
Bill Gates suggests the software company is becoming increasingly concerned about Google siphoning away talent — and perhaps intellectual property.

Lee said that in a July 15 meeting, Gates told him, "Kai-Fu, (CEO) Steve (Ballmer) is definitely going to sue you and Google over this. He has been looking for something like this, someone at a VP level to go to Google. We need to do this to stop Google."

Drake has declined to comment on Gates' statement directly, saying that the company's concern is that Lee has knowledge of highly sensitive information.

Google attorney Nicole Wong said she was confident the court would eventually side with the search engine. She accused Microsoft of waging an "intimidation campaign."

Lee and Google argue that Lee is not a search expert and that he had only limited involvement in Microsoft's China operations since 2000, the year he signed the noncompete agreements.


Lee, most recently a vice president working on speech recognition in Microsoft's server and tools division, headed up the creation of the company's research center in Beijing in the late 1990s and later worked in the MSN search unit.

Microsoft said it would not have hired Lee if he had not promised to honor confidentiality and noncompetition agreements.

Geeks Meet at 'What the Hack' Conference

LIEMPDE, Netherlands - There are hundreds of tents on the hot and soggy campground, but this isn't your ordinary summertime outing, considering that it includes workshops with such titles as "Politics of Psychedelic Research" or "Fun and Mayhem with RFID."

This is the three-day "What The Hack" convention, a self-styled computer-security conference dealing such issues as digital passports, biometrics and cryptography.

Borrowing heavily from Woodstock and the more professionalized Def Con conference that begins Friday in Las Vegas, the event held every four years in the Netherlands draws an international array of experts and geeks. About 3,000 gathered Thursday for the opening.

Unlike better-known and better-funded industry meetings, "What the Hack" had to fight for its right to exist. The mayor of the southern Dutch town of Boxtel, who oversees the village of Liempde where the convention is held, initially tried to stop the event from pitching its hundreds of tents outside his town — a reluctance stemming from the lingering public image of hackers as asocial, anarchistic and vaguely menacing.


The mayor withdrew his objections after meetings with organizers.

Some of the scheduled lectures and workshops might reinforce the convention's shady reputation, such as the talk about mayhem with RFID, which stands for radio frequency identification tags.

But other seminars appeared wholesome enough, such as the workshop on how to make homes more energy efficient or how activists can lobby governments more effectively.

Even the local police officers assigned to monitor "What the Hack" are being included in the event. Officers are holding daily workshops to educate the public about how they go about securing events like these. Such cooperation with authorities would have raised eyebrows in previous years.

Befitting the age of terrorism, the conference is taking up such security issues as biometrics and new passport technology.

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But in line with its anarchic reputation, organizers have made a parody of their own security arrangements, asking attendees to screen their own belongings at an unmanned baggage scanner. Rubber gloves for a "do-it-yourself body cavity search" are provided free of charge.

Overall, the atmosphere resembles that of a music festival, with orderly people waiting in line to buy Jolt colas and vegetarian meals. Children and hammocks are as prevalent as ponytails and laptops, and a curiously popular hangout is the Slacker Salon, a computer-free zone where frenetic Web surfing is taboo.

The relaxed setting is a conscious choice, according to Internet entrepreneur Rop Gonggrijp, who in 1989 helped organize the seminal Galactic Hacker Party, an open-air convention that formed the template for What The Hack.

"The idea was to break the stereotype" of hackers as sun-averse malcontents bent on vandalism, he said. "They've never been part of this community. And now there's fortunately space in the media for more than one kind of hacker."

Rutgers University anthropologist Biella Coleman said events like these serve a critical function for the many communities of people who are acquainted online, but rarely get the chance to meet in the real world.

"Virtuality needs sociality," she said.

Klaartje Bruyn, for example, is a sign-maker by day, but came to What the Hack for social, rather than professional reasons. Electronically arranging meetings with friends both real and virtual from the comfort of her hammock, she lauded how the festival could bring together so many far-flung yet like-minded people.


"It's like a blind date with 3,000 people," she said.

Discovery's Astronauts to Inspect Shuttle

SPACE CENTER, Houston - Discovery's astronauts were unloading 15 tons of supplies onto the space station Friday and they planned to check the shuttle for damage after
NASA said a chunk of foam may have hit a wing during liftoff.

"They want to get all of the angles to make sure that we haven't missed any small thing," deputy shuttle program manger Wayne Hale said.

NASA said Thursday that Discovery escaped damage from the potentially deadly chunk of foam that broke off from the fuel tank, but may have been struck in the wing by a much smaller piece.

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Even if the small foam fragment did hit, engineers believe the impact caused no damage of concern, Hale said.

Despite the latest development, officials said Discovery still looks safe to fly home in a week, but stressed it will be another few days before the space agency can conclusively give the shuttle a clean bill of health.

NASA analysts have identified 11 areas — including Discovery's wings, nose and belly — they wanted astronauts to take another look at Friday, using the shuttle's new laser-tipped extension to its robotic arm.

Also Friday, astronauts prepared tools for the mission's first spacewalk Saturday. Astronauts Stephen Robinson and Soichi Noguchi plan to exit the shuttle for three orbital outings.


During the spacewalks, the pair will try out new repair techniques for the shuttle's tiles and delicate carbon panels; replace a gyroscope, which helps steer the space station; and install a storage platform on the station.

NASA also said it was trying to come up with ways to leave more water and oxygen aboard the space station than initially planned, given the grounding of its shuttle fleet. Water is generated as a byproduct of the shuttle's fuel cells, which power the spacecraft.

NASA suspended future shuttle flights earlier this week after learning that the big piece of foam insulation, which weighed less than a pound, flew from Discovery's external fuel tank. It was an alarming repeat of the problem that doomed Columbia more than two years ago. The foam missed Discovery.

The piece of insulating foam that broke off Columbia's external tank during liftoff knocked a hole in its left wing. The searing gases of re-entry melted the wing from the inside out, causing the spacecraft to disintegrate as it headed to Cape Canaveral, Fla. in February 2003. All seven astronauts aboard died.

The small bit of foam that may have hit Discovery's right wing came off about 20 seconds after the big piece, and was from the same general area, Hale said. None of the newly installed wing sensors detected anything unusual.

An earlier inspection with the laser didn't reveal any damage. Camera views during liftoff were inconclusive because the foam tumbled out of sight.

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NASA already has run tests showing that if the foam did strike the wing, it would have exerted just one-tenth of the energy needed to cause worrisome damage, Hale said.

"So we feel very good about this," he said.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

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Bush Nominates Roberts for Supreme Court

WASHINGTON - President Bush named federal appeals judge John G. Roberts Jr. on Tuesday to fill the first Supreme Court vacancy in a decade, delighting Republicans and unsettling Democrats by picking a young jurist of impeccably conservative credentials.


If confirmed by the Republican-controlled Senate, the 50-year-old Roberts would succeed retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, long a swing vote on a divided court on abortion, affirmative action, states' rights and other volatile issues.

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In a prime-time, nationally televised announcement at the White House, Bush said Roberts would "strictly apply the Constitution in laws, not legislate from the bench."

In brief remarks of his own, Roberts said he has argued 39 cases before the Supreme Court in a career as a private attorney and government lawyer. "I always got a lump in my throat whenever I walked up those marble steps to argue a case before the court, and I don't think it was just from the nerves," he said.

"I look forward to the next step in the process before the United States Senate," he added.

That was a reference to Senate confirmation hearings, expected in late August or early September — and a vote on a timetable that would allow him to take his place on the court by the time a new term begins in October.

Reaction from Republican senators was strongly supportive. "He is a brilliant constitutional lawyer with unquestioned integrity," said Sen. Orrin Hatch (news, bio, voting record), R-Utah. - Deals of the month!

Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee issued a statement called for confirmation proceedings that "treat Judge Roberts with dignity and respect." Echoing a refrain from this spring's a bitter struggle over Bush's conservative appeals court nominees, he called for a yes-or-no vote before the court's term begins Oct 3.

Democratic response was measured, but initially at least, offered no hint of a filibuster.

"The president has chosen someone with suitable legal credentials, but that is not the end of our inquiry," said Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada. Referring to planned hearings in the Senate Judiciary Committee, Reid said, "I will not prejudge this nomination. I look forward to learning more about Judge Roberts."

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said Democrats would want to probe Roberts' views to see whether he holds "mainstream values."

Abortion — arguably the most politically charged issue to confront Congress and the courts — swiftly emerged as a point of contention.

The abortion rights group NARAL Pro-Choice America announced its opposition to Roberts when word of his appointment leaked before Bush's formal announcement.

In a written statement, the organization cited a brief Roberts had filed with the Supreme Court while serving as deputy solicitor general in the Reagan administration. In the decision, Roberts said "Roe was wrongly decided and should be overruled," referring to Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling that established a woman's right to abortion.

The National Right to Life Committee, which opposes abortion, countered with a statement of its own. "Liberal pressure groups will insist that Senate Democrats filibuster against Judge Roberts, unless he pledges in advance to vote against allowing elected legislators to place meaningful limits on abortion," said the group's legislative director, Douglas Johnson. "Millions of Americans will be watching to see if the Democratic senators bow to these demands."

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Vietnam-Era Commander Westmoreland Dies

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CHARLESTON, S.C. - Retired Gen. William Westmoreland, who commanded U.S. forces during the Vietnam War from 1964 to 1968 and advocated a strong military buildup at a time when American casualties were mounting, has died.

Westmoreland died Monday of natural causes at Bishop Gadsden retirement home, where he had lived with his wife, said his son, James Ripley Westmoreland. He was 91.

"I have no apologies, no regrets. I gave my very best efforts," Westmoreland told The Associated Press in 1985. "I've been hung in effigy. I've been spat upon. You just have to let those things bounce off."

The silver-haired, jut-jawed officer, who rose through the ranks quickly during World War II and later became superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., contended the United States did not lose the conflict in Southeast Asia.

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"We held the line. We stopped the falling of the dominoes," he said in 1985 at the 20th anniversary of the Army's 173rd Airborne Brigade's assignment to Vietnam. "It's not that we lost the war militarily. The fact is, we as a nation did not make good our commitment to the South Vietnamese."

As commander of U.S. forces in Vietnam, Westmoreland oversaw the introduction of ground troops in South Vietnam and a dramatic increase in the number of U.S. troops there. He also sought in vain permission to engage enemy forces in their sanctuaries in Cambodia, Laos and North Vietnam.

American support for the war suffered a tremendous blow near the end of Westmoreland's tenure when enemy forces attacked several cities and towns throughout South Vietnam in what is known as the Tet Offensive in 1968. Though Westmoreland fought off the attacks, the American public remained stunned that the enemy had gained access to the U.S. Embassy in Saigon, even if only for a few hours. pink/square

After the event, President Lyndon Johnson limited further increases in troops; Westmoreland was recalled to Washington to serve as the U.S. Army Chief of Staff after asking for reinforcements in response to the attacks.

Later, after many of the wounds caused by the divisive conflict began to heal, Westmoreland led thousands of his comrades in the November 1982 veterans march in Washington to dedicate the Vietnam War Memorial.

He called it "one of the most emotional and proudest experiences of my life."

After his four-year tour in Vietnam, Westmoreland was promoted to Army chief of staff from 1968 to 1972. He retired from active duty in 1972 but continued to lecture and participate in veterans' activities.

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"I met him a couple of times," former South Vietnamese Maj. Gen. Nguyen Huu Hanh, who witnessed the fall of Saigon, said Tuesday. "He was a good man."

A decade after his retirement, Westmoreland fought another battle involving Vietnam.

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In 1982, he filed a $120 million lawsuit against CBS over a documentary "The Uncounted Enemy: A Vietnam Deception," which implied he had deceived President Johnson and the public about enemy troop strength in Vietnam.

At the time, Westmoreland said the question "is not about whether the war in Vietnam was right or wrong, but whether in our land a television network can rob an honorable man of his reputation."

After an 18-week trial in New York, the case was settled shortly before it was to go to the jury.

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William Childs Westmoreland was born near Spartanburg, S.C., on March 26, 1914, into a banking and textile family.

He attended The Citadel for a year before transferring to West Point. He graduated in 1936 and, during his senior year, held the highest command position in the cadet corps.

Westmoreland saw action in North Africa, Sicily and Europe during World War II. He attained the rank of colonel by the time he was 30.

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As commander of the 34th Field Artillery Battalion fighting German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, he earned the loyalty and respect of his troops for joining in the thick of battle rather than remaining behind the lines at a command post.

He was promoted to brigadier general during the Korean War and later served in the
Pentagon under Army Chief of Staff Maxwell Taylor. Westmoreland became the superintendent of West Point in 1960 and, by 1964, was a three-star general commanding American troops in Vietnam.

In his autobiography, "A Soldier Reports," Westmoreland wrote that in Vietnam, while he "tried to avoid any vendetta against the press," he sometimes resented the time he had to spend correcting "errors, misinterpretations, judgments and falsehoods" contained in news reports.


But he wrote that the press is "such a bulwark of the American system, that it is well to tolerate some mistakes and derelictions to make every effort to assure that total freedom and independence continue to exist."

In later years, Westmoreland often spoke to Vietnam veterans' groups, accepting invitations to visit veterans' groups in all 50 states, his son said.

"That became, in effect, his raison d'etre," the younger Westmoreland recalled. "He did have a point of view on Vietnam but he did not speak about that. He was not out there trying to justify anything."

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In addition to his son, Westmoreland's survivors include his wife, Katherine, and two daughters, Katherine and Margaret.