Tech Briefs

Purdue Professor Among Experts
Seeking Sabotage Solution
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Gene Spafford, a professor of computer sciences at Purdue University, was among approximately 20 computer specialists invited to a White House gathering last month with President Clinton and his National Security Council advisers to discuss ways to prevent hackers from disrupting Internet services.
The hastily arranged meeting came a week after computer hackers paralyzed Yahoo!, Buy.com, eBay, ETrade and other prominent Internet sites for hours at a time by overloading them with fake traffic.
Spafford says there’s no easy way to prevent Internet hacking.
“I think the government wants to know what can be done in the near-term to shore up public confidence and address some of the problems,” he said before leaving for Washington. “There won’t be solutions coming out of this, just a sense of direction.”
White House spokesman Joe Lockhart says that Clinton was joined at the meeting by U.S. Sec. of Commerce William Daley, Chief of Staff John Podesta, the executives of several computer technology companies and academics.
Spafford is director of Purdue’s Center for Education and Research in Information Assurance, which is exploring many of the computer security and cyberspace issues addressed at the White House. He says the rapid growth of e-commerce applications has exposed numerous weaknesses with the Internet that weren’t envisioned when it was created.
“I think one of the big problems is that people are expecting more out of it than it can give. It was never designed to handle this many users and the sort of denial of service problems we’re seeing,” he says.
Spafford says most computer software wasn’t designed with security in mind. Instead, he says, they were designed for simplicity and the ability to quickly add new features. And, he worries that computerized business and healthcare records, law enforcement and even national defense are at risk of being disrupted by hackers.
Spafford believes that one way to safeguard those areas would be to create entirely new software — a task that would take years and cost billions of dollars: “There’s no simple answer. If there was a simple answer, we would have come up with it a long time ago.”


Indiana Bans Internet Music Software After Heavy Use Slows Network

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Indiana University has banned students from using an Internet search tool for the popular MP3 music program due to persistent cyberspace traffic jams.
University computing officials set up a filter last month that began blocking the use of Napster, an Internet tool for searching out and playing music in the MP3 format.
The Napster application for MP3, which allows users to instantly hear music over the Internet, had become so popular that at times its users accounted for 55 percent of the traffic on the university’s computer network, says Mark Bruhn of the university’s Information and Technology Services.
The heavy use slowed down other users and was beginning to interfere with research and work-related use on the network.
“This is 55 percent that can’t be used for something else,” Bruhn says.
Napster is a popular Internet tool for searching out and playing music in the MP3 format, which makes music files smaller and easier to distribute over the Internet while still delivering CD-quality sound. It allows Internet users to download music and play it on their computers or special MP3 players.
Indiana joins a growing number of universities that are confronting bandwidth traffic problems by banning the use of Napster. Northwestern, North Carolina State and the University of Texas have all set up filters preventing students from using Napster over their networks.
Napster users function as an online community, making MP3 files in their own computers available to each other using Napster applications. When a user searches online for an MP3, Napster seeks out the request among other users. The search continues until the user commands Napster to quit looking.
 “Even if you click on the ‘x’ in the upper right corner of the screen, the search will continue,” he said. “Some people don’t know this.”
The Napster filter will block anyone using Napster from accessing the Internet through IU’s connection, including those dialing in from off campus.


Computers Now Required at        Michigan State

EAST LANSING, Mich. — Freshmen entering Michigan State University in the fall of 2001 will be expected to have a computer, the school’s board of trustees announced last month.
The policy will allow students to choose either a desktop or laptop system. Students can select their own vendor, brand and operating system as long as the computer can be attached to the Internet at speeds of at least 10 million bits per second. The computers also must permit use of Web-based instructions and electronic library materials.
Michigan State Provost Dr. Lou Anna K. Simon says computer knowledge and experience is critical in today’s society. She says students’ ability to integrate computers into their daily work and education will be key to their success.
University officials say student loans are available to help students buy computers.     



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