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The network is the story: News on the latest Internet standards and struggles

December  1997
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Eight nations agree to get tough on cyber crime

San Francisco (December 11, 1997) -- U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno met in Washington, D.C., this week with justice and interior ministers from seven of the world's other leading nations to develop ways of combatting computer crimes and other high-tech illegal activity.

Ministers from the U.K., Germany, Japan, Italy, Canada, France and Russia agreed to develop faster ways of tracing the origins of attacks that come through computer networks, and to tighten measures for protecting sensitive information stored in computers, U.S. Department of Justice officials said.

Reno told the ministers that computer networks have opened up a new frontier of crime, allowing criminals to hide behind national borders and disrupt computer systems from afar. "If we are to keep up with cyber crime, we must work together as never before," she said in a statement issued after the two-day meeting, which ended yesterday.

Of 200 U.S. corporations surveyed by the Computer Security Institute in San Francisco, 42 percent said their networks had been accessed by unauthorized people in the last 12 months, according to Scott Charney, chief of the Computer Crimes and Intellectual Property section of the Department of Justice. The most common abuses were credit card and telecommunications fraud, unauthorized access to corporate databases for "snooping," and theft of client information and trade secrets, he said.

Much of the ministers' discussion centered on ways of making it faster to trace the source of computer attacks, and on ensuring that adequate means are in place to apprehend suspects who may be overseas when they are identified, Charney said.

In order to cover their tracks, hackers often infiltrate multiple servers en route to the network they plan to attack. In some countries, including the U.S., investigators must go through lengthy court proceedings before they can demand from Internet service providers and telecommunications companies the information they need to trace the attacks, he said.

"No one's suggesting we do away with those laws, just that we make sure the channels are streamlined so that the information can be gathered more quickly," Charney said.

The ministers said they would make more trained law enforcement officers available to fight high-tech crimes. Because new technologies are emerging quickly at present, the ministers agreed to instigate programs that require officers to be retrained on a yearly basis, he said.

Ministers said also they will review their respective legal systems to ensure that computer-related crimes are identified as crimes in legal statutes, and to work closely with the high-tech industry to develop products that make it easier to track down cyber criminals.

Where the extradition of criminals is not possible because of nationality, ministers agreed that their governments would devote the same energy and resources to prosecuting criminals from overseas as the victim-nation would have devoted. This is important because criminals often hope to escape full prosecution by fleeing to his or her homeland. It also has implications for other crimes besides high-tech offenses, Reno said in the statement.

The nations also pledged to turn the tools of the high-tech criminals against them, for example by using video links to obtain testimony from witnesses thousands of miles away.

Ministers instructed their staffs to draw up a timetable of implementation for the initiatives agreed upon, which are likely to be announced over the next two to three months, officials said.

--James Niccolai, IDG News Service


Group urges Clinton to allow free flow of scientific info on 'Net

San Francisco (November 25, 1997) -- A group of computer scientists is calling on President Clinton to veto a measure being put before Congress that it claims would inadvertently criminalize the distribution of some scientific and academic information over the Internet.

If passed, the "No Electronic Theft Act" would make it illegal to electronically reproduce or distribute documents protected by copyrights. According to the legislation, any person who infringes a copyright willfully by reproducing or distributing copies that have a total retail value of more than $1,000 would be subject to criminal prosecution.

The Association for Computing's U.S. Public Policy Committee (USACM) -- a group of computer scientists formed to promote communication with policy makers on computing issues -- says the legislation could lead to criminal prosecutions against scientists and academics who share their own published articles with students and colleagues. Since there is no clause in the Act that exempts scientists and educators, the USACM is urging Clinton to veto the legislation, which the group says was "hurried through Congress and poorly drafted," according to a statement.

What could happen is that scientists who have published research in scientific journals, which then own the copyrights to the material, could be prosecuted for sharing that information on the Internet with peers and students, the USACM said.

The USACM believes that the No Electronic Theft Act could have "a chilling effect upon the free speech of scientists and professionals in universities and research labs," the statement said. The USACM wants Clinton to throw out the legislation and take a less hands-on approach to monitoring the flow of information on the Internet. While the group believes some protection of copyrighted information is necessary, it believes the existing bill is too restrictive.

More information on the USACM and its views on the No Electronic Theft Act can be found at

--Kristi Essick, IDG News Service

European phone charges could block 'Net development

Brussels (November 25, 1997) -- Telecom charges could undermine the development of new Internet and multimedia services, IT executives said yesterday during a conference hosted by the European Commission.

"The big issue in Internet development is not technology but tariffs," Louis Francois Pau, general manager of Ericsson Utveckling AB, said during a panel discussion.

The participants were unanimous in agreeing that the days when charges for telephone calls were based on the distance and duration of a call or connection were over. But no one yet understands the full economic impact of this situation, nor how to replace the current system for charging for access, Paul said.

Another panelist, Amaury Simon, director at the European Telecommunications Satellite Organization, Eutelsat, stressed that Internet users can neither be charged a flat subscription rate nor by the hour.

"The best way is to charge by the bandwidth adapting the charge to the services used," he suggested. Such a tariff would be based on the number of bits used meaning that a video-on-demand service would be much more expensive than a straight data transmission.

But the question remains whether or not such a tariff system is commercially feasible, one member of the audience suggested. Without a more appropriate tariff structure, David Williams, former head of the IT division at CERN, the European research center, warned that applications will be developed, but never used due to their high cost to users.

"Moreover, the economics will determine which of the models for the future development of the Internet will succeed," Williams said.

Due to the low 15 percent penetration rate of computers in Europe, other ways of accessing the Internet, notably digital television sets and set-top boxes, will likely play an important role in boosting use of the network here, panelists said.

Digital pay television holds the key to Internet development simply because more households have televisions than computers, said Vincent Dureau, vice president of the California-based Thomson Sun Interactive. For example, in France 1 million households already have digital pay TV, but only 500,000 are linked up to Internet. Set-top boxes used with pay TV systems will soon allow consumers to access Internet services as well, he said.

"This is an historic moment for investments in the television sector for the development of interactive services" including the Internet, Dureau said.

Meanwhile, Simon asserted that Eutelsat's network of communications satellites will start an explosion in European Internet use when it makes high-speed Internet access available at the end of this year.

--Elizabeth de Bony, IDG News Service

MSN to drop Internet access service next year in all of Europe

San Francisco (November 25, 1997) -- The Microsoft Network (MSN) next year will stop offering Internet access in Europe and focus on developing content for its World Wide Web site, an MSN official in the U.S. said today.

Microsoft Corp. presently provides branded Internet access services to accompany the MSN site in France, Germany, and the U.K. The Internet access is provided via network leasing deals with telecommunications carriers in those countries.

MSN officials in France said earlier today that by the end of the first quarter of 1998, MSN will hand its Internet access customers over to France Telecom. The French carrier will provide technical support and services and will give customers of its own online service, Wanadoo, access to MSN services.

That pattern will be mimicked in Germany, the U.K, and in other European countries where MSN is launched in the future, said Mike Delman, general manager of MSN.

Telecommunications providers are better equipped to build up the network required to handle heavy Internet traffic and to provide the support services demanded by Internet customers, Delman said. "A year or two ago everybody wanted to provide everything -- access, content, search capabilities. We're starting to realize we have to pick a niche," he said.

Internet access in Germany will be handed over by the middle of next year to Deutsche Telekom, from which MSN currently leases network capacity.

"The U.K inevitably will follow," Delman said, adding that it is not yet clear if access will be turned over to Pipex PLC, the carrier from which MSN leases network space in the U.K.

"All we care about is that if someone clicks on the MSN icon on their desktop, they'll get a seamless connection to our site," Delman said.

Delman declined to say whether MSN is pulling out of Internet access provision because it is not profitable. "We've never looked at it as a profit and loss business; that's not why we got into it," he said.

Microsoft began offering Internet access as a way to help establish a pricing model for online services, to boost popularity of Internet use, and to "establish the desktop as the place where Internet access would begin," Delman said. "We've done about as much as we had to do there," he said.

The company will focus on beefing up content on the MSN site to include more interactive content, software channeling, and transaction capabilities, according to Delman.

MSN has no changes to announce with the services it offers in the U.S., where it provides its MSN-branded Internet access through a leasing agreement with UUNet Technologies Inc., an MSN spokesman said.

--James Niccolai, IDG News Service

Microsoft submits "buddy list" specification to IETF

Boston (November 24, 1997) -- Microsoft Corp. today said it has submitted an open protocol to standardize "buddy list" communications on the Internet.

Buddy lists are applications or services, such as PeopleLink or ICQ, which help people communicate with each other in real-time online. Currently, people must be using the same application to exchange real-time messages. A standard protocol would let people communicate regardless of their application, just as users of different e-mail systems can exchange mail today.

Microsoft submitted its specification, called the rendezvous protocol (RVP), to the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), which has endorsed other online standards, such as POP3 and SMTP for electronic mail, HTTP for text linking, and H.323 for audio- and videoconferencing.

Forty vendors in areas including Internet telephony, videoconferencing, networking hardware and content have endorsed the standard, according to Brent Ethington, lead product manager at the Internet client and collaboration division at Microsoft. Missing from the list of supporters are Netscape Communications Corp. and America Online Inc., who teamed up last month to offer Instant Messenger service, which uses AOL's existing Buddy List to let users know when other Instant Messenger users are online.

According to Ethington, AOL declined to participate, and Microsoft was unable to reach Netscape to ask for their participation in time for today's announcement.

An AOL spokeswoman refused to explain the company's disinclination to endorse the RVP spec, but nonetheless maintained that AOL would be an energetic participant in the hammering out of any buddy list standard.

"As it develops and goes through the [standards] process we'll play a very active role in that process," said Wendy Goldberg, a spokeswoman for the Dulles, Virginia-based company.

Microsoft's Ethington said he expects the IETF will move fairly rapidly on the protocol. "I would expect that we'd be able to have vendors start building products around a specification sometime in 1998," he said, though he declined to name the products in which Microsoft might implement the spec.

According to Microsoft, the following companies are among those who have endorsed the RVP specification: 3Com Corp., 8x8 Inc., Bandai Digital Entertainment Corp., Cisco Systems Inc., Infoseek Corp., PeopleLink Inc., PictureTel Corp., Sony Pictures Entertainment, and Zydacron Inc.

--Rebecca Sykes, IDG News Service

New Internet group formed to fight censorship

London (November 24, 1997) -- A new group called the Internet Free Expression Alliance (IFEA) has been formed with the goal of fighting censorship and preserving free speech on the Internet.

With 15 members right now, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Society of Newspaper Editors, and the National Campaign for Freedom of Expression, the group is planning to add new members in the coming months, Barry Steinhart, associate director of the ACLU, said today. Other current members include Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, Feminists for Free Expression, Institute for Global Communications, the National Coalition Against Censorship, and the Society of Professional Journalists.

The group's aim is "to preserve free speech on the Internet and guard against the various proposals that have been raised to turn it into a bland and homogenized environment," Steinhart said. To achieve this goal, the IFEA will meet with industry representatives that are pushing filtering and blocking software, a tactic with which the ACLU and other member groups are not impressed. The IFEA will attempt to get software and computer makers to stop and think before rushing into the filtering arena just because government is pushing the idea, he said.

A press conference detailing the group's main plans and initiatives, as well as what it sees as new threats to freedom of expression on the Internet, will take place Monday Dec. 1 at 12:30 P.M. EST at the First Amendment Lounge of the National Press Club, 14th & F Streets N.W., Washington, D.C. The press conference will take place one day before the White House-endorsed Internet Online Summit convenes on Dec. 2 in order to address the free-speech issues surrounding the filtering of "objectionable" content on the Internet, officials said. The group did not immediately have a contact number or Web address.

--Kristi Essick, IDG News Service

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