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Internet Angst, Identity Crisis, Relationship Drama: Recapping a Neurotic Week

Internet Angst, Identity Crisis, Relationship Drama: Recapping a Neurotic Week

The tech community set aside competition to fix a major flaw in the Internet's domain name system ... An employee's file-sharing activity left a Supreme Court Justice's data exposed ... Microsoft and Yahoo continued their awkward courtship dance ... Apple opened the iPhone App Store, partially.

By ECT News Staff
07/11/08 9:40 AM PT

A vulnerability in the Internet's domain name system left essentially the entire Web open to widespread attack, but the technology community worked to patch the flaw before it could be exploited.

Dan Kaminsky, a security researcher, noticed that the DNS was vulnerable to domain cache poisoning, and the discovery amounted to a red alert for the security community. Industry experts converged on Microsoft's Redmond, Wash., headquarters and began working feverishly to determine the exact nature of the flaw, what the best fix would be, and how they could safely deliver it to the public.

The patch was well orchestrated: "We had to be on the same page," Kaminsky said, or "everyone was going to be hosed."


Listen to the podcast (10:25 minutes).

Look, Don't Touch

But who cares about a looming Internet disaster when there's a new iPhone coming? Apple's online App Store went live just as soon as the 3G iPhone went on sale in New Zealand Thursday -- well, Thursday here, Friday over there -- and the shelves are lined with hundreds of programs from third-party developers large and small.

Previously, the only way to use third-party applications on iPhones without some scary under-the-hood work was to use the device's Web browser to visit sites with online applications. This new way lets you buy the software, download it, run it natively on the iPhone and incorporate the device's various features, like the camera, the accelerometer and -- at least on the 3G iPhone -- GPS (Global Positioning System).

Facebook, MySpace, AOL Instant Messenger -- they're all there, along with quite a few games. There are also a lot of free applications, so don't say Apple never gave you anything. Actually, the developer sets the price, so remember to hug an iPhone developer today. Then change your clothes.

Justice Exposed

There are certain things you just don't do on computers at work. I don't think I need to get into all of them, but high on the list is file-sharing, unless of course it's on a specially designed system that's been OK'd by the IT department. But the guy I'm about to talk about was reportedly using LimeWire. Gross.

As if that wasn't bad enough, he happened to be using it on a corporate network at a firm in Washington, D.C., that stores personal data about some fairly important people.

One of them was U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, and using the file-sharing program apparently exposed not only the files that the employee meant to share, but also a bunch of other corporate data -- and now Justice Breyer's private info may be floating out there in the breeze. Join the club, Your Honor.

When Relationships Go Bad

In this week's episode of All My Search Engines, the drama between the jilted Microsoft and the philandering Yahoo took some new turns. Microsoft said it's willing to try to work things out, but that board of directors just has to go.

Meanwhile, third wheel Carl Icahn stirred up more acrimony between the angst-ridden lovers, blaming Yahoo's board for "botching up" their marriage plans by rejecting an initial offer of $33 a share. Lonely Yahoo, who just wants to be loved enough, said it has always been open to talks and accused Microsoft of playing games.

Tune in next week for another installment in the technology business's longest-running daytime saga, All My Search Engines.

A New BOSS

Oh, why wait until next week? Yahoo isn't. In its latest -- some might say desperate -- effort to prove its true worth, Yahoo has opened its search technology to third-party developers.

Imagine tailor-made search engines for specific business markets or even social and community Web sites, all using the strength of Yahoo's back-end technology. Yahoo's dream is that its new Build your Own Search Service -- Boss for short -- will take over the search industry.

Bye, bye Google, and up yours, Microsoft. Yahoo eventually plans to share advertising revenues with the new search engines but it hasn't yet produced a monetization plan.

New Virtual Player

In the meantime, Google has crossed "create a virtual world app" off its to-do list. The search giant has unveiled Lively, what it's calling a free 3-D virtual world experience that brings game-like qualities to the concept of Internet chat.

Lively is Google's attempt to replicate the success of Linden Labs' Second Life virtual world experience, but with some major differences. For one, it is a Web browser add-on for Firefox and Internet Explorer 7, not a separate program like Second Life. You also can't buy and sell goods with virtual currency using Lively.

Also, it can be integrated into existing Web sites like Facebook or a personal blog, and Lively avatars are limited to virtual rooms, not exposed to an entire world. However, in those rooms, Lively users will be able to show off YouTube videos and Picasa-downloaded photos. The program, released by Google Labs as a beta application currently for Windows only, does allow for customization of avatars and environments but not on the level of Second Life.

Only a handful of customizable selections are available for avatar types, apparel, etcetera, right now, but more are expected.

Watching Your Gmail

Google has also unveiled a new remote monitoring feature, beefing up security for Gmail users who may have signed on -- but not out -- at the office, a library, their parents' house, a friend's BlackBerry or some smelly Internet cafe.

The service, which features an activity log at the bottom of Gmail pages, is a nod to an increasingly mobile computing population. Google is slowly rolling it out to users of Firefox or Internet Explorer 7 browsers. Google also announced a new partnership with e-commerce titans eBay and PayPal designed to deal with the growing problem of phishers sending fake emails in their names.

From now on, Google says, all e-mails from eBay and PayPal will be authenticated by DomainKeys and DomainKeys Identified Mail verification.

Privacy Found

After dragging its feet for a month, Google finally caved under pressure and added a direct link to its privacy policy on its homepage.

Previously, visitors had to click on About Google to reach the Privacy Policy link -- apparently that was too much hoop-jumping. Fourteen privacy groups accused California-based Google of violating state law by not including the link on its homepage, which is standard e-commerce practice. Google had 30 days to respond to the complaint. One of Google's objections to adding the link was that it would clutter the page.

Founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin issued a directive years ago limiting the homepage to 28 words in order to maintain its famous clean look. So, the company dropped the word Google from its copyright notice and replaced it with the word privacy. And now everybody's happy.

Shrek Rules

What's driving the IT department at DreamWorks Animation? Shrek's Law, of course. Shrek's Law is similar to that other law of IT, Moore's Law, although Shrek is an animated green ogre and Gordon Moore isn't. As far as we know, anyway.

The term was coined by Jeffrey Katzenberg himself, who posited that every time DreamWorks makes a new Shrek flick, it needs to double its computing power in order to advance the animation to the required new level.

So, in order to follow its own self-created law, DreamWorks has entered a partnership with Intel, whose multicore processors will help animators make better-looking Shreks and 3-dimensional Donkeys.

DreamWorks also will serve as a proving ground for some of Intel's upcoming processors, including Nehalem.

Moon River?

Scientists have been searching for water on the moon longer than they've been looking for it on Mars, and now they've found it, thanks to a technique designed to find the stuff in a place much closer -- the Earth's mantle. I said closer, not more accessible.

Anyway, the scientists crushed up some moon rocks collected by Apollo astronauts in the '70s and were able to use the technique to identify the elements of water mixed in. The find could lead to a deeper understanding of the moon's formation and early years -- and possibly even solve the drought in the Western U.S.

OK, I made up that last part. NASA might be able to find water on the moon and on Mars, but it still can't make it rain.

Sun Boost

Air conditioners make cars less fuel-efficient, and inefficient cars mean more global warming, and more global warming means it's hot in here, so crank up that AC. Pretty vicious cycle, huh?

Perhaps it's time to buy up some waterfront property in northern Alaska and wait for the tourists to come rolling in. Or maybe not, because Toyota thinks it's got the problem handled. No, it's not giving us a car that runs on solar power -- keep dreaming.

Instead, it's coming out with a Prius hybrid with an air conditioner that runs on solar power. Mmmm, not ENTIRELY on solar power; the roof-mounted solar cells will just kind of help the AC along. A little. Look, it's better than nothing, OK?

Critics say a hybrid with solar-assisted air conditioning is little more than a publicity grab from Toyota, and the company would be wiser to direct its R&D funding toward developing viable plug-in hybrid electric cars.

New Scrabble in Town

If you're nothing like me, you play TONS of Scrabble on Facebook. But when you're playing Scrabble on Facebook, you're not really playing Scrabble. You're playing Scrabulous, a game created by a couple of software developer brothers.

It's enjoyed a pretty long lifespan, considering it's such an obvious ripoff. I mean, copyright attorneys are busy people these days; you can't even copy a song from your computer to your Walkman without Sony's lawyers calling you a thief.

So how has Scrabulous survived long enough to rope in half a million fans? Well, Facebook did try to take it down, but users cried foul, and when it comes to Facebook, whining works. Just ask the guy who came up with Beacon.

Anyway, soon Scrabulous will have a new competitor to contend with, and it's got the official backing of Hasbro, Scrabble's owner in the U.S. and Canada.

Electronic Arts' Scrabble for Facebook is pretty much just like Scrabulous, meaning it's just like the original. Now that there's a reasonable alternative, will Facebook continue to allow Scrabulous? Wedbush Morgan analyst Michael Pachter told ECT that in a month or so, he doesn't expect to see both Scrabulous and EA's Scrabble offered on Facebook.


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