Phil Wainewright writes about the side-effects of the virus-worm that infected so many computers in the past week:

It turns out the SoBig virus is actually a front for a malevolent new twist in grid computing anonymous utility spamming. The virus, which spread through the world’s email inboxes like wildfire last week, is “designed to load special software that can anonymize spam onto people’s PCs,”according to security experts interviewed in this CNET story.

Once in place, this secret software payload can then be triggered to send out emails that give no hint of their true origin, since they can only be traced back to the machine playing innocent host to the trojan software. Security experts theorize that SoBig’s author is offering this on-demand anonymity service to unscrupulous bulk emailers, thus becoming the first hacker to have successfully monetized an email virus initiative.

If the experts are right, SoBig probably also qualifies as the first profitable, mass-market, commercial application of the principles of grid computing. It cleverly exploits the loosely coupled characteristics of a highly distributed, massively redundant grid architecture. Especially impressive is the utility provisioning mechanism that supplies new reserves of raw power to the SoBig grid, instantly able to draw on the never-ending supply of imprudent users whose curiosity about the contents of a suspicious attachment will always override their caution.

Innovation and creative thinking seems to be alive, albeit for the wrong purpose!

RSS Tutorial

A Primer for Publishers and Content Providers. The benefits of RSS as outlined in the document:

  • RSS is an excellent and cost-effective way of driving traffic to, and increasing brand awareness of, any website that publishes content (e.g news, jobs, events) regularly. Once a publisher produces an RSS file, they are enabling others to syndicate their headlines, without any further work on their part.

  • RSS is the dominant format for distributing headline content on the Web.

  • RSS allows easy sharing of data between sites. Webmasters can use an RSS file to easily incorporate third party content into their own site.

  • Content from RSS feeds can be easily repurposed allowing, for example, cross searching of a number of different feeds at once.
    RSS content can be added to personal desktop news reading applications like Feedreader or AmphetaDesk.

  • RSS is a disruptive innovation – where HTML was in 1994.

    My First LCD

    Just got an LCD for the computer at home, and I must say I am impressed with the sleekness and resolution. Considering that I use a 4-year-old notebook at work and an 8-year-old 14-inch monitor as an optional additional display (part of our affordable computing thinking), the LCD is a major leap forward in my life!

    Private Google

    Steve Gillmor wants “a private Google, where I can find random notes without exposing them publicly–or more precisely, to unsubscribed (unauthorized) readers.” He also gives some suggestions on how to do it:

    1. Get Panther. This will cost $500 for an entry level developer license today.

    2. Investigate the new Mail APIs and the new TextEdit developer kit (if it exists).

    3. Develop Gary Burd’s idea of a brute force private Google built on top of a local IMAP store hosted in

    4. Produce NetNewsWire plug-in from #3’s work and contribute it to Brent Simmons with all possible speed.

    5. Use NNW plug-in framework to develop additional extensions for converting iChat AV/AIM/Rendeyvous presence and message attempts into RSS feed.

    6. Investigate wiring #5’s feed to iSync for persistent calendaring and scheduling.

    7. Work with Mozilla-based cross-platform aggregators to migrate to Windows/Linux base.

    8. Watch Microsoft and Google scramble to catch up.

    MIT OpenCourseWare

    Reading this Wired story makes me think I should take a look at the MIT’s course ware.

    When MIT announced to the world in April 2001 that it would be posting the content of some 2,000 classes on the Web, it hoped the program – dubbed OpenCourseWare – would spur a worldwide movement among educators to share knowledge and improve teaching methods. No institution of higher learning had ever proposed anything as revolutionary, or as daunting. MIT would make everything, from video lectures and class notes to tests and course outlines, available to any joker with a browser. The academic world was shocked by MIT’s audacity – and skeptical of the experiment. At a time when most enterprises were racing to profit from the Internet and universities were peddling every conceivable variant of distance learning, here was the pinnacle of technology and science education ready to give it away. Not the degrees, which now cost about $41,000 a year, but the content. No registration required.

    In September, as students arrive on the Cambridge campus for the start of school, MIT will officially launch OpenCourseWare with 500 courses.

    Walmart’s Clout

    We worry about Microsoft’s clout in the tech world. Take a look at Walmart. Charles Stein writes in the Boston Globe:

    With almost $250 billion in annual sales, Wal-Mart accounts for 6 percent of all US retail sales and 2 percent of the gross domestic product. If you want to know what’s going on with the American economy, Wal-Mart is the place to look. The growing trade deficit? Wal-Mart imports $12 billion worth of goods from China, about 10 percent of the US total.

    For Wal-Mart, success begets more success. The company’s low prices boost sales volume, which in turn, allows Wal-Mart to drive costs still lower. It’s a virtuous cycle others can’t match. “The value Wal-Mart can deliver can be extended to an almost infinite number of businesses,” said Eric Almquist, a senior partner with Lippincott Mercer, a consulting firm. That is already happening in groceries. It took Wal-Mart a few years to learn the ropes, say analysts, but today it can duplicate the quality of most supermarkets while offering shoppers bigger bargains. “It is shocking to see how much they have improved,” said Maureen Depp, an analyst with State Street Research.

    TECH TALK: The Death and Rebirth of Email: Solution Ideas

    Email is our electronic lifeline. Just ten years ago, most of us outside of academia and research had barely heard of it. Telephone calls, letters and faxes were the communications means available to us. The interconnectivity between hitherto separate networks, services like AOL and Hotmail, Microsofts Outlook desktop email clients, the growing numbers of people connected to the Internet, and faster and more permanent connections to the Net have ensured a skyrocketing in the use of email. Whether it is for personal or business interactions, email has now become the preferred form of communication for many. So, when it is not available for some reason, we feel disconnected and disoriented.

    Viruses and Spams are now threatening to kill email. While a combination of firewalls, anti-virus software and spam filters can create a reasonably hassle-free environment, it may still not be good enough for the world at large. So, in this networked world, what can we do fix email? Here are some which are representative of the thinking that has been going around.

    Joi Ito writes about the need for alternate forms of communications, in response to a report that top Internet service providers blocked 17 percent of legitimate permission-based e-mail in the first half of the year: I pronounce email officially broken. If 17 percent of legit email is being blocked by spam filters, it’s not officially working. No wonder I’m using blogs, IRC and IM for my primary modes of connecting with important people these days.

    Robert Scoble, who works at Microsoft, advocates server-side filtering: I’ve switched all my personal email to Hotmail and it stayed up with no troubles through all the virus troubles during the last week. Despite putting my email address everywhere on my weblog — I only got a couple of the virus-related ones, and they had their attachments stripped. Server-side email cleaning is the only way to go. It’s also why I use a few instant messenging programs — in case everything email goes down, people can still get ahold of me with IM.

    Tim Bray looks at the problem of the email client in this case, Microsofts Outlook and Outlook Express. Their ubiquity has become a magnet for virus-writers.

    Since everyone else is running the same software, every deranged virus writer and bored script kiddie in the world has you as their target. While Microsoft does take security seriously these days, its going to be tough to get Outlook really properly nailed down because theres a lot of legacy code in there, and the original central architectural precept was to focus on responsiveness not security.

    Of course, there are a certain number of people who are stuck with Outlook forever, because their employer has bought into Outlook calendaring and they build their weeks around that. For everyone else, there are email clients that are either free or real cheap, and just as good if not better, and essentially virus-proof. Why on earth would you not switch?

    Tim goes on to suggest many alternatives, each of these has been proven to be able to handle massive volumes of email traffic, and huge archives of back-email. The alternate email client options are: Eudora, Mozilla, (the Macs native email client), Pegasus, and a couple of non-GUI ones (Pine and Gnus).

    Business Week proposes many solutions, one among them is for ISPs: In general, the ISPs have failed to underscore that security is a serious matterAn educational campaign on the importance of computer safety would be in order. Even better, ISPs could easily offer antivirus and basic firewalling as an economical add-on service. I would bet they could sell it for $5 per month and probably make a profit on the deal, since many firewalls and anti-virus programs are now automatically updated and require little maintenance.

    Tomorrow: Solution Ideas (continued)

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