On Internet, a case of highway robberyA dramatic rise in...


February 07, 1994|By Steve Auerweck | Steve Auerweck,Staff Writer

On Internet, a case of highway robbery

A dramatic rise in computer "break-ins" has emphasized again that the original frontier mentality of the Internet may have trouble surviving with the roar of the information superhighway outside the front door.

The Internet community was sent into a spin last week by an alert from CERT, the Computer Emergency Response Team Coordination Center at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pa., warning of the sudden appearance throughout the network of illicit software that captures the codes entered when a user switches from one system to another.

"Intruders have already captured access information for tens of thousands of systems across the Internet," the alert warns, suggesting that most Internet users would be wise to promptly change their passwords.

Actual damage has apparently been minimal, but the potential for trouble is daunting. One observer on the Internet cited a related incident in November, and commented, "With the passwords from the initialhaul back then, the hackers must have the run of over 50 percent of the net by now."

According to computer security expert Dennis Steinauer at the National Institute for Standards and Technology in Gaithersburg, "Internet service providers seem to be the target" of those planting the rogue software.

Mr. Steinauer, who is chairman of the national Forum of Incident Response and Security Teams, or FIRST, speculated that these large companies that sell links to the Internet by the hour are most likely to have novice users who might be unaware that their accounts have been compromised.

He suggested that the sudden burst of problems in the last week or two may stem from techniques being shared among system "crackers," or from a snowball effect in which each system yields passwords to other systems.

While security threats are nothing new in the computer world, this sort of problem is an affront to the spirit of the Internet, which developed under the philosophy of shared access.

"This is pointing out again the need to start moving toward advanced methods of user authentification," Mr. Steinauer said.

"The fundamental problem in protecting systems is to balance the cost in dollars and convenience with what it is that you're trying to protect," he said.

One low-cost possibility uses the cryptographic technique of the "one-time pad," where the computer gives each user a long list of passwords, each of which is used just once.

And before too long, Mr. Steinauer said, most computers will have slots for the small PCMCIA circuit cards, which will allow automated encryption.

NEC, Hitachi, Toshiba shift to 16-bit chips

Reuters reported last week that Japan's NEC Corp., Hitachi Ltd. and Toshiba Corp. will stop expanding their line of 4-megabit memory chips, shifting their emphasis to volume production of more advanced 16-megabit chips.

The semiconductors, called dynamic random-access memory chips, or DRAMs, are the most common type of memory and are used in hundreds of computers and other electronic products.

A NEC spokesman said the company will start volume production of the 16-megabit DRAMs in late 1994. Hitachi has set the monthly ceiling figure for 4-megabit chips at 11 million and Toshiba eight million, spokesmen for the companies said.

MicroProse unveils submarine combat

Hunt Valley's MicroProse Software Inc. last week brought out Sub War 2050, a combat game for IBM PC-compatibles that imagines a time in which submarine combat is more like a dogfight than a hunt.

The game gives armchair captains a "virtual-reality" display that includes three-dimensional objects with realistic shading to enhance smoothness and realism, the company said.

While the sub's maneuvers resemble those of a jet fighter, players will have to factor in details such as ocean currents, water pressure and rock formations.

Timonium company making (sound) waves

A young Timonium company has been marketing a high-tech enhancement for audio systems that it hopes will become as successful as the Dolby system a generation ago.

Entrepreneur Joel Katz's HDA Entertainment Inc. has already sold 10,000 of its High Definition Audio devices through the QVC cable shopping channel, Mr. Katz said, and has been selling through the Sharper Image catalog and stores since November.

The device is built around an application-specific integrated circuit designed by a North Carolina electrical engineer, Miles Kath, and licensed to Mr. Katz's company. It has four analog computers that reprocess the stereo signal, Mr. Katz said.

The chip, for which a patent is pending, offers many benefits, Mr. Katz said -- better stereo separation, more detail in the music, noise reduction. "You'll hear incredible stuff you never heard before," he said.

Mr. Katz said he's in talks with a large audio manufacturer and an automaker about including the chip in their sound systems.

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