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This is the TBTF Log, the place where I report important breaking news in the most timely way possible.

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Saturday, July 15, 2000

7/15/2000 8:33:24 AM

  • Scour caught living up to its name. A new-media company backed by Michael Ovitz has been scouring the Net looking for open SMB ports. The story was broken Friday by the LA Times and has been picked up by PC Week. Scour.com offers multimedia content for free download and/or streaming. Unlike Napster, whose client/server asks users explicitly for which directories they are willing to share, Scour simply assumes that any multimedia content on a user's PC is fair game.

    And according to the LA Times story, Scour doesn't stop at the PCs of users who have downloaded its software: its bots scan the Net for open SMB ports. These will be found on the PCs of unsuspecting users who have turned on Windows file or print sharing without a password. Such promiscuous scanning is a technique most often associated with crackers and script kiddies, not with supposedly reputable dot-coms backed by deep-pocketed moguls.

    One security expert quoted by the LA Times implies that Scour makes public the resulting list of open SMB ports. (I didn't find any such thing on Scour's site.)

    Scour says it will discontinue the use of SMB within a few days, according to PC Week.

    Thanks to TBTF Irregular Alan Wexelblat for notice on this story.

Friday, July 14, 2000

7/14/2000 2:36:21 PM

  • German proposal to tax Internet use at work. Germany has made a strong move in the rapidly spreading international contest to demonstrate maximal blinding cluelessness about the Internet. The German newspaper Stuttgarter Zeitung broke the story (commentary here), which was picked up by the Heise news ticker. All of these pages are in German. Jochen Schwarze, who alerted me to the story, kindly provided this English translation.

    German financial minister Hans Eichel has proposed a draft decree 1 stating that private use of the Internet at work will be taxed from January 1, 2001. The tax office assumes that private use is common and will therefore be regarded as a 'monetary advantage' 2. If the company or the employee cannot prove that the Internet access is granted for occupational reasons only, the complete Internet costs for that workplace may be regarded as 'geldwerter Vorteil' and therefore added to the employee's taxable income. To avoid this, the employer has to forbid private Internet use completely AND is obliged to take random samples. Only if private use is ruled out by 'special circumstances' (like technical actions to allow access to certain pages only) there will be no tax implications.

    If, however, the employee has unrestricted access to Internet pages, the amount of 'geldwerter Vorteil' charged is based on an individual settlement. For this, the employee is obliged to take notes on the date, time, and duration of occupational use as well as the pages visited and and for what specific reason.

    Industry representatives are in a rage about the proposed decree for a number of reasons like unjustified administrative effort, cost of logging all access, and tax revenues bearing no relation to expenses. They are now trying to get private Internet access declared a 'convenience' (like free coffee), so that it is not subject to taxes.

    Press comments:

    • Absurd and quixotic.
    • Every employee with PC and Internet access will be a potential tax evader.
    • An idea that could only be developd by people without enough work to do.
    • Politicians issue placatory messages on Green Cards and the New Economy while at the same time burdening citizens with nonsensical tax regulations.

    1. a 'decree' (German 'Erlass') is something that can be established by the ministry without having to pass the German federal parliament, the 'Bundestag.'
    2. German tax idiom, 'geldwerter Vorteil' -- a 'monetary advantage' is some service or benefit that you get from your employer beyond direct payment, for example free lunches or a staff car that you can use for free privately. You are obliged to pay income tax on the equivalent value.

7/14/2000 11:51:44 AM

  • updated Earthlink refuses to install FBI's Carnivore. The Wall Street Journal today reports that Earthlink has turned down an FBI request to install the new Carnivore surveillance device on its network. (You'll need a paid subscription to visit the WSJ link. Here's an AP story in USA Today.) Though the FBI insists its monitoring equipment is benign to a host network, an Earthlink spokesman said of Carnivore:

    It has the potential to hurt our network, to bring pieces of it down. It could impact thousands of people.

    The WSJ story also reveals that Earthlink was a party to a lawsuit over Carnivore earlier this year. The records of the case are under seal. A federal judge ordered the ISP to install the FBI's equipment pursuant to a warrant in a criminal investigation. Earthlink reported that numerous network problems resulted.

    Janet Reno has initiated a review of Carnivore.

    Thanks to TBTF Irregular Ted Byfield for the nod.

    update [17jul, 7:55 am] CNET reports that Earthlink has come to an agreement with the FBI under which the ISP would itself gather the data required by law enforcement, rather than allowing FBI agents to install and service a Carnivore box.

7/14/2000 10:00:52 AM

    real potato-powered Web server
  • A real potato-powered server. Fredric White, who brought us WebAce, world's smallest Web server, is at it again. After the infamous SpudServer hoax last May tricked the BBC, USA Today, and Ananova, White got to wondering what it would take to build a real potato-powered Web server. The result is here. You can in theory visit the server, but it's ver-r-r-r-y slow and often times out. For those of you who don't manage to get through, here's part of what the Spud Server says.

    This is an actual potato-powered Web server. Running at a majestic pace of 0.019 MIPS, and consuming 0.000030 Watts of power, it can handle about 0.2 hits per second.

    In order to avoid further draining the potatoes I won't give its URL here, but you can find it on White's Spud page. At the time of my visit, minutes ago, the server reported it has been up for nearly 13 days and has entertained 2,083 visitors.

    Thanks to Milan Merhar for the heads-up.

7/14/2000 8:37:20 AM

  • updated Britain clamping down on HavenCo. Stepping up the pressure, British immigration officers stopped and questioned a US citizen who arrived at Heathrow Airport en route to his new assignment at HavenCo. The would-be data haven operates from a reclaimed anti-aircraft platform 6 miles off the Essex coast. The new HavenCo employee assumed he would not need a British work permit to go to Sealand, but a spokesman for the Home Office said

    We consider Sealand to be part of the UK and therefore anyone working there who is not a citizen of a European Union country would require a work permit.

    A HavenCo spokesman said the employee will start work as scheduled today, adding

    If Britain starts playing games, we'll find other ways of getting people to Sealand.

    A court decision in 1968 held that Sealand's potentate could not be held liable for firearms violations, as the offshore platform is situated 3 miles beyond the reach of British law at the time. The UK has since expanded its territorial waters to 10 miles.

    update [15jul, 12:10 pm] An account in Wired said that various British government agencies take a different view of Sealand. For example, Sealand's self-proclaimed Prince Roy, a retired British soldier, receives retirement checks only for the time he spends on British soil, as the veteran's department considers Sealand not to be part of the UK.

Thursday, July 13, 2000

7/13/2000 3:45:50 PM

  • The View from Softpro. Suddenly the TBTF contributors are returning, as if they had all just flown in from their various distant winter feeding grounds. First Lloyd Wood turned in a profile of Richard Stallman, then the roving_reporter started up something like a blog here on TBTF. And now Rick Treitman sends along a new number of The View from Softpro. (Previous columns are here and here.)

    In this feature Rick looks at the industry through the lens of sales patterns at an established bookstore for computer professionals. Rick and his brother Bob run Softpro in Burlington and Marlboro, Massachusetts. (A third brother, Jim, manages Softpro in Denver, Colorado.) Rick writes:

    Our view of the industry is a bit different than most. We tend to see where the development action is -- as opposed to the marketing noise. Our customers are people who need to crank out code and who are generally trying to take advantage of the latest technical developments.

    The View from Softpro

    by Rick Treitman <rick at softpro dot com>

    Softpro, 112 Mall Road, Burlington, MA 01803-5300
    v.781-273-2917   f.781-273-2499  www.softpro.com

    As July starts off, one operating system is outselling all others combined by a factor of more than two. (At Softpro, "all others" includes various flavors of Linux plus FreeBSD -- we don't sell enough Windows products even to include them.)

    OpenBSD 2.7 is the bestseller for the first 12 days of July, and sales are accelerating.

    More predictably, the hot book categories this month are: Java Server Pages, XML, Java, and HTML. Interestingly enough, there has been very little interest in Windows 2000, and none of our month-to-date bestsellers have anything to do with Microsoft. Apache books are among the better selling books, but nothing doing for the various Microsoft servers.

Wednesday, July 12, 2000

7/12/2000 6:39:39 PM

Sunday, July 9, 2000

7/9/2000 6:16:20 PM

  • updated AOL sued over SmartDownload snooping. A Web-site operator has filed a class-action lawsuit against Netscape and AOL, claiming that Netscape Communicator's SmartDownload function sends information back to Netscape every time a user downloads an .EXE or .ZIP file. Christopher Specht claims as the affronted class all site owners who offer such files for download. Here is coverage in the Industry Standard on the suit and here is the complaint in text form (23K). AOL has not commented publicly on the lawsuit. From the filing:

    Netscape is using SmartDownload to eavesdrop. It is using SmartDownload to intercept and to send to defendants information about a communication to which defendants are not a party.

    Thanks to Joahua Rubin, who sent me a Word file containing the court filing in plenty of time for a scoop on the rest of the journalistic world. Not his fault I didn't jump on it.

    Note added 2000-07-10: TBTF Irregular Justin Mason pointed out Netscape's FAQ for SmartDownload, which Specht's lawyers appear not to have found. The FAQ says that the information uploaded from users is not saved. Also, the feature can be turned off via the advanced set-up button in the SmartDownload program. Oops. Wired and InternetNews also RtFM and located this FAQ.

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