Thursday, November 27, 2008

Cell jammers still illegal, but may come to state prisons

By John Timmer

Although rumors persist of their use in restaurants and movie theaters, the use of cell phone jamming equipment remains illegal in the US. Right now, the only permissible use is by federal law enforcement officials, but that may change if state prison officials in South Carolina and a manufacturer of jamming equipment have their way. Both would like to see state law enforcement get permission to use the jammers, which may push the technology a bit closer to the mainstream.

Jammers are relatively simple, as they simply rely on flooding the frequencies that cell phones use with electromagnetic noise, blocking any effective transmission within a limited radius. Right now, the FCC is responsible for enforcing the ban on devices that block signals from cell phones, an authority that dates back to the Communications Act of 1934. The FCC notes that "the Act prohibits any person from willfully or maliciously interfering with the radio communications of any station licensed or authorized under the Act or operated by the US government." First time offenders may face either fines of up to $11,000 or a year in prison for each violation.

You can imagine how many offenses jamming something like a crowded movie theater might involve. Nevertheless, it's widely reported that the FCC has yet to actually hold someone accountable for doing so, and it's also widely reported that distributors have shipped the equipment to do so here from overseas; see, for example, this story in Slate.

There are obvious public safety concerns surrounding the unrestricted use of these jammers; it's hard to imagine that blocking access to 911 is in anyone's best interest, but there are situations where public security can be enhanced by their use. Although it hasn't been a problem in the States, cell phones have been used as remote detonators in terrorist attacks.

In other cases, cell phones have apparently been smuggled into prisons, where they have enabled inmates to continue to organize crimes on the outside or to further coordinate the smuggling in of goods. For such reasons, federal law enforcement agencies have retained the right to deploy these systems, and have apparently done so at federal prisons.

The new push seeks to broaden the use of jammers by enabling their use at the state level. Following a demonstration of the equipment at a South Carolina state prison, the company that supplied the demonstration equipment (CellAntenna, which primarily sells signal extenders) has indicated it would attempt to get a waiver from the FCC that would give states permission to use them. Meanwhile, the demonstration has caught the attention of at least two US senators, who may in turn nudge the FCC along.

The development isn't interesting so much for the fact that states might get access to something the federal government is already using; those sorts of things happen all the time. What makes it intriguing is the fact that technologies designed for law enforcement have shown a consistent ability to escape their confines in recent years. It's easy to visit web sites that now offer a variety of stun guns and pepper sprays for sale to the public. There's no guarantee that cell phone jammers will go this route, but any changes that increase their use certainly make it more likely.

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German traffic lights powered by Linux and real-time Java

A Greman vendor of city-wide traffic management systems is converting its flagship traffic light controller to Linux and real-time Java.

Right Now, Signalbau Huber’s Actros controller is based on Debian GNU/Linux 3.2. The Versions based on the new software implementation are expected to begin testing by year’s end, according to Joachim Lock, R&D engineer. “The migration will enable us to move from several different CPUs to one CPU, keeping security-critical functions and Linux separated,” he stated

Signalbau Huber is one of Germany’s two largest traffic managment system vendors. He pointed out the company’s systems are used in Frankfurt, Stuttgart, Prague, Budapest, Vienna, Poland, Warsaw, and Benelux, among other European locations.

A single Actros controller can control 196 individual signals

  1. The Actros controller runs Linux on a single x86-compatible control-plane processor.
  2. A CAN (controller area network) backplane supports multiple switching card modules, each based on an Infineon XC164 microcontroller.
  3. The switching cards use MOSFETs (metal-oxide semiconductor field-effect transistor) to send voltages to connected signals — including pedestrian and traffic lights.
  4. With a full complement of switching cards, a single Actros controller can control 196 individual signals, Lock said.

Signalbau Huber traffic management system architecture

Signalbau Huber’s current, Debian 3.0-based Actros controller uses an AMD SC520 “control processor” clocked at 133MHz. It also has a “security processor” that will be obviated by the new ELinOS/PERC architecture. The company has not yet finalized its choice ofprocessors for next-generation Actros controllers.

The new design’s control processor will run Sysgo’s ELinos 4.1 embedded Linux implementation, including PikeOS, Sysgo’s real-time, POSIX-compatible execution environment add-on.

The Linux component will provide a browser-based management interface accessible over the network or to on-site technicians.

The real-time PikeOS environment, meanwhile, will host Aonix’s PERC real-time Java component.

Two safety-critical applications will run under PERC. The first of these real-time Java applications is a traffic control program specific to each intersection, enabling engineers to program light behavior in Java. The second is an OCIT (open communication interface for road traffic control systems) networking stack that handles most communications with the central management system.

Lock added. “By selecteing Linux, they are prepared for the future. It’s a flexible and scalable system.” Good Luck Guys..

Original here

A future so bright Tux needs shades

Posted by Dana Blankenhorn

Killer Penguin beer labelTo hear Linux Foundation executive director Jim Zemlin tell it, the operating system war is over and Linux has won. (Rockies Brewing makes other fine beers, too.)

“Linux represents the ultimate flight to safety in troubled times,” he said while offering some predictions for 2009.

“People want a platform they trust, that’s low cost, that allows them to consolidate infrastructure, and that’s Linux.

“Everyone uses Linux. It’s in the TV, it’s in your TiVo, it’s in all the settop boxes, it’s in your Sony camera. Make a trade on the NYSE and it’s there, search on Google and it’s Linux. Linux owns 85% of the supercomputer market. I’ve seen Linux in a milking machine.”

If Linux were a corporate effort its CEO would be into champagne wishes and caviar dreams. As it is, however, Zemlin is just looking for steady growth next year.

“The Foundation will continue to focus on the core things we do well. We’ll continue to support Linux and the kernel development. We’ll continue to work on the trademark.

“In April we’ll hold our Collaboration summit in San Francisco. We invited the Consumer Electronics Linux Forum to attend.

“We’ll expand the events we offer, including the first Linux Kernel Summit in Tokyo. We’ll be hosting the LinuxCon in September, and expect it to be successful. We’ll have content there for all communities. There will be rich training opportunities there.

“We’ll have more content on the Web. Expect more original research out of us. We authored ‘How to Participate in the Linux Community‘, a white paper.”

But there will be no big offices, no Linuxplex, and you won’t see Linus Torvalds on the cover of Forbes. “No one is expanding.”

So, I asked, what happened in 2008 to make 2009 look so bright?

Little Penguin Shiraz from Southeast AustraliaTwo things, Zemlin suggested.

Windows Vista has been a fiasco, and mobile form factors hit Linux’ sweet spot. (I’ve had this Australian Shiraz. Very drinkable. Try it with turkey tomorrow.)

“Microsoft had to keep XP around a lot longer than they had anticipated. It hurt their ability to sell Vista. It impacted their need to rush Windows 7, which looks a lot like Vista.”

Manufacturer disquiet led to experiments with the four-pound, no moving part Netbook, and Linux was ready with Intel’s quick boot architecture, which turns a Linux PC into an instant-on Internet appliance.

Now, “Every major PC maker is shipping Linux computers to consumers,” with HP and Dell starting to support the channel.

The one cloud on that horizon, as I noted in our Laptop Linux series, is incompatibility, which makes upgrading software a chore. The Foundation’s solution to that is the Linux Standard Base, but anyone’s decision to use it is “a commercial decision.”

Then there is mobile. While 2008 turned into the year the Linux Netbook broke through, 2009 will be the year when Linux mobile breaks through, Zemlin said.

Android, LiMo, and the 100% mobile source Moblin are all coming to market in a big way. Motorola is committed to Android, LiMo stands for Linux Mobile. ”Moblin specifically is a project to watch.”

My own opinion is that Apple made the breakthrough Linux mobile is now running through. The success of the iPhone in spurring data use is forcing carriers to come up with alternatives, and Linux is the fast way there.

Jim Zemlin, Linux Foundation“Linux has now reached a critical mass,” he concluded. “It would take billions of dollars to rewrite a kernel, or harden any operating system across all these forms of computing.”

If you want to make money next year, learn Linux.

“One of our biggest bottlenecks is going to be talent. My advice for engineers who are looking to weather this storm is learn Linux.” Then you’ll be toasting 2010 with Jim Zemlin as your sommelier.

(And if you need or want to avoid alcoholic embellishment, for any reason, click here.)

Original here

Mozilla slips an extra beta into Firefox schedule

By Gregg Keizer, Computerworld (US)

Mozilla is to add a third beta to the development schedule for Firefox 3.1. The move will enable the company to get a better handle on remaining bugs and give several new features, including a faster JavaScript engine and a private browsing mode, more testing time, the company's browser director said yesterday.

Previous schedules published by Mozilla had limited Firefox 3.1 to only two betas before moving to a release candidate.

In a long post to the forum, Mike Beltzner, the director of Firefox, said that Beta 3 was necessary to get a feel for the severity of the remaining bugs and an idea of how long it will take developers to eradicate them. In addition, another beta will give more exposure to features landing in the browser only as of Beta 2, which has not yet been released.

Beltzner named several of Firefox 3.1's high-profile additions, including the new "TraceMonkey" JavaScript rendering engine and the so-called "porn mode" feature, dubbed "Private Browsing Mode" by Mozilla, among those that would benefit from more testing.

Beta 3 is not a done deal, Beltzner noted in a follow-up email, but he is confident that developers would approve the plan.

"We're never comfortable declaring new milestones by fiat, but I expect that there won't be any opposition to the plans for a third beta at today's meeting," he said. "I'd say that it's very likely at this point."

So far, Mozilla has shipped only Beta 1, which was released six weeks ago, although Beta 2 should be available in early December, perhaps as soon as the end of next week. A schedule for the third beta has not been set, but Beltzner said Mozilla would likely declare a "code freeze" - a milestone after which changes are either forbidden outright or tightly restricted - in early January.

Beltzner stressed that the extra beta wouldn't delay the final version of Firefox 3.1.

"We believe we can do this without major impact to our shipping schedule," he said.

"It's more a matter of inserting another public consultation milestone than it is about slipping, per se."

Mozilla is traditionally leery of committing to final ship dates - like other developers it typically says it launches products when they're ready, not on a timetable - but previously it had said it was shooting for a late 2008 or early 2009 window.

Yesterday, however, Beltzner said that Firefox 3.1 is "still looking at late in Q1 2009 for final delivery".

In a status meeting last week, Mozilla also decided to retract a revamped Ctrl-Tab tab-switching feature it had originally slated for Firefox 3.1.

The enhancement, which was based on an already-available Firefox add-on, showed users thumbnails when they cycled through open tabs, and switched between current and last-viewed tabs rather than simply moving to the next tab to the right.

Like many of the features that made it into Firefox 3.1, it was initially set for Firefox 3.0, but had slipped out of that earlier update.

"This is something that our development community is getting used to," Beltzner said Tuesday in another email.

"As part of our new effort to try and increase the pace of our releases, we're coming to terms with the fact that new user-facing features sometimes need a lot of trial-and-error to get feeling right."

The newest attempt at redesigning tab switching, said Beltzner, didn't "feel quite right" to either Mozilla's user interface team or outside testers; the feature was pulled as a result.

"If we can get it right, we can see if we still have time for its inclusion," he added.

"If not, it can wait until the next release."

Mozilla was the second browser developer in the last week to claim it is still on schedule. Last Thursday, Microsoft laid out the next step for Internet Explorer 8 (IE8); Monday, a Microsoft director of product management denied that IE8's schedule had slipped in an interview with the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

"It's not a slipped schedule," Matthew Lapsen, a director of Windows product management, told the newspaper. "We release based on product quality, not dates."

Some Microsoft officials, however, had alluded to a late-2008 ship date for IE8 several months ago.

Original here

Micron promises supercharged 1 GB/s SSD

By Wolfgang Gruener

Chicago (IL) – Chip manufacturer has demonstrated what is, at least to our knowledge, the fastest solid state disk drive (SSD) demonstrated so far. A demo unit shown in a blurry YouTube video was hitting data transfer rates of 800 MB/s and can expand to apparently about 1 GB/s. The IO performance is about twice of the best performance we have seen to date.

Ok, we have not actually seen the exact numbers, since the YouTube video is too blurry, but if we believe the claims made my Micron staffers, then we might see a dramatic increase in SSD performance in the not too distant future.

Posted on Micron’s new blog, the video showcases a 2-processor, eight-core Intel Xeon PC with two SSDs The difference to your average SSD is that these drives are not connected via a PATA or SATA interface and therefore are not limited to the bandwidth limit of 300 MB/s of SATA II. Instead, the drives have PCIe interfaces and, according to Micron, include flash data management enhancements.

During the short demonstration, Micron’s Joe Jeddeloh claims that the two cards hit a data throughput of about 800 MB/s and about 150,000 to 160,000 random IOPS. He also showed a flash PCIe card that combined the two cards in one device with 16 flash channels. This card will be hitting a bandwidth of 1 GB/s and “at least 200,000 IOPS,” he said. For comparison reasons, the fastest enterprise SSDs available from big manufacturers today hit about 250 MB/s and about 30,000 IOPS.

The fastest hard drive you can buy today, WD’s Velociraptor, clocks in at about 100 MB/s.

The PCIe concept of SSDs has been shown before, most notably by Fusion IO, which hit about 100,000 IOPS about a year ago. The company recently announced a “consumer version” of its PCIe card, which will offer data throughput of 500 – 700 MB/s and about 50,000 IOPS for about $1000.

We have no idea what the Micron drive will cost, but it does not look cheap. Jeddeloh noted that the 1 GB/s drive will be available “soon”.

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The Electronic Frontier Foundation Doesn't Like Apple's Attitude

by Sam Dean

Who knows why many open source users are also Macintosh users, but I've noticed a correlation there for years. Maybe it's because open source, like the Mac, rings of rebellion against the status quo. Nevertheless, if you think the love always flows in two directions, check out this post from the Electronic Frontier Foundation. According to the EFF, Apple's lawyers recently put the kibosh on an online discussion of open source software, dubbed iPodhash, which the lawyers perceived as designed to circumvent aspects of Apple's FairPlay digital rights management (DRM), used in iTunes. (The original discussion is removed.) The key word there is "discussion"--there was no fully realized application that actually cracked Apple's encryption.

As the Electronic Frontier Foundation points out:

"At the heart of this is the iTunesDB file, the index that the iPod operating system uses to keep track of what playable media is on the device. Unless an application can write new data to this file, it won't be able to 'sync' music or other content to an iPod. The iTunesDB file has never been encrypted and is relatively well understood. In iPods released after September 2007, however, Apple introduced a checksum hash to make it difficult for applications other than iTunes to write new data to the iTunesDB file, thereby hindering an iPod owner's ability to use alternative software (like gtkpod, Winamp, or Songbird) to manage the files on her iPod."

Apple's original checksum hash, an encryption scheme, was cracked within three days of its release. However, Apple has recently updated the checksum hash for the iPod and iPod Touch, and that piece of code obfuscation has not been hacked yet.

Long story short, a discussion of how to crack Apple's new checksum hash using open source software called iPodhash took place on a wiki dubbed Bluwiki. While nobody posted an actual application for cracking it, there was some illustrative code. You can view the communications that Bluewiki has posted regarding taking the discussions down here. There, the Digital Mellenium Copyright Act (DMCA) is cited as protecting Apple's FairPlay DRM scheme, because it is considered "anti-circumvention technology."

Attorneys at the Electronic Frontier Foundation are crying foul. "If Apple is suggesting that the DMCA reaches people merely talking about technical protection measures, then they've got a serious First Amendment problem," they write.

I have to agree. Talk is talk. Encryption and other forms of code obfuscation are communally practiced throughout the worlds of proprietary and open source software. Also, encryption predates personal computers and Apple by many years. Where would security software end up if people were barred, directed by lawyers, from ever discussing methods of disguising code?

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