By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
The FBI and National Security Agency are like nosy mothers (with guns). Their idea of a perfect world is one in which they hold the key to all encrypted information, the Escrowed Encryption Standard (EES) -- remember the clipper chip, a device that would have digitally scrambled telephone conversations, while allowing police agencies to eavesdrop? The chip was dropped in the mid-'90s after a huge public outcry. Privacy advocates have also fought EES, but it hasn't stopped the Feds from coming up with new ways to get what they want. Remember, when encryption is outlawed, only outlaws will have encryption.
13 Let's Get Small
Microtechnology recasts existing devices in extreme miniature. Nanotechnology is similar, only smaller: Starting with molecular building blocks, simple machines are created at a microscopic level. Size isn't everything, particularly in wartime. Picture a self-replicating swarm of bee-size microbots descending upon a military installation to destroy and disarm, or a mechanical "fly on the wall" trying to steal secrets. The U.S. government has imagined all of this and more. At the fifth Foresight Conference on Molecular Nanotechnology, one paper went so far as to outline 21st-century scenarios for full-scale microwar.
14 Community-Based Computing
Distributed computing is the floating-point version of "many hands make light work." A recent and popular example of distributed computing is SETI at Home, created by folks at Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. You, along with thousands of others connected to SETI via the Internet, can lend your PC downtime to collectively crunch huge volumes of data in the hope that your otherwise unglamorous box might be the one that finds ET.
Watermarks are digital patterns hidden in the "noise" of sound, image or video files. A good watermark is invisible and inaudible, but stays with a file even after it's been altered or duplicated. The marks are designed to protect against piracy, a worthy goal but one that benefits mainly the big guys, because most of the little ones, struggling for recognition, want their work copied and distributed. (See next sidebar.)
16 Creepy Crawlers
Recent desktop-publishing applications including Photoshop feature a demo version of Digimarc's watermark plug-in. Without warning, you will see "detect watermark" in your progress bar when you import images. While Photoshop doesn't do anything when a watermark is detected, the cool -- or frightening -- aspect of Digimarc's program is its companion subscription service, MarcSpider. MarcSpider combs the public Web for Digimarc-embedded images. When it finds one, it will enter the pertinent information (the address where it was found, author, date, etc. . . .) into a database open to MarcSpider subscribers. Whether you feel flattered or litigious when you find your work on someone else's site is up to you.
17 Hacker Justice
(In)famous hacker Kevin Mitnick sat in prison for more than four years without a trial before pleading guilty to seven counts of wire and computer fraud in March. Last Monday, he was finally sentenced to an additional 46 months in prison. With good behavior, he may be out in 2000. Harsh, unless you're from China: At the end of last year, a pair of Chinese hackers electronically withdrew $30,000 from the Zhenjiang Industrial and Commercial Bank. They were caught, tried and sentenced to death -- good behavior not a factor. And finally, what happened to the U.S. Navy when it attempted to hack into the U.K.'s Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (possibly in search of Russian dolphin reports)? You guessed it . . . nothing.