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Ashcroft vs. the Scam Artists

Wednesday, August 25, 2004; 8:47 AM

Looks like papa don't take no mess when it comes to electronic crime. U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft plans to announce a "major crackdown" on Internet-based crime, including arrests, subpoenas and property seizures of spammers and online scam artists. The announcement is supposed to happen Wednesday morning, but the Post said more than 100 "enforcement actions" were planned for Tuesday night. The article said that spam costs businesses and consumers as much as $10 billion a year and accounts for more than two-thirds of all e-mail traffic. It also said that the Justice Department will focus on phishing scams, which arrive as e-mail messages that appear to come from legitimate businesses, but are forgeries, designed to persuade people to hand over their private financial data.

Legal Licks

"School's Out" might be the digital download of choice for students showing up for the fall semester. After all, nothing else could make them yearn so much for winter break. But unlike last year, many of them won't have to search for a free, pirated copy on the Internet. More schools than ever are striking deals with Napster and other paid online music services to offer digital songs to students at a steep discount or even for free, according to a new report released by the recording industry and a group of higher learning institutions.

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Feds Sting Movie Pirates (washingtonpost.com, Sep 1, 2004)
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The report noted that the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) targeted college students who often used their schools' networks to illegally swap copyrighted music. Schools such as Penn State and George Washington University have responded by including the cost in a technology fee they charge students or sometimes providing it for free. Other schools such as the University of Florida patrol their networks to look for students moonlighting as music pirates. See Cindy Webb's Filter column from Tuesday for a press roundup of what other schools are doing.

Calling Campus Security!

Or "Campuses Nix XP Fix," if you will. After making such a big splash with the Windows XP Service Pack 2 update, Microsoft Corp. is discovering that some of the IT administrators holed up in academia's hallowed halls aren't so hell-bent on getting students to automatically download the big fix. Several colleges and universities have determined that thousands of students returning to school, plugging in XP computers into the school network and automatically downloading the large security upgrade could turn those networks into electronic versions of the La Brea tar pits. Not only that, some colleges and universities will temporarily block their students' computers from automatically downloading SP2 until they are sure that it won't interfere with their own online security platforms.

And don't think burning SP2 onto a bunch of CDs will do the trick. Microsoft warned that the process could result in flawed discs, never mind the, uh, copyright violation inherent in that process. The firm said it would send out multiple copies to schools, but some systems administrators said that it would take too long for them to arrive.

Under Pressure

The Post today profiled Linda Lamone, the embattled chairwoman of Maryland's State Board of Elections and one of the nation's staunchest supporters of electronic voting technology. Lamone has come under fire from activists and computer scientists who claim that touchscreen e-voting machines are subject to fraud, manipulation and error, and that attention has only increased as the November presidential election approaches. While not the only elections official who has been forced to deal with the controversy generated by e-voting machines, she certainly is one of the most well known and has become (almost literally) a lightning rod for critics who argue that e-voting machines should be outfitted so they can yield a voter-verified paper trail.

Robert MacMillan, washingtonpost.com Tech Policy Editor


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