Thursday, September 27, 2001

University of Michigan computer scientists have determined that terrorists are not, as previously suspected, communicating with one another via messages hidden in images posted on eBay and other auction sites :

The researchers analysed the images to look for evidence of a type of encryption called steganography, which refers to the practice of hiding the existence of a message. If an image on eBay did have a message encoded into it, it would be indistinguishable to the casual observer from the original image . . . [Researchers] wrote a program called Crawl to search eBay for images to download, and it retrieved more than two million images ranging between 20KB and 400KB in size . . .

Of the two million images downloaded by Crawl, the researchers found 17,000 images that at first sight appeared to have steganographic content . . .

More from ZDNet. More on steganography can be found here and here.

Wednesday, September 26, 2001

The National Imagery and Mapping Agency, citing security concerns, has blocked public access to many of its products:

NIMA issued the unprecedented freeze last Wednesday as a security precaution in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist strikes on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, according to NIMA spokeswoman Joan Mears.

The order prohibited agencies from selling or making accessible for copy all NIMA topographic maps. While most of these maps are now available to the public, maps of U.S. military installations and more detailed maps of the United States remain off-limits for security reasons, according to Mears . . .

The Library of Congress quickly obtained a waiver to the NIMA freeze so it could continue providing access to topographic maps of Vietnam, a popular collectors’ item among Vietnam veterans, according to Library officials and Ken Lee, CEO of Eastview Cartographic, a private firm that sells some NIMA products.

One intelligence expert questioned the wisdom of the freeze, noting that since NIMA is not the only source of map information, restricting access to NIMA maps will not improve security.

More from Government Executive .

A report on post-9/11 activist use of the Web from The Guardian:

What is . . . clear is that the anti-war movement evolving out of the events of September 11 will be a very different one from that which gradually emerged to oppose the Vietnam war in the 60s and 70s. Time moves much more swiftly now and it was within hours of the terrible events that ad hoc groups from New Yorkers Say No to War to campus movements had formed.

Key to this speed has been the internet, which, of course, did not exist in the 60s. Then, the anti-war troops were rallied through flyers, through the old "underground press" from the Berkeley Barb to the Village Voice, through the Pacifica network radio stations and by word of mouth.

Now, countless emails and counter-cultural online news services operate to channel the movement. People seeking alternative views have only to click on to,,,,, or to be presented with an array of information and opinion that 30 years ago would have taken weeks to assemble and disseminate.


Marylaine Block has written a relatively high profile piece on library weblogs:

For many of the self-publishers, it's a chance to render a service, to fill a hole in the web of information. Jenny Levine was one of the first to do this, back in 1995, with her late lamented Librarians' Site du Jour. "I began it to bring home to the librarians in my system the power of this new tool," she says. "The two biggest complaints I heard about the net were that people didn't have time for this new stuff, and, even if they did, they didn't know what to do once they got online. So my goal was twofold: 1) to highlight valuable resources, and 2) to give librarians a reason to go on the web every day . . . "

More from Library Journal (registration required.)

Tuesday, September 25, 2001

Security Focus is running a disconcerting article on the anti-hacking provisions of the proposed Anti-Terrorism Act:

Hackers, virus-writers and web site defacers would face life imprisonment without the possibility of parole under legislation proposed by the Bush Administration that would classify most computer crimes as acts of terrorism.

The Justice Department is urging Congress to quickly approve its Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA), a twenty-five page proposal that would expand the government's legal powers to conduct electronic surveillance, access business records, and detain suspected terrorists.

The proposal defines a list of "Federal terrorism offenses" that are subject to special treatment under law. The offenses include assassination of public officials, violence at international airports, some bombings and homicides, and politically-motivated manslaughter or torture.

Most of the terrorism offenses are violent crimes, or crimes involving chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons. But the list also includes the provisions of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act that make it illegal to crack a computer for the purpose of obtaining anything of value, or to deliberately cause damage.

More. This legislation appears to dovetail nicely with the Digital Millenium Copyright Act and the Security Systems Standards and Certification Act.

Monday, September 24, 2001

Hats off to Paul Nixon for compiling an extensive collection of informational graphics related to the 9/11 attacks:

In many cases, more effective than just words and photos, infographics can quickly help us grasp information and timelines in a visual and easy-to-follow manner. This log is dedicated to presenting those graphics created to explain the terrorist acts against the United States on Sept. 11, 2001.

His beautifully designed weblog contains links to a number of unique information design and information technology-related sites.

Sunday, September 23, 2001

ALA's "Q&A on the confidentiality and privacy of library records" is available:

What guidance does the American Library Association give libraries regarding privacy and confidentiality?

The American Library Association encourages all librarians, particularly those in public libraries, to work with their local legal counsel to ensure they understand state confidentiality laws so they may respond quickly to any requests from law enforcement. Forty-eight of 50 states have such laws on the books, but the language varies from state to state. The ALA recommends that each library adopt a policy that specifically recognizes the confidentiality of information sought or received, and materials consulted borrowed or acquired by a library user. These materials may include database search records, circulation records, interlibrary loan records and other personally identifiable uses of library materials, facilities, programs or services, such as reference interviews. Libraries are advised to rely on existing laws to control behavior that involves public safety or criminal behavior.

Libraries should have in place procedures for working with law enforcement officers when a subpoena or other legal order for records is made. Libraries will cooperate expeditiously with law enforcement within the framework of state law.

Links to other relevant ALA documents, including the "Policy Concerning Confidentiality of Personally Identifiable Information about Library Users" are included.

Andrew Odlyzko's "The Public Library of Science and the Ongoing Revolution in Scholarly Communication" is one of several recent additions to an ongoing Web debate about the furture of electronic access to the scientific literature:

I enthusiastically support the goal of making scholarly articles easily available on the Internet to everyone, without any fees or other barriers to their use. However, I have not signed the Public Library of Science (PLS) petition. My own contribution to the freeing of scholarly literature has been both to have long lobbied for this through articles and lectures, and to make all my e-prints available for free on my home page, and e-print servers. When discussing copyright transfers to journal publishers, I have also consistently reserved the right to post e-prints on the Web, and urge other scientists to adopt this policy.

The difference between my outlook and that of the PLS (which requires publishers to make articles available for free access from centralized servers within half a year of publication) is one of degree. Both courses of action produce improved access to scholarly publications. The improvement is especially dramatic for the general public, but also for those not fortunate to be at the few hundred institutions around the world that have first-class libraries. Both courses of action also serve to encourage scholars, publishers and librarians towards embracing the new era of learned discourse that is evolving.

The reason I do not endorse the PLS petition is because it assumes a certain fixed model for scholarly publishing . . .

More information about the Public Library of Science boycott can be found here.