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07:33 PM

IT Confidential

It's called "drive-by hacking," and it involves the use of a notebook computer equipped with wireless technology to try to access data from outside a building. Last week, electronics retailer Best Buy deactivated cash registers linked to a wireless LAN after a customer reportedly was able to receive credit-card numbers while testing wireless LAN equipment outside a store. Some retailers use wireless registers to send point-of-sale data to inventory and pricing systems; if that information is not encrypted, it can be intercepted. Postings on an Internet security newsgroup claim that at least one person has been able to do that at Best Buy and Wal-Mart stores. Best Buy issued a statement saying that use of wireless registers was "temporary" and that they processed only a small percentage of transactions. "Customer privacy is of the utmost importance to Best Buy and we will further investigate," the statement said.

Last week, I wrote about Egenera's new CEO, Debbie Miller, who used to work for CoVia, which is a portal software company, not an automotive E-marketplace (that's Covisint).

Remember Paul Strassmann? He held top IT posts at General Foods, Kraft, and Xerox in the early '60s through the mid-'80s, and has written several influential books on IT strategy. Last week, Strassmann was named senior adviser to NASA administrator Sean O'Keefe. He'll also work closely with CIO Lee Holcomb and the special assistant to the administrator for financial management to optimize the efficiency and operation of the space agency's SAP-based Integrated Financial Management Program. In the early '90s, Strassmann, now an IT consultant, served as an IT adviser to the deputy secretary of defense and was named the department's first director of defense information.

Looking for a good deal on Oracle software? Now's the time, according to Ditka Reiner, president and founder of Reiner Associates, a San Francisco company that negotiates software contracts for businesses. May is Oracle's fiscal year-end, "so this month will be a particularly good time to negotiate an Oracle deal," she says. Oracle's numbers have slipped in recent quarters. The company's stock neared its August 1999 low last week on Wall Street concerns that the company will miss fourth-quarter estimates and news that Sebastian Gunningham, a senior sales executive, will depart at the end of the month. Reiner says there are other software deals to be had "if you're purchasing specific products that a particular vendor is trying to encourage the market to try, or is trying to make [into] a standard." For instance, Reiner says, PeopleSoft is "willing to deal" on its CRM package.

The New Jersey man accused of unleashing the Melissa virus three years ago was sentenced last week to 20 months in federal prison. David Smith, who pled guilty in December 1999 to setting off the virus from his home computer, also was sentenced to three years of supervised release after his prison term, 100 hours of community service, and a $5,000 fine. Melissa was one of the first major viruses to cripple company systems by replicating E-mail messages across networks. In his plea agreement, Smith acknowledged that the Melissa virus caused more than $80 million in damages.

Since Sept. 11, the government has been inundated with industry proposals to tackle security vulnerabilities, but vendors complain they can't get to the appropriate officials. That's why Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., chairman of the House Subcommittee on Technology and Procurement Policy, last week introduced legislation to create an Office of Federal Procurement Policy, with the aim of cutting through government red tape so the right official sees private-sector technology proposals to battle terrorism. The bill calls for the agency to solicit and screen industry proposals and forward them to the proper federal agencies for action.

Wait a minute-a government agency to make sure government agencies act efficiently? Firesign Theatre, a 1970's comedy group, used to joke about a government agency called the Dept. of Redundancy Dept., but I never thought it would come true. You can't make this up, but you can send an industry tip to, or phone 516-562-5326. Want to talk about software fire sales, meet me at's Listening Post:

To discuss this column with other readers, please visit John Soat's forum on the Listening Post.

To find out more about John Soat, please visit his page on the Listening Post.

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