2003: When file-sharing goes bad

24 Nov 2021

Image: © nengredeye/Stock.adobe.com

As internet file-sharing becomes a legitimate activity, malicious actors discover that anything can spread quickly when shared online.

Celebrating 20 years of Silicon Republic, 2001-2021

Among the new English words and terms entering the dictionary in 2003 were SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and SARS-CoV, the coronavirus identified as causing the disease. Originating in China the previous year, a global alert on SARS was issued by the World Health Organization in March 2003. By July, the WHO declared the issue was contained.

2003 also saw the word ‘unfriend’ enter the lexicon as something else began to spread rapidly around the world: social media. LinkedIn came to life in May, followed by MySpace in August, and 4chan in October, representing a broad spectrum of online spaces where users could connect and share content.

Speaking of sharing, from the ashes of Napster a new era of legal online file-sharing began to emerge. Apple’s iTunes Music Store, the first legitimate music download platform, was launched in April and saw more than 1m songs sold in its first week.

To avail of all these new online services, Irish web surfers were finally given options for flat-rate internet access from providers. Though those searching for information on the latest James Bond might have been surprised to find PierceBrosnan.com redirected to an unrelated commercial website.

The Irish actor took a case against Jeff Burgar, the cybersquatter known to have registered domains for many celebrities, and won.

Attack of the worms

In other nefarious online activities, 2003 was a record year for computer worms and viruses. From the start, the highly contagious Slammer worm began spreading in January and was believed to have infected 250,000 computers within a day. In February, it struck out the Dáil voting system. At this point, Slammer had already caused about $1bn in damage through its denial-of-service attacks.

After Slammer came Fizzer, a mass-mailing worm that spread through emails, chatrooms and peer-to-peer file-sharing networks. Bugbear followed, attempting to steal passwords and other information by accessing keystroke logs. Then came Blaster, which found multiple ways to infect systems through a Windows vulnerability. This was followed by Sobig, which broke speed records with its rate of infection. At one point, AOL found the email worm in more than half of 40.5m emails scanned.

A lot of this malicious effort was done in the name of spam, and the summer of 2003 saw Microsoft take legal action against known spammers. At the close of the year, Yahoo revealed its plans to fight spam with a system requiring authentication of a sender using cryptographic keys.

IDA’s FDI wins

2003 held good news for the Irish tech sector with a decision made regarding Google’s first home from home. The emerging tech giant revealed plans to establish an operations centre in Dublin, creating about 200 jobs. It was a major win for IDA Ireland, helped along by a favourable corporate tax regime and much-needed data centre capacity.

The same month that Google announced its move into Ireland, US semiconductor company Xilinx designated Ireland as its European headquarters. In summer, Intel announced plans for a €18.3m R&D project at its Shannon base and then unveiled a €12m global IT innovation centre in Leixlip.

In the midst of all this, IDA had launched a new Strategic Competitiveness Programme to assist overseas companies undertaking R&D in Ireland. “As Ireland has achieved a status as a location of excellence for manufacturing we must now achieve a similar reputation as a location of excellence for value-added services,” said Frank Ryan, then executive director of IDA.

Science and skills

Meanwhile, a new State agency that would have a major influence on Irish R&D stepped out on its own. Previously operating as a sub-board of Forfás, Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) was established as a separate legal entity in July.

A 12-member board, four of whom were from the international research community, was installed and director general Dr Bill Harris emphasised the need to attract top researchers to Ireland.

“[The] impact was particularly noticeable in biotechnology and ICT sectors where the initial focus was established,” said Leonard Hobbs, director of Trinity Research & Innovation, of SFI’s early influence. This, he said, was due to “the significant funding and attraction of world-class principal investigators, which in turn enabled meaningful collaborations to be established with global corporations such as Intel, Huawei, Nokia and Johnson & Johnson”.

These “symbiotic collaborations”, according to Hobbs, formed links between academic and industry expertise, enabling PhDs to find career opportunities and giving the SFI-funded research centres a sense of business acumen.

As well as directing funding towards research in Ireland, SFI took on the responsibility of promoting public engagement in STEM. This was much-needed in 2003, when demand for third-level IT courses dropped and some 1,000 IT college places were left unclaimed. The problem was set to continue with only one in seven secondary students taking higher-level physics and chemistry in the Leaving Cert.

In October, the Expert Group on Future Skills Needs confirmed fears of insufficient graduate numbers in ICT, science and engineering by 2005 and said a considerable “balancing act” would be required over the coming years. Responding to this growing skills crisis, the Irish Computer Society launched ChooseIT, a €500,000 initiative promoting IT skills to secondary school students.

National Broadband Plan limps forward

A January report showed Ireland to be languishing in second-last place out of 16 European countries in terms of broadband internet penetration. Then the much-revised National Broadband Plan finally got underway in February, involving a €65m investment in creating broadband loops around 19 key towns earmarked for development and some 30,000 miles of fibre optic cabling.

At a ComReg conference in October, the chief executive of the Chambers of Commerce of Ireland cited over-promising, under-delivery and empty rhetoric as reasons why Irish SMEs were slow to sign up for broadband services. And in November, Dr Danny O’Hare, chair of the Information Society Commission, couldn’t understand why the Government wasn’t tackling broadband roll-out with the same fervour that drove the rural electrification of Ireland.

“Someone made the decision to put electricity in every home in Ireland in the last century and if it meant dragging 100 poles up a hillside to get someone connected, it was done,” he told Siliconrepublic.com at the time. “Broadband in every home will play a role in bridging the gap in society between the advantaged and the disadvantaged. This is something that the Government must simply do.”

Also in November, an argument was made to drive broadband take-up through e-working. A survey of a meagre 60 e-workers found that 90pc found life less stressful because of remote working, and a similar majority found they had a much better work-life balance.

In other news

3 January: Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg is born.

10 January: For the first time, a technology project wins BT Young Scientist with 16-year-old Adnan Osmani taking the top prize for his project, ‘Graphical, technological and user-friendly advancement of the internet browser’.

14 January: Dublin ranks 13th out of 14 key digital cities throughout the world in terms of infrastructure, e-commerce and its digital divide.

15 January: Dublin City Council introduces wireless mobile payments for on-street parking using Irish software company Itsmobile’s m-parking technology.

1 February: The Columbia space shuttle disintegrates on re-entry to the Earth’s atmosphere, killing all seven astronauts on board.

4 February: HP reopens the 60,000 sq ft data storage facility that was originally owned by defunct Metromedia in Citywest, Dublin.

3 March: The EU’s Electronic Commerce Directive comes into force, regulating the free movement of information society services within the European Economic Area.

12 March: Intel launches Centrino, a new processor and chipset with integrated wireless capability for notebook PCs.

14 April: The Human Genome Project is declared complete at 99pc of the human genome sequenced at 99.9pc accuracy.

May: The RV Celtic Explorer, a marine research vessel operated by the Marine Institute in Galway, comes into service.

1 May: Vodafone launches Ireland’s first 3G network, a European first for the global operator.

6 May: Eve Online, a massive multiplayer online role-playing game with a single shared game world, is released.

15 May: Iona Technologies founder Chris Horn returns as CEO in a management reshuffle.

23 June: Apple releases the PowerMac G5, hailed as the first true 64-bit personal computer.

1 July: MIT’s CSAIL, the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, is formed by the merger of its computer science and AI labs.

30 July: Communications Minister Dermot Ahern, TD, initiates a public consultation on draft regulations to enhance the privacy protection afforded to internet and email users.

24 September: The Hubble Space Telescope begins capturing an Ultra-Deep Field image of a region of space in the constellation Fornax, searching for galaxies that existed between 400m and 800m years after the Big Bang.

27 September: The European Space Agency launches its first mission to the moon with SMART-1, a space probe that captured close-up pictures of the lunar surface.

October: Google begins discussions for an IPO in 2004.

7-11 October: Visitors to CEATEC 2003 were treated to flips and kicks from Morph3, a humanoid robot with martial arts moves.

15-21 November: SC 03, the International Conference for High Performance Computing, sees a demo of a prototype of Blue Gene, a joint project by IBM (including Trinity College Dublin’s Prof Jim Sexton) to build a supercomputer 10 times more powerful than the current world leader.

26 November: The Concorde supersonic jet takes off on its last flight.

16 December: O2 inks a deal with Aer Lingus to establish the first wireless hotspot at Dublin Airport in the airline’s Gold Circle and Premier Class Lounge.

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