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Businessweek Archives

A Galaxy Says: `Hell, No, I Won't Go'

Developments to Watch


SOME ASTRONOMERS BELIEVE LARGE GALAXIES GROW by swallowing smaller ones. The Milky Way is no exception, says Johns Hopkins University astrophysicist Rosemary Wyse. For several billion years, it has been trying to absorb a dwarf galaxy called Sagittarius. But Sagittarius is resisting, says Wyse. Less than one-hundredth the size of the larger system, it likely has orbited the central regions of the Milky Way a total of 10 or 12 times, plunging deep into our galaxy as it goes.

Along the way, it should have been tugged to pieces by the larger system's gravitational pull. How has Sagittarius escaped this fate? Wyse believes there is more to the dwarf than meets the eye. "It's got a lot of dark matter, so it is able to hold on to its stars," she says. Scientists can't see or characterize "dark matter." But they suspect that it may account for as much as 90% of the total mass of the universe.EDITED BY NEIL GROSSReturn to top


WATCH OUT, CHIP THIEVES. Pawning off stolen semiconductors is about to get a lot harder. The Electronic Industries Assn. has just adopted a new technology called Data Matrix that engraves an indelible microscopic code onto the outside of chips. This should make it far easier for law enforcement agents to track and recover stolen semiconductors.

Data Matrix was developed by CiMatrix in Canton, Mass.--a division of Robotic Vision Systems Inc. of Hauppauge, N.Y. The device works like a tiny bar code, but it contains 100 times as much information. That lets manufacturers mark each chip not only with a vendor ID and part number but also with individual serial numbers. Thieves can't remove the code without ripping off the chips' casings, which in most cases would destroy the devices. Criminals will also have a tougher time passing off counterfeit parts, because any manufacturer of a product that incorporates chips can check the chips' pedigree.

That's music to the ears of the FBI and of underwriters such as Chubb Cos., which have watched with alarm in recent years as chip theft has ballooned into a multibillion-dollar racket. Lately, insurers have been paying out huge sums to cover stolen parts. Chubb, in particular, has been a major proponent of serialization--at one point sponsoring a project on technology-theft prevention.

The new codes won't wipe out the black market for stolen chips, says Bill Baker, CiMatrix' senior vice-president for worldwide sales. Some unscrupulous buyers will always accept cheap parts, regardless of their provenance. But the codes will give legitimate makers of PCs and other products a way to make sure that their chips are legit.By Andy Reinhardt EDITED BY NEIL GROSSReturn to top


TECHNOLOGY FOR THWARTING wiretaps over the public phone network has been around since the 1950s. But high costs have confined its use mainly to intelligence and law-enforcement agencies. Now, Israel's Micro Link Ltd. is preparing to bring anti-wiretap technology to the commercial marketplace.

Founded by former army intelligence experts, the company has developed low-priced signal-processing chips that scramble phone calls using well-known mathematical encryption formulas, or algorithms. The chips will be encased in 4-inch, cube-shaped "black boxes," which must be attached individually to each secured telephone line.

Micro Link doesn't intend to market directly to individual or corporate customers. Instead, it hopes to sell the boxes to telephone companies, which would be responsible for installing them at customers' premises. The phone companies would likely charge about $20 a month for the service. And, if required by local police, they would also maintain records of all encrypted calls and cooperate with authorities in decrypting conversations.

Tsion Gonen, vice-president for marketing and sales at Micro Link, figures the company will be able to charge phone companies about $250 per customer phone line. Israel's main carrier, Bezeq Telecom, has signed an agreement to test the technology. Micro Link also is negotiating with carriers in the U.S., Europe, and Japan.By Neal Sandler EDITED BY NEIL GROSSReturn to top

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