The RISKS Digest
Volume 1 Issue 1

Thursday, 1st August 1985

Forum on Risks to the Public in Computers and Related Systems

ACM Committee on Computers and Public Policy, Peter G. Neumann, moderator

Please try the URL privacy information feature enabled by clicking the flashlight icon above. This will reveal two icons after each link the body of the digest. The shield takes you to a breakdown of Terms of Service for the site - however only a small number of sites are covered at the moment. The flashlight take you to an analysis of the various trackers etc. that the linked site delivers. Please let the website maintainer know if you find this useful or not. As a RISKS reader, you will probably not be surprised by what is revealed…

Contents

Welcome!
PGN
ACM Council Resolution of 8 October 1984
PGN
An Agenda for the Future
PGN
Computer-Related Incidents Illustrating Risks to the Public
PGN
Strategic Computing Initiative
PGN
Strategic Defense Initiative; David Parnas and SDI
PGN Ed Frankenberry David Weiss
Herb Lin: Software for Ballistic Missile Defense, June 1985
Herb Lin
Weapons and Hope by Freeman Dyson (minireview by Peter Denning)
Peter Denning
Christiane Floyd et al.: The Responsible Use of Computers
Jim Horning
Human safety (software safety)
PGN
Computers in critical environments, Rome, 23-25 October 1985
PGN
Afterword
PGN

WELCOME TO RISKS@SRI-CSL

Peter G. Neumann <Neumann@SRI-CSLA.ARPA>

This is the first issue of a new on-line forum. Its intent is to address issues involving risks to the public in the use of computers. As such, it is necessarily concerned with whether/how critical requirements for human safety, reliability, fault tolerance, security, privacy, integrity, and guaranteed service (among others) can be met (in some cases all at the same time), and how the attempted fulfillment or ignorance of those requirements may imply risks to the public. We will presumably explore both deficiencies in existing systems and techniques for developing better computer systems — as well as the implications of using computer systems in highly critical environments.

Introductory Comments

This forum is inspired by the letter from Adele Goldberg, President of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), in the Communications of the ACM, February 1985 (pp. 131-133). In that message (part of which is reproduced below), Adele outlined the ACM's intensified concern with our increasingly critical dependence on the use of computers, a concern which culminated in the ACM's support for a Forum on Risks to the Public in Computer Systems (RPCS), to be developed by the ACM Committee on Computers and Public Policy (of which I am currently the Chairman). My involvement in this BBOARD activity is thus motivated by my ACM roles, but also by strong feelings that this topic is one of the most important confronting us. In keeping with ACM policy, and with due respect to the use of the ARPANET, we hope to attain a representative balance among differing viewpoints, although this clearly cannot be achieved locally within each instance of the forum.

For discussions on requirements, design, and evaluation techniques for critical systems — namely, how to do it right in the first place so that a system can satisfy its requirements and can continue to maintain its desired abilities through ongoing maintenance and evolution, you will find a little solace in the literature on computer science, computer systems, and software engineering. There is even some modest encouragement from the formal verification community — which readers of the ACM SIGSOFT Software Engineering Notes will find in the forthcoming August 1985 special issue on the verification workshop VERkshop III. However, it is not encouraging to find many developers of critical software ignoring what is known about how to do it better. In this RISKS forum, we hope that we will be able to confront some of those problems, and specifically those where risks to the public are present.

You should also be aware (if you are not already) of several related on-line services: HUMAN-NETS@RUTGERS for a variety of issues pertaining to people (but originally oriented to the establishment of WorldNet), SOFT-ENG@MIT-XX for software engineering, and perhaps SECURITY@RUTGERS for security — it is still young and rather narrow (car-theft prevention is big at the moment, with a few messages on passwords and forged mail headers). (You can get more inforation from SRI-NIC.ARPA:<NETINFO>INTEREST-GROUPS.TXT.) I look at these regularly, so some cross-fertilization and overlap may be expected. However, the perspective of RISKS seems sufficiently unique to justify the existence of still another interest group!

RISKS Forum Procedures

I hope all this introductory detail does not deter you, but it seems to be worthwhile to set things up cleanly from the beginning. To submit items for distribution, send mail to RISKS@SRI-CSL.ARPA. For all other messages (e.g., list additions or deletions, or administrative complaints), send to RISKS-Request@SRI-CSL.ARPA.

Submissions should relate directly to risks to the public involving computer systems, be reasonably coherent, and have a brief explicit descriptive subject line. Flames, ad hominem attacks, overtly political statements, and other inappropriate material will be rejected. Carefulness, reasonably clear writing, and technical accuracy will be greatly appreciated. Much unnecessary flailing can be avoided with just a little forethought.

Contributions will generally be collected and distributed in digest form rather than singly, as often as appropriate. Subject lines may be edited in order to group messages with similar content. Long messages may have portions of lesser interest deleted (and so marked), and/or may be split across several issues.

Initially we will provide distributions to individuals, but as soon as there are more than a few individuals at any given host, we will expect the establishment of a file <BBOARD>RISKS.TXT or equivalent on that host — with local option whether or not to forward individual copies. Back issues may be FTPed from SRI-CSL.ARPA:$lt;RISKS$gt;RISKS-“vol”.“no”, where “vol” and “no” are volume and number — i.e., RISKS-1.1 for this issue. But please try to rely on local repositories rather than swamping the gateways, nets, and SRI-CSL.


ACM Council Resolution of 8 October 1984

Peter G. Neumann <Neumann@SRI-CSLA.ARPA>

Following are excerpts from ACM President Adele Goldberg's letter in the Communications of the ACM, February 1985 (pp. 131-133).

On this day [8 October 1984], the ACM Council passed an important resolution. It begins:

Contrary to the myth that computer systems are infallible, in fact computer systems can and do fail. Consequently, the reliability of computer-based systems cannot be taken for granted. This reality applies to all computer-based systems, but it is especially critical for systems whose failure would result in extreme risk to the public. Increasingly, human lives depend upon the reliable operation of systems such as air traffic and high-speed ground transportation control systems, military weapons delivery and defense systems, and health care delivery and diagnostic systems.

The second part of the resolution includes a list of technical questions that should be answered about each computer system. This part states that:

While it is not possible to eliminate computer-based systems failure entirely, we believe that it is possible to reduce risks to the public to reasonable levels. To do so, system developers must better recognize and address the issues of reliability. The public has the right to require that systems are installed only after proper steps have been taken to assure reasonable levels of reliability.

The issues and questions concerning reliability that must be addressed include:

  1. What risks and questions concerning reliability are involved when the computer system fails?
  2. What is the reasonable and practical level of reliability to require of the system, and does the system meet this level?
  3. What techniques were used to estimate and verify the level of reliability?
  4. 4. Were the estimators and verifiers independent of each other and of those with vested interests in the system?

Adele's letter goes on to motivate the ACM's authorization of a forum on risks to the public in the use of computer systems, of which this is an on-line manifestation. As you can see, I believe that the charter must be broader than just reliability, including as appropriate other critical requirements such as fault tolerance, security, privacy, integrity, guaranteed service, human safety, and even world survival (in sort of increasing order of globality). There is also an important but probably sharply delimited role for design verification (such as has been carried out in the multilevel-security community in demonstrating that formal specifications are consistent with formal requirements) and even code verification (proving consistency of code and specifications), although formal verification technologies seem not suited to mammoth systems but only to selected critical components — assuming that those components can be isolated (which is the operative assumption in the case of security kernels and trusted computing bases). For example, see the VERkshop III proceedings noted above. PGN


AN AGENDA FOR THE FUTURE

Peter G. Neumann <Neumann@SRI-CSLA.ARPA>

One of the activities of the ACM Committee on Computers and Public Policy will be the review of a problem list presented by Dan McCracken and his committee in the September 1974 issue of the Communications of the ACM, and an update of it in the light of dramatic changes in the use of computers since then. Three items from that problem list are particularly relevant to our RISK forum.

Indeed, in the latest issue of the ACM SIGSOFT Software Engineering Notes (July 1985), I reported on a variety of recent money problems, security problems, and a whole string of potential election-fraud problems — in the last case suggesting opportunities for Trojan Horses and local fraud. On the third subject, there was an article by David Burnham (NY Times) in newspapers of 29 July 1985 (NY Times, SF Chron, etc.), on vulnerabilities in various computerized voting systems. About 60% of the votes are counted by computer programs, with over a third of those votes being counted by one program (or variants?) written by Computer Election Systems of Berkeley CA. Burnham writes, “The allegations that vote tallies calculated with [that program] may have been secretly altered have raised concern among election officials and computer experts… In Indiana and West Virginia, the company has been accused of helping to rig elections.” This topic is just warming up.

Items that also give us opportunities for discussions on risks to the public include these:

Several items on computers and defense are included below. There are also some comments on software that is safe for humans.

I would think that some sort of Ralph-Nader-like consumer protection organization might be appropriate for computing. We have already had two very serious automobile recalls due to program bugs — the El Dorado brake computer and the Mark VII computerized air suspension, and at least two heart pacemaker problems (one which resulted in a death), as noted in the disaster list below — to go along with this summer's watermelon recall (pesticides) and Austrian wine recalls (with the antifreeze-component diethylene glycol being used as a sweetener).


COMPUTER-RELATED INCIDENTS ILLUSTRATING RISKS TO THE PUBLIC

Peter G. Neumann <Neumann@SRI-CSLA.ARPA>

Readers of the ACM SIGSOFT Software Engineering Notes have been alerted in many past issues to numerous disasters and computer curiosities implying potential or actual risks to the public. A summary of events is catalogued below, and updates earlier versions that I circulated in a few selected BBOARDS. Further details can be found in the references cited. Awareness of these cases is vital to those involved the design, implementation, and operation of computer systems in critical environments, but is of course not sufficient to prevent new disasters from occurring. Significantly better systems, and more aware operation and use, are also required.

SOME COMPUTER-RELATED DISASTERS AND OTHER EGREGIOUS HORRORS Compiled by Peter G. Neumann (21 July 1985)

The following list is drawn largely from back issues of ACM SIGSOFT Software Engineering Notes [SEN], references to which are cited as (SEN vol no), where vol 10 = 1985. Some incidents are well documented, others need further study. Please send corrections/additions+refs to PGNeumann, SRI International, EL301, Menlo Park CA 94025, phone 415-859-2375, Neumann@SRI-CSL.ARPA.

Legend: ! = Loss of Life; * = Potentially Life-Critical; $ = Loss of Money/Equipment; S = Security/Privacy/Integrity Flaw

-------------------------- SYSTEM + ENVIRONMENT ------------------------------
!SArthritis-therapy microwaves set pacemaker to 214, killed patient (SEN 5 1)
*SFailed heart-shocking devices due to faulty battery packs (SEN 10 3)
*SAnti-theft device reset pacemaker; FDA investigating the problem (SEN 10 2)
*$Three Mile Island PA, now recognized as very close to meltdown (SEN 4 2)
*$Crystal River FL reactor (Feb 1980) (Science 207 3/28/80 1445-48, SEN 10 3)
**SAC/NORAD: 50 false alerts in 1979 (SEN 5 3), incl. a simulated attack whose outputs accidentally triggered a live scramble [9 Nov 1979] (SEN 5 3);
**BMEWS at Thule detected rising moon as incoming missiles [5 Oct 1960] (SEN 8 3). See E.C. Berkeley, The Computer Revolution, pp. 175-177, 1962.
**Returning space junk detected as missiles. Daniel Ford, The Button, p. 85
**WWMCCS false alarms triggered scrams [3-6 Jun 1980] (SEN 5 3, Ford pp 78-84)
**DSP East satellite sensors overloaded by Siberian gas-field fire (Ford p 62)
**747SP (China Air.) autopilot tried to hold at 41,000 ft after engine failed, other engines died in stall, plane lost 32,000 feet [19 Feb 85] (SEN 10 2)
**767 (UA 310 to Denver) four minutes without engines [August 1983] (SEN 8 5)
*F18 missile thrust while clamped, plane lost 20,000 feet (SEN 8 5)
*Mercury astronauts forced into manual reentry (SEN 8 3)
*Cosmic rays halve shuttle Challenger comm for 14 hours [8 Oct 84] (SEN 10 1)
*Frigate George Philip fired missile in opposite direction (SEN 8 5)
$SDebit card copying easy despite encryption (DC Metro, SF BART, etc.)
$SMicrowave phone calls easily interceptable; portable phones spoofable
------------------------------- SOFTWARE ------------------------------------
*$Mariner 1: Atlas booster launch failure DO 100 I=1.10 (not 1,10) (SEN 8 5)
*$Mariner 18: aborted due to missing NOT in program (SEN 5 2)
*$F18: plane crashed due to missing exception condition, pilot OK (SEN 6 2)
*$F14 off aircraft carrier into North Sea; due to software? (SEN 8 3)
*$F14 lost to uncontrollable spin, traced to tactical software (SEN 9 5)
*$El Dorado brake computer bug caused recall of all El Dorados (SEN 4 4)
$$Viking had a misaligned antenna due to a faulty code patch (SEN 9 5)
$$First Space Shuttle backup launch-computer synch problem (SEN 6 5 [Garman])
*Second Space Shuttle operational simulation: tight loop upon cancellation of an attempted abort; required manual override (SEN 7 1)
*Second Shuttle simulation: bug found in jettisoning an SRB (SEN 8 3)
*Gemini V 100mi landing err, prog ignored orbital motion around sun (SEN 9 1)
*F16 simulation: plane flipped over whenever it crossed equator (SEN 5 2)
*F16 simulation: upside-down F16 deadlock over left vs. right roll (SEN 9 5)
*Nuclear reactor design: bug in Shock II model/program (SEN 4 2)
*Reactor overheating, low-oil indicator; two-fault coincidence (SEN 8 5)
*SF BART train doors sometimes open on long legs between stations (SEN 8 5)
*IRS reprogramming cost USA interest on at least 1,150,000 refunds (SEN 10 3)
*SNumerous system intrusions and penetrations; implanted Trojan horses; 414s; intrusions to TRW Credit Information Service, British Telecom's Prestel, Santa Clara prison data system (inmate altered release date) (SEN 10 1).
Computerized time-bomb inserted by programmer (for extortion?) (10 3)
*$Colorado River flooding in 1983, due to faulty weather data and/or faulty model; too much water was kept dammed prior to spring thaws.
SChernenko at MOSKVAX: network mail hoax [1 April 1984] (SEN 9 4)
SVMS tape backup SW trashed disc directories dumped in image mode (SEN 8 5)
$1979 AT&T program bug downed phone service to Greece for months (SEN 10 3)
$Demo NatComm thank-you mailing mistitled supporters [NY Times, 16 Dec 1984]
$Program bug permitted auto-teller overdrafts in Washington State (SEN 10 3)
-Quebec election prediction gave loser big win [1981] (SEN 10 2, p. 25-26)
-Other election problems including mid-stream corrections (HW/SW) (SEN 10 3)
-SW vendor rigs elections? (David Burnham, NY Times front page, 29 July 1985)
-Alaskan DMV program bug jails driver [Computerworld 15 Apr 85] (SEN 10 3)
-Vancouver Stock Index lost 574 points over 22 months — roundoff (SEN 9 1)
-Gobbling of legitimate automatic teller cards (SEN 9 2)
-------------------------- HARDWARE/SOFTWARE ---------------------------------
!Michigan man killed by robotic die-casting machinery (SEN 10 2)
!Japanese mechanic killed by malfunctioning Kawasaki robot (SEN 10 1, 10 3) [Electronic Engineering Times, 21 December 1981]
!Chinese computer builder electrocuted by his smart computer after he built a newer one. “Jealous Computer Zaps its Creator”! (SEN 10 1)
*FAA Air Traffic Control: many computer system outages (e.g., SEN 5 3)
*ARPANET ground to a complete halt [27 Oct 1980] (SEN 6 1 [Rosen])
*$Ford Mark VII wiring fires: flaw in computerized air suspension (SEN 10 3)
$SHarrah's $1.7 Million payoff scam — Trojan horse chip (SEN 8 5)
$Great Northeast power blackout due to threshold set-too-low being exceeded
$Power blackout of 10 Western states, propagated error [2 Oct 1984] (SEN 9 5)
-SF Muni Metro: Ghost Train reappeared, forcing manual operation (SEN 8 3)
*$Computer-controlled turntable for huge set ground “Grind” to halt (SEN 10 2)
*$8080 control system dropped bits and boulders from 80 ft conveyor (SEN 10 2)
S1984 Rose Bowl hoax, scoreboard takeover ("Cal Tech vs. MIT") (SEN 9 2)
-------- COMPUTER AS CATALYST, HUMAN FRAILTIES, OR UNKNOWN CAUSES -------------
!!$Korean Airlines 007 shot down [1 Sept 1983], killing 269; autopilot left on HDG 246 rather than INERTIAL NAV? (NYReview 25 Apr 85, SEN 9 1, SEN 10 3)
!!$Air New Zealand crashed into mountain [28 Nov 1979]; computer course data error had been detected and fixed, but pilots not informed (SEN 6 3 & 6 5)
!Woman killed daughter, tried to kill son and self after computer error led to a false report of their all having an incurable disease (SEN 10 3)
*Unarmed Soviet missile crashed in Finland. Wrong flight path? (SEN 10 2)
*$South Pacific Airlines, 200 aboard, 500 mi off course near USSR [6 Oct 1984]
*SSan Francisco Public Defender's database accessible to police (SEN 10 2)
*Various cases of false arrest due to computer database use (SEN 10 3)
$A: $500,000 transaction became $500,000,000; B: $200,000,000 lost (SEN 10 3)
*FAA Air Traffic Control: many near-misses not reported (SEN 10 3)
---------------- ILLUSTRATIVE OF POTENTIAL FUTURE PROBLEMS -------------------
*SMany known/past security flaws in computer operating systems and application programs. Discovery of new flaws running way ahead of their elimination.
*Expert systems in critical environments: unpredictability if (unknowingly) outside of range of competence, e.g., incompleteness of rule base. StarWars
$SEmbezzlements, e.g., Muhammed Ali swindle [$23.2 Million], Security Pacific [$10.2 Million], City National Beverly Hills CA [$1.1 Million, 23 Mar 1979] [These were only marginally computer-related, but suggestive. Others are known, but not publically acknowledged.]
--------------------— REFUTATION OF EARLIER REPORT --------------------------
*“Exocet missile not on expected-missile list, detected as friend” (SEN 8 3) [see Sheffield sinking, reported in New Scientist 97, p. 353, 2/10/83]; Officially denied by British Minister of Defence Peter Blaker [New Scientist, vol 97, page 502, 24 Feb 83]. Rather, sinking abetted by defensive equipment being turned off to reduce communication interference?
[See also anecdotes from ACM Symposium on Operating Systems Principles, SOSP 7 (SEN 5 1) and follow-on (SEN 7 1).]

DEFENSE COMPUTING SYSTEMS


STRATEGIC COMPUTING INITIATIVE (SCI)

The Strategic Computing Initiative has received considerable discussion in the Communications of the ACM lately, including a letter by Severo Ornstein, Brian Smith and Lucy Suchman (ACM Forum February 1985), the response to them by Robert S. Cooper (ACM Forum, March 1985), and the three responses to Cooper in the August 1985 issue, as well as an article by Mark Stefik in the July 1985 Communications. Considerable variety of opinion is represented, and is well worth reading. PGN


STRATEGIC DEFENSE INITIATIVE (SDI)

The Strategic Defense Initiative (popularly known as Star Wars) is considering the feasibility of developing what is probably the most complex and most critical system ever contemplated. It is highly appropriate to consider the computer system aspects of that effort here. Some of the potential controversy is illustrated by the recent statements of David Parnas, who presents a strongly skeptical view. (See below.) I hope that we will be able to have a constructive dialogue here among representatives of the different viewpoints, and firmly believe that it is vital to the survival of our world that the computer-technical issues be thoroughly discussed. As in many other cases (e.g., space technology) there are many potential research advances that can spin off approaches to other problems. As indicated by my disaster list above, the problems of developing software for critical environments are very pervasive — and not just limited to strategic defense. But what we learn in discussing the feasibility of the strategic defense initiative could have great impact on the uses that computers find in other critical environments. In general, we may find that the risks are far too high in many of the critical computing environments on which we depend. We may also be led to techniques for developing better systems that can adequately satisfy all of their critical requirements — and continue to do so. But perhaps most important of all is the increased awareness that can come from intelligent discussion. Thus, an open forum on this subject is very important. PGN


News Item: David Parnas Resigns from SDI Panel

Ed Frankenberry <ezf@bbnccv>
12 Jul 85 13:56:29 EDT (Fri)

Plucked from SOFT-ENG@MIT-XX:

New York Times, 7/12/85, page A6:

SCIENTIST QUITS ANTIMISSILE PANEL, SAYING TASK IS IMPOSSIBLE

By Charles Mohr special to the New York Times

Washington, July 11 - A computer scientist has resigned from an advisory panel on antimissile defense, asserting that it will never be possible to program a vast complex of battle management computers reliably or to assume they will work when confronted with a salvo of nuclear missiles.

The scientist, David L. Parnas, a professor at the University of Victoria in Victoria, British Columbia, who is consultant to the Office of Naval Research in Washington, was one of nine scientists asked by the Strategic Defense Initiative Office to serve at $1,000 a day on the “panel on computing in support of battle management”.

Professor Parnas, an American citizen with secret military clearances, said in a letter of resignation and 17 accompanying memorandums that it would never be possible to test realistically the large array of computers that would link and control a system of sensors, antimissile weapons, guidance and aiming devices, and battle management stations.

Nor, he protested, would it be possible to follow orthodox computer program-writing practices in which errors and “bugs” are detected and eliminated in prolonged everyday use. …

“I believe,” Professor Parnas said, “that it is our duty, as scientists and engineers, to reply that we have no technological magic that will accomplish that. The President and the public should know that.” …

In his memorandums, the professor put forth detailed explanations of his doubts. He argued that large-scale programs like that envisioned for the program only became reliable through modifications based on realistic use.

He dismissed as unrealistic the idea that program-writing computers, artificial intelligence or mathematical simulation could solve the problem.

Some other scientists have recently expressed public doubts that large-scale programs free of fatal flaws can be written. Herbert Lin, a research fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said this month that the basic lesson was that “no program works right the first time.”

Professor Parnas wrote that he was sure other experts would disagree with him. But he said many regard the program as a “pot of gold” for research funds or an interesting challenge.


Obtaining Parnas' SDI critique

David Weiss <weiss%wang-inst.csnet@csnet-relay.arpa>
Mon 22 Jul 1985 16:09:48 EST

Those who are interested in obtaining copies of David Parnas' technical critique of SDI may do so by writing to the following address:

Dr. David L. Parnas, Department of Computer Science, University of Victoria, P.O. Box 1700, Victoria B.C. V8W 2Y2 CANADA


BMD paper

Herb Lin <LIN@MIT-MC.ARPA>
Mon, 29 Jul 85 16:53:26 EDT

The final version of my BMD paper is available now.

“Software for Ballistic Missile Defense”

Herb Lin, Center for International Studies, 292 Main Street, E38-616, MIT, Cambridge, MA 02142, phone 617-253-8076. Cost including postage = $4.50

Software for Ballistic Missile Defense, June 1985

Abstract

A battle management system for comprehensive ballistic missile defense must perform with near perfection and extraordinary reliability. It will be complex to an unprecedented degree, untestable in a realistic environment, and provide minimal time for human intervention. The feasibility of designing and developing such a system (requiring upwards of ten million lines of code) is examined in light of the scale of the project, the difficulty of testing the system in order to remove errors, the management effort required, and the interaction of hardware and software difficulties. The conclusion is that software considerations alone would make the feasibility of a “fully reliable” comprehensive defense against ballistic missiles questionable.

IMPORTANT NOTE: this version supersedes a widely circulated but earlier draft entitled “Military Software and BMD: An Insoluble Problem?” dated February 1985.


Minireview of Freeman Dyson's Weapons and Hope

Peter Denning <pjd@RIACS.ARPA>
Tuesday 30 Jul 85 17:17:56 pdt

I've just finished reading WEAPONS AND HOPE, by Freeman Dyson, published recently. It is a remarkable book analyzing the tools, people, and concepts used for national defense. The goal is to set forth an agenda for discussing the nuclear weapons problem. The most extraordinary aspect of the book is that Dyson fairly and accurately represents the many points of view with sympathy and empathy for each. He thus transmits the impression that it is possible for everyone to enter into and participate intelligently in this important debate, and he tells us what the fundamental questions we must address are. This book significantly altered the way in which I personally look at the problem. I recommend that everyone read it and that we all use it as a point of departure for our own discussions.

Although Dyson leaves no doubt on his personal views, he presents his very careful arguments and lays out all the reasoning and assumptions where they can be scrutinized by others. With respect to the SDI, Dyson argues (convincingly, I might add) that the greatest risk comes from the interaction of the SDI system with the existing policies of the US and Soviet Union — it may well destabilize that interaction. His argument is based on policy considerations and is largely insensitive to the question whether an SDI system could meet its technical goals. For other reasons he analyzes at length, he considers the idea of a space defense system to be a technical folly.

Most of the arguments I've seen computer scientists make in criticism of the "star wars" system are technically correct and support the technical-folly view but may miss the point at a policy level. (I am thinking of arguments like

"Computer scientists ought to oppose this because technically it cannot meet its goals at reasonable cost.")

The point is that to the extent that policy planners perceive the technical arguments as being largely inessential at the policy level, they will not take seriously arguments labelled

"You must take this argument seriously because it is made by computer scientists."

Politicians often argue that is their job to evaluate the spectrum of options, make the moral judgments, and puts risks in their proper place — technologists ought to assess the risks, but when it comes to judging whether those risks are acceptable (a moral or ethical judgment), technologists have no more expertise than, say, politicians. So in a certain important sense, computer scientists have little special expertise to bring to the debate. For this reason, I think ACM has taken the right approach by giving members [and nonmembers! <PGN>] a forum in which to discuss these matters as individual human beings but without obligating ACM to take official positions that are easily dismissed by policy planners as outside ACM's official expertise.

Peter Denning


Responsible Use of Computers

Jim Horning <horning@decwrl.ARPA>
30 Jul 1985 1149-PDT (Tuesday)

You might want to mention the evening session on “Our Responsibility as Computer Professionals” held in conjunction with TAPSOFT in Berlin, March 27, 1985. This was attended by about 400 people. Organized by R. Burstall, C. Floyd, C.B. Jones, H.-J. Kreowski, B. Mahr, J. Thatcher. Christiane Floyd wrote a nice position paper for the TAPSOFT session, well worth abstracting and providing a reference to.

Jim Horning


HUMAN SAFETY (SOFTWARE SAFETY)

Peter G. Neumann <Neumann@SRI-CSL>

An important area of concern to the RISKS forum is what is often called Software Safety, or more properly the necessity for software that is safe for humans. (“Software Safety” could easily be misconstrued to imply making the software safe FROM humans, an ability that is called “integrity” in the security community.) Nancy Leveson has been doing some excellent work on that subject, and I hope she will be a contributor to RISKS. There are also short letters in the ACM Forum from Peter Fenwick (CACM December 1984) and David Nelson (CACM March 1985) on this topic, although they touch only the tip of the iceberg. I would expect human safety to be a vital topic for this RISKS forum, and hope that we can also help to stimulate research on that topic.


INTERNATIONAL SEMINAR ON COMPUTERS IN CRITICAL ENVIRONMENTS

In sticking to my convictions that we must address a variety of critical computing requirements in a highly systematic, unified, and rigorous way, I am involved in the following effort:

23-25 October 1985, Rome, Italy (organized by Sipe Optimation and T&TSUD, sponsored by Banca Nazionale del Lavoro). Italian and English. Organizers Roberto Liscia (Sipe Optimation, Roma, via Silvio d'Amico 40, ITALIA, phone 039-6-5476), Eugenio Corti (T&TSUD, 80127 Napoli, via Tasso 428, ITALIA), Peter G. Neumann (SRI International, Menlo Park CA 94025). Speakers include Neumann, Bill Riddle, Severo Ornstein (CPSR), Alan Borning (U. Washington), Andres Zellweger (FAA), Sandro Bologna (ENEA), Eric Guldentops (SWIFT). The program addresses a broad range of topics (including technical, management, social, and economic issues) on the use of computer systems in critical environments, where the computer systems must be (e.g.) very reliable, fault-tolerant, highly available, secure, and safe for humans. This symposium represents an effort to provide a unified basis for the development of critical systems. Software engineering and the role of the man-machine interface are addressed in detail. There will also be case studies of air-traffic control systems, defense systems, funds transfer, and nuclear power. Contact Roberto Liscia (or Mrs. De Vito) at SIPE, or Peter Neumann at SRI for further information.


AFTERWORD

Congratulations to you if you made it through this rather lengthy inaugural issue. I hope you find this and subsequent issues provocative, challenging, enlightening, interesting, and entertaining. But that depends in part upon your contributions having those attributes. Now it is in YOUR hands: your contributions and suggestions will be welcomed. PGNeumann <Neumann@SRI-CSL>

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