The Risks Digest

The RISKS Digest

Forum on Risks to the Public in Computers and Related Systems

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

Volume 11 Issue 56

Monday 29 April 1991

Contents

o Prodigy and GEnie hate and rumors
George J Marengo
Donald E. Kimberlin
Alex Cruz
from comp.dcom.telecom via Mark A. Emanuele
Jerry Sweet
and Geoff Goodfellow
o Info on RISKS (comp.risks)

Jerry Sweet: [comp.dcom.telecom: Prodigy and GEnie hate and rumors]

the terminal of Geoff Goodfellow <geoff@fernwood.mpk.ca.us>
Mon, 29 Apr 91 07:31:47 MST
------- Forwarded Message

Date:  Sun, 28 Apr 91 22:44:01 MST
From:  Jerry Sweet <jns@fernwood.mpk.ca.us>
Subject:  [comp.dcom.telecom: Prodigy and GEnie hate and rumors]
To:  "Jerry's Clipping Service":;@fernwood.mpk.ca.us

3 items:
  - Prodigy or Fraudigy ???
  - Prodigy Questions
  - GEnie Management Acting a la Prodigy Management?

- ------- Forwarded Messages

Date:    26 Apr 91 19:09:50 GMT
From:    overlf!emanuele@kb2ear.ampr.org (Mark A. Emanuele)
Subject: Prodigy or Fraudigy ???

I just downloaded this from a local bbs and thought it might be interesting.


 ### BEGIN BBS FILE ###

   218/250: Fraudigy
   Name: George J Marengo #199 @6974
   From: The Gangs of Vista (Southern California) 619-758-5920


        The L. A. County District Attorney is formally investigating PRODIGY
for deceptive trade practices.  I have spoken with the investigator assigned
(who called me just this morning, February 22, 1991).

We are free to announce the fact of the investigation.  Anyone can file a
complaint.  From anywhere.

The address is:

District Attorney's Office
Department of Consumer Protection
Attn: RICH GOLDSTEIN, Investigator
Hall of Records   Room 540
320 West Temple Street
Los Angeles, CA 90012

Rich doesn't want phone calls, he wants simple written statements and
copies (no originals) of any relevant documents attached.  He will
call the individuals as needed, he doesn't want his phone ringing off
the hook, but you may call him if it is urgent at 1-213-974-3981.

PLEASE READ THIS SECTION EXTRA CAREFULLY.  YOU NEED NOT BE IN
CALIFORNIA TO FILE!!

        If any of us "locals" want to discuss this, call me at the Office
Numbers: (818) 989-2434; (213) 874-4044.  Remember, the next time you pay your
property taxes, this is what you are supposed to be getting ... service.  Flat
rate?  [laugh] BTW, THE COUNTY IS REPRESENTING THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA.  This
ISN'T limited to L. A.  County and complaints are welcome from ANYWHERE in the
Country or the world. The idea is investigation of specific Code Sections and
if a Nationwide Pattern is shown, all the better.

LARRY ROSENBERG, ATTY

  Prodigy: More of a Prodigy Than We Think?
  By: Linda Houser Rohbough

     The stigma that haunts child prodigies is that they are difficult to get
along with, mischievous and occasionally, just flat dangerous, using innocence
to trick us. I wonder if that label fits Prodigy, Sears and IBM's
telecommunications network?

     Those of you who read my December article know that I was tipped off at
COMDEX to look at a Prodigy file, created when Prodigy is loaded STAGE.DAT. I
was told I would find in that file personal information form my hard disk
unrelated to Prodigy.  As you know, I did find copies of the source code to our
product FastTrack, in STAGE.DAT. The fact that they were there at all gave me
the same feeling of violation as the last time my home was broken into by
burglars.

     I invited you to look at your own STAGE.DAT file, if you're a Prodigy
user, and see if you found anything suspect. Since then I have had numerous
calls with reports of similar finds, everything from private patient medical
information to classified government information.

     The danger is Prodigy is uploading STAGE.DAT and taking a look at your
private business. Why? My guess is marketing research, which is expensive
through legitimate channels, and unwelcomed by you and I.  The question now is:
Is it on purpose, or a mistake?  One caller theorizes that it is a bug. He
looked at STAGE.DAT with a piece of software he wrote to look at the physical
location of data on the hard disk, and found that his STAGE.DAT file allocated
950,272 bytes of disk space for storage.

     Prodigy stored information about the sections viewed frequently and the
data needed to draw those screens in STAGE.DAT. Service would be faster with
information stored on the PC rather then the same information being downloaded
from Prodigy each time.

     That's a viable theory because ASCII evidence of those screens shots can
be found in STAGE.DAT, along with AUTOEXEC.BAT and path information. I am led
to belive that the path and system configuration (in RAM) are diddled with and
then restored to previous settings upon exit. So the theory goes, in allocating
that disk space, Prodigy accidently includes data left after an erasure (As you
know, DOS does not wipe clean the space that deleted files took on the hard
disk, but merely marked the space as vacant in the File Allocation Table.)

     There are a couple of problems with this theory. One is that it assumes
that the space was all allocated at once, meaning all 950,272 bytes were
absorbed at one time.  That simply isn't true.  My STAGE.DAT was 250,000+ bytes
after the first time I used Prodigy. The second assumption is that Prodigy
didn't want the personal information; it was getting it accidently in uploading
and downloading to and from STAGE.DAT. The E-mail controversy with Prodigy
throws doubt upon that. The E-mail controversy started because people were
finding mail they sent with comments about Prodigy or the E-mail, especially
negative ones, didn't ever arrive. Now Prodigy is saying they don't actually
read the mail, they just have the computer scan it for key terms, and delete
those messages because they are responsible for what happens on Prodigy.

     I received a call from someone from another user group who read our
newsletter and is very involved in telecommunications.  He installed and ran
Prodigy on a freshly formatted 3.5 inch 1.44 meg disk. Sure enough, upon
checking STAGE.DAT he discovered personal data from his hard disk that could
not have been left there after an erasure. He had a very difficult time trying
to get someone at Prodigy to talk to about this.

                           --------------

Excerpt of email on the above subject:

THERE'S A FILE ON THIS BOARD CALLED 'FRAUDIGY.ZIP' THAT I SUGGEST ALL
WHO USE THE PRODIGY SERVICE TAKE ***VERY*** SERIOUSLY.  THE FILE
DESCRIBES HOW THE PRODIGY SERVICE SEEMS TO SCAN YOUR HARD DRIVE FOR
PERSONAL INFORMATION, DUMPS IT INTO A FILE IN THE PRODIGY
SUB-DIRECTORY CALLED 'STAGE.DAT' AND WHILE YOU'RE WAITING AND WAITING
FOR THAT NEXT MENU COME UP, THEY'RE UPLOADING YOUR STUFF AND LOOKING
AT IT.

     TODAY I WAS IN BABBAGES'S, ECHELON TALKING TO TIM WHEN A
GENTLEMAN WALKED IN, HEARD OUR DISCUSSION, AND PIPED IN THAT HE WAS A
COLUMNIST ON PRODIGY. HE SAID THAT THE INFO FOUND IN 'FRAUDIGY.ZIP'
WAS INDEED TRUE AND THAT IF YOU READ YOUR ON-LINE AGREEMENT CLOSELY,
IT SAYS THAT YOU SIGN ALL RIGHTS TO YOUR COMPUTER AND ITS CONTENTS TO
PRODIGY, IBM & SEARS WHEN YOU AGREE TO THE SERVICE.

     I TRIED THE TESTS SUGGESTED IN 'FRAUDIGY.ZIP' WITH A VIRGIN
'PRODIGY' KIT.  I DID TWO INSTALLATIONS, ONE TO MY OFT USED HARD DRIVE
PARTITION, AND ONE ONTO A 1.2MB FLOPPY.  ON THE FLOPPY VERSION, UPON
INSTALLATION (WITHOUT LOGGING ON), I FOUND THAT THE FILE 'STAGE.DAT'
CONTAINED A LISTING OF EVERY .BAT AND SETUP FILE CONTAINED IN MY 'C:'
DRIVE BOOT DIRECTORY.  USING THE HARD DRIVE DIRECTORY OF PRODIGY THAT
WAS SET UP, I PROCEDED TO LOG ON.  I LOGGED ON, CONSENTED TO THE
AGREEMENT, AND LOGGED OFF. REMEMBER, THIS WAS A VIRGIN SETUP KIT.

     AFTER LOGGING OFF I LOOKED AT 'STAGE.DAT' AND 'CACHE.DAT' FOUND
IN THE PRODIGY SUBDIRECTORY.  IN THOSE FILES, I FOUND POINTERS TO
PERSONAL NOTES THAT WERE BURIED THREE SUB-DIRECTORIES DOWN ON MY
DRIVE, AND AT THE END OF 'STAGE.DAT' WAS AN EXACT IMAGE COPY OF MY
PC-DESKTOP APPOINTMENTS CALENDER.

     CHECK IT OUT FOR YOURSELF.

 ### END OF BBS FILE ###

I had my lawyer check his STAGE.DAT file and he found none other than
CONFIDENTIAL CLIENT INFO in it.

Needless to say he is no longer a Prodigy user.


Mark A. Emanuele   V.P. Engineering  Overleaf, Inc.
218 Summit Ave   Fords, NJ 08863   (908) 738-8486
emanuele@overlf.UUCP


[Moderator's Note: Thanks very much for sending along this fascinating
report for the readers of TELECOM Digest. I've always said, and still
believe that the proprietors of any online computer service have the
right to run it any way they want -- even into the ground! -- and
that users are free to stay or leave as they see fit. But it is really
disturbing to think that Prodigy has the nerve to ripoff private stuff
belonging to users, at least without telling them. But as I think
about it, *who* would sign up with that service if they had bothered
to read the service contract carefully and had the points in this
article explained in detail?    PAT]

- ------- Message 2

Date:    27 Apr 91 19:53:00 GMT
From:    0004133373@mcimail.com (Donald E. Kimberlin)
Subject: Re: Prodigy Questions

     In article (Digest v11, iss303), Arnette P. Baker 

                    
    

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