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From the UK national newspaper, The Independent, 28 May 1991 - reprinted in its entirety. Brian Randell MOD IN ROW WITH FIRM OVER CHIP DEVELOPMENT A British company that hoped to market one of the world's most sophisticated computer chips is to be wound up next week amid acrimonious allegations about the Ministry of Defence's role in commercialising a technology developed at taxpayers' expense. The episode highlights the continuing failure of the Ministry of Defence to foster civilian spin-offs for the products of its military research and development programme, which last year cost the taxpayer some (pounds) 2.2bn. Throughout most of the past decade, the Government has spent more money on defence than on civil research and development. The chip, known as Viper, was designed by scientists at the Royal Signals Research Establishment in Malvern. It is the most advanced chip, designed for use in "safety critical" applications - such as nuclear reactor shutdown systems, driverless trains or aircraft controls - where lives depend upon faultless operation. When the Worcester-based company Charter Technologies goes into voluntary liquidation on 4 June, no British company will be left able to provide potential customers with software to program the Viper chip or provide back-up support for its use. The company issued a writ against the Ministry of Defence this year for alleged negligent misrepresentation of the chip's capabilities and of its potential market. The ministry denies the company's allegations and lodged a defence. The MoD had required the company to post security of (pounds) 75,000 to cover the ministry's legal costs should Charter Technologies have lost its legal action. The company ceased trading on 2 May 1991 and is no longer pursuing its legal action. Digby Dyke, managing director of Charter Technologies, said yesterday that the company was forced to seek voluntary liquidation after the MoD declined to extend or renew other contracts, unconnected with the dispute over the chip, and because of the losses incurred over the Viper project. When the chip was developed in the late 1980's, the then director of the Royal Signals Research Establishment, Nigel Hughes, described it as "the first commercially available microprocessor with a proven correct design". Modern microprocessor chips contain such complex circuitry that it is often not possible to demonstrate that the design is completely free of error. As a result, microprocessor developers are increasingly turning to the use of formal mathematics to verify that designs are free of errors. In 1987, the MoD granted a licence to Charter Technologies to develop software to exploit the chip's capabilities. But this January, the company issued a writ alleging that the chip's design had not been proven, and as a result its money, manpower and time were wasted. The company was alleging, in effect, that the mathematics were not exhaustive. Although Viper was developed by the MoD and released for commercialisation four years ago, and although a new defence procurement standard for safety-critical equipment, known as 00-55, appears to favour mathematically proven designs, Kenneth Carlisle, the Under-Secretary of Defence Procurement, told the House of Commons last week that "Viper is not currently used in any safety-critical computer systems controlled by the MoD". The only civilian customer for the technology has been the Australian National Railway Commission, which at the end of 1988 adopted Viper as the core of a new signalling system. The Australians have now gone so far with developing the system that they would have difficulty switching to another technology. Computing Laboratory, The University, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 7RU, UK Brian.Randell@newcastle.ac.uk PHONE = +44 91 222 7923 FAX = +44 91 222 8232
In RISKS-08.19, I described a situation where, due to the cost of modifying a contract, it was less expensive to maintain dead code than to eliminate the dead code. As a result of this story, I have been approached with a similar story from AT&T; the employee who passed on the story asked that I not mention anyone's name. Here is the story: It seems that the current generation of electronic switching systems coming out of AT&T are controlled by upwards of a million lines of C code. One of the results of this is the need to maintain the constants in the program. You might think that constants are constants, so this should be simple, but this is not so. There are two problems that make this a headache big enough to require significant manpower. Problem 1) Not all C constants are inherently constant. Consider string constants. These are just arrays of characters with appropriate initial values. Once such an array is passed to a procedure, the fact that it is constant is no longer known. Of course, on some computers, memory protection mechanisms could be used to make all strings read-only, but this is outside the scope of the C language and would introduce the possibility of errors in constant usage stopping a system that is not allowed to stop. Thus, programmers must be dedicated to auditing every use of every constant that is stored in memory to assure that it is used as a constant. Problem 2) Because C has a very weak type system, named numeric constants are used instead of enumerated types. As a result, it is quite possible to use the wrong constant and never detect it because the constant has the right value. For example, if one enumeration is (Red, Green, Blue), and another is (Apple, Bananna, Cantalope), your program may run correctly with MyColor = Cantalope, but later, when you add BlueBerry to the second enumeration, the value of Cantalope (which was 2) has changed to 3, and your program will stop working correctly. Pascal and Ada are both able to enforce the constancy of constants at compile time, and they go a long way towards eliminating problems with constants that coincidentally have the same value. (The latter problem cannot be completely eliminated in any language.) As I understand the story, there is an actual team of programmers at AT&T who are responsible for auditing constant usage, and nothing else. Doug Jones
Brinton Cooper <abc@BRL.MIL> wonders how I got access to the information on the destruct system of the Poseidon and Polaris A3. It was in a book that was published by Lockheed as a training manual. The book had no classification markings, in fact the one place in the book where it referred to classified information was a pointer to a separate, classified document which I did not have. I found it at a sale of used books. It is not too uncommon to find classified material in used bookstores, though I repeat this was _not_ classified. Phil Agre <email@example.com> asks whether I had any moral qualms about talking to the FBI. Judging from his letter and most of the e-mail I've received, it's apparent that many people consider the FBI to be the enemy of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, rather than one of its defenders. Sure, there have been abuses in the past — and there will be abuses in the future — but perhaps you need to be reminded that we live in a world of spies, thieves, cutthroats, skinheads, Mafiosi, and Scientologists, and often our first and only line of defense is the FBI. Sometimes they make mistakes, like in the case of Steve Jackson Games, but do we help the situation by keeping the FBI men ignorant? I think ignorance is part of the reason why these abuses sometimes occur. In the particular case of censorship, this particular FBI man was interested in how the net works and what relation it might have to criminal activity. He explicitly stated that the FBI was _not_ interested in censoring anyone's speech. When I told him about the recent discussion in alt.forgery, where people were asking how we could discuss forgery without discussing the committing of a crime, the reaction of the FBI man was "Well, you can write a book about forgery." My impression was that he was very sensitive to the distinction between free speech and crime. Just about the last words he said to me were "It's a free country." If the only thing keeping the net free of censorship is the ignorance of the powers-that-be, that is not much of a defense at all. In fact, I think it would be naive to assume that potential censors aren't already aware of the net's existence. Uunet has revealed that they have sold compiled Usenet traffic on tape to the FBI. FCC men and telco security [people] are known to read the Telecom Digest. God only knows who reads RISKS. Mark Thorson (firstname.lastname@example.org)
If and when a relative or friend of someone who boasts of such antics is a casuality of an airline bombing or other terrorist act, I hope he remember that his actions probably helped the terrorists and that he might be an accessory to murder of innocent men, women and children. If what he said about NSA is true, then did he ever stop to THINK that the time spent assessing phony "keywords" can prevent the investigation of an actual terrorist plan to commit an atrocity? I am as concerned about privacy and computer risks as the next person, but I get frosted reading such comments. Such an individual would probably be the first to blame "Big Brother" for not preventing the slaughter. [Disclaimer implied]
> Arghh. That's all we need now. Next thing, someone who says potentially > dangerous words on the net, like say, ehh... blue box (Get that guys, BLUE > BOX), or ehh... assassination of BUSH, will get a visit from our beloved Big > Bro. Actually, it has already happened. A few years ago, I heard that someone who had posted something to the net about assassinating the president was visited by the FBI. I suppose that this message will also end up in front of some government worker. :-( Ellen Spertus
In RISKS-11.72, Phil Agre <email@example.com> takes firstname.lastname@example.org to task for disclosing "dangerous" information about the Internet to an FBI agent. While I sympathize with Agre's concerns, I think it's important to maintain some perspective. Censoring one another in our dealings with the government is no different from having the government censor us directly. Mike Olson, UC Berkeley
I respectfully submit that Neil Rickert is completely and very seriously wrong as to whether sendmail is primarily responsible for the replicated error messages. He would place the burden of preventing malicious software from taking over networks primarily on network users and only secondarily on network managers. The moral burden of preventing malicious software of course falls primarily on users and only secondarily on network managers. Malicious acts that take over networks by users are immoral. The primary moral responsibility for the Morris worm rests with Morris, and he was convicted of computer abuse. But the primary pragmatic responsibility for preventing network abuse rests with network managers, since there is always a risk of a malicious user. Morris only exploited known vulnerabilities in sendmail and other software. The message that Mark E. Davis disseminated was, because of the oddities of sendmail, an accidental INTERNET WORM. Anything that can be done accidentally can be done INTENTIONALLY. Network managers have a pragmatic and a moral responsibility to prevent worms and other malicious programs and malicious messages from taking over their networks. To attempt to shift this responsibility entirely to users overlooks the fact that not all users are moral. Someone could have released a message with a malformed header on purpose to flood the Internet with error messages. The primary problem is not with the user (Davis or anyone else). It is with the software. What Rickert says is a robust programming practice is simply not that if networks have finite capacity. Fair is correct. The error should be halted and sent back to the user, or sent forward without comment, or corrected and sent forward. Otherwise a WORM is possible.
Regarding the recently asked question about whether to trust a fuzzy logic based controller for nuclear power plants. I think the correct answer is that they should be trusted as much (or as little) as you would trust any controller. There is no guarentee that a control system is stable or accurate. This applies to both crisp and fuzzy controllers. The mathematical theory for robust control is better developed, but you must do the analysis before you assume stability or accuracy. Software engineers often make the mistake of skipping this step. Many are unaware that there is a large, well-developed branch of engineering called system control theory. Just because the control laws are precise does not mean they will be accurate or stable. Often the mathematics are inherently unstable and no amount of precision in the software can overcome this. The instability is not a software problem (as assumed by many programmers); it is inherent in the mathematics of the control laws. These must be analyzed and shown to be appropriate. Fuzzy control stability is not as well developed a theory, but the mathematics of fuzzy control are quite deterministic. Stability and accuracy criteria may be more work to evaluate. The control problem is usually simplified considerably for the fuzzy domain, so the resulting controller may be as easy to analyze as the precise controller or perhaps even easier. The nuclear power plant is an example of a situation where both may be appropriate. Consider the sub-problem of measuring the temperature distribution within the core. If you can assume thermal equilibrium, then a scattering of temperature measurements, plus the knowledge of conductivity of the components, plus the knowledge of the shape of the power distribution allows you to compute the temperatures, energy flows, and power generation throughout the entire core. If you cannot assume thermal equilibrium (e.g. startup and shutdown), you must also have the heat constants of the materials, the prior temperature distribution history, and the power generation to compute the temperature. So without equilibrium, you need two previously unnecessary inputs and one previously computed output must now be measured (somehow). These added measurements may drive the control laws beyond the regime where they can be analyzed, and they may also just be unavailable. Power generation distribution can be very tricky to measure directly. It is possible that the fuzzy solution is the alternative that remains mathematically tractable. Then again, they may just be chasing the fad of the week. I see a lot of ``fuzzy'' systems being invented for marketing and PR reasons. Rob Horn email@example.com
I recently encountered an AT&T billing error on our phone bill, which the AT&T office acknowledged as a computer error on their part. There was a call from DC to NY which showed no rate code (E for evening, D for day, N for night/weekend), showed 15.5 in the "minutes" column (when all other entries in that column were integers, and [here was the real clue] cost $16.00, when similar (night rate) calls to NY were much less. I have heard from one other person who had similar problem. AT&T cheerfully resolves these matters when called, but I don't know if they are planning to adjust bills for people who don't complain.
People have been warning that with automatic caller identification, all sorts of strange and possibly undesirable cross-referencing will become common. I have just run across my first reference to a mass-market commercial program which will use caller identification in this manner. The product is TeleCenter 2.0, developed by Northern Telecom. The advicle [advertisement in the form of an article] in a recent MacWeek [V5 N20, May 21/91, pg 27] said, in part, "Features such as caller ID and TeleCenter's address book can be triggered from another application. For example, using caller ID, an order-entry application could automatically retrieve customers' addresses and buying preferences when they call to make an order." Walter Roberson firstname.lastname@example.org
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