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 13 Issue 42

Sunday 19 April 1992


o Chicago has a single point of failure
Bryan MacKinnon
o Re: FAA crash
Howard Israel
o More delays at East Bay air traffic control center
o Drugs by EMail
o Potentially disastrous bug in MacInTax
Edgar Knapp
o Automagically generated phone books
o Re: Risks of editors — Mass Pike
Carl Ellison
o Re: Long call wait for London Ambulances
Brian Tompsett
o Re: FBI wiretaps
Eric S. Raymond
o Re: Intercept legislation
Bob Weiner
Donn Parker
o Credit-card fraud
Bruce Bigelow and Dwight Daniels
o Harper's article on Personal Data for Sale
o SURVEY: Is Big Brother Watching You?
Lorrayne Schaefer
o Info on RISKS (comp.risks)

Chicago has a single point of failure

Bryan MacKinnon <>
Thu, 16 Apr 1992 09:36:26 -0500
On April 13, 1992, Chicago experienced the closest thing to the "Chicago Fire"
this century.  It is not news to most people now that the forty to sixty miles
of century old freight tunnels underneath the "Loop", or main downtown area,
were flooded on that fateful day.  It appears to be caused by a recently
installed bridge piling that breached the tunnel where is passes under the
Chicago River.  When built, these tunnels were used for transporting coal,
newsprint, and many other items on an electric railway.

The risks to computing were/are significant.  Although no longer used to
transport freight, they are now used as conduits for communication cables
(fiber, etc) that connect together the city's main business district.
Furthermore and more damaging, the tunnels connect the basements of numerous
buildings which are now flooded.  These flooded basements are home to telephone
and electrical equipment, most of which were disabled for days.  The loss so
far to the city is easily over $500M and expected to exceed $1B.

But the main reason that I submit this message to risks is more to do with a
classic design flaw of any complex system, in this case, a city: Chicago has a
single point of failure.

Bryan MacKinnon, Fermi National Accelerator Lab
Batavia, IL 60510 (within spectating distance of Chicago).

Re: FAA crash (RISKS-13.37)

Howard Israel <>
Wed, 15 Apr 92 15:04 EDT
A software bug in a crucial FAA computer, one that programmers had identified
and had planned to fix Friday, acted up Wednesday morning before they could get
to it, shutting down the computer and disrupting Northern California air
traffic for about 2 1/2 hours.  A spokesman for the Federal Aviation
Administration said a back-up computer system immediately kicked in and that
while departing flights were held back at many airports, no planes in the air
during the shutdown were ever endangered. [San Jose Mercury News, 9 Apr 1992]

---Howard Israel, AT&T Bell Labs, 201 386 4678

More delays at East Bay air traffic control center

"Peter G. Neumann" <>
Sun, 19 Apr 92 13:06:58 PDT
The Oakland Air Route Traffic Control Center in Fremont CA had receivers for 12
of its 50 radio frequencies go dead on 17 April 1992.  The partial outage
lasted for about 1.5 hours and delayed 36 outgoing flights from San Francisco
(up to 27 minutes), 7 from Oakland, and one from San Jose.  The reason was
undetermined.  [Source: San Francisco Chronicle, 18 Apr 1992, p.A13]

Drugs by EMail

"Peter G. Neumann" <>
Sun, 19 Apr 92 12:59:54 PDT
Two men have been arrested for selling cocaine via the Charles Schwab company
EMail, where they had been employed in the back-room of the San Francisco
office.  The company has a vigilant policy against drugs in the workplace,
although the National Institute of Drug Abuse estimates that 10 percent of the
country's workforce regularly uses drugs while at work.  [Source: San Francisco
Chronicle, 18 Apr 1992, p.A13]

Potentially disastrous bug in MacInTax

Edgar Knapp <>
15 Apr 92 08:32:31 GMT
  [Forwarded to RISKS by]

    [NOTE from the moderator: I have no way to confirm this bug report but
    given the critical date and the fact that the IRS isn't going to care whose
    fault it was, and the standard software warranty doesn't promise anything
    to the purchaser anyway, I hope you will agree with me that approving this
    article is the right thing to do at this time.      ---Werner ]

There is a recalculation bug in MacInTax which can lead to income not being
reported. The problem occurs when opening a previously saved tax data file.
MacInTax often and reproducibly fails to correctly incorporate certain types of
income (1099-Misc, for instance). This can lead to IRS audits and penalties,
since income reported on the return and income reported directly to the IRS
don't match.

The work-around for the problem is to force a recalculation of the income
entered into MacInTax, by unchecking and rechecking the Routing Information box
of at least one of the affected 1099s in "FORM 1099: Miscellaneous Income

ChipSoft is aware of the bug, but prefers to call it an inadvertent inaccurate
recalculation problem.

Also, even though this is not 100% reproducible, make sure you save you return
before selecting "Open Notes..." from the Windows menu, or La Bomba may make
tax time even more taxing.
                              Edgar   (

Automagically generated phone books

"Peter G. Neumann" <>
Fri, 17 Apr 92 17:07:55 PDT
SRI just issued an errata sheet on the new telephone directory.

* The parking lot and road overlay on the building graphic was printed upside
  down, with North and South reversed.  It sure looked strange.

* The Office of Corporate Compliance was erroneously listed as the Office of
  Corporate Complaints in the list of FREQUENTLY USED PHONE NUMBERS.  Perhaps
  they know something I didn't.  I didn't think the correct listing would be
  frequently used, although the erroneous one might.

Re: Risks of editors — Mass Pike

Thu, 16 Apr 92 11:47 EDT
The Massachusetts Turnpike handed out a nicely printed flier the other day,
advertizing their maintenance plans (and trying to get some PR, no doubt).
This flier included the sentence "Since the initial turnpike was opened to
traffic in 1957, billions of vehicles have traveled over the 135-mile road and
its 260 brides [sic], and these facilities are showing the ravages of time and

This example is just cute — but representative.  In the inefficient old days,
so many different humans were involved in the process ending with typesetting
that typos like this almost never made it into print.

We have made editors, spelling checkers, grammar checkers (all of which allow
that typo to happen).  How are we going to get back the level of checking we
had when it took 5 different people to get something printed?

   [The opera The Bartered Bride is often cited in print as The Battered Bride.
   But don't forget that some typos are inserted rather intentionally by
   frustrated typesetters.  I have one dandy that cannot be repeated here.  PGN]

Re: Long call wait for London Ambulances (RISKS-13.38)

Brian Tompsett <>
Thu, 16 Apr 92 11:12:13 GMT
 From the BBC Radio 4 programme "Punters" broadcast this morning 16th April 92.
An item was about the long time callers have to wait for the London Ambulance
Service to answer the phone after an emergency call (999). The programme
mentioned several cases where callers waited up to 15 minutes for the central
Ambulance control room to answer the phone. During that time the BT (Phone
Company) operators are handling the call. The operators tell of hearing people
die on the other end of the phone while the ambulance station plays a recorded
message "please hold all lines are busy and we will get to you as soon as

 A spokesman for the Ambulance workers union (NUPE) claimed that the cause was
due to a combination of undermanning and the implementation of a new
computerised call handling system.  He accused the computerised system of "just
losing calls in the system". He also claimed the number of deaths in north
London became so acute that the computer system was withdrawn. A spokesman for
the Ambulance service indicated that they are going through the normal number
of "teething troubles" that one gets when introducing any new system or
techology, and no one had anything to worry about. When the system was working
properly in about 6 months all calls will be handled within 30 seconds. At that
point we can rely on a computer system that is 100% reliable and safe.

 [Moving off of computers here] When Challenged about the long waits for calls
to be answered, he agreed that they were occurring. He said that the Ambulance
service must run like any other business and compared it to the Bus and Rail
services. He pointed out that he could no more be expected to answer all the
calls at peak times than those other services could. The phrase "businesses
operating economically and efficiently" was mentioned more than once. He also
blamed the public for calling them too much and clogging the lines.

 In the light of my recent comments on the media let me note that this program
was probably prepared in the wind up to the recent General Election and held
in the can as being too "political".

 My worries: there is a chance that some computerised systems will not be seen
as safety critical, but rather as mundane and ordinary. This might be
particularly the case (where in the UK) there is a movement to stop some public
services being seen as "special" and to run them like "any other commercial
entity". No special care will then be taken in their commission.  Others may
make other interpretations. I found it hard to document this in a politically
neutral way.
                   Brian Tompsett, Computer Science, University of Hull

Re: FBI wiretaps (Karn, RISKS-13.41)

Eric S. Raymond <>
17 Apr 92 05:06:16 GMT
In the middle of a long, thoughtful post on the proposed FBI wiretap bill, Phil
Karn made a point which I think can stand some elaboration.  In social as well
as physical systems, there is no action without equal and opposite reaction.

In considering the cost/benefit of *any* law which trades off a loss of
privacy and personal freedom against the suppression of criminal activity,
we need to evaluate the countermeasures available to criminals.  Often,
these countermeasures render the law ineffective --- so that honest people
are left to suffer only the costs and never see the anticipated benefits.

The proposed wiretap bill clearly has this defect.  The facilities the FBI
wants to mandate can be defeated with inexpensive end-to-end encryption
devices.  Thus, supporters of the bill can only maintain their position
and the FBI's advantage by intending to ban such encryption devices.

I don't propose to address the damage to our civil liberties that would entail
just now, nor the dangerous precedent it would in turn set, except to opine
that I would *far* rather live with whatever percentage of criminal activity
wiretaps could theoretically suppress than with the potential for systematic
governmental mischief implied by wiretaps and encryption bans.

The argument I prefer to make here is that a ban on encryption devices would
itself have the same *pragmatic* defects as the wiretap bill.  Prohibition
does not work; criminals would still use and sell encryption devices, and
only the honest would be exposed to government error and malice.

It is all too easy to imagine the wiretap bill as the beginning of an
action/reaction spiral in which each further encroachment upon the liberties
of honest people is `justified' by criminal adaptations to the last one.

If you consider this implausible, take a moment to consider the disastrous
histories and perverse effects of gun control and the "war on drugs".  We
have seen this cycle before.  Let's not start another one.

  Eric S. Raymond =  (mad mastermind of TMN-Netnews)

Re: Intercept legislation (Parker, RISKS-13.41)

Bob Weiner <>
Fri, 17 Apr 92 12:53:07 -0400
Your article to RISKS suggests that the FBI's proposed legislation to provide
unsecure hooks in telecommunications equipment is necessary to prevent serious
crime.  Could you explain to the readers how such legislation will help the FBI
intercept calls that are encrypted at the transmitting phone and decrypted at
the receiving end, which one would assume serious criminals could easily equip
themselves with?

If it can, then I buy your point.  If it can't, then one has the clear
possibility of abuse without the clear possibility of utility in the most
serious cases.

Re: Intercept legislation [response to Bob Weiner]

"Donn Parker" <>
17 Apr 1992 13:59:53 U
Thanks for your inquiry.  Criminals' use of crypto is a separate problem from
the intercept issue.  It was addressed by the ill-fated DOJ-sponsored Senate
bill S266.  Easily obtained crypto products will provide a new absolute right
of privacy of communication that will obviously be used by some
criminals--probably the worst ones.  However, the court-ordered intercept will
still be of great use for clear text criminal communications.  I have
interviewed over 150 computer criminals and find many of them to be pretty
dumb, lazy, and not very careful some of the time.  For example, consider how
dumb Gotti and his pals were to have their conversations compromised even when
they knew the Feds were intensely investigating them.  Therefore, I conclude
that there will still be many communications among and from suspected criminals
in the clear for which the intercept capability will be valuable.

Credit-card fraud

Fri, 17 Apr 92 14:40:05 PDT
Computer hackers slick at credit card fraud, say police
(by Bruce V. Bigelow and Dwight C. Daniels, Copley News Service)

   SAN DIEGO An electronic web of young computer hackers who use high-tech
methods to make fraudulent credit card charges and carry out other illegal
activities nationwide has been uncovered by San Diego police.
   The informal underground network has been trading information "to further
their criminal careers," said Detective Dennis Sadler. The hackers know how to
break computer security codes, create credit card accounts and make fraudulent
credit card purchases, among other things, he said.  "These kids can get any
information they want on you. Period," said Sadler, who works in the San Diego
Police Department's Northern Division. "We didn't believe it until it was
demonstrated to us."  As many as 1,000 "hard-core" hackers across the United
States have shared such data, Sadler said, although it's unclear how many have
actually used the information to commit crimes.  "It's been going on for at
least four years," he said. He estimated that illegal charges to credit cards
could total "millions of dollars."  Computer criminals "don't go out and charge
a thousand dollars every day," Sadler said. "But they have the access and the
means to do it any time they want."
   A crucial break in the case occurred late March, said Sadler, when an
out-of-state hacker was picked up in San Diego and agreed to cooperate with
police and the FBI.  Detectives brought the hacker to a San Diego computer
store that has provided equipment and technical assistance to authorities,
according to a source familiar with the investigation.  Sadler refused to
discuss details, however, saying that the investigation is continuing. Scores
of arrests are pending nationwide, he said.
   In recent months, the investigation has led to two arrests in Ohio and the
seizure of computers and related material in New York City, the Philadelphia
area and Seattle.  Yet, Sadler said, those cases represent only an "offshoot"
of the main investigation.
   A San Diego hacker who was questioned by authorities says the case appears
to be as big as "Operation Sun Devil," a continuing federal investigation into
computer crimes that prompted raids in San Diego and 11 other cities almost two
years ago.
   Typically, fraudulent credit card charges are racked up by computer
criminals who illegally gather detailed information from computerized accounts
on file at credit reporting agencies, banks and other businesses.
   Electronic trespassers can use a credit card holder's name, address and
other personal information gleaned from account files to fraudulently verify
purchases, a crime known in hacker vernacular as "carding."  Such methods make
catalog purchases by telephone a cinch.  Smooth-talking hackers have even
acquired haircuts and meals by verifying their credit card purchases with
personal information, Sadler said.  "There's one kid who bragged about using
the same credit card number for eight months," Sadler said.  The hackers have
learned how to break personal security codes for automatic teller machines,
Sadler said.  Further, using computers, hackers can employ a variety of
techniques to obtain long-distance telephone access codes and illegally make
telephone calls without paying.  "People don't realize what's going on out
there," Sadler said.  "If you did, you'd shred your credit cards."
   MasterCard International reported total losses of $381 million from credit
card fraud of all types worldwide in 1991, according to Warner Brown,
MasterCard's director of security and fraud control in Los Angeles.
   Losses at Visa International amounted to $259 million in 1989, about
one-tenth of a percent of Visa's worldwide sales volumes, said Gregory Holmes,
a Visa spokesman in San Francisco.
   American Express has a policy against revealing the extent of its fraud
losses, a spokeswoman said.
   No figures are available on how much credit card fraud is committed by
hackers.  "I wouldn't even hazard a guess," said Spencer Nilson, who publishes
a bimonthly newsletter in Santa Monica, Calif., about the credit card industry.
   Customers don't learn about a fraudulent purchase until they get billed, and
any overcharges are disputed for three to six months, Nilson said.
   At least part of the investigation is focused on credit information gathered
illegally by computer from Equifax Credit Information Services, a credit
reporting agency based in Atlanta.
   "We're still in the process of investigating, and we're working very closely
with San Diego police," said Tina Black, an Equifax spokeswoman.  The company,
which provides credit information to lenders, is notifying consumers whose
accounts were compromised, Black said.  Equifax suffered no financial losses
itself, and Black could provide no information about possible losses to
consumers.  "Right now, it looks like only a few," probably fewer than 25, she
   Equifax disclosed in February, however, that a different group of hackers,
including two teen-agers from Kettering, Ohio, had infiltrated its computer,
using an Equifax customer number and password code to obtain credit information
and bill-paying histories of Midwestern consumers.  The two juveniles, who were
not identified, face federal and state charges stemming from the computer
break-in, said Kettering police spokesman Jeff Caldwell.
   Equifax computer experts are checking to determine if computer trespassers
created phony consumer files in the agency's mainframe computer.
   Equifax, one of the nation's three largest credit bureaus, had revenues of
$1.1 billion in 1991 and possesses a database of about 170 million credit

    [An AP version of this story appeared on the front page of the San
    Francisco Chronicle, 18 Apr 1992]

Harper's article on Personal Data for Sale

Wed, 18 Mar 92 12:49 EST
Harper's Magazine, March 1992, p.21


(From a sales brochure distributed in 1990 by Nationwide Electronic Tracking
(NET), an information-brokering company located in Tampa, Florida.  Last
December the FBI identified NET as the center of a nationwide organization that
illegally obtained and sold information, stored in government computers, about
private individuals.  According to the FBI, NET paid employees of federal
agencies, including the Social Security Administration and the Secret Service,
to procure records from various computer networks that are easily accessible to
thousands of government workers.  The accessed networks included the FBI's
National Criminal Information Center, private credit-reporting systems, and the
Social Security Administration's computer database, which holds personal data,
employment histories, and salary information on about 200 million Americans.)

In our complex, fast-moving society, information is a constantly changing
resource.  Every day billions of records and documents, containing information
on millions of people, must be revised and updated.  Sorting through it all for
the one particular bit of information you need can be time-consuming and
expensive--a frustrating series of false starts, dead ends, and legal barriers.
Unfortunately, getting reliable information, and getting it quickly, can often
mean the difference between success and failure.

Nationwide Electronic Tracking (NET) can get the information you need--when you
need it.  NET is a high-speed, computer-based telecommunications network,
designed to gain instant access to difficult-to-obtain "confidential"
information from more than 1000 sources nationwide.  Credit-bureau reports,
Social Security searches, electronic cross-directories, and criminal,
motor-vehicle, and driving records are just a few of the kinds of information
NET can obtain faster than the competition.

                GUIDE TO SERVICES

                   HOME ADDRESS
With name and address, will conduct nationwide search for Social
Security number.
                                                          2 hours, $10

With Social Security number, will obtain name and home address.
                                                      1-2 hours, $7.50

Gives names of current residents at a given address.
                                                           1 hour, $10

                  STREET ADDRESS
With subject's name, box number, city, state, and zip code, will
obtain renter's street address.
                                                        1-2 weeks, $50

With subject's name and address, will obtain names, phone numbers, and
addresses of up to nine current neighbors.
                                                        1-2 hours, $10

                EMPLOYMENT SEARCH
With name and Social Security number, will obtain current place of
                                                           1 week, $75

With name and Social Security number, will obtain recent places of
employment and subject's earnings.
                                     last three years: 3-5 days, $100
                                      last five years: 3-5 days, $120
                                       last ten years: 3-5 days, $175

                  (FLORIDA ONLY)
With subject's Social Security number and last known address, will
obtain any claims filed.
                                                         24 hours, $75

                  CREDIT REPORT
Subject's credit history.
                                                       1-2 hours, $10

With title number, vehicle number, or license plate number, will
obtain name and address of owner, make of vehicle, and license plate
                              Florida, Texas, or New York: 1 hour, $10
                                       all other states: 2-4 days, $20

With driver's license number, will obtain home address, traffic
violations, and DUI [Driving Under the Influence] charges.  We can
also obtain information with only individual's name and date of birth;
add three days and $30 for this service.
                                                      24-48 hours, $15

                 CRIMINAL HISTORY
With name, date of birth, sex, and race, will obtain criminal history.
                                                          1 week, $100

SURVEY: Is Big Brother Watching You?

Lorrayne Schaefer <>
Fri, 17 Apr 92 07:51:03 EDT

The purpose of this survey is to collect data for a presentation that I will
give at this year's National Computer Security Conference in October.  I would
like to thank you for taking the time to fill out this survey.  If you have any
questions, you can call me at 703-883-5301 or send me email at  Expand white space as needed [squeezed for RISKS to
save paper], and please send your completed survey to:

                 Lorrayne Schaefer
            The MITRE Corporation
                M/S Z213
               7525 Colshire Drive
                 McLean, VA 22102
      (Lorrayne Schaefer)

1.  What is your title?

2.  What type of work does your organization do?

3.  Does your organization currently monitor computer activity?

a.  If yes, what type of monitoring does your company do (e.g.,
    electronic mail, bulletin boards, telephone, system activity, network

b.  Why does your company choose to monitor these things and how
    is it done?

4.  If you are considering (or are currently) using a monitoring
    tool, what exactly would you monitor?  How would you protect this

5.  Are you for or against monitoring?  Why/why not?  Think in
    terms of whether it is ethical or unethical ("ethical" meaning that it
    is right and "unethical" meaning it is wrong) for an employer to
    monitor an employee's computer usage.  In your response, consider that
    the employee is allowed by the company to use the computer and the
    company currently monitors computer activity.

6.  If your company monitors employees, is it clearly defined in
    your company policy?

7.  In your opinion, does the employee have rights in terms of
    being monitored?

8.  In your opinion, does the company have rights to protect its
    assets by using a form of monitoring tool?

9.  If you are being monitored, do you take offense?  Managers:
    How do you handle situations in which the employee takes offense at
    being monitored?

10. What measures does your company use to prevent misuse of
    monitoring in the workplace?

11.     If an employee is caught abusing the monitoring tool, what would
    happen to that individual?  If your company is not using any form of
    monitoring, what do you think should happen to an individual who
    abused the tool?

12.     Is it unethical to monitor electronic mail to determine if the
    employee is not abusing this company resource (e.g., suppose the
    employee sends personal notes via a network to others that are not
    work related)?  Why or why not?

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