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 56

Tuesday 9 June 1992


o Vote-by-telephone disaster in Nova Scotia
Daniel MacKay
Richard P. Taylor
o Computer Injury and Product Liability -- RSI
Gary Chapman
o Printer `ruined firm'
Paul Leyland
o BBS Fraud (Tokyo)
Shaun Lawson
o Endeavour rendezvous software fix
James Paul
o ACM TOSEM mailing label problem
David Lamb
o Re: Slot Machines, etc.
Tom Watson
o Info on RISKS (comp.risks)

Vote-by-telephone disaster in Nova Scotia

Daniel MacKay <>
Sun, 7 Jun 92 13:38:09 ADT
Well, I'm pretty close to the source, so I thought I'd write about it.

Some time ago, the Liberal party of the province decided they'd use a high-tech
voting system, fairly simple in structure.  They would contract with the local
telco, Martime Tel and Tel, to use a phone/computerized phone system so that
people could vote from the main leadership convention here in Halifax or from
regional rallies (where they had banks of phones installed) or from home using
their touchtone phones.

The method:
 1) Each candidate got a 1-900- number.
 2) Each card-carrying Liberal would get a PIN and instructions.
 3) Come convention day, each Liberal could dial the number for the candidate
    of his or her choice, the candidate's recorded voice would state for whom
    that vote was about to be cast, and request the Liberal to enter the PIN.
 4) After entering it, the candidate would thank the Liberal for his or her
    vote, and hang up.

Voting was supposed to begin at 12:30, and take 90 minutes for the first
round.  If necessary, several voting rounds could be cast during the day.

Everything went wrong.

A chronology:
12:30   Voting begins.  However, voters do not get the thank you after
    entering their PIN.
12:35   Confusion takes the throne, and reigns for the rest of the day.
    Some telco reps said that your vote was registered even if you
    didn't get a thank-you.  Others said that the votes were being
    counted, don't worry.
~1:00   Voting is suspended while everyone works things out.
1:40    The electoral officer announces that all votes will be cancelled,
    and that voting will begin again at 2:30.
2:00    A kid with a scanner calls the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation
    to tell them that he has a recording of the Party's conversation
    with the telco via celphone, giving the results so far.  The CBC
    passes the report up their hierarchy, trying to decide if it's a
    faked report.  The kid calls back thirty seconds later with the
    contents of *their* conversation with an Executive Producer, also
    by celphone.  The CBC decides to run the story.
2:30    Voting begins again.  Callers are instructed that unless they
    get the thank-you message, their vote has not been counted.  Some
    people get a thank-you on the first try, others try for 20 or 30
    times.  In a desperate move, the telco cuts down on the number of
    circuits into the system, to no avail.  Voters now have busy
    signals as well as no acknowledgements to deal with; they report
    that the far end phone either sends the thank-you within a few
    seconds, or does nothing for about ten minutes before hanging up.
3:00    Voting is extended until 4:00.  Many voters complain that their
    PIN is being rejected.  Officials say to never mind, just try to
    vote again in this case.
4:00    Less than half the conventioneers have voted.  Voting is extended
    until 5:00.
5:00    Voting is extended until 6:30.
5:30    Reports begin arriving that members have been able to vote twice.
6:30    The convention is called off.

What went wrong?  System-design-wise?  Considering the PIN as a password --
each member knew only his -- there was no UID (member number) to PIN matching.
So anyone who knew your PIN could vote on your behalf.  So the problems of a)
PINs being rejected, and b) voting twice could easily be explained as people
making finger errors.  If you made a mistake with your PIN, either you got
someone else's number and voted for them, or you got rejected -- no way to
tell.  If you later went back and used your correct PIN after having used
someone else's, why, that would look a lot like being able to vote twice.
Users couldn't, of course, change their PINs.

Anyone with a programmable dialler could have voted for many, many Liberals if
he knew the format of the PINs.  Given the profoundly bad management we saw, I
wouldn't be surprised to see them as six-digit numbers ranging from 100001 to
107290; there were 7289 registered voters.  This prospect hasn't even been
discussed yet in the local media.

There was no backup voting system for this, the inaugural use of the system.
The telco convinced the Party there was no need for it -- the telco (the
newspaper report says) reminded the Party that it handles hundreds of thousands
a call a day, and there was no possibility of the system failing.

Operationally, there was either a bug in the voting software, or it was
incapable of handling the volume of traffic, causing it to fail to thank-you
most of the time.  And, of course, the kid with the scanner telling all just
added icing to the cake.

It was not a great day for the telco, or for the Liberal Party.  There hasn't
been any discussion of responsibility, but there sure will be next week!  The
convention cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, and it was *entirely* a
wasted effort.

Daniel MacKay, NOC Manager, NSTN Operations Centre, Dalhousie University,
Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada      902-494-NSTN

   [The METHODS paragraph above was lightly edited by PGN for clarity.]
   [This case was also reported by Richard Taylor of AECB, Aidan Evans
      <AE@AC.DAL.CA>, and parnas@triose.eng.McMaster.CA (Dave Parnas).]
   [Another example of a case for public key encryption?  PGN]

Phone-in Voting in Nova Scotia

Mon Jun 8 13:46:17 -0800 1992
   [WARNING: ATTMAIL may reject this address.  It has been doing so for weeks
   for all RISKS mailings.  Richard included extracts from a Canadian Press
   article by Alan Jeffers in The Ottawa Citizen, Sunday, June 7, 1992, not
   included here, along with the following comment:]

Again on CBC Radio this morning: there is now talk about having to run the
entire campaign over again since the candidates who were listed as faring badly
in the cellular telephone message are protesting that this disadvantages them
in a new polling. A second campaign would severely drain the resources of the
party and would put them at a disadvatage in subsequent elections.  RPT

Richard P. Taylor, Ottawa, Canada.

Computer Injury and Product Liability

Gary Chapman <>
Mon, 8 Jun 92 10:14:22 -0400
The lead story in the business section of the New York Times 8 Jun 1992 says
that "a surge of litigation" is expected in cases alleging repetitive strain
injury (RSI) caused by information-based equipment, "pitting telephone
operators, supermarket cashiers, journalists, and a wide variety of clerical
workers against many of the world's biggest manufacturers and a number of
smaller makers of high technology equipment."

The reason for this "surge," says the article, is last week's ruling by a
Federal Court in Brooklyn consolidating plaintiff cases of all hand, arm, and
wrist injuries allegedly caused by using high tech equipment, especially
keyboards.  There are 57 defendants in the case that the Court ruled on last
week, including IBM, AT&T, Unisys, DEC, Apple, Xerox, Eastman Kodak, and
Hewlett Packard.  The defendants also include the U.S. subsidiaries of Northern
Telecom, Sony, NEC, Fujitsu, Samsung, and Phillips.

The article says that victims of RSI have previously relied on workers'
compensation awards, but workers' compensation does not provide for judgments
based on pain and suffering or on negligence on the part of the defendants.
The Federal Court's ruling last week will allow plaintiffs to sue manufacturers
under product liability laws, which means jury trials and, potentially,
punitive damages, although the latter seems unlikely.

RSI injuries are potentially one of the largest pools of product liability
cases in the country. The article says that the Bureau of Labor Statistics
estimates that 45 million people use computers on the job in the United States.

Consolidation of cases has risks to both sides of a product liability dispute.
Rulings and decisions in a consolidated case can affect thousands of
plaintiffs, so if the case comes before a judge with a tendency to rule in
favor of one side or the other, the effects of the rulings are magnified.  The
judge in the subject case consolidated the plaintiffs' cases in order to get a
baseline of scientific testimony on the connection between computer equipment
and RSI, but that could mean that companies that have taken more care in terms
of equipment safety could be lumped with companies that haven't done anything.
Plaintiffs have the advantages of seeing their case come to trial sooner and
getting better testimony from top expert witnesses, as well as sharing the risk
of failure, but they tend to get lower awards when they share a judgment or a
settlement than if their case was successfully tried on its own.

The judge in Brooklyn, Judge Jack B. Weinstein, said that the decision to
consolidate does not rule out the possibility that the cases may be separated
in the future, or that they could be dismissed altogether.  Judge Weinstein is
one of the most famous figures in American product liability law, having
presided over the consolidation of cases involving asbestos (the world's
largest product liability pool to date), Agent Orange, and DES

Gary Chapman, Coordinator, The 21st Century Project
Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility, Cambridge, Massachusetts

"Printer `ruined firm'"

Paul Leyland <>
Tue, 9 Jun 92 13:23:06 +0100
A printer who thought that his employers were trying to avoid paying him
\pounds 2,000 he believed was owed hacked [sic] into the firm's computer and
disabled the machine, Southwark Crown Court, south London was told yesterday.
Richard Goulden, 35, a freelance typesetter of Uxbridge, west London, who had
used a password that only he knew, refused to free the computer until the firm,
Ampersand Typesetting Ltd, of Camden, north London, had paid up.  The computer
refused and, after allegedly losing more than \pounds 36,000 of business
because it did not have access to information on the computer, went bankrupt.
The prosecution claims that Mr Goulden's action contributed to the bankruptcy.
Mr Goulden denies illegal modification of computer material under the 1990
Computer Misuse Act.  [_The Times_, London, 9 June 1992]

BBS Fraud (Tokyo)

Shaun Lawson <>
Mon, 8 Jun 92 10:06:27 JST
This is a summarized translation from Japanese of a posting of H. Murakami
( regarding the use of a bulletin board
service in Japan to commit fraud.


        1) The perpetrator opens a BBS.
        2) Passwords and E-mail addresses are collected.
        3) The passwords and E-mail addresses are used to gain
           access to the BBS users Nifty Serve or PC-VAN accounts.
           (Similar to Compuserve and Prodigy)
        4) The passwords of these accounts are changed to prevent
           access of the real users.
        5) A bank account is opened under an assumed name.
        6) 'For Sale' notices for PC's etc. at low prices are posted
           from the stolen accounts.
        7) Victims replying to the postings are requested to transfer
           money into the bogus bank account.
        8) The money is withdrawn and the victims are out of luck.

The police were able to arrest the perpetrator after his face was
recorded by bank security cameras when he withdrew the money.

Morals of this story:

        A) Use different passwords for different accounts.
        B) Log on regularly to check for irregularities.

Shaun Lawson, Institute for Supercomputing Research, 1-13-1 Kachidoki, Chuo-ku,
Tokyo, Japan 104             (03)3536-7770   

Endeavour rendezvous software fix

James Paul <>
Mon, 08 Jun 92 15:53:25 EDT
Aviation Week and Space Technology (8 June '92, p. 69) states that
"NASA Will Modify Rendezvous Software To Avoid Repeat of Endeavour
Problem"  The article reads:

NASA will change the specifications on the IBM software used to calculate space
shuttle rendezvous maneuvers to avoid problems on future missions like the one
that occurred at a critical point during Endeavour's final rendezvous with the
Hughes/ Intelsat 6/F3 spacecraft (AW&ST May 25, p. 79).

Engineers have traced the problem to the sensitivity of NASA-developed
equations to a particular set of numeric values that arose when Endeavour was
making one of the final computer-targeted rendezvous maneuvers.  Test show the
software had been properly coded by IBM and therefore passed all preflight
tests, according to Ted Keller, senior technical staff member at the IBM
Shuttle Project Coordination Office, Houston.

The numerical values that caused the problem so closely resembled each other
that the software recognized them as identical values -- which they were not.
This resulted in the software providing incorrect targeting data for the

By relaxing the tolerances in the software, orbiter computers should be better
able to differentiate between values that are similar and provide proper
targeting information, Keller said.

ACM TOSEM mailing label problem

David Lamb <>
Mon, 8 Jun 1992 13:53:52 GMT
This might be "the risks of asking for subscriptions 2 years before you can
deliver any issues": I received 3 copies of the 2nd issue of ACM TOSEM
(Software Engineering and Methodology) last week.  I called up ACM Member
Services and they said there had been "a problem printing the mailing labels"
(which, at least, they didn't blame on "the computer".  A careful examinination
of the labels shows they're all identical, except one says "EXP 9012", another
"EXP 9112", and the third "EXP 9212".  It's nearly certain those are a series
of dates on which my ACM membership expires (it's a common practice with
subscriptions these days to include the expiry date on the mailing label).

I got to thinking after the phone call about how this problem might have
occurred.  I'm quite absent-minded, as befits an academic, but I think I signed
up for TOSEM as soon as ACM announced it, which may well have been back in
1990.  At some point, perhaps later in 1990 when I paid my dues, I paid for a
subscription.  The first issue came out in January 1992; I wonder if some
attempt to remember ACM's multi-year obligation to send things to me resulted
in records for each of the 3 years?  It doesn't explain why the problem didn't
occur with the first issue.

If a lot of people had such a problem, it may well have cost ACM a lot of

Re: Slot Machines, etc. (Frankston, Ouellette, RISKS-13.55)

Tom Watson <johana!>
Mon, 8 Jun 92 20:16:09 -0700
I read several years ago (Datamation, or some similar 'free' magazine) that
there is an offical testing lab in New Jersey (for Atlantic City) that tests
these things.  In order to be 'certified' they need to produce the software in
source form, the diagrams of the circiuts, and copies of the ROM's used in the
machines.  The testing lab used all sorts of tools (ICE's Logic Analyzers,
etc.) to verify that the opeation of the game (Slot Machine, Video Poker, etc.)
was up to specification (odds, etc.).  The article went on to say that the
testing lab did all it could to prevent non-random payoffs (not too cool).  It
sounds as though the testing was not complete for the given games, or the
testing facility (funded part of gaming commission) was not funded.  Perhaps
someone else can remember the exact article, as it has been a few years
(probably about 4 or so) since I saw it.

Tom Watson, johana!

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