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 59

Thursday 18 June 1992


o SOUNDEX algorithm fails in Directory Enquiries
Nick Rothwell
o Two wrongs make a right
Fred Cohen
o Computer problem provides free phone porn
Mark Bartelt
o Australia benefits from US encryption export ban
Rick Noah Zucker
o Re: Missed Pagings
Marc Schwartz
o Privacy problems with voter records
Norman Kraft
o Call for Participation, CFP '93
Bruce R Koball
o Info on RISKS (comp.risks)

SOUNDEX algorithm fails in Directory Enquiries

Nick Rothwell <>
Tue, 16 Jun 1992 10:45:55 +0000
This is something I picked up while having some discussions at a software
company here in Edinburgh. The company has a Gaelic name, and has been
having problems with British Telecom's directory enquiries service not
finding their entry. Apparently, all calls to directory enquiries are put
through an implementation of the SOUNDEX algorithm: the operator listens to
the name given by the caller, and types in the name as heard or a close
phonetic approximation to it. I don't know a great deal about SOUNDEX, but
it doesn't work for Gaelic, even though the company's name (An Teallach) is
not too distant from the phonetic pronunciation (An Chellack).

The final part of the long, heated discussion with the BT engineer revealed
that they've been having a lot of problems with the system, especially with
people calling up to ask for phone numbers of French restaurants...

Two wrongs make a right

Wed, 17 Jun 92 14:55 EDT
Those of us who are aware that denial results when the output queues for
peripherals overrun are aware that it can be devastating, but there are
also those of us who take advantage of it as if it were a feature.  Here
is what happened to me today.

          On a 3B2, the system backups and restoration program does not
allow you to restore information to different directory structures than
it was backed up from without great difficulty.  I happened to have over
9,000 files to restore to a system, and they were backed up from "/v",
but the system they were being restored on had only a "/u" it would fit
on.  (These are Unix sub\directories).  As a result, I essentially had
to do the restore to a newly created "/v" in the root file system, which
did not have enough file space available to do the entire restore.  I
had a plan - As the tape was restored, I would copy disk-to-disk and
delete the incoming files after copying them.  I have done this "race"
before, and I knew that I had to transfer out at a rate high enough so
that the root file system would not overrun - which is to say, I had to
beat the incoming tape transfer with disk to disk transfers.  Of cours
the tape in streeming mode operates faster than the disk I was using, so
in the end, it was helpless because it takes two disk accesses to move a
file from one disk to another, but only 1 access to get a new file from
the tape.  I tried putting in multiple transfer processes at high
priority, but of course, the DMAs always won from the tape to the disk.

          The solution I used (when the available space began to get
critical) was to halt output on the console!  Hard to believe it works?
Of course it does.  The tape transfers produce a dot on the screen for
each of the files transfered in, and by pressing <ctrl>s (stop output) I
was able to block the tape transfer process after only a few hundred
more files are transfered.  By watching the disk space, stopping the
console output to block tape transfers when space got too low, and
continuing output when more space was created by the transfer to the
second disk, I was able to complete the job.

          The point of this insanity is that as a practical matter, there are
times when knowing how to cause denial of services can be a very useful part of
systems administration - especially when we can do it so selectively.  The
title of this piece indicates that by knowing about how to break a system, I
was able to compensate for one flaw in the system by exploiting another flaw -
hence, 2 wrongs made a right!

P.S.  I am interested in other stories where knopwn holes were used to
compensate creatively for other known holes.  It is my contention that most of
the best systems administrators and systems programmers know about and exploit
these sorts of things all of the time, and that without these flaws, we would
really have to design systems right - otherwise, we would never be able to make
up for the wrongs with other wrongs.

Computer problem provides free phone porn

Mark Bartelt <>
Thu, 18 Jun 92 08:00:43 EDT
[ Toronto Star, 17-Jun-92 ]

Bell attempts to correct error that allows free phone-sex calls

OTTAWA (CP)  —  Bell Canada is scrambling to repair a computer error
that allows some Ottawa pay phones to dispense free phone-sex services.
   The error has been giving callers easy access for months to graphic
recordings of simulated kinky sex.  Callers have also been able to speak
to women whose job is to fulfil sexual fantasies by talking dirty.
   Bell officials weren't aware of the glitch in the system until an
Ottawa Citizen reporter told them of it, said official Lynn Francoeur.
   Phone-sex clients "certainly weren't going to call Bell and tell us
they were getting this for free."
   Francoeur could not say why Bell hadn't detected the error which has
affected pay phones in Ottawa's west end and in the nearby community of
Nepean.  Nor could she say how much money Bell and the phone-sex companies
have lost, or how long the error has existed.
   Many west-end high school students have been in the know for months.  At
Woodroffe High School, where three pay phones allowed the no-charge calls,
several teenagers said they knew of the free dial-a-porn since late 1990.
   "It's perverted," said a 16-year-old male in Grade 10, who asked not to
be identified.

Mark Bartelt                                                  416/978-5619
Canadian Institute for                     
Theoretical Astrophysics                   

Australia benefits from US encryption export ban

Wed, 17 Jun 92 16:19:13 -0700
>From The Courier-Mail, Queensland, Australia - May 18, 1992
    "Pay-TV boost to technology" (copied without permission)

A US export ban on pay-TV decoding technology could lead to a multibillion-
dollar, Australian-led revolution in the industry.  The 15-year-old decoding or
encryption system used in the US is classified "military sensitive", ruling out
its export to and use in Australia when this country introduces a pay-TV system
in 1994.

Far from creating a major hurdle for Australia's nascent pay-TV industry - pay
TV cannot work without a signal decoding system - the export ban is likely to
result in a massive boost for Australian technology.

After three years of developmental work, Gold Coast-based electronics company
Digital Blanking Systems has produced a pay-TV "black box" which, it says, is
better than the American version and which could save Australia $100 million a
year in imports.  [RNZ - $A1 = ~$US0.76]

The company says its revolutionary decoder could earn Australia up to
$2.5 billion a year in exports if the designed was accepted in key Asian
and European pay-TV markets.

    So, what we've said in the past about US export restrictions on
encryption technology being detrimental economically is coming to pass.

Rick Noah Zucker, Dept. of Computer Science & Eng., University of Washington

Re: Missed Pagings (RISKS-13.58)

Tue, 16 Jun 92 12:38 EDT
In the June 15 issue of RISKS-13.58, Bill Griswold of UCSD describes an
incident that took place regarding a missed page that nearly cost the life of a
person in personal crisis.  I cannot comment on the availablity of any type of
fault-tolerance in most radio paging system, that is can the system confirm
that the page was recieved by the intended beeper?  It would seem that the
beepers that are typically available cannot transmit a return signal to
indicate reception.  I make that statement based upon the logical assumption
that if the system needs a 100 foot tall (sometimes taller) tower to transmit
the primary signal to the pager, the pager does not have the power to send a
return signal.  There are certainly experts out there in radio signal
transmission that can comment on the specifics.  But in most cases, it takes
less power to sense a transmission than to actually generate one.  Automotive
radar detectors are a prime example of this.

My personal experience has had similar events.  In my former life as a cardiac
surgical assistant, there were times that I missed pages during life
threatening situations when patients were in need of immediate attention from a
health care professional.  I had a Motorola BPR2000 beeper (the LCD display
type) that was considered one of the best at the time (1981 - 1986 time frame)
and there were more times than I care to think about when I was either in the
hospital or on call away from the hospital that pages were missed.  In no case
did anyone die (luckily), but it did create enormous amounts of tension as
precious minutes were sometimes lost due to not recieving the page the first
time.  In one circumstance, I changed from the hospital's own system to a
commercial system, that was signifcantly more reliable (higher power
transmitter with a better, more central antenna location).  With that system, I
did not miss any pages over the course of the subsequent year.  At least that I
know of!

I also would be curious to hear of any similar experiences and any expert
comments on the nature of error detection and correction on the systems,
especially with the new nation-wide paging systems that are in wide spread
use by companies, including my present employer for our field personnel.

Marc Schwartz, Director, Clinical Services, Summit Medical Systems
Minneapolis, Minnesota     E-mail: SchwartzM at

privacy problems with voter records

Lance J. Hoffman <>
Wed, 17 Jun 92 15:53:06 EDT
Date: Wed, 17 Jun 92 11:49:09 PDT
From: "Willis H. Ware" <>

From: (Norman Kraft)
Newsgroups: alt.privacy
Subject: Privacy alert:San Diego voters on CD
Date: 8 Jun 92 18:31:33 GMT
Organization: Argus Computing, San Diego, CA

An article that made the front page of the San Diego Union on Sunday,
June 7, 1992 bore the title: "Technology pits privacy vs. Information
Age". The article starts with these paragraphs:


   The morning after Bill Turner voted in last week's election, he picked up a
copy of a local computer magazine and his jaw dropped.  "This ad just jumped
out and hit me in the face," said the 35-year old La Mesa computer programmer.
"It was a severe shock."  There, for sale, were Turner's name, address,
unlisted telephone number, occupation, birthplace, birthdate and political

   A list of San Diego County's 1.25 million registered voters containing the
information is available for $99 in a relatively new format [CD-ROM] that
virtually anyone with a personal computer can use. It is the first known such
use of voter registration data in the nation.


The CD-ROM is marketed by a San Diego company call Sole Source Systems, a local
computer store.

Lists of voter information have always been available, and political campaigns
have had access to the information on data tapes for years.  This is, however,
the first time that such information has been made available to the public at
large, in an easily accessible format (dBase, from what I can gather).

Sole Source says that use of the CD is limited to "election purposes,
...election, scholarly or political research, or government purposes."  Sole
Source says that they require ID and the completion of a form before selling
the CD.  Turner responds to this with "What is there to prevent me from going
up there and telling him I'm with the Little Old Ladies Auxilliary 97, and I
want this list to call people up and help arrange transportation to the polls
on Election Day?  It would be a bald-faced lie, but I would get it [the CD]."

He may be right, as Conny McCormack, the San Diego County Registrar of Voters
says that the registrar's office does not check to make sure the list is being
used within the law, primarily because "we have no authority in that area."

David Banisar, a policy analyst with Computer Professionals for Social
Responsibilities in Washington, DC, said in all likelihood the CD would end up
in the hands of direct marketers. "This is really an unanticipated use of the
data," he said, "You register to vote because you want to feel patriotic and do
your citizen's duty and try to get some good government.  You don't register to
vote so that you can be solicited by every bozo out there with a widget that he
feels he should hock to you."

The article goes on to discuss the problems of privacy in the computer age, and
mentions two other CD-ROM databases that are publicly available: PhoneDisc USA,
from a corporation of the same name in Marblehead, Mass., lists 90 million
names, addresses and phone numbers nation wide.  MetroScan CD, from
Transamerica Information Management in Sacramento, is a database containing
housing ownership information, from deed filings, and for a given address
provides the owner's name, address, when the building was purchased, how many
bedrooms and bathrooms it has, how many square feet it has, and it's property
tax assessment.

In the article, Ken Smith, from Transamerica Information Magagement,
is quoted as saying:

   "I'm very much in favor of making the information, if it's in the
    public domain, available to a very wide audience, rather than just
    major corporations and government agencies. It's a very, very
    powerful tool for the little guy."

and further:

   "I don't think the privace issue has been a concern yet. I can
    see where it might be in the future, but it's not a problem now."

Finally the article goes back to Dante Tuccero, from PhoneDisc USA Corp.,
listing such PhoneDisc customers as "the U.S.  Drug Enforcement
Administration, the Navy, the Air Force, the Social Security
Administration, as well as local libraries and law enforcement, public
investigators, geneologists, and even high school and college reunions."
Quoting Tuccero, "There's a company in Langley, Va,. that uses it, I
believe, but wouldn't say so."

The last paragraphs of the article point out that "the direct-mail company
that provides PhoneDisc with most of it's data prefers to remain off other
people's lists."

"We're not at liberty to share that," Tuccero said, "A lot of data
providers like to be low key."

The saddest part of the whole article, in my opinion, is this statement
from Turner: "I have voted in every election since I was 18, and I think
(this) was the last election I'll ever vote in."

[For those concerned about the PhoneDisc listings, they will remove your
name from the next release of their CD if you call.  They claim that only
two people have called so far.  I imagine we can change that!  Their
number in Marblehead, Mass. as given by directory assistance, is

Norman R. Kraft, Senior Partner, Argus Computing, San Diego, CA
UUCP : ucsd!crash!bkhouse!nkraft        INET  :

------- Message 2

From: (Jim Gillogly)
Newsgroups: alt.privacy
Subject: Re: Privacy alert:San Diego voters on CD
Summary: PhoneDisc won't remove names.
Date: 9 Jun 92 21:18:44 GMT


I called this number to get removed from their list.  The lady who
answered the phone was polite, and told me that they got their information
from the white pages of phone books around the country, which are public
information.  I told her I wanted to be removed from their product, and
she responded that all I needed to do was to get an unlisted number from
the phone company so that I would not be in the next phone book, and that
would prevent me from getting into the next copy of their product.  They
will not remove someone from it individually.

Looks like more cause for concern...

 Jim Gillogly

Call for Participation, CFP '93

Bruce R Koball <>
Tue, 16 Jun 92 19:28:55 -0700
   The Third Conference on Computers, Freedom and Privacy
         Sponsored by ACM SIGCOMM, SIGCAS & SIGSAC
                    9 - 12 March 1993
     San Francisco Airport Marriott Hotel, Burlingame, CA


This is an invitation to submit session and topic proposals for
inclusion in the program of the Third Conference on Computers,
Freedom and Privacy.  Proposals may be for individual talks, panel
discussions, debates or other presentations in appropriate
formats. Proposed topics should be within the general scope of the
conference, as outlined below.


The advance of computer and telecommunications technologies holds
great promise for individuals and society. From convenience for
consumers and efficiency in commerce to improved public health and
safety and increased participation in democratic institutions,
these technologies can fundamentally transform our lives.

At the same time these technologies pose threats to the ideals of
a free and open society. Personal privacy is increasingly at risk
from invasion by high-tech surveillance and eavesdropping. The
myriad databases containing personal information maintained in the
public and private sectors expose private life to constant

Technological advances also enable new forms of illegal activity,
posing new problems for legal and law enforcement officials and
challenging the very definitions of crime and civil liberties. But
technologies used to combat these crimes can threaten the
traditional barriers between the individual and the state.

Even such fundamental notions as speech, assembly and property are
being transformed by these technologies, throwing into question
the basic Constitutional protections that have guarded them.
Similarly, information knows no borders; as the scope of economies
becomes global and as networked communities transcend
international boundaries, ways must be found to reconcile
competing political, social and economic interests in the digital

The Third Conference on Computers, Freedom and Privacy will
assemble experts, advocates and interested people from a broad
spectrum of disciplines and backgrounds in a balanced public forum
to address the impact of computer and telecommunications
technologies on freedom and privacy in society. Participants will
include people from the fields of computer science, law, business,
research, information, library science, health, public policy,
government, law enforcement, public advocacy and many others.

Topics covered in previous CFP conferences include:

Personal Information and Privacy
International Perspectives and Impacts
Law Enforcement and Civil Liberties
Ethics, Morality and Criminality
Electronic Speech, Press and Assembly
Who Logs On (Computer & Telecom Networks)
Free Speech and the Public Telephone Network
Access to Government Information
Computer-based Surveillance of Individuals
Computers in the Workplace
Who Holds the Keys? (Cryptography)
Who's in Your Genes? (Genetic Information)
Ethics and Education
Public Policy for the 21st Century

These topics are given as examples and are not meant to exclude
other possible topics on the general subject of Computers, Freedom
and Privacy.


All proposals should be accompanied by a position statement of at
least one page, describing the proposed presentation, its theme
and format. Proposals for panel discussions, debates and other
multi-person presentations should include a list of proposed
participants and session chair. Proposals should be sent to:

    CFP'93 Proposals
    2210 Sixth Street
    Berkeley, CA 94710

or by email to:    with the word "Proposal"
in the subject line. Proposals should be submitted as soon as
possible to allow thorough consideration for inclusion in the
formal program. The deadline for submissions is 15 August 1992.


Full time students are invited to enter the student paper
competition. Winners will receive a scholarship to attend the
conference and present their papers.

Papers should not exceed 2500 words and should address the impact
of computer and telecommunications technologies on freedom and
privacy in society. All papers should be submitted to Professor
Dorothy Denning by 15 October 1992. Authors may submit their
papers either by sending them as straight text via email to:   or by sending 6 printed copies to:

    Professor Dorothy Denning
    Georgetown University
    Dept.  of Computer Science
    225 Reiss Science Bldg.
    Washington DC 20057

Submitters should include the name of their institution, degree
program, and a signed statement affirming that they are a full-
time student at their institution and that the paper is an
original, unpublished work of their own.


For more information on the CFP'93 program and advance
registration, as it becomes available, write to:

    CFP'93 Information
    2210 Sixth Street
    Berkeley, CA 94710

or send email to:    with the word
"Information" in the subject line.


General Chair
Bruce R. Koball
2210 Sixth Street
Berkeley, CA 94710
510-845-1350 (voice)
510-845-3946 (fax)

Steering Committee

Mary J. Culnan                    David D. Redell
Georgetown University             DEC Systems Research
Dorothy Denning
Georgetown University             Marc Rotenberg
                                  Computer Professionals
Les Earnest                        for Social Responsibility
GeoGroup, Inc.
                                  C. James Schmidt
Mike Godwin                       San Jose State University
Electronic Frontier Foundation
                                  Barbara Simons
Mark Graham                       IBM
Pandora Systems
                                  Lee Tien
Lance J. Hoffman                  Attorney
George Washington University
                                  George Trubow
Donald G. Ingraham                John Marshall Law School
Office of the District Attorney,
 Alameda County, CA               Willis Ware
                                  Rand Corp.
Simona Nass
Student - Cardozo Law School      Jim Warren
Peter G. Neumann                   & Autodesk, Inc.
SRI International

Affiliations are listed for identification only.

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