At the September 92 Seminar of the American Society for Industrial Security (ASIS), I attended a lecture by the office of the Inspector General of Health and Human Services (HHS-IG). They are normally tasked with tracking down people who cheat on Medicare and other assistance programs. Last year they cited $15 million in penalties in over 2500 cases. The lecture was about "Operation Private Trust" — catching people who abused their official computer access. In mid-1990 HHS noticed that a company in Florida was offering personal information which could probably not be legally obtained as fast as they were providing it. They called themselves "Nationwide Electronic Tracking" service, NET. NET offered everything from credit checks in an hour ($10) to a 10-year employment history ($175) in five days. A scale of prices included $7.50 to get someone's home address based on their Social Security Number in under two hours. They also offered info on a variety of topics including your official criminal records, employers, neighbors, post office box, driver's license and car registration, workmen's compensation claims, etc. There are normally 200,000 legitimate external IRS queries every year, but processing them normally takes 2-4 weeks, providing a niche for a criminal entrepreneur. How do you identify the illegal queries? To make a long story short: They laid a trap wherein a NET "customer" requested information based on a certain SSN. HHS then asked the IRS to quietly monitor their system for a query. It popped up two hours later in Phoenix. (The IRS had to modify their system to trace the identity of the person requesting the information.) Investigators then did other types of queries and soon discovered a large nationwide network of middlemen with sources working at various government agencies. Dozens of government employees were selling information to which they had online access. Systems included IRS tax returns, and the FBI's NCIC. In some cases the "customers" were drug dealers who were trying to check out backgrounds in order to find undercover investigators. Some of the "middlemen" also turned out to be former IG and other HHS agents who were aware of the records' accessibility and lack of system security. The middlemen made huge tax-free profits. Where NET customers paid $100 for a report, the clerk who did the access might receive only $5 for the effort. As a result of the investigation, the US Attorney in Tampa issued ten indictments against fourteen people, and 11 of them pleaded guilty. They were charged with over 30 counts of conspiracy, unauthorized disclosure of tax return information, theft/conversion of government property (records), aiding and abetting a crime, bribery of public officials, making false official statements, and fraudulent access to Federal computers (18 USC 1030(a)(4)). There were details of literally hundreds of illegal overt acts (some of which were probably recorded on wiretaps). Additional indictments were filed in New Jersey with more to follow soon. The IRS systems have now been tightened up so that fewer clerks have valid access rights. Audit records are now scrutinized monthly and clerk transaction profiles monitored. The FBI is said to be "examining the problem" of user authentication on their systems. The moral of the story was: If you're given special access to online federal information and you abuse it, you may have to pay the consequences which include ten years in federal prison and a $10,000 fine. No end-users of the illegally obtained files were indicted and there continues to be a large market for private information held in government computer systems. -BCNelson
A paper describing the details of what really happened with the Therac-25, including detailed descriptions of the software bugs and the response by users, government agencies, the manufacturer, etc. is now in review for publication and available as a technical report. This is the result of three years of detective work by myself and Clark Turner (my student) and the collection and distillation of several large boxes of documents. Many of the previous media accounts and papers have been incomplete, misleading, or plain wrong. To order, call or write to UCI (Info. and Computer Science Dept., University of California, Irvine, CA 92717) or to UW (Computer Science and Engineering, FR-35, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195) and ask for: "An Investigation of the Therac-25 Accidents," by Nancy Leveson and Clark Turner. UCI TR #92-108 or UW TR #92-11-05 [Nancy gave a preview of this paper in New Orleans at SIGSOFT '91 last December. It has been long awaited, and I expect it will be a best-selling technothriller, even if it is completely NONfiction. (Truth is often stranger than fiction, anyway!) However, I hope RISKS readers do not deluge Nancy with TOO MANY requests that she decides never again to make such a generous offer! But I am absolutely delighted that she is giving RISKS readers an early chance to review this report. PGN]
From an article by Daryl Kelley, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer, Nov. 11, 1992: Chagrined Ventura County [CA] election officials confirmed Tuesday [Nov 10?] that they had fed inaccurate vote tabulations on 13 state ballot propositions to the secretary of state's office last week. The foul-up, which reversed Ventura County's YES and NO votes for each proposition, did not involve enough votes to change the outcome for any of the statewide measures, state officials said. "I don't know of any other county that screwed up, but I did," Ventura County elections chief Bruce Bradley said Tuesday. "I linked their YES [computer line] to my NO, and vice versa. So on Thursday when we found out, we corrected it." The error was made only on the ballot measures, Bradley said. Ventura County tabulations in other state and federal races, such as the two for U.S. Senate, were fed accurately to Sacramento by computer lines identified with the names of the candidates, he said. All the results for local ballot measures and races were accurate, Bradley said. Melissa Warren, spokeswoman for the secretary of state, said the error did not affect the outcome of any proposition because Ventura County's voting trends generally jibed with the rest of the state and because Ventura County voters are a small part of the state total. The closest ballot measure was Proposition 162, which shifts control of funds in the public employees' retirement systems. The measure won by 187,101 votes statewide, according to semiofficial results, It lost by 5,528 votes in Ventura County. Such mistakes are not rare, Warren said. ==== ======== === === ===== ====== ==== [emphasis added!] Over the next three weeks, California counties will count late arriving absentee ballots and provisional and damaged ballots, Warren said. Then they will file a final count with the state by Dec. 1. An official count is expected to be released Dec. 14. John Flynn, chairman of the Ventura County Board of Supervisors, said he had just congratulated Bradley on a particularly smooth election when he learned of the mistake Tuesday. "It's regrettable," Flynn said. "But these are human beings who run these things." Ted Shapin, Beckman Instruments, Inc., 2500 Harbor, M/S X-11 Fullerton, CA 92634-3100 714/961-3393 email@example.com
[firstname.lastname@example.org] This sounds quite like the system used here in Detroit, MI. I always spot-check a few important items to a) make sure that they are correct and b) give me confidence that the rest of the ballot is punched correctly. This is possible because the correct box numbers are printed on the ballot. So, for instance, in the recent election I verified the holes on the card with the numbers on the ballot for: President, Congressional Representative, and the four major ballot proposals here in Michigan; but not for all the minor and judicial offices. I also looked at the ballot before I put it in the machine to make sure no holes had been accidentally punched. Some may consider this excessive, paranoid, or simply inconsiderate of others who were waiting for my voting booth (we had a record turnout, and I had to do it in the booth since I needed to be looking at the ballot to compare the numbers), but considering how quick and easy it was and that no perfect voting machine will ever be built, I think that double-checking by the voter is the only prudent course. Note also that checking would be impossible if the correct numbers were not given on the ballot, as they are here in Detroit and apparently were in Berkeley. David R. Conrad email@example.com
When I went to college (University of Maryland at College Park) our school got a new voice mail system to keep up with the times. This system offered a message area for each user accessible from any phone so long as you knew the passcode for that particular number. The problem was that all the passwords were set to 12345 at the beginning of the semester, so the people who first got to campus started having a ball changing friends, enemies and strangers passcodes. By the time I got to campus, I had several messages that I could not get to because the passcode had been changed(remember this was before classes began so students had lots of time on their hands). I had no way to figure out my code except to go to the phone building on campus (though it never came to that because a friend confessed to doing it and gave me the number). Another risk was the students were never explicitly told that all the numbers were the same, so some students left their number the same and as a result people would "fish" for numbers to listen to the messages of. If any sort of security was there to protect the information (logs or the like) no one I knew who did this ever got caught, and castigated. The final problem was the message append function. What people could do is the same as E-MAIL reply, except with the original message appended. People would send these messages back and forth until they filled your mailbox, then they would send the message to every number they could think of(if you knew someone in a dormitory, all the hallmates numbers clustered around their number and so all of them might get the message). During my final year there, when the system was installed these problems were never noticeably addressed, including at the end of the semester being asked to change the passcode back to 12345. Well, this is just a warning to system engineers to better recognize the users of a system to better handle these shortcomings.
Reprinted with permission ("do with it as you wish. Granger") [and forwarded by Professor Lance J. Hoffman, EECS, The George Washington University, Washington, D. C. 20052, (202) 994-4955 firstname.lastname@example.org] A "Viewpoint " piece in The Institute, November 1992 Balancing National Interests The September/October issue of The Institute carried a front page story reporting that the Federal Bureau of Investigation is promoting legislation that would require all telephone systems to be designed in such a way that they can be wiretapped by law enforcement officials. The argument is that wiretapping is a key tool in much of law enforcement, particularly in fields such as drugs, racketeering, conspiracy and white collar crime, and that unless care is taken in the design of future telecommunications systems, this tool may become difficult or impossible to exercise. To solve this problem the FBI is promoting legislation that would establish design requirements on future telephone systems. Not surprisingly, civil liberties groups and telephone companies are reported to be less than enthusiastic. While interesting and important in its own right, this controversy is perhaps even more important as a symbol of a broader set of conflicts between a number of important national interests. As a country, we want to promote: * Individual privacy (including the right of citizens and other residents of the U.S. to keep personal records private, hold private communications with others, and move about without being "tracked".) * Security for organizations (including protection of financial transactions, and the ability to keep corporate data, plans, and communications confidential.) * Effective domestic law enforcement (including the ability to perform surveillance of legitimately identified suspects, and the ability to audit and reconstruct fraudulent activities.) * Effective international intelligence gathering (including the ability to monitor the plans and activities of organizations abroad that may pose a threat to the U.S. or to other peaceful states and peoples.) * Secure world-wide reliable communications for U.S. diplomats and the military, for U.S. business, and for U.S. citizens in their activities all around the world (including the ability to maintain and gain access to secure, reliable, communications channels.) Just as with most of our society's other fundamental objectives, these objectives are in conflict. You can not maximize them all because getting more of some involves giving up some of others. A dynamic tension must be created that keeps the various objectives properly balanced. That socially optimal point of balance may change gradually over time as world conditions and our society's values evolve. An electrical engineer who thinks for a moment about the problem of achieving any particular specified balance among the various objectives I have listed will quickly conclude that communications and information technology design choices lie at the heart of the way in which many of the necessary tradeoffs will be made. We would like easy portable communications for all, but doing that in a way that allows people to keep their legitimate travels private poses significant design challenges. Banks and other businesses would like secure encrypted communications world-wide, but promoting the general availability of such technologies all around the world severely complicates the signal intelligence operations of intelligence organizations. The troubling thing about the FBI's legislative proposals is not that they are being made, but that we lack a broader institutional context within which to evaluate them. In making such choices, we need to look systematically at all the legitimate interests that are at stake in telecommunications and information technology design choices, consider the ways in which technology and the world are evolving, and integrate all these considerations to arrive at a reasoned balance. In the old days, if things got too far out of line in some balance (for example, between freedom of the press and protection against liable), the courts simply readjusted things and we went on. Today, and increasingly in the future, with many of these balances hard wired into the basic design of our information and communication systems, it may be much harder to readjust the balance after the fact. There are several organizations that should be working harder on these issues. On the government side the Telecommunication and Computing Technologies Program in the Office of Technology Assessment should be doing more systematic studies of these tradeoffs to help inform the Congress; The National Telecommunications and Information Administration in the Department of Commerce (or some appropriate interagency committee) should be doing similar studies to develop more coherent and comprehensive executive branch policy; and the Office of Policy and Plans in the Federal Communications Commission (which is an independent regulatory agency not directly subject to executive branch policy) should be giving these issues more attention so it can better support the Commissioners when they confront such tradeoffs. On the non-government side, the Office of Computer and Information Technology at the National Research Council might appropriately mount a comprehensive study. There is an ideal opportunity here for a private foundation to fund an independent blue-ribbon commission. Finally, the computer and telecommunications industries, both individually and collectively through their industry associations, should be taking more interest in how the country will strike these all important balances. M. Granger Morgan M. Granger Morgan (F) is head of the Department of Engineering and Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon University where he is also a Professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and in the H. John Heinz III School of Public Policy and Management. He teaches and performs research on a variety of problems in technology and public policy in which technical issues are of central importance.
David Willcox spoke of the obvious risks of registering encryption keys with some agency. Dorothy Denning responded in RISKS-13.86 that the "risk can be reduced to about zero" and described a mechanism. Yet neither elaborated on just what specific risks are to be protected against. Denning chooses to ignore one obvious class of risks: defective warrants, incompetence and/or outright corruption in the government and the key registration agency. The government has abused its wiretap facilities in the past (e.g., Operation Shamrock) and will do so again until the widespread use of strong cryptography stops it. Anyone who thinks that the warrant is a meaningful safeguard ought to consider what happened recently in Poway, California (just northeast of San Diego). Customs and DEA agents broke into an innocent man's house at midnight and exchanged gunfire with the owner, who quite reasonably thought his home was being invaded (the agents did not identify themselves). Last I heard, the owner was in critical condition in the hospital. After the shooting, neighbors overheard the leader telling his troops "Now get this straight. He shot first!" The sole basis of the warrant? A "tip" from an informer, already known by Customs to be unreliable. He admitted the next day that he had merely picked a house at random when the agents pressed him to "produce". The judge who approved this particular warrant obviously didn't scrutinize it very closely despite the clear potential for serious injury to an innocent person. It's not hard to imagine a judge being even less critical of an application for a wiretap warrant. "After all", he'll reason, "what harm can to you really do to an innocent person by just listening to his phone calls? It's not like the agents are asking for permission to break his door down." That's the whole problem with government wiretaps. They're easy and (from law enforcement's perspective) almost risk-free. Break down the wrong guy's door, and there's no way to keep it out of the papers. But tap the wrong guy's phone and he may never know. Warrants? Don't bother — they leave paper trails, and are unnecessary unless you want to produce the recordings in court. There are many other uses for wiretaps that need not reveal one's "sources and methods". This is especially tempting with radio. ECPA or no ECPA, the fact is that it's incredibly easy to intercept analog cell phones and very hard to get caught doing it. Indeed, the government successfully opposed meaningful encryption in digital cellular, even though it would only protect the air link — the land side of the call could still be tapped with the phone company's assistance. I wonder why. Okay, so maybe I'm paranoid. But I don't think so. A healthy distrust of government, particularly of those functions that are not always open to public scrutiny, is essential to a free society. Or so the authors of the Constitution seemed to think, even if the average person wouldn't mind repealing the Bill of Rights to help fight the drug war. But let's assume that we've found some saints to populate the entire Executive branch, so we can safely pass a law requiring crypto key registration. Exactly how would it be enforced? Routinely scan all private telephone conversations looking for bit streams that cannot be easily decoded? What about certain rare natural languages - ban them too? (Recall that the US military used Navajo radio operators in the Pacific during WWII as "human crypto machines" against the Japanese). So much for the First Amendment. Suppose you find an undecodable conversation that you actually have good reason to believe conceals criminal activity. How would you compel the users to reveal the key, if indeed they used a protocol that could be compromised in this way? According to several lawyers I've asked, including a law professor at the University of Wisconsin who specializes in the Fifth Amendment, a memorized crypto key would clearly be considered "testimonial" evidence that could not be compelled without a grant of immunity. So what do we do — repeal the Fifth Amendment too? It is absolutely obvious to me that any attempt to control the private use of cryptography could not help but impinge on some very basic Constitutional guarantees. And yet it probably still wouldn't have the desired effect. It's already a cliche, but it's still true: when cryptography is outlawed, only outlaws will use cryptography. (And no, I *don't* believe the same is true for guns.) Phil
Suppose both parties ("Joe Teflon" and "Louie") have a ".gif" picture of something, say Yellowstone Falls, exchanged by disk. An encrypted message could be overlayed as "noise" on the video image, recovered easily on the other end, while appearing innocuous to anyone intercepting the image. (To tease, one could use politically incorrect images.) Attempts to defeat encryption will defeat only the stupid. Maybe that is worthwhile.
Our moderator writes: > [...Actually, there are all sorts of cryptic messages hidden in > RISKS, but few people seem to notice them. PGN] It is not surprising that few people notice the cryptic messages hidden in RISKS. The longevity of the Forum itself attests to the fact that few people notice even the obvious messages of RISKS. Robert Philhower, Rensselaer Center for Integrated Electronics, CII 6111 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute / Troy, NY 12180 email@example.com
Thanks, Robert. By the way, I think we have about mined this one out for the time being, so let's see if I can end it without opening up more discussion! Thanks to Dorothy Denning for having opened up a difficult debate at the National Computer Security Conference, Rebecca Mercuri for having brought it up in RISKS-13.84, and all the rest of you who contributed. The problems are very deep, and the risks of simplistic solutions are extensive. This is probably one of those cases in which "there are no easy answers." However, just because a supposedly "easy answer" got included in RISKS, don't assume it was correct, or reasonable, or realistic — even if it went unchallenged. I did not include ALL of the messages on this subject. There were simply too many. PGN
There is a comment in "Risks of Cellular Speech" in RISKS-14.02 which, I suspect, is not correct. While I believe that it is true that the use of Cellular phones is prohibited in aircraft (at least those operating under Instrument Flight Rules), I seem to remember that the rationale is aviation related, not Cellular Phone related. To be exact, my recollection is that the frequencies used by Cellular are fairly close to some of the frequencies used by the avionics. In any event, the prohibition is, I believe, a blanket one, not based on, for example, altitude. If the problem were caused by cell overlap, then there would need to be a ban on the use of Cell phones at any altitude where more than one cell site would be over the horizon. I seem to remember a discussion on this subject a couple of months ago in rec.aviation, but I don't have easy access to an archive. Bob Robert Gezelter Software Consultant 5-20 167th Street, Suite 215 Flushing, New York 11358-1731 +1 718 463 1079 firstname.lastname@example.org
In RISKS-14.03 I saw mention of an earlier post in which I described my discovery that BSD shared memory segments persist; people who know better will be reassured to find out that I have since understood 1) that this persistence can be a feature, not a bug and 2) the SysV libraries allow one to use mmap() calls to implement shared memory, without the 100 segments of 1MB each limitation (*). But I discovered along the way two interesting things: first, you can't trust the man pages' SEE ALSO section to give you complete cross-referencing on all related topics, especially between the BSD and SysV camps. Second, the Net and Local Smart People (who turned me on to the mmap() calls) are really great resources. (*) It was pointed out to me that the BSD segments can be made contiguous, which is helpful; but I also might conceivably need more than that (yes, seriously.) David Honig
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