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 15 Issue 51

Thus 10 February 1994


o FLASH: Vice President Gore Questions Current Key Escrow Policy!
Stanton McCandlish
o CMU elections suspended due to computer problems
Declan B. McCullagh
o TCAS blamed for near collision over Portland
Lauren Wiener
o Pacific Bell Customers Get Unpleasant Messages
Lin Zucconi
o Two recent UK tales: Gas payment notices; info network problem
Peter Ladkin
o FBI falsely obtained wiretap in KC
o Re: "Misunderstanding" a CERT advisory
Espen Andersen
o Re: Altered White House Docs
A. Padgett Peterson
Pete Mellor
Jim Hoover
o About Computer Software and Patents
Paul Robinson
o Info on RISKS (comp.risks)

FLASH: Vice President Gore Questions Current Key Escrow Policy!

Stanton McCandlish <>
10 Feb 1994 17:55:25 -0600
National Information Infrastructure Advisory Committee met today in Washington
at the Old Executive Office Building.  In comments made after a question and
answer period, Vice President Al Gore said that key escrow policy announced
last Friday (4 Feb 1994) had serious flaws and that he hope the issue of who
holds the keys and under what terms would be given more serious, careful

Gore made it clear that some amount of control of cryptography technology was
necessary for national security.  However, the key escrow policies announced
by the Departments of Justice, Commerce & State, and the NSA, were "low level
decisions" that got out before thorough analysis.  In a conversation with
Mitchell Kapor, Esther Dyson, and Mike Nelson (of the White House Staff), Gore
said that he would prefer that the keys be held by some part of the Judiciary
branch, or perhaps even by trusted, private escrow agents.  He made it clear
that he believed that the escrow agents named in last Friday's announcement
(National Institute of Standards & Technology and the Treasure Department)
were no appropriate key holders.  Mike Nelson also indicated that there was
real interest in a software-based escrow system instead of the hardware-based
SKIPJACK standard

Those of us who heard Gore were quite surprised.  His remarks suggest that the
key escrow policies to date do not have full support of the White House.

Still, Gore was quite firm in asserting that some control of encryption
technology is essential to national security.  "Encryption and codebreaking
have determined the outcome of world wars.  He stated (incorrectly) that
most our industrialized allies place must stricter controls in encryption
that the US does.  In fact, almost all COCOM countries allow the export of
DES-based products, though some do not allow DES to be imported.

The whole question of encryption was raised when Mitchell Kapor told the
Vice President that over half of the Advisory Council members had serious
reservations about the current Clipper/Skipjack policies.  Gore and Kapor
agreed that the Advisory Council should be used to have a serious dialogue
about encryption policy.  Given Gore's departure from the current Clipper
proposals, there might actually be something to talk about.

NOTE: This DOES NOT mean that Clipper is going away.  Part of stopping Clipper
is to lift export controls on encryption and enable US companies to start
producing products that enable all of us to protect our privacy with strong

I urge you to write to Rep. Cantwell today at In the Subject
header of your message, type "I support HR 3627." In the body of your message,
express your reasons for supporting the bill. EFF will deliver printouts of
all letters to Rep. Cantwell. With a strong showing of support from the Net
community, Rep. Cantwell can tell her colleagues on Capitol Hill that
encryption is not only an industry concern, but also a grassroots issue.
*Again: remember to put "I support HR 3627" in your Subject header.*

  [For more info on the Cantwell bill, see Stanton's contribution
  in RISKS-15.47.  I have deleted a lengthy repetition here.  There is as
  yet no response from Stanton on Jon Leech's question in RISKS-15.50 on
  the address  It is presumably NOT Cantwell's.  PGN]

Daniel J. Weitzner, Senior Staff Counsel <>  202-347-5400 (v)
Stanton McCandlish <>  Electronic Frontier Foundation
1001 G St, NW  Suite 950 East Washington, DC 20001      202-393-5509 (f)

CMU elections suspended due to computer problems

"Declan B. McCullagh" <declan+@CMU.EDU>
Wed, 9 Feb 1994 23:33:03 -0500 (EST)
    Carnegie Mellon University is known around the world as a technological
innovator. To a great extent, this also makes our entire university dependent
on technology to function efficiently.
    Our reliance on computers and computer networks was made clear earlier
today when the results of the student government elections -- for the first
time in the history of the school -- could not be validated because a computer
system with the master list of eligible students was offline.
    As might be expected, the ill-timed computer failure upset quite a few
people who wanted to know the results, for this election marked the
culmination of a drawn-out dispute between graduate and undergraduate
students, who had planned to settle their difficulties at the ballot box.
    But the results can't be completely counted until the SIS (Student
Information System) verifies that all the candidates -- and suspect voters --
have paid their bills this semester. We're hoping that it's going to be back
up tomorrow...

Declan McCullagh  Student Govt Treasurer (fortunately, not up for re-election)

TCAS blamed for near collision over Portland

Lauren Wiener <>
Wed, 09 Feb 94 21:11:19 -0800
>From the _Oregonian_, Sat. Feb. 5, 1994, p. B1, B3:

Near collision at PDX prompts investigation

Two commercial airplanes carrying 113 people nearly collided in flight near
Portland Thursday afternoon, prompting an FAA investigation into whether an
on-board warning system put the planes on a collision course.  The pilot of
Alaska Airlines flight 548 saw the Horizon Airlines Dash-8 out his window and
later estimated it flew within three-fourths to one mile of his plane.

   [...deleted paragraph about standard minimum separation of 3 miles...]

The Alaska MD-80 carried 80 passengers and five crew members; the Horizon
Dash-8 had 25 passengers and 3 crew.  The incident happened at 2:38 PM
Thursday and involved the Alaska flight taking off from Portland International
Airport and Horizon Airlines Flight 2215 from Spokane, which was on its
descent for landing.

Dick Meyer, a spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration in Seattle,
said the Alaska flight was climbing at a normal rate of speed when each
plane's Traffic Collision Avoidance System warned of the possibility of
collision.  The planes were at between 9,000 and 10,000 feet elevation and 12
to 13 miles northeast of Portland when the collision alert was sounded.

The warning system, also known as TCAS, is a computerized warning system now
onboard every commercial flight in the United States.  It uses radio signals
emitted by each plane to determine whether there are other aircraft that are
approaching a plane's course.  If there are, TCAS sends out a "resolution
advisory" consisting of a visual signal and audible warnings telling the pilot
to either climb or descend.

Meyer said the Horizon was at 10,000 feet and preparing to descend.  The
Alaska flight was climbing to 9,000 feet when the TCAS system on both planes
went off.  "The Horizon flight that was coming in received a TCAS alert that
told it to descend.  The Alaska plane was climbing at its normal rate and got
a TCAS alert that told it to climb," Meyer said.  Meyer said the Horizon pilot
began dropping to 9,000 feet and radioed air traffic control.  The controller,
realizing there was a plane coming up to that altitude, got both pilots on the
radio and ordered the Horizon flight "to climb and maintain separation," Meyer

The two planes eventually flew within less than a mile of each other at the
same elevation.  "It was the response to the TCAS alerts that caused them to
come closer than they should," Meyer said.  Meyer said the Alaska pilot filed
a near midair collision report with the FAA.  Meyer said the incident was
being investigated by the FAA and its TCAS program manager in Washington, D.C.

Ted Blahnik, Horizon's chief pilot, said he didn't think the Thursday incident
demonstrated any problems with TCAS.

"This is not a glitch," he said.  "This thing operated exactly as designed.
[!! My *favorite* line!!]  The guy who really went into stress mode was the
air traffic controller."

TCAS has been on most commercial planes for the past several years.  It's been
required on all U.S. flights carrying more than 30 passengers since Dec. 30.

Air traffic controllers have been critical of TCAS, saying it is prone to
warn pilots of phantom planes and order them to fly into the paths of nearby

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association has complained repeatedly
about TCAS warnings in busy air space near airports.  Controllers have
contended that the devices tend to erode the margin of safety because pilots
tend to adhere to the warning system rather than rely on the controller's

The association reported in 1992 that about 63% of the TCAS warnings from May
1991 to July 1992 were invalid.  Groups representing airline pilots, however,
favor the system.  They testified before Congress in 1991 that TCAS was a
"giant step forward" in preventing flight collisions.

The FAA in May 1991 ordered that some of the TCAS devices on commercial
airlines be removed temporarily because they were reporting false alarms.
Technical improvements were made since then, and Meyer said that more
improvements would be in place by the end of the year "that would make TCAS
readings...more definitive."

TCAS systems will be required on all planes carrying 10 passengers or more by
9 Feb 1995.

Pacific Bell Customers Get Unpleasant Messages

"Lin Zucconi" <>
10 Feb 1994 09:03:15 U
Pacific Bell customers get messages on voice mail that they'd rather not hear
Valley Times (Livermore Valley area), 10 Feb 1994

  Electronic hackers have been intruding in to the Pacific Bell voice mail
  service. "The hackers have broken into the system, altering message
  greetings and changing passwords, which can keep legitimate users out of
  their mailbox."  Pacific Bell spokeswoman Sandy Hale said that it is a rare
  occurrence. Patrice Papalus Director of the San Francisco-based Computer
  Security Institute said "Telecommunications, computer and switchboard fraud
  is on the increase...Breaking into voice mail is really common."

The article went on to say that two teenagers who were infuriated because they
didn't receive a free computer game poster in a magazine promotion broke into
IDG's voice-mail system and distributed obscene messages and greetings to
female employees. In some cases, customers couldn't get through.

"The violations are unauthorized use of telephone services and a computer
crime," said Joe Cancilla, an Asst. V.P. of external affairs with Pac Bell.

Lin Zucconi

Two recent UK tales: Gas payment notices; info network problem

Dr Peter B Ladkin <>
10 Feb 94 21:32:59 GMT (Thu)
The Independent newspaper for Tuesday 11 Jan 94, p6 reports that a "Computer
upsets 15,000 gas customers". Apparently, 15,000 paid-up customers in British
Gas's south-eastern regional area got notices warning that their payments were
not up to date, and asking for payment. They complained, and British Gas is
sending out apology letters "at a cost of several thousand pounds". The
process is automated and "at no stage before posting is any human check made
on whether the machine is mistaken." British Gas said that "faulty programming
is to blame". (These two last sentences were adjacent. The journalist,
Nicholas Schoon, obviously didn't fall for the "dog ate my homework" tale fed
him by BG.)

The Independent newspaper for Thursday 10 Feb 94, p2, reports that "Computer
flop cost taxpayers \pounds 59m". The system was to provide an `information
network' for the department's Training and Enterprise Councils. The article is
a little hazy on details that would enlighten RISKS readers, but mentions a
highly negative report on the system by the Commons Public Accounts Committee.
(The Commons is the British lower House of Parliament, i.e. the significant
part of the governing body of Britain.)  Noone bothered to "test a pilot
scheme" to see if things worked.  The "info network" cost \pounds 48m, and the
department had spent \pounds 11m by Sept 92 on 200 management consultants to
help with it, despite planning only \pounds 1.3m for this in 1989. But it's
really hard to tell from the article how much of this was a computer system
that cost too much and didn't fill expectations, and how much was simply bad

Peter Ladkin

FBI falsely obtained wiretap in KC

9 Feb 94 06:46:21 CST
Quotes from Chief U.S. Magistrate Judge John T. Maughmer regarding FBI
wiretaps in a case against now deceased Kansas City financier Frank Morgan:

  "...disturbing pattern of material misstatements, overstatements,
  and omissions"  in the government affidavit seeking court permission
  to wiretap Frank Morgan's office.

  "The conduct of the FBI...rises to such a level of recklessness as to
  mandate suppression" of the evidence obtained through the wiretap.

The judge's comments were included in the 9 Feb 1994 Kansas City Star.

Re: "Misunderstanding" a CERT advisory

10 Feb 1994 08:05:36 -0400 (EDT)
>Expect journalistic exaggeration.

I can't resist: In 1982 (I think) a Polish climbing team had a fatal accident
in the Troll wall ("Trollveggen") in Norway.  In the serious Oslo morning
paper the climbers were reported to have fallen 600 meters to their deaths.
In the liberal afternoon paper, the fall was 800 meters.  In the sensational
afternoon paper, the figure was 1200 meters.

"Trollveggen" is approximately 1000 meters high.

Espen Andersen (

Re: Altered White House Documents (nothing new?)

A. Padgett Peterson <>
Thu, 10 Feb 94 16:37:33 -0500
It was my understanding that politicians have a "right of revision" to
anything that is placed in the Congressional Record such that if they happen
to say something in a speech that is later judged to have been "incorrect",
the error can be corrected before it goes into the Record.

As a result, it appears that there need not be any correlation between what is
said "for the Record" and what actually appears there. So why should we be
surprised if the same executive privilege is extended to ?

Re: Altered White House Documents (Firth, RISKS-15.47)

Pete Mellor <>
Thu, 10 Feb 94 12:21:13 GMT
> The relevant quote came to mind immediately:
>    "He who controls the past controls the future."

My recollection of the intended quotation (from George Orwell's "1984") is:-

        "He who controls the past controls the present.
         He who controls the present controls the future."

(I haven't looked it up in the book, so my recollection may be inaccurate,
too!) Readers may recall that this was the slogan of the "Ministry of Truth"
(which was in charge of lies and propaganda) where the hero, Winston Smith,
was employed to doctor public archives according to the latest political
line which the Party had decreed was the current infallible and unchangeable
version of the "truth".

Winston's work was demanding and creative. He would receive old issues of
newspapers, which landed on is desk via a delivery spout, and rewrite any
articles or news items which did not conform. Where this was not possible,
he had to take an item out altogether, and replace it with a suitably anodyne
item which he had to concoct on the spot. He would then pop the "incorrect"
version into a chute which led directly to the furnace.

Orwell once remarked that what he feared most was "Ghengis Khan with a
telegraph". With Stalin, he got more-or-less that. Even Orwell's imagination
could not foresee the possibilities for manipulating the "truth" which the
advent of the computer has opened up, and the capabilities of electronic

Orwell was also concerned about the decay of language. The Party was in
favour of "Newspeak", a language in which it was impossible to express a
politically incorrect thought. At its best, this would become "duck-speak",
the articulation of sounds in the throat without the involvement of the
higher centres of the brain. (Remind you of any political speeches you've
heard recently? :-) However, that is a separate concern.

             "Orwell, thou shouldst be living at this hour!"

Peter Mellor, Centre for Software Reliability, City University, Northampton
Sq, London EC1V 0HB  Tel: +44 (71) 477-8422,

Re: Controlling the future (Altered White House documents)

Jim Hoover <>
Thu, 10 Feb 1994 17:15:54 -0700
The quote by firth@SEI.CMU.EDU reminds me of a Polish saying from the
Communist era:

    "Only the future is certain, the past is always changing."

Prof. Jim Hoover, Dept. of Computing Science, University of Alberta Edmonton,
Alberta, Canada T6G 2H1   +1 403 492 5401 or 5290

About Computer Software and Patents

Paul Robinson <PAUL@TDR.COM>
Thu, 10 Feb 1994 00:59:30 -0500 (EST)
The following represents the text I will be reading at the Patent Office
hearing on the relationship between computer software and patent issues,
Crystal City, Virginia, 9:15am February 10.  This text has been edited to
allow me to fit it, and possible questions, into an 11 minute space.

This is a short portion of my remarks on the matter.  This will be part of
a complete comment on the Federal Register text.  My comment will be
posted to the Internet once completed.


Good Morning Commissioner Lehman, Mr. Kushan, the staff here, members of the
audience, people reading this report in the future and anyone else I've

My name is Paul Robinson.  I am Chief Programmer for Tansin A. Darcos &
Company, a software development firm specializing in text processing
applications; I also do work on Commercial Philosophy and metaphysics of
computer systems.  My special interest and my personal hobby is collecting
compiler and other program sources.  My reasons for this are that these all
solve problems.  By reading the manner and method other people have solved
other problems, it gives me insight into how to solve mine.

This is a common practice in the computer world in order to, as the expression
goes, "Not reinvent the wheel."  I assume this is common in other industries.
In fact, this is most likely the reason that we have a patent system; someone
is granted the exclusive right over commercial use of an invention for a
limited term in exchange for telling the world about it.

For most computers, every application such as word processing or spreadsheets
has at least two and possibly three or more different applications fighting
for market share.  The fights in this industry are usually referred to by the
expression "Dinosaur mating dances" as huge companies fight for market share
by releasing new programs to introduce new features that the companies believe
the customers want.  Version 3 of Turbo Pascal was an excellent language
compiler and less than 40K.  Version 4 would fit on one 360K diskette.  Today,
Turbo Pascal for Windows version 1.5 takes 14,000K of disk space.  The program
that is probably the premiere application for graphics design is Corel Draw!,
which has so much material it is now being released on not one, but two 500
megabyte CD-Rom disks.

But there are probably still niches for smaller companies to move into.

With the rapid changes in the marketplace, it is necessary to be ready to have
new programs and new releases of old programs out to encourage people to move
to the next release.  In some cases, companies make more money from upgrades,
and need to do so to stay alive.  These kind of cycles mean new releases have
to be out very quickly; in a matter of weeks to months.

With this kind of rapid development cycle, delays in the release of a program
could be fatal and the time available to create the work is sometimes barely
enough.  Until recently, the only legal issue that anyone had to worry about
was copyright infringement.  That could be avoided by creating new work from

Now we have another issue altogether.  A programmer can independently create
something without ever knowing about any other developments, and yet be
sabotaged by the discovery that the method that they used is patented.  This
is a standard problem that all industries have had to face, and it is part and
parcel of living in an industrial society.  But there is another problem.  A
computer program is the written instructions by a human being to tell a
computer how to perform a particular task.  As such, there are only two
parameters: the input supplied to the program and the expected output.
Everything else is literally a figment of someone's imagination.

This bears clarification.  A computer program is the means of manipulating the
internal data paths of a computer system.  There is no requirement that the
manipulations have any correspondence to the real world.  In this, the real
world, doing anything requires the expensive movement of people and goods from
one point to another, the possible refinement of materials into other
materials, and the expenditure of energy and resources.   Doing anything in a
computer is merely the essentially cost-free movement of electron paths from
one direction to another; it brings forth the apportation of the concepts of
the madman Imanuel Kant into reality: a world in which anything is possible:

- We can see this in the current discussions going on about violent computer
  games where someone goes about maiming, shredding and killing their
  opponents, in graphic detail, then when the game is over, nothing in the
  real world has changed except the clock.  One of my favorites happens to
  be the game "DOOM" where the weapon of choice is a 12-gauge shotgun, but a
  chainsaw does a nice job on people close to you.

- We have seen it in motion pictures such as "Total Recall", where, if one
  is acting within a part of a computer program, you cannot be certain what
  is real or what is fantasy.  The movie "Brainstorm" had simulations of
  sexual contact apparently indistinguishable from reality.

There are things that can be done within a computer program that cannot be
done in the real world, or would have undesirable consequences.   As such, we
should ask whether the patent rules, which are designed to apply to real-world
conditions where doing something requires the expenditure of energy and
resources, should apply in a world where the known rules of the universe do
not apply.  Because the entire design starts from scratch, and the designer
doesn't just get to play God,  he <italic>is<\italic> God.

Despite the ease under which someone can do something, we still live under
real-world constraints.  Once a design choice is made, it is very expensive in
time and effort to change it.  Worse, because most programs have interactions
that cover every part, a change to one part can cause unexpected and even
undesirable side effects in unknown and unexpected places.  Computer programs
may be "the stuff that dreams are made of" but once placed into concrete form
as written in software instructions, it's just as expensive to repair or
change as if it was carved out of real materials.

It may be necessary to change the rules on patents to comply with the
conditions that exist for computer programs.

There has been talk of instituting "first to file" in order to "harmonize"
with the systems in other countries; I think that is not a good choice; most
countries have fewer patents, and provide protection which is much narrower
than our system does.  This would also mean that someone who does invent a new
and useful technique for use in a computer application would be unable to
collect any royalties from someone else who is using the same invention, who
thought of it after they did, but started using it before they filed.

The two really large problems that exist in our system are probably two part:
the secrecy under which patent applications are filed, and the problems if a
program uses parts of several patents, which might not be discovered until

As I mentioned earlier, computer programs are created out of the figment of
someone's imagination, then mass copied, the way an original painting can be
reproduced by lithograph.  A single large application might have a dozen
people working on it, and upwards of 50 different features, and might have
upwards of 200 or more different parts, any one of those might be infringing
on zero, one or more patents depending on what the claims are.  I doubt
seriously that all but the largest corporations have the resources to do 200
patent searches on a single software application, which would be prohibitive
for a small company, because it is likely that a large program could infringe
dozens of patents, due to the continued development of ever larger
applications that do multiple simultaneous functions.

But more than that, you can't do patent searches on works which are under
application form, until after the patent has been issued.  And more
importantly, with more than 1,200 patents issued every week, checking them all
for possible interconnection would make it impossible to do any serious work.

Seventy years ago, fears that the major piano player manufacturer would tie up
the entire song market and prevent other companies from creating player piano
rolls caused Congress to institute compulsory licensing.  This may be an idea
whose time has come again.

Therefore it might be considered to make two changes in the patent law with
respect to computer programs: to implement a standard compulsory license,
perhaps 10 percent of the manufacturer's suggested list price, and to
eliminate secrecy provisions in the filing of patent applications.

Either of these could certainly help the situation.  Eliminating secrecy and
publishing applications once filed would let people know about pending
inventions: they could endeavor to avoid infringements in advance; it might
also allow them to file interferences early, if it turns out that they
invented the concept earlier, while it is cheap to do so; and would allow
people to be aware of what is being developed which would comply with Article
1, Section 8 of the Constitution, where patent protection was designed "to
encourage the improvement of the useful arts".

The other option of setting a standard royalty via compulsory license would
eliminate the worries of someone infringing upon an existing patent or one
that is filed after their work is created.  It would also grant to inventors
an income stream from those who use their inventions, which started before
they filed their application but after they reduced the invention to practice.
It would also limit liability and exposure to sustainable limits.  As it
stands, if someone develops a program that infringes upon 40 patents, and they
each want a 3% royalty, it isn't hard to see that 120% of the program's income
is not going to be possible.

Paul Robinson - Paul@TDR.COM

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