The RISKS Digest
Volume 16 Issue 47

Thursday, 20th October 1994

Forum on Risks to the Public in Computers and Related Systems

ACM Committee on Computers and Public Policy, Peter G. Neumann, moderator

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Computer mess at Greyhound
Phil Agre
British Rail Journey Planner
Marcus Reynolds via Clive D.W. Feather
Spin control by computer
Rob Hasker
Tampering blamed for rebuffed candidacy in Peru
Re: Data Security in Iceland; Software Bug Cripples Singapore
Jim Haynes
Tarom Airbus: automatic mode switch escaped the commandant
Daniel Salber
Computer risk that nearly proved deadly
Carl Maniscalco
Software reuse
Mark Gonzales
Risk of seeming similar interfaces
Monta Elkins
Re: squirrelcide
Douglas W. Jones
Peter da Silva
Scott E. Preece
A. Padgett Peterson
Washington DC ACM Professional Development Seminars
John Sheckler
Info on RISKS (comp.risks)

Computer mess at Greyhound

Phil Agre <>
Thu, 20 Oct 1994 11:55:19 -0700
The 20 Oct 1994 Wall Street Journal contains an article about computerization
at Greyhound that you'll have to read to believe.  The full reference is:

  Robert Tomsho, How Greyhound Lines re-engineered itself right into a deep
  hole, Wall Street Journal, 20 October 1994, pages A1, A10.

After Greyhound came out of bankruptcy a few years ago, a new management team
declared that they would revolutionize the company but cutting costs and
creating a huge computerized reservations system to replace the existing
collection of incompatible systems and things done by hand.  They called it
"re-engineering".  Wall Street liked this idea and bid up the company's stock
price.  The managers, feeling obliged to keep the stock price up, promised
that the system would work on schedule.

But of course it didn't, for reasons that won't surprise Risks readers.  The
main problem is that buses make many more stops than airplanes, meaning that a
bus scheduling system is an order of magnitude harder to build than an airline
scheduling system, which is already one of the most complex things anybody
ever built.  The system started slipping behind schedule, and the prototype
had a terrible interface, crashed all the time, and hung up on people.

Meanwhile, Greyhound was falling apart.  Employee turnover was very high,
customer service was terrible, the computer was messing up everything it
touched, and the company advertised a discount program even though it had no
chance of handling the expected volume of business.  Yet the stock price
stayed high because stock analysts, who make dramatically more money than
Greyhound's customers, don't ride buses and so didn't see the problems.  This
postponed the day of reckoning long enough to cause tremendous disruption for
the customers — and long enough for the top managers of the company to cash
in a pile of options while the stock was still at its highest level.

  "Looking back, Mr. [Thomas] Thompson [the vice president in charge of
   developing the system] says, "I should have quit or just said that
   I couldn't do it."  Instead, most copies of his report [warning of
   difficulties with the system] were destroyed, and any mention of it
   was purged from many Greyhound agendas, calendars and computer files,
   many people say."

It's distressing that words like "re-engineering" can have such magical force
for so many people that well-known pitfalls in system implementation can go
undetected for so long — except, of course, by the working people who have
to use the systems or get around on the bus.

Phil Agre, UCSD

    [But don't wait for Greyhound to put on the dog.  PGN]

British Rail Journey Planner

"Clive D.W. Feather" <>
Mon, 17 Oct 1994 12:03:41 +0100 (BST)
On Saturday morning, 15 Oct 1994, two trains collided head-on on a section of
single track south of London. The causes of the crash aren't yet known, but
someone on the newsgroup uk.transport looked up one of the trains in question
using British Rail's own software (sold to the public):

> Newsgroups: uk.transport
> From: (Marcus Reynolds)
> Subject: BR Journey Planner (Uckfield - Oxted)
> Date: Sun, 16 Oct 1994 09:12:21 +0000
> When asked for the times of trains between Uckfield & Oxted on a Saturday
> morning, British Rail's own Journey Planner software offered:-
>                     Arrival   Departure
> Uckfield                        8:00
> Cowden                8:29      8:29     no change
> Oxted                 8:48
> Journey time 0:48
>                         Other Solutions
> INTERRUPT 0DH, GENERAL PROTECTION FAULT     possible illegal address
> error code = 0000
> [Etc., etc.]
>      Clearly this is a computer programme with second sight. [MR]

Clive D.W. Feather, Santa Cruz Operation, Croxley Centre, Hatters Lane,
Watford, WD1 8YN, United Kingdom +44 1923 813541  FAX-813811

Spin control by computer

Rob Hasker <>
Fri, 14 Oct 1994 13:19:38 -0500
As to be expected, the governor's race in Illinois is pretty heated and
involving a fair bit of mud-slinging.  The latest story (reported in the Oct.
11 Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette) concerns the husband of one candidates, Dawn
Clark Netsch; apparently he failed to pay property taxes for four years on a
condominium in Chicago that they owned.  Of interest to RISKS readers is that
he blames the problem on a computer at the county tax office; he claims that
he didn't pay because the county sent the tax bill to the wrong address.  The
condo is on Goethe street, and the story is that both E's in the street name
were dropped in the county tax records, leaving `Go th' and making it appear
that the street was `60th.'  According to Netsch's husband, this meant he
never got the tax bill.  Whether or not this is a valid excuse, I thought it
was an interesting application of computers to spin control.

Rob Hasker

Tampering blamed for rebuffed candidacy in Peru

"Peter G. Neumann" <>
Thu, 20 Oct 94 10:00:22 PDT
Susana Higuchi, deposed wife of Alberto Fujimori (president of Peru),
had her presidential hopes quashed by Peru's electoral board because
of a shortage of valid signatures.  Higuchi claims to have submitted
about 130,000 signatures, while the board claims only 11,851 were valid,
short of the required 100,000.  Higuchi claimed some 150,000 signatures
were erased from her party's computers during a blackout that affected
only the block in which her offices were located.  She blamed her husband's
cronies for high-tech fraud.  [Source: San Francisco Chronicle, 20 Oct 1994]

The moral of this story is certainly familiar to RISKS readers.
I paraphrase an old song:

   Backup your troubles in your old kit bag, and smile, smile, smile.
   [And read the next item.  PGN]

Re: Data Security in Iceland; Software Bug Cripples Singapore

Jim Haynes <>
Thu, 20 Oct 1994 14:55:17 -0700
>From: (Haukur Hreinsson)
>Subject: Data security in Iceland
>[story of theft of a computer, containing the only copy of a writer's MS]

Some years ago I received a letter from the publisher of a small magazine
that I subscribe to.  Someone had broken into their office and stolen the
computer, and (this was back in CP/M days) all the floppy disks that were
nearby.  So they had done a mailing from some old paper copy of a list
of subscribers, and were asking us to tell them when our subscriptions
expired, by looking at mailing labels on the last copies received.

Ever since then, wherever I go, I preach to people about making backups and
keeping a copy of the backup in some safe place where it won't be easy to
steal along with the computer.  I wonder if there's a way to get this message
out to the myriads of small business and organization people who aren't in a
position to read the computer industry literature.  If only we could get the
story to be spread and repeated as well as the Craig Shergold plea and the
gold star tattoo urban legend!

>From: Lee Lup Yuen <>
>Subject: Software Bug Cripples Singapore Phone Lines

I wonder if the writer of the software bug will be tried and sentenced
to caning.  A new concept in software quality assurance!

Tarom Airbus: automatic mode switch escaped the commandant's notice

Daniel Salber <>
Wed, 19 Oct 1994 23:59:21 +0100
This is a shortened translation of an article published in Le Monde, date
16-17/10/94, p. 9.

Le Monde is considered by many as the major and most-respected French daily
newspaper. It always has very documented and accurate reports.

Thanks to Francis Jambon for help with the translation of technical terms.

  In-flight stall of an A310 Airbus
  An automatic mode switch escaped the commandant's notice

The investigation commission shed more light this Friday on the incident that
involved an A310 of the Tarom airline on the 24th of September over the Orly
Paris airport. It appears that the aircraft which was in "landing approach"
mode was too fast. This triggered a "mode" switch response from the aircraft.
In other words, the aircraft started to go upwards to slow itself down.

The aircraft was flying at 364 kilometers per hour (226 mph or 202 knots),
slightly over the speed limit of this configuration which is 360 kmph (224
mph or 200 knots). This triggered the automatic response. The pilot tried
to counter its effect and thus started a process that provoked the stall of
the aircraft. This new information lead the French civil aviation authority
(DGAC) to decide to inform immediately the French airlines that use A310s
and A300-600s equipped with the same protection mechanism. The DGAC asked
the airlines to draw the attention of the crews on the required observation
of established speed limits. Airlines should also make sure that the crews
are perfectly-well informed of the logics of the protection system that
automatically triggers in case of abnormal speed.

Daniel Salber, Grenoble, France,

Computer risk that nearly proved deadly

Tue, 11 Oct 94 17:17:50 EDT
A woman with whom I am acquainted recently wound up in the intensive care
unit of a local hospital due to a computer risk.

The woman, who has been in ill-health for some years and has been undergoing
regular dialysis, accidentally pulled out her shunt (a semi-permanent
connection point for the dialysis machine) while sleeping and had to undergo
urgent but relatively minor surgery at the local hospital emergency room.
During this procedure, the ER physician - who had been informed that the
woman had a pacemaker implanted - used an electrocautery device to stop the
bleeding. The surgery itself went well; however, the woman's condition
deteriorated. After some days went by and doctors had told relatives that the
woman was not expected to survive, it was discovered that the electromagnetic
field created by the electrocauterizer had apparently corrupted the software
of her microprocessor-controlled pacemaker, causing it to fire in a pattern
out of sync with her natural cardiac rhythm. The difference was slight enough
to avoid immediate detection but serious enough to cause problems. A
representative of the pacemaker's manufacturer was able to reprogram the unit
(using data transmitted to the still implanted unit as audio tones via a
transducer) and the woman is now recovering quite nicely.

I believe the risk here is pretty obvious.

Carl Maniscalco (  San Diego, CA

Software reuse

Wed, 19 Oct 94 14:39:18 PDT
There's an interesting letter in the October '94 IEEE Computer Magazine
(page 5). I'll quote the first paragraph:

Marty Leisner of the League of Programming Freedom writes:

    Capers Jones had a nice article in Computer on the economics of
    software re-use, but he should have changed "First, you cannot
    safely reuse garbage." to "First, you cannot economically reuse
    garbage." Many computer applications don't exhibit "safety"
    aspects (the worse that can happen is they do not work as advertised).

I think this is a risky attitude in the modern world. Almost any program that
produces output that is used by humans can have a safety aspect - people can
be physically or economically injured if the application gives the wrong
answer. This means any program from a spreadsheet, to a C compiler, to a
nuclear power plant control system can be safety critical for some or all of
its users.

Published reusable software should be as carefully designed and verified as
any other safety critical software, since its publishers will have no control
over what systems it gets reused in.

Mark Gonzales

Risk of seeming similar interfaces

Monta Elkins <>
Thu, 20 Oct 1994 13:16:39 -0400
We're a PC compatible office that may switch to Power Mac's (due to external
economic incentives).  While installing software on a new Power MAC my
colleague needed the serial number on the disk in the drive.  He reflexively
reached up and pressed the button below the disk drive to eject the disk,
except on the Power Mac this is the POWER button. This crashed the
installation (and generally confused the operating system).

For a company that actively seeks converts from the PC compatible market; they
(Apple) should have caught this problem and moved the power switch AWAY from
the disk drive.

This illustrated the risk of SEEMINGLY similar interfaces.

(maybe pressing the power off button should light a second button, labeled
"Are You Sure?"  :) )
Monta Elkins  Career Services  Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State Univ.

Re: squirrelcide (PGN, RISKS-16.46)

"Douglas W. Jones" <>
Thu, 20 Oct 94 09:57:37 CDT
A brand-new locally invented anti-squirrelcide device is currently under
test by Iowa Illinois Gas and Electric in my neighborhood.  Their initial
reports are extremely favorable (transformers equipped with the device
in a 6 month test run killed no squirrels, other transformers in the same
area had their usual kill rate).  Given that it costs the utility about
$100 a squirrel kill to replace blown fuzes etc, the device is showing up
as a winner (it's trivial to install and inexpensive).

The device is a band which snaps around the insulator on the high voltage feed
to the transformer (the favored site for squirrels to zap themselves) and
gives them a warning tingle before they get a chance to do themselves in.
Just a plastic band with stainless steel fingers, with all electric current
needed to provide the tingle coming from leakage through the air and over the
insulator surface.  SRI and PG&E ought to look into something like it!

Doug Jones

Caller ID flamage... not again...

Peter da Silva <>
Thu, 20 Oct 1994 12:25:20 -0500
Another Anti-CNID fella misses the point:

> The article states clearly that the real reason for CNID is commercial.

Be that as it may, we have CNID now and it's proven a valuable weapon
against telemarketers. Virtually all telemarketers call from their own
business phone, transmitting the business address. It's great: here's
three calls fifteen minutes apart from the Houston Symphony. No thanks.
We can pick and choose who we want to listen to (Hi! Sure, I've got a bag
of clothes for your charity) and who we want to do the receiver drop on
(companies with names like Allied Marketing are a good choice).

Best of all, I can call my wife! She's a little phone-shy, so she doesn't
answer the phone much during the day... but with CNID she knows it's
from work and I can talk to her.

> Privacy advocates have been saying this for years, and for a long time they
> have gotten patronizing lectures about how CNID is for residential use in
> catching harassing phone callers.

CNID is for all sorts of things, including things the companies pushing it
have never thought of. I include telemarketers in the category of harassing
phone callers and it catches them just fine.

> But CNID is a poor way to catch harassing phone callers.

Really? You think it's responsible to call the cops on some dumb kid with
a little spare time? I call their parents and let them resolve the problem
at home. Haven't used CNID for that yet, but Call-Return worked in one
case... in the other the kids called when their parents were out :-< but
next time they'll have to deal with daddy :->.

[stock id-blocking feature list]

Your enhancements are fine, and I have no problem whatsoever with them. I
would still buy CNID with them in place. In fact I'm pretty sure they
are... I've had a couple of calls like that... and I still bought the service.
Certainly the local stores selling ID boxes are doing a brisk business.

I don't know who you think CNID proponents are, but it's nowhere near as
simple as you make it out.

> What can you do?

Well for a start you can quit pushing it as a "pro-CNID" "anti-CNID" argument,
because all that does is polarise people who *would* be on your side into
taking an opposed position just to defend a capability they consider
important. And you can quit acting like all the pro-CNID people are nasty
telemarketers, too.

You can catch more flies with honey, and all that rot...

Calling Number ID debate

Scott E. Preece <>
Thu, 20 Oct 1994 08:27:21 -0500
Phil Agre suggests some simple rules for calling-number ID.  I'd like to
promote a simple adaptation that would retain essentially all of the
subscriber benefit of CNID, even when blocked.  Require the phone company to
assign a second unique number (a blind identifier, not a directly dialable
number) to each telephone and supply that number, instead of the regular phone
number, when the caller is blocking.  This would allow the recipient to
identify the caller without giving the recipient a callable number.

As an enhancement, the phone company could be allowed to offer to attempt
calls through that number (call an 800 number then key the blind identifier),
but the subscriber must be able to specify that (1) all such calls are to be
rejected, (2) all calls from a particular number are to be rejected, or (3)
all calls from a particular number are to be accepted.

I don't think this represents a serious technological hurdle; I think it
answers the privacy concerns and provides a significantly more useful service
than one that allows simple blocking.

scott preece  motorola/mcg urbana design center  1101 e. university, urbana,
IL 61801   217-384-8589  fax: 217-384-8550

Calling Number ID Debate

A. Padgett Peterson <>
Thu, 20 Oct 94 09:55:17 -0400
First, readers should be aware of the CNID FAQ which I wrote some time ago -
it is available at the Telecom archive or I can send a copy.

Second, I am strongly in favor of nationwide CNID as should be all system
owners with dialup lines (of course I am also in favor of Clipper as soon as
the gov - next month ? - drops key escrow so be forewarned 8*).

Why, because with CNID, crackers/phreaks/war dialers will have to find another
way - unless the number is known and on an approved list, the modem doesn't
answer at all. True, not all people call in from known numbers but in the two
years I have been testing, a very high percentage - over 80% - of the dialins
are local and known. Of the other 20%, nationwide CNID will handle about 5%
leaving 15% that will need a different number to dial and OTP devices.

Further, since starting to play with this two years ago (my FreeWare .ASP for
Procomm + is still in the Telecom archives), I have found it possible to not
only block unwanted calls but create a tailored menu/connection for employees
calling from home that connects directly to their preferred platform (normal
authentication is still required but it does not have to be multi-step).

Somehow in all of the noise, this market seems to have been missed entirely
but with more and more telecommuters/service providers/dial-up accounts/etc.
it is a natural protection and additional layer of security/logging that also
happens to be invisible to conventional attack.

True, a caller does not have to give their number and the telcos will provide
means to accomplish it but *I reserve the right not to answer blocked calls*.
Using crude equipment (a Supra (plug) v.32b modem - the CNID was a $20 option)
this was possible two years ago. What I do not understand if why more people
are not using it - a whole untapped market that seems to have been ignored.

Sure there are problems - my biggest one was the time to scan an "approved"
list that kept growing using a 386-25/ST-225 combination  - sometimes it would
take five rings before the whole list could be scanned & the modem told to
answer - but that's what engineers are for 8*).

ps please do not inquire about a product. Other than the original freeware
   .ASP, the rest has been a hobby: there is no GUI or pretty packaging,
   that's what vendors are for. The point is it *can* be done - after
   proving that, I tend to lose interest.

Washington DC ACM Professional Development Seminars

John Sheckler, ATSC, 301/805-3258 <>
20 Oct 1994 10:53 EST
The Professional Development Committee of the Washington, D.C. Chapter of the
Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) presents technical and management
seminars for computer professionals and managers.  This fall, the Committee
will offer ten one-day professional development seminars during the week of
November 14 - 18, on topics of current interest.

Monday, November 14
    Mr. Allen S. Perper      -    Business Process
    Mr. Will Tracz           -    Domain-Specific Software
                                  Architectures — Process,
                                  Products, and Infrastructure

Tuesday, November 15
    Dr. Cy Svoboda           -    Information Engineering
    Mr. Mike Gorman          -    Managing the Development
                                  of Client/Server Applications

Wednesday, November 16
    Mr. Ed Krol              -    The Whole Internet — Archie,
                                  Veronica and the Gopher Explore
                                  the World Wide Web
    Mr. William Durell       -    Data Administration and

Thursday, November 17
    Dr. Robert N.Charette    -    Profiting from Risk Management
                                  of Business Processes
    Mr. Watts S. Humphrey    -    Personal Process Improvement

Friday, November 18
    Dr. Robert S. Arnold     -    Legacy System Migration
    Mr. Edward V. Berard     -    Testing Object-Oriented

Additionally, on Thursday, November 10, 1994, the Professional Development
Committee will host our 13th International Speaker, Philip Zimmermann,
presenting a seminar entitled "Public Key Cryptography."

Thursday, November 10 - 13th International Speaker
    Mr. Philip Zimmerman     -    Public Key Cryptography

The seminars will be held at the Center of Adult Education, University of
Maryland, College Park, Maryland, at the intersection of University Boulevard
(MD 193) and Adelphi Road.  The seminars run from 9:00 a.m. (registration at
8:30 a.m.) until 5:00 p.m.

Attendance at each course will be limited to the capacity of the room being
used (check with the ACM/PDC answering machine, (202) 462-1215, for
availability).  Detailed registration information and assistance can be
obtained by calling Nora M. Taylor (301) 229-2588.  Additional information
about the Fall 1994 professional development seminars presented by the
Washington, DC Chapter of the ACM can be requested via e-mail to and is available also via anonymous ftp from in:
chapter_forums/chapter_articles/prochap/DC_ACM_Fall_94_PDS_General.txt .
A description of each seminar is available also.  [File names deleted,
along with registration info.]

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