We've had plenty of notes about spelling correctors, but I find this one particularly interesting. The otherwise excellent April 1994 issue of Z Magazine contained a particularly horrible editing error in an article by Sara Diamond about the "American Center for Law and Justice" (ACLJ). The ACLJ was created by conservative Christians in order to oppose the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in court cases over issues like school prayer. Everyone has assumed that the similarity of acronyms is deliberate; ACLJ seems part of a fairly systematic conservative strategy of positioning public-interest groups as "liberal" by creating conservative mirror images of them. Well, as the Z editors explained in their May issue, their spelling correction program included ACLU but not ACLJ, with the result that every instance of "ACLJ" in Diamond's article got changed to "ACLU" except, somehow, for the very first one, which occurred (much as it does above) in parentheses after the first mention of "American Center for Law and Justice". Apparently there was an uproar, with some Z readers calling up the ACLU to ask why it had suddenly reversed its positions. The risk is subtle: in politics, things are often designed to outwardly resemble their opposites, or to invite confusion or sharply defined contrast (or both) with their opposites. As a result, it becomes impossible to define "close enough" in (for example) a spelling corrector without a great deal of specific background knowledge. Phil Agre, UCSD
Peter Ladkin introduces his post with the polite phrase: > a vandal exploiting a not-unknown security hole or, in American English: Some lazy person at the target site failed to plug a known hole, probably reasoning along the lines of "Oh, no one will know about this hole so I don't have to deal with it." There is no excuse for vandalism, including failure by sysops to plug known holes. However, if I was a user at that site I'd be more pissed at the person who failed to prevent the vandalism when such prevention was possible. --Alan Wexelblat, Reality Hacker, Author, and Cyberspace Bard, Media Lab - Advanced Human Interface Group email@example.com 617-258-9168
[Old news to some of us. Oddly no one reported it to RISKS until now, and I did not get around to entering anything on it. PGN] Excerpts from an article on page 14 of the May 2 issue of Network World: A team led led by Bell Communications Research last week announced it has cracked a 129-digit encryption code, which scientists had predicted would take "40 quadrillion years" to break. ... Breaking the RSA-129 public key required that the team find the two prime numbers that, when multiplied by each other, resulted in the 129-digit key number. ... This mathematically arduous task was accomplished in eight months by 600 volunteers in 24 countries who used their organizations' spare computing capacity. ...
In a TV report (magazine FRONTAL, 2nd German TV channel ZDF, Tuesday May 3, 1994), recent motorsport accidents (3rd World Championship, formula 1 racing cars, Imola/San Marino) were discussed and analysed by experts (e.g. former World champion Niki Lauda/Austria). Besides general questions about deficiencies in safety and protective measures, the question was discussed whether the recent decision to forbid the computerized ground distance control may have contributed to the strange behaviour of both racing cars which after a curve went straight into a concrete wall, without visible signs of steering. In both cases (Austrian driver Hackenberger, in training for his 2nd race, and Brasilian driver Ayrton Senna, 3-times world champion), the cars crashed at almost 300 kilometers per hour, with both drivers dying upon impact. Until end-of-1993, formula 1 racing cars were equipped with a computerized control system aimed at maintaining a fixed but very small distance between the car's bottom and the track's surface, to allow for maximum contact and therefore maximum transfer of power on the wheels. Following arguments that a defect in the computer system may lead to serious crashes, the international authority for this sport forbidded this computer system from 1994. This decision may now have caused the problem on the very high speed track of Imola, where the cars reach maximum velocities over 300 km/h. According to the discussion quoted, the hydraulic steering support may be affected when the car's bottom contacts, at high speed, an uneven part of the track; in such a situation, the driver would no longer be able to steer the car and may even loose the ability to brake. Evidently, the decision to forbid the computer system was neither accompanied by an adequate risk analysis not were any additional measures taken to diminish the risks e.g. by reducing the car's speed or by enlarging the minimum distance between car's bottom and track ground. Only now, discussions take place to reduce the speed in certain parts of the track. Klaus Brunnstein (May 4, 1994)
This morning (3 May 1994), Transportation Secretary Federico Pena appeared on at least one morning TV show in addition the _MacNeil-Lehrer_ show to inform the public about the shocking state of the nation's air-traffic control technology. On both appearances that I saw, Pena said that the FAA needed to be a private corporation so it could acquire technology more quickly, outside of federal regulations. He used as an example the humble vacuum tube. He said that the FAA is the world's largest buyer of vacuum tubes. That I can believe. But then by way of comparison, he held up a vacuum tube and a computer chip. The tube was a big one, about the size of a #30, which is much bigger than the tubes used on any tube computer like ENIAC, whose tubes were about the size of a 5U4. He compared it against a computer chip (something packaged like an Intel 486), and claimed the latter could replace 3.5 million vacuum tubes! Apparently, Secretary Pena either: a) believes the FAA is running enormous, obsolete vacuum tube computers containing millions of tubes, or b) doesn't mind telling bald-faced lies to the American public to get support for his objectives. I'm not sure which is worse. Mark Thorson (firstname.lastname@example.org)
As someone who has been involved in fixing a number of terrible situations involving computers, and as someone who has not been involved in the DIA fiasco, other than as a fascinated observer, I'm sure that when the book is written on this, we'll find that there is ample blame for all of the parties involved in the project. Small groups of people make small messes. To get a really large mess, you need a large group of people working for many organizations. Anyone, or any reporter, claiming to know the source of the problems as this stage, is either quite naive or has an axe to grind. I think Bear Giles misses the point (in RISKS 16.01) about simple software errors leading to massive, unintended consequences. The issue is not (just) syntax checkers. Sure, we've got 'em...So what? The issue is that in a mechanical or analog system a small error in the input or operation generally leads to a small **and traceable** error in the output. But in a digital system, especially a software-based digital system that can experience memory or data corruption, a small error in the input or operation can have huge **and virtually untraceable** errors in the output. I seem to recall that it was indeed a small error that brought down the AT&T long-distance switching system. I have to agree with the writer on this one. Finally, judging by the number of bar-coded labels that I have to rip off my luggage, many airports must use bar-code readers. I have to believe that this piece of airport technology is reasonably mature. Finally, common sense says it has got to be more reliable to bar-code the luggage than the carts. Paul Green, Sr. Technical Consultant, Stratus Computer, Inc., Marlboro, MA 01752 Paul_Green@vos.stratus.com, PaulGreen@aol.com (508) 460-2557
Subject: Followup on credit card policies (re: "Streetwise Guide ...") PGN asked me to summarise the responses to my comments in the review of "The Streetwise Guide to PCs" by Jerome/Taylor. I had suspected that it might be a bit controversial, but I was surprised that the only substantive comments I received were in regard to the difference between Canadian and American law regarding credit card purchases. The most apposite information was from Bear Giles <email@example.com.Colorado.EDU> who wrote: ======== I don't remember the exact language, but in the U.S. consumers have the right to refuse charges made more than 50(?) miles from their home address. The refusal must be in writing, within 30 days, possibly with an explanation, etc. The bank must complete its actions within 60 days of receipt of this letter, cannot charge interest or late fees on the disputed amount, etc. (I would imagine the exact details are in the FAQ of various consumer advocacy groups.) The presumption is that the purchase was made over the phone or while on a trip, either situation making it difficult to impossible for the consumer to evaluate the quality of the merchandise prior to purchase. There is no corresponding law applying to purchases "near home"; this distinction is often lost on people. And of course the existence of an American law has no significance to a Canadian making a domestic purchase. BTW, another restriction (either U.S. law or merchant agreement) which is often overlooked is a requirement that charges not be placed against your account until the merchanise is actually shipped. I believe companies can still "reserve" credit, but the only effect the customer sees from this is a reduced available credit — she does not have to make payments against it. ========== Much the same was said by Andrew Klossner <firstname.lastname@example.org> who added: ========== Holders of U.S. credit cards can find these procedures detailed on the back of each monthly account statement. ========== So check the back of your statements for further details. (As I said, I suspected there would be some controversy: I expected it, however, to be in regard to my statements about the Better Business Bureau. I guess that most people have such low expectations on that score that they simply couldn't be bothered to comment :-) Vancouver Institute for Research into Security Vancouver Canada V7K 2G6 ROBERTS@decus.ca Robert_Slade@sfu.ca email@example.com p1@CyberStore.ca
On 02 May 1994, ABC News _Nightline_ aired a program entitled, "Law and Order on the Information Superhighway_, which focused on the case of David LaMacchia, an MIT student accused of wire fraud for allegedly having run a BBS which permitted traffic in stolen software. The host was Chris Wallace, substituting for Ted Koppel. I ordered a transcript of the program from Journal Graphics, Inc. / 1535 Grant Street / Denver, CO 80203 / phone 303-831-9000 / fax 303-831-8901. The transcript is copyright (c) 1994 American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. and therefore I can provide only an abstract. [I received the entire abstract from Mich, who also provided me with an annotated version, which is included here. My apologies if I omitted anything necessary for understanding. However, because Mich included chunks of the abstract before each of his annotations, I could not run both the full abstract and the annotated version. PGN] U.S. Attorney Donald Stern accuses David LaMacchia of having tolerated the exchange of stolen software worth more than $1 million. Prof. Laurence Tribe of Harvard University Law School questions the implications of such an accusation; he argues that LaMacchia's BBS should be accorded the legal status of a common carrier, thus exculpating the owner of crimes committed through his communications channel. Analysis of the Nightline program about David LaMacchia and the software exchange BBS: [set flame = on] <<LaMacchia's attorney, Harvey Silverglate, argues that providing a venue for the commission of a crime is not a crime: "The question is whether someone who activates the system should be liable for what anyone else does, or do you look to punish the person who actually commits the wrong, who actually copies, steals the software?"<> Silverglate's legalistic attitude is understandable (he _is_ a lawyer, after all) but fails to address the question of values. Many BBS operators exercise control over content of communications or files on their systems--not out of fear of legal prosecution, but because they don't want to be tacit or active supporters of bad things. As Sysop in the NCSA's security forum on CompuServe, I have removed abusive messages and written to their authors with reminders of the standards of decorum my fellow Sysops and I expect on the forum. Free speech doesn't enter into it: CompuServe is a privately owned network and Sysops have a responsibility to maintain an environment in which participants address the issues without descending to abusive, ad hominem attacks. We do these things because they fit our _values_. We do not assume that if something is not illegal it must be right. .... <<Silverglate claimed that Congress does not want to penalize BBS operators for criminal acts carried out with their systems, "... because nobody would then operate these systems, and the communications highway, the information highway would grind to a halt."<> These predictions are wrong. Many people, including the Sysops on CompuServe and many moderators in Internet news groups, regularly impose restrictions on content on moral grounds and out of respect for possible legal entanglements. For example, although I regularly post extracts of the RISKS FORUM DIGEST on the NCSA Forum, I don't post what appear to be entire copyrighted articles. .... <<Corley replied, "...On the Internet there are no tangibles. You can ... steal something and they no longer have it, or you can go on the computer system or computer network and copy something, but it's a copy. It's not the same as stealing. I think that's the first thing we have to get over. We can't use the same analogies that exist in the real world, because this is no longer the real world."<> Corley exemplifies an attitude prevalent among criminal hackers: dehumanization of cyberspace. It seems to them that there are no people on the other end of the communications channel, only things. Stealing software in this context seems victimless; in reality, companies are losing money, and people are suffering monetary losses. Some small companies can go out of business entirely if they cannot get sufficient revenue to cover the months of grinding, often poorly-paid work by their employees. Human beings have smaller salaries or even lose their jobs because of software theft. Cyberspace is as much a part of the real world as speech, books, and telephones. No one would argue that stealing a book is a victimless crime--or would they? Some unscrupulous bookstores rip the covers off books, return the covers to the publisher for a credit, and then sell the mutilated books--with not a penny going to the _people_ who wrote, edited, printed, bound, and marketed the book. .... <<Wallace protested, "... what's the difference between copying a program which I'm then going to appropriate and use, and stealing?" Corley continued, "It's not stealing, because you're not depriving somebody of it.... we're presuming that people are not selling this material. This is something that someone is simply copying to either examine, to analyze, what have you. There's different reasons why somebody would legitimately copy something."<> Criminal hackers and software thieves miss the key point about intellectual property or confidential information. It isn't the copying that causes harm, it's the owner's loss of control over a valuable resource. Software companies sell a license to use a product, not the product itself. Software thieves steal the ability to enter into a contract with a user; it is the lost revenue that is in question, not the extra copy itself. .... <<Jim Settle, retired member of the FBI Computer Crime Squad, argued that it is the software creator which determines whether software shall be freeware, shareware, or commercial software. Corley said, "The problem with that is, though, that somebody can put a particular value on a piece of software and say, `This costs $10,000,' and then somebody copies it with a single keystroke and they're charged with stealing $10,000...."<> Corley implies that it is illegitimate to apply whatever price the creator wishes to a product or service. But a producer normally charges what the market will bear: a price which maximizes profit. Too high for perceived value and the market chooses alternatives--or they develop by less greedy competitors. Too low, and the producer risks going out of business. The other peculiar (wrong) suggestion in this passage is the idea that the ease with which an act is performed somehow mitigates responsibility. So a single-keystroke copy is more of an excuse for stealing software than a 20-character command? If a vandal demolishes a building by attacking it with an ice pick over a 5 year period, are we expected to perceive his act as worse than if he had blown it up by pressing a button to explode a nuclear bomb? Once again, Corley confuses technology with morality. .... <<In a discussion on the extent of copyright violation, Corley explained his view of why programs get copied: "... computer programs are designed to be copied, so naturally people are going to copy them. If we don't want people to copy them, then we make them so that they are uncopyable, or so that people want the original."<> Ah, the familiar fallacy of moral possibility. This error consists of believing that if something is easy it must be right. The corollary is that the victim is to blame for being victimized. Thus if a bank robber uses a howitzer to blow a hole in the wall of a bank, it serves the bank properly for having failed to encase its building in three-foot thick titanium beryllium alloy. So software manufacturers should impose the endless nuisances of copy protection on their products--even though these methods increase costs, enrage consumers, and don't work anyway because little creeps find ways of countering every single programmatic technique invented to date. Just because it's _possible_ to steal doesn't make it right. <<Corley explained that many people tape record albums illegally; "from the band's point of view, though, it's a good thing that their music is being distributed, you see. And that's how I think we should look at copywritten software. The software is getting out. I don't think Microsoft is going to go out of business, and they're probably the company that is copied the most."<> Here we have Corley taking up the unpaid position of marketing director for musicians as well as software companies. Decisions on how to market a product or service are rightfully the responsibility of the owners of that product or service. Criminal hackers have no moral justification for interfering with those decisions. <<Settle reminded Corley that Microsoft doesn't offer DOS for free distribution. Corley replied, "Well, they know that there are people that will pay for it, and there lots of people that will pay for any particular program, there are companies that will pay the corporate rate."<> So Corley recognizes that honest people either agree to abide by the software license agreement _or they don't use the product_. So what are we supposed to do about the creeps who jack _our_ price up by stealing the same products? Corley's attitude reminds me of the idiots who race by traffic jams by using the emergency lanes; these people are contemptuous of the rest of us, sitting in orderly lines, waiting to take our turn past the obstruction causing the holdup. But no, the scoff-laws, like Corley, feel that they don't have to abide by such rules. <<Settle repeated his point: "But they're not saying, `Do you choose to pay or not pay?' They saying, `You owe me X number of dollars for this product." Corley replied, "Right, but that's not very realistic. There are college students that want to use computers, and according to organizations like SPA, they cannot have access if they cannot afford whatever price the software company says they have to pay, and the same thing for people in other countries." He then made an analogy between programs and books, saying that we encourage literacy with libraries but don't encourage computer literacy.<> Ah, a new right. Many criminal hackers espouse the view that they have a _right_ to use any software they please without paying for it. The reasoning, such as it is, seems to be "I wannit--so it's mine." No one on this planet has a _right_ to use the database I have designed to track my projects. I wrote it, I debugged it, I refined it. It's mine and mine alone. If I _choose_ to let Albert use it and not Bob, that's my choice. If I _choose_ to sell it only if the buyer agrees not to shoot sparrows, this eccentric term in the license agreement can be accepted or rejected by a prospective buyer, but they have _no right_ to use the product without that contractual agreement. Can't afford MS-Word? Use another word processor. Don't like the terms of a license that doesn't let you make a copy for your portable computer? Buy another product or do without. But wanting to use somebody else's tool is not moral justification for stealing it. [set flame = off] Michel E. Kabay, Ph.D. / Dir Education / National Computer Security Assn
The underlying risk of electronic car door locks is that the state of the lock depends on what a microprocessor believes rather than whether someone has turned a key or pushed a latch button. In addition to the obvious failure modes (do you need a working battery to unlock the car?) the manufacturer can also program in more complex lock behavior. Drivers and passengers may find out the full range of lock states only when bitten by a previously unknown "feature". For example, last week I drove a two-door Chevy Cavalier that unlocks both doors when the ignition is turned off. Makes it harder to lock keys in the car, but could also pose a risk of theft if you don't notice. Compared to the Buick Century I was driving for a few days prior to that (and you'll understand why shortly), the Cavalier's behavior is positively benign. During a sudden spring blizzard at 2,500 meters in Northwest New Mexico, I discovered the Buick's quirk. I went onto the shoulder to avoid a pickup and trailer that had decided to stop in the middle of the road during a brief zero-visibility whiteout, and found myself stuck in a newly-minted snowbank. So I turned on the hazard flashers and went to see how hard it would be to dig out. Since I had left the engine running, the doors locked automatically behind me (I later verified that this is a "well-known" behavior to the rental agents in Albuquerque). The risks of standing outside a locked car in driving snow on a lightly-traveled mountain road (wearing clothing more suitable for low-altitude desert) should be obvious. Without the timely passage of two other tourists (bound from a monastery near Abiquiu to a commune at Taos) this posting might not have been possible. I was somewhat taken aback to note that it took the tow-truck operator less than a minute to unlock the car, equipped only with a small pry bar and a bent steel rod. So the electronic locking mechanism does not seem to add security. During the mechanical era, auto manufacturers figured out various way to make it difficult or impossible to lock your keys in a car; it's not a good sign that they seem to be relearning those lessons from scratch.
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