* I have been travelling extensively for the past few weeks (National Computer Security Conference, AAAS/ABA Conference on Computers, Ethics and the Law, National Research Council crypto study, etc.) and have had neither much net access and nor much free time. * I returned to find my monitor fried as a result of the FOURTH recorded squirrelcide at SRI --- which brought down the entire institute last Wednesday (for something like eight hours) and created all sorts of internal power surges, despite the isolation supposedly provided by our cogeneration plant hookup. [I presume this squirrel got turned into rodental floss.] By the way, the RISKS book (Computer-Related Risks, ACM Press and Addison-Wesley) is finally available. I thank all of you whose contributions to RISKS are noted therein. PGN
>From The Straits Times, 13 Oct 94: A bug in a newly-installed computer software knocked out two-thirds of Singapore's telephone lines late yesterday morning. Handphones, fax machines, pagers and credit cards were all hit by the disruption which began at 11.31am in the City Exchange. It took Singapore Telecom's engineers about five hours to get services back to normal again. At a press conference last night, Brig-Gen Lee Hsien Yang, its deputy president and executive vice-president for local services, said the disruption hit 65 per cent of the lines. Subscribers on the remaining 35 per cent of the lines had trouble putting calls through. The problem started when a software bug corrupted one of the two common channel signalling systems. These systems link the different exchanges. The problem soon spread to all but two of the 28 exchanges. Only the Ama Keng and Pasir Ris exchanges were not affected. When Telecom engineers shut down the affected channel, this caused the other to overload. Big-Gen Lee said the new and the older systems run side by side and serve as mutual back-ups. If there were only one system, then the whole island's telecommunications network would have been crippled.
Clinton L. Watson, 44, was arrested on 18 Oct 1994, along with his son and a family friend, and charged in San Jose, California, with three counts of wire fraud and grand theft, with a possible prison sentence of 30 to 45 years. Watson allegedly altered and sold more than 1000 cellular phones with illegally acquired identifiers, whose use resulted in millions of dollars of phone calls being billed to unsuspecting persons. Legitimate cellular-phone identification numbers were allegedly captured using scanners, and entered into identity-reprogrammable clone phones that were fabricated from new programmable chips --- which permitted the original identity numbers to be replaced, and the new purloined identifiers to be easily replaced at future times when they were disabled because of detected misuse. (The Secret Service noted that Watson is currently on probation from a 1988 conviction on 14 counts of wire and mail fraud in Missouri.) [Source: Article by Maria Alicia Gaura, San Francisco Chronicle, 19 Oct 1994, p. A11.]
Attached below is the full text of the front page summary of a longer inside-page article in (UK) Computer Weekly for Oct 13. Nice to report on a risk that apparently paid off! :-) Client-Server Gamble Pays Off for Barclays, by Tony Collins Barclays Bank this week went live with the UK's largest client-server system in spite of internal documents warning of the "high-risks" of its Big Bang approach. Without any announcements to the public about the project, the bank stopped up to 10,000 end-users accessing the bank's main customer systems for the whole of Friday and Saturday morning. And while end-users reverted to manual procedures, the IT staff commandeered the bank's mainframes to build a new database holding 25 million customer accounts ready to go live on Monday morning. More than 1,200 IBM RS/6000 servers had already been installed in branches ready to link up with the new database. Barclays refuses to disclose the cost of the project, but it is believed to have invested fllOm in customer-based systems. Andersen Consulting, which has had an average of 50 consultants managing and helping to develop the new system, was warned by the bank that it would not be paid - and may never work for Barclays again - if the systems did not go live. But by noon on Monday about 800 of the 1,000 branches planned for that time had gone live. The remainder had local problems configuring their RS/6000 systems, running the Ingres database, to interface with the new IBM DB2 mainframe database. Later on Monday, nearly 1,100 branches had gone live, leaving only about 12 branches with residual hardware and configuration problems. The pioneering project's success vindicates the "Big Bang" approach for major client-server systems, and may lead to other major users being more forthcoming with similarly large implementations. But Barclays briefing documents issued before Monday had warned of the risks of opting for a Big Bang rather than region-by-region implementation. "It is a massive undertaking but we have to use this [Big Bang] approach . . . since to create one master database we cannot have existing systems running concurrently," said one briefing document. The new customer system, the biggest IT project in the bank's history, replaces three incompatible databases - which previously covered customer accounts, Barclaycard and financial products - with a single database. Bill Gordon, managing director of the banking division, said the new database replaces "current systems and practices that have hampered our ability to serve the customer". The new system will allow bank staff to see customer transfer files and approve or reject a new account within 30 minutes and will use a computerised credit scoring to give an almost instant "Yes" or "No" on loan and overdraft requests. Customer records will no longer be "owned" by a particular branch or manager but by the bank as a whole. Dept. of Computing Science, University of Newcastle, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 7RU, UK Brian.Randell@newcastle.ac.uk PHONE = +44 91 222 7923
I laughed when I heard this on the news about a month ago: There's this relatively well known writer in here in Iceland named Thrainn Bertelsson. He was working on a script for a movie that is supposed to be shot sometime soon. Then somebody goes ahead and breaks into his office, taking care not to forget the computer on the way out; nothing else was stolen. Now the writer realizes that, not only does someone have his script, but that someone has the *only* copy of it in the world. The man hadn't made a backup from day one! It's sad, I guess, especially when you consider that the guy was desperate enough to immediately offer hard cash for the data and sent out a plea to the perpetrator. It looks like he was listening because he gave the computer back. ...after wiping the entire hard disk. And that's Government wipe, not overwrite once! I haven't heard any more, I guess Thrainn is busy rewriting his little script now. I don't know if I should laugh or cry. Haukur Hreinsson Hagamel 20 IS-107 REYKJAVIK Iceland firstname.lastname@example.org
In Manga Mania (Nov 94): Thieves broke into a London finance firm recently and stole all of the memory chips from the firm's computers - over UK#5000's worth! That night, three other outfits also lost their memory to the same gang. The week before, another London company was hit, and replaced its chips only to be hit again three days later. Unlike banknotes, chips have no serial numbers and are almost impossible to identify.
Jack Decker (email@example.com) posted this to alt.dcom.telecom and comp.dcom.telecom.tech: So tonight I get a call from my friend who sells beepers. He just opened up a store on Thursday, and let's just say that there were still a few holes in his security. Anyway, a couple of kids decided to each grab a beeper and make off with it. Now, my friend's beepers are all pre-activated, which means that if you buy one, you walk away from the store with a working beeper that you can start using immediately. And these beepers were indeed activated. So when my friend gets back to his office, he starts to wonder if there isn't some way to get his beepers back. And then he remembers... he has an 800 number that's provided by a company called Arch Telecom. And Arch captures the ANI (Automatic Number Identification) of the calling party on all 800 number calls. So he dials up the "missing" beepers and punches in his 800 number as the callback number. And believe it or not, the thieves CALLED HIM BACK! Both of them! And of course when he got the calls, he informed the kids that he now had their home phone number and it just might be a good idea if they stopped by his store tomorrow and either returned the pagers or paid for them! And THEN, he called the Arch Telecom customer service office (this was on a Sunday, mind you) and they looked up the ANI of the calls he'd just received. He called the numbers back and got the PARENTS on the phone, and had a little chat with them as well. He told me that if by some odd chance the kids don't return his pagers first thing tomorrow, he'll take further action, but he really expects to see his pagers come back to him tomorrow. I figure that anyone who steals a beeper is pretty stupid anyway, since they are pretty useless if you're not paying for the paging service (and you can bet that if my friend hadn't received those calls, those beepers would have been deactivated tomorrow!) but to steal a beeper and then start calling numbers that appear on it... well, I'll bet those boys learned a little lesson about the capabilities of modern telephone technology (then again, maybe they still haven't figured it out... thieves generally aren't all that bright to start with!). I just thought it was funny that those kids would be dumb enough to call an unknown 800 number that appeared on a pager they had just stolen. I'm sure that there have been dumber thieves, but these two sound like they might have half a brain between them! :-) If you, too, find this amusing, feel free to cross-post it to any appropriate newsgroup if you like (e.g. rec.humor.* - I only posted this to the telecom groups) but please keep the whole thing including my .sig file intact. Jack Decker firstname.lastname@example.org =or= email@example.com There were several followups, including one by Stephan Piel (firstname.lastname@example.org) who told of a murder victim whose pager had also been stolen. The police called the pager, and sure enough... And Dale Farmer (email@example.com) wrote about an acquaintance whose job involves lending out pagers for things like trade shows. These go missing often enough that he has developed a repertoire of messages to send when it happens. Dale quoted three: "This pager has been deactivated, please return it to [address]" "Stolen pager tracing activated" "Pager tracing successful, located in [city]" Mark Brader, firstname.lastname@example.org SoftQuad Inc., Toronto
Calling-Number ID (abbreviated CNID [and sometimes misnamed Caller ID]) is a technology that enables your telephone to digitally send its phone number to the telephone of anybody you call. Controversy about privacy issues in CNID has swirled for years. The NYT has an article on the subject: Matthew L. Wald, A privacy debate over Caller ID plan, *The New York Times*, 13 October 1994. The United States Federal Communications Commission recently proposed rules, due to go into effect in April, to create uniform CNID protocols across state lines. While the FCC plan does protect privacy in some ways, e.g., preventing a business that captures your phone number from selling it to others without your permission, it does not mandate per-line blocking, which is necessary if you never want to send out your phone number, or if you only want to send it out when you enter a special code. The article states clearly that the real reason for CNID is commercial. 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. But CNID is a poor way to catch harassing phone callers. Moreover, that single application wouldn't nearly make CNID profitable. The point is that CNID is a good way to let companies collect marketing information and automate service interactions. Which is fine. Hardly anybody opposes CNID outright. But in order for CNID to avoid inadvertently giving away the phone number of someone who is being stalked, or who otherwise needs to keep their number a secret, it needs a few simple features: * per-line blocking — a simple, no-cost way to declare that this telephone should not send out its number when dialling * per-line unblocking — a simple, no-cost way to declare that this telephone now *should* send out its number when dialling * per-call blocking — a simple, no-cost way to declare that, regardless of whether this line is blocked, this particular call should not include the calling number * per-call unblocking — a simple, no-cost way to declare that, regardless of whether this line is blocked, this particular call *should* include the calling number In order for people to get the benefit of these commands, some further rules are needed: * All four of these commands should be entered with *different* codes. * Most especially, the blocking and unblocking commands should not be implemented with toggle commands (for example, *67 blocks the line and then another *67 unblocks it — or, wait!, did the first *67 unblock the line so that the next *67 blocked it?). * All of these commands (or at least the per-call ones) should take effect instantly, without requiring a pause before dialling a number, so that phone numbers stored in modems can include the codes. * All of the commands should be standardized everywhere. * All of the commands should be clearly and concisely explained in some convenient place in the phone book. If at all possible, the commands should be listed on a simple cue card that can be attached to the telephone alongside the emergency numbers. (Of course, if a telephone had a real user interface then cue cards would not be necessary.) Don't all of these rules sound like common sense? Of course they do. They allow everyone complete freedom of choice. If you like CNID then you can turn it on and forget about it. If you want to refuse calls that do not include caller numbers then you're free to do that. If you don't care to call anyone who requires a caller number then you're free to adopt that policy as well. If you never want to send out your number because you're being stalked or are running a shelter then you can do that. Free choice. So why do proponents of CNID go to extraordinary lengths to defeat these simple, ordinary protections? Because they're afraid that large numbers of people would use per-line blocking, thus making the system less attractive to the businesses who want to capture lots of phone numbers. Like many schemes for using personal information, then, CNID is founded on trickery — that is, on the gathering and use of information without free choice, full informed consent, and convenient, easily understood mechanisms for opting out. You might ask, "doesn't per-call blocking alone provide the necessary choice?" No, it doesn't. Per-call blocking is like saying, "every single time you drive your car into a gas station, your car instantly becomes the property of the gas station unless you remember to say abracadabra before you start pumping your gas." In each case, the cards are stacked against your ability to maintain control over something of yours, whether your car or your information. What can you do? Write a letter to the FCC, with a copy to your state attorney general and public utilities commission and to your local newspaper. Send them the list of CNID commands I provided above. Spell it out for them, and provide answers for the obvious pro-CNID arguments. Your state regulators might even agree with you already, in which case they need your support. For more information, send a message that looks like this: To: email@example.com Subject: archive send cnid Or contact the organizations that are working on this issue: * Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility, firstname.lastname@example.org * Electronic Privacy Information Center, email@example.com * Electronic Frontier Foundation, firstname.lastname@example.org Or start something of your own. The best way to predict the future, after all, is to create it yourself. Phil Agre, UCSD
Pardon the lengthy cascade, but I believe it illustrates some of the RISKy thinking on this topic. This is from a thread in alt.internet.media-coverage and elsewhere: Michael Dillon (email@example.com) wrote: : Bruce Robertson <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote: : > email@example.com writes: : > > I mentioned to the folks at Neosoft that they should package a : > > "parent-lock" account...just like their standard stuff, but the : > > account owner could set the acceptable newsgroups at the server : > > with a special password so that the client reader never saw : > > them. They expressed some minor interest : > : > There's no simple way for a service provider to do this. Nor anyone : > else, that I can see. : : I'm surprised that a Senior TECHNICAL Editor at such a magazine : can't think of half a dozen ways to do this. Indeed it is : technically feasible to make a "safe space" on the Internet : for kids and in some ways it is almost a trivial thing to do. : : As for justification, do we hold school classes on the streets : in a red light district or in a bar? No, we create a "safe space" : for youngsters and hold classes there, in the school. : : The moderated newsgroup mechanism combined with controlled : feeds (somewhat like clari.*) could be easily adapted : to create newsgroups in which only registered people or : registered sites could post. This would merely involve : a bit of work with shell scripts or PERL scripts. : : Securing the Web or Gopherspace would be a little more challenging : but a start would be a modified Gopher or WWW client that : can only access authorised sites or sites registered with : a central authority. I think that this approach is naive, but not *entirely* unfeasible. Some general points: (1) There is no way to do this solely at the client side. Existing services on the Internet are not reliably marked as to their suitability for children. Only by creating centralized authorities on the *server* side could one add the markers needed to limit children's access to objectionable materials. So in the context of what a service provider like Neosoft can do, Bruce Robertson was quite right. (2) If the net establishes widely used protocols to allow central authorities to control what children can and can't see, then those same protocols could be used to control what adults can and can't see. We should be aware of this consequence before we adopt such technology. (3) There are fundamental problems of scale in any such system which would necessarily turn a many-to-many interactive medium into a few-to-many broadcast medium, thus eroding the principal benefit of computer networks. You and I would be unlikely to have this conversation under such a scheme. (4) The major attraction of distributed document retrieval systems like the World Wide Web and gopher is that they are *distributed*. Many individuals and institutions working in parallel come up with a greater variety of useful resources than could ever be planned and executed by a single, centralized organization. This is fundamentally at odds with the concept of a central registry of "approved sites". Furthermore, a central approval authority would have to be not merely a registration service for sites which educators had deemed harmless, but would have to exercise *control* (through a contract or other means) over the content at those sites. Otherwise, one would continually find that yesterday's kid-safe site had today been blemished by objectionable material. (5) One fallacy common to proponents of isolated child-friendly networks is that problems only occur when children can communicate freely with adults other than their teachers. In fact, children are very good at communicating objectionable material to other children. (I'm sure we can all think of examples from our own childhood.) What's more, I suspect that the average adolescent (male, at least) is far more likely to publish objectionable material than the average adult, which casts doubt on the advantages of isolated K-12 networks. Only by limiting the children's ability to publish information — denying children access to E-mail, for instance — could one be sure that an isolated educational network would be free of objectionable material. (6) The existing Usenet moderation mechanism is notoriously easy to spoof. Any bright 12-year-old with access to the manuals could figure out how to forge an "Approved:" line. Any rating or registration mechanism would have to have complex authentication mechanisms built into it or face the likelihood of being foiled (probably by the kids themselves). (7) Any system based on adding a backwards-compatible restriction mechanism to existing protocols runs the risk of being foiled by users surreptitiously gaining access to unrestricted versions of the same client software. Thus a kid-safe network would either have to guarantee that children couldn't download an unhobbled version of Mosaic, say, or it would have to isolate itself further by using purposely incompatible protocols. For all of these reasons, I have my doubts about the usefulness of attempts to build an isolated "kidspace" on the net. If you can't deal with the risk that some children at some time will run into some objectionable material, keep them off the net and stick to CD-ROMs. (Or, the cynical might say: keep them locked in a closet and don't teach them to read.) Prentiss Riddle Systems Programmer and RiceInfo Administrator, Rice University 2002-A Guadalupe St. #285, Austin, TX 78705 / 512-323-0708 firstname.lastname@example.org
Another anecdote illustrating the RISKS of ill-designed user interfaces.... Our office E-mail system is Microsoft Mail. A couple of weeks ago I was chatting with a co-worker, and asked her whether she had read a certain mail message that morning. She told me she hadn't, because she was having problems with her password in Mail. She told me that in the middle of changing her password, the window just "disappeared," and that now her old password wasn't working anymore. After thinking a bit about how the "change password" dialog works, I figured out what had happened. The form has three fields: Old Password: ******** New Password: ******** Re-Enter New Password: ******** along with the OK and Cancel buttons. The OK button was only active when the New Password and Re-Enter New Password fields matched. What she had done, of course, was type her old password and press Enter, thinking this would move her to the New Password field (she should have pressed Tab); unfortunately, Enter meant "OK" for the change password dialog. Since "New Password" and "Re-Enter New Password" were both empty (and thus matched each other), pressing OK set her password to the null string without her realizing what had happened. Perhaps it's reasonable for some systems to allow their password systems to be disabled by setting a null password, but being able to do it by accident is somewhat scary; it's almost farcical that my co-worker, having deleted her password, was now unable to log on (since she was presented with a password challenge, the *only* correct answer to which was "nothing", yet she had no reasonable way of knowing this). Dan Astoorian, Mississauga, Ontario, Canada email@example.com
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