Martin Virtel wrote a wonderful article "Fehler, Fehler, Feler" in Die Zeit (Nr. 33, 11 Aug 1995, page 49) observing the 10th anniversary of RISKS. The following item came to him as a response from a German teacher, Thiomir Glowatzky, of Bamberg. I include the German, with "u umlaut" being represented as "|", but the essence of it is simply that the spelling corrector wanted to replace
Kafka, Musil and Schnitzler
Kaffee, M|sli, and Schnitzel.
It must have been from Hungery.PGN
From: M.VIRTEL@bionic.zerberus.de (Martin Virtel, tel/fax +49-8421-80995)
"Die auf dem PC getippte Arbeit setzte mein Sch|ler einem Rechtschreibprogramm aus, ohne die darin vorkommmenden Schriftstellernamen Kafka, Musil und Schnitzler ins Programm aufzunehmen. Er wunderte sich, als beim Ausdruck 'Kaffee', 'M|sli' und 'Schnitzel' auftauchten."
RISKS readers may be interested in the story to be found on the web at http://www.dnai.com/g-think/$$tablecontents.html
It tells of a man (Patrick Combs) who, according to himself, deposited into an ATM a "check" for $95,000. This "check" was one of the authentic-looking come-on gimmicks that we so often receive in our junk mail. In this case, it was a solicitation for a get-rich-quick scheme and the "check" was purportedly an "example of the kind of money" one could earn using this scheme.
The "check" bore a valid signature and account number as well as a realistic amount ($95,093.35). The only indication that it was not a valid document was the phrase "not negotiable for cash" inconspicuously placed in a corner. More interestingly, the "check" met all nine of the legal criteria for a valid bearer document.
Apparently, the warning message was not seen and the amount was credited to Mr Combs' account. The amount remained in his account for several weeks and, after repeated inquiries to the bank Combs withdrew the money in the form of a cashier's check, which he then placed in a safe-deposit box.
Throughout the story, Combs maintains that he had/has no fraudulent intent. The fact that he has not spent a cent of the money despite ample opportunity to do so lends credence to his claim. Eventually, of course, the bank detected the error and demanded its money back. Its method of treating Mr Combs will be familiar to many of us who have had to deal with inflexible financial institutions.
However, the story is complicated by the fact that (by both law and many legal precedents) Mr Combs is now legally entitled to keep the money. Banks must refuse payment within a fixed time period and must serve notice in a specific manner, both of which Combs' bank has failed to do. The story details his research into the legal side of it, as well as his negotiations with the bank.
In reading this story, a number of RISKS-related issues came to my mind:
I hope RISKS readers find the story interesting and worth their time to investigate.Alan Wexelblat, Cyberspace Bard, MIT Media Lab - Intelligent Agents Group
Seen in Telecom Digest (aka comp.dcom.telecom):
> Date: Mon, 4 Sep 1995 16:36:54 +0200
> From: <a href="mailto:email@example.com">firstname.lastname@example.org</a> (Alex van Es)<br /> > Subject: Voting by Phone in the Netherlands
> Every four year there are elections in the Netherlands, and because of
> different reasons (bad weather or having to work) many people never
> even bother to go to the polling booth. In order to make voting easier
> the Dutch government made it possible last year for people who live in
> the city of Utrecht to vote at the railway station, so they would be
> able to do it on their way to work. Yet, many people don't travel by
> train to work, and even if they do, they might not have the time at
> the railway station to stand in line. Therefor the government is
> currently considering the option of voting by phone. People who decide
> to vote by phone will have to call a special access number. The
> number will be one of a 06 (900 type) kind, leading to the call
> factory in Rotterdam. The call factory is a special exchange for
> handling up to 1,6 million phone calls an hour. At this moment most
> time is invested in making sure the system is safe, and fraud will not
> be possible. If this system is going to be used in the future, the
> Netherlands will be the first country to make televoting for
> parliamentary elections possible.
> Alex van Es Alex@Worldaccess.NL, Apeldoorn, The Netherlands +31-55-421184
> [TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: Suggestions — and for that matter, full-
> bodied, substantial proposals — regarding 'vote by phone' have been
> made here in the USA also, but nothing has come of it. All the usual
> excuses ('there would be too much fraud', etc) have been tossed out as
> reasons it would not work, even though fraud prevention techniques have
> been provided. Then there were the privacy freaks who insisted that
> the tighter the fraud controls, the more likely there would be massive
> invasions of privacy in the 'voting booth' if controls were established
> identifying the phone number being used and some other personal identifier
> such as social security number, etc. They can't seem to understand that
> there *are* ways to identify the user and validate his *right to vote*
> without necessarily examining the vote being cast. Nor can they seem to
> understand that there are competent programmers who share a love for
> their country and a sense of patriotism which would develop the needed
> software in an instant — as fraud-proof and fool-proof as the present
> manual system if not more so — if it meant that more Americans would
> participate in the process. They would do so with a sense of integrity
> and ethics which would *never* willfully violate anyone's privacy.
> Even starting on a small scale for 'beta testing' purposes seems to be
> out of the question. The Chicago Board of Election Commissioners (an
> independent government agency responsible for administering elections of
> all sorts within the city) has been shown how telephone voting, either
> with modem and computer or by touch tone buttons alone) would work quite
> well. They have been shown how, with the cooperation of the banking
> network, voting could be done at any ATM machine. Of course *not everyone*
> has an ATM card, and of course *not everyone* has a computer and modem,
> but these would be two additional ways of 'getting out the vote'. They
> have been shown how even in conventional voting booth arrangements, a
> terminal hooked to their central computer could be used to eliminate a
> huge amount of manual tabulating required, and the fraud that can accompany
> same, to say nothing of being able to eliminate many of the 'middle-man'
> election judges found at each polling place.
> They'll hear none of it ... which is odd, considering how desperate they
> are getting to find voters these days. They do registrations now at all
> sorts of places — even at the Cook County Jail where they always get
> *thousands* of voters each year for selected candidates — just to round
> up anyone they can who is willing and wants to bother to vote. They keep
> harping on the fraud problem using phone voting, but believe me you,
> nothing compares to the fraud we have here now with the crooked election
> judges and the low-level Democratic politicians who hang around the
> polling places on election day, bringing in voters by the bus load from
> old-people's homes, etc. We could have had tele-voting here years ago had
> they wanted it. As they say in Chicago, 'vote early and often!' PAT]
(I was absent of the town at the time of this event, so there may be some errors, but the core is solid.)
This week Kuopio, a small town in Finland faced sudden problem with automated bridges.
The town is located in the middle of a lake district, wonderful transportation method during past centuries but a problem if you use cars instead of boats. The only way from the town to north (to airport among other places) is through one bridge, which has one (small) openable bridge for boats.
Suddenly one morning the bridge, which (as you may have guessed) is computer-controlled, opened without any reason in the middle of the morning rush. No-one going to work could get anywhere in the north side of the town. The bridge was not manned (since it was not in use at that moment) and it took some time to get anyone there. The bridge computer didn't do anything and there was no manual button to force closing of the bridge(!!!!!).
The bridge had to be closed by hand, using crank, by several strong men turning the wheels. Interviewed representative said that the situation occurred due to "unpredicted combination of events" (what else :-}) if my memory does not fail me. (What events they were, I haven't heard of.)
The risk is old and well-known on this list: Automation of something without leaving backup-system.
The good side is that the automatic lights and fences connected to the bridge-system worked well and warned people that the bridge is raising, so there was no risk to people.Erkka Pietari Sutinen University of Oulu, Finland Dept. of Information Processing Science email@example.com / firstname.lastname@example.org
The NTSB ruled that human error augmented by fatigue probably caused the crash of a DC-8 cargo plane Feb. 16 at Kansas City International Airport, killing all three crew members. [...] The NTSB found the pilot lost control of the DC-8 on takeoff, mainly because the flight engineer used the wrong calculations to determine how fast to supply power to the engines. The engineer based his calculations on Fahrenheit temperatures instead of centigrade as he should have. [Excerpts from AP reports]
RISKS readers will recall the Gimli incident in Canada where another metric conversion error led to a shorter-than-expected flight.
As often pointed out by my EE prof's, calculators let you get the wrong answer 10 times as fast....
I was listening to Boston rock-and-roll station last week when I heard an advertisement criticizing the Mass Pike's RFP for an electronic toll collection system. I called the company, ATCOMM, based in Marblehead, Massachusetts and spoke with Mike Greenstein to get details:
Recently, the Mass legislature passed a law requiring the Pike to develop standards for electronic toll collection. The Pike responded with a Request for Proposals (RFP) which substantially narrowed the allowable technical solutions.
The Pike's RFP specifically wants to have a centralized accounting mainframe. As the driver approaches, an electronic tag (about the size of a pack of cards) is polled and this is used to debit his account. The user's balance is displayed by the tool booth as the driver goes through. Information about the user's movements are entered immediately to the centralized database.
ATCOMM sells a technology which adds a keypad, microprocessor, and an LCD display to the tag. The keypad allows the user to ask questions about his balance at any time, and the LCD displays the remaining balance. ATCOMM's technology was specifically excluded by the narrow RFP and so the decided to go to the radio campaign to make their case, alert the drivers and other stakeholders that this is an issue.
I asked Mr. Greenstein about the motivation for the Pike's RFP and he was unwilling or unable to speculate.
The Mass Pike is a quasi-independent agency by virtue of its bond contracts and independent of governmental oversight. The Pike has been a source of patronage jobs with mutual backscratching between the Democratic party government officials and the Pike's authorities. However, recently, Gov. Weld has moved to bring the Pike under government control and this will take place Summer next year.
According to Mr. Greenstein, there's no concern for privacy of drivers, and this does not appear to have been the Pike's motivation for issuing the RFP calling for a centralized database. ATCOMM could be programmed to ensure privacy, but currently it is not. There's some small benefit to ATCOMM's technology, because the information about the movements of specific cars through the tolls is not centralized, but kept at the toll facility. However, this can be collected periodically so there's little difference from the centralized scheme. Probably, privacy is not a big selling point for companies making proposals to governmental RFPs.Concurrent VLSI Arch. Group 545 Technology Sq., Rm. 610
Macintosh Application Environment (MAE) is a product that runs on Sun and Hewlett-Packard workstations, emulating a Macintosh computer under X-Windows. It allows 680x0 based Macintosh applications to run on the workstation accessing the Unix filesystem (including NFS partitions) as if they were folders and files on the Mac.
Recently, a secretary who was new to the Mac environment tried to access a file she had saved from her mailer in Unix from MS-Word under MAE. She knew what the name of it was, but wasn't sure *where* it was, so, when she saw the "Find File" feature in the "Open File" dialog box thought that she would try it...
Unfortunately, the workstation was connected to a 256GB NFS fileserver which MS-Word under MAE dutifully began to search. Furthermore, neither MAE nor MS-Word made it apparent how to cancel the request once it was set into motion. (Alt-'.', which often works in a Mac environment did nothing.) Even stranger, the X11 window manager ceased to respond to requests to pop-up the window's menu to close it.
Fortunately, there were still some Unix windows around to "kill" the MAE process--but at a loss of any unsaved information created previously in the MAE session.
The RISK? Perhaps that scale factors were not considered in the design of the "Find File" feature. The Mac Style Guide states that all applications must confirm operations that are either not "undoable" or which may perform extensive changes. Perhaps a similar rule should apply: all operations which may take an extensive amount of time to complete should include a status window with a cancel operation.
Or perhaps, the cancel operation *does* exist, but by the time I got there the X display server was not refreshing the "exposed" regions on the MAE window (after having been covered and uncovered) so that only a rapidly changing filename was visible in the middle of an otherwise blank region of the screen... In that case, the RISK may be in reliance of X-Windows or other software emulation to reliably reproduce the emulated hardware environment.Jeff Anderson-Lee email@example.com
A couple of follow-up items regarding the recent head-on crash on Pittsburgh's HOV lane.
A Pennsylvania Department of Transportation worker has admitted that he made a mistake and opened the northbound gate before closing the south- bound gates. There is no interlock of any sort to prevent this. The worker in question has been fired.
There apparently is still some question as to whether this led to the accident or not.
I mentioned some dual-use ramps downtown. One of the ramps in question (near Three Rivers Stadium) actually is a single ramp with an exit and an entrance. When the entrance is officially closed there is a barrier across it. To enter erroneously (if the barrier is in place) one has to make an extremely acute right hand turn onto the exit ramp (or be traveling the wrong way on the major street surrounding the stadium.) I view this as no different than the arrangements on many such lanes around the country (e.g., the express lanes on the Kennedy Expressway in Chicago.) The other downtown ramp in question is at Anderson Street, and as best I can tell from the photos is a true dual use ramp. There is no possibility of a barrier at this location.Chuck Weinstock
Just to clarify: the attack method reproduced on page 185 of the September 1995 issue of C'T (which allegedly lead to forged mail From: <firstname.lastname@example.org>) is the telnet-to-sendmail-type mail forgery attack described many times, i.e. in alt.2600.faq available from mail-server@RTFM.mit.edu among others.
In my eyes, using the old sendmail on one hand and banning the export of software capable of message authentification (this is, PGP) on the other makes up to a pretty bad (this is, risky) policy regarding electronic exchange of information.
One more thing: does anybody around have a CCopy for me (email@example.com) of a newsgroup posting send through the white house mail server?Martin Virtel <firstname.lastname@example.org> tel/fax +49-8421-80995
The article "US White House Hacked?" describes a series of forged messages sent to computer users; the sender was supposedly Bill Clinton. It then describes the reaction to it, including a dispute about whether the White House computer was broken into and the forgeries sent from it.
What surprised me the most was the assumption that sendmail had been used or even that a break-in had occurred. Why? In 1985, we forged a letter from Opus the Penguin at whitehouse.arpa (which didn't exist) to our office staff asking for more kippered herring heads at our weekly meetings. (Those meetings were in the bloomin' county ...) All it takes is knowing the SMTP protocol, and being able to access port 25. So, given the information in the article, I'd go with Occam's Razor and assume someone did it that way.
['Occam dead, Matt!]In particular, this part:
He claimed the White House uses an old version of software for electronic mail handling which is obsolete. This program makes it possible to falsify mail. Many other System Administrators also use this older version, leaving the network vulnerable to similar attacks.
was somewhat depressing; I would think the editor of a computer magazine would know better than to assert mail forgery is due to an "old version of software" and not due to the nature of the underlying protocols.Matt
[And Malte Borcherding <email@example.com> sent me a message From: Bill Clinton <firstname.lastname@example.org> just to remind us that one does not have to hack the White House. PGN]
Misdirected stories and headlines are, of course, not new. The Boston Globe is famous for its headline, over an editorial about then-President Carter's economic policies, which said: "Mush from the Wimp."Dan Gillmor, Computing Editor, San Jose Mercury News, 750 Ridder Park Drive
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