The RISKS Digest
Volume 17 Issue 67

Thursday, 25th January 1996

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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o Risks of military technology in civilian life?
Howard Chalkley
o Unintended missile launches
Mary Shafer
o Turning off virus protection?
Dave Wagner
o WebCard Visa: It's everywhere you (don't) want to be?
Doug Claar
o I won't tell if you won't...
Ed Ravin
o New Book on Cyberculture
Gary Chapman
o "Civilizing Cyberspace" by Miller
Rob Slade
o Dangers of Ambiguous Headlines
Matt Welsh
o Warning on Thefts of Laptops
Tom Zmudzinski
o Re: Single computer breaks 40-bit RC4 in under 8 days
Paul C. Kocher
o Re: Cost to crack Netscape Security falls...
Peter Curran
o Re: Security hole in SSH 1.2.0
Mike Alexander
o Dirty word filters: Sidewinder
Henry G. Baker
o Re: Antispamming technology
Jay Prince
Rob Slade
o Re: Hey, your mailing list is sending me viruses!
Phil Hammons
Joe A. Dellinger
Mitch Wagner
o ABRIDGED info on RISKS (comp.risks)

Risks of military technology in civilian life?

"Howard Chalkley" <>
Thu, 25 Jan 1996 11:54:38 GMT0BST1

This anecdote has started spreading around the net...

A snippet spotted in Pilot Magazine and entered in Bike Magazine: The article was entitled "In a hurry are we, sir?" ( British Police Wit).

Two members of the Lothian and Borders traffic police were out on the Berwickshire moors with a radar gun recently, happily engaged in apprehending speeding motorists, when their equipment suddenly locked-up completely with an unexpected reading of well over 300 mph. The mystery was explained seconds later as a low flying Harrier hurtled over their heads. The boys in blue, upset at the damage to their radar gun, put in a complaint to the RAF, but were somewhat chastened when the RAF pointed out that the damage might well have been more severe. The Harrier's target-seeker had locked on to the `enemy' radar and triggered an automatic retaliatory air-to-surface missile attack. Luckily(?), the Harrier was operating unarmed.

Howard Chalkley, GST Technology Ltd, Meadow Lane, St Ives, Huntingdon PE17 4LG UK +44 1480 496789 Fax: +44 1480 496189

Unintended missile launches

Mary Shafer <>
Thu, 25 Jan 1996 14:30:27 -0800 (PST)

The problem of unintended missile launches from aircraft is not a new one. I have a friend who was flying CAP (Combat Air Patrol) in the Gulf when a radar-guided missile launched itself from his fighter. Subsequent investigation determined the cause, but he was told at the time that there had been at least three other such incidents, with the same aircraft/missile combination.

In his case, the missile was heading for another Coalition aircraft, but lock was broken when he turned off his radar. This does not, of course, work for IR-guided missiles like that in the Japanese F-15/Sidewinder shootdown that was reported in RISKS-17.65 on 23 Jan 1996.

(Forgive my vagueness above, but I'm just not sure how public the story is and don't feel it proper to give more details, since it's not my story. I only heard it when I asked Gus why he was called Gus--after Gus Grissom, of course.)

I have read of numerous spontaneous launches in Vietnam. I also believe that there was an incident some time ago onboard a carrier in which a missile "launched" itself while being attached to the aircraft (I think when it was connected electrically to the airplane) causing injuries to the arming personnel and other ground crew.

Mary Shafer, SR-71 Flying Qualities Lead Engineer, NASA Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, CA URL

Turning off virus protection?

Dave Wagner <>
Thu, 25 Jan 1996 09:32:00 -0600 (CST)

I just got my fancy TurboTax "Deluxe" CD in the mail the other day, and decided to install it (Windows 3.1). I dutifully put in the CD, and entered d:\setup, and off it went installing the software seemingly correctly. However, when I tried to run it, the program either crashed or hung. Searching the "help", I find it says to make sure that you turn off all virus checking software. Hmm. Just to see, I did that, and it installed the same, but (after turning on the virus checker) it finally ran normally. The risks here are pretty obvious..

Dave Wagner

WebCard Visa: It's everywhere you (don't) want to be?

Doug Claar <>
Wed, 24 Jan 1996 19:23:54 -0800

Just read an article in the *San Jose Mercury News* that Visa International and Block Financial will offer a special "WebCard Visa". The card will allow users to access their account statements via Internet. The article goes on to say "The service will get around security concerns by never transmitting the account number over the Internet. Users will type in a password instead." As if somehow that will solve all the security problems! In that Visa and Microsoft have co-developed the "Secure Transaction Technology" specification (STT), there is probably/hopefully more to the story than the newspaper lets on. I haven't seen any discussion of how secure STT is, but it is described at

Doug Claar

I won't tell if you won't...

Ed Ravin <>
Tue, 23 Jan 1996 20:32:37 -0500 (EST)

I just found this browsing through a router manufacturer's "Frequently Asked Questions" file:

Q3 I have a bridge/router, and I have forgotten my password. I am no longer able to log in and configure the device(s). What do I do now?

Do not panic! Enter the following password at the password prompt:XYZZYHIMOM. This should get you into the unit. Notice!! This is a back door to the units, and should not be made available to people who do not need to know about it!

And I don't even own one of these routers — I found this in a reseller's online catalog. Back doors in devices that are often hooked directly to external networks are a Bad Idea, if you ask me. At least the manufacturer documented it...

(password above changed to protect the guilty)

Ed Ravin +1 212 678 5545

New Book on Cyberculture

Gary Chapman <>
Thu, 25 Jan 1996 16:16:12 -0600

New and Recommended:

Escape Velocity: Cyberculture at the End of the Century

By Mark Dery

Grove Press, 1996

A pretty wild and entertaining look at "cyberculture," including all the hype and a healthy dose of skepticism, from a journalist who has a distinct and rather baroque style of writing that I find fun. Covers all the personalities of cyberpunk, raves, computer sex, music, "posthuman" beings, and all the other nutty things going on these days. Lots of fun and educational too.

Mark and I went to college together, years ago, so I'm happy to flog his new book (in which I also appear — but NOT in the chapter on cybersex!). He previously edited another fun and useful collection, Flame Wars, which includes my essay, "Taming the Computer" (Duke University Press, 1994). (Together, we'll sell some books!)

Gary Chapman, The 21st Century Project, LBJ School of Public Affairs, Drawer Y, Univ. Texas, Austin, TX 78713 512-471-8326

"Civilizing Cyberspace" by Miller

"Rob Slade" <>
Wed, 17 Jan 1996 14:56:27 EST


"Civilizing Cyberspace", Steven E. Miller, 1996, 0-201-84760-4, U$26.85 %A Steven E. Miller
%C 1 Jacob Way, Reading, MA 01867-9984
%D 1996
%G 0-201-84760-4
%I Addison-Wesley Publishing Co./ACM Press
%O U$26.85 800-822-6339 617-944-3700 Fax: (617) 944-7273
%P 413
%T "Civilizing Cyberspace: Policy, Power and the Information Superhighway"

On the rising wave of information superhighway books, and the increasing backwash of anti-net tomes, no single author has been able to produce a work that even remotely compares with Miller's. Neither dazzled by technical brilliance nor dreading the cyborg juggernaut, he provides the fruits of a working relationship with the technology, thorough research, and insightful analysis.

The book specializes in public policy, but since that can touch everyone and everything it is not a limitation. Miller is thus able to examine all aspects of information structures and strictures. His material is clear and well reasoned: it does not provide ready answers at every point, but raises all pertinent issues. Even esoteric topics are handled well: obviously not all areas can be covered in depth, but Miller knows more than he says and gives accurate and helpful resumes.

One shortcoming in the book is the less than rigorous division of topics. While many issues in public policy interrelate, many chapters seem to flow together without an obvious break. This may be difficult to resolve, but it was rather odd to find the same (fairly lengthy) quote used in almost identical discussions on both pages 64 and 204.

copyright Robert M. Slade, 1996 BKCVLCYB.RVW 960108
DECUS Canada Communications, Desktop, Education and Security group newsletters Editor and/or reviewer

Dangers of Ambiguous Headlines

Matt Welsh <mdw@CS.Cornell.EDU>
Thu, 18 Jan 1996 13:34:10 EST

An article in ClariNet's newsgroup caught the eye of a colleague of mine this morning. The headline is:

> Subject: Lotus in Security Compromise

Immediately alarm bells began to ring: The security in Lotus 1-2-3 has been compromised?

But, alas, the article is of a tamer nature:

> SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Lotus Development Corp. announced a
> compromise with the federal government Wednesday that will allow it
> to put better security features into the international version of
> its Notes program.

The RISK here is obvious (although the implications may be subtle). Ambiguous newspaper headlines have always been comic relief for some, but now that our news stories and information are presented electronically, I find it not difficult to believe that automated agents will soon be reading our news for us, either presenting articles of interest or (worse) attempting to summarize the content. (Indeed, I already employ the ``killfile'' feature of my newsreader to automatically select articles which match certain expressions). Keywords such as ``Security Compromise'' would certainly be targets for a reader who wishes to stay on top of current happenings in computer and electronic security.

M. Welsh, Cornell University Robotics and Vision Laboratory

Warning on Thefts of Laptops (fwd from Buddy Guynn)

"Tom Zmudzinski" <>
Wed, 24 Jan 96 11:09:41 EST

The following advisory is being provided by Mr. Buddy Guynn, DMC Montgomery Security Manager. He received the information from the Army Material Command regarding the security of Laptop Computers during travel.

  1. The following information is valid not only for laptops but also for other items of value such as briefcases while you are in domestic or international travel status:

    "Laptop computers have become a premium target for theft throughout Europe. Every international traveler who is anticipating on carrying a laptop computer with them must remain on constant alert as they traverse through all airports.

    Two methods of theft have already occurred at separate airports and the techniques that were used to steal the laptop computers can occur at any airport. Both methods involved two thieves to carry out the theft.

    Recently, Brussels Airport security advised that one method involved the use of security x-ray machines. The first thief would precede the traveler through the security check point and then loiter around the area where the carry-on luggage had already been examined. When the traveler places his laptop computer onto the conveyer belt of the x-ray machine, the second thief would step in front of the traveler and set off the metal detector. While the traveler was being delayed, the first thief would remove the traveler's laptop computer from the conveyer belt just after it had gone through the x-ray machine and quickly disappear.

    The most recent method of theft just occurred at the Frankfurt International Airport, Germany, while the traveler was walking around a crowd of people in the airport terminal. The traveler, who was carrying his laptop computer on his rollbag, was preceded by the first thief. Just as the traveler got around the crowd of people, the first thief stopped abruptly, causing the traveler to stop abruptly. When they stopped momentarily, a second thief, who had been following just behind them, quickly removed the traveler's laptop computer from his rollbag and disappeared in the crowd."

  2. All travelers, both international and domestic, are urged to be alert to the above methods used in stealing computers and always be mindful of any abrupt diversions during your travels. Report any losses immediately to authorities. Keep serial numbers, make, and model information of your laptop computers, or of any items of value, separate from the item so you can give precise information to authorities if the items are stolen.
  3. Request widest dissemination of this correspondence.

Re: Single computer breaks 40-bit RC4 in under 8 days (Weimer, 17.66)

Paul C. Kocher <>
Wed, 24 Jan 1996 16:20:42 -0800

> ... I'm certainly not going to be concerned about what it is costing
> someone else for me to crack keys.

On the contrary, many security weaknesses aren't prevented because people *don't* consider the cost to break into the overall system, and instead focus on the encryption. For example, cryptographers (myself included, I confess) like to use triple DES because a "fair" brute force attack will take millions of years. But in practice, the assumption that attackers will actually use brute force makes about as much sense as wearing bright red uniforms in the forest...

Brute force is almost never the simplest attack to mount — it's the simplest to understand and quantify. For example, how much would it cost to mail out free "demo" disks to unsuspecting users? Although this isn't playing "fair" by the cryptographer's rules (which require that the two endpoints of a secure connection be secure), the cost per "break" is under $10 once the trojan software has been written.

Unfortunately the number of key bits doesn't have much correlation to actual security; estimated dollars per successful break-in is a much more useful figure. On a typical PC, there are just too many other security weaknesses for there to be much practical difference between 3DES and 40-bit RC4.

Paul Kocher ( Cryptography consultant

Re: Cost to crack Netscape Security falls... (Peterson, RISKS-17.65)

Peter Curran <>
Thu, 25 Jan 1996 14:52:52 GMT

>P.S. Don't blame Netscape, they are just abiding by ITAR.

IMHO, this is letting Netscape off the hook far too easily. There is a simple solution to the ITAR problem - develop the software in a location not subject to US export laws (i.e. almost anywhere else in the world). Anyhow who is claiming to be addressing the problem of network security, etc., on a global basis should be adopting this solution. The USA has no monopoly on software development expertise, and there is no reason the world should be held ransom to US military nonsense.

Peter Curran

Re: Security hole in SSH 1.2.0 (RISKs of being "too careful"?)

Mike Alexander <>
Thu, 25 Jan 1996 13:44:17 -0500

The bug in ssh described by Barry Jaspan is a good example of a whole class of Unix security bugs that result from the fact that Unix associates all access controls with users and has no way to assign access rights to a program independent of the user running the program. This is not true of all operating systems. One (certainly not the only) example is MTS (the Michigan Terminal System). Each program in the system is assigned a Program Key and access to files and other system resources can be granted to the program (or a combination of a program and a user) as well as to a user. This makes it much easier to write programs such as ssh since they never have to masquerade as a super user.

Of course there are lots of other problems one has to solve. The algorithm for switching program keys as control switches among different code in the same process is important, for example. One also needs to make sure that users can't sniff at the memory of a process that holds important information (such as passwords). In MTS this is done by making the memory of a process invisible when a "run only" program is loaded in it. Using Program Keys, a run only program is one whose file is permitted to the program loader, but not to the user running it. Hence a program may be run only to one person and not to another. All in all this scheme has worked quite well for the last 25 years or so.

Mike Alexander, University of Michigan

Dirty word filters: Sidewinder

Henry G. Baker <>
Wed, 24 Jan 1996 11:23:13 -0800 (PST)

Apparently, 'dirty word filters' for email (and presumably for news, as well) are almost here.

Quoting from

" FAQ Backdrop Image Sidewinder Frequently Asked Questions
6. What is type enforcement?
... Future releases will provide application layer filters that can detect some irregularities on incoming electronic mail addresses, validate traffic based on cryptographic signatures, check for restricted legends in outgoing files, and so on.
8. How does Sidewinder control network traffic?

Sidewinder uses the following (Rule Setting and Filtering) techniques to control your network traffic:
+ Content Based Access Control

NOTE: This following is a set of capabilities we intend to provide in future Sidewinder releases.

Sidewinder will be able to allow or prevent the delivery of data based on the data contents. For example, Sidewinder could enforce access control based on user names in electronic mail messages.

Sidewinder could also control access based on the presence or absence of key words in a message, file, or Web page (i.e. PROPRIETARY or FOR PUBLIC RELEASE).

9. How are new controls and access limitations added?

Controls and access limitations for existing services are controlled through configuration files. These configuration files may only be modified by authorized administrators accessing the files via the internal network or a directly connected terminal." ...
" FAQ Backdrop Image Sidewinder Frequently Asked Questions SIDEWINDER(TM) INTERNET CLIENT SERVICES

This section provides questions and answers related to the services that Sidewinder(tm) provides to Internet clients (external users).
3. How is the mail passed? Does Sidewinder "read" the entire mail message?
Future versions of Sidewinder will provide an e-mail filter that applies access control and other security checks."

End of quote.

I also seem to recall seeing a picture of theirs showing how this product filters email with a 'Dirty Word Filter'.

I believe that this product has the capability of causing alarms under programmed conditions. I presume that one could configure this program to ring a bell every time a certain 'dirty word' was detected in anyone's email or on usenet news.

The RISKS to civil liberties here are obvious.

Henry Baker www/ftp directory:

Re: Antispamming technology

"Cancelmoose[tm]" <>
Thu, 25 Jan 1996 05:41:22 GMT

For about 5 months I've been working on a project to reliably detect Usenet spam, and allow people who are bothered by it to avoid seeing it. The "Automoose" is a daemon which scans usenet articles, and when it sees the same message that has been posted too many times, it notifies the world via a NoCeM notice.

These notices are PGP signed to prevent forgery. They are read by special clients which check the signatures, and mark spam messages as 'read'. NoCeM has no effect on those who aren't interested, and the user can control whose notices are applied by adding or removing keys from the keyring.

For more information see or email me:

[Let's bring back Monty Python, who spammed spam itself. PGN]

Re: Antispamming technology (Kealey, RISKS-17.66)

EDP <Jay Prince>
Wed, 24 Jan 96 18:46:27 TZ

Martin proposes an excellent idea for locking potential spams:

One fault of his proposal is this: If it becomes very popular, scanning for the string "send a message with `unlock.87326482376' " and extracting the unlock code would be a simple matter for a spammer to script. Thereby, the return address on the spam would be a daemon that watches for your Anti-Spam message and then immediately sends the unlock message.

It would be a simple matter for the spammer to change the domain name of the originating spams (As well as usernames) to get around them then being locked out by AntiSpam after unlocking the first message.

So, your idea suffers because it relies on the other side of the spam being a person (for whom it would be a hassle to change their address if they are blocked) rather than a professional spammer. But, it is a great start.


Re: Antispamming technology (Kealey, RISKS-17.66)

"Rob Slade" <>
Wed, 24 Jan 1996 13:19:13 EST

>I'm working on an idea that I hope will increase the cost of
>advertising by requiring manual intervention for each separate
>recipient, while not stopping messages from valid senders.

The system would halt e-mail from an unknown site/account, and require a manual response in order to have the sender placed on an "approved" list in order to allow his/her/its mail into the system.

>Some risks that I can see: [...]

I can see quite a variety of problems.

I could go on, but I think this indicates that such a program would quickly become very complex. I suspect that spamming is a natural risk of email in much the same way that telemarketing is a risk of telephones and viruses are a risk of computers. It just goes with the territory. So far, the net has proven to have protections against the most flagrant violators. Today I saw a note in Edupage which reported that MCI now has a policy which allows them to terminate the accounts of spammers. (It takes a lot to get corporate monoliths to respond in this manner.)

Now, if you want a *real* risk to the net, look at the Web ... :-) Author "Robert Slade's Guide to Computer Viruses" 0-387-94663-2 (800-SPRINGER)

Re: "Hey, your mailing list is sending me viruses! (Dellinger, 17-66)

Phil Hammons <hammonsp@post.AES.COM>
Wed, 24 Jan 96 15:13:40 PST

In his remarks, Joe comments on modems that disconnect on "+++". Like the Internet Goodtime virus, this has a grain of truth in it. With the (sic) "Hayes-compatible" Modems, when this string is sent into the serial port of the modem (i.e. from the calling station), it causes the modem to go into command mode. The connection is not hung up at this time. If you know what you are doing, you can drop back into data mode. (How many do? Quien Sabe?). If received via the phone port, it is just another string of bits. "Too little knowledge is very bad and not enough is still confusing. Mil Gracias.

[Actually, I meant to mention in RISKS-17.66 that the +++ problem is discussed in RISKS-14.45,46,47, back in April 1993. PGN]

Joe A. Dellinger <>
Thu, 25 Jan 96 10:38:28 CST

Subject: Re: Hey, your mailing list is sending me viruses!

Phil, I agree that what you describe is what is SUPPOSED to happen. But not all "Hayes-compatible" modems behave exactly as they are supposed to. There is also a risk in believing that "compatible" products are indeed 100% compatible as advertised.

Re: Hey, your mailing list is sending me viruses!

Mitch Wagner <>
Thu, 25 Jan 1996 22:08:15 GMT

> I'm told some brands of modem will promptly disconnect if they see
>the string "+++" go by at any point in the data stream.

I'm told that the string "NO CARRIER", with the "N" at column one, will cause some comm software to hang up.

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