The Risks Digest

The RISKS Digest

Forum on Risks to the Public in Computers and Related Systems

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

Volume 17 Issue 96

Monday 1 April 1996


o END OF VOLUME 17: Summary issue available
o Breakthrough in cryptographics: ROT n+1 new algorithm discovered
Peter Simons
o Flash ROM virus
J.R.Valverde jr
o "IRS computer project a four-billion-dollar fiasco"
Edupage via Prentiss Riddle
o Eglitch in RISKS-17.95
Peter Ladkin
o Notes on e-mail: Use diaeresis
Jon Callas
o BC Health Minister Bans sale of Prescribing Profiles to Drug Companies
Kelly Bert Manning
o Re: An uncertainty principle for risks
Matthew S. Jaffe
Bob Blakley III
o Re: Technology "deterioration"
Doug Sewell
o IBM posts info on the Web about "Year 2000" problem
Paul Robinson
o Persistence of links such as URLs
Johan Strandberg
o ACM/IEEE Letter on Crypto
Dave Banisar
o Info on RISKS (comp.risks)


"Peter G. Neumann" <>
Mon, 1 Apr 1996 16:33 PST
As a courtesy to all of you whose mailers break at 32K or 64K, or whose
mailboxes are already overflowing with RISKS issues, we are breaking
precedent and not distributing the end-volume issue (RISKS-17.97) as a
regular issue.  It will remain available on the ftp site as risks-17.00 in
the main directory, and will eventually appear in the new subdirectory 17 as
both risks-17.00 and risks-17.97 -- along with the rest of volume 17.

1 Apr 1996 00:00:00 GMT
From: (Cryptography Today)
Newsgroups: sci.crypt,,talk.politics.crypto
Subject: Breakthrough in cryptographics: ROT n+1 new algorithm discovered
Followup-To: sci.crypt
Organization: Institute of slowly and painfully working out the surprisingly obvious
Xref: sci.crypt:40328 talk.politics.crypto:10509

Unbreakable encryption algorithm discovered:

######  ####### #######                            #
#     # #     #    #             #    #    #      ##
#     # #     #    #             ##   #    #     # #
######  #     #    #             # #  #  #####     #
#   #   #     #    #             #  # #    #       #
#    #  #     #    #             #   ##    #       #
#     # #######    #             #    #          #####

Another milestone has been added to the exciting history of research in
cryptography. For several decades, the one-time pad had the reputation of
being the most secure algorithm in existence. Not anymore. In the sleepy
city of Bonn, Germany, the new ROT n+1 algorithm was invented by Peter
Simons, a 22 year old student of Computer Science.

``I had the idea for the algorithm in 1993, when I was reading Douglas
Adams' famous book "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy". In one chapter Adams
was talking about bistromatics, a newly discovered branch of mathematics.
He furthermore wrote, that the phenomenon of numbers behaving differently
in a restaurant was well known to the common people, just, nobody took the
time to really research the behavior.

``Then the idea of the n+1 phenomenon struck me. It happens every day. You
have carefully planned your trip to the airport to reach your plane in time.
You absolutely have to be there at 7:00 AM, not a minute later.  Though you
can be sure that due to mystical events, you'll reach the airport exactly at
7:01 AM. Or take the case of ordering a pizza. You have exactly $20 in your
wallet and you order a pizza and drinks for just that amount. And when the
delivery service arrives, you notice the $1 fee for orders after 4PM.

``I thought about using this law of nature for cryptographical purposes and
ROT n+1 was almost invented. I was still missing the tools to device this
effect, though. It took me three years of research to come up with a method
to control the n+1 effect: Reverse Temporal Engineering.''

Unfortunately the details of Reverse Temporal Engineering are patented by
Peter Simons and must not be described in detail here. To summarize it: You
make up a random number. Then you take the ASCII-representation of your
plaintext and add the number to each byte. If the result lies beyond the
'z' character, you'll simply start over with an 'a' again. Just like it has
been done by Caesar a two-thousand years ago.

Formally, the algorithm is described as follows (readers who are not
mathematically oriented might want to skip this paragraph): f() is the
function which yields the numerical-representation of a character. f'() on
the other hand, yields the character represented by the number, it receives
as parameter:

(1)     f'(f(x)) = x

Given the magical number n and the pool of available characters Z, the
encryption works as follows:

(2)     f'((f(x)+n) mod |Z|)

Decryption is done just the other way round:

(3)     f'((f(x)-n) mod |Z|)

If both, the sender and the recipient, use the same character set and the
same key n, the system works. So far so good.

Of course anybody can attack use brute force to attack the encrypted
message, simply by trying all possible 'n's. Due to the modulo operation, n
is actually limited to the number of characters available, usually less
than 60 or 70 characters. A brute force attack can be done by anybody
fortunate enough to own a piece of paper and a pencil, not even to mention
todays high-power computers.

Here comes the Temporal Reverse Engineering into play. The message is not
really encrypted with n, but with n+1. Not literally n+1, but the "n+1
effect" Peter described above. n is not a fixed constant, it is a flowing
number always escaping your attempts to catch it. When you attack the
message with "1", the real n will be "2". But when you try "2", n will
already be "3". There's no way to catch it unless someone proves that the
natural number do have a upper limit. Only the indented recipient is able to
use the real n -- for reasons, nobody but Peter Simons quite understands.

One even more obscure thing is, that you are able to choose zero (0) as
encryptor, which does not encipher the message at all. Nonetheless, nobody
but the recipient will be able to read it!

It isn't astonishing at all, that the infamous three letter agencies are
not very fond of this invention. For decades, they fought their battle
against encryption algorithms invented by the so called "opponent". But
here comes an opponent they will not be able to beat. ROTn+1 gives
unbreakable encryption to the masses. And unlike, say, RSA, it doesn't
require much computer power to utilize it. The encryption itself is very
straightforward and the determination of n can be done by a three year old
child. Peter Simons has been quoted saying that ``the Temporal Reverse
Engineering is so damned easy, you wouldn't even believe it if I told you
how it works''.

Furthermore he said: ``My ROTn+1 algorithm renders all cryptographic
software in existence useless. Throw it away. PGP? Forget about it.
Clipper? An April fools day joke -- not more.''

[Speculation on whether the above-cited newsgroup postings violate any U.S.
export-controls restrictions is left as an exercise to the reader.  PGN]

Flash ROM virus

jr <"J.R.Valverde>
Mon, 01 Apr 1996 15:14:09 WET
A recent posting in comp.firewalls describes a new kind of PC virus.
This one zaps the flash BIOS of Pentium motherboards.

What makes it more interesting is that on the Endeavour EV-2 motherboards
this behaviour is a killer, it renders it unusable; see:

As it seems, this particular motherboard features: "(1) Its flash ROM does
NOT implement a write-protected failsafe recovery "boot-block".  (2) The
flash ROM is soldered directly onto the system board.  If anything at all
happens to the flash that causes it to be inoperable, no practical method
exists to restore it.  No "recovery" utility can be run if the system won't

I can't but wonder what kind of demential design gave birth to such a
sensitive piece of hardware: the BIOS ROM in a PC is a fundamental part of
it: without it the machine is totally unusable. A FlashROM is by definition
writable, and as such one can expect that a variety of circumstances may
erase or rewrite it with bad data. And there are many!

Not having a protected recovery block is bad enough. But soldering it so it
can't be replaced is something I can't but qualify as "evil" (or "greedy" at

The RISKs? Just let your imagination run wild: viruses like the
'Flash_killed' one, programming errors (yes, I've zapped the BIOS config of
a PC this way a couple of times), power failures, using the wrong BIOS image
or loader for an update, etc... Any of them (and many more) will render the
machine totally worthless.

"IRS computer project a four-billion-dollar fiasco" (Edupage, 31 Mar 1996)

Prentiss Riddle <>
Mon, 1 Apr 1996 08:33:48 -0600 (CST)
Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin has admitted to a congressional committee
that his department doesn't have an overall master plan or blueprint for
the multibillion modernization effort intended to replace the Sixties-era
mainframes now in operation at the Internal Revenue Service and to link IRS
offices across the nation.  Congressman Jim Lightfoot characterized the
project as "a $4-billion fiasco that is floundering because of inadequate
planning."  Secretary Rubin says the only plan that exists (and which he
has not read) is a highly technical 6,000-page document that "is not what
we need."  (*Los Angeles Times*, 29 Mar 1996, D1)

Eglitch in RISKS-17.95

Mon, 1 Apr 1996 22:31:27 +0200
Our immoderate moderator said

>email      e-mail      Electronic mail [Distinguishing itself from every
>                          other term on this list, the unhyphenated version
>                          has no natural meaning whatever ...]

I conclude the meanings of Email (German) and e'mail (French) are
unnatural. Our moderator may consider himself lacquered.
Es ist aber mir..
NO-        YES-        Interpretation
egal       e-gal       It bothers me a whole lot electronically.

Peter Ladkin

[Peter, I am glad you are enameled with German and French (sorry; that
is a Chinese pun).  You must belong to the e-galite' sororite'?  PGN]

[The French was also noted by Bertrand Meyer <>.
The German is of course borrowed from the French.  I knew that,
but was carefully distinguishing Email and e'mail from email in
noting the lack of (strict) misinterpretations for ``email''.  PGN]

Notes on e-mail: Use diaeresis

Jon Callas <>
Mon, 1 Apr 1996 13:58:10 -0800
I think PGN has a very good proposal, and there's an addendum I'd like to
make. In English, we have a little used stress mark that denotes precisely
what you mention, although in the general case. This stress mark is called
the diaeresis, and it looks like (and is commonly confused with) the umlaut
that German has.

The purpose of a diaeresis is to note that a vowel is supposed to be
pronounced when ordinarily it would not be. For example, the word
"co=F6perate" has a diaeresis on the second "o" so we can tell the difference
between "working with" (co - operate) and "the process of becoming someone
who makes barrels" (cooper-ate). Similarly, the word "na=EFf" is spelled
with a diaeresis on the "i" so we know it is pronounced "nigh-EEF" and not
"nay-f." It is also used on a final vowel that would ordinarily not be
pronounced, like in the name "Bront=EB."

In the past in RISKS we've talked about the hazards that have come from
losing punctuation marks -- for example, the people who refused to stop
spelling their name with an umlaut. While these problems are less
wide-spread in English than some other languages, they still exist. Computer
scientists have only recently admitted that there are lower case letters,
and only the howling of Europeans got accented characters into ISO Latin-1.
Anglophones had to put up with na=EFve people who thought there were no
accents in English, or were used only by people putting on some sort of a
r=F4le. Even today, the Unicode folk still refuse to admit that there is
such a thing as lower case numerals (yes, there are, and no they are NOT
simply a display style), and I strongly suspect that the diaereses I put
here (and shock horror, a circumflex) will get eaten somewhere along the
way, most likely because early computer people could not count past seven

Nonetheless, I don't think we should be daunted. We should use good old
English, and spell "e-mail" "=EBmail". It looks cool (why do you think you
see them liberally slathered on heavy-metal albums?), and best of all, it's
correct usage. The diaeresis means to pronounce the e, so when some tin-horn
techno-pedant complains, you can put them in their place and show them how
us real technos do things.

Jon Callas

[Not a bad idea for folks who can deal with diaeresis, but
there are still lots of problems that does not handle.  PGN]

BC Health Minister Bans sale of Prescribing Profiles to Drug Companies

Kelly Bert Manning <>
Mon, 1 Apr 1996 15:44:58 -0500
See http:/

How does this relate to computers, since the root issues are generic?

Well, for one thing having the data in machine readable form makes it
much easier to merge and relate data and perform this kind of data mining.

For another thing, the Single Payer system assigns unique province wide
Practitioner ID numbers that makes it easier to relate data from separate
points of sale. The same applies to Personal Health Numbers, but that
doesn't seem to be at issue in this matter.

Finally, when systems interact, it doesn't seem to be enough to ensure that
Privacy/Confidentiality is protected on just one system. While Pharmanet
wasn't the source of this information it defines a province wide standard
that could simplify the task of combining information from different points
of sale.

For background the URL above has a couple of press releases about Minister's
statements about regulation of Pharmaceutical company prices and profits.
See Feb 26 and Feb 13. This has been getting a lot of news coverage since
the Mulroney government ended "compulsory licencing" about a decade ago.

Re: An uncertainty principle for risks (Mills, RISKS-17.94)

Matthew S. Jaffe <>
Mon, 01 Apr 1996 12:01:36 -0700
The subject of asynchronous, real-time, HMI design has been addressed
(although almost certainly not yet "infallibly") by the literature in our
field.  As implied by Lauren Weinstein, however, in 'Technology
"deterioration" ' earlier in the same issue of RISKS, the difficulty in
keeping up with the literature is obviously a problem that contributes to

For those who are interested, the end of section 15.4.5 of Nancy Leveson's
book "Safeware: System Safety and Computers," Addison-Wesley, contains an
extract of a fuller discussion found in "Implications of the man-machine
interface for software requirements completeness in real-time,
safety-critical software systems," Proceedings of IFAC/IFIP SAFECOMP '89,
Dec, 1989.  The original IFAC article, addresses (among other topics)
exactly the situation that Dick Mills described above and presents a design
principle to prevent such situations --- disclaimer: Leveson and I wrote
that article so mine is not an unbiased recommendation.  It is also true
that our solution, intended for safety critical systems, seems too elaborate
for a simple, non-critical device such as a car radio.  But, for
safety-critical systems, some principles are known --- there might not need
to be quite so much cause for despair.


Re: An uncertainty principle for risks (Cook, RISKS-17.95)

Bob Blakley III <blakley@VNET.IBM.COM>
Mon, 01 Apr 96 15:36:05 EST
That is not to say that NO bad effects are possible; even in _verite'_
systems, combining two devices can have unpleasant side effects.  My new
1996 Chevy Lumina (generally an excellent specimen) exhibits such an effect.
It has a radio with a built-in cassette player, just like my old 1990 Chevy
Lumina (they're kinda habit-forming...).  Well, not *just* like the 1990
model - the 1996 model has added a feature called a "cut tape detector".
This device somehow (tension?  optics?) continuously monitors the deck to
insure that there is really tape running through the play heads.  If it
determines that there's no tape, it assumes that instead of running through
the heads, the tape is snarling up inside the deck, and it ejects the

This is a nice feature from some points of view, but from my perspective
it's a dead loss.  Why?  Because I almost never use the cassette player to
play tapes; in the 1990 Lumina I use it, with a Radio Shack adaptor, to play
CDs on a portable CD player.  But on the 1996 Lumina, I can't do this,
because the CD-cassette adaptor has no tape!  It just has a magnetic head
which mates with the read head in the tape deck and "pretends to be a tape"
from the point of view of the read head.

No one has yet produced a CD-cassette adaptor which *also* pretends to be a
tape from the point of view of the cut-tape detector, so I can't listen to
CDs in the new car.  (Naturally, I didn't know about this "feature" when I
decided against the CD player option in the 1996 model...)

Bob Blakley, IBM Austin, 11400 Burnet Rd. Bldg 903 Rm 7b-01  FON 512 838-8133 t/l 678, FAX 823-8805 t/l 793

Re: Technology "deterioration" (Weinstein, RISKS-17.94)

Doug Sewell <>
26 Mar 1996 10:39:34 -0500
I've found a number of `technologically deficient' `features' in cellular
telephone equipment, having had various phones over the last eight years
(right now I'm on my fourth, a handheld with a booster in the car).

Brand X telephone uses only a three-digit lock-code, and the lock code is
not changeable by the user.  This same Brand X telephone displays the phone
number at power-up.  Given that the initial lock code put in by the cellular
vendor is the last X digits of the phone number, this isn't very secure.
You have to take the phone back to the vendor to change the lock code.

Brand Y telephone has a four-digit lock code and a five-digit security code.
The lock code is used to lock/unlock the phone and set a few security
parameters, and is resettable by the user.  The security code is used to
validate other parameters (including the lock code), and may not be reset by
the user.  The default settings are very easy.

It is entirely possible, using the security code, to reset the lock code on
a locked Brand Y phone, rendering the locking useless.  I proved it to
myself yesterday.

Doug Sewell ( (
Youngstown Ohio is now area code 330.

IBM posts info on the Web about "Year 2000" problem

Fri, 29 Mar 1996 02:01:13 EST
[Note: the URLs of items in this article are posted in HTML format so that
if you are reading this article via a browser, you can automatically
reference the items mentioned.  A plain-text list of all URLs used in this
article will appear at the bottom.]

One of IBM's World Wide Web sites contains an interesting summary of
issues relating to the use of 6-digit dates and 2-digit years where the
century was not included and thus are now and will cause problems in the
future as calculations and other manipulations of dates will erroneously
consider Saturday, January 1, 2000, to be 01/01/00 and thus an earlier
date than Friday, December 31, 1999, being 12/31/99.

There is a fairly well thought out article for
people to consider on dealing with programs to correctly handle 4-digit
dates.  It also mentions the fact that the upgrading of old software is
going to be expensive in people, resource and money terms.

It includes URL references to other documents including an FAQ on the year
2000 problem, an article from
CNN Interactive
about the issue of two-digit years failing at 01/01/00.

They also have a 500K+ white paper in that can be retrieved in several
formats or in printed form by an E-mail request about the subject and what
to do whether you use IBM hardware/software or not.  The paper can be
obtained from the 
article reference I indicated above.

From what I read, it sounded interesting, neither an attempt to minimize
the problem, nor an attempt to overhype it.  It also points out that IBM
was just as much responsible as everyone else was in developing software
using 2-digit years.

URL's used in this article:

IBM Article:
CNN Story:

Paul Robinson, General Manager, Tansin A. Darcos & Company/TDR, Inc.

Persistence of links such as URLs

Johan Strandberg <>
Mon, 1 Apr 1996 14:58:30 -0800
I am a bit concerned seeing how many articles in RISKS quote external
document through the use of URLs.  Most of the time it is great how this
makes information easier to get to, but what can we do to protect these
links over time?

RISKS is archived (Thanks!) so important information is preserved.  However,
many recent articles have had key information excluded and replaced with a
URL (a recent article by Fred Cohen <> in 17.94 about the incident
at comas to mind, but there are others).

URLs do a great job of handling some of the copyright and ownership issues
as well as reducing clutter and expanding coverage.  But--until we have Ted
Nelsons (possibly utopian) Xanadu Hypertext docuverse with guarantee
persistence of information--URL's will simply decay and destroy information.

I think great care should be taken in such an important archived journal as
RISKS to use URLs with care.  They are great for off-loading long and
boring conference announcement details where there is a built-in time limit
for relevance anyway, but let us all make sure we preserve what is

Johan Strandberg           1444 Jeffery Avenue          (408) 723 5462
Clear Blue Software       San Jose CA 95118-1134

ACM/IEEE Letter on Crypto

"Dave Banisar" <>
1 Apr 1996 16:26:01 -0500
Association For Computing Machinery
Office of US Public Policy
666 Pennsylvania Avenue SE
Suite 301
Washington, DC 20003 USA
(tel) 202/298-0842 (fax) 202/547-5482

Institute of Electronics and Electrical Engineers
United States Activities
1828 L Street NW
Suite 1202
Washington, DC 20036-5104 USA
(tel) 202/785-0017 (fax) 202/785-0835

2 April 1996

Honorable Conrad Burns
Chairman, Subcommittee on Science, Technology and Space
Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee
US Senate SD-508
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Chairman Burns:

On behalf of the nation's two leading computing and engineering
associations, we are writing to support your efforts, and the efforts of
the other cosponsors of the Encrypted Communications Privacy Act, to
remove unnecessarily restrictive controls on the export of encryption
technology.  The Encrypted Communications Privacy Act sets out the
minimum changes that are necessary to the current export controls on
encryption technology.  However, we believe that the inclusion of issues
that are tangential to export, such as key escrow and encryption in
domestic criminal activities, is not necessary.  The relaxation of
export controls is of great economic importance to industry and users,
and should not become entangled in more controversial matters.

Current restrictions on the export of encryption technology harm
the interests of the United States in three ways: they handicap American
producers of software & hardware, prevent the development of a secure
information infrastructure, and limit the ability of Americans using new
online services to protect their privacy.  The proposed legislation will
help mitigate all of these problems, though more will need to be done to
assure continued US leadership in this important hi-tech sector.

Technological progress has moved encryption from the realm of
national security into the commercial sphere. Current policies, as well
as the policy-making processes, should reflect this new reality. The
legislation takes a necessary first step in shifting authority to the
Commerce Department and removing restrictions on certain encryption
products.  Future liberalization of export controls will allow Americans
to excel in this market.

The removal of out-dated restrictions on exports will also enable
the creation of a Global Information Infrastructure sufficiently secure
to provide seamless connectivity to customers previously unreachable by
American companies.   The United States is a leader in Internet
commerce.  However, Internet commerce requires cryptography.  Thus
American systems have been hindered by cold-war restraints on the
necessary cryptography as these systems have moved from the laboratory
to the marketplace.  This legislation would open the market to secure,
private, ubiquitous electronic commerce.  The cost of not opening the
market may include the loss of leadership in computer security
technologies, just at the time when Internet users around the world will
need good security to launch commercial applications.

For this legislation to fulfill its promise the final approval of
export regulations must be based on analysis of financial and commercial
requirements and opportunities, not simply on the views of experts in
national security cryptography. Therefore, we urge you to look at ways
to further relax restrictive barriers.

Finally, the legislation will serve all users of electronic
information systems by supporting the development of a truly global
market for secure desktop communications.  This will help establish
private and secure spaces for the work of users, which is of particular
interest to the members of the IEEE/USA and the USACM.

On behalf of the both the USACM and the IEEE/USA we look forward
to working with you on this important legislation to relax export
controls and promote the development of a robust, secure, and reliable
communications infrastructure for the twenty-first century.

Please contact Deborah Rudolph in the IEEE Washington Office at
(202) 785-0017 or Lauren Gelman in the ACM Public Policy Office at (202)
298-0842 for any additional information.


Barbara Simons, Ph.D.3
Chair, U.S. Public Policy
Committee of ACM

Joel B. Snyder, P.E.
Vice President, Professional Activities and
Chair, United States Activities Board

cc: Members of the Subcommittee on Science, Technology and Space

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