When the Russian Mars probe crashed earlier this week, it provided an interesting example of the difference between precision and accuracy. The first reports said that the probe would crash land in central Australia, bringing with it 200 g of plutonium. State emergency services all over Australia went into yellow alert. Soldiers were mobilised. >From the TV pictures, the first estimates of where it would land were anywhere in an area about 2000 km across. The next reports said that it would be landing at about the New South Wales/Queensland border, and they seemed to think it would come down somewhere in an area about 500 km across. The next reports said that it would come down somewhere in an area in the north west of New South Wales, and the precision of this estimate seemed to be about 100 km. As it turned out, it came down about 2000 km west of Chile, in the Pacific Ocean, a third of the way around the world from Australia. So as the precision of the reports was increasing, the accuracy of the reports was about staying about the same - very wrong. Ben Morphett email@example.com
Hacker Scheme, By KAREN MATTHEWS, Associated Press Writer NEW YORK (AP) — City workers, in exchange for bribes from property owners, falsified computer records to eliminate nearly $13 million in unpaid taxes in a scheme called the largest tax fraud case in New York City history. [Associated Press news wire via CompuServe's Executive News Service, AP US & World, 22 Nov 1996] The author makes the following key points: o Some tax records erased. o Other records falsely indicated as paid using funds from legitimate payments by innocent victims. o So far, 29 people charged in federal court. o 200 more expected to be charged. o $13M of debts erased. o $7M in interest lost. o Fraud thought to have started in 1992. o Investigation started in 1994. o In a section particularly intriguing for RISKS and NCSA FORUM participants, the author writes, ``Three employees of the city collector's offices exploited computer "glitches" to make it appear that unpaid taxes had been paid, officials said. More, no doubt, as the case unfolds. M. E. Kabay, Ph.D. (Kirkland, QC), Director of Education National Computer Security Association (http://www.ncsa.com)
This item from last week in Executive News Service on CompuServe caught my eye: Pilots said stretched to limit by cockpit high-tech Reuters World Report, 20 Nov 1996 LONDON, Nov 20 (Reuter) - Airline pilots are being stretched to the limit by increasingly complex cockpit technology and need radically different training methods to cope in future, a top medical aviation specialist said on Wednesday. The article makes the following key points: o Dr Michael Bagshaw is head of aviation medical services at British Airways. He wonders, "Are we perhaps reaching the limit to pilots' mental processing capacity?" o However, he answered in his address in London to the Royal Society in London , "On the face of it we may have reached a plateau. But experience shows that having reached a plateau, we then move on again." o According to the expert, "In both military and commercial aviation the complexity of the environment is increasing. Automation is being developed but the question remains as to whether the automation relieves workload or increases it." o "If we examine the accident rate by type of aircraft, it can be seen that although the overall trend is down ... new highly-automated types have a relatively higher accident rate." o In some cases, plane design prevents manual overrides even if the automated system is in trouble. o The increasing use of CRT and LCD displays means that what used to be on separate dials now appears, in the words of the author of the article, "on one cluttered computer display, which meant pilots needed to spend more time interpreting what they were seeing." o Dr Bagshaw added, "We are starting to see some of the limitations of information processing. This is the weak link — information is derived from a number of sources. It has to be integrated, then interpreted, and the appropriate action taken to use that information appropriately." o The changes in technology necessitate new methods of training: "I think we can move on from the plateau by altering the way we approach training. We've now reached a watershed by accepting that human error is normal," said Baghshaw after his speech. "The old approach was to think that human error was a mistake which should be avoided. Now we have to assume it will happen and instead assess how pilots cope with error." M. E. Kabay, Ph.D. / Director of Education National Computer Security Association (NCSA) http://www.ncsa.com
On Monday 25 Nov 1996, Bell Atlantic — the local telephone company serving the mid-Atlantic region of the USA, including Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. — saw an outage of several hours in its telephone directory assistance service, due (apparently) to an errant operating system upgrade on a database server. For unknown reasons, the backup system also failed. The result was that for several hours, telephone operators ended up taking callers' requests and telephone numbers, looking the requested information up in printed directories, and calling the callers back with the information. Apparently, the problem was solved by backing out the software upgrade. Significantly (in my opinion), the Washington Post's article on the outage mentioned this fact (albeit in slightly less technical language), which is yet another indication of the pervasiveness of software, and of the growing number of people in society at large that are generally aware of software and how it works.
DIMACS Workshop on Network Threats Sponsored by the DIMACS as part of the 1996-97 Special Year on Networks December 4-6, 1996 DIMACS Center, CoRE Building (Computer Research and Education) Rutgers University Busch Campus New Brunswick, New Jersey, USA Workshop organizers: Steve Bellovin, AT&T Labs - Research, firstname.lastname@example.org Peter G. Neumann, SRI International, email@example.com Rebecca Wright, AT&T Labs - Research, firstname.lastname@example.org As the use of computer networks, and in particular the Internet, has increased, so has the potential threat to security. In the last several years, we have seen numerous security-related attacks on Netscape, Java, and the Internet protocols. New protocols and systems for electronic commerce, secure financial transactions, and other applications are being introduced, and are being deployed quickly, and on a large scale. This workshop aims to bring together theorists and practitioners working in areas related to network security in an informal setting to foster discussion regarding the nature of the threat and what we, as researchers, can do to help manage it. Confirmed speakers: Steven M. Bellovin (AT&T Labs - Research) Bill Cheswick (Bell Labs) Shiu-Kai Chin (Syracuse University) Cindy Cullen (Bellcore) Drew Dean (Princeton University) Yvo Desmedt (University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee) Ed Felten (Princeton University) Robert J. Hall (AT&T Labs - Research) Catherine Meadows (Naval Research Laboratory) Peter G. Neumann (SRI International) Sarvar Patel (Bellcore) Jean-Jacques Quisquater (Universite de Louvain) Alexis Rosen (PANIX Public Access Networks Corporation) Avi Rubin (Bellcore) Adam Shostack (Consultant) There is still room in the schedule for a few more talks. If you would like to give a talk describing current, unpublished work, please e-mail a 1-2 page abstract (postscript or plain ASCII text) to Rebecca Wright at email@example.com. MORE INFORMATION: The full workshop program, plus information regarding registration, travel and local arrangements for this workshop can be found at: http://dimacs.rutgers.edu/Workshops/Threats/index.html
At a recent meeting sponsored by the Electronic Banking Economics Society, one speaker predicted that a bankruptcy rate of between 1% and 5% could result directly from costs related to fixing the notorious "Year 2000 Problem." "If you have not yet begun a Year 2000 conversion today, you will not be able to convert by 2000," he said, noting that there are only 150 weekends left to work on systems affected by the problem. If companies choose to ignore the problem, they'll be liable for millions in lawsuits brought by shareholders when company stock prices begin to plummet. Only one third of U.S. companies are addressing the problem, with another third entering the preliminary discussion phase, and the other third doing nothing. Still, that's better than the rest of the world: "Britain is three steps behind the United States on this issue, Europe about 10 steps behind the United States on the issue, and Japan is about 15 steps behind the United States on the issue," the consultant said. (*BNA Daily Report for Executives*, 20 Nov 1996, A16; Edupage, 24 Nov 1996)
The online edition of the Guardian newspaper has an interesting article on the year 2000 problem; concentrating on the legal responsibility of software and hardware vendors. The article quotes Stephen Castell, a consultant in computer technology: "Castell believes that around the beginning of 1992 is the earliest time from which suppliers may be liable. He says, "The problem was sufficiently recognised in the industry from around then, and systems developers should have considered moving on from the two-figure date." However, if it is correct that the potential problem should have been obvious, courts may be less indulgent to developers who overlooked it even before 1992." http://go2.guardian.co.uk/computing/961121coonUpagainstthecloc.html (Note that the Guardian may only archive articles for a short time.) Martin Minow firstname.lastname@example.org
Many of the requests processed by local government offices are requests for information from government records. This fact has given the Danish Ministry of Research a seemingly brilliant idea: Making government records available on the World Wide Web would free local government officials from processing these requests. The first government records were made public on October 1 on <http://ditdanmark.nethotel.dk/vurdering/>. The information was taken from the land and building property evaluation records of the Danish Tax Ministry. These records are used by employees in the tax offices of the local government for taxation of land and building property. The published information included the following for each piece of land and building property in Denmark: Location, owner, estimated value, date and price (including down payment) of last sale (if sold since last evaluation of the property in 1992), debts to local government, rental value for non-residential property (if rented) and further notes intended to assist evaluation. On the October 15 the records were made inaccessible when the large, reputable Danish newspaper Berlingske Tidende published a critique by professor Erik Frøkjær from the Department of Computer Science at Copenhagen University. Two thing were criticized: 1. The records could be copied without explicit permit by anyone with access to the Internet, something which is not allowed according to the Danish Public Authorities' Registers Act. 2. The last three items in the list above were confidential information and could not legally be published under Danish law. Access to the records was reestablished the next day when the offending items had been removed. At that time the publisher, Kommunedata, assured the public and the Danish Data Surveillance Authority ("Registertilsynet") that the records could not be copied. The company also publicly explained that Erik Frøkjær could not possibly have copied the records except by means that were not entirely legal. Soon after this a group of researchers contacted the Danish Data Surveillance Authority to demonstrate that the records are easily copied (with entirely legal means), but the offer of a demonstration has been declined by the Authority. Copies of the case obtained from the Authority under the Danish Freedom of Information Act show that the Authority has been made aware by other means that copying is possible. Despite this the Authority refuses to take action based on this evidence so WWW access is still possible. The only change since the reopening has been removal of most of the information about sales when the Court in Århus informed the Authority that this information is not and should not be publicly available. This is the first case known to me of government records being published on the World Wide Web. The case is instructive: There has been repeated valid objections to the legal basis on which the records are made available. This and the fact that the continuing operation of this service is not important for anything but the reputation of the parties involved, leads me to expect that access ought to be at least temporarily suspended until the questions were resolved. This case demonstrates a large collection of security problems inherent to World Wide Web publication of government records as well as a lot of legal problems that will not be mentioned here. These problems are probably compounded because both the Danish government and Kommunedata wants to be perceived as technologically advanced and "Internet-friendly". 1) The original records were used by the employees in local tax offices, so information that was not meant to be disclosed publicly was maintained together with the evaluation of each piece of property. When the records were made available on the World Wide Web without cleanup, confidential information was disclosed. Moral: When sensitive information is put to use in a new way it should be checked to make sure that all information is appropriate for the new use. 2) The Danish Data Surveillance Authority does not have its own technical staff, so it wasn't able to asses the correctness of the claim made by the publisher, Kommunedata, that the records could not be copied. Moral: Government authorities should not rely on experts employed by the companies that are checked. When new types of problems are encountered the government should use their own or independent security experts to assess the claims made by companies. 3) It is not possible to prevent information published on the Internet from being copied, so information that must not be copied should not be available on the Internet. 4) Until now the companies and government authorities involved has ignored criticism from computer professionals. Moral: Government officials does not automatically listen when professionals criticize security. If the critique goes against official policy you might very well be ignored or worse, no matter how serious the problem is. 5) Denmark prides itself on its large information systems in the public administration. These information systems have been accepted by the public because of a set of very restrictive laws governing these records and strict attention to security. Other governments may be tempted to publish similar records on the World Wide Web because when the security-conscious Danes do it, it must be OK. 6) To add insult to injury the programs used by Kommunedata to control access to the records performs no parameter validation which shows that this publication probably has yet more security problems in store. Despite the problems with publication of the records the Ministry of Research and Kommunedata wants to make even more sensitive and personal data available on the World Wide Web in the future. I shudder as I contemplate the consequences. Ketil Perstrup (email@example.com)
Two days ago, I was in a computer room of a large financial institution. A whole range of different computers is in that room. One (PC) setup consisted of a tower on the ground, and a monitor and keyboard on a table. Nothing usual here. But the monitor was placed on a box which had switches for the monitor, the tower, and a printer, and a masterswitch, on one end, and cables on the other. The switches where facing forward. The machine was happily minding its own - important - business. My partner and I were working on a different machine. At one moment, he gives way to let me handle the machine. He puts his elbow on the table, slightly disturbing the keyboard, which is moved enough to just have the master switch break the contact for a moment, causing the machine to crash. - "Is that serious?", he asked. - "It is a live machine..." When I left two hours later, at least 5 people had been trying to get it working again, and at least 10 nervous people asked what was going on. They were still trying to boot it. Today I was in the room again. They had turned the box 90 degrees. Abigail
The online edition of the UK Guardian newspaper has a long article on the way that "Internet users leave traces and records of every online action, from sending e-mail or posting to newsgroups to visiting Web sites." ... At the moment unwanted e-mail is about the limit of the intrusion, but this could change. Internet commentator Dominique Paul Noth points out: "You have no guarantee that the information is intelligently or even accurately employed to your benefit." As more information is collected, it is more useful to those collecting it - and less easily controlled. ... One alternative is making yourself anonymous by deleting cookie files and using mail programs that disguise your identity. However, making yourself anonymous online means that you cannot personalise Web pages, ask for information via e-mail, or join mailing lists. The issue, as Noth and other commentators recognise, is more to do with how this information is used. Credit card companies know what we are buying, and there is a legal framework to control their use of this information. There is no such framework in force for online information. It seems that the very lack of "real world" controls over online activity which many Internet users favour has created the environment in which marketing companies can thrive. As long as the Internet is seen as somehow outside the reach of the law, then there will be those who abuse its freedom. So as you surf for Christmas presents, look out for surprises in your mailbox as a result. The full article is at http://go2.guardian.co.uk/internet/961121wwonDigitlafootprint.html (However, note that newspaper articles on the Web are often only visible for a short time.) Martin Minow firstname.lastname@example.org
BKDSCRPT.RVW 960902 "Disappearing Cryptography", Peter Wayner, 1996, 0-12-738671-8, U$29.95 %A Peter Wayner email@example.com %C 1300 Boylston Street, Chestnut Hill, MA 02167 %D 1996 %G 0-12-738671-8 %I Academic Press Professional %O U$29.95 +1-617-232-0500 +1-800-3131277 firstname.lastname@example.org %P 295 %T "Disappearing Cryptography" The title seems to allude to, and the book jacket definitely trumpets, steganography, the act or art of "hiding in plain sight". An example of a steganographic message would be one which appears to be an innocuous and ordinary family letter, but which carries detailed information in the background. One chapter of the book does deal with this type of encryption, although only in terms of hiding text data in pictures. The book as a whole seems more like a collection of essays on topics related to encryption. The topics represented cover a broad range of information science. The level of detail provided varies, but in general the explanations are fairly simple. copyright Robert M. Slade, 1996 BKDSCRPT.RVW 960902 Vancouver Institute for Research into User Security Vancouver Canada V7K 2G6 ROBERTS@decus.ca email@example.com Rob.Slade@f733.n153.z1.fidonet.org
Rob Slade is right. Much of my book, _Disappearing Cryptography_ is filled with simple discussion. It was intended to offer many casual readers some insight into how morphable information can be. This is a highly important technical topic these days because of the battles over encryption regulation. Sure, I could have written a nerd opera, but that wouldn't have helped people without an advanced degree in number theory. This topic is so important for policy that I wanted to try and spread the knowledge around a bit. I think he's wrong on other counts. The book discusses how to use error-correcting codes, encryption, dining cryptographers networks, compression functions, and compiler technology to make information look like something else. I think that each of these solutions offers a unique way to make information `disappear' because, if it looks like something innocuous, then it escapes detection. My home page (http://www.access.digex.net/~pcw/pcwpage.html) has the table of contents for those that are interested. Feel free to write if you have more questions. [A minireview by your moderator is in RISKS-18.17. PGN]
I guess one's man's poison is another man's feast. I got a kick out of the article about the problems that could be caused by the next peak of the 11-year sunspot cycle. Most of us amateur radio operators are waiting in breathless anticipation for the sunspots to pick up because it "turns on" some of the radio frequencies to long range communications. It's sort of like a starry-eyed 4 year old kid waiting for Christmas hearing someone grumbling about how they don't like Christmas. Also, the 11-year sunspot cycle has been going on for several hundred years since the last gap in the cycle. It says something about our technology that some systems might not be prepared for it. It's like someone being surprised that it's getting cold as winter approaches. ("Gee, didn't it start getting cold about this time last year, too?") 73 de KB5YAC Mickey McInnis - firstname.lastname@example.org
> ... first group to be burglarized on the Internet [?] Those who are following this story will already know that the samples from U2's new album were not ""siphoned off" along cables feeding the band's own video camera", that provides a one day delayed view of U2's studio activities, but were copied from a promotional video that was sent out from Island Records to their office in Hungary. The video was reported to have been borrowed and samples taken from it - a purposely degraded recording - were uploaded to a web page on the Internet. The story seems to have got very quickly elaborated to include hackers. The hacker aspect appears to have come from the quote in the Sunday Times from a "former hacker": Hackers may have used the camera as a door into the studio's computers where the new songs are stored. The real risk here is that it seems that newspapers don't employ anyone qualified to proofread and follow up their Internet related stories. (Also c.f. the recent Observer story about pornography on the Internet).
The SEI Conference on Risk Management: Managing Uncertainty in a Changing World April 7-9, 1997, The Cavalier Hotel, Virginia Beach, Virginia. Planned in cooperation with the Society for Risk Analysis, the IEEE Computer Society, the Hampton Roads SPIN, and the Best Manufacturing Practices Association; cooperation with Software Program Managers Network is pending. [Featured renowned keynote speakers, distinguished presenters, contributed presentations, papers, tutorials, workshops...] For additional information about the conference, contact SEI Customer Relations, Software Engineering Institute Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA 15213 Phone, Voice Mail, and On-Demand FAX 412 / 268-5800 Customeremail@example.com World Wide Web: http://www.sei.cmu.edu Event Registration: Contact Events, Software Engineering Institute Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA 15213-3890 Phone, Voice Mail, and On-Demand FAX 412 / 268-7388 FAX 412 / 268-7401 Internet firstname.lastname@example.org
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