We have found a serious security flaw in version 1.1.1 of the Java Development Kit (JDK) and version 1.0 of the HotJava browser, both from Sun. These systems allow digitally signed applets. If an applet's signer is labeled as trusted by the local system, then the applet is not subject to the normal security restrictions. The flaw we found allows an applet to change the system's idea of who signed it. The applet can get a list of all signers known to the local system, determine which if any of those signers is trusted, and then the applet can relabel itself so it appears to have been signed by a trusted signer. The result is that the applet can completely evade Java's security mechanisms. JavaSoft says the flaw will be fixed in the next release (1.1.2) of the JDK. The Netscape and Microsoft browsers are not affected, since they do not currently support the JDK 1.1 code-signing API. Dirk Balfanz, Drew Dean, Edward Felten, Dan Wallach; Secure Internet Progr.Grp, Dept. of Computer Science, Princeton Univ. http://www.cs.princeton.edu/sip/ [This is another instance of old RISKS story -- a surprisingly large portion of the entire infrastructure must be trustworthy, including pieces you might not have realized were critical. (That statement is perhaps best thought of as a corollary to Les Lamport's classical statement, ``A distributed system is one in which the failure of a computer you didn't even know existed can render your own computer unusable.) PGN
This is another anecdote along the lines of previous cases of people trusting computers. BBC radio reported this morning that the European Commission had written to the UK government that it is not happy for mainland UK to export beef based on veterinary certification of BSE-free herds which itself would be derived from (paper) records from the farms. However, Northern Ireland, where they have apparently had computerised records for some time, is, it seems, a completely different question. One gathers that what the computer says about the movements of livestock is considered much more trustworthy than what mere mortals commit to paper. Do any UK farmers read comp.risks? It would be interesting to hear their views on perceived reliability of computerisation. Charlie Lane
In the local paper, *Orlando Sentinel*, 23 Apr 1997, in the briefs on the front page of the Business section (formatting mine): INTERNET SITE CONTAINS VIRUS A computer virus is circulating on the Internet with the name AOL4FREE.COM that destroys files on users' hard drives, the U.S. Department of Energy says. Computer users who download and run the "Trojan Horse" program - either from an online service or an e-mail message - will see all the files on their hard drive wiped out, the department said. A Trojan Horse program is software a user has to load onto his or her computer. The program which can attack any DOS, Windows 95 or Windows 3.1 operating system - also could plant obscene messages in someone's computer system. As everyone here knows, AOL4FREE.COM started out as Yet Another E-Mail Hoax. Then the CIAC (DOE) issued an advisory stating towards the bottom that it was a hoax, but rumoured to be a real trojan and if anyone had one please send it in. Within 24 hours they had one. True, what they received was more in the line of a "Stupid DOS Trick" that would take less than five minutes to create, debug, rename AOL4FREE.COM (is really an .EXE but DOS does not care), and send to CIAC but did meet the letter of what the warning described. A Self-Fulfilling Request. And so CIAC issued yet another advisory stating that "Forsooth, it exists" the assumption being that since they had received a copy, it was widespread. In the Big Print. Buried in the small print toward the bottom were certain disclaimers but who reads that far ? (note - sent a "constructive criticism" to CIAC immediately). That the above has been picked up by the media was inevitable. The RISK ? People read into postings what they want to and the Internet is "The sum of all their fears." Would be funny except for the number of phone calls I know this will cause... Padgett http://www.freivald.org/~padgett
COUPLE WIN DAMAGES FOR `POLTERGEIST' BEDS (PA News, 10 April 1997) Retired UK social worker Frederick Watts, 62, and his wife Jean, spent 2,800 pounds on high-technology beds, which they believed would help his arthritis. Instead, they suffered an ordeal that a judge described as like being haunted by an electronic poltergeist. They have received more than 4,000 pounds damages after the beds developed a mind of their own and shook them awake in the middle of the night. Key points: * Sleepezee Beautyrest bed was supposed to provide soothing vibrations and allow head tilt using a remote control. The bed would shift into gear randomly at all hours of the day and night and also tilt up suddenly. * Best guess is that the bed controls were affected by radio-frequency interference (RFI). * Judge ruled in favour of the plaintiffs and awarded them 1,000 pounds (~US$1600). He ordered the dealer to remove the beds and refund their purchase cost. * Judge explicitly stated that in his opinion, makers of complex electronic equipment should ensure that it is properly shielded against RFI: "If one is going to market expensive beds, one should take into account the possibility of interference and guard against it. It is not as if their home was full of gadgets like the den of James Bond or Goldfinger. It is just an ordinary house." [This case supports the view that improvements in security will occur as a result of civil litigation.] M. E. Kabay, PhD, CISSP (Kirkland, QC) / Director of Education, National Computer Security Association (Carlisle, PA) / http://www.ncsa.com [Put that bed on a French train and you'd have a Waggin' Lit. PGN]
Here's a specific spell-check Risk... it's short & more towards being amusing than being an actual risk. Marc Salverson <email@example.com> Network Analyst, Advanced Research Center (ARC) > This simple piece of Americana! Microsoft is at it again! All my life, > when I read comics, I thought the "zzzz" in those little balloons > indicated someone was sleeping! Boy, did I miss the boat, and it took me > all these years to figure it out! All that wasted time! > With the help of Bill Gates (the man who avoided changing the light bulb > by redefining darkness as the standard), I have, indeed, seen the light. > Now, I finally know what all those "sleeping" people in those comics had > on their minds! > If you want to see what I'm babbling about, start your Microsoft Word, type > in "zzzz" (without the quotes, of course) and hit the spell check. Now you > too can be enlightened. > Daniel P. Mellen <firstname.lastname@example.org> [I note that MS could be either MicroSoft or Marc Salverson. For those of you who do not live in the world of the former (beware of the former-in-the-Dell computer), the results reside in http://www.csl.sri.com/~risko/zzzz.html -- for a while. PGN]
On 19 Feb, 1996, a Boeing 747-400 Combi aircraft scraped its tail along the runway when taking off from Toronto Airport. A contributing cause to this incident was that the center of gravity (C of G) had been calculated incorrectly and was outside of the limits for the aircraft. (The Combi aircraft is one that carries cargo on the main deck behind the passenger compartment.) In summary, the computer-related events were: 1. The computer program that calculated the aircraft weight and balance had been used by load agents for several years without any reported errors in calculations. 2. The program was modified to account for the size of cargo pallets. This modification was not believed to affect cargo carried on the main deck of the 747-400 Combi. The program was not fully tested. 3. The load agent entered the information for the flight in question and accepted the weight and C of G that were calculated. While the weight of the aircraft was calculated correctly, the C of G was calculated as 22.3% mean aerodynamic chord (MAC) when it was in fact 35% MAC. The aft limit for take off was 32.5% MAC. 4. The aircraft scraped its tail along the runway while taking off. Also, during climb, the aircraft was found to be very tail heavy and near full down stabilizer trim was required to maintain the proper climb. 5. The flight crew advised the company that they believed that there was an error in weight and balance of the aircraft because of the way that it was flying. At the same time, load agents preparing another flight had encountered problems with the program and were performing a manual calculation. The airline then took immediate action to ensure that no further flights were dispatched using the modified program. The scenario was one that is familiar to risks readers: a software change was made, testing was incomplete, and people accepted the results as the program had worked in the past. Fortunately, there were no injuries and the damage to the aircraft was minor. The complete report from the Transportation Safety Board of Canada is available at http://bst-tsb.gc.ca/air/ea96o0030.html.
Sometime around 1988 the Social Security administration killed me on their computer system. The IRS wanted to know why I was still paying taxes. It took my congressman Tom Campbell to get resurrected on that system, they "Rescinded the record of my death". In fact, now it seems that I have never been dead. This is a better result than in the movie "Brazil" -- where Mr Buttle was killed to match the government records. I can't get Sprint Long Distance service, and I almost couldn't join the credit union; I can't get a Bank America checking account. That's because Equifax Financial Information has a copy of the old Social Security information. This information is confidential but the Equifax 800 number 1 888 395 3134 proudly says we have real government records from Social Security. We won't take your word that you are alive. Social Security (Sunnyvale Office) tells me my records are secure. Perhaps Equifax has obtained (stolen?) old records from some poor underpaid public servant. Or perhaps they are lying to me about the source of their information. They don't talk to dead people though, or give them any more information. Perhaps if I mail them a statement of benefits and earnings from social security, an original, they may reconsider that I have died. The Social Security office in Sunnyvale said to me, "This is a record for you use only, just to evaluate your Social Security Benefits, do not give it to anyone." "If they got our records before, ask them to get them again the same way". By the way, a search of yahoo finds that one can buy equifax records from various information vendors with a membership fee and a small amount per record, including your current job. [Later message appended:] I've done more looking on the Internet; why ask a government official when you can use hotbot or yahoo? Your privacy ends when the government thinks you're dead. E.g., check out http://www.ancestry.com/ssdi/advanced.htm for the Social Security Death Index. Everyone who the government issues a social security number to who dies is added to a Social Security Death Index which is published on CD Rom. Now death is irreversible at present, so one can imagine a procedure where we only add new dead people to the list. What happens if someone is killed in error? You can remove the person from the list, but most people probably will just add new dead people to their list who aren't on it already. Making a person alive is not typical. I must have been published on a previous Social Security Death Index, and now that I am alive again so to speak, I am not on any current or recent such index. Still, anyone who has the old sets who just adds people to the list will think I'm dead, and this has many annoying consequences. Perhaps a system that marks all errors explicitly would be handy, so that users of the data can make a correction. Yours Resurrected, Chuck Jerian
You might enjoy my recent ACM SIGPLAN Notices article on this very subject of programs that are too complex and should be rewritten from scratch: 'When Bad Programs Happen to Good People', ACM SIGPLAN Notices 32, 3 (March 1997), 27-31. It is also available on the web at: ftp://ftp.netcom.com/pub/hb/hbaker/sigplannotices/gigo-1997-03.html Henry Baker http and ftp://ftp.netcom.com/pub/hb/hbaker/home.html
[After reading Peter Mellor's message about PARSLEY, people may pepper you with follow-ups. I hope those don't cumin so fast that you give them a chile reception. I don't want to wine--I may have been hitting the oregano brownies too hard--but I think many of us Dill-bert followers have saffroned from the opposite problem, not lack of up-*dates* but...] The opposite problem to the software vendor who changes the name of a product just to abrogate update agreements and force customers to repurchase the base functionality with the latest amendments is the software vendor who just drops a product entirely. For example, I use Lotus' Improv spreadsheet. No doubt for good business reasons, Lotus abandoned that product (emitting, as vendors will, some insincere remarks about "incorporating its features into our other products," 1-2-3 in Improv's case). If Lotus doesn't want to spend development effort on Improv anymore, well, okay. But they won't even sell me more licenses to use the code I have on new PC's. (They also won't give me or anyone else the source code to repair and maintain the product.) This is crazy. I suppose it's a computer echo of an old RISK--can't get a new copy of a book if the publisher stops reprinting it--but it seems much more irritating when the copying is trivially easy. People have discussed the problem in the context of customized systems--and proposed damage-limiting measures like "source code in escrow"--but we don't seem to have a suitable mechanism to protect people from the withdrawal of mass-market software.
In the last few issues a few people commented on the RISKs of trusting (new) technology, citing the elevator vs. stairs. The exact numbers escaped me, but elevators are a few orders of magnitude *safer* than stairs, which are a major cause of injury and death. Just because you are used to stairs and feel more in control does not mean it's safer. The same holds for a surprising number of issues. Geert Jan van Oldenborgh work: email@example.com else: firstname.lastname@example.org [A problem with (particularly old) elevators is that you may get stuck between floors. That does not happen very often on stairs. PGN]
The observation that there is an increased risk of mid-air collision from improved navigational accuracy simply completes an illogical process that began more than fifty years ago. There really aren't many aircraft in the sky. If you count an active airspace about five miles high (25000 ft) and 3 million square miles over the United States, you end up with an airplane roughly every ten thousand cubic miles, so random flying produces a fantastically low collision probability. (Work it out.) Of course the aircraft aren't uniformly distributed, but I have personally flown for many hours across the country without seeing another aircraft, except near busy airports (where control is indeed important---in the end everyone is aiming for a runway). The sky has three dimensions, and air traffic control in the vast majority of airspace has at best a neutral impact on safety. So the FAA and its predecessors over the years progressively eliminated two of the three protective dimensions through what is called air traffic control. Aircraft are now required to fly largely (not always) on prescribed tracks (airways), changing the horizontal plane to a collection of lines (goodbye one dimension), and at prescribed discrete altitudes, often integer multiples of a thousand feet (goodbye another), thereby greatly increasing the probability of collision. To reduce this iatrogenic collision risk we have then created an elaborate air traffic control system, which almost reduces the collision probability to what it would have been if aircraft flew randomly---except near busy airports. The purpose of the system is not to reduce collision probability, but to make the controller function more important. Of course I've indulged a little poetic license in the above, but the fundamental error of cramming the aircraft into an infinitesimal fraction of the available airspace persists to this day and makes no safety sense. It does make the controller's job easier. When I learned to fly long ago the principal radio navigational aids were the famous L/MF A/N ranges (the transmitters emitted Morse code for A (dot-dash) and N (dash-dot), interlocked in space and time in such a way that if you were on a specific radial line you heard neither letter, but a continuous tone). All sensible pilots knew that it is safer to be a bit sloppy about following that line, which could be inhabited by other aircraft. Over the years we have steadily thrown away the bulk of the safety-enhancing airspace, while increasing the role of regulation, and now we have occasional mid-air collisions at altitude in an essentially empty sky. It will get worse. Hal Lewis
Alan Hoffman's posting brings back some painful (literally) memories. I suffered from this happening: I flew F4 Phantoms for the RAF and back in the early 80's I was on approach when I suffered total electrical failure. Without the 'wiggly amps' I lost the use of the 'Stability Augmentation system' and an uncontrollable right roll element occurred. There was insufficient height (approx 700' with a rate of descent of > 200' per minute (F4s glide in the way that bricks don't) to deploy the RAT [*] and I had to eject. I was lucky to escape with my life, spent 6 months in hospital and rehabilitation, was discharged and ended up driving a keyboard instead.... David Alexander Caplin Cybernetics Corporation Windmill Business Village Brooklands Close, Sunbury-on-Thames Middlesex TW16 7DY, England 01932 778172 [* Added note: RAT stands for Ram Air Turbine...you pull a handle and a miniature turbine pops up from the top of the port engine cowling and generates limited power for those get-you-home systems. The only trouble is it takes time to deploy, spin up and recycle the circuit breakers, so there's a minimum altitude for use, which I can't now remember after 15 or so years. David]
Re: IVHS vehicles and safety assumptions (Mintz, RISKS-19.08) > ... It seems the newer jets (e.g., F-22) are NOT designed to be > aerodynamically stable ... Well, not quite. "unstable" in this context does not mean quite the same thing as you might expect: in simplest terms when you pull the stick back in a "stable" airframe, the nose goes up. In an "unstable" aircraft, the tail goes down. Bit like a forklift. What this means is that it responds to control input faster, quite valuable in an attack aircraft. Does make carrier takeoffs a bit chancy though. Is just the latest example of what has been known for years: air combat is unsafe at any speed and if you tell a fighter pilot that you can provide a faster turn rate but there is going to be some risk, guess what the decision will be. Padgett ps the Titanic was "unstable" also and look where it got her...
The concept of a combined vehicle/highway system that can be 'trusted' to stop a vehicle in danger of collision raises some interesting ideas. Take the deer that jumped in front of my car on the highway last night: had I a cup of hot coffee in my hand, or been eating, or similarly distracted, I probably would have hit the poor beast. But in a world where my intrepid car were charged with accident avoidance, I could not only drink my coffee, but perhaps type some e-mail, send a few faxes, and still have a hand free to yap on my cell phone. Truly, this would be a grand invention, allowing me to devote even fewer mental cycles to directing my vehicle down the road... although not likely saving me from Bambi. What is really interesting is the idea of a sudden obstacle: unlike a pedestrian, who would slowly approach the road, the deer suddenly imposed itself in my path, well inside my stopping distance. Only our good luck prevented a collision - but how would my 'intelligent' vehicle react? Given some sort of radar-based collision detection and avoidance, I can see great sport for bored pranksters, dropping sheets of aluminum foil from overpasses into the path of 'intelligent' vehicles. Perhaps dumping a few kilos of shredded foil into traffic would be fun, in order to really foul the works. Or perhaps that pesky 'intelligent' police car behind me could be tricked into emergency braking with a well-timed burst of chaff... or perhaps he could apprehend me by 'spoofing' my collision-detection gear. One thing is certain, this would be a genuine, fundamental shift in the physics ('laws'?) of traffic. It would be tremendously interesting to watch as drivers attempt to adapt to this new traffic paradigm. Kevin Clifton, Senior Consultant, Vela Information Management Consultants Saskatoon, Sk., Canada 306.668.5214 (V)/ 306.668.5216 (F)
While ``obvious'' possibilities often go overlooked, I don't think that was necessarily the case here. In an MSNBC report I saw Sunday (first time I had heard the story of the ``spooky house''), the son denied on camera that either he or his friends were behind the ruse. The mother made a comment about this being one of the first scenarios they (she and her husband) had considered. Perhaps MSNBC reporters just don't have the impact of the local constable... michael
A different spin on the MS/DST-change story (and one I haven't heard from anyone else): My husband uses both W95 and NT on his PC at work. The Monday after the switch, he boots up into NT, it kindly asks him if he wants to change to Daylight Time, he says yes, it does... Later that day, he reboots because he has to use W95 for a particular app... W95 doesn't "remember" that the change was already made via NT (although the system clock was indeed, of course, changed machine-wide). Bob says yes at W95's prompt, not knowing whether that's needed or not... Turns out, of course, that the net result was a "double-adjustment"... In this case, since it was Bob who made both changes, he immediately realized the problem and fixed it -- but if it had been 2 different users, (perhaps) no one would've known/noticed (at least for a while), and the box would've had the wrong time... (Yes, I know this one's minor compared to most of the others reported here; but it's still yet another bug...) Varda Reisner Bruhin <email@example.com> http://www.varda.org/~varda/
US NIST has an explanation of the difference between GMT and UTC at http://physics.nist.gov/GenInt/Time/world.html In brief, GMT is defined relative to the motion of the earth while UTC is based on atomic clocks. As a related issue Nick Maclaren recently noted in comp.protocols.time.ntp leap seconds create the problem that ``to convert `Unix times' to real times cannot be done without knowing both the time and when it was stated''. [dejanews Message-Id: firstname.lastname@example.org]. michael [Huge number of messages on this topic. I could not run them all. PGN]
CRYPTO '97 - 17-21 August 1997 - Santa Barbara, California, USA Crypto '97 is the 17th international conference on cryptology held at the University of California Santa Barbara, sponsored by the International Association for Cryptologic Research (IACR). Information, a registration form, a list of accepted papers, and other sundry information can be found at http://www.iacr.org. Or you can send e-mail to email@example.com and receive general information and a registration form. Bruce Schneier
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