Excerpted from a 15 Jan 1998 press release of the ELECTRONIC PRIVACY INFORMATION CENTER <http://www.epic.org>, by David L. Sobel, EPIC Legal Counsel, (202) 544-9240 SAILOR SUES NAVY FOR ONLINE PRIVACY VIOLATION; GOVERNMENT AGREES TO DELAY PENDING DISCHARGE A highly decorated Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer today filed suit challenging a pending discharge based upon information the Navy illegally obtained from America Online. The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, charges that Naval investigators violated the federal Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) when they requested and received confidential subscriber information from AOL, the nation's largest online service. [...] Navy officials had ordered the discharge of the sailor, Timothy R. McVeigh (no relation to the convicted Oklahoma City bomber), effective tomorrow morning (Eastern time) on the ground that McVeigh violated the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy on homosexuality. The Navy's proposed action is based entirely upon information obtained from AOL linking the sailor to a "screen name" on the system in which the user's marital status was listed as "gay." The information was received from AOL in clear violation of ECPA, which prohibits the government from obtaining "information pertaining to a subscriber" without a court order or subpoena. In addition to the privacy protections contained in ECPA, AOL's contractual "Terms of Service" prohibit the company from disclosing such information to *any* third party "unless required to do so by law or legal process." According to EPIC Legal Counsel David L. Sobel, McVeigh's lawsuit is the first case to challenge governmental access to sensitive subscriber information maintained by an online service. "This case is an important test of federal privacy law," Sobel said. "It will determine whether government agents can violate the law with impunity, or whether they will be held accountable for illegal conduct in cyberspace." He noted that the incident also raises serious questions concerning the adequacy of contractual privacy protections like those contained in the AOL subscriber agreement. In a letter sent to Navy Secretary John Dalton yesterday, the Electronic Privacy Information Center urged a postponement of McVeigh's discharge pending an investigation of the Navy's conduct. EPIC noted that, "Any other result would make a mockery of federal privacy law and subject the American people to intrusive and unlawful governmental surveillance." [...] [Also noted by Jim Griffith <email@example.com> from a CNN report. See also an article by Noah Robischon in The Netly News (http://cgi.pathfinder.com/netly/opinion/0,1042,1692,00.html). The postponement was granted. PGN]
A six-month investigation by *USA Today* has concluded that the microchip industry commonly endangers workers, many of them women and minorities, by failing to fully train them about the hazardous, sometimes deadly, chemicals with which they work. It also charges the industry with various other infractions of environmental health regulations. (*USA Today*, 13 Jan 1998; Edupage, 13 Jan 1998)
According to a recent AP wire report, the Emergency Alert System in Maine (which should have warned residents of the oncoming ice storm) failed because a radio station lost power. The Maine Public Radio Station in Bangor, Maine, that is responsible for signaling TV and radio stations to send out an emergency broadcast message lost power, and the signal never went out. The system was installed just last year (for a surprisingly small amount — $6000), but apparently nobody bothered to think about powering the system in an emergency (the time when it would most need power). The risks seem obvious. Jason
A little background here. Vancouver, despite being in Canada, is not snowed in for six months of the year. In fact, snowfall is a rarity here, and people aren't prepared for it. So, while parts of Maine, and New York, much of eastern Ontario, and almost all of Quebec are covered by a sheet of ice, yesterday (Tuesday, January 13) Vancouver had its own "Storm of the Century": a whopping 10 cm (0.026 fathoms, for the metrically challenged) of snow. The ten-year-old Skytrain forms the backbone of the Vancouver area transit system. Skytrain is completely automated: there are no drivers on the trains, and usually no attendants on the platforms. BC Transit security people do ride the odd train, or gang up for the occasional ticket check. The system even has sensors to detect people on the track, although a couple of suicides have managed to jump in front of the train at the last minute so that it doesn't have time to stop or slow down. The Skytrain has had problems with snow in the past. The first year, snow built up on the power strips, which are mounted vertically alongside the track. (A small roof took care of that.) Later, it was found that enough snow would trigger the detectors and report people on the track. (I believe that is now covered by having small heaters melt the snow on the detector plates.) So when the Skytrain was packed, yesterday, everyone assumed that there was another technical problem. BC Transit, however, was not reporting a problem. In fact, the BC Transit spokesman, reporting to one of the radio stations about the status of the system, let slip the real reason. Trains were operating normally, but were being held back, while the authorities scrambled to find staff to put on the trains. Nobody has said *why* the staff were needed. They are not required to drive the trains. In normal operation (and, except for the massive crush of people trying to get on, operations were normal) do not require any attendants. If the system has a problem, usually it affects the line as a whole, and not an isolated train. In any case, if anything *did* happen to a train, it isn't likely that a single attendant (on a four car train) could do anything about it. If a train broke down between stations, the system would report where it was, and help could be dispatched to the spot. The end result was that, with demand for transit greater than normal, as people left cars at home, only half the trains were running. The others were held back since staff couldn't be found to put on them. Interestingly, the media did not pick up on this. Late in the day, I was waiting for my wife at one of the stations, when I noticed a friend who works as a news cameraman for a local station. He was preparing for a live feed to the TV station: a "talking head" was going to be reporting on the congested transit situation. When I started discussing the cause with him, he was astonished. The TV station news research staff, in the absence of an official pronouncement from Transit, had simply assumed technical difficulties. No one had looked at the staff issue at all. firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org virus, book info at http://www.freenet.victoria.bc.ca/techrev/rms.html
TCAS — the Traffic Collision Avoidance System — has almost caused an accident in southern California. A Southwest Airlines plane was flying over Van Nuys airport on approach to Burbank Airport. Someone on the ground switched on a transponder; the TCAS system on the plane overhead decided that an aircraft had suddenly appeared 3000 below it, and suggested that the pilot climb. But this brought it into the path of a small Cessna that really was in the air.
Today's Sydney Morning Herald discusses a report from the (Australian) Bureau of Air Safety linking numerous incidents of "in-flight interference" to various electronic devices (cd players, laptops, camcorders, etc). [http://www.smh.com.au/daily/content/980116/pageone/pageone7.html]. Apparently some 30 cases have been recorded over the past two years, however the BAS stated that no "connectivity" has been established between the interference events and electronic devices. The article notes that captains now have the power to ban the use of such devices if they believe air safety is at issue. The fine for ignoring these directions is $A2,750. However, this brings to mind a recent flight I was on, where my colleague was asked to turn off a palmtop PC. This particular device doesn't have an "off" button, merely a sleep mode where some (not much?) electronic activity is still present. So, how "off" is "off"? Was my colleague at risk of a hefty fine? Will the day come when we have to present all batteries to the cabin crew? email@example.com [The same article was also noted by firstname.lastname@example.org (Paul O'Donnell). PGN]
[Although specific bugs are not always appropriate for RISKS, this one illustrates a common problem. PGN] Last week we finally tracked down a bug which was causing users to get an error message ("file permission error") when saving Microsoft Word 97 documents under Windows NT. The error could occur on the user's local hard disk or even a diskette, so we knew that "file permission" wasn't the problem. It turns out that the problem is caused by a combination of Word's multi-stage save procedure (essentially, this is "save to temp file", "rename old file", "rename temp file to new file") and Microsoft Outlook's file management functions. If Outlook has a window open on the directory containing the Word file being saved, it can open the saved temporary file before Word has a chance to rename it (Outlook displays information from the header of Word documents, such as "Author" and "Keywords", which can only be obtained by opening the file); if Word then tries to rename it while Outlook has it open to get this information, the error occurs. The problem does not occur under Windows 95, presumably because Word does not yield the CPU until all of the file operations are complete. But under Windows NT, all bets are off, and Outlook can wake up at any time and preempt Word. The Risk is a common one: Word make assumptions ("I won't get preempted") that aren't valid in a new operating environment for which it wasn't designed. Nick Brown, Strasbourg, France.
I have had a glimpse of the ActiveX future and it is not a pretty picture. The MSNBC Web site (www.msnbc.com) uses an ActiveX control called the MSNBC NewsBrowser. Because of this control, going to this site in Internet Explorer is hell. The problem is that NewsBrowser control is present on almost every HTML page of the site. If you make the choice of not installing the NewsBrowser control on your PC, Internet Explorer will redownload the control and ask you to accept it every time you go to a new page on the site! On a 28.8K modem that means a page takes a minimum of 1 minute to load and IE keeps bugging you to take the control. The cynical side of me wonders if Microsoft isn't trying to force everyone to accept ActiveX controls whether they like them or not. The problem here is a design flaw in ActiveX Authenticode system. It shouldn't keep asking over and over again to accept a control that has been rejected in the past. Worse yet, it shouldn't keep downloading rejected controls. It's just plain silly. There is a simple solution to this problem in the ActiveX Authenticode system. Simply use Netscape Navigator which doesn't support ActiveX controls. Ironically, www.msnbc.com is a Web site best viewed by Netscape Navigator! Richard M. Smith
There is a piece of trialware (Fundi Mail Guard, available at http://www.fundi.com/fmg.html) which claims to be "a new paradigm, a different way of combating unsolicited commercial e-mail". For those of you still reading after hitting the word "paradigm", the program appears to work by declaring to be "spam" all mails, except those from sources who have sent the reply "I agree" in response to a challenge to declare that they are not spammers. The description of FMG on this site is a textbook exercise in Risks. Here are some of the most obvious ones: - By default, if the sender doesn't respond to the challenge within a certain time, he or she is declared to be a spammer and banished "forever". So, if your uncle sends you birthday greetings, switches off his PC, and goes on vacation, you'll never hear from him again. Of course, the user can periodically wade through the list of "spammers" and resuscitate family members - just another regular system maintenance task which PC users are so good at. - The system seems to be based on the premise that spammers use fake return addresses, from which an appropriate reply to the challenge will never be received. This has two major weaknesses. Firstly, not all spammers use fake addresses, so they could reply to FMG's challenge. The makers of FMG's answer in this case is that the spammer will not send a reply, because that would "expose themselves to the dual risk of criminal charges and civil suits" (really !). A second weakness is that, if FMG becomes widely used, it would be a trivial exercise to send an "I agree" message with the appropriate format, to arrive shortly after the original spam and thus keep FMG happy (and double the number of spam mails for everyone else). - I can think of many people (and organisations) who will not consider that issuing challenges to everyone who sends them E-mail, is an appropriate way to present themselves. I certainly do not shout "prove you are not an encyclopedia salesman" through my front door before opening it. - Depending on one's reason for disliking spam, the program may not even be of any real benefit. It runs on your PC and talks to your provider's POP-3 mail server, so bad luck for AOL users (the most spammed of all), and it actually downloads all messages anyway - mails declared to be "spam" are just put in a separate location. So if your main objection to spam is the time it takes to download it, you don't gain very much. Nick Brown, Strasbourg, France
Suppose that a version-management system screws up massively in the development of a new system in the year 2000, picking up supposedly most-recent modules dated 99 instead of 00, and inadvertently overwriting the newer versions. (Oh, yes, we should instead all have Plan-9-like file systems that never overwrite!) In such a case, what is the likelihood that the backup systems would work correctly to restore the correct versions, without inducing further damage? More generally, what is the likelihood that all of the second-order software that is not normally used in-line (such as testing environments, debuggers, configuration managers, system and network monitors, automated report generators, etc.) will have been been properly upgraded for Y2K compliance? Perhaps there is second-order stuff that cannot even be tested adequately until 1/1/00? Incidentally, I don't recall previously noting here that the Social Security Administration recently found ANOTHER 30 million lines of code that is not Y2K compliant, in addition to what had been found on previous passes. Does anyone imagine that there might be more?
This follow-up to the Easter Egg contribution in RISKS-19.53 is submitted as a result of the significant number of responses from readers. Acknowledgement is given to E. Potter, M. Pack, M. Kohne, D. Porter, C. Finseth, K. Quirk, B.Tober, N. Brown, M.Richards, M. Kohne, J. Rubin, S. Murphy, R. Kohl, D. Rae, D. Glatting, B. Ellsworth, D. Honour, P. Scott, D. Phillips, and F. Chase who were among the many who responded to and commented on this subject. In brief, examples of two Easter Eggs were presented in RISKS-19.53 accompanied by some expressions of concern about the hidden costs of wasted disk resources, time (both programmer and user), and development, poor quality control and configuration management, and the potential risk of hidden features in commercial software. Responses ranged from "Get a life", "You're paranoid", and "Why are you slamming Microsoft" to "What's a trusted environment?", "I want to know more", and "I'm writing an article on this very problem." Representative extracts (snippets) from the numerous e-mail are included as follows: <Snippet> I think you're on the right track with your essay on Easter Eggs. A nice compilation would be good. You've made a good beginning. <Snippet>Perhaps someone should start a web site to highlight the problem and tell people how to activate the eggs. Is there such a site already? <Author> See http://www.eeggs.com and http://www.cnet.com/Content/Features/Howto/Eggs/ <Snippet> I don't think the consumer pays anything more for the existence of Easter eggs. They don't take long enough to write to make a noticeable difference in the cost of the software to end users. and while people may look for Easter eggs on company time, I don't think that it's the fault of the eggs! Having participated in a number of corporate environments, I know that things like Easter eggs can be a short but welcome break from work, and those who waste excessive time on Easter eggs would waste the same time doing something else if they didn't exist. <Author> Ten minutes wasted on the part of an employee is ten minutes billed to you by the company. Case-by-case may be minimal but add it all up and it costs. One million employees wasting one minute is one million minutes wasted. <Snippet> Aha, here we see your target. Was this whole post an effort to bash Microsoft? <Author> Read it again. I only used MS as an example because their eggs can be elaborate. I didn't say I don't like MS. In fact, I'm a heavy user of MS apps. <Snippet> Hello. I read your article in comp.risks. I saw the IE Egg. It was LONG!! I never finished it. I got past the first intermission that described features that never made it in the product and stopped there. Is there maybe a transcribed edition :) <Author> I searched for the text contents of the egg and couldn't find them. I assume they are coded into a DLL. <Snippet> ... What other unknown features are embedded within commercial products? Lots and lots in almost any program ever released. The shortened name for them is "bugs." <Author> But is there anything else? <Snippet> I would suggest that the (nearly omnipresent in major software) Easter eggs are not manifested risks of technology, but instead the natural result of asking people to do highly creative work (software design and construction) without giving them credit. Software development is still a craft more than a science, and its practitioners often feel (rightly, in my opinion) that they deserve not only a paycheck but a way to see their name on their work. If a software development team doesn't have an authorized way to put the team members' names on the product, they'll invent an unauthorized one, do it on their off hours, and find a way to get it in that won't show up in testing. I've seen a situation where the Easter egg *was* found in testing, and the team member told to remove it simply found a way to hide it more deeply. <Author> An excellent example of how eggs get embedded in the software. I agree that programmers should be given credit for their work. I disagree with the way they are doing it. Obviously the configuration control wasn't up to par otherwise the egg would have been found again before the software was released. <Snippet> The way around the "problem" would be for software manufacturers to stop trying to pretend that there are no individuals at the corporation -- simply include "credits" in the product. Movies do this, games do this. Do it in an "authorized" fashion and you have some hope of controlling it. Don't do it and you get the unauthorized versions. <Author> I agree, but I hope it's done in a way that lets me remove the credits once I've read them. <Snippet> From the user standpoint, I think Easter Eggs are a fine treat, especially when well-done. (Kind of like a "real" Easter Egg, not especially useful but delightful.) From the security standpoint, I agree with your points completely. Since these are hidden programs, there could be any number of things in commercial software which is not quite so benevolent as the pretty little toys we tend to hear about with the Microsoft products. (Think Inslaw's PROMIS software!) Regarding cost to consumers/employers: On one hand, the typical programmer of the toys probably "lives" at their employer's workspace and so the separation of work/personal time can be rather murky (i.e. programmer's idea of fun is writing fun programs). On the other, where is the auditability (corporate accountability) for product content? Can we trust government to be independent in software evaluation? Can we trust EDP auditors whose main business is retaining the client? <Author> Nice summary. <Snippet> "Can You Really Trust Trusted Third Parties: A Study of Internet Security Issues and Solutions" coming Spring 1998 from Bloor Research -- <Author> I look forward to reading this. <Snippet> If you are using off-the-shelf commercial software in a trusted environment without validating either the product itself, or the vendor's internal procedures, you get what you deserve. Commercial software is just that - commercial. Microsoft doesn't make "good" software, they make "good enough" software - it's good enough to insure a continued market presence for Microsoft, and frankly that's all that matters The Easter eggs are in fact not useful to the end user, but they are amusing, and Microsoft probably feels that letting their smart guys play around a little will ensure continued loyalty and continued working of long hours. <Author> I agree fully with your first comment, but that is my point. In an environment where sensitive information about the public was being processed and stored, specific direction from management (despite my expressions of concern) was that vendor software could be trusted. Why? Management considered it too expensive to actually validate the product or the vendor and preferred to trust the "Name". <Snippet> As a software developer, this gives me some great ideas for including some type of credit in my own stuff. I will, however, take your concern to heart, keeping the bloat to a minimum. <Author>Thanks. <Author's follow-up>....In searching for the source code for an Easter Egg in a commercial product (to remain unnamed to avoid upsetting anyone further) we did a text search for the names of some of the developers listed in the egg and found a 3+ meg DLL. We renamed the DLL to no effect - the egg still ran. In fact, in the past month the program has yet to notice that the DLL has been changed and subsequently removed. (Could this be an early version of the Easter egg which was never removed?) Why should I still be concerned? Well, considering that we have 40,000 employees in the organization I currently work with, most of whom are using the product, that works out to (40,000 X unused 3+ meg DLL) + (40,000 X Space Occupied by EE) = a heck of a lot of wasted disk space for one application (for just the unused DLL alone we're talking 120 Gigabytes). Now add on the space occupied by the eggs in the other four to six egg-ridden applications and you begin to get the scope of the problem in one organization. Now multiply this by the number of organizations world-wide (or a number based on the size of an average organization) and check the result. <Any mathematicians want to try this?> Although the emphasis in this matter seems to be software bloat, the risks relate to the lack of vendor control over software development and the possibility of hidden but malicious code inserted in commercial software. Imagine the hacker prestige and the possible resulting damage should a programmer within the program team successfully embed hidden code in a highly popular and freely available software package which, for example, records account and credit information entered during a secure Internet session and then sends it to the hacker during the next insecure session. Larry Werring - IT Security Consultant
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ELEVENTH INTERNATIONAL SOFTWARE QUALITY WEEK 1998 (QW'98) CALL FOR PAPERS AND PRESENTATIONS Conference Theme: Countdown to 2000 San Francisco, California — 26-29 May 1998 QW'98 is the eleventh in the continuing series of International Software Quality Week Conferences that focus on advances in software test technology, quality control, risk management, software safety, and test automation. Software analysis methodologies, supported by advanced automated software test methods, promise major advances in system quality and reliability, assuring continued competitiveness. Download a copy of the CALL FOR PARTICIPATION in PostScript or in PDF format from the conference Web site: http://www.soft.com/QualWeek/QW98 Or, request a printed copy with e-mail to email@example.com.
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