TIME Magazine, April 20, 1998 http://www.pathfinder.com/time/magazine/1998/dom/980420/ notebook.techwatch.levit24.html CODEBREAKERS CRACKED. Thought your new digital cell phone was safe from high-tech thieves? Guess again. Silicon Valley cypherpunks have broken the proprietary encryption technology used in 80 million GSM (Global System for Mobile communications) phones nationwide, including Motorola MicroTAC, Ericsson GSM 900 and Siemens D1900 models. Now crooks scanning the airwaves can remotely tap into a call and duplicate the owner's digital ID. "We can clone the phones," brags Marc Briceno, who organized the cracking. His advice: manufacturers should stick to publicly vetted codes that a bunch of geeks can't crack in their spare time. --By Declan McCullagh/Washington From POLITECH -- the moderated mailing list of politics and technology. To subscribe: send a message to firstname.lastname@example.org with this text: subscribe politech More information is at http://www.well.com/~declan/politech/ [Also noted by others. *The New York Times* article (14 Apr 1998) included this sentence, along with discussion of its implications: ``What was even more intriguing than the security threat, however, was that cracking the code yielded a tantalizing hint that a digital key used by GSM may have been intentionally weakened during the design process to permit government agencies to eavesdrop on cellular telephone conversations.'' This case should once again renew suspicions about arguments that trapdoored key-recovery systems will be perfectly safe for everyone to use and will allow only the government to have legitimate access. PGN]
http://cgi.pathfinder.com/netly/continue/0,1027,1898,00.html The Netly News, April 14, 1998 Our report yesterday that GSM cell phones can be cloned has some affected companies crying foul. Terry Phillips, public affairs director for Omnipoint Communications, calls the crack "interesting but not significant. It's not news." Phillips claimed that digital ID sniffing cannot be done over the air -- which, of course, contradicts what eminent cryptographers and security experts say. Phillips did correctly point out, however, that we said there are 80 million GSM phones "nationwide," when we meant worldwide. Phillips also sniped at the motivations of the merry band of cypherpunks who cracked the proprietary encryption code. He suggested that they're acting on behalf of and being paid by the competition; they've been working on this for years; they're aiming for a million-dollar prize; they never actually broke the algorithm. Their response: Not so, on each count. "We weren't funded by anyone," says Marc Briceno. "The entire project was done in my spare time with a budget of less than $100." It took only two months, Briceno says, and besides, the million-dollar prize was just 100,000 Deutschmarks and has long since been withdrawn anyway. Qualcomm engineer Phil Karn, whose company supports a rival standard, says he didn't participate in the crack and was asked only to comment on it in the press release: "Those guys did it all on their own and deserve all the credit." As for the formerly secret algorithm, check it out yourself at scard.org. [Declan's Politech mailing also appended Ross Anderson's item, GSM hack -- operator flunks the challenge, from RISKS-19.48, 5 Dec 1997 <Ross.Anderson@cl.cam.ac.uk>. PGN
Service was interrupted Monday afternoon on AT&T's frame relay network, a specialized system used throughout the country by businesses that conduct large numbers of transactions for business customers and was not fully restored yet on Tuesday. The outage was caused by a problem in the interaction between two switches within the network. [_USA Today_ (13 Apr 1998) reports that 6,000 companies use frame relay networks; AT&T has about 40 percent of the market.] See <http://www.techserver.com/newsroom/ntn/info/041498/info9_8325_.html>.
AT&T Corp. said Monday its frame relay network was experiencing ``service interruptions,'' apparently nationwide, affecting an undisclosed number of business customers. AT&T spokeswoman Ruthlyn Newell told Reuters by phone late Monday afternoon that the problem in the frame-relay network, a high-speed data network, began about 1500 EDT/1900 GMT and was ongoing as of just before 1800 EDT/2200 GMT. [Source: Reuters, 13 Apr 1998.] [Anecdotal reports I have heard indicate a 75% to 80% nationwide outage.] Les Howard, Software Engineer, Harbinger Corporation email@example.com [The problem was reported by AT&T to have been diagnosed and repaired within 24 hours. Sounds a little like the propagation effects of the mammoth long-distance collapse on Martin Luther King Day, 15 Jan 1990, going back to RISKS-9.61. PGN]
I don't know all the details yet, but our "local" Starbucks here on Washington Street in Boston was dark this morning - as dark as their "COD" brew. An employee informed me that their central computer crashed, the result being all stores "unable to open the cash register". (Across the entire country??) Obviously, they are without redundancy and business common sense. Giving away free coffee in this situation is far better than shutting off the lights and looking foolish. The risk: Crashing of other mission-critical systems throughout the city due to sleepy, caffeine-starved personnel. <<zzzz<> Mark Richards <mRichard@world.std.com> [Well, to many people the missing cup of coffee is more important than the frame-relay network outage elsewhere. PGN]
From the Department of Energy's Operating Experience Weekly Summary 98-12 http://tis.eh.doe.gov/web/oeaf/oe_weekly/oe_weekly_98/oe98-12.html Regarding a Feb. 26,1998, incident at Los Alamos National Laboratory in which a software problem caused two uranium assemblies in a criticality facility to accelerate toward one another: "On February 26, the operator was closing the two stacks in slow speed when the stepping motor unexpectedly switched to full speed. The joystick control quit responding to the operator, and the scram button on the joystick did not respond. The operator pressed the panel-mounted scram switch, and the two stacks separated back to their starting positions as designed. The activation of the scram placed the assembly in a safe configuration. The configuration of the assembly was such that it would have remained subcritical even at full closure of the two stacks. Facility personnel conducted an assessment to ensure that the assembly was not damaged. Engineers troubleshot the control circuitry and discovered problems with the software and flaws in the communication between the joystick controls and the central processing unit. They determined that when the joystick interface did not respond, a subroutine returned an ASCII (American Standard Code for Information Interchange) character "?" to the main program for the potentiometer settings that controlled the stepping motor speed. The main program was never developed to deal with a question mark and translated this value to the number equivalent of an ASCII "?" (the number 63). The number 63 corresponded to a large negative position (beyond closure of the stacks) that caused the stepping motor to drive in at full speed when it was selected for movement." John Fleck, science writer, Albuquerque Journal PO Drawer J, Albuquerque NM, 87103 (505) 823-3916 firstname.lastname@example.org
David E. Steitz, Headquarters, Washington, DC (202/358-1730) Allen Kenitzer, Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD (301/286-2806) RELEASE: 98-60, April 10, 1998 NASA FINDS PROBLEMS IN EOSDIS FLIGHT OPERATIONS SOFTWARE DEVELOPMENT NASA has found software performance problems with ground system software required to control, monitor and schedule science activities on the Earth Observing System (EOS) series of spacecraft. Officials believe these problems will delay the software which will impact the launch date for the Earth Observing Spacecraft AM-1. The launch, originally planned for late June 1998, from Vandenberg Air Force Base, CA, will be delayed at least until the end of the year. The Ground Control Software, called the "Flight Operations Segment" (FOS) software, is part of the Earth Observing System Data and Information System (EOSDIS), the ground system responsible for spacecraft control, data acquisition, and science information processing and distribution for NASA's Earth Science enterprise, including the EOS flight missions. The problem is with the EOSDIS control center system FOS software that supports the command and control of spacecraft and instruments, the monitoring of spacecraft and instrument health and safety, the planning and scheduling of instrument operations, and the analysis of spacecraft trends and anomalies. What was supposed to have been the final version of the software was delivered to NASA by Lockheed Martin on March 31, to support integrated simulations with the EOS AM-1 spacecraft. Testing of this software delivery revealed significant performance problems. Program managers expect it to take several weeks to clearly understand whether correcting the current software or taking other measures is the best approach. "We're concurrently looking at commercial off-the-shelf technology that was not available when this software system initially was designed," said Arthur "Rick" Obenschain, project manager for EOSDIS at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD. "If for some reason the current software problems cannot be fixed, we have a backup plan." Prior to the March 31 delivery, there were three previous incremental deliveries of the software in August 1997, December 1997 and February 1998. Previous versions of the software successfully demonstrated real-time commanding functions with the AM-1 spacecraft. In the new version, however, a number of problems identified in the previous software deliveries were not corrected as expected, and significant problems were found in the new capabilities. Problems include unacceptable response time in developing spacecraft schedules, poor performance in analyzing spacecraft status and trends from telemetry data, and improper implementation of decision rules in the control language used by the flight team to automate operations. Government/contractor teams have been formed to evaluate options for correcting these problems to minimize impact on the AM-1 launch. A recovery plan is being developed and will be reviewed during the last week of April. The FOS is being developed by Lockheed Martin under subcontract to Raytheon Information Systems Company under the EOSDIS Core System contract. The Flight Operations Segment of the EOSDIS software has cost $27.5 million as of February 1998. THE EOSDIS and EOS AM-1 are part of NASA's Earth Science enterprise, a long-term research program designed to study Earth's land, oceans, atmosphere, ice and life as a total integrated system. Goddard manages the development of EOSDIS and EOS AM-1 for NASA's Office of Earth Science, Washington, DC.
A pair of computer errors made in 1977 have resulted in the Los Angeles County pension fund having $1.2 billion less than it should. There is no immediate danger -- the fund's stock market investments have done very well in recent years -- but the county will have to spend $25 million extra per year to make up for the shortfall. And if the stock market had not performed so well, the mistakes could have proved "catastrophic". [Source: an AP wire story quoting the *L.A. Times* of 8 Apr 1997.]
Before I launch this commentary, I need to make a couple of things clear: 1) Speaking for myself only as a private individual 2) Think the wizards at Redmond have produced some marvelous products but that like the certain letter agencies, their agenda is not necessarily the same as mine. At least letter agencies seem to have fewer lawyers. Do have some experience with the second since 1990 when sent a letter to the software giant that a simple routine placed into IO.SYS would eliminated all known MBR and boot sector viruses. The response was that it was not in their business interest. (Routine was simple - check the byte at 0000:004F for a value equal to or greater than C0 - if below, "Redmond, we have a problem". I generally use something a bit more sophisticated but was all that was needed. Note: this works only before the operating system - any operating system - loads.) Since then we have been granted such features as the ability to create word macro viruses and a server operating system that was rated NCSC C2 so long as it was not connected to a network. However the new crop of offerings are even more innovative. Suffice it to say that for years we have been able to tell users that "you cannot get a virus just by opening E-Mail". Well, that bug is being fixed. It seems that with the default installation of the just-released mail-reader product coupled with the 98 version of the operating system (at least the current beta which contains a necessary .DLL), all of the factors needed to accomplish the above are present. In fact, in recent days I have been able to drop an executable file both on c:\ and into the startup directory just by opening the mail reader ("preview", which includes script execution for some reason, is a default feature), True, a warning screen is presented if the applet is unsigned (have heard that signatures are already floating around the internet), but the same screen is presented if word is opened as well, so I suspect it may become as quickly ignored as other such mechanisms have been in the past (like all security annoyances, there is an easy way to turn it off). I have little expectation that the manufacturer will see the error of their ways and remove the single necessary construct. It is probably required for PUSH. It is entertaining though to find in the on-line language reference the statement that the scripting language has no File I/O. I'm sure that in some obscure legal language, that must be syntactically correct or it would not be there; however, I found it remarkably simple to drop an executable file on the hard disk that executed on the next boot. Times are about to become "interesting". Caveat Y'all. Padgett
A long-distance telephone service called "The Phone Company" has recently begun marketing its service through America Online, doing business under the name AOL Long Distance. For those with long memories, this is the same company that, a few years back, agreed to pay AOL $100 million for exclusive marketing rights to the AOL customer database. One way they keep their costs down is that they don't mail out bills. To get a detailed listing of one's calls, the subscriber is supposed to sign on to America Online, and click a button labeled "Show me my bill." The problem? It doesn't work for Mac users who connect to AOL via an ISP. The button links to a secure web page which fails to load in the AOL browser. I also tried Netscape Navigator 4.04.1, and Internet Explorer 4.0a. No luck. (It took them a week from when I first reported the problem for them to determine just what the problem is.) Their solution? I'm supposed to call them once a month, and request that they e-mail my bill to me. (Ironically, they tout electronic bill retrieval as a "convenience." Hmmm.) So today I called and asked them to mail me my bill. Guess what? It's an HTML file, and my mail client doesn't do HTML. (And no, they didn't ask me for ANY identifying information before discussing my account, except my phone number.) They refused to say when, if ever, the problem will be fixed. [...] "The RISKS are obvious..." Steve Klein, Your Mac Expert, Macintosh Consulting YourMac@aol.com 248 YOUR-MAC or 248 968-7622 fax: 248 968-2769
Wine broker Bordeaux Index has spent a fortune making sure its computers can handle the Millennium bug. Yesterday it had no trouble shifting a magnum of Chateau Margaux 1900 for GBP9,000 - but trying to log the sale proved more difficult. No matter how hard they tried, the computer kept changing the description to Ch. Margaux 2000. "We are stumped," says a spokesman. "We can't get it to register the proper name." [Source: UK *Daily Telegraph* (City Diary) 9 Apr 1998] The RISKS are obvious! [Perhaps I must suppress such aphorisms! But a Hamming code on the year might help. Then we could ask how much would a Margaux Hamming Weigh? PGN]
A friend works for a large institutional employer, which has one of the usual fancy phone systems including voice mail. Apparently they had a problem making the daylight-saving-time switch yesterday; today everyone got e-mail saying: "We regret to inform you that while attempting to adjust the time on our [name deleted] telephone and voice mail systems, the [company deleted] technician inadvertently transposed the month and date resulting in the voice system deleting messages that had been previously heard. We are currently in the process of [determining] if the data can be restored..." The most obvious fix is to automate the DST transition, as many systems now do. One can perhaps argue about that, given the complexity of the rules and the way they change from place to place and even from year to year. But if it's not automated, one would at least hope for a less error-prone interface to handle the highly predictable requirement of moving the time forward or back one hour, especially given the apparently severe consequences of getting it wrong. (For that matter, one would hope for a less error-prone interface for setting the date when that's needed, given the long-known ambiguity of dates like 11/04... to say nothing of 11/04/01, which is not far away.) Henry Spencer email@example.com (firstname.lastname@example.org)
According to this morning's *Independent* newspaper, Tony Higgins, the chief executive of the University and Colleges Admissions Service (this is a centralized clearinghouse for college/university applications that acts as a matchmaker between kids and schools in a mad six-week summer scramble), is to suggest a scheme for a database of every citizen in the UK that will hold all their educational and other achievements. The article goes on to outline the uses to which such a database could be put: proof of qualifications for entry to university or employment, checking on the state of student loans. "Eventually," education editor Judith Judd writes enthusiastically, "they might also contain pupils' results from the age of five." The idea is that the existence of the profile will encourage people to continue learning throughout their lives. Ha Ha. Ministers are supposed to be considering giving everyone a NUMBER to attach to their profiles. There are so many risks involved in this that it's impossible to list them all. I just hope it works out that the most significant risk is to Higgins: that he gets so thoroughly ripped to shribbons for this that it deters all government ministers in future.
The Columbia Journalism Review has an online piece at: <URL:http://www.cjr.org/html/98-03-04-archive.html> called "How Accurate Are Your Archives?" by Bruce William Oakley in which he describes comparing the Lexis-Nexis versions of published articles with the actual hardcopy: I compared articles in the commercial electronic archives, such as Lexis-Nexis or DataTimes, of four newspapers to the paper versions from their national and local fronts on arbitrarily chosen dates. Not one archived version flawlessly matched newsprint. The errors ranged from incorrect punctuation to incorrect headlines and bylines. The most striking example almost led to a lawsuit, when a public figure was accused of having served time, in the Lexis-Nexis version-- a research error that had been corrected in the final proofs before publication, but never got transmitted back to the archived version. URL:http://www.mcs.net/~jorn/html/weblogs/weblog.html
The following was forwarded to me, source unspecified. Fred Ballard MARSEILLE, France _ A French driver killed a cyclist and injured another after she took her eye off the road trying to save her Tamagotchi virtual pet, police said Wednesday. The 27-year-old woman became distracted when the electronic pet, which was attached to her car key ring, started to send out distress signals. She asked a companion in her car to attend to the Tamagotchi but in the confusion she failed to notice a group of cyclists on the road ahead and slammed into the back of them. One died instantly and another was taken to hospital. Police said the woman was arrested after Sunday's accident near the southern city of Marseille. [See RISKS-19.36-37. PGN]
An Associated Press report from Dhaka, Bangladesh today reported that large parts of the Bangladeshi capital lost power and fell dark Saturday, April 11 when a cat, who had walked into the control room of a power station, stepped on some wires and caused a short circuit. The cat died immediately, but power was out for two hours Saturday from Dhaka's principal shopping district. Power was restored only after the cat's remains were removed and the equipment cleaned. [If you'll pardon my French, this was "Un chat" in the dark. PGN]
I think that Robert Perillo's two points are extremely important. In essence, the reports assert that law enforcement won't benefit much by improved ability to read all electronic messages and that the only real benefit is in cost savings. On the other side of the coin, the financial impact of the release of information leading to the breaking of sophisticated cryptographic keys can be extremely high. For example, cryptography is used to cover the vast majority of interbank transfers (trillions daily), in stock trading (similar magnitude), and in credit card transactions (a big number as well). The risks in these financial arenas is so severe that legal export of high quality cryptographic hardware for electronic banking applications has been done for many years. As we move increasingly toward electronic commerce the risks of breakable cryptography are far higher than the benefit in cost reductions to law enforcement. Indeed, if codes could be broken for law enforcement purposes, the defense could assert that law enforcement planted the information using its ability to break the codes. Even if this were not technically true for some particular cryptosystem, the increased litigation costs associated with prosecuting cryptography-related cases could be far higher than the savings that breaking cryptography would seem to generate. But I have digressed a bit. My main point is that these conclusions seem to lead very directly to the need for a cost/benefit analysis of breakable crypto vs. unbreakable crypto. It's all well and good to hear claims on both sides of the crypto issue, but since the issue identified in the government's study seems to be one of money - and not one of whether we can catch and successfully prosecute criminals or whether individual privacy is more or less important than law enforcement - it would seem a valuable exercise to figure out whether and where it is more cost effective to have breakable crypto than unbreakable crypto. Unless it can be clearly demonstrated to be more cost effective to have breakable crypto, the debate should be over as far as law enforcement is concerned. FC Fred Cohen & Associates: http://all.net - email@example.com - tel/fax:510-454-0171
From CNN Online at http://www.cnn.com/US/9804/03/brown.crash.suit.ap/ : Jeppesen Sanderson, a Colorado map company, is being sued by the families of some of those killed in the April 1996 crash of a military B737-200 (T-43A) in Dubrovnik, Croatia. Among those killed was U.S. Commerce Secretary Ron Brown. The suit claims that "the Jeppesen chart listed a minimum descent altitude for the approach which was too low and put ... the aircraft on a collision course with the mountain". The chart allegedly also failed to warn pilots that two NDB's where required for the approach and which NDB stations should be used. M. Welsh, UC Berkeley, firstname.lastname@example.org
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