The Risks Digest

The RISKS Digest

Forum on Risks to the Public in Computers and Related Systems

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

Volume 19 Issue 74

Saturday 16 May 1998


o Canadian charged with breaking into U.S. government computer
Keith Rhodes
o NASA to be "Hacked" by DoD, and Macro Virus infected Mir?
Robert J. Perillo
o E-mail from hell
Martin Howard
o Encrypting e-mail -- or not
James Glave
o TWO Known GPS Jamming Cases
o Re: C-Guard system jams cellular communications
o Teens prefer 'telling all' to computers
Brent J. Nordquist
o Real-life example of the "You are now in France" attack
Peter Gutmann
o Thank you *so* much, ZDNet
Ken McGlothlen
o TEMPEST in a lamppost
Danny O'Brien via Rob Slade
o Two-digit years, Swedish Y2K woes
Daniel Eriksson
o More on GAO Report on Y2K problem
Robert S. Thau via Lloyd Wood
o Y2K: now the year 2021
Jean-Jacques Quisquater
o Re: "Beyond Calculation" - seeing the forest for the trees
John R. Levine
o Curiosity -- or was it power? -- killed the cat...
Mark Corcoran
o IEEE Software Safety Video
Gary McGraw
o Info on RISKS (comp.risks)

Canadian charged with breaking into U.S. government computer

Fri, 15 May 98 07:48:47 EST
21-year-old Jason Mewhiney was arrested by the Canadian RCMP on 27 charges
related to using a computer in his home to access computer systems of the
U.S. government (including NASA and NOAA, the National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration), as well as Canadian and U.S. universities.  In
one case he allegedly caused "extensive damages".  [Source: Canadian news
sources, 13 May 1998, PGN Abstracting]

NASA to be "Hacked" by DoD, and Macro Virus infected Mir

Robert J. Perillo <>
Thu, 14 May 1998 17:29 EDT
NASA to be "Hacked" by DoD
What Macro Virus infected communications with Mir?

As a follow-up to the "Eligible Receiver" DoD Joint Staff Tiger Team
penetration tests done in June 1997, the National Aeronautics and Space
Administration (NASA) has asked the US Department of Defense (DoD) to
perform a penetration study of its computer networks using "known security
vulnerabilities" to "determine whether the space agency can fend off
cyber-intruders who could threaten launch-control and other critical
operations," as reported in this week's Defense Week newsletter, and AP
report, "Agency will try to 'hack' into NASA computers", 09-May-1998.

The "penetration study" of the unclassified computer networks is an effort
to determine how easy it is to access sensitive sites or data and whether
they can be accessed through the Internet.  A classified report will be
issued with the results of these tests, and suggestions for improvements in
NASA's information-technology security.

  [It might seem less expensive to hire Jason Mewhiney, especially if
  the judge requires him to do lots of hours of free public service.
  Although that would be considered a bad security practice by many folks,
  it seems to me to be an even worse practice to use systems that are so
  easy to break in the first place.  Same old story for RISKS readers.  PGN]

NASA has had problems with Computer Virus contamination in the past. In
October 1997 NASA spread a Macro Virus (which infects MS Office products
such as MS Word wordprocessor) from Houston to Moscow, and infected the
workstations that are used for Mir spacestation ground control including
daily communications with the Mir Crew.  While the on-board computers on the
Mir spacestation were not infected, the laptop used by the American
astronaut was.

Most Macro viruses are not harmful or destructive, yet this one seems to
have been causing problems. Both IBM PC's, and Mac "ground units" were
disrupted, while the high-end DEC Alpha workstations were not affected.

"The Russians often have outdated anti-virus software or none at all, while
NASA was busy upgrading to the latest version of Norton Anti-Virus." The
Virus was eliminated from all machines by October 17th. To avoid
re-spreading the virus, communications between Houston and Moscow were
affected, e-mail attachments could not be used, forcing Fax use.  "This may
be one of the first example of a non-Russian problem, a mishap of American
origin, associated with the Mir spacecraft."

If anyone knows what specific Macro virus this was, its name, please post
here or send me that information?

Virus contamination makes up about 26% of all Information Technology
Security problems, and with outside system penetration somewheres around 7%
to 13% but rising. To prevent problems, Computer/Network Security must have
"Defense-in-Depth" which should include:

    + "Tiger Team", penetration testing.

    + Use of "Current" Anti-Virus detection software.

    + Use of Intrusion Detection Software (IDS).

    + Use of Firewalls, and Secure Gateways.

    + Use of effective Access Control.

    + Use of Cryptographic technology for confidentiality - encryption,
      non-repudiation - Digital Signatures, and Authentication.

    + Use of secure and hardened Operating Systems with all
      current security patches loaded.

    + Risk Analysis.

    + Auditing, Audit Trail.

    + Management awareness, Good Security policies, practices,
      procedures, and controls in place.

Reference: Federal Computer Week (FCW), October 20, 1997,
           "NASA, Virus infects communications with Mir",
           Heather Harreld.

Robert Perillo, CCP, CNE     Richmond, VA
Staff Computer Scientist            

E-mail from hell

martin <>
Sat, 11 May 96 14:03:20 -0000
from the Australian (online e-mail newsletter)
Net News  11 May 1998  (

Newsbytes today reports an e-mail version of the Sorcerer's Apprentice: Tim
Durkin, deputy prosecutor of Spokane County, was out of the office a few
days last week, so he programmed his PC to auto reply to any e-mails. But he
inadvertently flagged each reply to be sent to all 2,000 users on the
network - and worse, requested confirmation for each message. Within four
hours of Durkin walking out the door, 150,000 e-mails had blitzed the
system. Even though technicians disable the commands, Durkin returned to
work to find 48,000 messages sitting in his e-mail and has been receiving
1,500 a day since.

Martin Howard, iGM Design, Australia, South Brisbane, PO Box 267, Mt Ommaney
Q. 4074 +61 7 3846 7880

  [Not to mention the hate mail from annoyed people...  PGN]

Encrypting e-mail -- or not

James Glave <>
Tue, 12 May 1998 08:52:03 -0700
The risk here is that an e-mail that was intended to be sent encrypted is
instead sent as cleartext, thanks to a completely avoidable bug in the
interface.  Obviously the interface testers dropped the ball here in a big

Security Bugaboo in MS Outlook?
by Michael Stutz, 12 May 1998

The user interface of Microsoft's Outlook 98 e-mail application is the cause
of a new security-related bug, where users could be fooled into thinking
that an unencrypted communication is actually encrypted -- thus sending
potentially sensitive information in plaintext over the wires.  "The problem
manifests itself two ways," said Scott Gode, Microsoft product manager for
Outlook. "One is that the message is not digitally signed, and the second is
that the message is not encrypted."  VeriSign Inc. makes the digital
certificates that are used with the S/MIME encryption in Outlook 98; these
certificates are used to encrypt and create digital signatures for messages
sent with the program. The bug arises when a user creates an encrypted
message and then tries to cancel it -- the message is not cancelled, but is
sent, sans encryption.  When a recipient replies to the message, thinking
that it was an encrypted communication, the reply email is also sent with no
encryption.  "All further messages sent in reply from either party are sent
as unencrypted plaintext messages. And there's no notification to anybody
along the way at any time," said Russ Cooper, consultant and moderator of
the NT Bugtraq and NT Security mailing lists. Cooper discovered the bug
while testing the S/MIME crypto features of Outlook 98.  The flaw is not in
VeriSign's crypto implementation, rather it's in Outlook 98's user

"This is mainly a user interface issue," said Gode.  "The architecture and
integrity of what we're doing is not flawed -- it's just the way that the
software responds to the dialog box."  "It looks to me that this is very
specific to this implementation," said Glenn Langford, group manager for
desktop applications at security and crypto software company Entrust
Technologies.  "This kind of thing wouldn't happen in our scenario, because
in an Entrust environment, what we're doing is not just issuing certificates
-- we're doing the certificates, the key management, toolkits, and the email
plug-in implementation all at the same time," he said.  The weakness of the
VeriSign situation, he said, is that it's up to the implementor of the email
package -- in this case, Microsoft -- to do the security properly, because
there's no toolkit running on the client platform. So if there's a bug
involving the email package, even though the VeriSign application functions
perfectly, there's a security hole.  Bruce Schneier, crypto expert and
president of Counterpane Systems, is fascinated by the bug.  "It's yet
another example of cryptography broken by bad user design," he said. "This
works counter-intuitively."  "They've gotta fix it -- they can't wait for
the next version, in my opinion," Cooper said.  Microsoft, however, is
unable to reproduce the bug.  "We've been able to reproduce the problem of
[a message] not being digitally signed," Gode said, "but have not been able
to reproduce the problem of [a message] not being encrypted, which is
obviously the more potentially damaging of the two."  Gode said that the
company had been aware of the bug from other sources since late April, about
a month after Outlook 98 was released. He said that the company has
contacted Cooper -- who made his description of the bug public on Friday --
with the hope of getting more data so that they could reproduce it.  As to
what causes the second part of the bug, where the message is sent
unencrypted, Gode said that any number of possibilities could be involved,
including how Cooper configured his machine -- or an error on Microsoft's
part.  "It could be a legitimate thing that we messed up on," he said. "I'm
not ruling that out, but because we can't reproduce it and because we're not
hearing this from other people, it's hard to say at this point."  How could
such a simple bug have slipped through development testing?  "People don't
notice, because code is complicated," said Schneier. "This is the big
problem with the Net. Look at Netscape Navigator:

It comes out, bugs are found, bugs are fixed; more bugs are found, more bugs
are fixed -- you'd think it gets better, but then a newer version of
Navigator is released, with 80 percent more source code, more lines of
code," he said.  "There's absolutely no substitute for public scrutiny,"
Schneier said. "But you only get scrutiny to the level of what's public."
And so if any portion of the code is unavailable for scrutiny, the security
risk is increased.  "Not just the security portion of a code can compromise
security," Schneier said. "Just because the digital signature and key
management [portions of the source code] are correct, doesn't mean that you
can't write a user interface that breaks the security."  Not everyone thinks
this bug is so catastrophic.  "It would be a bug of a different magnitude if
the user who sent the original message had every reason to believe that it
were sent encrypted," said Ted Julian, an analyst at Forrester Research.  As
for when the bug will be fixed, Microsoft said it will play it by ear.  "If
[the problem] is severe and if it's something that it turns out we're able
to reproduce -- and we think it could cause problems to other users -- that
might necessitate some sort of little patch that we could make available on
the Web," said Gode. "If it remains just the digital signing problem, that
would be something we'll probably just have people live with for now until
an interim release -- if there is one -- or until the next version comes
out."  Check on other Web coverage of this story with NewsBot

James Glave, Senior Technology Writer
Wired News  (415) 276-8430

TWO Known GPS Jamming Cases (Re: RISKS-19.71)

AIMS / Intel-Info <>
Tue, 12 May 1998 0:57:33 METDST
In reply to the RISKS-19.71 note on GPS jamming, there are two known cases,
both apparently of military origin.  See our self-explanatory article below.

As for iris scanning in 19.71, I witnessed a real life test at a recent
security fair.  The boss, Mr. X, told his secretary to look at the scanner
and say: "I'm Mr. X".  She did and, Bing, the scanner opened the door lock.
Before using iris scanner, get some independent quantitative statistics on
error rates.

Olivier Schmidt, Editor, "Intelligence",
Intelligence, N. 79, 4 May 1998, p. 6

GPS - "Chief, Where Have All the Dials Gone?"  By debunking a supposed
threat to civil aviation by a four-watt signal jammer developed by a
Moscow-based company, Aviaconversia, which was displayed last August and
supposedly has a range of 200 km (see "GPS - Jammers Too Good for Their Own
Good", INT, n. 76 6), "Intelligence" raised a few eyebrows and a few
questions.  In fact, airliners navigate with at least three systems, of
which a maximum of two are L-band GPS navigation aids which the Russian
jammer could possibly attack.  However, not long ago, a British Airways (BA)
flight over central France lost all three of its GPS navigation systems.
But in this case it wasn't civilians.  The French military were secretly
experimenting with new GPS jammers and "forgot" to tell BA (INT, n. 77 3).
We have now learned of a similar incident in upstate New York where the US
Air Force Research Laboratory Information Directorate (Rome Lab) was
apparently testing a five-watt GPS "transmitter" on the ground.  On 30
December 1997, a Continental DC-10 flying over the area lost all GPS
signals.  The press reports apparently got things wrong: the GPS
transmitters are in the sky, on satellites!  What are on planes and on the
ground are "receivers" and if Rome Lab was playing with anything, it, like
the French military, were testing GPS jammers.

Re: C-Guard system jams cellular communications (RISKS-19.73)

Redirected by vlad <> <Postmaster <<>
11 May 1998 20:40:22 EST
Cellular phones are not permitted in the hospitals I frequent due to fear of
interference with critical support systems.  Wouldn't it be safe to say that
a transmitting device that would block cellular phones would be transmitting
in the same band that the phones use, hence posing the same threat to the
critical systems?

Teens prefer 'telling all' to computers

"Brent J. Nordquist" <>
Fri, 15 May 1998 10:54:48 -0500 (CDT)
The CNN Interactive site has a pointer today to a news report about how
"teenagers are more likely to admit to risky behavior when answering
questionnaires in a computer than when filling out a written survey":

Possible risks:

(1)  The article doesn't say what assurances the surveyors used
     to accurately measure demographics and prevent duplicate
     submissions; hopefully the surveys weren't of the "vote
     anonymously as often as you like" type.

(2)  If the data is accurate, it shows that people believe that
     online surveys protect their anonymity more than on paper,
     an assumption whose flaws will be apparent to RISKS readers.

Brent J. Nordquist / / W: +1 612 905-7806

Real-life example of the "You are now in France" attack

Peter Gutmann <>
Fri, 08 May 1998 15:26:48 +0000 (NZST)
  [Courtesy of Martin Minow.  PGN]

The MS CryptoAPI mailing list recently carried an example of how an actual
"You are now in France" attack might work.  It turns out that if you switch
the system-wide locale of an NT system to French, the encryption
functionality of CryptoAPI disables itself (signing and hashing still
works).  Conversely, switching the locale from French to something
French-related (Belgian, Swiss, or Canadian French) re-enables the crypto.
Since NT allows per-thread locales, it'd be interesting to see if you can
selectively enable/disable the crypto for a particular application without
needing to change your system-wide locale setting (set the system locale to
French Canadian, then set the thread locale to French so you get the UI
acting as "French" French but the crypto acting as Canadian French).


[Added note from Peter Gutmann:] France does not allow the use of strong
crypto.  Thus, a proposed attack on systems that take this into account is
to fool them into believing they're operating in France, whereupon they
quietly disable their crypto.  What NT is doing is a fairly reasonable way
to comply with a silly restriction, but it does provide a good example of
how a "You are now in France" attack might be performed.

Thank you *so* much, ZDNet

Ken McGlothlen <>
Fri, 15 May 1998 22:40:07 -0700 (PDT)
Perhaps you can explain to me what sort of sudden neurological condition went
through the brains of the folks at ZDNet?  I received this tonight (a Friday
night, of course, so my response is likely to sit around all weekend):

> From:
> Date: Fri, 15 May 1998 21:35:27 -0700
> Reply-To:
> To: [an obsolete address]
> Subject: Announcing  ZDNet Mail !!

> Announcing ZDNet Mail - the best free email on the Web!

> ZDNet is pleased to announce the launch of ZDNet Mail, the best free email
> on the Web.  Because you're a valued member of the ZDNet community, we're
> providing you with a free, secure, e-mail account, that you can access from
> any Internet connection, anytime or anywhere.

> As a current ZDNet member, your e-mail account is already set up -- you can
> start using it today! Just log on to ZDNet Mail at:

> and enter your current ZDNet user name and password as shown below:

> User Name: [deleted]
> Password: [sent in plaintext!]

> [ of message deleted...]

Now, first of all, I didn't ask for this.  I haven't even accessed the ZDNet
site with my username and password for months.  But they've apparently sent
out at least thousands of these, some of which are bound to be intercepted
and read---and immediately taken advantage of.

Now, ZDNet *does* have a privacy statement, which reads in part:

    ZDNet uses reasonable precautions to keep the personal information
    disclosed to us secure and to disclose such information only to third
    parties we believe to be responsible.

but somehow, sending out thousands of plaintext passwords along with account
names doesn't exactly strike me as a "reasonable precaution."

Of course, I've asked that they remove both my "best new free e-mail" account
immediately, along with my ZDNet account.  But they probably aren't even going
to see my message until Monday.

Lessons learned:

 * Just because a website has a privacy statement doesn't necessarily
   imply that they know what it means.

 * Even a website that you might assume has a clue (after all, ZDNet is a
   computer-magazine publishing company, right?) may have a big empty spot
   where their brains are supposed to be.

 * It pays to have a different password for *every* site you visit.

Those idiots.

Ken McGlothlen <>

TEMPEST in a lamppost

"Rob Slade" <>
Fri, 15 May 1998 15:21:55 -0800
NTK now is, as it says, "*the* weekly high-tech sarcastic update for the UK,"
and rather a hoot for others as well.  However, something from this week's
issue sounded like it was right up the RISKS alley:

------- Forwarded Message Follows -------
Date:          Fri, 15 May 1998 12:34:09 +0100
From:          "Danny O'Brien" <>

Remember when NORTEL announced the IP-down-the-power-lines hack, and
everyone racked their brains to work out the killer flaw? Was it, perhaps,
the isolation equipment you'd have to install into every house that used it?
Or the fibre lines Nortel would have to spool out from each substation?
Well, here's a likely contender: Nick Long from the Low Power Radio
Association reports that streetlamps in the Nortel trial region have been
acting as highly efficient antennae, merrily broadcasting packets across
much of the shortwave radio bands. Bad for radio hams, not brilliant for
personal privacy - but what a great solution for multicasting Web events!
       - see, we told you it was the new CB radio
       - get IE4.0 to play "Daisy, Daisy" on your radio

Need to Know is a useful and interesting UK digest of things that happened
last week or might happen next week. You can read it on Friday afternoon or
print it out then take it home if you have nothing better to do. It is
compiled by NTK from stuff they get sent.  t is registered at the Post
Office as "the Treat of Versailles".

Archive -   Excuses -

Subscribe? Mail with 'subscribe ntknow'.

Two-digit years, Swedish Y2K woes

Daniel Eriksson <>
Sun, 10 May 1998 23:58:22 +0200
Apart from the usual Y2K problems that are common throughout the
world, Sweden has another major problem to tackle - personal numbers.

In Sweden each individual has a so called personal number. This number
consists of: date of birth (6 digits), region in which the individual
was born (2 digits), gender information (1 digit which is also used to
count the number of births each day, odd numbers for males and even
numbers for females) and a simple checksum (1 digit). This personal
number is used _extensively_ in both private and governmental

Experienced RISKS readers should have no problem identifying at least
two major problems with the above scheme:

1. DOB is only 6 digits making it Y2K-incompatible. We already see a
   fair amount of press about elderly people being treated as new-
   borns. This will surely sky-rocket unless the thousands of
   databases that use the personal number as identifier are updated.

2. The potential for criminals wanting to impersonate someone or
   collect information about someone.

"Banks and Y2K - those that owe you money will go bankrupt, and those you
owe money will demand a gazillion in penalties for 100 years of unpaid

Daniel Eriksson, Software Engineer, Ericsson Radio Systems AB

More on GAO Report on Y2K problem

Lloyd Wood <>
Sat, 9 May 1998 19:56:19 +0100 (BST)
Embedded systems are finally getting noticed.
recommended for embedded systems.


  ---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Fri, 8 May 1998 21:26:44 -0400 (EDT)
From: "Robert S. Thau" <>
Cc: FoRK <>
Subject: GAO Report on Y2K problem

Jim Whitehead writes:
 > This report reminds me of those Star Trek episodes where the computer calmly
 > announces, "the ship will self-destruct in five minutes". "The country will
 > experience significant economic disruption in 1.5 years."

Personally, I'd be thrilled with significant economic disruption.  The
feasible alternatives are rather worse.  A useful reality check is the
article on Y2K issues in industry in the Fortune 500 issue (I believe)
of Fortune magazine.  This goes through problems which such outfits as
G.M. are finding in audits of their factory floor embedded systems ---
it's not a pretty picture.  See

(Of course, there are industrial embedded systems, like those in power
plants and the distribution grids, on which just about everything else
in the country depends.  If those go down, and stay down for more than
a few days --- say, several weeks --- we can stop counting dollars and
start counting dead.  Sigh...).


Y2K: now the year 2021

jjq <>
Sat, 16 May 1998 04:46:09 +0200
Recently I saw a credit card valid till 21 (it means 2021).
I suppose the 2 is coming from the first digit of 2001 and
the 1 from the last digit of 2001. A very creative error.

The story of Y2K is not finished.

Jean-Jacques Quisquater

Re: "Beyond Calculation" - seeing the forest for the trees

"John R. Levine" <>
Fri, 8 May 1998
> "Every few hundred years, throughout Western history, a sharp
> transformation has occurred.

Oh, humph.  You want a sharp transformation, look at the period from 1840 to
1860.  In 1840, if you wanted to send a message or a package to someone
else, you gave it to a guy on a horse or in a sailboat who would proceed at
a walking pace in the direction of the recipient.  Getting news or goods
between New York and San Francisco or London took weeks and was subject to
large unpredictable delays.

By 1860, there were telegraphs, railroads, and steamships, so messages could
go anywhere in the developed world in a few minutes, and goods were
delivered on predictable schedules.  These were at least as wrenching
changes as anything in this century, and we're still getting used to them.

John R. Levine, IECC, POB 727, Trumansburg NY 14886 +1 607 387 6869, Village Trustee and Sewer Commissioner,,

Curiosity -- or was it power? -- killed the cat...

Thu, 07 May 1998 01:05:12 +0000
The *Guardian* (13 Apr 1998) has a report from the Associated Press
newswire that according to officials in Dhaka, a cat shorted a
circuit in the control room of a power station, plunging much of
Bangladesh's capital into darkness at the weekend.

The RISKS?  The cat was obviously patrolling the wrong part of the plant
looking for power-cable-gnawing rats, but how a circuit had become bare
enough that an unauthorised feline, let alone personnel, managed to short
the circuit, is anyone's guess.

There is no mention, alas, whether or not the cat had used up its full quota
of nine lives, or if it had relinquished any for any subsequent

Mark Corcoran, VMS Systems Manager, Teletext Dept.,Softel Ltd.
+44 (0)118 984 2151

IEEE Software Safety Video

Gary McGraw <>
Fri, 15 May 1998 11:07:06 -0400 (EDT)
RISKS readers may be interested in hearing about Developing Software for
Safety Critical Systems, a new video from the IEEE, presented by Mike
DeWalt, FAA, National Resource Specialist; John F.  Besnard, Raytheon
Systems Company; and Dr. Jeffrey Voas, Reliable Software Technologies;
Dr. Samuel J. Keene, IEEE Reliability Society Past President, served as
program moderator and technical editor, and sponsored by the IEEE
Reliability Society and IEEE Educational Activities

  [Truncated for RISKS.   Contact Gary for further information.]

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