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 2 Issue 44

Monday, 21 Apr 1986


o Why Simulation Is A Good Thing...
Lynne C. Moore
o Hacking & forgery laws
Robert Stroud
o Strategic Systems Reliability Testing
Dan Ball
Larry Campbell
o Cost of phone billing error
Dave Redell
o Normal Accidents and battle software
Dave Benson
o Psychological risks, part II
Dave Benson
o Info on RISKS (comp.risks)

Why Simulation Is A Good Thing...

<<moorel@eglin-vax> Lynne C. Moore>
0 0 00:00:00 CDT
We are currently engaged in developing a system of remote video tracker
pedestals for tracking missile tests, and have recently chosen to implement an
interim hardware solution to allow time for a rational software development
cycle (rather than 25K+ lines in less than 6 months with 2 programmers). One
of the proposed advantages of the software solution is the ability to run a
real-time simulation for operator training, and there have been some questions
from our top management about why the software developers insist that this is
exceptionally important.

Yesterday, an operator attempted to manually track a live missile for the
first time. He tracked it for about 1/2 second, and then commented, "Gosh,
that thing moves a lot faster than I thought." Too bad none of the managers
were there...

        Lynne C. Moore <>

Hacking & forgery laws

Robert Stroud <>
Fri, 18 Apr 86 10:18:28 gmt
This was printed in The Times yesterday April 16th. I am particularly
intrigued by the prosecution under the forgery laws. I don't see how
you can forge something like a telephone number - surely to be protected
by a forgery law, an identification should be personal in some sense.
Numeric codes are completely impersonal.

  Prestel blunder 'helped hacker'. (c) Times Newspapers Limited, 1986

  A top-level blunder allowed a computer journalist to penetrate British
  Telecom's Prestel information system, a court was told yesterday. A secret
  identification code allowing access to secret files was left unprotected
  within the computer system it was said. Mr Robert Schifreen, aged 22, used
  it to get the confidential identity numbers and passwords of every Prestel
  customer, Southwark Crown Court was told.

  Mr Schifreen, who subscribed to Prestel under the codename "Bug Hunter",
  later wrote an article on how easily he had cracked the system. But Mr
  Schifreen, who works for a computer magazine, denied he did so for personal
  gain, and accused Prestel of "negligence".

  Mr Austin Issard-Davies, for the prosecution, said a random experiment first
  gave him the telephone numbers of Prestel's private computers. The telephone
  numbers were not published to normal subscribers, and only a few people had
  access. But Mr Schifreen was said to have broken into the Prestel development
  test computer. It was alleged that he typed an experimental line of numbers,
  all twos, when the computer asked for a 10-digit identification. It worked,
  and the computer then asked for a four-digit password. He typed 1234 which
  turned out to be a test account and gave him access. But Mr Schifreen's
  attempts to get information out failed because he did not have the
  confidential identity code and password of the system manager. Nine months
  later, he came across the code and password "lying around" in one of the
  private Prestel computers.

  When questioned by police, Mr Schifreen allegedly admitted making
  unauthorised access into the system from his home computer, but claimed he
  had made Prestel more secure by doing so. Mr Issard-Davies said: "It is a
  bit like a burglar claiming all the credit for improved house security
  because the householder has put locks on all the windows." He added it was
  "twentieth century" forgery because Mr Schifreen allegedly used someone
  else's computer identification, like signing someone's name without consent.
  [omitted material]

  The charges have been brought under section one of the Forgery and
  Counterfeiting Act, 1981. The test case trial is the first contested case
  to go to court. The hearing continues today.

Robert Stroud,
Computing Laboratory,
University of Newcastle upon Tyne.

ARPA robert%cheviot@ucl-cs.ARPA
UUCP ...!ukc!cheviot!robert

       [I reported on a breakin to British Telecom's Prestel Information
        Service in the ACM Software Engineering Notes vol 10 no 1 (January
        1985).  A 19-yr-old young man had penetrated the unencrypted password
        file.  To demonstrate the vulnerability, he let a London Daily Mail
        reporter watch (reported in the LDM on 2 Nov 84) while he read
        Prince Philip's mailbox and then altered a financial market database.
        Things seem not to have improved much.   PGN]

Strategic Systems Reliability Testing

Dan Ball <ball@mitre.ARPA>
Fri, 18 Apr 86 14:45:03 est
It has been about twenty years since I've worked with strategic systems
(Polaris), but I can no longer resist putting in my two cents in the SDI

The issues concerning whether SDI can be made to work perfectly or even
well enough the first time since it can't be tested in a realistic environment
and there will be no second chance would appear to apply equally to both the
US and Soviet Offensive Systems.

During my four years with the Polaris Test Program, I know of no test involving
more than a single live missile.  Although these tests were for the most part
very successful, there was never an attempt to test the ripple fire capability
with real missiles on a single submarine, let alone a coordinated launch
involving all submarines as well as all land based ICBMs.

In addition to the readiness/reliability considerations of our strategic
nuclear forces, I would suspect that the command and control problems
would be formidable.  We seem to have considerable difficulty sending a
single urgent message (e.g. USS Liberty, USS Pueblo, USAF EC-121, etc.) ,
let alone a coordinated attack involving hundreds or thousands of platforms.

I'm relatively certain that the numbers of warheads actually reaching the
target following the initiation of an attack would be far less than the
numbers in the inventories.

Finally, the briefing from SDI office that I heard didn't promise perfection.
Unlike some of the political supporters who promise that it will be safe for
children to play outside during a nuclear exchange, the SDI technical types
were talking about the impact it would have on the numbers and required
modifications to the Soviet ICBMs that would be required for them to
maintain the same confidence of assured first strike destruction of the US.

(I promise that this will be my first and last comment concerning SDI as I
think there's far too much uninformed speculation and political opinion on
this subject in risk-forum already.  I'll even volunteer to be edited out as
I would like to see more contributions that could help those of us whose job
is trying to assure that computer reliability and safety requirements are met.)

Dan Ball

                      [Don't bet on there being no provoking replies.  PGN]


Fri, 18 Apr 86 07:19:30 EST
The discussion in the last few issues of RISKS has demonstrated that Reagan's
Strategic Defense Initiative HAS ALREADY SUCCEEDED.  It has done exactly
what Reagan wanted, which is to convert an essentially political question,
in which every American is qualifed and in fact obligated to participate,
into a technical debate, in which only the technical clergy are allowed.

Larry Campbell                                 The Boston Software Works, Inc.
ARPA: maynard.UUCP:campbell@harvard.ARPA       120 Fulton Street
UUCP: {harvard,cbosgd}!wjh12!maynard!campbell  Boston MA 02109

Cost of phone billing error

David Redell <redell@src.DEC.COM>
Fri, 18 Apr 86 09:50:03 pst
  More than a million California telephone customers will be getting an
  unpleasant surprise in their April bills because of an equipment
  malfunction...[No estimate given of how much revenue was lost.]

The estimate I saw was $25-30 million.

Normal Accidents and battle software

Dave Benson <benson%wsu.csnet@CSNET-RELAY.ARPA>
Sun, 20 Apr 86 21:51:10 pst
According to

    Charles Perrow
    Normal Accidents: Living with High-Risk Technologies
    Basic Books, New York, 1984

we should expect to see large-scale accidents such as the loss of the
space shuttle Challenger.  Perrow's thesis, I take it, is that the
complexity of current technology makes accidents a 'normal' aspect
of the products of these technologies.

We may view space shuttles launches, nuclear reactors, power grids,
transportation systems, and much real-time control software as lacking
homeostatis, "give", forgiveness.  Perhaps some of these technologies
will forever remain "brittle".

Questions: Does anybody have a good way to characterize this brittleness?
To what extent is existing battle software "brittle"?

Thank you for your suggestions/comments         dbb

Psychological risks, part II

Dave Benson <benson%wsu.csnet@CSNET-RELAY.ARPA>
Sun, 20 Apr 86 21:59:17 pst
I have just finished reading

    Neil Frude
    The Intimate Machine
    New American Library, New York, 1983

which comments on animism and anthropomorphism in the past and present,
and speculates on the continuence of these tendencies into the future
with human-like qualities in computers.

I did not find the argument persuasive, but then I bang at this terminal
quite a bit, and certainly do not anthropomorphize it in the slightest.

Perhaps some of you have <modern> stories about people who view computers
as having human-like qualities, confusing their perceptions of humans
and computers.  If so, please send such direct to me unless you think
them generally enlightening RISKS.  Thanks, dbb

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