The RISKS Digest
Volume 2 Issue 53

Friday, 16th May 1986

Forum on Risks to the Public in Computers and Related Systems

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

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o A late report on the Sheffield
AP [from Martin Minow]
LATimes [Dave Platt]
o News items [Lobsters; Eavesdropping]
Alan Wexelblat
o More Phone Bill Bugs...
Dave Curry
o Backup problems
Roy Smith
o Info on RISKS (comp.risks)

A late report on the Sheffield — RFI

Martin Minow, DECtalk Engineering ML3-1/U47 223-9922 <minow%pauper.DEC@decwrl.DEC.COM>
16-May-1986 1241
  "Exocet missile not on expected-missile list, detected as friend" (SEN 8 3)
   [see Sheffield sinking, reported in New Scientist 97, p. 353, 2/10/83];
   Officially denied by British Minister of Defence Peter Blaker
   [New Scientist, vol 97, page 502, 24 Feb 83].  Rather, sinking abetted by
   defensive equipment being turned off to reduce communication interference?]

From the Boston Globe, May 16, 1986:

        Phone call jammed antimissile defenses

LONDON — Electronic antimissile defenses on the British frigate Sheffield,
sunk in the 1982 Falklands conflict, were jammed during an Argentine attack
by a telephone call from the captain to naval headquarters, the Defense
Ministry said yesterday.  Twenty crewmen were killed when the Sheffield was
sunk May 4, 1982, by a French-made Exocet missile fired by an Argentine
plane.  A Defense Ministry spokesman, confirming a report in [the] London
Daily Mirror, said Commodore James Salt, the Sheffield's captain, was making
"an urgent operational call" to naval headquarters near London when the
missile hit.  "The electronic countermeasures equipment was affected by the
transmission.  Steps have been taken to avoid a repetition," the spokesman
said.  Commodore Salt now has a shore job as chief of staff to the fleet
commander-in-chief. (AP)

A late report on the Sheffield — RFI

Fri, 16 May 86 17:13 PDT
[beginning of message duplicated the above] From Today's LA TIMES: [...]

  The telephone system's transmitter was on the same frequency as the homing
  radar of the French-built Exocet missile fired at the Sheffield, and the
  transmission prevented the Sheffield's electronic countermeasures equipment
  from detecting the missile's radar and taking evasive action.

The article implies that this situation might have been avoided had the
Sheffield been equipped with an uplink into the British satellite
communication system; the article gives no details but I'd guess that such
an uplink would have used a transmitter which was (a) less powerful, (b)
more directional, or (c) on a completely different wavelength.

Does anyone have additional information about the equipment in question?
      [Dave Platt]

News items [Lobsters; Eavesdropping]

Alan Wexelblat <>
Thu, 15 May 86 14:11:13 CDT
Here are a couple of items from today's paper that may be of interest to
RISKS readers:

(The following item was discussed in RISKS when the story first broke.)


Boston(AP) - A federal appeals court Tuesday overturned a $1.25 million
award to the families of three lobstermen who died in a hurricane the
National Weather Service had failed to predict because of an unrepaired

The 1st Circuit Court of Appeals said the weather service is protected from
awards like that made by U.S. District Judge Joseph Tauro because weather
forecasting is a discretionary function.  [...] Tauro found the government
liable in the [fishermen's] deaths because of its failure to repair a
weather buoy used to forecast conditions.

In the appellate court ruling, Judge Bailey Aldrich wrote, "The government
did not create the weather, it merely failed in the (lower) court's opinion
to render adequate performance.    "This was a discretionary undertaking."

Michael Latti, attorney for the families, said he would ask the U.S.
Supreme Court to review the Appeals Court decision.

He said the 1st Circuit Court found the government did not have to exercise
"ordinary reasonable care" when it undertakes a discretionary function such
as issuing weather forecasts.

By Mary Thornton, Washington Post Service

After more than two years of study, a House subcommittee Wednesday
unanimously approved a bill that would make it illegal to eavesdrop on
electronic communications, including cellular telephone conversations,
electronic fund transfers, and computer messages and data transmissions.

The bill would also extend to such communications Fourth Amendment
protection against unreasonable search and seizure.

A report by the congressional Office of Technology Assessment last October
[...]included a survey of federal agencies, including six that said they
planned to intercept or monitor electronic mail as part of their
investigative work.

The bill would require a court-approved search warrant for law enforcement
agencies to obtain a computer message within six months of its generation
and a subpoena after that. [...]

Also, under the legislation law enforcement agencies would have to meet the
strict standards of the federal wiretap statute to eavesdrop on cellular
telephone conversations.

The bill contains several provisions to make it easier for federal law
enforcement agencies to obtain court-approved wiretaps.  It would expand
the categories of crimes for which a wiretap may be approved as well as the
number of officials in the Justice Department who can approve such a

The bill also would make it a misdemeanor to use a satellite dish to
intercept subscription television signals, but only if the information is
then used commercially.

The bill is currently being called "The Electronic Communications Privacy
Act of 1986".  No HR number was given in the article.

--Alan Wexelblat
UUCP: {ihnp4, seismo, harvard, gatech, pyramid}!ut-sally!im4u!milano!wex

More Phone Bill Bugs...

Dave Curry <>
Thu, 15 May 86 16:14:31 EST
To add to the ever-increasing list of screwed up phone billing software,
this is from the May 12 issue of Communications Week (selected excerpts):

    "GTE Sprint Communications failed to bill customers for millions
    of dollars worth of calls made between Feb. 21 and April 26 of
    this year, Communications Week has learned."

    ".... cost Sprint between $10 million and $20 million."

    "The errors were made through 10 of Sprint's 58 switches...."

    "Regular calls.... went undetected in those 10 switches...."

    ".... $1 billion in revenues a year, $20 million represents about
    2 percent of the company's annual revenue."

    "The errors apparently happened because programmers made billing
    software changes in some, but not all, of Sprint's switches.  The
    omissions have since been corrected."

Sometimes one wonders if we'll ever learn...  I wonder what happens now
to the poor slob who approved those software changes ("ooops.")...

--Dave Curry, Purdue University    []

backup problems

14 May 86 11:50 EST
Getting people to do backup can be done by management (or whatever passes
for it in educational institutions). The trick is to convince people at
the gut level that there will be consequences if they don't backup.

One method might be to quietly pick people at random, and if their files
are not backed up, pull hardcopy of the work and revoke the user's rights
to use the computer. A really hardnosed management might just randomly
trash a disk now and then (after warning people that this would be done)
and letting the resulting cries of pain get the job done. There will
*ALWAYS* be those who are too stupid or stubborn to respond to any
education. You might as well either (a) get rid of them, or (b) if they
are really valuable in other ways, assign someone to back up their work.

At one (unnamed) site, management was encouraged to read their electronic
mail regularly by having top management send meeting notices and requests
for data to the middle management. Just one phone call from an irate top
manager asking why a meeting was missed usually did the trick. The middle
management started passing the concept on, and now Email is used instead
of paper for most messages.

More on backup procedures (amusing ad)

Roy Smith <allegra!phri!roy@seismo.CSS.GOV>
Thu, 15 May 86 21:10:48 edt
    There have been several items in RISKS-DIGEST recently about the
dangers of not doing backups.  I've already made my contribution, but an
interesting ad from 3-M caught my eye.  As the ad says, "when it comes to
doing computer backup, any excuse will do" [i.e. for not doing it — RHS].
See the June Sci. Am., page 21 for the rest.

    BTW, I have no connection with 3-M.  I just liked the ad.

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