The RISKS Digest
Volume 20 Issue 18

Friday, 29th January 1999

Forum on Risks to the Public in Computers and Related Systems

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

Please try the URL privacy information feature enabled by clicking the flashlight icon above. This will reveal two icons after each link the body of the digest. The shield takes you to a breakdown of Terms of Service for the site - however only a small number of sites are covered at the moment. The flashlight take you to an analysis of the various trackers etc. that the linked site delivers. Please let the website maintainer know if you find this useful or not. As a RISKS reader, you will probably not be surprised by what is revealed…


"When Doctors Make Mistakes"
Matt Blaze
Celler beware? Cell-phone blockade
Sheri Alpert
Distributed.Net & EFF Put Final Nail in DES Coffin
John Gilmore
Trojan horse planted in TCP wrapper
Internet vandals strike USIA Web site
Digital photos from drivers' licenses
Dan Gould
Linux users want their money back from Microsoft
Y2K update turns city into deadbeat
Debora Weber-Wulff
Programming errors
Fred Gilham
Re: ... French announcement on crypto policy
Olivier MJ Crepin-Leblond
Re: "Page-layout program hazards" and "Over-reliance on technology"
Don Byrd
Hotmail Web e-mail risk
Daniel P. Stasinski via others
Major security breach in Canadian consumer-tracking database
Wei-Yuen Tan
USENIX Security Symposium Call; Papers due March 9
Jennifer Radtke
REVIEW: "Bad Software", Cem Kaner/David Pels
Rob Slade
Info on RISKS (comp.risks)

"When Doctors Make Mistakes"

Matt Blaze <>
Mon, 25 Jan 1999 20:56:17 -0500
This week's _New_Yorker_ (dated February 1) has an excellent article, "When
Doctors Make Mistakes," by Atul Gawande.  The article, written by a surgical
resident who was also a Clinton health policy advisor, offers a very nice
summary of human error - and process failure - in various medical
disciplines.  The descriptions of widely varying user interfaces on
different models of defibrilators or of design variations in anesthesia
machine controls such that a clockwise turn of a knob increases dosage on
some models and decreases on others should be familiar territory for RISKS

In a previous life, I worked briefly as a paramedic in New York, and I have
actually performed many of the RISKy life-vs-death procedures, such as E-T
intubation and tracheostomy, described in the first part of the article.  I
recall never worrying much about killing someone by mistake - the training,
culture, and protocols really were pretty well designed to make at least the
most avoidable kinds of deadly errors reasonably unlikely (for example, we
used only a limited number of models of defibrilator, and everyone everyone
practiced frequently with all of them).  What kept me up at night were
worries of screwing up some non-life threatening procedure with grave
consequences, like contributing to paralyzing an accident victim by rough
handling, or failing to notice secondary injuries during an examination.
These things were practiced and trained for rather less intensely than the
more dramatic "life or death" procedures were.

Cryptography and computer security seems so much safer by comparison...


Celler beware? Cell-phone blockade

Sheri Alpert <>
Mon, 25 Jan 1999 11:50:57 -0500 (EST)
A GTE Wireless cellular tower in Crystal River, Florida, was rendered
incommunicado whenever Calvin Simpson used his cell phone in his motor-home
park, beginning on 4 Jan 1999.  His phone was apparently tying up a control
channel used to direct calls, and blocking all (other?) calls.  After
tracking him down (it took 10 days), GTE gave him a different phone while
they tried to find out why it was causing the interference!  [Source:
Digital Flub: A Cell Phone's Knockout, *The Washington Post*, 25 Jan 1999,
F05, derived from an AP item; PGN Abstracting]

Sheri Alpert, PhD candidate, Institute of Public Policy
George Mason University, Fairfax, VA

Distributed.Net & EFF Put Final Nail in DES Coffin

John Gilmore <>
Thu, 28 Jan 1999 09:26:07 -0800
Tuesday, January 19, 1999
RSA Code-Breaking Contest Again Won by Distributed.Net and
Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF)

DES Challenge III Broken in Record 22 Hours

RSA DATA SECURITY CONFERENCE, SAN JOSE, CA — Breaking the previous record
of 56 hours, Distributed.Net, a worldwide coalition of computer enthusiasts,
worked with the Electronic Frontier Foundation's (EFF) "DES Cracker," a
specially designed supercomputer, and a worldwide network of nearly 100,000
PCs on the Internet, to win RSA Data Security's DES Challenge III in a
record-breaking 22 hours and 15 minutes. The worldwide computing team
deciphered a secret message encrypted with the United States government's
Data Encryption Standard (DES) algorithm using commonly available
technology.  From the floor of the RSA Data Security Conference & Expo, a
major data security and cryptography conference being held in San Jose,
Calif., EFF's DES Cracker and the Distributed.Net computers were testing 245
billion keys per second when the key was found.

First adopted by the federal government in 1977, the 56-bit DES algorithm
is still widely used by financial services and other industries worldwide
to protect sensitive on-line applications, despite growing concerns about
its vulnerability.  RSA has been sponsoring a series of DES-cracking
contests to highlight the need for encryption stronger than the current
56-bit standard widely used to secure both U.S. and international commerce.

"As today's demonstration shows, we are quickly reaching the time when
anyone with a standard desktop PC can potentially pose a real threat to
systems relying on such vulnerable security," said Jim Bidzos, president of
RSA Data Security, Inc.  "It has been widely known that 56-bit keys, such as
those offered by the government's DES standard, offer only marginal
protection against a committed adversary.  We congratulate Distributed.Net
and the EFF for their achievement in breaking DES in record-breaking time."

As part of the contest, RSA awarded a $10,000 prize to the winners at a
special ceremony held during the RSA Conference.  The goal of this DES
Challenge contest was not only to recover the secret key used to DES-encrypt
a plain-text message, but to do so faster than previous winners in the
series.  As before, a cash prize was awarded for the first correct entry
received.  The amount of the prize was based on how quickly the key was

"The diversity, volume and growth in participation that we have seen at
Distributed.Net not only demonstrates the incredible power of distributed
computing as a tool, but also underlines the fact that concern over
cryptography controls is widespread," said David McNett, co-founder of

"EFF believes strongly in providing the public and industry with reliable
and honest evaluations of the security offered by DES.  We hope the result
of today's DES Cracker demonstration delivers a wake-up call to those who
still believe DES offers adequate security," said John Gilmore, EFF
co-founder and project leader. "The government's current encryption policies
favoring DES risk the security of the national and world infrastructure."

The Electronic Frontier Foundation began its investigation into DES cracking
in 1997 to determine just how easily and cheaply a hardware-based DES
Cracker (i.e., a code-breaking machine to crack the DES code) could be

Less than one year later and for well under U.S. $250,000, the EFF, using
its DES Cracker, entered and won the RSA DES Challenge II-2 competition in
less than 3 days, proving that DES is not very secure and that such a
machine is inexpensive to design and build.

"Our combined worldwide team searched more than 240 billion keys every
second for nearly 23 hours before we found the right 56-bit key to decrypt
the answer to the RSA Challenge, which was 'See you in Rome (second AES
Conference, March 22-23, 1999),'" said Gilmore.  The reason this message
was chosen is that the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) initiative
proposes replacing DES using encryption keys of at least 128 bits.

RSA's original DES Challenge was launched in January 1997 with the aim of
demonstrating that DES offers only marginal protection against a committed
adversary.  This was confirmed when a team led by Rocke Verser of Loveland,
Colorado recovered the secret key in 96 days, winning DES Challenge I.
Since that time, improved technology has made much faster exhaustive search
efforts possible.  In February 1998, Distributed.Net won RSA's DES
Challenge II-1 with a 41-day effort, and in July, the Electronic Frontier
Foundation (EFF) won RSA's DES Challenge II-2 when it cracked the DES
message in 56 hours.


EFF has prepared a background document on the EFF DES Cracker, which
includes the foreword by Whitfield Diffie to "Cracking DES."  See  The book can be ordered for worldwide
delivery from O'Reilly & Associates at,
+1 800 998 9938, or +1 707 829 0515.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation is one of the leading civil liberties
organizations devoted to ensuring that the Internet remains the world's
first truly global vehicle for free speech, and that the privacy and
security of all on-line communication is preserved.  Founded in 1990 as a
nonprofit, public interest organization, EFF is based in San Francisco,
California.  EFF maintains an extensive archive of information on encryption
policy, privacy, and free speech at

  [Thanks to all of you who commented on my incomplete reportage.
  Deep Crack lucked out on only 9% of the key space, whereas Distributed
  Crack as a whole cranked through 22.2% of the key space.
  My hasty note from the RSA Conference in RISKS-20.17 was based on a
  desire to report the crack in the absence of the fuller story, which is
  included above.  It is clear that the DEEP CRACK exercise represents
  a rude awakening for those remaining folks (such as those who had touted
  export controls above 40-bit keys) who believed that such a machine could
  not be built.  But the deeper message of course is that we no longer even
  need such a machine — if vast portions of the total world-wide resources
  of the Net were mobilized, it would be possible for WORLD CRACK to break
  56-bit DES in a few seconds, plus whatever e-mail delay was needed to
  report the crack by the lucky participant whose machine found the key!
  Once again, a little realism is needed.  PGN]

Trojan horse planted in TCP wrapper

"Peter G. Neumann" <>
Fri, 22 Jan 1999 11:09:33 -0500
At least 52 computer systems downloaded a TCP wrapper program directly from
a distribution site after the program had been contaminated with a Trojan
horse early in the morning of 21 Jan 1999.  The Trojan horse provided
trapdoor access to each of the contaminated systems, and also sent e-mail
identifying each system that had just been contaminated.  The 52 primary
sites were notified by the CERT at CMU after the problem had been detected
and fixed.  Secondary downloads may also have occurred.  [Source: Elizabeth
Corcoran, Hackers Strike Popular Program; 52 Computers Downloaded 'Trojan
Horse' Allowing Outside Access, *The Washington Post*, 22 Jan 1999, page
E03; PGN Abstracting]

Internet vandals strike USIA Web site

Edupage Editors <>
Thu, 21 Jan 1999 14:36:15 -0500
The Web site of the United States Information Agency, which is used by
American diplomats abroad for statements on American policy or texts of
official speeches, was broken into recently by Internet vandals who left on
the USIA system a "Trojan Horse" piece of computer code that caused basic
hardware damage and the destruction of the site.  A USIA computer specialist
said security for the site will be beefed up.  "We simply can't have this
happening every six months.  People rely on us."  (*The New York Times*,
21 Jan 1999; Edupage 21 Jan 1999)

Digital photos from drivers' licenses

Dan Gould <>
Fri, 22 Jan 1999 05:58:10 -0500 (EST)
For the first time since authorities began snapping photographs of drivers
for licenses, state officials have begun selling the images wholesale. ...
South Carolina has released 3.5 million digital photographs, Florida has
started the process of transferring 14 million images in its files and other
states have expressed interest in doing the same. ...  While it has long
been customary or a legal requirement to restrict access to driver photos to
law enforcement authorities, company officials pledged to handle their new
storehouse of digital pictures carefully.  [Excerpted from an article by
Robert O'Harrow Jr., *The Washington Post*, A01, 22 Jan 1999]

Linux users want their money back from Microsoft

Edupage Editors <>
Tue, 26 Jan 1999 14:08:04 -0500
Aficionados of the Linux operating system, which is available for free, say
they will demand their money back for Windows software installed against
their wishes on PCs they buy.  Their demand is based on a Windows licensing
agreement that says that if the purchaser does not agree to the terms and
conditions of use of the Windows software, he or she should promptly contact
manufacturer for instructions on return of the unused product for a refund.
Microsoft says that agreement applies only to the issues surrounding the of
making copies of the software.  (*The New York Times*, 25 Jan 1999; Edupage,
26 January 1999)

  [Various marches on Microsoft offices are apparently being planned.  PGN]

Y2K update turns city into deadbeat

Debora Weber-Wulff <>
Wed, 27 Jan 1999 10:02:17 +0100
Sydsvenskan, 19. Jan 1999 [paraphrased by dww]

The city of Malmo[e] in the south of Sweden updated its bookkeeping software
in October in order to get ready for the year 2000. The program AdeEko by
Enator takes care of paying the bills for the city.

But since it has been updated, some bills are not being paid. When the
clerks leave their offices in the evening, everything looks great. But
sometime during the night, the system knocks itself out, and forgets to send
the rest of the files with the payments to the banks and the post office.

This has happened every night since the system has been installed, and no
one knows why. Enator is having people babysit the system over night in
attempts to find out what is wrong. It takes a very long time for the bills
to be paid, as the clerks must sort through which ones were paid and which
ones weren't. The babysitters watch for bills which knock out the system,
remove them, and restart the system.

A spokesperson for Enator identified the problem as being simply files that
should be going to the banks and the post office not being accepted there,
but he is not accusing anyone of anything. The search continues...

Debora Weber-Wulff  MALMOe HOeGSKOLA  205 06 Malmo SWEDEN
Tel: +46-40-6657354 (Fax: -031)

Programming errors

Fred Gilham <>
Thu, 28 Jan 1999 18:35:19 -0800
I am reminded again of how shaky the software world is.

Someone has been making a major effort to clean up the code in the
FreeBSD tree.  In two days he has reported three instances of the
following common C error:

     if (x = y)

instead of

     if (x == y)

This is in running code, in an OS whose developers consider stability
to be one of its major advantages over other offerings.

He also reported some missing breaks in a switch statement---many of
us remember what THAT error did not too long ago.  [RISKS-9.61 to 71.
Trojan horse switches in midstream?  PGN]

-Fred Gilham

Re: ... French announcement on crypto policy (RISKS-20.17)

"Olivier MJ Crepin-Leblond" <>
Thu, 21 Jan 1999 12:56:13 -0000
This, while being a total reversal of policy from the laws of 1996, is in
fact the right way forward, and makes sense.  I would expect other
governments to adopt the same policy soon.

The previous law was seriously curbing the French industry's use of
cryptography for its transfers of sensitive information, thus putting them
at a disadvantage when it comes to industrial espionage.  Because, let's face
it, with the fall of the Iron Curtain, 99.9% of the world's espionage is now
industrial espionage.  Globalization has made stakes in international trade
so important that corporations need to know what their competitors do, and
the press has been very verbose about past scandals that have come into the

I suspect that the assumption made by the French government are:

1. ultimately, no code is unbreakable;

2. the legal authorities will have the power to prosecute if an entity
   refuses to provide them with the key to suspicious encoded data.

What about personal privacy ?

Privacy is a myth, which you and I believe in; aren't we naive ?

Olivier MJ Crepin-Leblond, Ph.D. -
Global Information Highway Limited

Re: "Page-layout program hazards" and "Over-reliance on technology"

Don Byrd <>
Tue, 26 Jan 1999 16:19:26 -0500
I've been trying to avoid responding to this discussion, but I can't ignore
it any longer.

As a user-interface researcher and designer, I've seen way too many
solutions to the problems bad UIs cause along the lines of "understand your
tools", "read the manual carefully", etc. TROFF's UI is a bad one. (This
should be no surprise, since most UNIX programs, especially old ones, have
bad UIs :-) ; it was a reasonable UI for when it was designed.) Training
people to handle a poor UI better is very difficult, and even if successful,
results in large amounts of wasted time; it should be proposed only a last

No, I'm not arguing that TROFF's syntax has to be completely revamped, or
that people should use it only via GUI front ends. A _much_ simpler solution
that would probably solve 95 percent of Jordin Kare's problem would simply
be for TROFF to report any illegal commands it encountered instead of just
ignoring them: surely the vast majority of the nonsense "commands" in his
case would be illegal.

Don Byrd     413-545-3147      FAX 413-545-1789
                Center for Intelligent Information Retrieval (CIIR)
                            Computer Science Department
                University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA 01003

  [This is in response to the thread of
  Pat Place <prp@SEI.CMU.EDU> (RISKS-20.17),
  Glen Turner (RISKS-20.15), and Jordin Kare (RISKS-20.14).  PGN]

Hotmail Web e-mail risk

Lloyd Wood <>
Wed, 27 Jan 1999 14:29:33 +0000 (GMT)
- -------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Tue, 26 Jan 1999 21:56:28 -0500
From: glen mccready <>
Subject: It's good when the folks in charge have their priorities right.

Forwarded-by: Nev Dull <>

[Background: Someone hacked the ftp site and installed versions
of various packages that would forward user login/uid information to Hotmail


From: "Daniel P. Stasinski" <dannys@KAREMOR.COM>
Subject: Microsoft Hotmail

I contacted Microsoft/Hotmail asking them to close the account that was
listed in the backdoored tcp wrapper source code.  I also forwarded the
offending code.

The word back from them is that they will not close it.  Theft
of passwords and hacking does not violate their terms of service.

Daniel P. Stasinski, Software Engineer, Karemor International, Inc.
2406 South 24th Street, Phoenix, AZ 85034

Major security breach in Canadian consumer-tracking database

Wei-Yuen Tan <>
Fri, 22 Jan 1999 20:32:15 -0500
Excerpted from the Toronto *Globe and Mail* (Canada) on 22 Jan 1998

Supposedly confidential records of up to 50,000 Canadians were accidentally
left accessible to the general public on the Website of Air Miles, Canada's
second largest customer loyalty program. Fortunately, the records exposed on
the Website,, were only those of potential customers who had
filled out an online application form. However, very sensitive information
pertaining to these 50,000 individuals was openly accessible online until
the Website was taken offline mid-morning Thursday 21st Jan.  The Website
will remain offline until its operators are able to resolve the issue.

Air Miles tracks the consumer behavior of its five million Canadian
cardholders (almost 20% of our population), tracking such information as:
- purchasing history
- name, address, telephone numbers and e-mail addresses.
- credit ratings, credit cards held, bank records
- vehicle and property ownership
- for business subscribers, company name, address, industry and ranges for
  annual revenue, number of employees and number of locations.
  Air Miles, as the name implies, attracts customers by offering airline
  reward miles for purchases made at participating retailers. Despite my
  consistent efforts to discourage them, my parents have been faithful
  cardholders for several years. Apparently they have finally accumulated
  enough points for a trip to our neighbour's house across the street.

A RealVideo news clip of the subject is available from the CBC Website at
the following URL:

Wei-Yuen Tan <>

USENIX Security Symposium Call; Papers due March 9

Jennifer Radtke <jennifer@usenix.ORG>
Fri, 22 Jan 1999 17:57:32 GMT
8th USENIX Security Symposium
August 23-26, 1999
Washington, D.C., USA
Sponsored by USENIX in cooperation with The CERT Coordination Center

If you are working in any practical aspects of security or applications
of cryptography, the program committee urges you to submit a paper.
Dates for Refereed Paper Submissions: March 9, 1999.
The full Call for Papers is at .

The Symposium brings together researchers, practitioners, system
administrators, system programmers, and others interested in the latest
advances in security and applications of cryptography. Two days of tutorials
will be followed by two days of technical sessions, offering refereed
papers, invited talks, works-in-progress, panel discussions, and a product

Invited Talk Speakers include:
  Ross Anderson, Computer Laboratory, Cambridge University
  Ed Felten, Princeton University
  Susan Landau, University of Massachusetts
  Peter G. Neumann, SRI
  Paul Van Oorschot, Entrust Technologies
  Marcus Ranum, Network Flight Recorder

USENIX is the Advanced Computing Systems Association.  Our international
membership includes engineers, system administrators, scientists, and
technicians.  Our conferences are recognized for delivering pragmatic,
technically excellent information in a highly interactive, vendor-neutral

REVIEW: "Bad Software", Cem Kaner/David Pels

"Rob Slade" <>
Wed, 27 Jan 1999 08:35:17 -0800

"Bad Software", Cem Kaner/David Pels, 1998, 0-471-31826-4,
%A   Cem Kaner
%A   David Pels
%C   5353 Dundas Street West, 4th Floor, Etobicoke, ON   M9B 6H8
%D   1998
%G   0-471-31826-4
%I   John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
%O   U$29.99/C$42.50 416-236-4433 fax: 416-236-4448
%P   365 p.
%T   "Bad Software: What to Do When Software Fails"

Bad software.  Isn't that phrase redundant?

This book is *not* about viruses, trojans or other malware.  It talks about
software that doesn't work as it should, and what you can, or should, do
about it.

Chapter one is a kind of beginner's panic guide to getting a refund.  It's
quite practical, although those used to fighting their way through the
retail bureaucracy will find little new.  On the other hand, most people
aren't used to that particular battle, so the book will have a fairly wide
audience.  One proviso: when it gets to legal issues, as with all too many
such books, the material is strictly US- centric.  Chapter two is not very
clear, up front, as to what it is for.  Ultimately it says a lot about the
problems at software publishing houses, and not very much about yours.
While this might make you more (or less) understanding of the problem, the
advice given in chapter three is much more useful.  It does tend to be of
the same variety as that given in the troubleshooting sections of most
documentation, but the second section, dealing with reasonable expectations
of software and representations, is quite good.  Judging by the number of
pages, chapter four starts to get into the comfort zone of the authors:
figuring out a negotiating position.  This is a good template to follow,
setting out all aspects of the problem and its significance, and providing
good standards for what is reasonable to expect and what is not.  Chapter
five covers the support or complaint call itself, and, again, is reasonable,
but nothing new.

Chapter six reviews the various types of consumer protection agencies.
Again, when dealing with the governmental departments, the material only
applies to the US (and this holds for chapters seven through ten as well).
However, the coverage is both reasonable and practical, noting, for example,
that the loudly vaunted Better Business Bureau is funded by business, not by
consumers, and is a franchise operation that varies in operation from place
to place.  Warranties, disclaimers, and misrepresentation are discussed in
chapter seven, with illustrations both from statutes and numerous cases.  An
outline of the process for a lawsuit is provided in chapter eight.  Chapter
nine looks at negotiating with lawyers.  The procedure and limitations for
small claims court are given in chapter ten.  The final chapter gives some
general advice on shopping, and being a careful consumer.

This work does give you advice, breathing space, and a roadmap for pursuing
a complaint about software.  It is appropriate for neophytes in computer
use: not only the home hobbyist, but the beginning technical support person
in a larger office.  However, as my wife pointed out when I was describing
the book, the biggest issue for most such people is having the confidence to
know that the software, and not you, are at fault, and there the text is of
less use.  The strengths of the book are in negotiating tactics, and in a
dispassionate view of what you might be able to expect.  Although, if you
have the experience to know what is reasonable you won't need the book, and
if you have little enough experience that you need the book you probably
don't know enough to be comfortable standing up to some snooty techie.

copyright Robert M. Slade, 1998   BKBDSFWR.RVW   981122

  [Is the phrase "Bad software" *redundant*?  If people learn how to
  write bad software in school, it must be a *taught-ology*!  PGN]

Please report problems with the web pages to the maintainer