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 20 Issue 35

Friday 30 April 1999


o On-line banking customers off-line for the week
o Court labels unwanted e-mails "trespassing"
o 13-year-old makes $3M in bids on eBay
Doneel Edelson
o File-conversion errors between Word and WordPerfect
Gordon Foreman
o Re: The Bloatware Debate
RA Downes
o Flash BIOS risks
Jonathan Levine
o Re: What's DejaNews up to?
Col. G.L. Sicherman
o RISKS of the net's success...
Matt Curtin
o IWC Watch Company site publishing visitors e-mail addresses
Derek Ziglar
o Risks of misaddressed mail
Joe Thompson
o REVIEW: "The Y2K Survival Guide", Bruce F. Webster
Rob Slade
o Advanced Workshop: USENIX Smartcard Technology, May 10-11, Chicago
Jennifer Radtke
o CFP, 1st European Anti-Malware Conference
Jaroslav Blaha
o Info on RISKS (comp.risks)

On-line banking customers off-line for the week

"Peter G. Neumann" <>
Fri, 30 Apr 99 9:45:34 PDT
A glitch in the networking software in the Genesis system at CheckFree in
Atlanta has caused repeated crashes affecting the operations of at least 21
banks nationwide since Monday 26 Apr 1999.  Wells Fargo said as many as
150,000 of its customers using Quicken or Microsoft Money to pay bills were
blocked, although its other 710,000 on-line customers paying bills directly
have not been impeded.  (We previously reported on-line brokerage systems
saturating because of increases in demand.)  [Source: Sam Zuckerman, *San
Francisco Chronicle*, 30 Apr 1999, B1; PGN-ed]

Court labels unwanted e-mails "trespassing"

"NewsScan" <>
Thu, 29 Apr 1999 08:17:45 -0700
A California court has ruled that mass e-mails sent to Intel workers by a
disgruntled former employee were an illegal form of trespass, setting a new
legal boundary between private computer networks and the public Internet.
The case had centered on a barrage of unsolicited e-mail messages sent by
Ken Hamidi, who'd been fired in 1995, criticizing Intel's workers'
compensation policies and other issues.  Intel had sued Hamidi, charging
misuse of the company's computer networking resources, and Judge John R.
Lewis agreed, comparing borders between computer networks to property
boundaries: "The mere connection of Intel's e-mail system with the Internet
does not covert it into a public forum."  Meanwhile, some legal scholars
questioned the judge's analogy: "In the real world, trespass involves
physical presence," says Jonathan Zittrain, a law lecturer at Harvard.  "But
in this case, it's his speech they're restricting."  However, the judge
noted that Intel has never published its employees' e-mail addresses,
strengthening its argument that its computer system is private company
property rather than a public gathering place.  (*Los Angeles Times*,
29 Apr 1999,

13-year-old makes $3M in bids on eBay

"Edelson, Doneel" <>
Fri, 30 Apr 1999 13:05:31 -0400
Using his parents' eBay account, an eighth-grader named Andrew Tyler bid
more than $3M on items such as $1.2M for a medical office in Jacksonville,
$.5M for a Van Gogh painting, $35,000 for a Viking ship replica, $120,000
for the first Superman comic.  He also bid on a 1955 Ford convertible, a
1971 Corvette, and a bed that once belonged to Canada's first prime minister
-- for which he offered $900,000 on the previous bid of $12,000.  In
addition to high-bidding the bed, he had four other successful bids, and
clearly upped the ante on others.  It was apparently just like another
computer game to him.  Yes, you might ask, eBay has a policy against
under-aged bidders, but until now it has been on the honor system.  [Source:
USA Today - Tech Report, 29 Apr 1999; PGN-ed]

File-conversion errors between Word and WordPerfect

Gordon Foreman <>
Thu, 29 Apr 1999 13:50:37 -0600
DoE just posted this to all contractors and offices. It is certainly not
classified, so I thought it might be interesting to your readers.

<begin quote>
FYI - this information was received from the DOE Lessons Learned List
Server on 4/27. Please share it with the appropriate people in CIC. I also
forwarded it to and the NewsBulletin.
 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Project Hanford Lessons Learned
Title: Characters Convert Inaccurately Between Word Processors
Date: April 20, 1999
Identifier: 1999-RL-HNF-0018

Lessons Learned Statement:
Documents converted from WordPerfect into Microsoft Word may contain
errors in character mapping that could cause serious problems and
potentially unsafe conditions, especially with operating procedures and
other safety-related documents.

Discussion of Activities:
Documents converted between word processing software packages may contain
incorrect characters caused by inaccurate mapping between character sets.
Some fractions may not convert accurately.  This could create safety issues
if operating procedures were released with erroneous information.  For
example, the fraction 1/4 in WordPerfectŪ converts to a value of three
(3) in Word.  An operating procedure that states, "Open valve A-45, Holding
Tank Fill Valve, 1/4 turn." would read "Open valve A-45, Holding Tank Fill
Valve, 3 turn." after conversion.


There are basically two problems.  One deals with font substitution and the
other deals with the way Word converts symbols into characters.  The problem
related to font substitution is an issue with any Windows application.  As
technology improves, so have the character definition standards. Word uses a
relatively new character definition standard called Unicode that assigns a
unique 16-bit number to each symbol or character. WordPerfect 5.1 uses a
character set called OEM (original equipment manufacturer). Older Windows
applications use a standard character set called ANSI (American National
Standards Institute). The 3 standards are not the same for all characters,
especially for symbols and characters beyond the normal letters and
characters on the keyboard.  A word processor opening a file with a
character set that it does not use may not map each character to the correct
symbol in its own set.  Users opening a document on a system that does not
have the same font set as that used in the original document may see
unexpected results on their screen such as boxes or other strange
characters, due to font substitution.

The other problem arises from the way Word treats some symbols as codes and
others as characters.  The character symbols are more susceptible to
changing when the document base font is changed.  The character may change
to an empty box, or a character from a different font set.  To prevent this,
the character symbol should be changed to a code symbol.

Any document with any character set created using any version of
WordPerfect may be susceptible to this problem.  Other word processors
may also cause these errors.
<end quote>

Gordon Foreman, Los Alamos National Laboratory

  [Note: I have removed all of the repeated \256 characters after "Word" and
  "WordPerfect" for the benefit of those noncompliant mailers that block the
  entire issue if there is a single extended-ASCII character in RISKS.  The
  astute reader must mentally reinsert them, so that RISKS is not in
  violation of the trademark conventions.  PGN]

Re: The Bloatware Debate

Fri, 30 Apr 1999 16:22:48 +0000
One of the chief hallmarks of early UNIX was how simple, compact programs
worked well together. Brian W. Kernighan's definition of a good program was
a program so good and so consistent that it could be used for an entirely
different purpose and be expected to work well. UNIX, they said, was a way
of thinking more than an operating system. And, with Brian's Software Tools
series, it was surely so.

Microsoft Windows is also a way of thinking - or not thinking, to be more
exact. In almost every possible sense it is the anathema of the programming
community, if that community still abides by and adheres to the solid
thinking delineated by Brian so many years ago.

MS Windows programming is considered too difficult to attempt head on.
Where we come from most major corporations, financial institutions and the
like promised a smooth transition from UNIX or DOS to Windows 3.1x within a
matter of weeks. Management talking of course. When they found this would
not work they decided to invest heavily in 16-bit Visual Basic
applications. Operative word "heavily". These bloatware masters sunk almost
any machine made. Clearly this was not the answer either.

People looked to Kahn. Borland, with its Turbo C, saw the opening and
released Borland C, and shortly thereafter Scott Randell who a year earlier
had toured with MSC 7.0 (which admittedly never worked) was out rocking
again, this time with Visual C++. The environment was unbelievable; the
executables were extremely bloated; but still and all it was Microsoft
talking, and still and all they were smaller than the corresponding Borland
images. COBOL programmers everywhere were suddenly encouraged to learn C++,
develop code browsing skills, learn about preprocessors, assembly language,
CodeView and subsequent debuggers, and the world entered into a tailspin.

What originally started as a rather feeble but lucky attempt to get on the
OO bandwagon, the MFC soon became something you'd like to see Steve McQueen
kill. Patches and work-arounds and bugs and more bugs, and bloat and more
bloat. The current splash screen module is a case in point: Microsoft
includes a 16-color bitmap which weighs in at nearly 200KB for you. This
bitmap can be compressed with RLE encoding to less than half that size. The
idea of banging a 100KB splash bitmap in an application is still, however,
sickening. Yet Microsoft gladly gives you the bitmap at 200KB, happy if you
don't understand what you are doing by using it.  Your application will be
more sluggish than their own bloatware, and people will be less inclined to
complain about what they themselves do.

Microsoft's RegClean, a popular product for fixing corruptions in the MS
Windows Registry is another case in point. When this application was
originally introduced I downloaded it and wondered about its size. It
weighed in then at nearly a megabyte. Similar applications out there were
20KB and hardly more. What was inside this monster? I opened it and looked

Remember all those stories about how surgeons in the old days just threw
their rubber gloves inside the patient's stomach before sewing them back up
again? Well here you had it. There were humungoid bitmaps never used.  There
were dozens of icons never referenced. There were tens of kilobytes of
entries in the string table that had no meaning for the application

I honed the app down and came to the conclusion that the actual size of
RegClean should be about 45KB. That as compared to its distribution size of
nearly one megabyte. Clearly bloat is not only a question of adding features
almost no one wants. Bloat is a condition of the mind, permeating software
houses everywhere.

Clearly again the distribution of RegClean was highly irresponsible. But
remember, MS Windows is not just an operating system - it is a way of
thinking, or not thinking as you may have it. And it has permeated the
entire industry today. Our hats off to Microsoft.

In conclusion: there are few application domains even today that require
executables of over 100KB, and most ordinary tasks can be adequately managed
by executables in the 20KB range. This is simply a fact.

There are no excuses. Either we think or we don't. There is no in between.

RA Downes  Radsoft Laboratories <>

Flash BIOS risks (Re: Genuine sighting, Brown, RISKS-20.34)

Victor the Cleaner <>
Thu, 29 Apr 1999 01:13:27 -0600 (MDT)
My take on this is a little different.  I'm a embedded control designer
known by local component suppliers to have a lot of device (chip)
programming equipment, so people are regularly directed to me for memory and
microcontroller burning.  Hey, it's beer (okay - single malt) money.

This week I had somewhat more than the usual number of calls regarding PC
Flash BIOS chips needing reprogramming.  Whether this was the result of one
of these reportedly BIOS-hungry viri or a coincidentally high number of
failures of user-initiated BIOS upgrades I haven't determined.

My attention is drawn to the latter.  As a designer, I find it hard to grasp
the thinking behind crippleware-in-waiting - systems such as these that rely
on high-level functionality to perform low-level [firmware] changes without
a net.  If, for any reason, the operation does not complete properly, the
machine is hosed hard.

The RISK is the lack of a Plan B - any bootstrap method of recovery from
such a failed upgrade.  As is, the victim has the choice of either tracking
down what for the average consumer must be a truly obscure and arcane
service (someone who can copy the BIOS-vendor's binary from a floppy to the
chip) or just calling the whole damn thing DOA, as suggested by Nick Brown.

Jonathan Levine, Canada Connect Corp., Calgary

Re: What's DejaNews up to? (Smith, RISKS-20.34)

Col. G. L. Sicherman <>
30 Apr 1999 13:52:38 -0400
I don't know what commercial advantages DejaNews may gain by tracking
clicks, but this can be helpful to users of any search engine.  For
example, consider a search on

    bambi book children

The first two entries on the list are:

1. Book exotic dancer Bambi for your next stag party!  Not suitable
   for children. ...

2. Bambi, by Felix Salten, is a wonderful book for children.  Here's
   how to order: ...

Most people will select item 2.  Knowing this, the search engine will
start presenting item 2 at the head of the list.  It's an automatic
way to make search engines more helpful--at the risk of making it
harder to find things that most people don't want.

Col. G. L. Sicherman  web: <>
work:  home:

  [... and they are easily Bambioozled.  PGN]

RISKS of the net's success... (Re: DejaNews, Smith, RISKS 20.34)

Matt Curtin <>
29 Apr 1999 14:30:37 -0400
As noted, this business of tracking links is not new.  DejaNews and HotBot
aren't the only ones doing this, either.

In other strange-but-true news, after releasing a report that was generally
critical of Netscape's implementation of the "Smart Browsing" feature, we
discovered that that very feature was claiming our report is "related" to
the Unabomber Manifesto.  A good summary of this was covered in Lauren
Weinstein's PRIVACY Forum Digest 08.06[1].  It was also reported that
AltaVista is preparing to give preferential treatment in search results to
those who pay for their listings.  [In Lauren's PRIVACY item, he noted that
AltaVista says that those listings will be marked as having been paid for.

Lauren made a really interesting point in the PRIVACY Forum Digest that
really seems to cut through all of the noise around these annoyances and
problems, getting to the larger problem, that is the risks associated with
the Internet's success.  He wrote:

  It's of enough concern when we learn that major search engines
  (e.g.  AltaVista) are about to start selling search result
  placements.  It's of equal concern if users need to be worried
  that other search results, returned by other search engines, might
  potentially be skewed by unobvious forces not related to an
  unbiased analysis of the sites in question, even if monetary
  considerations are not the factor involved.

  If search engines begin to lose the trust of their users, one of
  the net's most powerful category of tools may be reduced to
  nothing more than automated pitchmen using every means possible,
  no matter how biased, to try pull the yokels into the tent.  In
  that case, it will not only be a serious loss for us all, but will
  also create the potential for a sort of "information pollution" on
  a scale we've never seen before.

Is it possible that the success of the net will lead to its own demise
from the perspective of a useful resource that serves its end users?


Matt Curtin

IWC Watch Company site publishing visitors e-mail addresses

"Derek Ziglar" <>
Thu, 29 Apr 1999 13:23:14 -0400
IWC, a Swiss manufacturer of high-end wristwatches, has opened up a severe
privacy invasion on their web site at In an all too
common RISK, I'm sure the site designers or company executives thought it
would be cute to display the names of the 10 most recent visitors to their
site on their main page.

The privacy issue is that they ask for your name and e-mail as part of a
sign-in on initial entry to the site -- then immediately display on their
main page your name along with 9 other recent visitors to their site as a
mailto links with each person's e-mail address!

As RISK readers are well aware, this would be an easy point for someone
unscrupulous to harvest e-mail addresses. Similarly, a user could enter
obscenities or other information that IWC would likely not desire to display
on their web site.

There is no way for a first time visitor to know that their information will
be publicly displayed until it is too late. There are no provisions to opt
out or have the information removed (except for it to age off the list after
10 more people sign in to their site). The information is stored in a cookie
under your browser and redisplayed if you return to the site via bookmark --
unless you enter through the welcome form and blank out the fields before

IWC International Watch Co. Ltd., Baumgartenstrasse 15, CH-8201
Schaffhausen, Tel: +41 52 635 65 65, Fax: +41 52 635 65 05,

Risks of misaddressed mail

Joe Thompson <>
Thu, 29 Apr 1999 15:50:30 -0400
Recently I got a message that looked like a lot of the spam I get; it was a
business-style e-mail with a Word attachment, talking about a "business
proposal".  It wasn't addressed to me; I figured I had gotten on Yet Another
Spam List and left it in the "spam" folder it had been filtered to.

Today I got what appeared to be a follow-up mail.  Same originating address.
This time I looked at the full headers of both messages.  It didn't look
like any games had been played with open relays and I started wondering if
this could be legitimate mail that had gotten misdirected.

A moment's digression: I have a "blind forward" on the domain I own, so all
mail addressed to my domain goes into my main mailbox unless specifically
directed elsewhere.  This means I can make up aliases "on the fly" for
things like web form registration, which allows me to receive legitimate
mail but also shows me who's been giving my address to spammers.  But it
also means that it's not possible for mail misdirected to my domain to
bounce back to the sender as it normally would.

In this case the mail was sent to the right username but the wrong domain
(the domain it should have gone to was one letter less than mine).  But
because I've gotten in the habit of dismissing mail I get with "bogus"
addresses as spam, the normal reaction of "I think you goofed your address"
was delayed.  In this case the ending was happy, but it's easy to imagine
somebody never even looking at such mail, with the result that sensitive
business negotiations break down, with each side blaming the other for
failing to communicate.

Besides the obvious risks of misdirected mail exposing potentially sensitive
information to the third parties, another problem is that "convenient"
messaging features like blind forwards may make it harder to separate
genuine mistakes from games spammers play.  The deeper risk is that, as I've
seen predicted for some time, the general apathy and distrust that
widespread spam has caused are making e-mail less useful as time goes on.

Joe Thompson, Charlottesville, VA

REVIEW: "The Y2K Survival Guide", Bruce F. Webster

"Rob Slade, doting grandpa of Ryan and Trevor" <>
Wed, 28 Apr 1999 16:42:55 -0800
BKY2KSUG.RVW   990319

"The Y2K Survival Guide", Bruce F. Webster, 1999, 0-13-021496-5,
%A   Bruce F. Webster
%C   One Lake St., Upper Saddle River, NJ   07458
%D   1999
%G   0-13-021496-5
%I   Prentice Hall
%O   U$19.99/C$28.95 +1-201-236-7139 fax: +1-201-236-7131
%P   544 p.
%T   "The Y2K Survival Guide"

    "Don't buy guns, cash all your stocks, withdraw your savings,
    and move to South Dakota unless you already had a good reason
    for doing so, and maybe not even then.  It's really cold in
    South Dakota, and the last place you probably want to be is
    out in the countryside with a lot of other folks armed with
    guns and waiting for Armageddon."

While those from South Dakota may bristle a bit at the impugning of
their home state, the rest of us may be glad of a little sanity in the
year 2000 debate.  (On the other hand, maybe the population of South
Dakota will be just as glad that someone is telling the nuts to stay
home while Ed Yourdon [cf. BKTMBM2K.RVW] is yelling that we're all
gonna die.  This is, in fact, the book that Yourdon could have
written, were he not so busy trying to make application to the
Charlton Heston fan club.)  (Also, since Webster's roots go 'way back
in South Dakota, they'll probably forgive him.)  Webster does not so
much occupy the middle ground as look at the entire spectrum of
reactions to the situation, and tries to remain rational throughout.
Whoever did the cover design caught the tone perfectly: an ostrich
with its head in the sand in the foreground, and a mushroom cloud in
the background.  And an awful lot of territory in between.

Part one looks at how we got here.  Chapter one starts with an
overview of the problem and its cause.  Unfortunately, while there are
some very good points (such as the statement that it is a century,
rather than millennial, problem) the basic explanation is somewhat
confused, and doesn't rise above the generally available material on
the topic.  Whatever faults chapter one may have, though, are more
than made up for in chapter two, which gives a clear and almost
lyrical description of why the problem happened.  Starting with
limited hardware, continuing through software bloat, and ending with
the seven deadly sins, the lessons are clear and unflinching.  (I can
even forgive the mention of the scandal du jour, given the deft manner
of its inclusion.)  A number of the myriad barriers to getting the job
done are examined in chapter three.  Chapter four reviews a number of
myths in regard to Y2K.

Part two looks at preparation in this last year before the deadline.
This section is full of suggested actions you can take, to a greater
or lesser extent, to get ready.  Chapter five looks at laying a
foundation: how to plan what to protect.  This may seem facile, but it
has a real purpose.  If you can't do everything, and you probably
can't, make sure you do what is most important.  To you.  Where other
books may have a bibliography, chapter six lays out some guidelines
for actually getting yourself educated for what might come.  The
discussion of health ranges from the possible failure of Medicare to
starting a fitness program (so as to generally improve your health and
avoid the possibility of hospitalization), in chapter seven.  Chapter
eight reviews planning for home needs.  Food concerns, in chapter
nine, tend to be weighted towards flour, dried foods, and other items
that need preparation (and therefore, in most people's minds,
electricity and water) but the exercise and some pointers are quite
helpful.  The "career" plan in chapter ten is probably appropriate to
any situation, quite apart from the possibility of a recession, and
the financial planning in chapter eleven is pretty sound.  Building a
community and support network is possibly the most important thing you
can do to prepare, and is hardly ever mentioned apart from this book's
chapter twelve.

Part three is again preparation, but more of a mental type.  Chapter
thirteen looks at the value (and danger) of trying to see what's
ahead.  A variety of scenarios, ranging in severity, are presented in
chapter fourteen.

Part four talks about getting on with life after Y2K, and whatever it
brings.  Chapter fifteen suggests taking stock and making an
assessment.  The lessons we should learn from the year 2000 fiasco are
reviewed in chapter sixteen.

Two of the appendices are from work the author did with the
Washington, DC Year 2000 Group.  Appendix A contains testimony
presented to Congress, and Appendix B gives the results of two surveys
of the group members.  Appendix C has a very useful set of resources
for further study, heavily weighted to Internet sites.

Like the more sensationally named "Time Bomb 2000" (cf. BKTMBM2K.RVW),
this book is aimed at the general population.  It does a much better
job of presenting the reality, and, at the same time, suggesting
useful ways to address the issue.

I think it's appropriate to close with another quote from the book,
this one only a few sentences after the one that opened this review:

    "Focus on solving as many problems as you can in your own
    circle of influence, starting with your own life and family,
    but including your community.  Build social cohesion.  Do the
    same sensible personal preparation ..."

copyright Robert M. Slade, 1999   BKY2KSUG.RVW   990319    or

Advanced Workshop: USENIX Smartcard Technology, May 10-11, Chicago

Jennifer Radtke <jennifer@usenix.ORG>
Fri, 30 Apr 1999 00:55:55 GMT
May 10-11, 1999, McCormick Place South, Chicago, Illinois, USA

Review the full program and register on-line at
For Researchers, Product Developers and Smart Card Deployers
First of Its Kind in North America
Sponsored by The USENIX Association
  [Abridged for RISKS.  PGN]

CFP, 1st European Anti-Malware Conference

Wed, 28 Apr 1999 07:06:11 +0100
EICAR - European Institute for Computer Anti-Virus Research March 4 to March
7, 2000, Brussels, Belgium SUBMISSION DEADLINE for PAPERS: JULY 1, 1999

Papers pertaining to malicious code, unwanted side-effects or malfunction,
network security, information age and society, cryptography and the
protection of privacy and anonymity, new media, and electronic commerce, are
welcome. Subject matter may be theoretical, empirical, or methodology
oriented.  We are interested in receiving Research Papers, Research in
Progress Reports, Case Studies and proposals for Symposia. For full details
see or send e-mail to

For more information about EICAR please visit

JAROSLAV BLAHA, Dipl.Inform.(Univ), Dipl.Wirtschafts-Inform.(Univ)
Senior Information Systems Engineer

NATO ACCS Management Agency (NACMA), Project Implementation Division
8, Rue de Geneve, B-1140 Brussels, Tel.: +32-2-707.8540  Fax.: +32-2-707.8777

Please report problems with the web pages to the maintainer