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 38

Friday 7 May 1999


o Sixth satellite launch failure in less than nine months
o Israeli scientist reports discovery of advance in code breaking
Bruce Schneier
o Bernstein Decision Upheld
Lauren Gelman
o Export controls lose appeal
Adam Shostack
o Computer glitches foul up flights at Chicago airports
Keith A Rhodes
o Star Wars tchatchkis bring down eBay server
o Oops! Intel "accidentally" sues potential partner
Lenny Foner
o New Coke machine goes wireless and cashless
Mark Gregory
o New area code creates accidental phone forwarding risk
Philip Koopman
o Re: Bloatware Debate
Dick Mills
o E-mail address not optional?
David Keegan
o Security/privacy hole in Chase Online Banking
Daniel Norton
o "The Vortex Daily Reality Report and Unreality Trivia Quiz"
Lauren Weinstein
o Info on RISKS (comp.risks)

Sixth satellite launch failure in less than nine months

"PGN" <>
Fri, 07 May 1999 11:56:17 -0500
On 4 May 1999, a Boeing Delta III rocket launch dumped Loral's Orion
communications satellite in an orbit from 98 to 862 miles.  A previous
launch try two weeks before had gone to the countdown of zero, but a
software flaw prevented ignition.  The first Delta III launch ended after 71
seconds when the rocket exploded because of a software flaw that caused the
hydraulic fuel to be expended prematurely.  [*The Washington Post*, 6 May
1999, PGN-ed]

So, we have had three military satellites stuck in useless orbits, two
aerospace launch explosions, and a private satellite that seems to have
disappeared (Ikonos 1), $3.5M expended.  Boeing and Lockheed Martin have
both been victimized.  The Shuttle Columbia is grounded, pending study of
the Titan IV failures.  [From AP items, 6 May 1999, PGN-ed]

Israeli scientist reports discovery of advance in code breaking

Bruce Schneier <>
Wed, 05 May 1999 15:10:40 -0500
Factoring with TWINKLE

At Eurocrypt '99, Adi Shamir presented a new machine that could increase our
factoring speed by about 100-1000 times.  Called TWINKLE (The Weizmann
INstitute Key Locating Engine), this device brings 512-bit keys within the
realm of our ability to factor.

The best factoring algorithms known to date all work on similar principles.
First, there is a massive parallel search for equations with a certain
relation.  This is known as the sieving step.  Then, after a certain number
of relations are found, there is a massive matrix operation to solve a
linear equation and produce the prime factors.  The first step can easily be
paralleled--recently, 200 computers worked in parallel for about four weeks
to find relations to help factor RSA-140--but the second has to be done on a
single supercomputer: it took a large Cray about 100 hours and 810 Mbytes of
memory to factor RSA-140.

Shamir conceptualized a special hardware device that uses electro-optical
techniques to sieve at speeds much faster than normal computers.  He
encodes various LEDs with values corresponding prime numbers, and then uses
it to factor numbers.  The machine reminds me of the famous Difference
Engine of the 1800s.  Once the engineering kinks are worked out--and there
are considerable ones--this machine will be as powerful as 100-1000 PCs for
about $5000.  The basic idea is not new; a mechanical-optical machine built
by D.H. Lehmer in the 1930s did much the same thing (although quite a bit

As far as we know, Shamir's machine is never been built.  (I can't speak
for secret organizations.)  As I said, Shamir presented a conceptualization
and a sketch of a design, not a full set of engineering blueprints.  There
are all sorts of details still to be figured out, but none of them seem
impossible.  If I were running a multi-billion dollar intelligence
organization, I would turn my boffins loose at the problem.

The important thing to note is that this new machine does not affect the
matrix step at all.  And this step explodes in complexity for large
factoring problems; its complexity grows much faster than the complexity of
the sieving step.  And it's not just the time, it's the memory
requirements.  With a 1024-bit number, for example, the matrix step
requires something like ten terabytes of memory: not off-line storage, but
real computer memory.  No one has a clue how to solve that kind of problem.

This technique works just as well for discrete-logarithm public-key
algorithms (Diffie-Hellman, ElGamal, DSA, etc.) as it does for RSA.
(Although it is worth noting that the matrix problem is harder for
discrete-log problems than it is for factoring.)  The technique does not
apply to elliptic-curve-based algorithms, as we don't know how to use the
sieving-based algorithms to solve elliptic-curve problems.

In Applied Cryptography, I talked about advances in factoring coming from
four different directions.  One, faster computers.  Two, better networking.
Three, optimizations and tweaks of existing factoring algorithms.  And
four, fundamental advances in the science of factoring.  TWINKLE falls in
one and three; there is no new mathematics in this machine, it's just a
much faster way of doing existing mathematics.

Shamir's contribution is obvious once you understand it (the hallmark of a
brilliant contribution, in my opinion), and definitely changes the
landscape of what public-key key sizes are considered secure.  The moral is
that it is prudent to be conservative--all well-designed security products
have gone beyond 512-bit moduli years ago--and that advances in
cryptography can come from the strangest places.

Shamir's paper:

Bruce Schneier, President, Counterpane Systems     Phone: 612-823-1098
101 E Minnehaha Parkway, Minneapolis, MN  55419

Bernstein Decision Upheld

Lauren Gelman <>
Thu, 6 May 1999 19:03:33 -0400
Today, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the district court's findings
that the provisions of the Export Administration Regulations ("EAR") that
limit Bernstein's ability to distribute encryption software constitute a
prior restraint on speech under the First Amendment.

In the Courts analysis they found source code to be expressive speech
demanding the highest First Amendment protection.  Therefore, they
determined that EAR operated as a prior restraint that burdens scientific
expression.  Because the prepublication licensing scheme grants a great
amount of discretion to public officials and fails to contain adequate
procedural safeguards against selective enforcement, the gvt failed to meet
the heavy burden required for regulating expressive speech.

In its conclusion, the court also stated that "the government's efforts to
retard progress in cryptography may implicate the Fourth Amendment, as well
as the right to speak anonymously."  However this text is not binding (It is
"dicta" not related to the challenge Bernstein asserted).

I have included some excerpts from the decision below.  The full text of
the decision can be found at:

The amicus brief USACM signed can be found at:



[2] The Supreme Court has treated licensing schemes that act as prior
restraints on speech with suspicion because such restraints run the twin
risks of encouraging self-censorship and concealing illegitimate abuses of
censorial power. See Lakewood v. Plain Dealer Publishing Co., 486 U.S. 750,
759 (1988). As a result, "even if the government may constitutionally impose
content-neutral prohibitions on a particular manner of speech, it may not
condition that speech on obtaining a license or permit from a government
official in that official's boundless discretion."

[4] The EAR regulations at issue plainly satisfy the first requirement --
"the determination of who may speak and who may not is left to the unbridled
discretion of a government official." Id. at 763. BXA administrators are
empowered to deny licenses whenever export might be inconsistent with
"U.S. national security and foreign policy interests." 15 C.F.R. S
742.15(b). No more specific guidance is provided.  Obviously, this
constraint on official discretion is little better than no constraint at
all. See Lakewood, 486 U.S. at 769-70 (a standard requiring that license
denial be in the "public interest" is an "illusory" standard that "renders
the guarantee against censorship little more than a high-sounding ideal.").
The government's assurances that BXA administrators will not, in fact,
discriminate on the basis of content are beside the point.

As noted earlier, the chief task for cryptographers is the development of
secure methods of encryption. While the articulation of such a system in
layman's English or in general mathematical terms may be useful, the devil
is, at least for cryptographers, often in the algorithmic details. By
utilizing source code, a cryptographer can express algorithmic ideas with
precision and methodological rigor that is otherwise difficult to
achieve. This has the added benefit of facilitating peer review -- by
compiling the source code, a cryptographer can create a working model
subject to rigorous security tests. The need for precisely articulated
hypotheses and formal empirical testing, of course, is not unique to the
science of cryptography; it appears, however, that in this field, source
code is the preferred means to these ends.

[5] Thus, cryptographers use source code to express their scientific ideas
in much the same way that mathematicians use equations or economists use
graphs. Of course, both mathematical equations and graphs are used in other
fields for many purposes, not all of which are expressive. But
mathematicians and economists have adopted these modes of expression in
order to facilitate the precise and rigorous expression of complex
scientific ideas.13 Similarly, the undisputed record here makes it clear
that cryptographers utilize source code in the same fashion.14

[6] In light of these considerations, we conclude that encryption software,
in its source code form and as employed by those in the field of
cryptography, must be viewed as expressive for First Amendment purposes, and
thus is entitled to the protections of the prior restraint doctrine. If the
government required that mathematicians obtain a prepublication license
prior to publishing material that included mathematical equations, we have
no doubt that such a regime would be subject to scrutiny as a prior
restraint. The availability of alternate means of expression, moreover, does
not diminish the censorial power of such a restraint -- that Adam Smith
wrote Wealth of Nations without resorting to equations or graphs surely
would not justify governmental prepublication review of economics literature
that contain these modes of expression.

We emphasize the narrowness of our First Amendment holding. We do not hold
that all software is expressive. Much of it surely is not. Nor need we
resolve whether the challenged regulations constitute content-based
restrictions, subject to the strictest constitutional scrutiny, or whether
they are, instead, content-neutral restrictions meriting less exacting
scrutiny. We hold merely that because the prepublication licensing regime
challenged here applies directly to scientific expression, vests boundless
discretion in government officials, and lacks adequate procedural
safeguards, it constitutes an impermissible prior restraint on speech.

Second, we note that the government's efforts to regulate and control the
spread of knowledge relating to encryption may implicate more than the First
Amendment rights of cryptographers. In this increasingly electronic age, we
are all required in our everyday lives to rely on modern technology to
communicate with one another. This reliance on electronic communication,
however, has brought with it a dramatic diminution in our ability to
communicate privately. Cellular phones are subject to monitoring, e-mail is
easily intercepted, and transactions over the internet are often less than
secure.  Something as commonplace as furnishing our credit card number,
social security number, or bank account number puts each of us at
risk. Moreover, when we employ electronic methods of communication, we often
leave electronic "fingerprints" behind, fingerprints that can be traced back
to us. Whether we are surveilled by our government, by criminals, or by our
neighbors, it is fair to say that never has our ability to shield our
affairs from prying eyes been at such a low ebb. The availability and use of
secure encryption may offer an opportunity to reclaim some portion of the
privacy we have lost. Government efforts to control encryption thus may well
implicate not only the First Amendment rights of cryptographers intent on
pushing the boundaries of their science, but also the constitutional rights
of each of us as potential recipients of encryption's bounty. Viewed from
this perspective, the government's efforts to retard progress in
cryptography may implicate the Fourth Amendment, as well as the right to
speak anonymously, see McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Comm'n, 115 S. Ct. 1511,
1524 (1995) , the right against compelled speech, see Wooley v. Maynard, 430
U.S. 705, 714 (1977), and the right to informational privacy, see Whalen v.
Roe, 429 U.S. 589, 599-600 (1977). While we leave for another day the
resolution of these difficult issues, it is important to point out that
Bernstein's is a suit not merely concerning a small group of scientists
laboring in an esoteric field, but also touches on the public interest
broadly defined.

Association for Computing,             +
Office of U.S. Public Policy           *   +1 202 544 4859 (tel)
666 Pennsylvania Ave., SE Suite 302 B  *   +1 202 547 5482 (fax)
Washington, DC 20003   USA             +

Export controls lose appeal

Adam Shostack <>
Fri, 7 May 1999 09:45:09 -0400
In Bernstein v. USDOJ:

"Because the prepublication licensing regime challenged by Bernstein
applies directly to scientific expression, vests boundless discretion
in government officials, and lacks adequate procedural safeguards, we
hold that it constitutes an impermissible prior restraint on
speech. We decline the invitation to line edit the regulations in an
attempt to rescue them from constitutional infirmity, and thus endorse
the declaratory relief granted by the district court."

Computer glitches foul up flights at Chicago airports

"Keith A Rhodes" <>
Fri, 07 May 1999 11:30:19 -0500
The Chicago area TRACON in Elgin was testing new software on 5 May 1999 that
displays aircraft sizewise.  As a result of problems, there were serious
traffic problems at O'Hare and Midway.  Even after fixes were made, delays
continued.  United cancelled 25% of its afternoon flights, American 13%.
[Source: Associated Press, 5 May 1999; PGN-ed]

  [Note: Why worry about Y2K when the day-to-day problems keep you busy
  enough?  By the way, these contingency plans will not work in a Y2K
  environment if the FAA experiences simultaneous multiple system failures.
  In this case, they never lost sight of the planes and were always in voice
  contact.  That's fine, so long as you have voice communications and a way
  to track the aircraft. KAR]

Star Wars tchatchkis bring down eBay server

"Peter G. Neumann" <>
Tue, 4 May 99 14:52:47 PDT
Beginning soon after the Star Wars goodies went on sale in stores at
12:01a.m. on 3 May 1999 EDT, and most noticeably around 2:30am EDT, eBay
auctions ceased when a server saturated.  In contrast, Amazon was going full
blast by noon PDT, auctioning off toys and other items related to the
long-awaited Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace.

When it comes to Star Wars (the movie) computer support or StarWars (the
defense system),

  May the flaws be with you.

Oops! Intel "accidentally" sues potential partner

Lenny Foner <>
Wed, 5 May 1999 17:04:22 -0400
I can see it now -- World War III will start, not with an accidental
launch, but with an accidental lawsuit...

Last week, the Taiwanese chipmaker Via Technologies received a package in
the mail containing court documents from Intel, a potential business partner
with whom they had been working on a cross-licensing agreement.  It turned
out that Intel had written a draft contingency lawsuit and had accidentally
filed it in US District Court in San Jose.  By law it could not be
withdrawn, but Intel filed for dismissal the same day.
[Source: Intel: To Sue Is Human, by Leander Kahney, 4 May 1999, PGN-ed;]

  [Really tells ya how they think, eh?  While one hand is offering to do
  business, the other is preparing to sue...  Lenny]

New Coke machine goes wireless and cashless

"Mark Gregory" <>
Wed, 05 May 1999 06:52:07 -0700
"The Coca-Cola Company is testing a new vending machine that lets thirsty
consumers pay for a Coke on credit by dialing a special phone number located
on the machine near the coin slot. When consumers dial the number, their
selection pops out and their wireless phone account is charged for the
beverage. Students and staff at the Institute of Technology in FINLAND are
using the prototype. "

Now, if I want a Coke, could I page someone with a cell phone to the special
phone number?

New area code creates accidental phone forwarding risk

Philip Koopman <>
Mon, 03 May 1999 23:49:54 GMT
This was posted by our CS facilities manager today:

>  Some folks in SCS have been suddenly finding their phones forwarded
>to off-campus locations, especially if their homes are in the new 724 area
>code.  The cause and cure are simple.  On CMU's Centrex phone system,
>one dials "172" to forward a line to another location.  What seems to be
>happening is that, when dialing numbers in the new area code, some folks
>inadvertently forget to dial a "9" before dialing "1" and the 10-digit number.
>When this happens, Centrex sees the string "172" followed by what may
>be a valid seven-digit number.  So phones get forwarded to weird places
>and the user isn't aware of it until someone tells them.  If this happens
>to you, the fix is simple:  pick up the phone receiver and dial "173",
>which is Centrex's cancellation code for call forwarding.

And, in a separate incident, I was in an office visiting someone whose
new telephone number catches one or two wrong number calls per hour.  It
seems that their extension number starts with the three digits of the
local phone exchange, so a fraction of people dialing off-premises get
that number by mistake if they forget to dial the leading "9".

I suppose both these stories re-emphasize the known RISK of failing to
provide safety nets for people who forget to dial access prefixes.

Phil Koopman -- --

  [The second one is a characteristic problem, and has been in
  RISKS in several forms over the years.  PGN]

Re: Bloatware Debate (Downes, RISKS-20.35-37)

Dick Mills <>
Tue, 04 May 1999 18:02:42 -0400
Many thanks to RA Downes for a well documented illustration of bloat.

At Jonathan Goldberg and others point out, it is considered beneath the
dignity of software professionals to concern themselves with such minutia.
Hardware is inexpensive.

I remember similar discussions in the 1970s about bloat in compiled programs
compared to assembler.  Eventually compiler optimization became
so good that the best programmers couldn't beat the compilers in making the
code efficient.

It took  very many years afterward to convince programmers to write clear
code and let the compiler worry about making it efficient.   It sounds like
we may have fooled ourselves. While concentrating on compiler optimizations
at the front door, some of us didn't notice bloat coming in via the
non-language-related back door.

If Mr. Downes can identify the bloat and determine that it is not needed,
then software can do it too.  Bloat elimination could be automated.  The
software to do it could come from Microsoft, or from third parties.  It
could work within the development environment or it could work with EXE and
DLL files.

That sounds like an opportunity for some smart person to make money.  Any

Dick Mills  

E-mail address not optional?

David Keegan <>
Thu, 6 May 1999 11:38:38 +0100
I contracted in-house at an organization with about 1000 staff recently, and
was given an e-mail address when I started work. After several months I
began to receive e-mail messages which were obviously not intended for me.

Apparently another David Keegan had joined the company, but had not yet been
given an e-mail address. However, people (and programs) trying to contact
him could all to easily input "David Keegan" into the e-mail client's
address book, get my address in response, and assume it was the right one.

The misdirected messages continued for several weeks. Mostly they were of no
consequence. However there were several marked "Confidential", and some of
these contained passwords and other sensitive information. It amounted to a
serious breach of security in an organization which was normally very
security conscious.

I eventually contacted my namesake (with some difficulty, since I couldn't
use e-mail!) and persuaded him that he should get an e-mail address. This
reduced the number of misdirected messages, but did not eliminate them
completely. Now the e-mail client popped up a list of two e-mail addresses
for "David Keegan", but there wasn't enough information displayed to ensure
that the user always picked the right one.

My conclusion is that in a company using e-mail, an employee without an
address is a potential security risk.

David Keegan

[DK Software Ltd Engineers and Consultants]
[56 Roebuck Downs Dublin 14 IRELAND]

Security/privacy hole in Chase Online Banking

Daniel Norton <>
Thu, 06 May 1999 12:40:08 GMT
Here's an excerpt from a letter I faxed to Chase Online Banking
( the other day.  Not only have they not fixed the problem,
they apparently didn't consider it a big enough risk to reply to my letter.
It was particularly difficult to find someone at chase who knew what I was
talking about (I'm not convinced I ever did):


Attn: Yvonne Woods
Attn: Daryl Stimley

Dear Sir and Madam,

I am writing to report a serious security problem with your Chase Online
Banking web service.  The problem is best described by example:

   1)  A customer signs onto the service, giving an account and
   2)  The accesses information on the service.
   3)  The customer signs off.
   4)  The system reports that the session has exited.
   5)  A different person can now fully access the account.

It has been difficult to get in touch with the right person that understands
this.  I was referred to Abdul Gbabamosi, but he clearly has no
understanding of the problem at all and he point-blank denied that I
actually saw the above scenario occur.

You can review a test I just made.  It shows I signed on today at "6:03 pm
ET" and signed off at "6:07 pm ET".  I then accessed my account without
entering my account number and password and signed off again.  The log
should show that I signed off again at "6:09 pm ET".  The COB account number
for my business is [deleted-DAN].

This problem raises the greatest risk for people who access the service
from public terminals, but can also pose a problem even for people who
access the service at home who might not want other family members
having full access to the account.

I hope you are more effective at addressing the problem than you are at
allowing me to report it.


/ss Daniel A. Norton/

"The Vortex Daily Reality Report and Unreality Trivia Quiz"

Lauren Weinstein <>
Wed, 05 May 99 19:05:31 PDT
Greetings.  As the moderator of the PRIVACY Forum, I get a lot of e-mail,
tending to run the gamut in a variety of ways...  One frequent class of
received messages is requests for comments or advice on matters concerning
not only privacy but also a variety of related (and sometimes unrelated)
fields, including many topics relating to RISKs.  Since there tends to be
considerable overlap between many such requests, suggesting common points of
interest, I've now launched the audio program with the long name:

"The Vortex Daily Reality Report and Unreality Trivia Quiz"

It's available via RealAudio over the net, and is updated each day from
Monday through Friday.  Essentially, it's a daily brief blast of (my)
opinionated commentary, focusing on exposing the fallacies of muddy thinking,
crazy ideas, misguided concepts, and other related areas that seem to be
sending the signal/noise ratio of our society down the drain.  As you can
imagine, privacy issues are included, but are but one of the topic areas
covered.  These short (just a minute or two) audio reports tend to be more
opinionated than my National Public Radio commentaries, and cover a much
wider range of subjects.

Each of these short audio reports also includes an "Unreality Trivia Quiz"
question (and the answer to the previous program's question).  What's an
"unreality" question?  Try it and see...

These daily features can be heard via a link at the
main PRIVACY Forum page:

or can be played directly via the RealAudio file URL:

Please feel free to forward this announcement, or link
to the associated program URLs, as you feel appropriate.

Comments, opinions, and ideas for segments are always welcome, of course!

Thanks very much.

Lauren Weinstein
Moderator, PRIVACY Forum

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