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 41

Sunday 23 May 1999


o Re: Biometric risks
Dan Wallach
Fred Herr
Dan Wallach reponding to James L. Cambier
Paul Lewis Gittins
o Costly fight about party software
Debora Weber-Wulff
o Embedded NT ...
Jeremy Epstein
o Vulnerability in Windows SSL server and common browsers
Chris Cowley
o Buggier than thou ... Wiretapping
Mike Williams
o Y1.K9
Mark Brader
o JAVA language definition
Craig DeForest
o Documentation for vapor
Seth Gordon
o Risks of aliasing webservers
Tim Panton
o May you live in interesting times, or What excites bankers
Mark Brader
o REVIEW: "Digital Democracy", Cynthia J. Alexander/Leslie A. Pal
Rob Slade
o Info on RISKS (comp.risks)

Re: Biometric risks (RISKS-20.40)

Dan Wallach <>
Wed, 19 May 1999 20:01:11 -0500
A few clarifications on my last post.

- I mixed up iris and retina scans.  The iris is the thing in front of your
eye with the pretty colors.  The retina is the thing in the back with the
photoreceptors.  Both are useful for identification, but the iris is
somewhat less difficult to scan.  Bank United of Texas intends to do iris

- Two companies who are apparently big into eye-dentification are Sensar [1]
and IriScan [2].  The latter site has more depth in its description of the
technology.  One private e-mail I received described that modern ATM
machines from Diebold and NCR run Windows NT (*sigh*) and allow third
parties to integrate their own security measures.

- As biometrics go, iris scans seem to be pretty good.  I'm willing to
believe vendor claims of high discrimination and low error rates.  In
particular, [3] claims that the system can be designed to have an error rate
of approximately 1 in a million (both false accepts and rejects).  There is
a tradeoff where the designer can choose to decrease the odds of a false
accept in exchange for increasing the odds of a false reject.  One such
stated data point would have one in 22700 customers falsely rejected in
return for a one in 10^11 false accept rate.  "Authentication failed.
Please try again."

- Claims that iris biometrics cannot be copied or spoofed seem less
believable.  Once I've got a good photograph of your iris, I should be able
to (with some expense) construct an artificial eye that matches the
original.  Vendors claim recognition times of 2-4 seconds.  That's how long
you hold your styrofoam head in front of the machine.  [3] mentions various
other spectral scans (i.e., infrared light) that might distinguish a
styrofoam dummy from an actual head and a glass eye from a real eye.  I'm
sure this stuff works great, but again will be broken in due course.

- I've received some interesting private e-mail on this subject.  There are
some people who don't have irises (300 children born this way per year in
the U.S., says one person preferring to remain anonymous).  One issue with
pure biometric authentication is dealing with the non-zero number of people
who don't happen to *have* your preferred biometric.

- Both companies seem to be marketing their products as the only form of
authentication you need.  This is my strongest complaint.  I could support
the use of a smartcard as the primary identification and the biometric as a
replacement for PINs or passwords.  That would be sensible for banking
applications and would help quash any desires for evil-doers to try beating
the system.  Also, for the biometrically-challenged, their cards could be
coded in such a way as to indicate the customer is a special case for the
system.  Indeed, I find it hard to imagine my bank not wanting to keep a
piece of plastic in my wallet with their name on it.

- Lastly, we haven't even begun to discuss the risks that occur when an
industrious bank officer physically hacks the ATM.  If the ATM hacker need
only intercept the video camera wires, a quite nasty attack could be
developed which nicely generates perfect "evidence" that a transaction
occurred.  Conversely, a crypto smartcard could go great distances in
eliminating the ease of such an insider attack.  (Not that smartcards don't
have their own problems, for example, differential power analysis [4].)

Dan Wallach, Rice University


Re: Biometric Risks (Wallach, RISKS-20.40)

"Herr, Fred K" <>
Wed, 19 May 1999 14:38:42 -0400
  [Fred's first 4 points were more or less covered by Dan's message,
  which he send before I had sent him Fred's.  I have removed them.  PGN]

5.  The same technology recently completed a pilot with ATMs in Swindon, UK,
where it apparently generated high levels of satisfaction and enthusiasm.

Biometrics are pretty well established by now, as most anyone who attended
the CardTech/SecurTech show in Chicago last week can testify.  Most people
who understand it are not afraid of the technology itself.

The legitimate Risk is how well will the biometric user, Bank United in this
case, protect the biometric data.  As a bank, I would expect them to provide
the same level of protection they give to their customers' names, account
numbers, balances, transaction histories, etc.

Movies that show bad guys cutting out eyeballs to defeat "biometric"
security systems may provide cheap thrills and grist for the alarmists, but
they bear little relation to the realities of biometrics today.  My great
grandmother may have been afraid to have her house wired for electricity,
but I suspect Dan knows enough about that technology not to panic.  I hope
he, and others with equivalent understanding of biometrics, will spend a
little time investigating. is a great place to start.

Privacy!  You want privacy?!  How about the medical testing company that
uses biometrics to insure their clients' COMPLETE anonymity.  They don't
even take your name and address.  Just your biometric.  Only you can get
your test results because the key you use to get them is that same

Yes, biometrics can be part of systems that threaten privacy, but they have
the potential to do more good than harm.  Check out

Fred Herr

Re: Biometric Risks (Wallach, RISKS-20.40)

Dan Wallach <>
Thu, 20 May 1999 15:28:11 -0500
Wow, my post really touched a nerve!  Here's a note from IriScan's VP of

P.S.  Geez, if I knew I was going to stir up this much mud...  Dan

Date: Thu, 20 May 1999 15:35:14 -0400
To: Dan Wallach <>
From: "James L. Cambier" <>
Subject: Re: Biometric Risks

Dear Mr. Wallach:

I am writing in response to your "Biometric Risks" article in RISKS-20.40,
18 May 1999.

First, to relieve some confusion.  The biometric technology being evaluated
by Bank United is IRIS recognition, not RETINA scanning.  The iris
recognition equipment used in the Diebold ATM machines (and those of several
other ATM manufacturers) is supplied by Sensar (, which in
turn is a licensee of IriScan, Inc. (, which developed and
holds worldwide rights to the core iris recognition technology.  The
significant differences between the capabilities, performance, and user
friendliness of iris vs. retina imaging are detailed in our website,

I would offer several counters to the assertions in your article.  Relying
on a single authentication factor, "something you are", is NOT a disaster if
the biometric used is based on the human iris, which offers profoundly
higher information content and, with appropriate algorithms, several orders
of magnitude lower false accept and false reject rates than any other
biometric.  This is attested by numerous independent studies and widely
accepted within the biometrics industry.  Iris recognition equipment
manufactured by IriScan has been in use in government, industrial,
corrections, banking, and other facilities for at least five years with
resounding success.  And unlike other biometrics, iris recognition has
sufficiently low error rates that it can be used in large scale
identification (as opposed to verification) applications successfully.
Hence there is no need for usernames, passwords, tokens, etc.  Identity is
determined solely from the iris template.  And in the millions of iris
recognitions that have been conducted by evaluators and customers over the
last ten years, we have NEVER experienced a false accept event.

The iris recognition system used by Bank United does not transmit images or
maintain them in any archival storage.  Each captured image is immediately
processed to generate a proprietary, highly unique 512-byte IrisCode(TM)
template then the image is deleted.  The template is encrypted (using
industry standard encryption algorithms) before it is transmitted to the
bank for authentication.

Needless to say, the iris recognition technology includes countermeasures to
guard against attempts to deceive the system with photographs or other
devices.  And, finally, the postscript at the end of your article about
"potential eye damage from miscalibrated units" is unfounded and
irresponsible.  The illumination used by this and other iris recognition
devices is extremely low level, near-infrared illumination that is incapable
of producing energy levels greater than several orders of magnitude below
commonly accepted damage thresholds for the eye.

  [Yes, I was thinking of the Therac 25, where it was falsely believed that
  the system could not harm the patient.  I realize that well implemented
  iris scanning might not have that risk, but for long-time readers of
  RISKS, believing in such certainties is often itself a huge risk.  PGN]

Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or comments.

James L. Cambier, Ph.D., VP Technology Development, Chief Technology Officer
IriScan, Inc. 9 East Stow Road, Suite F  Marlton, NJ  08053-3159 609-797-6890

Re: Risks Digest 20.40, Iris Scanning ATMs

Paul Lewis Gittins <>
Fri, 21 May 1999 23:52:05 +0100
RE: Iris Scanning ATM'S

Further to the recent article, I hope that any bank implementing the iris
scanning systems will not be relying on this as the sole authentication
method. There is an inherent problem, in that this further disadvantages
some people with visual disabilities.  Visually impaired users who wish to
use atms have little enough thought from interface designers as it is,
without further problems in hampering the UI. Suppose the user has no iris
that can be scanned, will a pin number still suffice? OK, it may be a small
number of users, but the user group does still exist. With banks pushing
more and more services out to atms and remote access, it must only be a
consideration that users must not have further hamperings in using the

I remember a quote from my old tutor, regarding Dexel (sp?)  University
saying that all undergraduates should buy a Mac to do their courses - what
they were implying was that blind users need not apply.....


Costly fight about party software

Debora Weber-Wulff <>
Thu, 13 May 1999 10:31:41 +0200
[excerpted and translated from "Der Tagesspiegel", 1999-05-12, p. 5]

The central administration of the SPD party, the major coalition partner in
Germany, has no idea who belongs to the party or if they are up to date with
their dues. The problem is software that was delivered by the large German
software company SAP, says the SPD, who employed a company in Hamburg to
document the problems in September 1998. This company notes: "Not one of the
larger batch runs has been free from problems, programming errors,
unexpected terminations or needed corrections."

SAP retorts: "The SPD ordered a VW Beetle but expects us to deliver a
Daimler [Meredes-Benz]". The SPD bites back: "We would be happy to have
software that runs like the Beetle, but we have had to correct disastrous
errors ourselves". [No word on what the cause of the problems is.]

While the fight, purported to be about the 35 million DM price for the
software (about 19 million $), rages, the SPD has no way of knowing exactly
how many members it has [or if there are enough DM coming in from
outstanding dues to pay the lawyers!].  -- Prof. Dr. Debora Weber-Wulff TFH
Berlin, FB Informatik Luxemburger Str. 10, 13353 Berlin, Germany

Embedded NT... (in case you don't have enough to worry about already)

"Epstein, Jeremy" <>
Fri, 21 May 1999 07:29:45 -0700
One of the articles about the well-reported link between Xerox and Microsoft
(in which Xerox will use "embedded NT" in its copiers and Microsoft will
license certain Xerox web technologies) had an interesting comment.  John
Markoff reports in _The New York Times_ May 19th edition that "although the
reliability of Windows NT has been questioned in so-called mission-critical
industrial applications, the company has succeeded in persuading hardware
developers to use it in a wide variety of devices, ranging from
point-of-sale systems to computer routers and airline avionics."  The
article also mentions the infamous 1997 incident where the USS Yorktown was
left dead in the water due to a failure related to NT (although it's still
unclear whether it was a flaw in NT itself).

Makes me wish for the good old days of the early Airbus fly-by-wire


Vulnerability in Windows SSL server and common browsers

Chris Cowley <>
Fri, 21 May 1999 14:39:00 GMT
Some time ago, I downloaded a trial version of an SSL web server product for
Windows NT called 'Alibaba 2.0' for evaluation as a possible SSL solution. I
eventually made a decision to use another product, but I ended up using an
RSA key pair generated by Alibaba's 'genkey' utility (which is based on the
popular SSLeay toolkit).

Whilst recently examining the keys generated by 'genkey' using tools shipped
as part of the SSLeay distribution, I discovered what I believe to be a
serious flaw:-

The 'genkey' utility erroneously generates a private key with an exponent of
'1'. This results in null security since the RSA public key associated with
a private exponent of '1' is also '1', with the effect that the session key
for each SSL session to a server running 'Alibaba' is sent in the clear.

The result of this vulnerability is that 'secure' web sites that use keys
generated by the 'genkey' utility provided with Alibaba 2.0 do not provide
any security. Such sites are susceptible to having their transactions
snooped by a third party, or falsified by man-in-the-middle attacks.

A further interesting discovery is that both Netscape Navigator and Internet
Explorer will happily let the user interact with SSL web sites which have an
RSA public key exponent of '1' without bringing the user's attention to the
fact that such transactions are, in fact, entirely insecure.

Chris Cowley, Grok Developments Ltd

Buggier than thou ... Wiretapping

Mike <>
Fri, 21 May 1999 09:20:47 -0400
Electronic Wiretaps on Wireless Devices Outnumber Those On Wireline Phones

An annual report by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts reveals the
number of electronic wiretaps on wireless phones and other wireless devices
has more than tripled in the past year. (USA Today )


Mark Brader <>
Tue, 18 May 1999 15:47:42 -0400 (EDT)
  [From Mark after forwarding to him from David M. Sherman.  PGN]

> J.J. McVeigh wrote:
> >
> > (1/18/1989)
> > [From Pavan Sahgal, ``Automation at the "Big Four" Securities
> > Firms'', Wall Street Computer Review, January 1989, p. 23]
> >
> > [Kindly uploaded by Freeman 10602PANC]
> >
> > Under Japanese custom, when a new emperor is crowned, his
> > reign or era is marked by a title that appears on all records in
> > the country. [Hirohito's era was called Showa, or peace.]
> > [E]xecutives at Tokyo's leading securities firms were
> > chagrined to discover that the computer programmers who wrote
> > accounting, recordkeeping and customer billing systems software
> > in recent years created inflexible systems. They did not
> > envisage that someday Japan would have a new emperor, and his
> > reign would mark the start of a new era requiring records and
> > statements to reflect that.
> > The dilemma is comparable to having a system that won't change
> > from 1988 to 1989. The programmers had overlooked an essential
> > detail that obviously has widespread fundamental implications.
> > Even worse, a new generation was sadly out of touch with custom
> > and the saying, Koin ya no-goto she [acute accent over e] (A
> > lifetime goes like an arrow).
> >
> > * * *
> >
> David M. Sherman, LLB, LLM, Tax Author & Consultant

JAVA language definition (Was Re: C Compilers vs editors)

Wed, 19 May 1999 10:33:20 -0700
Roy Wright and Daniel Graifer have pointed out that MS Visual J++ sometimes
uses a single return carriage to end a line, breaking some compilers.  Roy
suggested that the problem is either "an attempt to lock a developer into
one set of tools or very sloppy design".

I forwarded the note on to my friend Josh Engel, who just finished writing a
large monograph on Java.  He sent me the following snippet:

>From the Java language specification:
<>3.4 Line Terminators
<> ...
<>         the ASCII LF character, also known as "newline"
<>         the ASCII CR character, also known as "return"
<>         the ASCII CR character followed by the ASCII LF character
<>Lines are terminated by the ASCII characters CR, or LF, or CR LF. The two
<>characters CR immediately followed by LF are counted as one line
<>terminator, not two. The result is a sequence of line terminators and input
<>characters, which are the terminal symbols for the third step in the
<>tokenization process.
>As I read this, Visual J++ is correct.  A CR by itself is a line terminator.
>If Cafe and the JDK fail to recognize CR by itself as a line terminator,
>then they are not in compliance with the spec and must be corrected.

So M$ may indeed be trying to "embrace and break", but for once they're
staying wholly within their allowed spec.  (The Java spec in this case is
the document co-authored by GLS, not some Redmond-spawned variant.)

The RISK?  If you break enough specs, eventually people will assume that all
software incompatibility is your fault.

  [I'm guessing that Craig's last name might be DeForest.
  If not, I am guilty of DeForestation by adding two extra lines.  PGN]

Documentation for vapor

"Seth Gordon" <>
Wed, 19 May 1999 13:32:07 -0400
A few weeks back, our company upgraded all of our PCs to use the latest
version of Microsoft Office.  Aside from experimenting with Outlook, I
ignored the upgrade, since our group uses FrameMaker for all of the
documentation we write.  Now, I have to produce templates in Microsoft Word,
so that people in our company who have Word and not FrameMaker can produce a
document that is formatted like our standard documentation.

The upgrade had not come with a manual, so I went down to the local nerd
bookstore in search of books on Word, and one of the items on the shelf was
_Running Microsoft Word 2000_ (Microsoft Press).  I dimly recalled people
referring to my version of Office as "Office 97", but I figured that the
"Office 2000" label might be a marketing gimmick and not a distinct version.
The windows in the screen shots looked like the windows I had seen using the
program, so I bought the book.

After a couple days wrestling with the program, the manual, and Microsoft's
Web pages, I discovered that:

  (1) Word 97 SR-2 is not, in fact, Word 2000.
  (2) Word 2000 hasn't been released yet.

OK, I erred by not looking up my version number before going on this
shopping trip, but ... what's the point of selling a nine-hundred-page
manual for a program that hasn't been released yet?

seth gordon == documentation group, kenan systems corp.

Risks of aliasing webservers

Tim Panton <>
Thu, 20 May 1999 16:15:59 +0100
I've just been browsing the Trustwise web site - they sell Verisign
certificates for us UK users.

They seem to be owned by BT, which has resulted in an entertaining problem
When I opened
I get a message from IE saying:

A secure connection with this site can not be verified. Would you still like
to proceed ?

The certificate you are viewing does not match the name of the site you are
trying to view.

Wiewing the certificate shows that it was assigned to .
When I altered the URL, I got a correct page.

Looking in the DNS, I see that they have the same IP address(es).       internet address =       internet address =    internet address =    internet address =

If a company selling certificates can't get it right - what hope have the
rest of us.

Tim Panton <>, Java consultant/implementor  Westhawk Ltd
Westhawk Ltd, Albion Wharf, Albion St, Manchester M1 5LN  +44 1612370660

May you live in interesting times, or What excites bankers

Tue, 18 May 1999 16:38:01 -0400 (EDT)
In a brochure on their Y2K readiness, the Bank of Montreal writes:

  Seeing the calendar change to the Year 2000 will be an exciting event.

I certainly hope it doesn't prove "exciting"!

Mark Brader, Toronto               Carpe pecuniam!              --Roger L. Smith

REVIEW: "Digital Democracy", Cynthia J. Alexander/Leslie A. Pal

Rob Slade <>
Tue, 18 May 1999 08:40:11 -0800

"Digital Democracy", Cynthia J. Alexander/Leslie A. Pal, 1998,
0-19-541359-8, U$26.50
%E   Cynthia J. Alexander
%E   Leslie A. Pal
%C   70 Wynford Drive, Don Mills, Ontario   M3C 1J9
%D   1998
%G   0-19-541359-8
%I   Oxford University Press
%O   U$26.50 212-679-7300
%P   237 p.
%T   "Digital Democracy: Policy and Politics in the Wired World"

As a techie, I more comfortable with the "hard" sciences with provable
outcomes, such as the "running code" (1) of the Internet.  However, as
one interested in the social aspects of the net, I have to respect the
softer sciences, since without "rough consensus" (2) there would be
neither protocol standards, nor the real heart of the communications
that goes on.  As Dimwiddy and Bunkum state (3), though, PoliSci is so
soft as to be positively mushy.

Right from the beginning (4) the text is heavily larded with
footnotes, which sometimes threaten to overpower the essays they are
supposed to support (5).  Oddly, though, these footnotes do not give
any impression of the strength of the material in the book, quite the
contrary.  Instead, they tend to lend credence to the statement that
94.3% of all statistics are made up on the spot (6).  The content of
the book tends to be strangely unformed, with statements ranging
between unsupported bombast that we are simply assumed to accept, to
citations of studies without much discussion of relevance or validity.

After an introduction, there is a piece on "social forces in the
hypermedia environment" that seems to want to talk about economics, a
discussion of national security, and something looking at the national
or global information infrastructure.  None of these pieces, and,
indeed, nothing in the book, seems to have any real idea of the
technology involved, or the implications of the technology.  A look at
women on the net states that "Few will argue the impact of written
language or--many centuries later--the printing press in shaping new
societies" (7) while blithely ignoring the fact that we have very
little idea of what those impacts might have been.  Leslie Pal's own
contribution, examining the outcry over the Communications Decency
Act, seems to have the greatest understanding of modern communications
systems, but even there (8) does not comprehend that the technical
aspects of "flooding" algorithms and dynamic rerouting were what
forced commercial services to lobby against the bill.

The paper on teledemocracy bemoans the fact that lack of a touch tone
phone disenfranchises a massive 5% of the population (9), while
ignoring as insignificant a 12% disparity in polling results (10).
His lauding of Ted White's telephone polling (11) was of particular
interest to me, since I live in White's riding and a) didn't get a
pin, b) could have reproduced White's polling system using local
technology at far lower cost to both constituents and the government

There is a pedestrian piece on intellectual property.  Then there is
the mandatory article on pornography.  (Can we have a Rimm shot?
Thank you.)  The Rimm "study" (13), and another equally suspect,
categorize a bunch of feelthy peechers, and we are then told that
there is a clear benefit for regulation of pornography (14).

The essay on privacy takes for granted that you cannot have freedom
without privacy (15), ignoring items like David Brin's "The
Transparent Society" which proposes a remarkably free environment
almost completely devoid of privacy (16).  The article also decries
identification numbers of all types, and then goes on (17) to laud
public key encryption, seemingly unaware that a public key is a

Neither the discussion of health care nor that of indigenous people
really looks at social aspects of the technology.

This seems to be my week for dumping on compatriots (18).  However, my
rabid nationalism does not extend so far as to defend those resident
in my country when they don't know what they are talking about, and
this book seems to be almost completely devoid of experience of the
technology under examination.

(1) Dave Clark (of MIT), IETF Conference, 1992
(2) ibid
(3) I made them up, of course.
(4) Well, I suppose not; there are no footnotes in the
acknowledgement; but the first one comes in the second paragraph of
the preface on page xii.
(5) They never actually do.
(6) This figure is embedded in one of my brother's sigblocks: I think
he made it up.
(7) p. 88
(8) p. 111
(9) p. 140
(10) p. 135
(11) p. 136
(12) White used Maritime T&T, had to spend $11,000 setting up a single
poll, and it cost people $1.95 per time to vote.  A PC based system
could have, at the time, been established for about $5,000 altogether,
and could have been reused at any time for further polling.
(13) lucky, eh?
(14) p. 176.  I'm not exactly on the side of pornography, but there
are a few steps missing in the proof, here.
(15) p. 181
(17) p. 187
(18) See also "Roadkill on the Information Highway" (BKRKOTIH.RVW)

copyright Robert M. Slade, 1999   BKDGTLDM.RVW   990326    or

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