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 47

Saturday 10 July 1999


o Electronics startup transient kills spacecraft
Craig DeForest
o NASA discloses space station blunder
Wayne Mesard
o Space Station AOL hack
Marc Passy
o Busy phone lines block stay of execution
Joe Thompson
o E-mail writer arrested for starting panic
Matthew Todd
o Garciaparricide in All-Star balloting?
o Custodiet ipsos custodes? Not without permission!
Adam Shostack
o Singapore exchange blames outage on network failure
Paul Walker
o eBay outage traced to failure to upgrade
Steve Klein
o Australian virtual reality kanga-rues the day
Lindsay Marshall
o Faulty vending machines block emergency calls in Australia
Mark Nottingham
o Brazilian telephone network chaos
Matthew Todd
o Spell-checker run amok? Shandling-->Changeling
Jim Griffith
o REVIEW: "Computer Security", Dieter Gollmann
Rob Slade
o REVIEW: "Securing Java", Gary McGraw/Edward W. Felten
Rob Slade
o Info on RISKS (comp.risks)

Electronics startup transient kills spacecraft

Tue, 29 Jun 1999 10:27:17 -0700
A recent (25 Jun 1999) press release from NASA HQ identifies the untimely
demise of the Wide Field Infrared Explorer (WIRE) spacecraft as due to a
design flaw in the pyro control logic board.  WIRE's detector was to be
cooled with a block of solid hydrogen.  The telescope cover's explosive
release mechanism fired immediately when the instrument was powered up,
exposing the detector to direct sunlight and sublimating all of the solid
hydrogen on board within 48 hours of its 5-Mar-99 launch.  Unbalanced thrust
from the hydrogen venting gave the spacecraft an uncontrolled 60 RPM spin.

The telescope cover was ejected prematurely because "the transient
performance of components was not adequately considered in the
[electronics] design. ...  The start-up time of the ... clock
oscillator was not taken into consideration, leaving the circuit in a
non-deterministic state for a time sufficient for pyrotechnic
actuation", according to the executive summary of the failure
investigation report.

Contributing factors in the program included the lack of any peer
review for the pyro box design (due to it not being completed at the
time of the spacecraft SDR), insufficient interlocks in the pyro
control circuits, and low fidelity of the ground support equipment
used for preflight testing.

The executive summary of the report is available on the World Wide Web
at "".

Better, faster, cheaper:  choose any two.

Craig DeForest

NASA discloses space station blunder (RISKS-20.46)

Tue, 22 Jun 1999 17:22:01 -0400
> NASA said [the station's engines failed to fire]
> because of human error.

> Initially the rocket chunk [was predicted to] pass within two-thirds
> of a mile of the space station on Sunday. It ended up coming no closer
> than 4 1/2 miles.

Isn't this latter fact the real risk here?  What is the average predictive
error for space debris near-misses?  Since we are counting on the accuracy
of these predictions to protect people and expensive equipment, I would hope
it is less than 575%.

Space Station AOL hack

Marc P <>
Tue, 29 Jun 1999 22:58:55 -0500
The server on which the International Space Station Problem Reporting
database resides was recently "hacked," prompting its disconnection from
*all* networks, including the local LAN, for security upgrades.  This
database is used by the hundreds of users here at Johnson Space Center and
at the various development sites around the country to document problems and
direct fix work with hardware, software, and documentation for all parts of
the ISS

Similar to problems AOL has had, it seems that someone, most likely someone
involved with the ISS program, obtained the name of a user with
administrator access, then called the help desk and asked for a password
reset.  They were promptly given that new password, after which they
proceeded to do something objectionable with the password file. (That part's
still not quite been released.)

It doesn't appear that the database was damaged, but the access removal
brought productive work reviewing problems and working fixes almost to a

Aside from other measures, and to add insult to injury, they are asking for
a "PIN" to use to help identify the user if they call for resets.  They
asked that these "PINs" be chosen by the user and sent via CLEAR TEXT

Besides which, if I forget a password that I use every couple of days,
and I call for a reset, how am I going to remember a "PIN" that I
specified six months before???

To reach me, you might try passy (at) flex (dot) Net.

Busy phone lines block stay of execution

Joe Thompson <>
Fri, 25 Jun 1999 11:18:52 -0700 (PDT)

Summary: Due to phone problems, a stay of execution by the Philippine
president could not be delivered in time to save the condemned prisoner.
By the time the president's office got through to the prison, the lethal
injection had already been administered.  From the published details it's
unclear whether the phone lines were misdirected in the system, or the
president's office was calling the wrong number. -- Joe

Joe Thompson, Charlottesville, VA

  [Also noted by Robert Franchi in *The Boston Globe*, 18 Jun 1999:
    He was scheduled to be executed for raping his own daughter.  The
    governor of the Philippines finally relented to grant a stay of
    execution 5 minutes before the scheduled time.  He could not get through
    on the phone or fax, and when he finally did get through, the man had
    been dead of lethal injection for 1 minute.

E-mail writer arrested for starting panic

"Matthew Todd" <>
Thu, 8 Jul 1999 13:25:40 +0600
Jose Omar Olaya, 24, was arrested for sending false e-mail messages from
Hotmail urging everyone to take their money out of Davivienda Bank because
of a pending government intervention.  In the resulting panic, $11.4M was
withdrawn in one day, and the Columbian government had to cover the outflux.
[Source: AP item in *The Island*, 6 Jul 1999, from Bogota; PGN-ed]


1. The obvious one of spreading unsubstantiated rumours by email, which
applies equally to financial information or computer viruses, or anything

2. Since Hotmail accounts are notoriously anonymous, how was this tracked
back to him so that he could be arrested?

  [Anonymity is generally only a relative concept.  Who pays the bills?  PGN]

Garciaparricide in All-Star balloting?

"Peter G. Neumann" <>
Fri, 9 Jul 1999 11:22:48 -040
Boston Red Sox shortstop Nomar Garciaparra was running behind in the open
balloting.  As part of a huge last-day Internet deluge, Sox fan Chris Nandor
cast 25,259 votes for him and other Red Sox players via the Internet.  (Just
a little Perl script.)  However, the administrators of the balloting were
able to detect the violation of the 22-vote maximum, because he used the
same e-mail address each time, the same bogus phone number and zip code.
(that's NAND-OR logic?)  However, Garciaparra managed to pull from behind in
other late votes that were apparently legitimate.  [Source: PGN-ed from
numerous media reports on 7 Jul 1999 from several contributors, including
PGN who saw it in *The Boston Globe* and *The New York Times*.]  One might
wonder how many multiple votes were NOT caught.

Custodiet ipsos custodes? Not without permission!

Adam Shostack <>
Sun, 4 Jul 1999 06:35:20 -0400
In the case of Michael Hyde vs Abington (Massachusetts), Mr. Hyde was found
guilty of violating state wiretap laws, which forbid recording the voice of
a person without their knowledge.  Mr Hyde recorded the police being abusive
towards him, using profanity threatening him with jail.  When he brought the
tape to the Abington police, they charged him with violations of the wiretap
statue.  He has been sentenced to six months probation and a $500 fine.

It seems clear that if it is not possibly to surreptitiously monitor the
police for abuse of their powers, such abuses are less likely to be caught
and corrected.

*The Boston Globe* is very bad about maintaining URLs, but try

Singapore exchange blames outage on network failure

"Walker, Paul (India)" <>
Mon, 21 Jun 1999 12:32:23 +0530
Well, I am glad to see that the powers-that-be had:
- a contingency plan in place
- someone to oversee the Friday evening test has complete successfully
- excellent error messages to allow the operators to quickly identify the
  cause of the problem
- someone involved with the process with an overall understanding on what is
  being done with the system

- Paul <>

Singapore exchange blames outage on network failure

The Stock Exchange of Singapore [] announced late
Tuesday that the systems outage that left traders unable to complete any
orders on Monday morning was caused by the failure of a communications link.
The exchange said they became aware of the trading system failure at 8:10am
on Monday and discovered the system was quickly shutting down every time it
was restarted. After system checks revealed no problems, the exchange
decided to switch to back up data from late Friday and then discovered a
back up process at the Business Recovery Centre was still running. A Friday
evening test on a communications link between the exchange and center had
left the link down and this had kept the back up process running, explained
the exchange in a statement.  In an attempt to reassure investors, the
exchange said "the trading system is sound," and announced "stringent
procedures are being implemented to detect any failure to shutdown the
systems properly. Checks are being put in place to ensure complete
deactivation of systems before the commencement of any test."  "With these
measures, the problem should not recur," said the exchange.

eBay outage traced to failure to upgrade

"Steve Klein" <>
Mon, 21 Jun 1999 16:30:13 -0400
The outage at eBay was traced to a problem with the Solaris operating system,
which overwrote files and corrupted their database.

According to PC Week Online:

    "eBay had not upgraded the system with an available Solaris
     patch to fix the overwriting error...

     The patch was available for several months for downloading
     from Sun's Web site, although Sun officials acknowledged they
     should have been more proactive in implementing it for eBay.",4270,407390,00.html

Ironically, eBay was just 3 or 4 days away from deploying a "warm standby"
backup system they had been installing for five months.

System administrators typically view patches and updates with some
trepidation.  We've postponed upgrades because experience has shown that
upgrades often carry their own RISKS.

We shouldn't ignore the fact that NOT upgrading can also be RISKy.

Steve Klein                phone (248) 646-7717 x 1119
Technology Specialist, Detroit Country Day School

Australian virtual reality kanga-rues the day

Wed, 23 Jun 1999 13:22:23 +0100 (GMT)
From rec.humor.funny....

This is supposedly a true story from a recent Defence Science Lectures
Series, as related by the head of the Australian DSTO's Land
Operations/Simulation division.

They've been working on some really nifty virtual reality simulators, the
case in point being to incorporate Armed Reconnaissance Helicopters into
exercises (from the data fusion point of view). Most of the people they
employ on this sort of thing are ex- (or future) computer game programmers.
Anyway, as part of the reality parameters, they include things like trees
and animals. For the Australian simulation they included kangaroos.  In
particular, they had to model kangaroo movements and reactions to
helicopters (since hordes of disturbed kangaroos might well give away a
helicopter's position).

Being good programmers, they just stole some code (which was originally used
to model infantry detachments reactions under the same stimuli), and changed
the mapped icon, the speed parameters, etc. The first time they've gone to
demonstrate this to some visiting Americans, the hotshot pilots have decided
to get "down and dirty" with the virtual kangaroos. So, they buzz them, and
watch them scatter. The visiting Americans nod appreciatively... then gape
as the kangaroos duck around a hill, and launch about two dozen Stinger
missiles at the hapless helicopter.  Programmers look rather embarrassed at
forgetting to remove *that* part of the infantry coding... and Americans
leave muttering comments about not wanting to mess with the Aussie

As an addendum, simulator pilots from that point onwards avoided kangaroos
like the plague, just like they were meant to do in the first place...

  [Also noted by Scott Rainey.  PGN]

Faulty vending machines block emergency calls in Australia

"Nottingham, Mark (Australia)" <>
Mon, 5 Jul 1999 10:09:42 +1000

  The default phone number in vending machines in Sydney is 000, which just
  happens to be the emergency phone number (a la 911 in the U.S.).  As a
  result, hundreds of calls were made to emergency phone lines, blocking
  genuine calls.  Authorities were trying to figure out how many of the
  million bogus calls a year are related to this source.
  [Source: AP item, 3 July; PGN-ed; also noted my others.]

Brazilian telephone network chaos

"Matthew Todd" <>
Tue, 6 Jul 1999 10:08:26 +0600
I heard a report on the BBC World Service news this morning, 6 July, that
only 15% of long distance telephone calls made in Brazil yesterday were
connected correctly. Apparently, a new dialing system was introduced over
the weekend, which means people must now dial two extra digits. Residential
customers have been asked not to make long distance calls during working
hours for the next few days.

Matthew Todd, Lecturer in Computer Science, University of Colombo

Spell-checker run amok? Shandling-->Changeling

Jim Griffith <>
Fri, 2 Jul 1999 14:57:06 -0700 (PDT)
CNN recently put a story on their entertainment page about a lawsuit which
Garry Shandling filed against his former manager.  However, other than the
title, Shandling's name was changed throughout the article to "Changeling".
Can you say "spell-checker"?


REVIEW: "Computer Security", Dieter Gollmann

Rob Slade <>
Mon, 21 Jun 1999 08:34:41 -0700 (PDT)

"Computer Security", Dieter Gollmann, 1999, 0-471-97844-2
%A   Dieter Gollmann
%C   5353 Dundas Street West, 4th Floor, Etobicoke, ON   M9B 6H8
%D   1999
%G   0-471-97844-2
%I   John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
%O   416-236-4433 fax: 416-236-4448
%P   320 p.
%T   "Computer Security"

Gollmann is fairly explicit in stating the intention and audience for
the book.  It is to be a text for a course, rather than a handbook,
encyclopedia, or history.  It is about computer security, rather than
information security in general, although there are sections on
computer network security and database security.  The objective of the
course for which it was prepared is to give students a sufficient
background to evaluate security products, rather than to address
issues of policy or risk analysis.  Thus the emphasis is on technical,
rather than managerial, aspects.

Part one lays the basic foundation for computer security.  Chapter one
outlines the fundamental vocabulary and concepts.  Authentication is
reviewed in chapter two.  Examples from both UNIX and NT are used, in
chapter three, to explain access control.  Chapter four's discussion
of security models requires a significant background in set theory,
but for a course this can be assumed as a prerequisite.
Considerations for hardware or operating system level security are
looked at in chapter five.

Part two examines security in the real world.  Chapter six provides a
good review of the UNIX security functions.  Security aspects of NT
are described in chapter seven, but the effective interaction of
rights and permissions is not clear (a failing shared by most NT
security texts).  A variety of ways in which security has failed are
detailed in chapter eight.  This concludes with a section on computer
viruses in quite different format and level of detail.  The reason for
this is not made clear, but I am willing to grant that most security
texts do not treat the subject as well.  Chapter nine talks about the
evaluation of security products, but concentrates on the formal
criteria laid down by governmental agencies.

Part three looks at distributed systems.  Chapter ten reviews specific
systems, such as Kerberos and CORBA (Common Object Request Broker
Architecture) security.  Specific known Web vulnerabilities are
effectively used to illustrate classes of threats in chapter eleven.
The explanation of cryptography in chapter twelve is nicely balanced
for mechanics; a full description without a morass of detail; but is
somewhat weaker on key management and cryptographic strength.  Network
security, in chapter thirteen, deals with implementation level topics
such as the IPSec (Internet Prototcol Security) protocols and

Part four deals with other aspects of security theory, primarily
related to databases.  Chapter fourteen and fifteen, respectively,
discuss basic and advanced database security concepts.  Problems of
concurrent access, with applications in transaction processing, are
examined in chapter sixteen.  Security concerns of the object-oriented
paradigm are raised in chapter seventeen.

In terms of readability, Gollmann's writing is not always fluid, but
it is always clear.  While intended as a class text, the book is, in
most parts, accessible to any intelligent reader.  The exercises
provided at the end of each chapter are not mere buzzword tests,
although most are more suitable for discussion starters than checks
for understanding.

The bibliography is not annotated, but the "Further Reading" section
at the end of each chapter helps make up for this shortcoming.  Having
to flip between two sections to find the referenced work is a bit
awkward, but not unduly so.

This is a very welcome addition to the general computer security

copyright Robert M. Slade, 1999   BKCOMPSC.RVW   990430    or

REVIEW: "Securing Java", Gary McGraw/Edward W. Felten

"Rob Slade" <>
Tue, 22 Jun 1999 08:37:10 -0800

"Securing Java", Gary McGraw/Edward W. Felten, 1999, 0-471-31952-X,
%A   Gary McGraw
%A   Edward W. Felten
%C   5353 Dundas Street West, 4th Floor, Etobicoke, ON   M9B 6H8
%D   1999
%G   0-471-31952-X
%I   John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
%O   U$34.99/C$54.50 416-236-4433 fax: 416-236-4448
%P   324 p.
%T   "Securing Java: Getting Down to Business with Mobile Code"

Unlike Oaks "Java Security" (cf. BKJAVASC.RVW), this book concentrates
on Java in the popular perception: as a means of providing active code
on the Web.  As such it is intended not simply for techies, but also
for dedicated users.

Chapter one provides a readily accessible backgrounder, covering
portability, the Internet, the Web, active content, security risks,
other active content systems, and a rough outline of the Java security
model with particular regard to applets.  The original Java applet
security model, or "sandbox," is covered in chapter two.  The security
model is now complicated by signed code, and chapter three points out
the changes made.  Chapter four outlines a number of malicious
applets, but also gives clear directions for disabling Java on both
the Netscape and Internet Explorer browsers.  The authors outline a
second class of hostile applets, in chapter five, that are intended to
breach system security and allow an attack to bypass normal security
mechanisms.  There are suggestions for improving the security model,
as well as a review of third party attempts to enhance it, in chapter
six.  (I was amused to see the slight lifting of the skirts of ICSA
[International Computer Security Association]: the history of the
outfit is a lot more interesting and convoluted even than is portrayed
here.)  Chapter seven is directed at programmers, but the advice
provided looks at practices and policies rather than APIs
(Applications Programming Interfaces) and chunks of sample code.  A
version of Java specifically designed for Smart Cards is available,
and chapter eight looks at its promises and problems.  A recap and
restatement of the major security issues in mobile code is given in
chapter nine.  Appendices provide a Java security FAQ, security
resource pointers, and directions on Java code signing.

The text is quite readable.  The authors have made a very serious
attempt to ensure that the book does not depend upon previous
technical background.  For the most part, they have succeeded.  The
diligent reader would be able to understand most of the concepts as
presented, even without having worked with computers or computer
security.  However, the key word is "diligent:" it *feels* like a
technical book, and newcomers to the topic may be put off by the

In addition, McGraw and Felten are careful to avoid any bias.  They
obviously feel that Java has some worthwhile security measures, but
admit to its faults and point out its shortcomings.  This makes the
book extremely useful: much more so than an uncritical paean of

An effective book on an important subject with a wide audience.  But
you don't have to take my word for it.  You can try before you buy.
The site does not simply contain a few press
releases and the errata, but has the whole text of the book online.  A
bold step.  (You can help justify it by then buying the book.)

copyright Robert M. Slade, 1999   BKSECJAV.RVW   990501    or

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