On 21 Jan 2001, DirecTV remotely disabled about 100,000 smart-card enabled set-top boxes that controlled illegal reception of their satellite TV. (Buried in the programming code was a message that read "GAME OVER" -- for those who perused the code.) About 9.5 million legitimate subscribers pay something like $50/month for the hardware and $22/month for the programming. DirectTV estimates this will save them over $100 million/year. The pirated operations involved the iterative installation of bogus software that enabled access despite each successive vendor change to the programming code. DirectTV believes that the counteraction disabled all of those bogus smartcards containing illegal software. DirectTV is part of Hughes Electronics. [Source: P.J. Huffstutter and Jon Healey, *LA Times*; PGN-ed (How long will it be until the next-iteration hack occurs?)]
U.S. Senators Joseph Lieberman, Herb Kohl, and Sam Brownback plan to introduce legislation that will punish companies that market excessively violent video games to children. Kohl, a Wisconsin Democrat, said: "Practically everybody in the industry still markets inappropriate games to kids, practically every retailer regularly sells these games to kids, and practically all parents need to know more about the rating system." But Doug Lowenstein, president of the Interactive Digital Software Association, which represents video game makers, argues that such legislation could violate the First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and might simply make it more complicated for the video game industry to police itself. (AP/USA Today 25 Jan 2001; NewsScan Daily, 26 Jan 2001) http://www.usatoday.com/life/cyber/tech/review/games/2001-01-25-violence.htm
Consider the following two spam emails, one sent apparently from a Birmingham (bhm), Alabama BellSouth.net dial-up via a mail server at a hospital in Easton, PA and the other (picked off news.admin.net-abuse.email) sent from a Jacksonville dial-up of Coastalnet.com via the same mail server to British Columbia. You'll notice that the first one spent 84 hours in the hospital mail server, from 4:30 P.M. Wednesday until 4:30 A.M. Sunday. Now it is possible that someone was sending important medical data through that mail server. Some lab instruments these days even use email--I once received porno spam via what I was told was a microscope at a Belgian university. (the university hadn't known that the microscope was running sendmail and therefore hadn't bothered to take its usual precautions against spammers) An 84-hour delay in important hospital email could, in theory, kill a patient. By the way, I have noticed that these spams apparently for a pyramid scheme (International Global Prosperity?) come from all over the country and use the same open mail server for mail sent in a certain week or so. Assuming that third party relaying of bulk email without explicit permission of the server owner is a crime, there appears to be an interstate criminal conspiracy.
Attrition.org reports that hackers attacked government sites in the U.S., U.K., and Australia last weekend, one of the "largest, most systematic" defacements of .gov/.mil sites worldwide. Check out http://www.attrition.org/ for details. [Source: David Legard, IDG News Service, 22 Jan 2001; PGN-ed]
I have patronized the same pharmacy for several years now. Today I went to fill a prescription (bad flu season this year)... A new pharmacist was behind the counter, so she meticulously checked my insurance information, address, date-of-birth, and other pertinent data. Initially, she refused to fill my prescription because my date-of-birth in her computer was in 1946. I was only able to convince her that my date-of-birth was in 1970 by reciting a list of all the prescriptions I've filled at this particular pharmacy, and by giving her my insurance card to prove that my policy information was correct. The troubling thing is that I filled a prescription in the same pharmacy less than 1 month before. Something happened in the interim to corrupt my information -- an automated cleanup job, perhaps. The risk is that next time it won't be my antibiotic but it'll be someone's heart medication, and the pharmacist won't be as willing to listen to reason. Isaac
An article in *The New York Times*, 28 Jan 2001, entitled "Nation Awash in Ideas for Changing Voting", included the following paragraph: > Ideas include changing Election Day to a weekend or making it a > federal holiday, closing polls at the same time across the country, > allowing voter registration on Election Day and requiring that > machines give voters receipts. Since the confusion surrounding the November election, I have heard several proposals that voting machines should give receipts. This is an extremely dangerous proposal! If a voting machine gives a voter a receipt indicating the votes he or she has cast by, someone intent on buying a vote could demand to see that receipt as a condition of payment. Today, for example, unions can urge their membership to vote the union line, and employers can urge their employees to vote the company line, but they have no way of knowing if a particular member or employee followed their advice. Receipts would change this, opening the door to a class of election fraud that has not been widespread in the United States since the 19th century. There are two ways to make voting machine receipts safe against this kind of fraud. One is to eliminate ballot content from the receipt, reducing it to mere proof that the voter has voted. This eliminates the value of the receipt as proof against the kinds of problems voters had in Florida last November. The other approach is to issue the voter a receipt, but to deny the voter the right to take the receipt from the polling place, for example, by requiring that the voter deposit the receipt in a special box. If we do this, we may as well consider this box to be a ballot box, with the receipt being elevated to the official status of a ballot, and the voting machine, no matter how computerized, reduced in status to a ballot marking device. The official hand-recountable record of the vote then becomes the paper ballot issued by the machine. Since the only votes that should be counted are those actually deposited in the ballot box, this second approach eliminates the need for the computerized voting machine to record any votes in its internal memory. Optical mark reading of machine-printed ballots should be extremely easy, but for auditability, no information should be included on the machine-printed ballot other than human-readable content, and in fact, audits of the voting machine and ballot reading software would have to include checks to make sure that there is no use of steganography to include additional information on the paper ballot that might be used to connect it to a particular voter. Douglas W. Jones, Assoc. Prof. of Computer Science, University of Iowa Chair, Iowa Board of Examiners for Voting Machines & Electronic Voting Systems [Note that Rebecca Mercuri's PhD thesis (noted here previously) provides voter confirmation of a paper record, but that record is never handled by the voter: http://www.notablesoftware.com/evote.html PGN]
*The Toronto Star* (thestar.com, article by Paul Legall) reported on 25 Jan 2001 that the Ontario Provincial Police can now read the "event data recorder" units that are part of auto air-bags. The information includes speed (as you'd expect), but also braking, whether the driver's seat belt was fastened, if the ignition was turned on after the air bag went off and if there were other impacts before the one that set the airbag off. The speed information was disclosed to a coroner's jury recently. David Collier-Brown, Performance & Engineering Team, Americas Customer Engineering 1-905-415-2849 firstname.lastname@example.org
After I sent off my piece to RISKS, I noticed nothing more in the papers. However, on showing my wife the issue, she remarked that after that, they discovered that other planes not just Russian ones were disappearing from radar screens at Helsinki airport, and then traced the fault to probably being caused by building work at the airport. It seems that once the Russians were out of the picture (pun, not intended, but noticed), the story became of less interest to the papers here and so fell below my horizon (oops). (As we're talking about building works here, maybe the Mickey Finn comment wasn't so far off !) Mike Walsh, FIN-00300 Helsinki, Finland <email@example.com>
It certainly seems to be the case that important persons have more risk of being involved in serious air crashes than the rest of us mortals, particularly crashes coinciding with important political events in which they are involved, such as, just to pick one example, the start of serious peace negotiations between warring factions. In such cases, more "unconventional" explanations should not be completely ruled out and should perhaps even be voiced explicitly (at the risk of being called various sorts of names). An example of such a crash, in the press again recently on the occasion of its 20th anniversary, is the one killing the Portuguese prime minister Francisco Sa Carneiro and his defense minister Adelino Amaro da Costa on 4 Dec 1980. Time will (perhaps) tell. Just an observation. Simon Pickin <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Three Words: Disaster Recovery Trial The simplest way of making sure your backups are working, is to try restoring them. We sit down and do this and document how to with all our clients servers yearly and whenever a big change is made on their servers. I find about 90% of the time on new clients servers, we couldn't restore the server/data on the first attempt due to various problems. Better to find out in a test run, than in a panic situation at 2AM on a Monday morning. (Or the middle of a trial.) To extend a catchphrase, If your information is important enough to backup up, it's important enough to test restoring it. Tyler Rosolowski
I also had to replace my well-worn and relied upon Palm III after a catastrophic failure. There are two key differences in our experiences, however. Firstly, I used the (also free) Palm Desktop product which came with the device from the manufacturer. The software works with Windows and Macintosh. (No flames please, I *do* support freeware, shareware, Linux, etc). Secondly, my restoration was quick, easy, and complete. At least I have yet to find any missing data (I do take your point: how can I really know it's *all* there?). I trust that any such problems would be fixed by now in such a popular product, since lots of people besides me have needed to perform restores. The risk I see here is assuming recompiled freeware would have the same quality that similar software from the manufacturer would have.
> As owner of the domain "dweeb.org" [...] It doesn't have to even be "cute." I have tjc.com. Several times a week, I receive email intended for: the True Jesus Church (whose domain is tjc.org); a company in India named Tata Johnson Controls Automotive Ltd. (whose domain is something like tjc.co.in, but who apparently took out an employment advertisement listing an email address of email@example.com as the contact point); Piper Jaffrey Company, and investment company (pjc.com; about half of these email messages contain what should be highly confidential information; I enjoy copying all parties on my email message pointing out that they've sent this information out to a random recipient (and yes, I do then destroy the confidential email)); and, most maddeningly, students at Tyler Junior College in Texas (tjc.tyler.cc.tx.us). The Tyler kids are most maddening, because they freely give out an erroneous tjc.com address to Web sites that harvest for spammers. The Piper Jaffrey case is the biggest Risk, though. Interestingly, I haven't detected significant email that should be for the TJC Network (tjc.net); and the Piper Jaffrey case seems to be the only consistent off-by-one-letter error. Terry Carroll, Santa Clara, CA <firstname.lastname@example.org> [Various similar comments from others. PGN]
Ethan McKinney wrote that he received a $0.00 bill in January for a canceled credit card and opined that it was probably a Y2K bug at work. I always receive a $0.00 bill the January after I cancel a credit card. The January bill doubles as an end-of-year tax statement, showing the total amount of interest paid during the previous year. Y2K gets far too much credit for perceived computer malfunctions. Andrew Klossner (email@example.com)
Just because a date is in a 'standard' format, doesn't mean it is meaningful to all. Last year a VP of Product Development for a software company was traveling to Europe for a meeting. For entry to the particular country a valid VISA was required. Checking his old VISA he saw a date like '10/08/2000', and noted that October 8th, 2000 means his old VISA is still valid. Unfortunately arriving in the European country, he was refused entry...because his VISA had expired on August 10th, 2000. Fortunately, after some deliberation he was able to fly to a country that didn't have a VISA requirement, and conduct his meeting over video.... Though he could probably have done it by video without leaving the US. On the flip side, I stood behind a gentleman trying to deposit a foreign check that suffered from a similar confusion in date format. The US bank wouldn't cash the check because it had been excessively post dated, rather than seeing that it had been issued during the early part of this year. Since I grew up in Canada, date confusion was so annoying...that I was in the habit of using ISO date format. Which has the advantage of making sorting by date much easier (at least it did until Y2K, because to save space on the mainframe the first two digits were dropped for date keys). Unfortunately, the US post office wouldn't accept a form where I had used ISO date format. [Old story in RISKS, but manifestations keep recurring, and after all RISKS seems to be laden with recurrences of old stories about which no one was paying adequate attention. PGN]
This is just one example of a huge major problem, caused in no small measure by the lack of any mandatory formal training for programmers. That in turn results from the huge demand for IT systems, the shortage of people who can program (even badly), and the evolution of technology which means that any training programme "appears" to be obsolete after three years (especially if emphasis is put on learning APIs rather than learning about the real world, which is what happens when you go on software manufacturers' training courses). As Lauren Ruth Weiner pointed out in her indispensable book "Digital Woes", you wouldn't hire a 24-year-old architect to design a stadium. But the experienced team of architects you did hire might well be using software built by a couple of 24-year-old programmers who had never experienced the consequences of any sort of structural failure. This week we received a consultant's resume from a software house. It is 12 pages long and has a pretty colour background picture of a forest scene (itself a RISK; the e-mail was so big that initially it couldn't be delivered to a default-configuration mailbox). This consultant is 25 years old and has been out of college for three years; every two-week-long assignment has been written up as if she had been the lead developer of Multics. We won't be using her services (at $US 800 per day) to maintain our PeopleSoft database. But somebody will. Nick Brown, Strasbourg, France.
> The tests, which prevented the car from topping 30mph, 40mph and other... This will also surely resurrect problems that dates back to a much older and simpler technology--fixed speed governors on cars. Back in the early 1970's, my father worked in the administrative offices of a large local utility company. At that time, the US imposed stricter speed limits to conserve fuel. Thinking the company could set a shining public example, they decided to install speed governors in the company's fleet of sedans. That lasted only a short while as the number of automobile accidents *increased* within the fleet because of several significant unanticipated factors. One was that these speed-restricted cars were still having to interact on the road with non-restricted vehicles--leading to situations where the restricted vehicle was at a disadvantage on emergency maneuvers such as accelerating out of danger. The other was that the drivers were used to driving unrestricted cars, so occasionally made risky driving decisions momentarily forgetting the restrained capabilities of their company vehicle. These risks exist in the basic premise of imposing blanket restrictions on vehicles with no provisions for exceptions based on the actual circumstances the driver is facing at any moment. Many such technologies cannot be guaranteed to be sufficiently safe until *everybody* has it and is operating on equal terms. This new system adds a lot of complexity to merely apply different governor speeds based on the specific road rather than the fixed maximum vehicle speed imposed by the old automotive speed governors. Imagine being on a long downhill expressway with several large heavy tractor-trailers bearing down on you at substantially above the speed limit your vehicle is restricted to? Imagine having a car following you at 50 mph when you cross into a 40 mph zone and your vehicle is *forced* to reduce speed. I hope the driver behind you is equally alert and attentive to the speed limit change! What I fear from the people so vigorously pushing these technologies is that such safety risks that were long ago learned will be overlooked or glossed over. Somehow the new high-tech approach leads people away from realizing the basic concept is not new and the new solution fails to address or resolve concept flaws proven in prior low-tech implementations. Not to mention any new safety risks introduced by the newer implementation. Sadly, these may not come to light until the first driving fatality or, as in the case of my father's employer, the statistics of the system in large scale use show an alarming trend. Derek Ziglar, Atlanta, GA
Aside from the obvious "will it work reliably?" questions, I wonder exactly what affect this will have on automobile accidents. Certainly there's a correlation between excessive speed and auto accidents, so one would naturally expect the number of auto accidents to decrease in response to technologically enforced maximum speeds. But there are also times when exceeding the maximum speed can prevent an accident. How many of us have found ourselves in a situation where it was necessary to step on the accelerator, not the brake, to avoid a hazardous situation? I know I have. This approach to limiting excessive speeding seems as though it might throw the baby out with the bathwater. Brian Clapper, bmc@WillsCreek.com
We can only hope that the designers of the system for GPS control of automobile speeds being tested in the U.K.(RISKS 21.22) learn about inherent risks of such devices from the aviation industry's experience with envelope protection systems for aircraft control. (I can just see myself trying to accelerate to avoid an accident ...) Dres Zellweger, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University
The tests, which prevented the car from topping 30mph, 40mph and other limits, were "highly reliable" ... How about: I have just enough time on a small road to pass this stopped delivery truck . . . oops, have to gas it a little to get clear of the oncoming traffic - but I can't! The speed limiter cuts in! To avoid speeding, let's have a head-on collision. How about something in the roadway, or flashing lights just as you cross rail tracks, or emergency vehicles nearby, or any other environmental factor that might make a moment of excess speed the appropriate and safer response? And how quickly does it respond? How much of a delay is there between speeding up and the system deciding that you shouldn't be allowed to go that fast? And do you - and the person behind you! - get warning that you're about to be slowed down? Harlan Rosenthal
Just imagine how much fun you'll be having overtaking someone who's doing 29 miles in a 30 mile zone - overtaking being occasionally necessary but universally recognised as one of the most dangerous manoeuvres. Interesting idea - it actually removes a safety margin as you cannot speed up to make that manoeuvre as short as possible. I also note how this cunningly avoids taking care of the root problem: driver education. It's easier to fix the car than the driver - so I'm eagerly awaiting the next experiment: cars with breathalysers...
Advance Program and Call for Participation First Symposium on Requirements Engineering for Information Security 5-6 March 2001. Indianapolis Sponsored by Purdue University CERIAS, in cooperation with NCSU eCommerce Program, NIST, NIAP, ACM SIGSOFT, ACM SIGSAC http://www.cerias.purdue.edu/SREIS.html Security requirements for new electronic commerce and Internet applications exceed the traditional requirements for network security and traditional software systems. Security requirements are more complex and increasingly critical. Informally stated and de facto requirements are often of critical importance in the design and operation of these systems, but they are frequently not taken into account. The symposium is intended to provide researchers and practitioners from various disciplines with a highly interactive forum to discuss security and privacy-related requirements. Specifically, we encourage those in the fields of requirements engineering, software engineering, information systems, information and network security, as well as trusted systems to present their approaches to analyzing, specifying, and testing requirements to increase the level of security provided to users interacting with pervasive commerce, research, and government systems. The symposium will begin with short tutorials, include an invited keynote address by John Rushby of SRI, and include talks, breakouts, and a panel session. The symposium will be followed by a National Summit sponsored by NIAP to bring together parties from government, industry, and academia to talk about how to design better software. A preliminary program, tutorial information and registration information are all available online at the symposium WWW site: <http://www.cerias.purdue.edu/SREIS.html>.
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