The RISKS Digest
Volume 21 Issue 46

Tuesday, 12th June 2001

Forum on Risks to the Public in Computers and Related Systems

ACM Committee on Computers and Public Policy, Peter G. Neumann, moderator

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Another NY Stock Exchange outage
California power grid hacked
PC parrot drives firemen crazy
Merlyn Kline
Computer reports unreported wreck
Chris Norloff
U.K. plans mandatory IP indoctrination for children
Cluebot via Declan McCullagh
Re: Billboard error message
Robert Meineke
Rick Prelinger
John Dallman
Re: Risks of clueless marketing
Jamie McCarthy
Re: Steve Gibson: Windows XP Vulnerable; Big ISPs just don't care
Mike Nuss
Re: Steve Gibson's report and Windows XP "Vulnerabilities"
David Crooke
They're at it again: Internet Explorer Smart Tags in WinXP
Stef Maruch
Re: Office XP modifies what you type
Andy Newman
Jay Jennings
Microsoft, 'Mitigating Factors' and Public Relations
Jackson Ratcliffe
Broken shopping carts
Steve Loughran
How to avoid Internet interruption at AAS meeting
Clive Page
There's no such thing as software `piracy'
Fred Gilham
Re: Another fear of Risks
James K. Huggins
Re: McDonald's testing cashless payments
Jeffrey Jonas
John R Levine
Credit where it isn't due
William Paul Fiefer
Info on RISKS (comp.risks)

Another NY Stock Exchange outage

<"Peter G. Neumann" <>>
Fri, 8 Jun 2001 19:21:22 PDT

A software upgrade glitch resulted in the New York Stock Exchange being
unable to trade roughly half of its stocks in the morning of 8 Jun 2001.
Consequently, the exchange was shut down entirely (on grounds of fairness)
until 11:35 a.m. EDT.

The RISKS archives note a 41-minute shutdown on 24 Feb 1971 (when both
primary and backup systems failed), a 24-minute outage on 22 Oct 1991 (due
to a power dip), a one-hour outage on 18 Dec 1995 (also due to a botched
software update), and a one-hour crash on 26 Oct 1998.  Uninterrupted
service is clearly not easy to achieve.  The Nasdaq exchange computer system
also shut down last week for 20 minutes (while the staff was working to
increase capacity), a case that has not previously been reported here.

California power grid hacked

<"Peter G. Neumann" <>>
Tue, 12 Jun 2001 08:13:22 -0700

Reuters reported on 11 June 2001 that the California Independent System
Operator's flow-control computer systems had been hacked for at least 17
days before it was detected on 11 May 2001 — in the midst of the ongoing
power crisis.  Although they attacks did not noticeably disrupt operations,
they apparently came quite close — and exposed some vulnerabilities that
demonstrably need to be fixed.  The main attack was seemingly from someone
in China's Guangdong province, via China Telecom, and exploited Internet
servers in Tulsa OK and Santa Clara CA.

PC parrot drives firemen crazy

<"Merlyn Kline" <>>
Thu, 7 Jun 2001 13:08:17 +0100

In an article in *The Register*, Kieren McCarthy
reported that West Midlands firemen, having rescued a cat from a tree, were
called to an office in Willenhall to rescue what was thought to be an
escaped parrot.  After an hour's search, they discovered that a PC
screensaver was intermittently parroting a parrot's squawks.  Kieren
speculated on whether the firemen thought it was a joke or "more reasonably,
smashed the PC to pieces with their axes."  [Merlyn called this a "terrible
parroty error", although I doubt that the firemen thought it was a parody.
Instead, it was truly a case of a polly-morphic PC!  PGN-ed]

Computer reports unreported wreck

<"Chris Norloff" <>>
Thu, 7 Jun 2001 08:44:52 -0400

You just can't outrun a satellite.  A Merced, California, man took his fully
equipped 2001 SUV out onto some nearby country roads, navigating swiftly and
confidently with the optional OnStar Global Positioning System.  When he got
into an accident, he decided to run for it.  But the guidance system had
already notified OnStar headquarters of the accident, specifying where it
had happened and giving a complete description of his vehicle to the
California Highway Patrol.  The officers followed a trail of coolant about a
mile into an orchard, where they found and arrested the driver.  [Source:
*Road & Track* magazine, July 2001; PGN-ed]


What constitutes an "accident"? (Air bags seem to go off quite easily,
taking out the windshield and dashboard [$$$] in a fender-bender).

Will GPS-reported accidents become like household burglar alarms - sending
out mostly false alarms?

Who will hack into the OnStar system to falsely report accidents?

Who will use the OnStar system to efficiently dispatch lawyers to accident

How soon until OnStar sells accident records so used-car purchasers can
learn the vehicle's history?

Chris Norloff

U.K. plans mandatory IP indoctrination for children (from Cluebot)

<Declan McCullagh <>>
Wed, 6 Jun 2001 12:17:49 -0400

   U.K. Plans Mandatory IP Indoctrination for Children
   posted by vergil on Wednesday June 06, @12:10PM
   from the get-em-while-they're-young dept.

   Forget digital watermarks and cease-and-desist letters.  The future of
   intellectual property enforcement lies not in technological access
   controls or litigation, but mandatory education.  Anthony Murphy, the UK
   Patent Office's Director of Copyright since 1999, has hit upon a novel
   solution to stamp out public disregard for copyright law by nipping
   future file-swappers in the bud.

   In a move that's an eerie cross between Brave New World and the Lehman
   Working Group's "Just Say Yes" (to licensing) proposal, the UK's Patent
   Office and Department of Education have teamed up to teach youngsters the
   virtues of copyright.  Starting in fall 2002, reverence to intellectual
   property — and, presumably, disdain for Napster and its successors --
   will become part the "Citizenship" aspect of England's National
   Curriculum for secondary school students.

   According to a April 26, 2001 UK Patent Office press release:

   "In Autumn 2002, a new subject, Citizenship, is being introduced into
   the National Curriculum in UK secondary schools. Its aim is to teach
   children how to be good, moral, citizens and Anthony Murphy believes
   the subject would be an ideal vehicle for teaching children about
   intellectual property.

   'By bringing awareness of the importance of copyright into our
   schools, tomorrow's consumers can take their place in a community
   which understands, values and respects intellectual property.'"

POLITECH — Declan McCullagh's politics and technology mailing list
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Re: Billboard error message (PGN, RISKS-21.45)

<"Robert Meineke" <>>
Thu, 07 Jun 2001 09:02:06 -0700

Just for fun, check out
    [This Web site shows some classic blue screens
    of death in very conspicuous places.  PGN]

Re: Billboard error messages (PGN, RISKS-21.45)

<Rick Prelinger <>>
Thu, 7 Jun 2001 11:15:50 -0700

The best CalTrans error message I have seen was sometime last fall on
the San Francisco approach to the Golden Gate Bridge, where an
industrious purple LED sign repeatedly flashed "NO DATA."

Rick Prelinger, Prelinger Archives, P.O. Box 590622, San Francisco, Calif.
  94159-0622  +1 415 750-0445

Re: Billboard error message (PGN, RISKS-21.45)

< (John Dallman)>
Fri, 8 Jun 2001 00:16 +0100 (BST)

My personal favourite was the time I found a hole-in-the-wall cash
dispenser that had fallen over and was displaying a "C:>" prompt. A little
playing with the keyboard revealed that MS-DOS was running - or something
else that said "Bad command or file name" - and the keypad gave me
numbers, ESC, BACKSPACE and ENTER. With no ALT key or letters, I couldn't
do more, so the design had some limited degree of fail-safety.

John Dallman <>

Re: Risks of clueless marketing (Searle, RISKS-21.44)

<Jamie McCarthy <>>
Mon, 4 Jun 2001 21:57:48 -0400

> Has anybody else realized that "XP" is a person wincing [...]?

This is the company that named an earlier operating system "WinCE".
Maybe their *market* is people with pained facial expressions.

Re: Steve Gibson: Windows XP Vulnerable; Big ISPs just don't care

<Mike Nuss <>>
Thu, 07 Jun 2001 16:46:45 -0400

I felt I had to respond to this article, because it's simply ridiculous.

Raw sockets support, the supposed "vulnerability," is not a security risk. This
capability is already present in every major Unix operating system, and can be
acquired in every version of Windows with the addition of a library.

  The "powerful Internet-connection capabilities" which are hyped in this
  article is merely the ability to write raw IP packets. This is where an
  application program controls every field in the IP packet. This
  functionality is required if you were writing your own network bridge
  program for Windows or other low level network applications. An IDS for NT
  that resets connections would need this functionality. AntiSniff, which
  detects sniffers on a network, requires this functionality.

  This capability, which this article states is so dangerous to the
  Internet, is already available practically everywhere. It is available in
  every commercial and open source unix distribution and is already
  available for all Windows platforms (not just Windows XP) through the use
  of free add on libraries such as winpcap and libnetNT.

  The hype and hyperbole is astounding. From reading this article you'd
  think a deluge of DDoS attacks was building up just waiting to be released
  once Microsoft releases the all powerful new API. Nothing could be further
  from the truth. When XP arrives it will receive a collective yawn from
  DDoS attackers who would much rather have their win32 DDoS clients run on
  every version of Windows using the already available add on libraries.

  Once an attacker has administrative control of a machine they can run any
  code they want, whether it is native or in an uploaded executable. There
  is absolutely nothing stopping an attacker from spoofing IP addresses from
  a Windows machine today or tomorrow.

The real RISK here is *The New York Times'* propagation of false information
for the sole purpose of provoking Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt.

Mike Nuss

Re: Steve Gibson's report and Windows XP "Vulnerabilities"

<David Crooke <>>
Thu, 07 Jun 2001 00:48:25 -0500

I have to take issue with Steve's assessment of how important this new
capability in Windows 2000 / XP is - given the technical mastery required to
subvert a machine in the first place, it's not a major endeavour to
implement one's own source IP spoofing in any number of ways - a second
virtual interface, bundling a custom IP stack with the trojan, or just
changing the IP address of the machine. The fact that most current attacks
don't use IP spoofing is not because Microsoft has failed to provide a
convenient API - attackers simply haven't felt the need. Other operating
systems have "supported" IP spoofing for years without it being regarded as
risk contributing to hacking efforts.

The real takeaway from Steve's write-up is that the endpoints of the
Internet can no longer be trusted; it is time for network administrators at
ISPs, universities and commercial premises to take up the cudgel and police
the traffic emanating from their networks; source IP filtering is trivial to
implement at this level. It is also time for backbone providers to introduce
sensible firebreaks and reduce their trust in traffic passing through their

They're at it again: Internet Explorer Smart Tags in WinXP

<Stef Maruch <>>
Thu, 7 Jun 2001 12:55:52 -0700

A while back, when still archived Usenet news, they tried
to generate revenue by inserting URLs into Usenet posts archived on
their site. Needless to say, this upset a lot of Usenet posters, who
considered it a copyright violation.

Now Microsoft is up to much the same thing with a new feature of WinXP
called "Internet Explorer Smart Tags":

  In effect, Microsoft will be able, through the browser, to re-edit
  anybody's site, without the owner's knowledge or permission, in a way that
  tempts users to leave and go to a Microsoft-chosen site — whether or not
  that site offers better information.

Seems to me they should be called "Internet Explorer Sneak Tags."

Stef  **  rational/scientific/philosophical/mystical/magical/kitty
    ** <*>
I mean, 'e' was *already* the most common letter in the English
language. — AM, complaining about the online commerce explosion

Re: Office XP modifies what you type (Deegan/Arnold, RISKS-21.42)

<Andy Newman <>>
Thu, 7 Jun 2001 18:41:07 +1000

When I saw the headline I thought "Oh, oh, MS at it again" but after
reading further on must agree with what they're doing.  A quick glance
at an appropriate RFC - 2396, Uniform Resource Identifiers: Generic Syntax -
shows that forward slash is reserved within URI paths and may not appear
twice in succession. I quote,

    The path may consist of a sequence of path segments separated by a
    single slash "/" character.  Within a path segment, the characters
    "/", ";", "=", and "?" are reserved.

Also having written a few simple web servers and many robots I find the
claim that there are many uses of '//' rather dubious.  The people are
probably thinking that some kind server's path normalisation is normal
or the laziness of many HTTP server authors in transforming "entity"
paths into the names of files storing those entities makes their invalid
URLs allowable.

I think the real risk of URLs (and I's and N's) is that they appear
too similar to the names used in many file systems.  This leads to things
like thinking '//' in the middle of a path is valid (hey Unix copes!) or
that ".jpg" on the end of a URL actually means something and you can
ignore the entity type sent back with the data (common browser problem).

Andy Newman, Silverbrook Research, <>

Re: Office XP modifies what you type (Deegan/Arnold, RISKS-21.42)

<"Jennings, Jay" <>>
Thu, 7 Jun 2001 15:24:18 -0400

Two interesting points. First, in previous versions of Microsoft Word, the
feature that changed capital letters could be turned off - it was called the
"Auto Correct" feature and could be tweaked through the tools menu. The
second point is more ironic. I received the link below in an e-mail

I was quickly able to deduce that Office XP was not used to compose the

Jay Jennings

Microsoft, 'Mitigating Factors' and Public Relations

<"Ratcliffe, Jackson" <>>
Thu, 7 Jun 2001 07:39:45 -0700

Microsoft recently announced yet another security flaw, this one related to
Exchange 2000's Outlook Web Access (OWA).  Apparently java/vbscript
attachments are automatically run
with no security.  This is a REAL glaring flaw.

So to make sure that it doesn't sound quite so bad, in Microsoft's e-mail
announcement they tried to list the mitigating factors.  Have a laugh.

Mitigating Factors:

 - The vulnerability could only be exploited if the user were using OWA in
   conjunction with IE.  (isn't that the whole point of the product ?)

 - The vulnerability is only exploitable by attachments that are received
   via OWA. In general, an attacker would have no way to determine whether a
   user would open an attachment using OWA rather than an Outlook client.
   (Isn't the whole point of .net to get rid of client-based Outlook?)

     [CC:ed on this item by Jackson, Gregory D. Marx concludes that
     "based on the first mitigating factor, I guess MS is suggesting
     that we switch to Netscape!?!?!"  PGN]

Broken shopping carts

<"Steve Loughran" <>>
Wed, 6 Jun 2001 22:56:34 -0700

I was just trying to by something from an on-line catalog (,
but was having problems as the shopping cart doubled the number of items I
entered; the minimum purchase was two.

On a whim, I entered a negative number -and the shopping cart updated to
show that I was ordering -2 items, and had to pay -$188.

I didn't go ahead with the transaction, but it would be an interesting
experiment to see whether it would actually be possible to get free cash
from shopping at this web site.

It would also be interesting to see if the credit card companies fraud
protection works in reverse -detecting and flagging too many refunds coming
from a single vendor.

How to avoid Internet interruption at AAS meeting

<Clive Page <>>
Mon, 4 Jun 2001 16:07:56 +0100

Astronomers planning to attend the American Astronomical Society meeting
on now were advised as follows in an e-mail circular:

  If you plan on attending the AAS Meeting in Pasadena, CA 3-7 June 2001,
  you will most likely want to use the Meeting's Cyber Cafe for E-mail and
  Web Browsing.  In order to ensure continuous access to your home site,
  please notify your local system and security administrators of the

  The Internet traffic flowing from the meeting attendees, will be coming
  from the IP addresses ranging from [CENSORED...  actual addresses removed
  for obvious reasons].

  In the past government sites have become aware of heavy traffic from our
  meetings and without notice shut off ALL access to attendees.  This was
  done as a security measure, unaware that the traffic was originating at an
  AAS Annual Meeting.  It caused several days of service interruption for
  meeting registrants.  Informing your system administrators of the IP
  addresses could save you a lot of distress later!

The risk: trying to avoid denial-of-service attacks might cause almost as
much disruption to your staff as an actual attack, and just when they are
least likely to be able to do much about it.

Clive Page, Dept of Physics & Astronomy, University of Leicester.  U.K.

There's no such thing as software `piracy'

<Fred Gilham <>>
Tue, 05 Jun 2001 10:12:33 -0700

I know it's not a new idea, but I think it needs to be reiterated that
piracy (which apparently is still practiced in some parts of the world) is a
crime of violence, often resulting in the death of its victims, whereas
making unauthorized copies of software that is copyright or licensed, while
illegal in most places, is not a crime of violence.

It may be tilting at windmills, like trying to get people to use the term
`crackers' instead of `hackers'.  Perhaps the people who write stories about
this stuff would be more careful with their terminology if people started
referring to `taggers' (i.e., graffiti vandals) as `journalists'?  After
all, they both work with words....

Re: Another fear of Risks

< (James K. Huggins)>
31 May 2001 10:18:07 -0400

Sorry ... here I go on a rant ...

"Bob Frankston" <> writes:

> I'm using IE 6.0 and it works pretty much like 5.0. With one notable
> exception — UPS explicitly checks for it and doesn't let me use their
> service with an unapproved browser. I presume that feel it is better for
> them to lose customers than risk .. risk what?

Risk spending countless hours of time on the phone (and therefore $$) with
irate customers blaming UPS when the customers' new-fangled "compatible"
browser doesn't work with the UPS site.  Risk having people blame UPS
instead of Microsoft when IE 6.0 turns out to not be 100% compatible with IE
5.x in a couple of features which the UPS cite depends upon to function
correctly ... especially if those incompatibilities didn't surface in any of
the pre-release versions.

> UPS is loses two ways. They force me to use other services and they
> lose the value of users doing testing for them.

In my humble opinion, most users aren't interested in doing testing
for companies.  That's what we pay the companies to do for themselves.

Furthermore, relying on user reports for testing is full of its own
problems.  Users (and I count myself in that category) will often
blame others for problems they cause themselves, or problems caused by
third parties (e.g. ISPs) which aren't the fault of either endpoint.

> They can warn me that they haven't tested with my browser but
> disallowing it is not only short-sighted, it represents a basic
> misunderstanding of the PC and the large effort put in to assure
> compatibility with previous versions of programs.

Who says UPS won't eventually support IE 6.0?  Given that it's just
been released, UPS may just be trying to give itself some time to
test IE 6.0 for itself and fix any compatibility problems on its end.

> Old MIS (before they were called IT) departments did have a great
> fear of upgrades since each mainframe system was extensively
> patched. But that reasonable fear is now a phobia.

Nope.  Look, I've had much the same problem with the Netscape 4->6
transition.  When I upgraded to the "improved" Netscape 6 on my home
machine, lots of sites that I used to visit simply refused to work
anymore.  When I contacted the sites to complain, most state that the
problem is Netscape's and that I should either downgrade back to 4.72
or switch to IE.

There ain't nothing that's 100% backward compatible, especially in
a x.0 release.

Just my $.02.

--Jim Huggins, Kettering University, Flint, MI  (

Re: McDonald's testing cashless payments (RISKS-21.43)

<Jeffrey Jonas <>>
Tue, 29 May 2001 22:11:30 -0400 (EDT)

> McDonald's Corporation has begun testing the use of a cashless payment
> system that uses the kind of radio transponder technology that was first
> developed by state highways to allow motorists to drive through toll plazas
> without having to stop to make a payment.

A friend said that McD's once had a credit card but dropped it.
Sure, it made checkouts faster and less handling of cash,
but it had an unexpected side effect.
Folks saw the monthly bill and realized how all those meals were
adding up to real money and cut back their spending
since it was so easily auditable.

Another interesting interaction:
> Newsgroups: alt.consumers.experiences,misc.consumers
> Subject: Re: McDonald's 30-Second DT Guarantee

McD's apparently has some promotion where they guarantee you get the food
30 seconds after paying.  The immediate analysis is that they'll take
as long as before, just not collect the money 'till it's ready.
Now with the speed-pass, will the guarantee still hold?

Re: McDonald's testing cashless payments (RISKS-21.43)

<"John R Levine" <>>
30 May 2001 02:26:29 -0400

I had a Mobil speedpass for a while.  It's about the diameter of a pencil
and an inch long, with a hole through the end so it can go on your keychain.
You wave it at the pump, a light on the pump goes on to tell you it knows
who you are and you pump your gas.  Mobil links theirs to a credit card.

It worked fine until one day my bank called me up to say that I had been
buying an awful lot of gas in towns east of here, had I lost my card?
No, but it turned out that I'd lost my speedpass.  It fell off my keychain
the last time I used it, but it was so small that I didn't notice it was
gone, what with all the frequent shopper barcode tags et al with my keys.
I finally got it straightened out and Mobil ate the bogus charges, a
relief since the card company said their usual anti-fraud rules don't
apply when you don't use your physical card for a transaction.

I decided I'll spend the extra two seconds per visit and swipe my card.

I do have an E-ZPass toll transponder in my truck, but that's different
for two reasons: it's large enough to miss and is firmly glued to the
inside of the windshield, and they give me the incentive of significant
toll discounts (in NYC at least) if I use it.

John Levine,, Primary Perpetrator of "The Internet for Dummies",
Information Superhighwayman wanna-be,, Sewer Commissioner

Credit where it isn't due

<William Paul Fiefer <>>
Wed, 06 Jun 2001 19:55:27 -0500

So you request a credit card and it comes by mail with a peel-off sticker
across the signature plate. The sticker tells you to call a toll-free
number to activate the card. This is, apparently, a theft-prevention thing.

Don't bother.

The cards activate automatically. At least "Blue" from American Express and
the "Platinum" series ($100,000 credit limit — $250,000 for the "Quantum"
series) from MBNA do.

I ordered these cards but did not activate them. I found myself receiving
mail regarding these accounts. I received privacy notices, which I opted
out of. Then I asked MBNA why I had a card I did not activate.

If you do not activate our cards, the customer rep said, they activate
themselves after a set time limit. The American Express rep told me no such
activation occurred but could not explain why my card was active. She even
tried to discourage me from cancelling the thing!

The RISK? You'll have credit due where none is applied for.

William Paul Fiefer  630.892.5180

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