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 21 Issue 78

Thursday 22 November 2001


Playboy says hacker stole customer info
Monty Solomon
Euro changeover risk
Carl Fink
The cure is only slightly worse than the disease...
Russell Stewart
My daughter is failing high school!
Jeremy Epstein
Network Solutions ad inadvertently names my domain
Fredric L. Rice
Another date risk
Leonard Erickson
Re: Researchers probe Net's 'dark address space'
Arthur Smith
Glitch in iTunes Deletes Drives
Dave Katz
Re: FBI targets suspects' PCs with spy virus
R.S. Heuman
Rob Slade
RISKS-21.77 was rejected by some filters
Re: Porn spam being sent in my name
Andrew Klossner
Re: Programming error ...
David Gillett
Re: Toaster failures
Marcus Didius Falco
The more things change
Mike Albaugh
Re: IP: 800 directory "assistance" redirecting calls
Rob Bailey
Clay Jackson
Re: National ID cards
Henry Baker
Re: Windows XP accounts by default are administrator with no password
Mark Wilkins
Let's get really paranoid about e-mail and spam...
Allan Hurst
Info on RISKS (comp.risks)

Playboy says hacker stole customer info

<Monty Solomon <>>
Tue, 20 Nov 2001 23:01:48 -0500

By Greg Sandoval and Robert Lemos, CNET, 20 Nov 2001 has alerted customers that an intruder broke into its Web site
and obtained some customer information, including credit card numbers.  The
online unit of the nearly 50-year-old men's magazine said in an e-mail to
customers that it believed a hacker accessed "a portion" of's
computer systems. In the e-mail, a copy of which was reviewed by CNET, President Larry Lux did not disclose how many
customers might have been affected. encouraged customers to contact their credit card
companies to check for unauthorized charges. New York-based also said it reported the incident to law enforcement
officials and hired a security expert to audit its computer systems
and analyze the incident.  [...]

Euro changeover risk

<Carl Fink <>>
Wed, 21 Nov 2001 13:03:46 -0500

  An Irish emigrant to Spain had an unexpected windfall when his Dublin bank
  accidentally credited more than 300,000 euros ($264,800) -- instead of
  300,000 pesetas -- to his new account, newspapers reported on Wednesday.

Surely European banking software has always had to handle currency

Carl Fink, Manager, Dueling Modems Computer Forum

The cure is only slightly worse than the disease...

<"Stewart, Russell" <>>
Wed, 21 Nov 2001 12:56:57 -0700

This story taken off of the newswire today:

Concerns a signal-jamming technology being developed by a Hong Kong company
to block cellphone calls in areas where they are not wanted. Not a bad idea,
but the following excerpt caught my attention:

  "A Hong Kong company hopes to sell signal-jamming technology previously
  used by the military to thwart lethal missiles to block annoying cellphone
  calls in places such as hospitals, places of worship and restaurants."

Hospitals? Now, I admit I know very little about jamming technology, but I
know that, at the very least, it requires transmitting radio energy on the
same frequency as the signal you are trying to jam. Presumably, it involves
transmitting at a considerably higher power than that of the target
signal. Now, as I understand it, hospitals' no-cellphone policy is based on
the fear that the phones' radio transmissions might interfere with hospital
equipment.  Are we to understand, then, that they intend to combat the
problem by installing a device that, by definition, must transmit on the
same frequencies at the same or considerably greater power?

I hope this was simply an error on the writer's part...

Russell Stewart, Sandia National Laboratories

My daughter is failing high school!

<"Jeremy Epstein" <>>
Wed, 21 Nov 2001 08:38:53 -0500

OK, you ask, what does that have to do with RISKS?  Hold on a second!

Fairfax County Virginia has one school system (unlike other counties around
the US where each municipality or region has their own system).  My daughter
goes to a magnet high school program within the county, but not the one that
would ordinarily be our "home" school (i.e., the one closest to our house).

Last week she got her report card for the first quarter from the magnet
school.  Yesterday she got a second report card from the home school, which
doesn't show any courses or grades.  Luckily, it doesn't show a GPA either
(I guess the programmer was smart enough not to try to average zero credit
hours :-).  But it does show she attended school for 40 days and was absent
two days... the same number as in the magnet school.

So the county obviously has one database to record absences, but the
software isn't smart enough to realize she's not taking any courses at the
home school and therefore shouldn't get a report card.  Or maybe that's a
safeguard in case the child drops all classes without telling the parents?

I *hope* that when she goes to apply for college that they'll report her
actual GPA, and not something silly like 0.0 since the school system
obviously doesn't understand where she is!  The risks of poorly designed
database applications...

Network Solutions ad inadvertently names my domain

<"Fredric L. Rice" <>>
Tue, 20 Nov 2001 14:12:52

Back some months ago -- 11 Apr 2001, in fact -- a promotional mailer in the
form of a folded post card (11 inches by 15 inches) was mailed out to who
knows how many residences in Virginia (U.S.) by Network Solutions, a
VeriSign Company, advertising Web site services.

Amusingly, the advertisement listed as a sample domain
name, describing a "matching e-mail address like this" with as their "matching e-mail address."

Aside from the fact that Network Solutions mixed .ORG with .COM, apparently
they didn't bother to check first to see whether Squirreling.ORG was an
existing web site before they advertised it as an example.  In fact I had
registered the domain name on February 2'nd, 2000 and had acquired hosting
shortly after that.  The name "Squirreling" was doubtlessly picked because
it sounds amusing and Network Solutions probably assumed that nobody would
have such a domain.

The risks?  What if my web site had been something sinister?  Network
Solutions could have suffered massive embarrassment and revenue losses had
my web site contained "Bonsai Kittens" or something equally stupid on it.

Another date risk (Re: Brown, RISKS-21.76)

< (Leonard Erickson)>
Tue, 20 Nov 2001 16:49:44 PST

Lotus and most other spreadsheets have another date risk, caused by trying
to maintain compatibility with Visicalc in the original Lotus and carried
over from there.

Dates are stored as the number of days since the start of 1900. That is Jan
1, 1900 is stored as 1, etc. The problem is the original programmers thought
that 1900 was a leap year.

Enter 60 into a date-formatted cell. Many spreadsheets will display it as
Feb 29, 1900!

Microsoft Multiplan handles this by making Jan 1, 1900 store as 2 rather
than 1. But that means dates in it won't match dates in other spreadsheets
if they are before March 1, 1900.

There's no good solution anymore due to the spread of this "misfeature" thru
spreadsheets across the world. All you can do is double check *any* date
info from before 1900-03-01 that has passed thru (or may have passed thru) a

Leonard Erickson (aka shadow{G})

Re: Researchers probe Net's 'dark address space'

<Arthur Smith <>>
Wed, 21 Nov 2001 09:49:31 -0500

We have fallen into the accidental misconfiguration trap a few times for
some of these cases -- the primary reason it happened to us is that routes
advertised using "classless" IP address ranges do not get treated properly
by a router that doesn't have 'ip classless' set (in Cisco-speak). This is
the Classless-InterDomain Routing (CIDR) system that replaced the old
Class-A, class-B, class-C hierarchy. The cable modem and military people
tend to populate parts of old class-A blocks - this is any IP address that
starts with a number less than 128. In our case what happened was we had a
"specialty" internet provider that only provided access to certain networks
which they advertised to us via the BGP protocol, and they filtered out any
traffic coming from us that didn't match that list of networks. But it
turned out that some of the networks they advertised were small portions of
these old class-A networks, and we naively did not have "classless" routing
turned on, so our router thought the ENTIRE class-A had to be routed through
them. So traffic between us and any address in that class-A block not passed
through by our provider was blocked.

One reason we didn't have classless routing turned on was some previous bad
experience where one of our partners' router's memory had been filled with
spurious /32 routes (routes with only a single address) due to the use of
classless routing, the fact that we did not have all possible routes to our
own address space properly advertised to one another, and the malicious
actions of some printer software that tried to scan every single address in
our (class-B) address space, looking for printers.

In short, it's very easy, if you do not have much background in IP
networking, to misconfigure your routers to have this sort of thing happen -
and it's a little hard to spot since the network connections are generally
working fine otherwise - nobody may ever complain!

Glitch in iTunes Deletes Drives (RISKS-21.74)

<Dave Katz <>>
Wed, 21 Nov 2001 16:27:38 -0800 (PST)

According to a well-placed friend within Apple, the failure was a bit more
complex than described.  He says that the bug in the script was actually
discovered prior to the software being posted, but that the corrected
version somehow did not end up being posted (classic version management
issue.)  Furthermore, the fact that broken script had been posted was
discovered in the middle of the night, but the folks responsible for the
server did not pull it down until hours later, thus increasing the
collateral damage (classic people management issue.)

Re: FBI targets suspects' PCs with spy virus (NewsScan, RISKS-21.77)

<"R.S. Heuman" <>>
Wed, 21 Nov 2001 18:32:27 -0500

And of course no self-respecting non-US anti-virus firm is going to put a
signature into their product that will detect and report on this trojan?
Somehow the first time it is detected by anyone it will get into F-Prot,
F-Secure, AVP and a number of other non-US products that are widely used
even in the US, and then what?  If the AV product vendors ignore this
software, they are in for attack from their customers, and if they detect it
they are in for attack from the FBI?

Which would you choose were it your corporation?  This type of program and
its detection is too much of a risk for the FBI for them to widely
disseminate it, and ignoring such a program is too much of a risk for the AV
product vendors to accept, since alienating their clients will unfortunately
result in a major downturn in their corporate viability, once it becomes
known, which will be almost immediately.

Re: FBI targets suspects' PCs with spy virus (NewsScan, RISKS-21.77)

<Rob Slade <>>
Wed, 21 Nov 2001 15:41:40 -0800

> The FBI is working on software that could insert a computer virus ...

First off, nothing about this program indicates that it is a virus.  There
is nothing about reproduction in the description.  In any case, a virus
would be a fairly imprecise way of delivering a security breaking package
(although steps could be taken in that regard).

> suspect's computer capable of reading encrypted data.

As the later material shows, the program is not capable of reading encrypted
data, it simply steals passwords.  Fairly common activity for trojans in
past years.

> The software, known as "Magic Lantern," installs "keylogging" software
> that can capture keystrokes typed on a computer.  The virus can be sent
> via e-mail.

As Peter notes, Microsoft Outlook is somewhat susceptible to this type of
thing, but in pretty much every other case you'd have to convince the target
to run an attachment.  That might be a little trickier.  "The attached
Microsoft Word document contains an application form for our special Kali
cartel `frequent pusher' discount, good for an extra 10% off on shipments of
100 kilos or more."  "Run this hilarious screensaver with inspirational
(secret) messages from our beloved leader Osama, along with detailed
instructions on the construction of truck bombs."
  [But this seemed to happen all the time with IL*V*Y**, etc.  PGN]

The targeting of PGP is interesting.  Does this mean that the US government
is still ticked over its creation, or that they are finally (tacitly)
admitting that open-source software really *is* more secure?

> ... possible to observe every keystroke typed by the suspect, even if a
> court order specified only encryption keys.

It would certainly be easier to collect information, particularly for
ephemeral data, such as e-mail.  On the other hand, how are the authorities
supposed to get at the data?  I suppose sending out only the passphrase
would be less suspicious if someone was keeping track of traffic.  (On the
other hand, if anyone was logging port activity it would be fairly easy to
scan for Magic Lantern in the same way that people scan for Back Orifice,
SubSeven, Bionet, and other RATs.)

>   [Insertion by e-mail probably works well for Microsoft software, which is
>   prone to that kind of attack.  Various reports suggest that Magic Lantern
>   can also plant itself by penetrating systems.

Penetrating how?  I would hope that the RISKS audience is somewhat less
suggestible, along these lines, than the general public.  [You must be
kidding!  PGN]

>  Penetrability of supposedly secure systems has long been noted here ...

True, but the penetration is still probably going to happen on a case by
case basis.  Viruses would be a good way to break confidentiality (just look
at Sircam), but are rather a blunt instrument, tending to drown signal with
noise (look at Noped).    or

RISKS-21.77 was rejected by some filters

Wed, 21 Nov 2001 19:07:42 PST

RISKS-21.77 contained a string naming a recent virus "IL*V*Y**".
Some of you apparently have filters that are so lame they cannot tell
the difference between that spelled out in text and the actual virus.
Overzealous filtering is rapidly becoming a bad joke.

Re: Porn spam being sent in my name (Sanders, RISKS-21.76)

<Andrew Klossner <>>
Wed, 21 Nov 2001 07:17:02 -0800

> Imagine my surprise to find that the original (bounced) message had
> been spam, apparently sent from me!

That "original message" was never sent.  The "bounce notification
message" was forged by the spammer.  And it worked -- you paid close
attention to it.

Re: Programming error ... (Stein, RISKS-21.77)

Wed, 21 Nov 2001 15:08:06 -0800

> The best folks prefer product engineering (aka 'development').

I don't believe this is true at all.

I believe that the vast majority of employees, and many managers, in the
computer field regard product engineering as the "senior" department, the
superior order amongst technical professionals.  [That upper management
often considers sales to outrank all technical groups takes a while to
discover....]  The result is that other technical departments, such as QA
and IT, are often staffed largely with junior engineers biding their time
and acquiring years of experience to try to get into product engineering.
Naturally, they're not very good at what they're currently being paid to do
-- they'd much prefer to be in product engineering -- but they're not
necessarily any better at *it*.  On the counter side, there *are* a few
excellent, committed QA and IT and Tech Support folks around -- "the best"
in these realms -- and often that is intimately tied to their discovery of a
personal preference for one of these "ancillary" roles.

I would say that the *majority* prefer product engineering -- and that this
is linked, chicken-and-egg fashion, to other branches being
under-appreciated and staffed largely by inexperienced, uninterested, and
(as a consequence) ineffective personnel.  The consequences?  We read about
them on the RISKS Digest every week.

David Gillett

Re: Toaster failures (Re: Hackett, RISKS-21.76)

<Marcus Didius Falco <>>
Tue, 20 Nov 2001 14:20:15 -0500

According to the Dec 2001 issue of *Consumer Reports*, your problems with
toasters are not unique, and they were able to get better toast from some
simpler toasters (that is, without all the sensors).

However, the risk of toasters not turning off until they have popped has
been addressed in the US. There is now a Consumer Product Safety Commission
standard requiring toasters to turn off when the cycle is over, whether or
not the "pop" has occurred. It takes effect for toasters manufactured after
November 2001, but many toasters are now compliant (and some actually give
some indication of this compliance on the box).

The more things change

Tue, 20 Nov 2001 14:49:17 -0800 (PST)

In RISKS-21.76, we read about (800)555-1212 re-directing information
calls. Those familiar with the history of the telephone system may recall
that Almon P. Strowger, generally regarded as the inventor of automatic
telephone switching apparatus (at least in the U.S.A. :-) was an undertaker,
who produced his invention because he was tired of the telephone operator in
his town "accidentally connecting" his calls to his competitor, said
operator's husband. Of course, all those helpful Web "directory" sites have
been doing this for years, and "Smart-Links" threatens to move the betrayal
right to your PC. (Yes, I know, not _right_ now, yet...)

We also read about:

> Subject: Re: Another SRI-wide power outage (Rowland, RISKS-21.74)
> [...] The Xerox tech would decide that the the pair of side by side tops of
> the controllers made an excellent surface for him to flop his huge folder of
> tech charts onto, toggling the power switches on both modems off.

Which reminded me of the result of using the oh-so-convenient top of the IBM
1401's Core-memory extension to set down 7-track mag-tapes temporarily,
until we figured out why we where getting so many errors...  (We put a
two-drawer steel card-file on top, and added a notice _under_ that file
explaining the issue and saying "Put it back")

Re: IP: 800 directory "assistance" redirecting calls (Glass, R 21 77)

<Rob Bailey <>>
Tue, 20 Nov 2001 11:30:29 -0800 (PST)

Brett Glass's story on operator-assisted dialing that resulted in customer
hijacking would probably have shocked Almon Strowger, the funeral parlor
manager who, as the story is told, invented the Strowger switch, which as we
all know would become the backbone for the electromechanical direct-dial
apparatus in place for many decades. (As the story is told, Strowger
[STRO-jer] suspected the local telephone exchanges of routing potential
customers [well, I suspose the families of potential customers!] for his
funeral parlor to his competitors' parlors. Paranoia was the mother of
Strowger's invention.)

As long as callers leave the recipient-to-number translation in the hands of
others, for convenience of any other reason, this problem will likely persist.

Rob Bailey,

Re: 800 directory "assistance" redirecting calls (Glass, RISKS-21.76)

<Clay Jackson <>>
Wed, 21 Nov 2001 09:12:43 -0800

The risk was not properly identified.

While this is certainly an issue; IMHO Bret has the risk all wrong. This
is a classic case of 'Never attribute to malice what can be explained by
stupidity'.  I'm sure AT&T (I'm assuming here, since they're the biggest
user of TellMe) made NO deliberate attempt to 'hijack' the hotel's
number (what possible benefit would ANYONE receive from rerouting a
caller looking for a hotel to a furniture store).   What's much more
likely is that the TellMe VR software made a mistake; or, that it
doesn't handle duplicate names very well.

Re: National ID cards (Shostack, RISKS-21.75)

<Henry Baker <>>
Tue, 20 Nov 2001 19:47:17 -0800

I'm not going to comment on national ID cards directly, but only upon Adam
Shostack's reasoning.  Every web page (instruction, datum, etc.)  is
accessed a first time, as well, but caches still work pretty darn well on a
statistical basis.

Screening will always be a statistics game, but we need to attach wildly
different costs to various kinds of screening misses.  Clearly, 20 box
cutters can ruin a lot of days.  The IBM 360/30 didn't execute a "divide"
instruction or a "convert to decimal" instruction very often, but when it
did, they was so slow that they often dominated instruction trace timings.
So the next generation of 360's improved the execution speed of those
particular instructions.

However, much of the improvement in computer execution speeds over the past
twenty years is the result of tuning to more broadly valid statistical data,
rather than focusing only on rare but costly instructions.  Similarly, we
need to continue to make _flying as a whole_ safer, rather than focus only
on the threat of terrorism, as the recent NYC crash sadly proves.

Re: Windows XP accounts by default are administrator with no password

<Mark Wilkins <>>
Tue, 20 Nov 2001 10:54:48 -0800

> If you create user accounts, by default, they will have an account type of
> Administrator with no password."

This is probably a result of aggressive product management.

Some years ago I worked for Mitsubishi Consumer Electronics in their
software department, and was tasked to write the code to implement
parental lock on a (now long defunct) chassis of TV set.

I'd implemented it so that all the settings would remain as parents locked
and unlocked the TV, so that parents could set all their settings for each
channel once and allow or deny TV viewing according to those settings as
they liked.

Much of that logic had to be re-implemented for a different behavior:
unlocking the TV caused ALL of the information about which channels or times
were or were not permissible to be erased, requiring that they be re-entered
next time.

The reason for this was that apparently support telephone calls on the issue
of parental lock nearly never asked the question "Why can't I lock my kids
out of the television?" and instead nearly always asked "My kids have locked
me out of the television.  What do I do?"  Since those calls cost money to
support a product for which the company had already been paid, they were to
be minimized.  The product had to be easy to unlock and hard to lock.

I suspect this behavior in Windows XP is a similar matter.

Let's get really paranoid about e-mail and spam...

<"Allan Hurst" <>>
Tue, 20 Nov 2001 11:54:57 -0800

Re: Porn spam being sent in my name (Sanders, RISKS-21.76)

Here's how much worse it can get: In the past couple of years, I've opened
up e-mail accounts on three different systems: Yahoo Mail, HotMail, and

These accounts were used ONLY for testing internet e-mail gateways on new
e-mail systems that we set up for clients They have never been used for
posting to a list, responding to an ad, and/or have never been entered into
any Web site.

 - Within two months of opening the Yahoo! Mail account, it started
   receiving spam, none of it from Yahoo.

 - Within three days of opening the HotMail account, it started receiving
   spam, in amounts far larger than the Yahoo account.

In both of the above cases, I had specifically selected to NOT be listed in
either of the systems' directories, and to NOT receive e-mail offers from any
of their "marketing partners".  Neither of these accounts were ever used to
respond to offers, entered into Web sites, or published anywhere.  They were
only used to send and receive test e-mail messages to and from new e-mail

Either Yahoo Mail and HotMail are lying about not publishing or selling
addresses, or someone's harvesting e-mail addresses by sniffing packets.
(Hence the subject of this message.)  As much as I'd like to bash the
vendors ... I strongly suspect the answer is that someone's found a way to
harvest e-mail addresses.  (Keep reading.)

I next opened up a third test account, on  This is a
demonstration mail service operated by Novell, Inc., to show off its NIMS
product, and having met people from the NIMS team at various Novell
functions, I had been informed that they specifically do NOT sell the
MyRealBox accounts, nor use them for marketing purposes of any kind.

For about six months, I received no spam of any kind on the MyRealBox
account.  Suddenly, I was flooded with everything from "failed delivery"
messages to angry missives threatening me with bodily harm for spamming

Some of the missives included the complete message, which was a piece of
spam generated with my MyRealBox account name in the "From" and "Reply-To"
fields!  The messages did NOT originate from MyRealBox, however, nor did
they pass through any "traceable" intermediate mail servers (only IP
addresses were shown in the headers).

This raises the question: if the MyRealBox account name wasn't sold (and I
believe it wasn't), then how on earth did the spammers "harvest" my specific
MyRealBox account name to use to send spam with?  (And are there any steps
one can take to prevent it from happening again?)

This also brings to mind the risk of using a "free" internet e-mail account,
or any type of outsourced e-mail server over which one has no legal or
authoritative control.

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