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 22 Issue 90

Monday 8 September 2003


Men steal computers in high-security facility in Australia
David Landgren
Craig S. Bell
Handicapped's gas pedal on left side of car leads to 3 injuries
Kurt Thams
Blackout of mobile phone service in greater Frankfurt
Juergen Fenn
Nuclear powerplants may not have firewalls!!
Marty Leisner
Computer failures led to NE US blackout
Jeremy Epstein
Trade group tells DHS don't use MS
Curtailing online education in the name of homeland security
Jaeger/Burnett via Monty Solomon
Secrecy and the Patriot Act
Amy Goldstein
Identity Theft Victimizes Millions, Costs Billions (Jennifer 8. Lee via Monty Solomon <>
Victims of identity theft and account theft
California gets new privacy law
ICANN takes hits from lawmakers
The benefits and risks of robot surgery
Juergen Fenn
Eric W. Pfeiffer via Monty Solomon
Covert virus channels?
Rob Slade
The dangers of remote start on a car with manual transmission
Jason Lunz
Testing by Chimp? I think it too risky
Bob Heuman
Info on RISKS (comp.risks)

Men steal computers in high-security facility in Australia

<David Landgren <>>
Sat, 06 Sep 2003 12:41:42 +0200

Two men gained access to a high-security computer facility at Sydney
Internal Airport, passing themselves off as contractors.  They disconnected
and walked off with two computers on a trolley.  The Australian Federal
Police and ASIO (Australian Security Intelligence Organisation) would like
to know as a consequence to what extent their operations have been

Where once again it is shown that security is only as good as its weakest

Men steal computers in high-security facility in Australia

<"Craig S. Bell" <>>
Sat, 06 Sep 2003 19:00:57 GMT

This appears to have been an inside job.  The stolen hardware may contain
sensitive security / anti-terror information.  I wonder whether they ran any
sort of monitoring software that noticed whether the application was
running.  Even if they were monitoring, would anyone have been able to show
up or alert the guards in two hours?

Considering the level of security at a corporate datacenter that I frequent,
I can easily foresee how such a thing can happen — if you look like you
know where you're going, you are rarely challenged by the superannuated
private security guards, who often seem less aware of their surroundings
than the janitorial staff.

Handicapped's gas pedal on left side of car leads to 3 injuries

<Kurt Thams <>>
Tue, 2 Sep 2003 15:48:28 -0700 (PDT)

  Two elderly women and a young man were hospitalized Monday after an
  85-year-old Stockton man driving on the Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf
  apparently mistook a car's gas pedal for the brake and struck four people.
  [...]  The car did not belong to (the driver) and had a gas pedal for
  handicapped drivers that extends to the left side of the car.

The article does not say whether there is any warning posted on the car that
the vehicle's controls are not like other cars.  Even so, one wonders if any
driver accustomed to standard controls could avoid reflexively hitting the
gas when he meant to hit the brake.

Blackout of mobile phone service in greater Frankfurt

<Juergen Fenn <juergen.fenn@GMX.DE>>
Sun, 07 Sep 2003 00:22:29 +0200

Mobile phone services of Deutsche Telekom's subsidiary company T-Mobile in
the greater Frankfurt area were interrupted from 10am on 9 September 2003
until late evening when phones could be used again.  A spokesman for
T-Mobile said in a statement to "heise online" that the failure was probably
due to a power blackout, or to a problem with the software the company is
using.  The blackout initially was said to end after two hours (report in
German): Other
telephone companies were not affected.

Nuclear powerplants may not have firewalls!!

<"Marty Leisner" <>>
Mon, 08 Sep 2003 10:25:12 -0400

  [Source: *The New York Times*, 7 Sep 2003]

  [...] But an incident in January at the Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station,
  run by the FirstEnergy Corporation outside Toledo, Ohio, showed that this
  was not always the case. The nuclear plant has not been generating power
  since early 2002, but a computer system there that was not supposed to be
  linked to the Internet was invaded by a worm known as Slammer, causing the
  system to shut down for five hours. The event was not made public until
  Kevin Poulsen reported it on Aug. 20 on SecurityFocus .com, an
  information-security news site.

  Richard Wilkins, a FirstEnergy spokesman, said the company realized after
  the worm struck that it did not have a firewall isolating its corporate
  computers from the computers controlling the reactors, but that it now had
  such a safety precaution in place.

  SIX months after the Davis-Besse problem, the North American Electric
  Reliability Council, the industry group overseeing the electrical grid,
  announced that there were "documented cases in which bulk electric system
  control was impaired" by the same worm. It recommended that utility
  companies separate the computers running their power grids from their
  corporate networks.

I'm amazed by so many things...including they use commercial, virus-plagued
operating systems systems to run their infrastructure.

Computer failures led to NE US blackout

<Jeremy Epstein <>>
Thu, 4 Sep 2003 10:03:11 -0400

According to the WashPost, transcripts of telephone conversations released
by the House Energy and Commerce Committee show that computer failures in
monitoring the transmission lines left the operators blind.  That meant they
couldn't tell what was happening or control the systems, leading to the
power surge that caused the blackout.

Readers of RISKS shouldn't be the least bit surprised...

Trade group tells DHS don't use MS

<"Peter G. Neumann" <>>
Tue, 2 Sep 2003 15:36:49 -0700 (PDT)

The Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA) has urged the
Department of Homeland Security to reconsider its decision to use Microsoft
software on its desktop and server systems, citing "major security failures"
created by the raft of vulnerabilities in MS's products.

Curtailing online education in the name of homeland security

<Monty Solomon <>>
Wed, 3 Sep 2003 01:23:36 -0400

Curtailing online education in the name of homeland security: The USA
PATRIOT Act, SEVIS, and international students in the United States
by Paul T. Jaeger and Gary Burnett

Online courses have become an important part of the academic offerings of
many institutions of higher education in the United States. However, the
homeland security laws and regulations enacted since September 2001,
including the USA PATRIOT Act, have created serious limitations on the
ability of international students studying in the United States to
participate in online educational opportunities. Placing online education
within the context of the mutually beneficial relationships between
international students and the United States, this article examines the
assumptions and the impacts of these regulations on the students and the
institutions of higher education. This article explores the enrollment
limitations in online courses for international students in terms of
information policy and concepts of presence and identity in online
environments, offering an examination of the implications of this issue for
education and information in United States.

Introduction: The United States of America, immigrants, and visitors
International students in the United States
The USA PATRIOT Act and international students
Restrictions on the online education of international students
Identity and presence in online environments
Conclusion: The policy picture for education and information

Secrecy and the Patriot Act (Amy Goldstein)

<"Peter G. Neumann" <>>
Mon, 08 Sep 2003 09:59:02 -0400

[Source: Fierce Fight Over Secrecy, Scope of Law;
Amid Rights Debate, Law Cloaks Data on Its Impact
By Amy Goldstein, *The Washington Post*, 8 Sep 2003; Page A01;
PGN-excerpted from a long and informative article]

In Seattle, the public library printed 3,000 bookmarks to alert patrons that
the FBI could, in the name of national security, seek permission from a
secret federal court to inspect their reading and computer records — and
prohibit librarians from revealing that a search had taken place.

In suburban Boston, a state legislator was stunned to discover last spring
that her bank had blocked a $300 wire transfer because she is married to a
naturalized U.S. citizen named Nasir Khan.

And in Hillsboro, Ore., Police Chief Ron Louie has ordered his officers to
refuse to assist any federal terrorism investigations that his department
believes violate state law or constitutional rights.  [...]

By its very terms, the Patriot Act hides information about how its most
contentious aspects are used, allowing investigations to be authorized and
conducted under greater secrecy.  As a result, critics ranging from the
liberal American Civil Liberties Union to the conservative Eagle Forum
complain that the law is violating people's rights but acknowledge that they
cannot cite specific instances of abuse. [...]

This summer, two major lawsuits were filed challenging the Patriot Act's
central provisions. The Republican-led House startled the administration in
July by voting to halt funding for a part of the law that allows more delays
in notifying people about searches of their records or belongings. And the
GOP chairmen of the two congressional committees that oversee the Justice
Department have warned Ashcroft that they will resist any effort, for now,
to strengthen the law.

Identity Theft Victimizes Millions, Costs Billions

<Monty Solomon <>>
Thu, 4 Sep 2003 23:01:39 -0400

Source: Article by Jennifer 8. Lee, 4 Sep 2003

About 3.3 million American consumers discovered within the last year that
their personal information had been used to open fraudulent bank, credit
card or utility accounts, or to commit other crimes, according to the
Federal Trade Commission's first national survey on identity theft.  The
commission, in a report issued today, said these cases had collectively cost
businesses $32.9 billion and consumers $3.8 billion.

In addition, 6.6 million people fell victim to account theft in the last
year. Unlike identity theft, in which the criminal uses personal information
to open and use accounts that are in the victim's name, account theft
entails using stolen credit or A.T.M. cards, or financial records, to steal
from the victim's existing accounts.

Such account-theft cases, the survey found, caused $14 billion in business
losses and $1.1 billion in consumer losses. The vast majority of these
cases, almost 80 percent, involved credit card fraud.

Though account theft and identity theft are often lumped together in popular
perception, data from the survey showed that the consequences of identity
theft were more severe.  In identity theft, which accounted for nearly 10
million of the 27 million cases of both types in the last five years, the
financial losses were greater, and it took victims longer to resolve the
cases.  [...]

Victims of identity theft and account theft

<"NewsScan" <>>
Thu, 04 Sep 2003 09:17:35 -0700

[...] Half of all victims knew the method by which the thieves had obtained
the personal information.  About 25% of the victims said the information had
been stolen through either the mail or the loss of a wallet, and 13% percent
said it had been stolen in the course of a purchase or another transaction.
[*The New York Times*, 4 Sep 2003; NewsScan Daily, 4 Sep 2003]

California gets new privacy law

<"NewsScan" <>>
Thu, 28 Aug 2003 08:30:19 -0700

California has just passed privacy legislation aimed at preventing banks,
insurance companies and other institutions from sharing their personal
information, and Gov. Gray Davis said: "Most Californians are stunned to
learn that financial corporations trade their names for money. That is
wrong, and when I sign this bill, that practice will stop." The law will
require permission from a customer before financial institutions share any
information on that customer with an unaffiliated company or an affiliated
firm in a different line of business.  [AP/*USA Today*, 28 Aug 2003;
NewsScan Daily, 28 Aug 2003]

ICANN takes hits from lawmakers

<"NewsScan" <>>
Fri, 05 Sep 2003 08:30:32 -0700

Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.) is critical of ICANN (the Internet
Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) for not doing enough to stop
scammers and child pornographers from registering under false names with
stolen credit cards: "I'm disappointed with the failure of the marketplace
and regulators to deal with this problem. A legislative solution seems
necessary." And Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) agrees: "There's not a real
seriousness of intent either by ICANN or the Department of Commerce to have
an accurate whois database." Commerce Department General Counsel Theodore
Kassinger says that ICANN is busy working on solving the problem.
[Reuters/*USA Today*, 4 Sep 2003; NewsScan Daily, 5 September 2003]

The benefits and risks of robot surgery

<Juergen Fenn <juergen.fenn@GMX.DE>>
Sun, 07 Sep 2003 00:11:40 +0200

The benefits and risks of robot surgery have been discussed in press reports
in Germany recently. A medical robot constructed to make operations for
inserting artificial hip and knee joint implants more precise has been
criticised for allegedly causing severe harm to at least a small number of
patients, German news magazine DER SPIEGEL reported recently (in German):,1518,262585,00.html,1518,262637,00.html

The reports are claiming "about two dozen cases" would be considered by
medical experts as some former patients are seeking compensation for rather
severe damages to their muscles and nerves after undergoing operations. Ten
lawsuits are pending at a Frankfurt court. According to DER SPIEGEL a Los
Angeles law firm is said to represent some American patients who underwent
surgery at a clinic at Frankfurt, Germany, specialising in this kind of
operations suing the American manufacturer of the system in mass action at a
Californian court.

The report admits, however, that some 6000 operations have been done in all.
Most operations are said to have been successful.

In a press release the body responsible for the clinic has said the system
is also used in Korean and Japanese clinics routinely. Using "Robodoc" meant
putting considerably less strain on patients than traditional methods. It is
said to be working rather reliable. The risks of post-surgical complications
would be much smaller than without the system which has already been used
for 10 years (in German):

A presentation of the robot's capabilities can be found at


<Monty Solomon <>>
Mon, 25 Aug 2003 11:00:59 -0400

  By Eric W. Pfeiffer, Sep 2003, *Technology Review*

Soon, hardware and software that track your location will be
providing directions, offering shopping discounts, and aiding rescue
workers-services that promise a windfall for ailing telecom carriers.

Amanda sits idly at the bar of the trendiest restaurant in town, twirling a
swizzle stick and sipping a cocktail. But cool as she looks, she's feeling
anxious: her date is nearly 15 minutes late. She considers calling him but
doesn't want to seem nervous or overeager.  Still, she pulls out her cell
phone, only instead of calling, she opens a special menu, enters his number,
and sees that he is at the corner of Prospect and Broadway, not more than
three minutes away.  When he walks in, Amanda brushes off his apology,
saying she wasn't at all worried.

Sound fanciful-or outright implausible? Lock on to location-based computing,
the hottest thing in wireless, which offers new services to customers and
new revenue streams to carriers, and could save lives in the process. The
idea is to make cell phones, personal digital assistants, and even fashion
accessories capable of tracking their owners' every movement-whether they're
outdoors, working on the 60th floor, or shopping in a basement arcade.
Already, Japanese telecommunications company KDDI offers over 100 different
location-based services using technology developed by wireless-equipment
maker Qualcomm, from bracelets to let parents track their kids in the park,
to cell phones that point the way to cheap noodle shops in Tokyo's
skyscraping Shinjyuku district. In Korea, two million citizens use their
cell phones to locate nearby friends and, for example, find the most
convenient coffee shops for impromptu meetings. In Europe, cell-phone
networks can locate users and give them personalized directions to Big Ben,
or the Eiffel Tower.  [...]

Covert virus channels?

<Rob Slade <>>
Wed, 3 Sep 2003 15:56:59 -0800

I am under attack.  Or, at least, it feels like it.

Craig, in Atlanta, has a broadband connection, from
He also has Sobig.  And he's been sending me between 60 and 100 infected
messages *per hour* for the past couple of days.  (He seems to turn his
machine off at night.  Thank goodness.)

That's about all I can find out about Craig, given his email headers:

Received: from CRAIG ( [64.30.ZZZ.ZZ] (may be
forged)) by (8.11.7+Sun/8.11.7) with ESMTP id h83LZkX08894 for
<>; Wed, 3 Sep 2003 14:35:47 -0700 (PDT)

After all, Sobig isn't one of those viruses, like Sircam and Klez, that
steals info from your machine and broadcasts it all over the net.

Or is it?

Given the number of messages I've received from him over the past two days,
I've got a pretty complete list of the email addresses on his machine.

Not knowing the rag, I don't know whether I'm supposed to be impressed that
he is in contact with  He seems to be into
self- and  And maybe
trying to set up his own business (  He *does*
seem to be trying to better himself, maybe get an education
( and  He
might be aware that something is wrong with his machine: he seems to be
rather eclectic in terms of where he goes for help (,,,

All of this may be due to an impending marriage: is he searching for an
engagement ring (  And, if so, does his fiancee
know about,,,, and

  [x changed to Z above in hopes of getting by a few filters.  PGN]

Then again, maybe he's a terrorist:

(For those both ethical and unobservant, I have tried to mung anything that
seemed to identify any person.)    or

The dangers of remote start on a car with manual transmission

<Jason Lunz <>>
Wed, 3 Sep 2003 14:23:13 -0400

  [This story appeared on a local chat mailing list. It's forwarded to
  RISKS and rewritten for brevity with permission.  Jason]

An online acquaintance of mine has a manual-transmission car with remote
start option.  On Saturday, a stuck antenna switch on the console needed to
be cleaned.  The car was parked, out of gear, with the hand brake on.  To
operate the switch, the hand brake had to be released, so the car was put in
gear to stop it from rolling.  The antenna switch was cleaned and returned
to working order.

On Sunday when the car was next needed, its state was momentarily
forgotten.  The remote start button was pressed several times.  Nothing
happened.  The car alarm was disarmed, and trunk opened for loading. The
remote start button was tried again, this time with disastrous results.
The car started, then proceeded driverless over a curb, over some
rosebushes, over a sapling, and over an embankment wall.

The risk is obvious. Why would it be possible for a remote start feature
to engage with the car in gear? My automatic-transmission car won't
shift out of park unless a safety interlock is disengaged, and the
safety won't operate unless I put my foot on the brake. It's not clear
why something as potentially dangerous as a remote start system wouldn't
take similar precautions.

Testing by Chimp? I think it too risky

Tue, 02 Sep 2003 21:57:17 -0400

How do I describe the risks of using programs tested by Chimps paid 45 cents
per hour (Banana Dollars?)... This is definitely outsourcing, but who is it
who is out of their mind?

Found at

Chimps go ape for Visual Basic 6.0

Funny enough, this is no joke [*].  A company in Des Moines, Iowa is
teaching computer programming skills to chimpanzees and has plans to resell
their services in outsourcing contracts.  Primate Programming Inc. recently
conducted research that claims computer programming is a task that most
higher primates can perform.  And, according to the company, the primate
programming language of choice is Microsoft Corp.'s Visual Basic 6.0.
Primate Programming is offering software maintenance and report writing
services — all conducted by chimpanzees — for approximately US$0.69 per
hour.  The company also offers software testing for US$0.45 per hour — a
lower price since the chimps require less skill to conduct tests. Visit for more information.

  [* It is much too early — or too late — for April Fools' Day, and this one
  has been around for quite a while, but I sort of regret having ignored it
  previously, so why not now?  The Web site has matured a little since.

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