The RISKS Digest
Volume 23 Issue 14

Tuesday, 27th January 2004

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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Spirit Rover humbled by classic programming error
Robert Woodhead
New virus infects PCs, whacks SCO
Monty Solomon
Panel reports DoD SERVE System fatally flawed - bureaucrats in denial
Scott Miller
Roadside camera claims car going 406 mph
The risks of naming
Ross Anderson
"Outsourced and Out of Control"
Lauren Weinstein
Pun-intended definitions
UK data protection laws and the Law of Unintended Consequences
Richard Pennington
Lie-detector glasses, 90% accurate?
Steve Holzworth
DHS protects vendors of anti-terrorism technologies from liability
Jay Wylie
Privacy & security threats in one
Jeremy Epstein
Rob Slade's review of Marcus Ranum's *The Myth of Homeland Security*
Marcus J. Ranum
Proceedings on ... Engineering Principles of System Security ...
Daniel P. Faigin
Info on RISKS (comp.risks)

Spirit Rover humbled by classic programming error

<Robert Woodhead <>>
Tue, 27 Jan 2004 08:31:46 -0500

Is it just me, or is it truly ironic that the Spirit Rover (now, thankfully,
on the road to recovery) was brought down by a variant of the classic "fixed
length buffer" error?


Even on Mars, it seems, the RISKS are obvious.  And clearly, the
Spirit's designers had learned some lessons from previous space
experience, and were not too proud of the technological terror they
had created — they had a way to boot into the monitor, so to speak.

Woodhead's Law: "The further you are from your server,  the more likely
it is to crash."  (particularly appropriate in this case)

  [There was an item on the radio news about the computer having tried to
  reboot something like 60 times.  Next time we'll have to send gifted
  SysAdmins up with the rovers?  PGN]

New virus infects PCs, whacks SCO

<Monty Solomon <>>
Mon, 26 Jan 2004 22:21:56 -0500

Robert Lemos, CNET, 26 Jan 2004, 5:58 PM PST

A mass-mailing virus quickly spread through the Internet on Monday,
compromising computers so that they attack the SCO Group's Web server with a
flood of data on Feb. 1, according to antivirus companies.  The virus--known
as MyDoom, Novarg and as a variant of the Mimail virus by different
antivirus companies--arrives in an in-box with one of several different
random subject lines, such as "Mail Delivery System," "Test" or "Mail
Transaction Failed." The body of the e-mail contains an executable file and
a statement such as: "The message contains Unicode characters and has been
sent as a binary attachment."
  [Oodles of other URLs omitted.  PGN, who has been wading through
  hundreds of extra messages today.  GRRROAN.]

Panel reports DoD SERVE System fatally flawed - bureaucrats in denial

<Scott Miller <>>
Thu, 22 Jan 2004 14:17:58 -0500

A four member panel (out of a 10-member peer review group) has condemned the
Pentagon's Secure Electronic Registration and Voting Experiment for inherent
and irreparable security flaws in the public computing infrastructure.

"I think that a dedicated and experienced hacker could subvert the election
rather easily..." - Dr. Aviel D. Rubin, technical director of Johns Hopkins'
Information Security Institute.

"The only 100% way we can avoid some of the security issues [raised by the
four panel members] is to not do this. And that is not something we will
do..." - Glen Flood, a spokesman for the SERVE project.

Computerworld article -,10801,89290,00.html
Panel report -

Roadside camera claims car going 406 mph

<greep <>>
Wed, 21 Jan 2004 12:23:39 -0800

This is excerpted from the *Sun*,,2-2004031766,00.html):

Driver Peter O'Flynn was stunned to receive a speeding notice claiming a
roadside camera had zapped him — at an astonishing 406MPH.  The sales
manager, who was driving a Peugeot 406 at the time, said: "I rarely speed
and it's safe to say I'll contest this."  Officials admitted it was a
clerical bungle, but insisted he would still be prosecuted.  (The Peugeot
406 Sport has a top speed of 129mph.)

The risks of naming

<Ross Anderson <>>
Fri, 23 Jan 2004 17:55:37 +0000

Regular RISKS readers know that many things can go wrong with naming, and
affect systems that use ID cards, PKIs and suchlike. But this morning I came
across a new and quite surprising failure mode.

I suddenly learned that I did not know how to spell my own name!

Recently, we had to manufacture a version of my name in Korean characters
(Hangul) for a Chinese new year card. A local Korean scholar duly assisted
and off went the card.

This morning, I was tipped off by one of the recipients that my name was
`wrong'. It turns out that people in Korea who work with information
security have arrived at a consensus on the Hangulisation of my name, as
indeed they have for many other foreign computer science researchers. It
turns out that I'm not 'Los An-del-son', as my informant had suggested;
`everyone in Korea' knows me as 'Lo-ssue En-da-son'. So there we have
it. You may be well-known by a name you never knew you had. I expect there
was no way a Korean who was unaware of the consensus could have
second-guessed the spelling.

So that's what it's like to be called Gaddafi / Ghazzafi / Qadhafi!

Meanwhile, on Wednesday, I went and got a visa for India, so now my passport
has stuff in it in yet another script. And no doubt when I visited Japan
there was at least one version of my name knocking about in at least one kind
of kana.

This underlines the risks of the consensus emerging among governments
post-9/11, which is that people acquire names only because a government
issues a birth certificate; and so governments need to build huge
infrastructures of databases, biometrics and ID cards to support this vital
social function of knowing people's names. I rather fear that, in our
multicultural world, the task of making everyone's names correct and
consistent might lie beyond our technical and organisational capabilities.

"Outsourced and Out of Control"

<Lauren Weinstein <>>
Tue, 06 Jan 2004 09:03:47 -0800

Since the topic of outsourcing is of great concern currently, I've made
available a copy of my "Inside Risks" column that will appear in the
upcoming February 2004 edition of "Communications of the ACM" (CACM).
It is titled "Outsourced and Out of Control" and is located at:

As the column discusses, while the issue of job losses is serious enough,
other factors, such as privacy and security risks, also need to be

Lauren Weinstein, 1-818-225-2800
Co-Founder, PFIR - People For Internet Responsibility -
Moderator, PRIVACY Forum -

Pun-intended definitions

<"Peter G. Neumann" <>>
Tue, 6 Jan 2004 14:05:15 PST

The Sunday *San Jose Mercury* (4 Jan 2004) had a wonderful article on the 50
best punny definitions of the year.  Here is a sampling of a few with
computer technology relevance.

  off-shorn:  vt.  Getting cut because your job moved overseas.
     [Rainer Richter, San Jose]

  Microsofa:  n.  A piece of furniture that, while it looked fine
     in the showroom, gradually begins to dominate the living room,
     eventually forcing you to replace all the other furniture,
     including the TV, to be "compatible".  [Earl T. Cohen, Fremont]

  motherbored:  n.  In many homes, a technology discussion at dinner
     between father and the kids.  (Bruce Kerr)

  Luddate:  n.  Someone you are going out with who does not
     understand the [Santa Clara] Valley's obsession with technology.
     (Lisa Lawrence, Palo Alto)

  Crisco:  n.  A person who got fried by buying Cisco at $80 a share.
     (Jim Schutz)

    [Mercurial typo corrected in archive copy.  PGN]

UK data protection laws and the Law of Unintended Consequences

<Richard Pennington <>>
Sun, 18 Jan 2004 21:04:05 +0100

There are two cases causing a stir here in the UK where mis-interpretation
of the UK Data Protection Act has been blamed for serious unintended
consequences, including loss of life.

Case 1: A school in Cambridgeshire (UK) advertised for a new caretaker (for
US readers, read 'janitor').  Because of child protection legislation, a
routine criminal record check was performed by local police on the
successful applicant.  Because the applicant had previously lived in another
area (Lincolnshire), the local police, as a matter of routine, contacted
Lincolnshire police and received a 'clean' report; a similarly 'clean'
report was then given to the school, who confirmed the appointment.  The
caretaker later murdered two of the schoolchildren (aged 9 and 10).  The
resulting inquiry revealed that the caretaker, while in Lincolnshire, had
been the subject of multiple relevant allegations (indecent assault and
worse), none of which had ever been brought to court.  Lincolnshire police
claimed that, under the (UK) Data Protection Act, they were obliged to
destroy the records of the alleged offences when the investigations ended
without a trial.  As a result, the various investigations in Lincolnshire
never heard about each other, and none of the information was forwarded to

Case 2: Responding to an unpaid gas bill, British Gas disconnected the gas
supply from an elderly couple in August 2003 (at which time the weather was
extremely hot), and did not notify the local Social Services.  The few
months later, the couple were found in their apartment, dead from
hypothermia (the weather now being much colder).  British Gas claimed that
(under the UK Data Protection Act) they were unable to contact local Social
Services because they did not have the written permission of the couple to
disclose their financial records.

In both cases, the UK Data Protection Registrar (the official in charge of
information protection and privacy) has indicated that the official bodies
involved) misunderstood the meaning and intent of the legislation, despite
existing guidance.  The guidance is now in the process of being rewritten
and clarified.  But, in these two cases, four lives were lost.

  [Note added in archive copy: A member of the Lincolnshire police has
  pointed out that the references to his police force are incorrect; this
  article should have referred to the Humberside Police.  PGN]

Lie-detector glasses, 90% accurate?

<Steve Holzworth <>>
Tue, 20 Jan 2004 17:33:11 -0500

Starkly excerpted:

It may not be long before you hear airport security screeners ask, "Do you
plan on hijacking this plane?" A U.S. company using technology developed in
Israel is pitching a lie detector small enough to fit in the eyeglasses of
law enforcement officers, and its inventors say it can tell whether a
passenger is a terrorist by analyzing his answer to that simple question in
real-time.  ...

The company showed plain sunglasses outfitted with the technology at the
2004 International CES in Las Vegas earlier this month. The system used
green, yellow and red color codes to indicate a "true," "maybe" or "false"
response. At its CES booth, V Entertainment analyzed the voices of
celebrities like Michael Jackson to determine whether they were lying.  ...

"It is very different from the common polygraph, which measures changes in
the body, such as heart rate," said Richard Parton, V's chief executive
officer. "We work off the frequency range of voice patterns instead of
changes in the body." The company said that a state police agency in the
Midwest found the lie detector 89 percent accurate, compared with 83 percent
for a traditional polygraph.

[SCH - oh, excellent! I only have a 1 in 10 chance of being falsely accused.]

Steve Holzworth, Senior Systems Developer, SAS Institute - Open Systems R&D

DHS protects vendors of anti-terrorism technologies from liability

<Jay Wylie <>>
Sun, 18 Jan 2004 14:11:53 -0500 (EST)

[This note considers an] article "Guarding Against Terrorism--And Liability"
by Roland L. Trope in the January 2004 issue of *IEEE Spectrum*.

The article gives some details about the SAFETY (Support Anti-terrorism by
Fostering Effective Technologies) Act of 2002. The act protects vendors of
anti-terrorism products that have been vetted by the Department of Homeland
Security and designated as QATT (Qualified Ani-Terrorism Technology) from
liabilities that arise from any failings of the anti-terrorism
technology. Specifically, the DHS determines a level of insurance that must
be carried, and this level caps the liability of the vendor.

Seeing the quality of software that is produced in an environment in which
software vendors are free of liability, I am concerned about the quality
of products generated under such protection as offered by SAFETY.  As
well, the color-coded threat levels of the DHS does not give me much
confidence in their ability to evaluate technologies that offer protection
from terrorism (security is complicated, colors are not). Most
disappointing though, is that a publication of a professional society of
engineers is more concerned about vendors being aware of the protection
from liability than questioning whether such protection is appropriate.

P.S., More info on SAFETY can be found at, but
the secure web site certificate is not configured properly...

Privacy & security threats in one

<Jeremy Epstein <>>
Wed, 21 Jan 2004 12:33:59 -0500

I've recently joined LinkedIn, which is one of the crop of electronic
meeting places for making business contacts based on six degrees of
separation.  I'm pretty suspicious of the privacy issues, and therefore
won't tell them anyone I know about, unless I see that they're already
members.  That obviously limits the size of my circle, but gives me (and my
contacts) more privacy.

To boost the number of members, they recently sent out a message encouraging
people to use a new feature: it will compare everyone in your Outlook
contact list to the list of members, and tell you who you know about who's
already a member.  The tool is an ActiveX control (since I don't run IE, I
don't know if it's signed or unsigned).  There's no warnings on their site
about the dangers of running code of this sort... but there is a note "When
you start importing, you will see a security warning similar to this one:
[image of an ActiveX control approval box] Simply press the "Yes" button to
agree to the upload."

So they're encouraging you to risk both your privacy *and* your security in
one easy step.

Thanks but no thanks.

Rob Slade's review of Marcus Ranum's *The Myth of Homeland Security*

<"Marcus J. Ranum" <>>
Mon, 26 Jan 2004 20:20:28 -0500

  [First of all, an explanatory note.  In deciding to run Rob Slade's review
  of Marcus Ranum's book, *The Myth of Homeland Security*, Wiley, 2004, I
  thought that — because of the nature of the topic — it would be
  appropriate to give Marcus an opportunity to respond.  Because he has
  completely encapsulated the content of Rob's review in his commentary, I
  decided to avoid duplication and just run the response with the review
  interstiated (and prefaced by "> ").  I hope that is a reasonable strategy
  for RISKS readers.  PGN]

First off, let me thank Rob for being so kind as to review my book in this
forum.  If there's "no such thing as bad publicity" I suppose I must be
grateful. :) I'd like to take the liberty to comment on a few aspects of the

> Chapter one asserts that Homeland Security is (along with a number of
> other similar terms) a convenient invention.  Information warfare is
> derided as such a device, and although I could agree in terms of books
> such as Erbschloe's (cf. BKINFWFR.RVW), I don't think Ranum gives
> enough thought to the work by Dorothy Denning (cf. BKINWRSC.RVW).

My book was aimed at a popular audience - the intended victims of the
Homeland Security scam - rather than at computer security professionals who
are familiar with Dr. Denning's books. My object in the book is not to
engage in a debate of scholarship as much as to point out some of the
obvious bogusness that is being put about in the popular media. As I express
in my book, even the "serious" Information Warfare proponents are guilty of
using it as a FUD-vehicle to sell their services and products, and
completely ignore many serious flaws in the concept - such as the problem of
logistics as applied to "cyberweapons." Simply saying that my book doesn't
pay adequate attention to Denning should not justify dismissing it.

> He is also seemingly inconsistent in his positions, arguing
> generally against biometrics and profiling, but then apparently
> endorsing them.

You must have skimmed that section. :) I pointed out that biometrics
actually wouldn't have prevented any recent terrorist incidents, though
widescale deployment of biometrics would have been vastly beneficial to the
vendors of said systems. ;) If you consider that an "endorsement" it's an
endorsement of faint praises. :) I was rather dismayed to see that, in
another gesture of homeland security grandstanding, the biometrics passport
hype has managed to gain some momentum. Nobody in the homeland security
arena seems to be able to address the problem: so what if you know WHO the
person is, how do you know what kind of person they are?

> The arguments are not reasoned: he is for a national identity system, but
> admits elsewhere that the 9/11 terrorists had valid identification.

I am NOT in favor of a national identity system. I DO think it is ridiculous
to have 50 states issuing ID based on 50 different trust criteria, using 50
different types of alteration-resistance technology, and with no way of
checking to see if they're actually real without calling that state's
Department of Motor Vehicles. The issue I was trying to point out is that,
in such an environment, it's silly to be requiring ID before letting someone
on a plane. Does that make me in favor of a national identity system? My
point is that if we're going to go down this route we may as well get it
right and stop trying to slap half-arsed measure atop half-arsed measure.

> Chapter seven says that the army is good, the border patrol is looking for
> the wrong things (although this is confusingly amended to a position that
> they have the technology but aren't using it), and the FBI and CIA have an
> ongoing turf fight.

I understand the need to make your review more entertaining by being
flippant - I did NOT say "the army is good" and you know it, if you actually
read the book. Chapter seven focuses on the fundamental reasons why military
approaches to security, law enforcement approaches to security, and
intelligence approaches to security will all be different and are, in fact,
highly incompatible. That's a much different discussion from "the army is
good" and you know it. :) As someone who reviews books for publishers
myself, I know the importance of not allowing my personal feelings about a
book to influence how I present its contents. I would have no problem with
your review if you kept it fair (e.g.: "Ranum tries to make a case that the
FBI and CIA will be unable to ever converge on a cooperative approach to
counterterror and fails because blah blah blah" but jocularly summarizing
aspects of a writer's thinking as you do above is more appropriate for a
music review in a punk rock magazine than a review in a technical mailing

> Cyberattacks are an unreal myth, says chapter nine, but our
> information infrastructure is mostly undefended.  The lack of
> standardization in government systems is seen as making government
> systems harder to defend (even though homogeneity means that a single
> attack can penetrate everything).

Note: the parenthetical above is the reviewer's opinion, not a position I
take in my book. My focus on the feebleness of government security is from a
viewpoint of manageability, technical competence, and lack of
standardization, not from a "monoculture" hype perspective.

> While this material starts off very well, possibly due to Ranum's greater
> familiarity with strictly technical issues, he makes numerous errors in
> regard to viruses and malware.  His lack of experience in this specific
> area reappears in chapter ten, where he says that even outdated antivirus
> scanners should have caught Code Red because the exploit was a known one.

I am really annoyed by this part of your review. Never mind that you're
obviously the malware guru, but in this forum you're pretending to be a book
reviewer. As such, it's not proper to mis-characterize a book to suit your
ends. I said NOTHING like what you attribute to me, above. My comments on
CodeRed in specific and malware in general were broad and read:

"When CodeRed broke out, my company's system administrator knew about it
within an hour, had verified that our systems weren't vulnerable to it, and
had gone on to doing something else. We weren't vulnerable to CodeRed
because CodeRed relied on a vulnerability that the security community had
known about for the past three months, and that had been fixed by most
diligent system administrators."

Does that say something about even outdated virus scanners?  I also touched
on malware briefly when I wrote, about CodeRed and Slapper (malware in
general) "What the public at large may not realize is that these attacks
usually only disrupt organizations that have failed to take even basic
precautions to protect themselves."  This is not "out of date antivirus
scanners" I am referring to here, but the combination of reasonable A/V
policy, boundary attachment scanners, firewalls, etc. These techniques DO
work and they work well. Organizations that get reamed by malware and worms
are frequently trying to "have their cake and eat it too" from a security
perspective and prefer to blame others rather than their own inability to
follow simple best practices.

I am disturbed that you'd so seriously mis-characterize a book you're
reviewing in a public forum like this. Did you actually read my book before
you wrote your review? If I send you a copy will you read it, please?

> However, scanners would not have caught Code Red since it did not
> write itself out to a file, and also because scanners search for
> strings or patterns, not exploits.  (If anything should have caught
> Code Red it was more likely to have been the firewalls that Ranum has
> made his name in designing.)

I'm just amazed that you're taking off on this point. The only reference to
CodeRed in Chapter nine are both on page 141 and nowhere do I say anything
about A/V scanners. Did you actually read Chapter nine, or are you perhaps
confusing my book with another?  [Actually, the specific mitigation we had
in place at NFR that made CodeRed a non-event was our proxy firewall, as you

> Those of us who work in the security field can certainly sympathize
> with the tone of Ranum's work.  Yes, governments (and businesses) are
> foolish.  Yes, the general public sees a complex problem in simplistic
> terms.  Yes, you can find instances of stupidity in any large
> enterprise.  But does any of this have a real bearing on how security
> can be improved, or how we should look at it?

When the general public sees a complex problem in simplistic terms and is
being sold trumped-up stupid solutions for nosebleed prices it is QUITE
useful to point it out to them. That was the purpose of my book. Improving
security and how we should look at it was not the purpose of the book. My
entire career has been spent on the latter issues, working with my peers to
do what I can from a technical standpoint. The purpose of this book was not
to teach Joe Sixpack how to design a trust model; it was to help Joe Sixpack
understand why he's being asked to spend $30 billion and would have probably
gotten more use out of the money if he'd had a good bonfire with it.

> (Particularly to a non-American audience, this book must read like a long
> string of sometimes whiny complaints.)  Yes, Ranum starts off by saying
> that he is not actually offering solutions, but that bald statement hardly
> absolves him of not offering anything, including insights.

I can only hope my book offers some insights. I could swear I thought I put
a few of them in there when I wrote it but I can't seem to find them, now...

> Presumably, however, we are not the target audience, and the book is aimed
> at demonstrating to the general public that Homeland Security is, as the
> cover graphically puts it, a house of cards.

Finally! Thank you! It's good that you put one thing in the review that I
can wholeheartedly agree with! Yes, that's what this book was all

Thanks for writing such a careful, perceptive, and fair review.

Proceedings on ... Engineering Principles of System Security ...

<"Daniel P. Faigin" <>>
Fri, 23 Jan 2004 09:02:38 -0800 (PST)

ACSA has announced the availability of the electronic proceedings for the
ACSA-sponsored Workshop on the Application of Engineering Principles to
System Security Design (WAEPSSD) at

The goal of the workshop was to examine engineering fundamentals, the
principles and practice of designing and building secure systems.

The engineering principles identified by the workshop as most beneficial to
apply to security systems are presented in the two group reports.

The proceedings also contain the workshop position papers, notes from the
chair and editor, and list of contributors and organizers.

Daniel Faigin, ACSA Secretary, Chair: ACSAC 20 (see

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