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http://www.avweb.com/eletter/archives/avflash/203-full.html#186793 An air-traffic controller was stabbed to death at his home near Zurich. The controller was working the sector when two airplanes had a mid-air collision in July, 2002, a crash which killed 71 people on the two planes (one was a cargo carrier, which limited the death toll) over Lake Constance, Switzerland. This submission isn't about the RISKS of being an air-traffic controller, but rather serves to remind those of us in the business of RISKS we have not yet rooted out from the ATC system. The investigation into the crash has not yet been finalized, but they have released some interesting points. 1) Only one controller was on duty at the time. While he might not have been busy and could handle the traffic, the fact is that two sets of eyes is generally accepted as being better than one set. 2) A collision-alert system in the control center was down for maintenance. 3) A phone warning from the previous controllers in Germany was not received by the Swiss controller. 4) The biggest problem was that the Russian pilots followed the instructions of the controllers (to descend) instead of the on-board "TCAS" collision avoidance system (which said to climb); the pilots in the DHL aircraft (the other plane) were following the TCAS system and were also descending. To be frank, having a single controller staffing the position is a RISK but one which is taken quite frequently in ATC. Usually it is not a problem, but there is significant emphasis right now in the US ATC system to reduce staffing and "do more with less" in terms of #s of controllers. Nearly all aviation crashes these days are a result of a "chain" of events, and frequently changing a single factor would quite possibly break the chain. In this case, we can see a few things that need changing. Europe's ATC system is a mess compared to the neat, orderly system in the United States, because in Europe each nation has their own ATC system. This is inefficient, to say the least, because the countries are so (relatively) small and airspace sector (and control center) design has to be built around the boundaries of the particular nations, rather than around the airports and natural flows of the aircraft. As we have seen, it's not only inefficient, but also possibly unsafe. The good news is that Europe has been working on modernizing the ATC system design and improving it, allowing ATC to be a truly European system instead of a hodgepodge of systems (French, German, Swiss, Spanish, Belgian, Dutch, etc). The conflict alert system being down for maintenance is a classic risk -- nearly all ATC providers do not have completely functional redundant systems for backup while the primary one is off-line. In the USA, the primary system (NAS-HOST) has a conflict alert function; the backup system (DARC) does not. The main factor driving this decision is cost; it would be much more expensive for ATC providers to have two full-capability systems. While NAS-HOST functions are down for maintenance, controllers do not have the computerized conflict alert. In yet another classic good/bad kind of tradeoff, the maintenance is usually performed on the "mid" shift (graveyard overnight shift). This is good because air traffic is much lower; it's bad because the controllers are probably less alert and able to adapt due to plain old circadian rhythms. (Controllers' schedules are horrible for this, but that's another RISKS post.) Finally, we turn our attention to the TCAS. Potential problems with the TCAS system have been in RISKS before, and this exact scenario was also predicted by many in the ATC and aviation industry. The specific scenario that was predicted, and which apparently happened in the Switzerland crash, was this: Two aircraft are in conflict. Their TCAS systems activate and proscribe a course of action for each aircraft which, if followed, should separate them. (It should be noted that each plane has a TCAS system on board, and while they are capable of operating independently they typically operate in conjunction, so the resolution suggested works well for both aircraft.) At the same time, the controller sees the situation developing and issues instructions to one or both aircraft; these instructions might be what the TCAS is saying to do, or might not. The pilots on the aircraft then have to figure out what to do. In the worst-case scenario, the TCAS tells one plane to climb and another to descend; ATC tells the first plane to descend and the pilots follow THAT instruction, which only makes matters worse as both planes are now trying to descend below the other. Planes smack, everyone in the air dies. The problem is that the controller, whose job is to sit and issue these sorts of instructions at all times, has NO WAY of knowing that the TCAS unit is suggesting a course of action, and can therefore be giving a perfectly good instruction to one aircraft while the TCAS unit is giving a horrible instruction to the other aircraft. (Or vice-versa; the point isn't that the commands themselves are good/bad, but that TCAS and ATC are trying to resolve the situation with conflicting instructions that only make things worse.) Now, in theory this problem has been "solved". Controllers are told and pilots are trained that when a TCAS conflict resolution happens, the pilots are to follow the TCAS instructions- even if they are in conflict with instructions from ATC. Unfortunately, the possibility for confusion still exists. In this case, it was probably exacerbated by the fact that the Russian plane's pilots came out of an aviation system which heavily emphasized ground control and discouraged pilots making "their own call" in the air; the Russian pilots were (apparently) predisposed to follow the ATC instructions instead of the TCAS instructions. Perhaps their training was not sufficient; perhaps the TCAS unit wasn't operating properly. However, the biggest problem is that different people will sometimes make different choices no matter how much training you give them; one aircrew follows the TCAS, one follows ATC. In any case, this crash perfectly illustrated the TCAS RISK which has existed for over a decade, and which is still not solved in any manner -- namely, that ATC has no way of knowing if/when TCAS resolutions are being broadcast in the cockpits unless the pilots inform ATC, and usually in this last-minute situation there isn't time to do so. What I found interesting in skimming back through the RISKS archives is that this RISK, which has been borne out, was tossed back and forth like a political football- and decidedly non-scientific means were used to dismiss the RISK. The US ATC union, NATCA, pointed out repeatedly that this RISK existed, but was frequently dismissed as merely hyping the issue because "they don't like giving up control" to the pilots in the cockpit. *** From RISKS-13.78, by Nancy Leveson, September 1992: "In the report (which was surprisingly good) they also mentioned that the controllers hate TCAS because they lose control and that the pilots love it because they gain control." "If you read about TCAS, you need to be aware that it is in the midst of a big political struggle. The pilots love it (there was a representative from ALPA on the CNN report). The controllers hate it....So watch who is speaking when you hear about TCAS and its problems or advantages." "In case there is anyone who doesn't know, my Ph.D. students (Mats Heimdahl, Holly Hildreth, Jon Reese, Ruben Ortega, and Clark Turner) and I are working on a formal system requirements specification of TCAS II. This will serve as the official FAA specification of TCAS and also as a testbed application for their dissertations on safety analysis and risk assessment." The irony here is profound. The controllers' union was raising the issue and providing data, anecdotal evidence, and proposing scenarios which were both entirely possible and possibly occuring; the scientist dismissed those concerns by labeling them as politically motivated... but failed to give any evidence of where the union had gone wrong. In March 1993, RISKS-14.44, John Dill, an ATC in Cleveland, Ohio, laid out nearly exactly the same scenario that I did above- ATC giving one set of instructions, TCAS giving another. In RISKS-15.51 and 15.66, an incident in Portland, Oregon, again illustrated the issue with TCAS. RISKS-16.25 had a submission that was highly critical of an NBC "Dateline" report on TCAS. Andres Zellweger claimed "The fact is that TCAS substantially reduces the risk of midair collisions." The report had presented the controllers' view fairly positively, but many in the aviation world made claims like Mr Zellweger's. However, this begged the simple question- how many midair collisions were occuring PRIOR to TCAS's implementation? Real answer: nearly zero. How many happened AFTER the implementation: Still nearly zero. This is not evidence of improvement, of course. In RISKS-17.18, 18.83, 19.55, and 20.11, we have more reports of incidents that mirror the warnings of controllers. In RISKS-20.12, we had a report of a "good" TCAS move and a "bad" TCAS move, and the submitter, David Wittenberg, asked the $64,000 question at the end of his submission: "So the controllers got one pair of planes into a bad situation, and TCAS bailed them out; and TCAS got another set of planes into a bad situation and the controllers bailed them out. How are the pilots to know which one to trust when they must make decisions quickly?" RISKS-20.60 and 20.62 had more reports of TCAS-induced mishaps and near-collisions. In RISKS-10.16, dated back 18 July 1990, I found this question from Henry Spencer: "This brings to mind an interesting thought: who gets the blame if (when) a TCAS warning *causes* a collision, through either electronic or human confusion?" Well, unfortunately for the controller in Switzerland, it appears that at least one angry family member held ATC responsible for a RISK that controllers had been pointing out for years. The (ongoing) history of the TCAS system is nearly a perfect example of how implementing technology can be good, bad, or somewhere in the middle. It'll be a great subject for dissertations in the future, I believe. Aviation is still not perfected. We might like to think that it is, but it's not; errors still do occur. What this whole story points out, to me, is that we must continue to ensure that the humans are given enough training and support to be in a position to succeed; that the automation we implement must be shown to IMPROVE safety, and through hard evidence and not mere assertions that it does; and that we should not dismiss the naysayers simply because we think they have an axe to grind. Sometimes there really are people out to get the paranoid guy. Paul Cox, ZSE
Assistant Attorney General Christopher A. Wray of the Department of Justice Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney Roscoe C. Howard of the District of Columbia announced that Narissa Smalls, a legal technician in FBI Headquarters, was sentenced to 12 months in prison on charges stemming from her unlawful access of the FBI's Automated Case Support (ACS) computer system. [Source: FBI legal technician pleads guilty to unlawfully accessing the FBI's computer system, WWW.USDOJ.GOV, 26 Feb 2004; PGN-ed from Declan McCullagh's Politech mailing list, archived at http://www.politechbot.com/
As most here will know, the UK has had Data Protection legislation for some time, requiring companies to register their data processes where personally identifiable data is involved. *The Metro*, London's free newspaper (seen all over the Underground) printed by the right-wing *Daily Mail* group, has been printing lots recently about the Soham murders and Data Protection. The essence is that several police records were binned for this convicted murderer, that might have helped police find him earlier. Of course, they don't say what has been mentioned here and in other places, that the school where he was caretaker was not the one where the murdered children were, and that even if he'd been a plumber or a builder, he'd probably still have been in a position to murder the two girls. The Data Protection Act is being blamed for the fact that people with no understanding of the Act's requirements binned the records. So, here we have the newspaper hinting that they think Data Protection Act is rubbish and should be scrapped. The contrast came to me this morning; the London Underground Oystercards have been mentioned here previously. I have one of these devices. Apparently, I shouldn't be putting it in my back jeans pocket and sitting on it, because it's now started to work <50% of the time. According to the man behind the counter at the ticket office at 11:45 last night, this is not the "massive design flaw" that I seem to think it is in such a system, that they do not cope with moderately rough handling, and paper (well, printed) tickets are "obsolete", being, as they are, based on an old technology. (So where have we heard that one before, then?). So, having asked for a replacement card, I was instead handed a form to fill in (London Underground adore bureaucracy), and told to bring this form back with a proof of address/identity. Now, when I got the oystercard, I had to fill in a form with address details on it (no proof needed). The number printed on the Oystercard is enough of a key to be able to get all of the information that they request on the form (including name, address, photocard number, what tickets are loaded), and I pointed out that it seemed crazy to be getting this information again. Typically, for London Underground, the staff member looked at me as if I was mad. As well as this, the form asked for my signature on the following text: (TfL - Transport for London, government body overseeing all transport issues within London, LUL - London Underground Limited, private company who own and operate the Underground system) | I declare that the information I have provided on this form is true to | the best of my knowledge. I consent to TfL and/or LUL checking the | information I have given. I accept that if the information I have given | is inaccurate one or more of the following may happen: my use of the | replacement card may be stopped; I will be liable for any balance due to | TfL/LUL (and I will pay it); legal action may be taken against me. This is just one example of where the Data Protection Act is not effective enough, not that it would help here, either. RISKS: + Spurious sensationalistic reporting dulling the senses of those who are most in need of the awareness + Private company, in virtual monopoly position, imposing ever more onerous data requirements on its customers + People being required to sign unpleasant and open-ended liability in order to be able to buy season tickets to use a busy city's transport system + People taking it as read that they have no right to privacy any longer, in this world of terrorism + And of course, the obvious and standard: replacing "obsolete" technologies that work well with technologies that haven't been properly tested for real world conditions (though he claimed that they had to reprint paper tickets reasonably often, I never had (user-fixable) problems where they failed to go through the machine) + And, lastly a relatively good risk to the Oyster itself, having an expensive ticket which only stores the data in electronic form, with no (tied) user/staff-verifiable print of what the data contained should be (ie. if the readers don't work, they have to take your word for it) Matthew Byng-Maddick <email@example.com> http://colondot.net/
Apparently Channel 14 in News 14, Raleigh, NC, have a Web interface for people to submit school and business closing announcements during the bad weather. All well and good, except that it seems no-one was checking the entries. A number of the more dubious entries are included on the discussion board at http://mb3.theinsiders.com/fcarolinacanesfrm1.showMessageRange?topicID=3254. topic&start=1&stop=20 (complete with screenshots), but I have to concur with Mr Steele whose Live Journal included the screenshot for "Tutone Inc, Closed Thursday and Friday, Call Jenny at 867-5309". http://www.livejournal.com/users/mdsteele47/28884.html The risk - leave a public-broadcast message service un-moderated and it won't be long before the humourous, the annoying, and the simply obscene get through.
It seems to me that Microsoft "Windows" is payback for these CIA misdeeds. It passes the tests, then fails catastrophically... Or perhaps the CIA assumed that the USSR would slavishly copy Windows the way they had copied OS/360, and never imagined that the US DoD would itself have to use Windows. Maybe the CIA is now being hoist with its own petard??
Although the issue of maliciously designed components is interesting, I find the specific story regarding the malicious IT design of the gas pipeline control software difficult to believe. According to the article : "When we turned down their overt purchase order, the K.G.B. sent a covert agent into a Canadian company to steal the software; tipped off by Farewell, we added what geeks call a "Trojan Horse" to the pirated product. [...] The pipeline software that was to run the pumps, turbines and valves was programmed to go haywire," writes Reed, "to reset pump speeds and valve settings to produce pressures far beyond those acceptable to the pipeline joints and welds. The result was the most monumental non-nuclear explosion and fire ever seen from space." The above excerpts make the pipeline software appear to be an off-the-shelf application. However, software of this complexity is not sold shrink-wrapped on CDs with a glossy manual that a covert KGB agent can steal. Even if we are not talking about a bespoke application, the software would have to be adapted, tuned, and configured by its developers for the specific environment. A typical ERP system has to be expensively configured for the needs each company by trained specialist consultants; I can not imagine the pipeline control software to have a "Tools - Options - Joints - Weld quality" setting implied by the article.  http://seclists.org/lists/isn/2004/Feb/0011.html Diomidis Spinellis - http://www.dmst.aueb.gr/dds
The other day my children called me to the computer ... they had a prompt to download software, and (thanks to careful training) were suspicious. It turned out to be Microsofts Critical Patch warning — they wanted us to download a patch right away. Given their concern that most or all attacks come from black-hats reverse engineering the patches <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/3485972.stm>, it is understandable that they would want us to patch quickly. However, if you ask every windows user on the net to upgrade NOW, you probably haven't got bandwidth for the response. Microsoft didn't. We ended up patching later.
In RISKS-23.20, Ferdinand John Reinke states that Microsoft will no longer "be able" to support its own JVM from 2004-10-01 onwards, and, as a result, FJR> customers who have the MSJVM installed after this FJR> date will be vulnerable to potential attacks that FJR> will attempt to exploit this technology. I have to ask how he thinks that the risks of potential vulnerability are any different to those in the situation _before_ 2004-10-01. They aren't, of course. The software is not, after all, magically changing somehow on that date to become more vulnerable. (Is he aware of some Microsoft-implanted time bomb in its JVM that he hasn't told us about?) If it's vulnerable to attacks, it is vulnerable _now_. Conversely, if it isn't vulnerable to attacks, it won't suddenly become vulnerable. The date on which support stops is irrelevant to concerns about its vulnerability. Additionally, he says FJR> More alarming, many organizations aren't even aware FJR> that they have MSJVM installed. Again, I have to ask how he thinks that Microsoft's JVM is any different in this respect from the numerous other bits and bobs that many organisations, who just take whatever comes on the discs and in the software updates, will be unaware that they have installed on their machines. The risk of not knowing what softwares one's machine has on it applies to all softwares, isn't specific to Microsoft's JVM, and isn't related to whether those softwares are supported by their manufacturers.
Dimitri Maziuk was right on when he wrote > To get back where I started: we know that technical solutions for > non-technical problems don't work. We are clearly dealing with > non-technical problem here. Spam is an instance of the well-known problem from economics known as the tragedy of the commons. The fix is ditching the bad framework, but we refuse to learn from history and instead allow our hubris to goad us into codifying more expectations for people to ignore.
Lawrence Kestenbaum says, with respect to his mail, that LK> the junk has suddenly reached a new level. My response to that is the same one that I gave to Jon Seymour in response to his submission to RISKS 22.95 last year: Welcome to the club. You're late. You can find a condensed history of my experience at <URL:http://homepages.tesco.net./~J.deBoynePollard/deluge-of-microsoft-worms.html>. People now have more success contacting me via Fidonet than they do contacting me via Internet, a situation that I find amusingly ironic. Lawrence Kestenbaum also says LK> The critics of SPF suggest that spammers would LK> simply find or invent other addresses to use. But this is missing the point. The fact that, as with many other anti-UBM measures for SMTP-based Internet mail, SPF creates yet another arms race is but one of the many things wrong with it. There has been a lot of discussion of the glaring faults of SPF in several discussion fora (which I encourage RISKS readers to read, by the way). When the the turn came for the "qmail" mailing list to have the discussion, I listed 12 of the problem areas to consider for SPF in <URL:news://news.gmane.org./402321C2.7825F3FA@Tesco.NET>, but that is by no means an exhaustive list. Lawrence Kestenbaum then says that he doesn't care about the arms race that SPF initiates (a lamentably short-term and short-sighted attitude, especially in light of the history and consequences of the "Bayesian filters" arms race) LK> so long as [spammers stop] plastering my personal LK> address on hundreds of thousands of fraudulent and LK> disreputable spam messages and viruses, [...] But, of course, SPF won't actually stop that at all. The tool for proving that one did or didn't write something, signed message bodies, has long since been invented anyway. On the gripping hand, perhaps the fact that widespread adoption of SPF will do serious damage to the SMTP mail architecture is a good thing. In the battle against unsolicited bulk mail, we've concentrated upon the wrong problem time after time, with mechanisms that address the wrong thing and that don't address the actual "unsolicited" and "bulk" qualities of undesirable mail. SMTP has become less usable, more patchy, and more balkanised with each new bodge, yet continues to bend and not quite break completely. Perhaps the adoption of SPF will turn out to be the straw that finally breaks the camel's back, and that thus finally forcibly weans us off this bad habit of addressing the wrong problem.
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