Because watching a monitor from 4,600 kilometres away is more secure ... "The air traffic control center in Surrey, B.C. will have its security guards replaced with automated entry systems and officials watching monitors in Ottawa." CBC News, 9 Jul 2007 http://www.cbc.ca/canada/british-columbia/story/2007/07/09/bc-airtrafficsecurity.html email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com http://victoria.tc.ca/techrev/rms.htm
On BBC Radio 4 "You and Yours" last week with a follow-up at lunchtime today (11th July 2007): Some naughty web users have got more than they bargained for when casually browsing for adult material. At least two porn sites (mysexworld and sexpassport) feature a novel way of enforcing payment. A page on the site (p7 of 13 in one case) contains a warning well buried in the small print that, by visiting that page, the reader agrees to a 3 day free trial. If they do not cancel the arrangement, then a 3 month contract at 39.99 pounds payable in advance comes into force. It is stated that, if payment is not received, then the "subscriber" agrees to inconvenience up to and including the complete disruption of their use of their computer. Having inadvertently walked into this "agreement", the hapless victims then found that they had downloaded software which flashed pop-up windows onto their screens, demanding payment. The pop-ups cannot be disabled, moved, closed or sent to background, and persist for increasingly long periods of up to 10 minutes. Since they appear every few seconds, they render the computer unusable. This charming "business model" is the brainchild of a certain MBS, who lease the software to the porn site operators. The CEO of MBS quite brazenly stated that this is fair practice since the victims had knowingly agreed in advance to the disruption in the event of them not paying for their subscriptions. He denied that he was anything to do with the porn "industry" and that his software was available for hire by any outfit wanting to sell any type of web services. The UK Trading Standards Authority has received 200 complaints so far and are apparently "in discussion" with MBS to modify their practices. The equivalent authority in the US has adopted a less limp-wristed attitude and has enforced on a similar firm in the US a maximum duration of 40 seconds for the pop-ups, and are considering slapping an injunction on them to ban the practice. To listen again to the programmes, go to http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/youandyours/ and follow the links. Peter Mellor; Mobile: 07914 045072; email: MellorPeter@aol.com
http://www.macfixit.com/article.php?story=20070628105254900 Mac OS X 10.4.10 is the first iterative release of Mac OS X to have 5 digits in its version string (1, 0, 4, 1, 0). It is also the first iterative release of Mac OS X to use the ".10" extension. This is causing some significant issues. The initial three [sic] digits for "10.4.10" are the same as "10.4.1," an earlier release of Mac OS X 10.4 (Tiger). Since the "MAC_OS_X_VERSION_ACTUAL" string (used by Cocoa applications to determine the current OS version) can carry a maximum of four digits, Mac OS X 10.4.10 and and 10.4.1 are both labeled "1041." This means that some applications recognize Mac OS X 10.4.10's version string as Mac OS X 10.4.1 and refuse to properly run, erroneously thinking that the system version is too old. For instance, the application UNO requires Mac OS X 10.4.4. When running under Mac OS X 10.4.10, it recognizes the Mac OS X version number as 10.4.1 and refuses to operate. Essentially, the built-in Cocoa method for forbidding an app to run on too low a system breaks against Mac OS X 10.4.10. We're still searching for a viable method for tricking applications into thinking that the system version is 10.4.9, which would largely obviate this problem. RISKS: This sounds almost like a repeat of the Y2K scenarios, with all its attendant risks.
This is an interesting article. One would wonder what might be gained if the high-level parties were trained to know the insecurity of the cellular network. However, there's real life, and people will do what's convenient. The Athens Affair Vassilis Prevelakis and Diomidis Spinellis, IEEE Spectrum, July 2007 http://www.spectrum.ieee.org/jul07/5280 A case involving hackers deploying sophisticated eavesdropping technology within Greece's largest cellphone network provides a rare glimpse into one of the most elusive of cybercrimes. Major network penetrations of any kind are exceedingly uncommon. They are hard to pull off and equally hard to investigate. This one proved to be legendary. [See the blogs of Matt Blaze and Steve Bellovin for excellent commentary: http://www.cs.columbia.edu/~smb/blog/2007-07/2007-07-06.html and http://www.crypto.com/blog/hellenic_eavesdropping/ PGN]
On 27 Jun 2007, lightning hit a component of New York City's power distribution network, resulting in a 49-minute power outage that affected 385,000 people in Manhattan's Upper East Side and the Bronx -- all supplied by two power stations in the southwest Bronx that were knocked out. The initial guess is that the system misdiagnosed the power surge resulting from the lightning strike, and overreacted -- protectively shut down those customers. Following last summer's 9-day outage in Queens (RISKS-24.36), Con Ed has spent $90 million to upgrade the aging equipment. [Source: Patrick McGeehan, *The New York Times*, National Edition, A25, 29 Jun 2007, PGN-ed]
The so-called "software glitch" that caused the false Fire Alarm to go off in the Russian portion of the International Space Station (ISS) during the major computer and solar panel position repairs in early June, was probably not a glitch but a fail safe programmed response to the power failures being experienced. (Since no one seems to know the detailed design of the Russian systems, there is a slight possibility that it was a pre-programmed response, or caused by, the computers going down, but the timing of the alarm does not support this.) We (U.S. Industry) used to program facilities monitoring systems, security, fire, heating-cooling, like that in the '70s and '80s, that is, the alarm would go off if power failed, dipped, or was irregular in a section, just to be on the safe side, i.e. if the fire alarm is not working, turn on the fire alarm. Now we are more sophisticated, and with battery or backup power on the main monitoring section, and more sophisticated software to detect a specific problem, to work around, and fault isolation software, this procedure is not in place any more. We have accurate Fire Alarms and an alarm to say the fire alarm is not functional, and power or voltage reduction (Voltr) alarms, and have stopped using this indiscriminate "shotgun" approach of turning on the fire alarm to be on the safe side. In cryptographic devices, because of the problems with "gate arrays" when voltage is irregular, and the fact that a clear text can never be permitted to go out on the cipher text output, if we detect a power loss, voltage dip or irregularity on the device or components around the device, a Voltr Crypto-Alarm is issued, and the cipher text output is immediately disconnected, and not reconnected until the alarm is checked (Cleared). When things stop working, like data links, or Radios, everyone suspects the encryption device, and does an alarm check to clear the crypto, sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn't because the problem is not with the crypto. Built-in-test (BIT), fault detection, calibration, remote maintenance, and/or fault isolation, is not the stepchild, leave it to the Intern, embedded systems software anymore. In the U.S., it is mature, complicated, specialized software written by experts. About the use of '70s and '80s technology in the Russian portion of the ISS, while this might be a good thing for mechanical systems, it is worrisome in terms of computers and software? Robert J. Perillo, Principal Software Engineer firstname.lastname@example.org
June 29, 2007 http://lauren.vortex.com/archive/000256.html Greetings. After causing law enforcement and the news media to spin their wheels uselessly, a Wikipedia user has <a href="http://abcnews.go.com/Sports/story?id=3327310">apparently confessed</a> to planting a rumor as fact on the Wikipedia page for wrestler Chris Benoit, claiming his wife was dead hours before the bodies of Benoit and his family were found. The ease with which this was done by a still anonymous party, triggering investigations and consternation at a time that was already intensely emotional for everyone involved with the Benoit case, demonstrates once again a fundamental flaw in Wikipedia's usually anonymous, non-moderated editing framework for most Wikipedia pages. The fact that such editing can usually be undone (and redone later for that matter) doesn't change the fact that Wikipedia can never be an authoritative source while it is subject to this kind of anonymous abuse -- whether by jokesters out to get their kicks or well-meaning contributors simply unwilling to check their facts. Such events can easily turn Wikipedia pages into rumor and defacement billboards rather than encyclopedia-quality content. The damage is already done. If Wikipedia expects to really be taken seriously in the long run, it needs to rethink its standards for item creation, modification, and attributions. Wikipedia, it's time to grow up.
Wikipedia and Responsibility http://lauren.vortex.com/archive/000257.html Greetings. In the wake of my recent posting regarding Wikipedia and the Benoit murder/suicide case ( http://lauren.vortex.com/archive/000256.html ), I've received a number of responses that boil down to: "Why are you blaming Wikipedia for anything relating to this situation? Wikipedia isn't supposed to be authoritative." I definitely agree that in a perfect world everyone would understand that Wikipedia is not authoritative -- and cannot be under its current structure. But in the real world, Google searches on a vast array of topics will return Wikipedia articles as the top or near top results (and/or in other contexts), and a vast number of sites use Wikipedia entries as convenient explanatory text or links -- despite most Wikipedia entries' lack of attribution, lack of documented fact checking, and being subject to mutation and alteration at any time. But Wikipedia entries are free, they're easy to link to, and hell, if any particular Wikipedia page is wrong at any particular moment, people can always say "it's not my problem." Unfortunately, it is not necessarily obvious to many Web users following such links -- or reading related excerpted texts -- that Wikipedia articles "aren't supposed to be authoritative." Many people who find their way to Wikipedia items or texts don't know what Wikipedia really is about, and many persons understandably assume it's like any other "real" encyclopedia (that is, authors attributed somewhere, facts get a modicum of checking at least most of the time, entries aren't subject to random editing on a whim, etc.) The Wikipedia folks created the system under which they operate. They need to take some responsibility when that structure causes damage. This isn't the first example of Wikipedia abuse screwing around with people's lives. I am frankly very tired of hearing some people use the Internet as an excuse for anonymous attacks and abuses, with it seems relatively few persons having enough guts to take responsibility for the impacts that then result. We want to let people post anonymously, at least the pseudo-anonymity (subject to tracing in many cases) offered by the Internet? Fine. Anonymous speech definitely has its role. But the buck has to stop somewhere, and these systems should not be an excuse for a hit and run mentality. In most such cases a significant amount of the responsibility when damage occurs must rest on the publisher of the unattributed information, if they have voluntarily chosen to operate in that manner. I'm not talking about common carriers and ISPs. I'm referring to sites that set themselves up in a way that serves to isolate posters/editors of material in public forums from attribution. Again, if you want to operate this way, that's a perfectly valid choice. But realize that you're transferring part of the responsibility onto yourself. I do not believe that as a society we can accept the premise that anonymous systems erase all aspects of responsibility from all involved parties. In the current Benoit situation, I likely wouldn't throw the book at that hoax poster. It's easy to be suckered in by the "devil-may-care" attitude that Wikipedia tends to foster. The hoaxer didn't realize that, in this case, they were falling into a serious and painful trap. Lauren Weinstein +1 (818) 225-2800 http://www.pfir.org/lauren Lauren's Blog: http://lauren.vortex.com email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
(Martin, RISKS-24.71) In contrast to Sydney with its ticketing system that tries to do everything and fails, we have this story from England about ticketing machines that try NOT to do everything, and succeed... in cheating the passengers. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article1975243.ece Three key paragraphs: The companies have chosen secretly not to programme their ticket machines to sell the GroupSave fare, which is meant to be available to any group of three or four people traveling after the morning peak. Under GroupSave, when two adults buy tickets another two can travel free. Staff at ticket offices are obliged to sell the cheapest fare, including GroupSave, even if passengers do not specifically request it. But the law does not extend to machines. Passengers travelling alone are also unable to obtain the cheapest fares from machines for some morning trains on which those fares are valid. The fares can be obtained only from ticket offices. Only 44 of SWT's 177 stations have offices open for at least 12 hours a day. Another 105 have part-time ticket offices and 28 have no offices. After being presented with the evidence gathered by The Times, SWT said that it would consider reprogramming its machines to offer the GroupSave discount. A spokeswoman added: "We are looking at adding more options, but then we get advised that the machines are really complicated and people can't use them." (At this point something might be said about overly complex fare structures, but note that according to the description in this article, the group fare is not an "option" in any case.) Mark Brader, Toronto, email@example.com
In RISKS-24.71 Paul E. Black quotes "maddogone" as saying, "The tests show it was the G-suit which activated the ejection. ... when it filled with air it pressed against the release handle" I was unable to find the original source of the maddogone quote (perhaps Mr. Black can provide a reference) but I am doubtful of the explanation in the maddogone quote. I am unfamiliar with the Gripen but back in my day, more decades ago than I care to think about, US ejections seats were; activated by handles of one sort or another and none of the handles; in the aircraft I am familiar with could be activated by simple pressure (of an inflating G-suit). I could be wrong (it's rare, but it's been known to happen ;-) but I doubt that the Gripen ejection system would have been designed with that obvious a hazard, given that ejection seat technology has been fairly mature for quite some time now. Be nice to know more, particularly if I am correct and the ejection was not caused by a simple mechanical stupidity but by a more complex systems problem which we, the readers of this forum, would want to know more about. So, as noted, perhaps Mr. Black can provide the source of the maddogone quote or other pointer to further information. (Or just tell me that I'm wrong and the Gripen ejection system *can* be activated by simple pressure, in which case shame on Gripen -- or, more specifically, their ejection seat manufacturer).
The item by Tony Lima <firstname.lastname@example.org> in RISKS-24.70 was interesting. The following is an excerpt from my paper "CAD: Computer-Aided Disaster", High Integrity Systems Journal, Vol. 1, No. 2, 1994, pp 101-156. (It was based on press reports at the time. Statements in double quotes below are from people who were quoted in the press articles. I have omitted the references, but will send the whole paper to anyone who wants it.) The SAAB JAS 39 Gripen is one of the new generation of aerodynamically unstable fighters. It has no ailerons on the main wings, but uses a pair of smaller wings mounted forward to control its attitude. The FCS actively controls these and other surfaces to maintain stability. The FCS employs three digital computers, presumably in some fault-tolerant architecture. (Precisely what this architecture is, is not clear from the reports.) "It has to respond to signals within 200 milliseconds in order to maintain stability. If the digital system is disconnected, an analogue backup system ensures that the plane flies level but it is not then possible to manoeuvre. Since the centre of gravity lies behind the centre of lift, there is a tendency to lift the nose when control is lost." On 2nd February 1989, the first prototype was coming in to land after its sixth test flight. On its previous five flights it had shown a tendency to lateral instability. This time, it showed longitudinal instability, pitching down, then sharply up, then down again to the extent that the pilot could not recover control. The aircraft hit the runway, shearing off the left main gear, bounced, skidded off the runway, turned through 180 degrees, struck the ground with its right wingtip, flipped over, and came to rest on its back. Amazingly, the test pilot, Lars Radestrom, walked away from the wreck. The investigating committee concluded that the crash was due to a software fault. The chairman, Olaf Forsberg, stated: "The accident was caused by the aircraft experiencing increasing pitch oscillations (divergent dynamic instability) in the final stage of landing, the oscillations becoming uncontrollable. This was because movement of the stick in the pitch axis exceeded the values predicted when designing the flight control system, whereby the stability margins were exceeded at the critical frequency." Note that the software fault in question seems to be a requirements fault, since a separate investigation by the JAS consortium concluded: "The control laws implemented in the flight control system's computer had deficiencies with respect to pitch axis at low speed. In this case, the pilot's control commands were subjected to such a delay that he was out of phase with the aircraft's motion. ... JAS is now introducing the necessary modifications to the control laws." Just how effective these changes were is shown by the events of 8th August 1993, when the second production aircraft (out of 140 ordered by the Swedish Air Force) was engaged in a display flight over the Water Festival in Stockholm. Entering a turn, the pilot found that "... the computer overcompensated by roughly 10 degrees. When I then straightened out the aircraft, I got an undemanded pitch oscillation and, when I tried to compensate for that one, the aircraft kind of sat down and became impossible to control." He added that it felt "... like being on top of a slippery sphere" or "... like butter on a hot potato". At the point when the aircraft reached a nose-up angle of around 70 degrees to the horizontal, the pilot decided to get out and walk. He ejected safely, and the aircraft then leveled off and flew on for a while before crashing on an island. The only casualties were one tree, three spectators who suffered minor burns, and one who sprained an ankle running away! The Crash Investigative Commission stated in their preliminary report: "The JAS crash was caused by the control system's high amplification of joystick deflections in combination with the pilot's large and rapid joystick movements. This caused margins of stability to be exceeded." They also concluded that the aircraft had no technical faults at the time of the accident. The engine continued to function normally until the plane hit the ground. From loss of control until ejection had taken 6.2 seconds. The cause of the crash was therefore "partly the pilot and partly the control computer" (i.e., the FCS). The phenomenon is referred to as "Pilot Induced Oscillation" (PIO). The cycle time of the Gripen FCS is 200 milliseconds, similar to the human sensory/motor system reaction time. According to the report: "The designers knew that during certain circumstances the aircraft could be forced into an unstable state due to the steering-gear actions of the pilot, which would cause the aircraft to leave its envelope. However, they had estimated the risk of this happening to be very low. As it turned out, after some 7-8G manoeuvre, when the pilot tried to re-stabilize the plane, his actions happened to coincide with that of the computer and so the aircraft over-staggered." There are several interesting points about these crashes. In both cases, it appears that the FCS was doing what was specified but not what was required. This is often the case with such accidents. Also the tendency is to blame (at least partly) the pilot, although a better design of human interface would seem to be necessary. The investigators concluded that "When [measures have been taken to prevent any future similar occurrence], the Commission expect there to be no reason for continued grounding of the JAS 39 Gripen." (Following a $3.2 billion development investment, this should come as no surprise!) On a final note, the pilot in the 1993 Stockholm crash was ... Lars Radestrom! (His personal private comments on the subject of active FBW would make interesting reading!) Peter Mellor; Mobile: 07914 045072; email: MellorPeter@aol.com Telephone and Fax: +44 (0)20 8459 7669
The problem with N-version programming for redundancy is not that the idea is flawed -- but rather that those implementing it are not sufficiently well educated in the subject matter to do the job right. There is a related sub-problem -- our educational system produces programmers that are too uniform -- something like the problem in a lack of diversity in our programming languages and hardware and operating systems. In most of the examples cited to show that N-version programming fails, the programs are all written in the same language by people with similar expertise and background using the same development platforms and operating systems. The common errors they make are not examined as part of quality control, and it is foolish to act as if N-version programming will eliminate common-mode failures that can be readily detected by automated tools -- such as failure to check bounds and off-by-one errors in array references. The assumption of independence is indeed one that is commonly violated -- not by the programmers as much as by those who decide to use N-version programming but only go half-way. It is not "appealing" in the sense that it is expensive -- more than N-times as expensive -- to write an N-version program as a single-version one. It is only worth it in cases where the risk justify the costs. As an example, try writing the 5-version program using the following environments: * Lisp on a LispMachine -- programmers from a trusted systems development group * Shell script on an AT&T Unix box (3B2 or so) -- political science students from Chinese university * C on a 68000 microprocessor -- no OS -- doctors from an Indian medical center * Java on OS-X (68K processor) -- electrical engineers from the power industry * Pascal on a Windows Intel box -- historians from a museum in Cairo Put each through formal code review and proof processes to generate mathematical demonstrations that each is correct in the relevant senses from the specification -- which of course has to be developed redundantly as well. You will probably tell me that this is ludicrous, and I will probably agree -- that if you really wanted a trusted program and the fate of the World depended on it, you would want more versions with even more diversity. But that's exactly the point of N-version programming. The more assurance you want, the more diversity you need. Fred Cohen & Associates 572 Leona Drive Livermore, CA 94550 1-925-454-0171 http://all.net/
Jacob West and I are proud to announce that our book, Secure Programming with Static Analysis, is now available. http://www.amazon.com/dp/0321424778 The book covers a lot of ground. * It explains why static source code analysis is a critical part of a secure development process. * It shows how static analysis tools work, what makes one tool better than another, and how to integrate static analysis into the SDLC. * It details a tremendous number of vulnerability categories, using real-world examples from programs such as Sendmail, Tomcat, Adobe Acrobat, Mac OSX, and dozens of others. [This is an extremely useful and timely book. PGN]
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