The RISKS Digest
Volume 25 Issue 25

Sunday, 3rd August 2008

Forum on Risks to the Public in Computers and Related Systems

ACM Committee on Computers and Public Policy, Peter G. Neumann, moderator

Please try the URL privacy information feature enabled by clicking the flashlight icon above. This will reveal two icons after each link the body of the digest. The shield takes you to a breakdown of Terms of Service for the site - however only a small number of sites are covered at the moment. The flashlight take you to an analysis of the various trackers etc. that the linked site delivers. Please let the website maintainer know if you find this useful or not. As a RISKS reader, you will probably not be surprised by what is revealed…


"Software bug" downs AA baggage handling at JFK
Intermittent network card causes air traffic control problems
Steven M. Bellovin
Crypto box failure causes MTA credit card processing failure
Steven M. Bellovin
200,000 medical records sent to wrong patients, some with SSNs
George Mannes
DNA Database Searches
Another GPS error story
Gene Spafford
Electronic voting: Indications of Sanity?
Geoff Newbury
Risks of Inflation: new Zimbabe bank notes
Jim Reisert
Bruce Schneier: Inside the Twisted Mind of the Security Professional
Details of DNS Flaw Leaked
Kim Zetter via Monty Solomon
Apple Fails to Patch Critical Exploited DNS Flaw
Rich Mogull via Monty Solomon
Fascinating phishing attack: valid links, dangerous toll-free number
Jonathan Kamens
Re: San Francisco FiberWAN and Terry Childs
Jeff Williams
Re: ComCast in Concrete? MAC addresses
Tanner Andrews
REVIEW: "Internet Denial of Service", Jelena Mirkovic et al.
Rob Slade
REVIEW: "AVIEN Malware Defense Guide for the Enterprise", David Harley et al.
Rob Slade
Info on RISKS (comp.risks)

"Software bug" downs AA baggage handling at JFK

<"Peter G. Neumann" <>>
Wed, 30 Jul 2008 14:45:16 PDT

  [TNX to Lauren Weinstein for spotting this one.  PGN]

American Airlines had a baggage problem at JFK that caused many bags to miss
their intended flights, despite that fact that 35 flights were delayed up to
an hour and one-half.  Beginning at 4:45am, the software controlling the
baggage sorting operations malfunctioned, and bags had to be sorted by hand.

Intermittent network card causes air traffic control problems

<"Steven M. Bellovin" <>>
Sun, 27 Jul 2008 10:42:26 -0400

According to an
intermittent failure in a network card caused problems for the air
traffic control system in Ireland.  Apparently, the fact that the
failure was intermittent was enough to confuse the fail-over
mechanisms.  The trouble lasted for about six weeks before it was
diagnosed.  "Thales ATM stated that in ten similar Air Traffic Control
Centres worldwide with over 500,000 flight hours (50 years), this is
the first time an incident of this type has been reported."

--Steve Bellovin,

Crypto box failure causes MTA credit card processing failure

<"Steven M. Bellovin" <>>
Thu, 31 Jul 2008 17:08:26 -0400

Many people buy MetroCards — mag stripe swipe cards for riding New York
City subways and buses — using credit cards.  For a few days, though, this
wasn't working well during rush hour; credit card transactions were being
rejected.  They finally figured it out: one of the crypto units to protect
credit card numbers in transit had failed.  There was another unit, but it
couldn't handle peak loads by itself, so transactions timed out and hence

There are a few lessons here.  One, of course, is that headline writers
shouldn't be trusted to get technical details right.  Saying "M.T.A.  Blames
Encryption for MetroCard Problems" is just wrong — the MTA didn't blame
encryption, they blamed the failure of a particular unit.

More substantively, there were two serious problems with the technical
design of the system.  First, there was insufficient redundancy; failure of
a single unit left the system unable to handle the load.  Second, there was
no notification to the administrators of the failure of the unit.  Once they
figured it out, they were able to cope — they had a spare available — but
they didn't know that there was a failure.

--Steve Bellovin,

200,000 medical records sent to wrong patients, some with SSNs

<"George Mannes" <>>
Tue, 29 Jul 2008 11:29:39 -0400

[Source: Andy Miller, *The Atlanta Journal-Constitution*, 29 Jul 2008; PGN-ed]
A change in a computer system was "not properly tested";
Private medical data exposed;
Insurance benefit letters sent to wrong addresses by Blue Cross and
Blue Shield reveal claim histories, open door to ID theft.

BC&BS sent an estimated 202,000 benefits information letters containing
personal and health information — identities, ID numbers, and service
details — to the wrong addresses last week, Some letters also contained
SSNs.  This situation seems to be in violation of HIPPA (the U.S. Health
Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996).

DNA Database Searches

<jared <>>
Thu, 24 Jul 2008 20:49:55 -0600

An article "How reliable is DNA in identifying suspects?" recently appeared.,0,1506170,full.story.
The lead is:

  A discovery leads to questions about whether the odds of people sharing
  genetic profiles are sometimes higher than portrayed.  Calling the finding
  meaningless, the FBI has sought to block such inquiry.

The article illustrates two computer risks.  The first is that data is not

Each jurisdiction operates its own DNA database but relies on American
federal CODIS (Combined DNA Index System) to search across multiple
databases. Defense lawyers are interested in determining group
statistics. DNA comparisons are apparently made based on how many of 13 loci
are similar. They want to know, for example, how many people in the database
match in 9, 10, 11, 12 or even 13 loci.  (Reportedly some prosecutors cite
less than 13 loci matching as a 'DNA evidence'.)

> FBI officials argue that, under their interpretation of federal
> law, use of CODIS is limited to criminal justice agencies. In their
> view, defense attorneys are allowed access to information about
> their specific cases, not the databases in general.

A court order was made for a search of one state's database. The article
reports an FBI employee said that the search could lead to the database
being disconnected from CODIS. There was a warning that the search could
corrupt the state database. In the end neither event occurred.

The second risk is an overloading of the database's intent. The tricky bit
of the search results is that closely related people may match very well but
the database, as one might expect, doesn't have this information.

As a note, the article illuminates many of the usual statistical risks.

Another GPS error story

<Gene Spafford <>>
Sat, 26 Jul 2008 18:41:07 -0400

Sat-nav driver's 1600-mile error: A DOZY trucker driving from Turkey to
Coral Road in Gibraltar ended up at Skegness.  Gibraltar is considered part
of the UK by the Sat-Nav systems.

Electronic voting: Indications of Sanity?

<"R. G. [Geoff] Newbury" <>>
Thu, 31 Jul 2008 12:59:01 -0400

Indications of Sanity? A politician likes *paper* ballots..

  [YES.  California Secretary of State Debra Bowen was the keynote speaker
  at Usenix Security on 30 Jul 2008 in San Jose.  She really wowed the
  audience with her candor, clarity, and relevance.  We owe her our enormous
  gratitude for spearheading the Summer 2007 Top To Bottom Review of voting
  machines (with reports on software analyses, documentation, penetration
  testing, and accessibility), for following up on it, and generally for
  being one of the nation's first high government officials to really grasp
  the significance of the risks that we have been discussing here for so
  many years relating to elections — indeed, since RISKS-1.01.  Her efforts
  are now beginning to be emulated in Ohio and other states.  PGN]

Risks of Inflation: new Zimbabe bank notes

<Jim Reisert AD1C <>>
Thu, 24 Jul 2008 17:01:15 -0700 (PDT)

"One major commercial bank said its automated teller machines are not
configured to dispense multi-zero withdrawals and freeze in what it called a
"data overflow error." Software writers are busy writing programs to try to
overcome the problem."

Jim Reisert <>,

Bruce Schneier: Inside the Twisted Mind of the Security Professional

Fri, 25 Jul 2008 20:20:20 +0800

[Bruce Schneier's article cited below by jidanni outlines the
Security Mindset espoused by Tadayoshi Kohno in an undergraduate course on
computer security at the University of Washington.  It's worth reading.
Security need not be in the eyes of the beholder.  It should be in the eyes
and ears and fingers and mind of the attackers.  PGN]

Details of DNS Flaw Leaked

<Monty Solomon <>>
Sun, 27 Jul 2008 11:33:10 -0400

Kim Zetter's blog, Details of DNS Flaw Leaked; Exploit Expected by
End of Today, 22 Jul 2008

Despite Dan Kaminsky's efforts to keep a lid on the details of the critical
DNS vulnerability he found, someone at the security firm Matasano leaked the
information on its blog yesterday, then quickly pulled the post down. But
not before others had grabbed the information and reposted it elsewhere,
leading Kaminsky to post an urgent 0-day message on his blog reading,
"Patch. Today. Now. Yes, stay late."

Hackers are furiously working on an exploit to attack the vulnerability. HD
Moore, creator of the Metasploit tool, says one should be available by the
end of the day.

Earlier this month, Kaminsky, a penetration tester with IOActive, went
public with information about a serious and fundamental security
vulnerability in the Domain Name System that would allow attackers to easily
impersonate any website — banking sites, Google, Gmail and other web mail
websites — to attack unsuspecting users.

Kaminsky announced the vulnerability after working quietly for months with a
number of vendors that make DNS software to create a fix for the flaw and
patch their software. On July 8, Kaminsky held a press conference announcing
a massive multivendor patch among those vendors, and urged everyone who owns
a DNS server to update their software.

But Kaminsky broke one of the fundamental rules of disclosure in announcing
the bug. He failed to provide details about the flaw so system
administrators could understand what it was and determine if it was serious
enough to warrant an upgrade to their systems.

Kaminsky promised to reveal those details next month in a presentation he
plans to give at the Black Hat security conference in Las Vegas. But he said
he wanted to give administrators a 30-day head start to get their systems
patched before he provided details that could allow hackers to create an
exploit to attack the systems.

Kaminsky asked researchers not to speculate about the bug details in the
meantime and to trust that it was a serious issue. Some did as he asked. But
many security researchers took his coyness as a challenge to uncover the
details Kaminsky was holding back.  ...

Apple Fails to Patch Critical Exploited DNS Flaw

<Monty Solomon <>>
Sun, 27 Jul 2008 11:25:51 -0400

Rich Mogull, TidBITS, 24 Jul 2008,

On 08 Jul 2008, a massive security patch was released by dozens of vendors
for a major vulnerability in DNS [1] (Domain Name Service), discovered by
security researcher Dan Kaminsky. DNS [2] is one of the fundamental
underpinnings of the Internet; translating domain names (like
into IP addresses (like Because DNS is so core to the
functioning of the Internet, this vulnerability is perhaps the most
significant security problem to face the Internet in the last decade.

All users who connect to Mac OS X servers for DNS lookups are at risk: Apple
has not yet provided a patch, unlike dozens of other companies that make or
distribute operating systems or DNS server software.

Apple was clearly distracted by the largest set of launches in its history:
the iPhone 3G, the iPhone 2.0 software, the .Mac-to-MobileMe transition, and
the App Store. Nonetheless, their customers are now in danger and Apple
needs to respond immediately.

All companies that provide DNS service to their customers should have
already updated their DNS servers. Many have not. You can determine whether
your ISP is at risk by visiting Kaminsky's site and clicking Check My DNS
[3]. If the site says your DNS is at risk of being poisoned, contact your
ISP or your company's IT department immediately.  ...

Fascinating phishing attack: valid links, dangerous toll-free number

<"Jonathan Kamens" <>>
Wed, 30 Jul 2008 15:20:05 -0400

A phishing message in my spam folder caught my eye today, so I decided to
take a closer look at it.

It claimed to be from CapitalOne.  It had a legitimate sender address, a
legitimate Subject line ("Please Call Us Regarding Recent Restrictions"),
and convincing-looking content that was mostly lifted straight from a real
CapitalOne email message.  Most importantly, all of the links in the message
were legitimate links pointing at URLs.

The only text in the message that was not boilerplate was this:

>Please Call Us Regarding Recent Resctriction [sic]
>This is not a promotional e-mail. Please call us
>immediately at (866) 496-5027 regarding recent activity on
>your Capital One Card. We're available 24/7 to take your
>Please disregard this e-mail if you've already call us
>since the date this e-mail was sent.
>We appreciate your prompt attention to this matter.
>Thank you
>Capital One Card Fraud Prevention Security Department

Here's what makes this phishing message different from others I've seen: the
"hook" is the phone number, not the links in the email body.

Here's what you hear, recited in a female, synthesized voice, when you call
the number shown above:

>Welcome to the the card activation center.  Please remember
>that we will never ask for your personal information such
>as your social security number, passwords, card numbers,
>etc. via email.  Please enter your card number followed by
>the pound key.
>[doesn't matter what you enter here]
>Please enter your personal identification number associated
>with this card followed by the pound key.
>Please enter your four-digit expiration number [sic]
>(months year) followed by the pound key.
>Please hold while your card is activated.
>The card number, personal identification number or
>expiration date doesn't match with our records.
>[starts over]

Obviously, whoever set up this toll-free number is collecting card numbers,
expiration dates and PINs, which they will then either sell or use to obtain
cash advances from ATMs.

I wish there were somewhere I could report this scam to get the toll-free
number taken down, but I honestly have no idea who would be interested in
doing something about this and able to act quickly.

Re: San Francisco FiberWAN and Terry Childs (RISKS-25.23,24)

<Jeff Williams <>>
Wed, 23 Jul 2008 15:36:59 -0700

San Francisco is a tech powerhouse — the local daily paper is not.  This
has led to a lack of good information about one of the most interesting tech
stories of the year: the showdown between a contractor and city
administrators over proper handling of network security.

Some of you may have already seen this (via Slashdot):

It's an article based on a confidential 3rd party who had a ringside seat.

The risk?  Some tech jobs seem to carry the risk that they can ruin your
life (I don't mean figuratively).  Large corporations and governments wield
an enormous power to punish and seemingly no power to understand the nuance
and complexity of technical risk.  Under this situation being a jerk could
be a felony at some job sites.  We can stand in judgment of when it makes
sense to let go of a fight with your manager, but how many of us would stand
up to what we see as a terrible wrong in a way that could ruin us

That a politically ambitious DA has made this a publicity grabbing event
seems to open a serious can-of-worms for ordinary technical workers.  The
San Francisco DA is inadvertently creating the blueprint for handling nasty
tech employee disputes.  Today she has the sheriff saying that Childs set
the system up for "meltdown" at the next routine maintenance.  The inside
story seems to be that he didn't want to store the router configs into flash
at the remote sites.  When pressed the sheriff acknowledges that the system
is up.  This might not be the best way to run a shop, but is it a actual
crime to not write configs to flash?  Does the DA even know what flash is?
(Maybe she knows but has decided to make an example of what happens when you
stand up to your manager.)

It seems arbitration would have helped here.  Would a system of neutral
party dispute resolution go a long way to reducing system cost and
preserving careers in the tech field without introducing drastic measures
such as full-blown unionization?  Like other professionals, maybe tech
workers should carry general liability insurance where the carrier offers
arbitration as a front-line defense against arrest and/ or lawsuit. (And
funds to defend yourself if something goes wrong.)

Re: ComCast in Concrete? MAC addresses

<tanner andrews <>>
Thu, 24 Jul 2008 09:48:13 -0400 (EDT)

> [MAC addresses are unchangeable once set at factory]

Not so.  The default is hard to change, because it is set
in the part, but for operation you can change it as you

For instance, though my network boards on my firewalls will occasionally get
zapped by lightening, the ISP does not know that.  The ISP believes that my
MAC addresses are some that I made up years ago and continue to use.

Thus, when I get zapped and put in a new board, the ISP re-assigns the same
IP address I had before.  If I do not do this, they will pick a new address.

Not all operating systems support easy changing of the MAC address, so your
mileage may vary.

  [Several other messages on this topic, but we are drifting in relevance.

REVIEW: "Internet Denial of Service", Jelena Mirkovic et al.

<Rob Slade <>>
Thu, 31 Jul 2008 12:03:22 -0800

BKNTRDOS.RVW   20080420

"Internet Denial of Service", Jelena Mirkovic et al, 2005,
0-13-147573-8, U$39.99/C$57.99
%A   Jelena Mirkovic
%A   Sven Dietrich
%A   David Dittrich
%A   Peter Reiher
%C   One Lake St., Upper Saddle River, NJ   07458
%D   2005
%G   0-13-147573-8
%I   Prentice Hall
%O   U$39.99/C$57.99 800-576-3800 416-293-3621 201-236-7139
%O   Audience i+ Tech 2 Writing 2 (see revfaq.htm for explanation)
%P   372 p.
%T   "Internet Denial of Service: Attack and Defense Mechanisms"

Chapter one is an introduction to the book itself, rather than the
topic, asserting that the work is intended for an audience of system
administrators, corporate managers, and those dealing with public
policy.  The topic is defined in chapter two, which notes that denial
of service (DoS) is not like other security risks where intrusion or
use (or misuse) of resources is the aim, but prevention of the
legitimate use of a system.  Much of the material concentrates on
distributed denial of service (DDoS), and the text mentions the
inherent risk of DoS where a service is being provided.  The structure
and logical flow of the content is not always obvious, but the
information is reasonably clear and readable.  The history of DoS
attacks, starting with the early, simple assaults intended to gain
status and notoriety and progressing through to the recent complex and
financially motivated offensives, is covered in chapter three.  There
is discussion of the fact that the structure of the Internet works
against many protective measures and hinders efforts to collect
digital forensic evidence.  Chapter four examines the process,
technology, and tools of DDoS attacks.

Defence is contemplated in chapter five, along with the intrinsic difficulty
presented by the need for availability, the possibility of attacking either
the computer-based service or the network-based communications, and a poor
authentication and tracking infrastructure.  The deliberation does note that
defence can be attempted in many layers, from secure application development
to overt reaction.  A detailed analysis of some defensive approaches is
provided in chapter six, which assessment is also valuable in terms of
business continuity planning.  Chapter seven has a listing and review of
various research projects on defence.  Legal issues are catalogued in
chapter eight: most of the content is general, but there is a fair amount
that is specific to the United States.  Chapter nine summarizes major
points, and speculates on future trends.

This is a thorough overview of a topic that is covered poorly, if at all, in
most of the security literature.  Availability has come very late to add
depth to the C-I-A (Confidentiality, Integrity, Availability) triad, and
therefore DoS attacks are still misunderstood as mere nuisance.  The problem
is growing, and this material should be of greater interest to those charged
with protecting both corporate assets and the public infrastructure.

copyright Robert M. Slade, 2008   BKNTRDOS.RVW   20080420

REVIEW: "AVIEN Malware Defense Guide for the Enterprise", David

<Rob Slade <>>
Thu, 24 Jul 2008 11:10:25 -0800
  Harley et al.

BKAVNMDG.RVW   20080420

"AVIEN Malware Defense Guide for the Enterprise", David Harley et al,
2007, 978-1-59749-164-8, U$59.95
%A   David Harley
%A   Ken Bechtel
%A   Michael Blanchard
%A   Henk K. Diemer
%A   Andrew Lee
%A   Igor Muttik
%A   Bojan Zdrnja
%C   800 Hingham Street, Rockland, MA   02370
%D   2007
%G   1-59749-164-0 978-1-59749-164-8
%I   Syngress Media, Inc.
%O   U$59.95 781-681-5151 fax: 781-681-3585
%O   Audience i+ Tech 2 Writing 2 (see revfaq.htm for explanation)
%P   540 p.
%T   "AVIEN Malware Defense Guide for the Enterprise"

The preface and introduction stress that this work is a collaborative
effort, combining the views of a number of AVIEN (Anti-Virus Information
Exchange Network) and AVIEWS (Anti-Virus Information and Early Warning
System) members, trying to avoid the blind spots that result from
perspectives limited to one individual or company.

Chapter one outlines the history of AVIEN, noting the tensions between the
(rather small) community that has concentrated on research about malware and
protection against the various threats and the general user population.
(The general user population includes, for various reasons, many of the
producers and vendors of antivirus products.)  It is noted (although not
stressed) that AVIEN concentrates on protection of medium to large
companies, and this point is important in regard to protective approaches.
A brief, historically-oriented, look at malware and related issues, in
chapter two, tries to eliminate common confusion and sets a groundwork for
further discussion.  The Web is now a major source of security
vulnerabilities, but the malware literature has seldom considered the
problem as a specific category, so chapter three's excellent overview of the
related technologies and exploits is particularly welcome.  Botnets are a
major threat (or threats: they are used in a variety of ways), and there is
a good examination of the major associated concepts in chapter four.
Unfortunately, the material is somewhat loosely structured and may be
confusing to some readers, and occasionally emphasizes specific (and
sometimes dated) technologies rather than the basic ideas.  Chapter five
examines the often-asked question of who writes malware, bringing up a good
deal of interesting material.  The text itself may be of scant use to system
administrators, although the points made in the summary do indicate trends
of concern.

Chapter six turns to protective measures, covering not just the usual
antiviral technologies, but advising on layered defence, with the attendant
required planning and management.  Outsourcing, of security functions in
general, and antiviral protection in particular, is reviewed in chapter
seven, with attention paid to both the dangers and the conditions,
agreements, and other factors that might provide success.  Chapter eight's
look at security awareness training and user education seems to be intended
to promote the idea, but is weaker in providing solutions than other areas
of the book, concentrating primarily on the difficulties and failures.

A variety of tools that might be used in malware analysis, ranging from
system information utilities through debuggers to online virus detectors,
are listed in chapter nine.  Chapter ten considers aspects of evaluating
antiviral products, and makes a good, general guide.

Chapter eleven notes that the AVIEN organization is changing, and feels like
a promotional item to get the reader to become involved, but the lack of
detail of what the institution might become does not seem calculated to
appeal to busy administrators.

The book contains a tremendous wealth of information and references to
specific resources and studies.  This is not surprising, given the
background of the authors, and would, alone, make the text worthwhile.
Overall this work provides a solid overview and compendium of advice on the
current malware situation, and should be a required starting point for
anyone protecting corporate assets in the current, highly threatening,

copyright Robert M. Slade, 2008   BKAVNMDG.RVW   20080420

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