The Risks Digest

The RISKS Digest

Forum on Risks to the Public in Computers and Related Systems

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

Volume 25 Issue 55

Tuesday 10 February 2009


RFID Passports cloned wholesale
Dan Goodin
Windshields and Windows combine to provide malware vector
Mark Brader
FAA Notifies Employees of Personal Identity Breach
Danny Burstein
390,000 to access child database
Amos Shapir
Confidential LAPD misconduct files mistakenly posted on Internet
Danny Burstein
Risks of computer-gibberish names on forms
Joseph A. Dellinger
Mathematics and screening
Jerry Leichter
The privacy vs. health tradeoff
Jeremy Epstein
Variant of Mac Trojan Horse iServices Found in Pirated Adobe C54
Monty Solomon
Re: Fannie Mae logic bomb
Wendell Cochran
Re: Tony Hoare: "Null References"
Rob Diamond
Robert P Schaefer
Re: Flat text is *never* what we want
Tony Finch
No wikipedia page
Olivier MJ Crepin-Leblond
What if you can't pull the plug?
Rex Sanders
Security Psychology
Gadi Evron
Call for contributions: New Security Paradigms Workshop: NSPW
Konstantin /Kosta/ Beznosov
Info on RISKS (comp.risks)

RFID Passports cloned wholesale (Dan Goodin)

"Peter G. Neumann" <>
Fri, 6 Feb 2009 12:52:59 PST

Using inexpensive off-the-shelf components (a Motorola RFID reader and
antenna, and a PC) bought mostly on eBay and a self-developed Windows app,
Chris Paget (``an information security expert'') built a mobile platform in
his spare time that can clone large numbers of the unique RFID tag
electronic identifiers used in U.S. passport cards and next generation
drivers licenses.  While driving around San Francisco for 20 minutes, he was
able to harvest two passport tags without knowledge of their owners from up
to 30 feet away.  Demo and software at Shmoocon.  (Paget says with some
modifications, the range could be extended to more than a mile.)  [Source:
Dan Goodin, *The Register,* 4 Feb 2009; PGN-ed, noted by Ashish Gehani]
   [URL fixed in archive.  PGN]

  See RISKS-25.08 and 25.42 for other recent items on RFID cloning.

Windshields and Windows combine to provide malware vector

Mark Brader
Mon, 9 Feb 2009 02:42:50 -0500 (EST)

Fake parking tickets were placed on car windshields in several parking lots
in Grand Forks, North Dakota.  They showed a URL to check for further
information, but the site required a download... and you can guess the rest.

Mark Brader, Toronto,

[I swiped the subject line pun from someone on the Internet.]

FAA Notifies Employees of Personal Identity Breach

danny burstein <>
Tue, 10 Feb 2009 03:26:06 -0500 (EST)

(from the FAA [Federal Aviation Administration] website)

Washington - The FAA today notified employees that an agency computer was
illegally accessed and employee personal identity information was stolen
electronically. All affected employees will receive individual letters to
notify them about the breach.  ...  Two of the 48 files on the breached
computer server contained personal information about more than 45,000 FAA
employees and retirees who were on the FAA's rolls as of the first week of
February 2006.

The server that was accessed was not connected to the operation of the air
traffic control system or any other FAA operational system, and the FAA has
no indication those systems have been compromised in any way.

  [Also noted by Dres Zellweger.  PGN]

390,000 to access child database

Amos Shapir <>
Tue, 27 Jan 2009 17:40:05 +0200

"A child protection database containing the contact details for all under
18-year-olds in England will be accessible to 390,000 staff, say ministers."

Opponents had already described the proposed project as "another expensive
data disaster waiting to happen".

Full story at:

Confidential LAPD misconduct files mistakenly posted on Internet

danny burstein <>
Sat, 7 Feb 2009 18:18:00 -0500 (EST)

per the *LA Times*:

"The Los Angeles Police Commission violated its own strict privacy policy --
and perhaps state law -- on Friday, releasing a confidential report on the
Internet that contained the names of hundreds of officers accused of racial
profiling and other misconduct.  ...  "The commission and department staff
had reviewed a paper copy of the report that did not contain the
confidential information and assumed the electronic version would be the
same, Tefank said."


- aside from the "oops" issue, the article also discusses the politics and
other reasons why this info should, or shouldn't, be public in the first

Risks of computer-gibberish names on forms

"Joseph A. Dellinger" <>
Thu, 5 Feb 2009 01:39:16 -0600

My company provides me with a cell phone to use for business purposes. I
only use it when traveling, so it sometimes goes 2 months at a time without
being turned on. The bill arrives monthly and has various gibberish entries
on it. For example, the entry "Mobile Messeng:31000#2109" has been there on
my statement every month, starting with the very first bill, at a cost of
$10 per month. I assumed that was AT+T's charge for enabling international
text messaging. I didn't pick and choose the features that came with the
phone... I got what the company chose for me.

Comparing cell phone bills with a cubicle neighbor today it turned out that
only SOME people have that on their bill. So I called AT+T to ask what that
was. Turns out $10 is the charge for the "service" of receiving a "trivia
alert" spam text message once a month. The AT+T customer-service agent told
me that of course since I am receiving this extremely valuable service, it
could only be because I requested it.

When I turn on that phone at the start of a new trip I generally find I have
half a dozen or so spam text messages to wade through. And, indeed, one of
those was always a trivia question with an invitation to reply to find out
the answer.  As I worked through the spam erasing it, mildly annoyed at the
hassle, I at least got to feel a slight twinge of smugness.  Hah! Do you
actually think I'm idiot enough to fall for wheezes such as a request to
call a toll number in the Caribbean for an "important message"?

Hah indeed: the joke's on me. Merely by cloaking their theft in computerese
gibberish they got right past my defenses.  And by the simple expedient of
inserting the fictitious charge by computer, "so it must be right", they got
right through AT+T's.  A quick check on the internet revealed hundreds of
similar stories.  I wonder how many people at my company are victimized and
still don't know it. I'd guess at a minimum several thousands. I turned the
case over to corporate security for further investigation.

Mathematics and screening

Jerry Leichter <>
Thu, 5 Feb 2009 16:36:45 -0500

Not a computer-related risk as such, but an area many participants here will
find of interest:
The paper "Strong profiling is not mathematically optimal for discovering
rare malfeasors" looks at the question of how to best screen a population
for "terrorists".  Suppose you have a profile of likely terrorists, but that
profile is just probabilistic, subject to both false positives and false
negatives.  Should you use the profile to select people to be screened?  (Of
course, there are all kinds of social and political questions here - this is
just about the mathematical question.)

You'd think the answer is "yes", and in fact it is - but there's a subtle
problem.  "Strong screening" - the obvious approach, where you select
someone for detailed screening with a probability at least as high as your a
priori estimate that they are actually a threat - means that you spend many
of your resources repeatedly screening the same innocent people.  In fact,
the end result is shown to be no better than a simple random screening
process.  (This is in a memory-less situation, where you don't change your
estimate as a result of the screen - essentially what TSA does today.)

Interestingly, the optimal strategy in this situation can be calculated.  It
turns out that you want to choose people for detailed screening
proportionally to the *square root* of your a priori estimate of how likely
they are to be a threat.

This result was apparently derived earlier in a much different setting
(having to do with Monte Carlo methods for protein folding) but, according
to the current author, is not widely known.  There are certainly other
settings - various computer security mechanisms; possibly testing and bug
finding strategies - where this would apply.

The privacy vs. health tradeoff

Jeremy Epstein <>
Thu, 5 Feb 2009 10:52:01 -0500

Some grocery stores are using the data gathered from their "loyalty cards"
[cards that tell the store who you are and what you buy] to notify customers
who bought products that have been recalled due to the widening peanut
contamination affair.  At least one consumer group (Center for Science in
the Public Interest) is urging stores to use their data this way.
(and many others)

How do customers feel about their purchasing information being used in this
way?  I suspect most people are positive about it - but I wonder whether it
would be viewed quite so positively if the product in question were, say
condoms.  "Honey, I got a call from the grocery store that the condoms have
been recalled - who are you using condoms with?"

I checked the privacy policy for one of the major grocery stores in my area
(Giant Food - ), I
think this usage would fall within their privacy policy, since it explicitly
allows for sending direct mail and similar communications based on
purchases.  I suspect other privacy policies are similar.  So it would seem
to be within their rights to contact customers about purchases they've made,
whether peanut butter or condoms.  But regardless of policy, how would
customers feel about it?

Variant of Mac Trojan Horse iServices Found in Pirated Adobe C54

Monty Solomon <>
Thu, 29 Jan 2009 01:37:04 -0500

INTEGO SECURITY ALERT - January 26, 2009
New Variant of Mac Trojan Horse iServices Found in Pirated Adobe Photoshop CS4
Exploit: OSX.Trojan.iServices.B Trojan Horse
Discovered: January 25, 2009
Risk: Serious

Description: Intego has discovered a new variant of the iServices Trojan
horse that the company discovered on January 22, 2009. This new Trojan
horse, OSX.Trojan.iServices.B, like the previous version, is found in
pirated software distributed via BitTorrent trackers and other sites
containing links to pirated software.  OSX.Trojan.iServices.B Trojan horse
is found bundled with copies of Adobe Photoshop CS4 for Mac. The actual
Photoshop installer is clean, but the Trojan horse is found in a crack
application that serializes the program. ...

Re: Fannie Mae logic bomb

Wendell Cochran <>
Thu, 5 Feb 2009 09:15:42 -0800

> On the afternoon of Oct. 24, he was told he was being fired because
> of a scripting error . . .

Fired -- for a scripting error?

The FBI's affidavit in support of the criminal complaint adds little:
'MAKWANA erroneously created a computer script that changed the settings on
the Unix servers without the proper authority of his supervisor ...'

Where were controls?

Other holes in the story abound.  Fallout from the logic bomb may have
obscured Risks in management.

Re: Tony Hoare: "Null References"

Rob Diamond <robd at langdale dotty com dotty au>
Fri, 06 Feb 2009 19:03:33 +1100

"I haven't yet heard an apology from Fortran/C/C++/etc. creators over their
inability to police array bounds"

I think, rather, that it is Mr Baker who owes Ken Thompson and Denis Ritchie
(the inventors of the C language) an apology.  Complaining about the lack of
array bounds checking to the inventors of C is like complaining to Henry
Ford about not fitting ABS brakes to the Model T.

Thompson and Ritchie developed C so that they could write the very early
versions of the Unix system (circa 1970) in a language that was
"higher-level" than assembler. In those days memory was at an absolute
premium since it was very expensive. I Googled for some prices, and found
that Bell Labs paid $65,000 for the PDP-11 on which Unix was developed,
while an extra 4k bytes of core memory cost $4,000. Doesn't sound like a lot
of money *now*, but when I graduated as an electrical engineer in 1972 my
starting salary was a bit over Aus $4,000 a year, so a year's salary for 4k
bytes of memory seems expensive to me ! At that time array bounds checking
would have been one of the last things on the C developers' minds - just
getting an operating system going that was small enough to leave room for
useful programs to run was an amazing achievement.

I do think that it's a pity that in the more than four decades since it's
invention the C language standard hasn't been modified to mandate array
bounds checking - after all what's a bit more software bloat on top of the
gigantic software bloat we have now ? But NoBody *did* modify it, and now we
are stuck with the consequences. If only we could track down that elusive Mr
NoBody - he's got a lot to answer for !

Re: Tony Hoare: "Null References"

"Schaefer, Robert P \(US SSA\)" <>
Thu, 5 Feb 2009 12:57:03 -0500

The current set of replies to Tony Hoare: "Null References" remind me a
little bit of Godel, a little bit of Flatland, and a little bit of Alice in

You can't prove that a system is both correct and complete without going
outside that system. In this instance, you have data, and then you have
meta-data, where meta-data is reasoning about data. Any time you use data as
meta-data within a system you introduce the risk of confusion between the
two realms, but how can you ever use meta-data if not as data in another
context? Similarly how can you relate meta-data in one context to data in
another without having a back-reference (more meta-data) from that data in
one context to a reasoning about that data (meta-data) in another?

If you live in Godel's version of Flatland, as we appear to do, the correct
and complete relationship between the data and meta-data contexts is
mathematically/logically/physically impossible.  And yet we can and do
imagine this to be mathematically/logically/physically possible, and when we
fail in our attempt, apologize for not living up to impossible ideals. One
may as well apologize for being human and be done with it.

"There's no use trying," she said; "one can't believe impossible things."
"I daresay you haven't had much practice," said the Queen. "When I was
younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I've
believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."  - Alice in

Re: flat text is *never* what we want (Carlson, RISKS-25.54)

Tony Finch <>
Thu, 5 Feb 2009 14:43:44 +0000

Was: Tony Hoare: "Null References"

There are plenty of well-known consequences of the problem Jay identifies:
SQL injection, cross-site scripting, etc. I don't know of many coherent
practical solutions, so I'd be interested in any pointers from RISKS

One of the best is Mike Samuel's proposal for secure string interpolation in
Javascript, linked below. A more heavy-weight approach is to represent
everything as a parse tree, so incoming data is necessarily checked for
well-formedness as it is parsed, and outgoing data is correctly quoted by
the pretty-printer.

f.anthony.n.finch  <>

No wikipedia page

"Olivier MJ Crepin-Leblond" <>
Thu, 5 Feb 2009 11:06:21 +0100

(was Re: Earthquake Alert System Failed To Work Properly, Power, RISKS-25.54)

> THERE IS NO WIKIPEDIA PAGE ON THIS TOPIC, as there is little if any
> official research.

I am alarmed by such a statement.  It reminds me of an increasing trend by
today's researchers to say that "if you can't find it in Google, it doesn't

Unless we make sure that this does not become the norm, complete sections of
knowledge are likely to "disappear" because they are published in formats
which have not been ported online. Rather than expanding knowledge, we are
currently risking shrinking it.

Olivier MJ Crépin-Leblond, PhD

What if you can't pull the plug?

Rex Sanders <>
Wed, 28 Jan 2009 11:25:02 -0800

Last night I literally awoke from a nightmare about my iPhone getting
hacked, spewing spam and doing other nasty things.  The nightmare was that I
had no way to shut it off, and no way to disconnect it from the Internet.

I've stopped many misbehaving computing devices from causing more damage by
"pushing the big red button" or "pulling the plug" (power or network
cables).  This was a simple, direct, easy-to-do-when-panicked scheme to stop
further damage.  Examples include printers spewing paper, runaway tape
drives, and hacked servers.  I've had to unplug power *and* remove batteries
from laptops, PDAs, and smart phones.

Recently released devices like the Apple iPhone, MacBook Air, and MacBook
Pro, have these features in common:

- Software-controlled power switches
- Long-life batteries that can't be removed
- Continuous wireless Internet access via WiFi or mobile phone networks

I'm not picking on Apple, their devices are just high profile examples of a
growing trend.

These devices might have some magic combination of button pushes to turn
the device off.  I would not be able to recall these rarely used
incantations during an emergency, and they might not work if the software
is badly compromised or hung in tight loops.

I don't normally carry around Faraday cages to cut off wireless Internet
access, which would solve only one class of problems.

I could smash them to smithereens, but that gets expensive.

I love the convenience, long battery life, and ubiquitous Internet access
of these devices.

But we have a new risk from not having a positive, easy to find method of
keeping these devices from doing more damage when all else fails.

Security Psychology

Gadi Evron <>
Sat, 24 Jan 2009 22:57:17 -0600 (CST)

I just came across a post telling of the Security and Human Behavior
workshop (or conference).

Other posts about it:

As some of you may be aware, I've been researching this subject for about
two years now, and I am very excited that a conference has now happened!  It
means I did not waste the last two years of my life after all! :)

This is very exciting, and I am very thankful to these guys for making it

Here's a post I wrote about something similar, although syndicated from
early on with an ancient post, in my exploration of the subject matter:

I hope that more researchers will start looking into this subject, which as
of the last six months I've been calling Humexp.

I am currently engaged in research looking into the Estonian cyber war from
a social psychology perspective, which turned out to be quite
interesting. More on that when I can share, though.

Call for contributions: New Security Paradigms Workshop (NSPW)

"Konstantin (Kosta) Beznosov" <>
Fri, 06 Feb 2009 18:18:37 -0800

2009 New Security Paradigms Workshop
The Queen's College, University of Oxford, UK
September 8-11, 2009

Read the full call at
The submission deadline: April 17, 2009, 23:59 (UTC -12, or Y time).

The New Security Paradigms Workshop (NSPW) is seeking papers that address
the current limitations of information security. Today's security risks are
diverse and plentiful--botnets, database breaches, phishing attacks,
distributed denial-of-service attacks--and yet present tools for combatting
them are insufficient. To address these limitations, NSPW welcomes
unconventional, promising approaches to important security problems and
innovative critiques of current security practice.

We are particularly interested in perspectives from outside computer
security, both from other areas of computer science (such as operating
systems, human-computer interaction, databases, programming languages,
algorithms) and other sciences that study adversarial relationships such as
biology and economics. We discourage papers that offer incremental
improvements to security and mature work that is appropriate for standard
information security venues.

To facilitate research interactions, NSPW features informal paper
presentations, extended discussions in small and large groups, shared
activities, and group meals, all in attractive surroundings. By encouraging
researchers to think ``outside the box'' and giving them an opportunity to
communicate with open-minded peers, NSPW seeks to foster paradigm shifts in
the field of information security.

Kosta Beznosov, NSPW Publicity Chair, Assistant Professor,
Laboratory for Education and Research in Secure Systems Engineering
Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of British Columbia
4047-2332 Main Mall, Vancouver, BC, Canada V6T 1Z4 Phone: +1 604 822 9181

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