In considering one of our classic double-edged RISKS swords, Anne Armstrong-Cohen in today's issue of *The New York Times* discusses the risks of doctors having *less* involvement with patients as a consequence of the push to develop paperless health-care that is heavily dependent on online facilities. Yes, electronic medical records (EMRs) can avoid illegible handwriting and enable doctors to share patients' records more easily. "In short, the computer depersonalizes medicine. It ignores nuances that we do not measure but [that] clearly influence care. ... A box clicked unintentionally is as detrimental as an order written illegibly — maybe worse because it looks official. ... So before we embrace the inevitable, there should be more discussion and study of electronic records, or at a minimum acknowledgment of the down side. A hybrid may be the answer -- perhaps electronic records should be kept only on tablet computers, allowing the provider to write or draw, and face the patient. The personal relationships we build in primary care must remain a priority, because they are integral to improved health outcomes. Let us not forget this as we put keyboards and screens within the intimate walls of our medical homes." As always, human intelligence is critical. So are well-designed and easily usable human interfaces that allow human intelligence to prevail -- especially in the presence of erroneous online information!
As you probably know, a Boeing 737-800 with 127 passengers and seven crew crashed near Schiphol airport in the Netherlands, killing nine and injuring many others. The details are starting to emerge that the left altimeter was faulty, and that from 2000 feet, it notified the autopilot that they were suddenly at -8 feet. Autopilot immediately cut the power to the engines, stalling it in mid air. Due to the weather, the pilots had to rely on their instruments and could not see what was wrong until the stall indicators came on. What I would like to know is that how software testing is done at Boeing. I fail to see how the software would not spot a problem and carry out the landing: 1) If the two altimeters are reading very different readings, 2) If one of the altimeters switches from reading 2000 feet to -8 feet instantly, 3) If one of the altimeters reads a negative number? If the software had warned them, I'm sure these pilots would not have died, along with several passengers. [Somewhat similar comment from Ben Blout. Also, there has been extensive discussion on this topic around the Net. Having two of anything always suggests the problem of what to do what they disagree. (Les Lamport's paper on Buridan's Ass comes to mind [RISKS-10.44].) That problem suggests that having THREE might be a better strategy, and seeking consensus. But sanity checking is also a good idea, and trusting absurd readings is not wise. Perhaps the biggest problem is again that autopilots and people are not infallible, but the lack of synergy between the two can be even more debilitating. PGN]
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/7923341.stm It says here that in 1995 the Royal Air Force ordered Mark 3 Chinook helicopters "with a modified cockpit computer system in order to reduce costs. But the aircraft have never been able to fly..." and the plan now is to downgrade them to Mark 2 models for use next year. Mark Brader, Toronto, email@example.com
This case was briefly noted by Tom Van Vleck in Risks-23.81 in 2005. In that year, British police made a number of arrests in the case of a plan to steal huge sums of money from accounts at the British office of the Sumitomo Mitsui bank by transferring it into their accounts in various countries. Their basic trick was to plant keylogger software on the bank's computers, exposing login names and passwords to them. The Hollywood-like plan failed only because they got the details wrong as they attempted the invalid transfers totaling 229,000,000 pounds sterling. The case is in the news again now because the ringleader has now been convicted. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/7909595.stm http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/7926294.stm Mark Brader, Toronto, firstname.lastname@example.org
I read an interesting article from the BBC, headlined "Altimeter 'had role' in air crash". In reporting a news conference conducted by Dutch Safety Board chairman Pieter van Vollenhoven, the article reads in part: ...the plane had been at an altitude of 595m (1950ft) when making its landing approach to Schiphol airport. But the altimeter recorded an altitude of around ground level. The plane was on autopilot and its systems believed the plane was already touching down, he said. The automatic throttle controlling the two engines was closed and they powered down. This led to the plane losing speed, and stalling. I am surprised that an autopilot would throttle back engines based on only one instrument, the altimeter. I would have assumed additional criteria would need to be met - perhaps having weight on the landing gear. The article raises other interested points, and can be found here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/7923782.stm
We've often discussed Perrow's "Normal Accidents" on this list. Fundamentally, Perrow characterizes systems along two axes: Degree of coupling and complexity or linearity vs. nonlinearity of interactions. Systems in the fourth quadrant - high coupling, nonlinear - are inherently prone to disasters. In his article at: http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/taleb08/taleb08_index.html Nassim Nicholas Taleb has a different but related analysis. (He concentrates on failures in the financial markets, but the lessons are much broader.) The dimensions Taleb identifies are nature of the probability distribution (thin-tailed versus heavy or unknown tails) and complexity of the cost, particularly the sensitivity of the cost of finding yourself in a particular state for small variations in that state. Taleb's 4th quadrant is characterized by systems in which rare events dominate the total cost. In these systems, statistical methods fail: We don't actually know the probability distributions; we can only estimate them from events. But getting estimates of rare events requires huge numbers of observations. Because most of the cost is in rare events, which never make it into our observations, any estimate we make of expected costs is meaningless. The connection to Perrow's work is through the complexity of cost axis. Both of Perrow's characterizations of his fourth quadrant go directly to this complexity. Along the other axis, Perrow is specifically talking about rare, outlier accidents - not the small, common, and understood problems that systems are designed to handle, and do handle for years at a time with no problems. In eliminating those, he gets exactly to the rare but costly events. Taleb has a book out - The Black Swan - which I haven't read - but intend to after reading this article. — Jerry
the BSIMM model went live today ahead of schedule http://bsi-mm.com. and the *WSJ* broke the story: http://blogs.wsj.com/digits/2009/03/04/new-effort-hopes-to-improve-software-security/ The first phase in our endeavor to bring some science to software security is at a close. Our science-y approach started with some anthropology several months ago. We asked nine firms to tell us about their software security group (SSG), its inception, its activities, and the success it has achieved. The result is the Building Security In Maturity Model authored by Gary McGraw, Brian Chess (Fortify), and Sammy Migues, which is out for public use at http://bsi-mm.com. Please take a look at BSIMM. If you run or are active in a software security group, look at it like a yardstick. Consider the activities listed versus what your organization is doing. We want to emphasize that we could not have done this without active participation by the nine firms we interviewed. The data in BSIMM is their data. Data from the interviews we conducted were used to build the model from scratch. The examples included with the activities are real examples. After building BSIMM, we scored each organization using it. The individual scorecards, although unreleasable, are fascinating. They provide a unique glimpse into how local culture, perhaps as much or more than business imperatives, drive the approach to software security. Suffice it to say, for now, that the carrot is once again shown to be mightier than the stick. As a final note, BSIMM is a data-driven model. The model will improve when more real-world data are added. sammy, gem and brian
Even police forces aren't immune from insider attacks that compromise personnel information. http://www.computerworld.com/action/article.do?command=viewArticleBasic&taxonomyName=security&articleId=9129023 Jaikumar Vijayan, *Computerworld*, 5 Mar 2009 In a demonstration of how no organization is immune from insider threats, the New York City Police Pension Fund (PPF) office is notifying about 80,000 current and former NYPD officers of the potential compromise of their personal information after a civilian employee recently stole storage media containing the data. A sample alert posted on the pension fund site identified the individual as an employee of the PPF and said he was arrested Feb. 27 after a security breach at one of the pension fund's disaster recovery sites. At the time of the arrest, the individual was discovered to be in possession of "certain business records" containing data about retired and active members of the NYPD. The compromised data included Social Security numbers, names, addresses and bank account information, the statement said. "Even though the property was recovered, we cannot assure you that the information was not compromised," the statement said regarding why it was sending out the notifications. [...] Jeremy Epstein, Senior Computer Scientist, SRI International 1100 Wilson Blvd, Suite 2800, Arlington VA 22209 703-247-8708
Kim Zetter, Diebold Voting System Has 'Delete' Button for Erasing Audit Logs *Wired News*, 3 Mar 2009 An investigation by California's secretary of state into why a product made by e-voting system vendor Premier Election Solutions (formerly Diebold Election Systems) lost about 200 ballots in Humboldt County during the U.S. presidential election revealed the presence of a "clear" button in some versions of the machine's Global Election Management System (GEMS) software that allows someone to permanently erase audit logs from the system. The secretary of state's report says the logs "contain--or should contain--records that would be essential to reconstruct operator actions during the vote tallying process." The proximity of the clear button to the "print" and "save as" buttons raises the risk of the logs being erased accidentally, and the system provides no warning to operators of the danger of clicking on the button. Premier/Diebold retained the button despite an apparent warning from a system developer, and though the button was removed from subsequent iterations of the software, the version with the button is still used in three California counties and other U.S. states. The report says that under the voting system standards "each of the errors and deficiencies in the GEMS version 1.18.19 software...standing alone would warrant a finding by an Independent Testing Authority (ITA) of 'Total Failure' (indicated by a score of 1.0) had the flaw been detected." The California report's findings bring up issues about the auditing logs on voting systems made by other vendors, and about what course of action states that use the Premier system will follow now that they are aware that their voting software fails to produce a sufficient audit trail to guarantee the integrity of an election. http://blog.wired.com/27bstroke6/2009/03/ca-report-finds.html
A recent paper submitted to Usenix HotSec: "Do Strong Web Passwords Accomplish Anything?" - http://www.usenix.org/events/hotsec07/tech/full_papers/florencio/florencio.pdf re-opens points that "we all know the answers to". In this case, the question is just how strong a password has to be. It's accepted wisdom that passwords must be taken from large character sets and be long. However, the attacks that led to these conclusion were off line: That is, the attacker could try passwords at any speed for as long as he wanted (for example, by stealing the file of hashed passwords and then generating passwords and computing their hashes). However, this is not a realistic attack against web-based systems. An on-line guessing attack can be detected and blocked easily. In fact, the most dangerous attacks - phishing, keylogging — are no less effective against strong passwords than against weak ones. There is an attack (bulk guessing against all accounts) that can be useful against weak passwords, but the authors show that there are alternative defenses that are probably much better from a UI point of view than requiring stronger passwords. It's all to easy to remember the results of papers without remembering the assumptions that went into them. In a field such as computer science where order-of-magnitude changes in parameters critical to results are common over fairly short periods of time, this is a dangerous way to work!
[From Dave Farber's IP] Clever. Try walking into your local Best Buy with an iPhone, and see what networks you can hop on... http://www.bestbuy.com/store/550/ - - --------------- The following advisory applies to customers who shopped at the Best Buy located at 1880 Palm Beach Lakes Blvd in West Palm Beach, FL in November and December 2008. An employee at Best Buy's 1880 Palm Beach Lakes Blvd in West Palm Beach, FL allegedly stole credit card information during November and December 2008 using an unauthorized personal device. Best Buy learned of the theft on Jan. 5, 2009. With the cooperation and assistance of store management, the employee was identified and taken into federal custody by the Secret Service on Jan. 7, 2009. That person is no longer employed by Best Buy. Although none of Best Buy's electronic systems were compromised by this former employee's actions, Best Buy believes that approximately 4,000 people could have been affected by this law enforcement authorities and all relevant payment card brands have been notified of the incident and Best Buy is fully cooperating with all investigations. In addition, Best Buy is sending letters to customers who may have been affected by this fraudulent activity, notifying them of the situation and encouraging them to review their account statements and monitor their credit reports. ... Archives: https://www.listbox.com/member/archive/247/=now
This security breach at Worldpay appears to have 2 unique features. First, the crackers had sufficient access to raise the limits on payment cards and second, the cracked cards were used in a coordinates attack by footsoldiers in 49 different cities worldwide. http://www.bankinfosecurity.com/articles.php?art_id=1197 http://www.bizjournals.com/atlanta/stories/2008/12/22/daily24.html http://www.itpro.co.uk/609793/royal-bank-of-scotland-s-worldpay-hit-by-atm-scam
I found this article gives quite a bit of insight into how the satellites could have crashed: http://www.thespacereview.com/article/1314/1 Basically, the US military keeps their high accuracy tracking data secret, and the low accuracy data they publish didn't even make Iridium 33 and Cosmos 2251 look like a likely collision. Of course, even the high accuracy data only gives a probability, and the military doesn't have enough resources (mostly constrained by trained personnel) to analyze all possible collisions. Even if they did, it seems Iridium didn't even have a plan in place for dealing with likely collisions. Or perhaps they were more like, "Lalala, we're going to pretend that can't happen because we can't afford to deal with it." And of course there's the Russians, who left a derelict satellite where it would intersect many other orbits, and launched both satellites which collided. Basically, everyone involved is to blame to some extent. I guess sometimes it is cheaper to take risks and let everyone else deal with the consequences.
Be careful which active links you click, even in RISKS postings. The recent posting about the Wikileaks cracking of encryption of documents found on a U.S. Pentagon server <Wikileaks cracks key NATO document on Afghan war> highlights a risk in quoting URLs without adding precautionary statements. The original posting contained a statement saying "Altogether four classified or restricted NATO documents of interest on the Pentagon site were discovered to share the 'progress' password. Wikileaks has decrypted the documents and released them in full:" followed by URLs to pages which I assume lead to downloadable documents. I assume this statement means that at least one the linked documents was/is classified, but it may indicate only a suggestive teaser. (No, I didn't follow the links...) Anyone who works in a classified environment and downloads one of the purported classified documents could have contaminated their unclassified computer system (and associated proxy servers and spam scanning servers, etc.) with classified information. This would result in a large isolation and cleanup effort, requiring at least the local sub-net to be taken offline for some time. David E. Price SRO, CHMM, Senior Consequence Analyst for Special Projects, Global Security, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, P. O. Box 808 L-073 Livermore, CA USA 94551 [The burden of the typical unclassified RISKS reader is not on the reader. The burden on a classified reader reading something classified from a supposedly unclassified system is clearly not on The Risks Forum. There is also a fundamental gap — the folks who worry about multilevel security (for confidentiality and nonleakage) should also be worried about some form of multilevel integrity (as in the lack of dependence on less trustworthy people, programs, software, hardware, systems, networks, and so on, especially in the presence of malware, phishing, ... PGN]
(Nye, RISKS-25.59) I just wonder if this is NATO experimenting with viral marketing? When you read the documents, you see a press group that has developed the current text of 'the message' including all the good things they want to say about themselves. It is basically propaganda for the troops and for release to interested journalists. They include a small bit about what they don't really like to discuss, but for which a standard and reasonable answer is supplied. When you look at it, there is nothing in these documents that you wouldn't get doled out continuously at innumerable press briefings and troop briefings. Nothing secret, nothing key, nothing new - rather boring press conference material really. What is new and unique (I think - though perhaps earlier examples exist?) is that the documents have been trivially located and cracked and the entire message passed to every interested reader on the Internet. Far more people than ever was likely now know exactly the official NATO position and thoughts. You don't suppose someone in NATO marketing had a bright idea do you? I have a theory that in this life, 99% of bad stuff is caused by stupidity and 1% by malevolence. In this case I'm prepared to even the odds quite a lot.
Except, of course, that e-mail is a store and forward medium, and for me a 2.5hr delay on e-mail is perfectly acceptable. Perhaps the risk is in people using a technology for purposes for which it is not intended? (in this case, as a substitute for instant messaging.) Gmail didn't lose any mail. For me, having a hosted e-mail system where my mail doesn't get lost and is easily searchable certainly seems worth a 2.5hr inconvenience every few months. It certainly seems better performance than every other in-house system I've used. Now, once someone hacks and takes over your GMAIL credentials, getting your account back.... now _that's_ a risky proposition! :-)
Subject: Verizon curiosity >Date: Tue, 03 Mar 2009 14:05:18 -0600 (CST) > From: Verizon Online, High Speed Internet Customer Care Team > <email@example.com> > Subject: Important information about your High Speed Internet Service Dear Verizon High Speed Internet Customer, On MARCH 17TH, 2009, Verizon will be performing network maintenance that will temporarily interrupt your Verizon High Speed Internet service for approximately one hour between the hours of 11:00 pm and 8:00 am local time. If the lights on your modem are blinking after 8:00 am local time on November 21st, please power cycle your modem. To power cycle your modem, please do the following: - Use the power switch on the back of the modem to turn off the power - Wait 60 seconds - Turn the modem back on. - Wait 45 seconds to allow the modem to synchronize to the server, and then - try reconnecting to the Internet. Note: If your modem doesn't have an on/off switch, unplug the modem from its power source instead of turning the modem off. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause and appreciate your cooperation. Thank you for choosing Verizon Online as your High Speed Internet service provider. Verizon Online Customer Care Team [They probably also did this LAST November 20, and just changed THAT date to March 17, but forgot to change the November 21 date. PGN] [Yup ... exactly what happened, I think. I remember a similar message a few months ago. But I thought that Risks might enjoy it. I've stirred them up for an explanation, and will let you know. PZI]
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