The RISKS Digest
Volume 25 Issue 18

Tuesday, 3rd June 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…


Fire at The Planet takes down thousands of websites
Gene Wirchenko
UK power rationing causes fires and false fire alarms
Alistair McDonald
Beware of Error Messages At Bank Sites
Brian Krebs via George Sherwood
Still even more lost data
Gene Wirchenko
Mass exploitation with Adobe Flash
Monty Solomon
Risks in Instant Runoff Voting
Arkansas Election Officials Baffled by Machines that Flipped Race
Spelling checker runs amok in Pennsylvania high-school yearbook
Al Stangenberger
Full Disclosure and why Vendors Hate it
Jonathan A. Zdziarski via Monty Solomon
Re: An iTunes file database problem Apple will never fix
Alistair McDonald
Re: Wrong patient gets appendix removed, software to blame
REVIEW: "Secure Programming with Static Analysis", Chess/West
Rob Slade
Info on RISKS (comp.risks)

Fire at The Planet takes down thousands of websites

Gene Wirchenko <>
Mon, 02 Jun 2008 08:29:35 -0700
A fire at The Planet's data center in Houston TX on 31 May 2008 was blamed
on a faulty transformer.  About 9,000 servers and 7,500 customers were
affected by the outage over the weekend. (a high-profile British
comedy site) is a notable casualty.  [Power was restored on 2 Jun.  PGN]

UK power rationing causes fires and false fire alarms

Alistair McDonald <>
Fri, 30 May 2008 10:54:04 +0100 (BST)
As an introduction, the domestic electricity supply in the UK is generally
very good, with no brownouts - outages are very rare. I realise that this
contrasts with the supply in some other countries. This means that when
power does fail here, we're sometimes not ready for it.

This week, The Sizewell B nuclear electricity generating station in Suffolk,
UK went offline, and was followed shortly afterward by a coal-fired
electricity generating station, Longannet in Fife, also going offline. The
nuclear reactor went offline when a failsafe was triggered by a faulty
reading on a control panel.

The loss of capacity was worsened when several smaller generation facilities
went offline for periods of time during the next few hours.

The National Grid took measures to protect the supply, by lowering supply
voltages and eventually shutting off supply to parts of the nation.  Details

However, the Teeside *Evening Gazette* notes that there were many false fire
alarms over a wide area of the country due to the power outages, and at
least one real fire (although the reported "power surge" cause may not be
related to the power failure).

As the UK's electricity supply is expected to be outstripped by demand in
the next few years, incidents like these may increase.

Alistair McDonald, InRevo Ltd (  Tel 07017 467 396
Author of the SpamAssassin book: (

Beware of Error Messages At Bank Sites: Brian Krebs

George Sherwood <>
Tue, 03 Jun 2008 19:43:12 +0000
Computer Security: Beware of Error Messages At Bank Sites
Brian Krebs's blog at *The Washington Post* website

If you own or work at a small to mid-sized business, and are presented with
an error message about data synchronization or site maintenance when trying
to access your company's bank account online, you might want to give the
bank a call: A criminal group that specializes in deploying malicious
software to steal banking data is presenting victims with fake maintenance
pages and error messages as a means of getting around anti-fraud safeguards
erected by many banks.

Dozens of banks now require business customers to log in to their accounts
online using so-called "two factor authentication" methods, which generally
require the customer to enter something in addition to a user name and
password, such as a random, one-time-use numeric code generated by a key fob
or a scratch-off pad.

But one of this past year's most prolific cyber gangs—which targets
virus-laden e-mail attacks against specific individuals at small to
mid-sized businesses—has devised a simple but ingenious method of
circumnavigating these security measures.  When a victim whose PC is
infected with their data-stealing malware attempts to log in at a banking
site that requires two-factor authentication, the fraudsters modify the
display of the bank site in the victim's browser with an alert saying
"please allow 15 to 30 minutes for your request to be synchronized with our

By intercepting the victim's password along with the one-time code—and
assuring that the victim will never be able to use that one-timecode—the
thieves can quickly use the one-time code to log in as the victim and
proceed to drain the bank account.

  [See Brian's outstanding blog, which notes the case of a fake error
  message inserted by malware during May 2008 in a spoof of the U.S. Tax
  Court, and further discussion.  PGN]

Still even more lost data

Gene Wirchenko <>
Sun, 01 Jun 2008 15:06:27 -0700
Bank of New York Mellon Corp. officials last week confirmed that a box of
unencrypted data storage tapes holding personal information of more than 4.5
million individuals was lost more than three months ago by a third-party
vendor during transport to an off-site facility.  [Source: Computerworld, 30
May 2008]

Note the incredibly sophisticated encrypted technique.  It is so
sophisticated that Eudora does not recognise it as a word.

Mass exploitation with Adobe Flash

Monty Solomon <>
Thu, 29 May 2008 23:19:43 -0400
Alerts, Security Labs, 29 May 2008
Threat Type: Malicious Web Site / Malicious Code

Websense Security Labs ThreatSeeker technology has detected thousands of web
sites infected with the recent mass JavaScript injection that exploits a
vulnerability in Adobe Flash (CVE-2007-0071) to deliver its malicious
payload. This attack has been previously mentioned in ISC and Adobe's blog.

This vulnerability is not a 0-day, and users with the latest version of
Flash Player (version are safe. However, there are still many on
older versions of Flash that are unaware of this mass web infection and are
susceptible to this drive-by attack. An update to the latest version of
Flash Player is highly recommended. ...

Risks in Instant Runoff Voting

"Peter G. Neumann" <>
Fri, 30 May 2008 11:35:03 PDT
Runoff elections are expensive, which has led to various approaches to
avoiding them by having voters express priorities among the various
candidates.  However, an important paper by Kenneth Arrow (RAND Corp, 1948)
provides mathematical evidence that no voting system that ranks preferences
among more than two candidates can guarantee logically fair nonparadoxical

A nice example of a "winner-turns-loser" paradox with Instant Runoff Voting
(IRV) is given by William Poundstone, Why Elections Aren't Fair (And What We
Can Do About It), Hill & Wang, 2008, by considering hypothetically what
might have happened in the 1991 Louisiana governor's race if IRV had been
used.  I oversimplify slightly (and ignore the political positions that
might have made this logical!):

  34% of the voters were for Edwin Edwards, 32% for David Duke, 27% for
  Buddy Roemer.  Under IRV, Roemer would have been eliminated, and his
  votes reallocated—which could have resulted in Edwards winning.

  Suppose Edwards managed to have swung 6% of Duke's voters to have switched
  to Edwards.  Then Duke would have been eliminated, and the reallocation
  could have resulted in Roemer being the winner.

There's a nice review article on Poundstone's Gaming the Vote, and Spencer
Overton's Stealing Democracy: The New Politics of Voter Suppression, Norton,
2008, in *The Nation*, 2 Jun 2008, written by Peter C. Baker.

Arkansas Election Officials Baffled by Machines that Flipped Race

"Peter G. Neumann" <>
Fri, 30 May 2008 10:49:31 PDT
Source: Kim Zetter <>, 29 May 2008 [PGN-ed]

Bruce Haggard, an election commissioner in Faulkner County, Arkansas, is
baffled by a problem that occurred with two voting machines in this month's
general state elections. The machines allocated votes cast in one race
<> to an entirely
different race that wasn't even on the electronic ballot.  The problem
resulted in the wrong candidate being declared victor in a state House race.
“I don't understand how it could possibly happen,'' Haggard told Threat
Level.  [It is easy to NOT UNDERSTAND if you haven't been reading RISKS for
the past 20 years, or not been paying attention to the media coverage. PGN]

The problem occurred with two touch-screen voting machines made by Election
Systems & Software, which were the only machines used in Faulkner County's
East Cadron B voting precinct.

Haggard says the night before the election, officials noticed that the
electronic ballot on two machines slated to be used at East Cadron B was
missing the State House District 45 race. So officials printed up paper
ballots to be used just for that race in that precinct.

Voters cast electronic ballots on the voting machines for other races, then
cast paper ballots for the District 45 race. At the end of the day,
Dr. Terry Fiddler (D) had beat Linda Tyler (D) for the House seat with 794
votes to Tyler's 770. But a post-election examination revealed that despite
the fact that the electronic ballots on the two machines at the East Cadron
B precinct didn't display the District 45 race, the machines recorded votes
for that race anyway.

After some examination, officials determined that the machines had taken
votes that were actually cast in a different race—the Cadron Township
Constable race—and given them to the non-existent District 45 race
instead. Luckily, Haggard says officials were able to determine this is
where the votes came from because the touch-screen machines produce a
voter-verifiable paper audit trail.

Those paper trails showed correctly that there was no District 45 race on
the ballot and, thus, that there were no votes cast on the machines for the
District 45 race. But memory cards taken from inside the machines, showed
that the machines recorded votes in the District 45 race. Officials were
able to determine that those District 45 votes actually belonged to the
Cadron Township Constable race because the same number of votes that were
allocated to the District 45 race in the memory cards matched the number of
votes that voters had cast in the Cadron Township Constable race, which
appeared on the voter-verifiable paper audit trail.

“Somehow the recording software had tabulated it into the wrong race, Thank
goodness for the paper trail. We went to the paper trail and could show how
people actually voted.''

Haggard doesn't have a clue how the switch could have happened but says that
it was either a problem with the ballot definition file that election
officials created before the election that tells the machines where to
allocate votes or in the voting machine software itself.

Once the bogus votes in District 45 were subtracted from the totals, Fiddler
lost 51 votes in the race, showing that Tyler had actually won the House
seat.  [...]

This is not the first time that ES&S voting systems have had vote-flipping
problems. In Ohio during last November's general election ES&S tabulation
software flipped the vote totals
<> for two
candidates. Officials noticed the problem when they compared the vote totals
produced from the memory cards to the totals that appeared on paper
printouts from the machines.

ES&S machines in Ohio also had a separate problem last November when voters,
among them the secretary of state, reported that their machine had dropped a
candidate's name from the race
<> and displayed
a gray bar in his place.

ES&S machines were also at the center of the controversy over the 13th
Congressional District race in Florida in 2006 when more than 18,000 ballots
cast in Sarasota County showed no vote cast in the CD-13 race after hundreds
of voters had complained that the machines failed to respond to their
touch. An investigation by the Government Accountability Office indicated
that the machines likely weren't to blame in that case, though critics have
questioned the thoroughness of that investigation.

*See also:*

  * Votes Flipped in Ohio Race that Used E-voting machines
  * Ohio's Election Portends Trouble
  * Report: Magnet and PDA Sufficient to Change Votes on ES&S Voting

Spelling checker runs amok in Pennsylvania high-school yearbook

Al Stangenberger <>
Mon, 02 Jun 2008 12:57:08 -0700
Middletown Area High School's yearbook listed Max Zupanovic as "Max
Supernova," Kathy Carbaugh as "Kathy Airbag" and Alessandra Ippolito as
"Alexandria Impolite," just to name a few.  The mistakes were found on four
of the yearbook's 176 pages, co-editor Amanda Gummo said.

Ed Patrick of Taylor Publishing, which printed the book, said his company is
responsible for the errors and will provide free stickers printed with the
correct names.  "It happens all the time, every year," Patrick said. "Look
at any yearbook in the country."  [Source: AP news, 2 Jun 2008]

  [Another example of blind acceptance of a spelling-checker's suggestions.
  I do think the publisher's comment about it "happening all the time" is a
  little unprofessional.  AS]

    [My yearbooks generally had zero defects (except for my college freshman
    yearbook—which included a fictitious student named Duke Miasma.  But
    then that was a feature, and not a defect.  And that was before spelling
    checkers, when people learned how to spell. PGN]

Al Stangenberger, Center for Forestry, Univ. of California at Berkeley
145 Mulford Hall # 3114, Berkeley, CA  94720-3114 (510)642-4424

Full Disclosure and why Vendors Hate it: Jonathan A. Zdziarski

Monty Solomon <>
Sat, 31 May 2008 15:35:59 -0400
Jonathan A. Zdziarski, May 2008

I did a talk recently at O'Reilly's Ignite Boston party about the exciting
iPhone forensics community emerging in law enforcement circles. With all of
the excitement came shame, however; not for me, but for everyone in the
audience who had bought an iPhone and put something otherwise embarrassing
or private on it. Very few people, it seemed, were fully aware of just how
much personal data the iPhone retains, in spite of the fact that Apple has
known about it for quite some time. In spite of the impressive quantities of
beer that get drunk at Tommy Doyle's, I was surprised to find that many
people were sober enough to turn their epiphany about privacy into a
discussion about full disclosure. This has been a hot topic in the iPhone
development community lately, and I have spent much time pleading with the
different camps to return to embracing the practice of full disclosure.

The iPhone is shrouded in secrecy on both sides - Apple (of course) uses
their secrets to instill hype (and gloss over many otherwise obvious privacy
flaws), while the iPhone development community uses their secrets to ensure
they can exploit future versions of the firmware to find these flaws (along
with all the other fun stuff we do). The secrets on both sides appear to
have not only hurt the product, but run the risk of devolving an otherwise
amazing device into the next surveillance fear. With the military and
federal agencies testing the iPhone for possible use, some of the long-held
secrets surrounding the iPhone even run the risk of affecting national
security.  ...

Re: An iTunes file database problem Apple will never fix (R-25.17)

"Alistair McDonald" <>
Mon, 2 Jun 2008 08:59:01 +0100 (BST)
I'm surprised this item appeared in RISKS. It appears to be a generalised
complaint about iTunes software; there is no evidence of a dialogue with
Apple (so how can Max say "never"?) plus nothing specific in terms of
version numbers or details of how to reproduce the problem.

I suspect that if there was a general flaw in iTunes that caused disk space
to be retained, that such a defect would be well publicised. A quick search
on google returns only problems with the wrong detection of iPod capacity.

The piece finishes with a vague conjecture that because this is a UI
problem, it must exist on both OSX and windows platforms. How the location
of the defect was tracked to the UI code, and how it affects OSX is,
apparently, left as an exercise for the reader.

The risk? Just because someone knows the list submission address does not
make their submissions valid.

Alistair McDonald, InRevo Ltd (   Tel 07017 467 396

Re: Wrong patient gets appendix removed, software to blame (Sanders, R 25 17)

"Peter G. Neumann" <>
Fri, 30 May 2008 13:26:04 PDT
  [For those of you who did not dig it out, here is the text, for the
  RISKS archives.]

Software incompatibility was part of a chain of events leading to the wrong
patient getting an appendectomy.  The mistake occurred on 14 Nov 2007, when
two female patients were scheduled for computed tomography, or CT scans.
The first patient underwent an appendectomy that evening because of the CT
results. But the surgery was unnecessary.  The next day, a radiologist
discovered the patient's CT scan was actually that of a second patient.
However, the patient's information had already been entered into the
computer system for the CT scan. After the second patient's scan was
completed, a radiology technician noted the error, removed the first
patient's information and entered information on the second patient.  When
the first patient's information was deleted from the computer in the scan
room, it was not deleted from the computer system used by the radiologist.
“This was due to an incompatibility of the software between the two

REVIEW: "Secure Programming with Static Analysis", Chess/West

Rob Slade <>
Mon, 02 Jun 2008 11:49:44 -0800
BKSCPWSA.RVW   20080219

"Secure Programming with Static Analysis", Brian Chess/Jacob West,
2007, 978-0-321-42477-8, U$49.99/C$61.99
%A   Brian Chess
%A   Jacob West
%C   P.O. Box 520, 26 Prince Andrew Place, Don Mills, Ontario  M3C 2T8
%D   2007
%G   978-0-321-42477-8 0-321-42477-8
%I   Addison-Wesley Publishing Co.
%O   U$49.99/C$61.99 416-447-5101 800-822-6339
%O   Audience a+ Tech 2 Writing 2 (see revfaq.htm for explanation)
%P   587 p. + CD-ROM
%T   "Secure Programming with Static Analysis"

Part one is an introduction to software security and static analysis.  The
authors define static analysis as any means of assessing the programming or
code without executing the program.  Chapter one states that defensive
programming (coding in such as way as to deal with unexpected submissions)
will protect against errors, but possibly not against a deliberate
adversary, and that adding security features to an application will not
necessarily make for a secure program.  There is a general outline of
various types of software problems, and the advantages of using static
analysis early in the development process.  Chapter two describes the
different types of static analysis and their uses.  How to use static
analysis as part of overall code review is covered in chapter three.
Chapter four details the internal structures and functions of static

Part two examines software problems that have been all too common in our
application environment.  Chapter five looks at the right and wrong ways to
handle input.  The ubiquitous buffer overflow gets two chapters: six
discusses string issues, while seven deals with integer (particularly
counter and pointer) situations.  Error and exception handling is detailed
in chapter eight.

Special application environments and requirements make up part three.  The
Web is handled, in a generic manner, in chapter nine.  Chapter ten
specializes in XML (eXtensible Markup Language) and Web services.  Privacy,
personally identifiable information, and pseudorandom number generation all
get put into chapter eleven.  The special issues of privileged programs and
processes are noted in chapter twelve.

Part four demonstrates static analysis in practice.  This is a set of
instructions for using the Fortify Code Analyzer and Audit Workbench
programs, which are provided on the CD.  Chapter thirteen is for Java, and
fourteen for the C language.  (Since the rest of the book has been detailed,
helpful, and quite free of taint of bias, this final sales pitch seems

Code review and analysis gets mentioned in other works on secure
programming, but this guide goes into technicalities that can be of
considerable use to the developer.  Chess and West have also made a very
solid case that static analysis is a more effective way to find highly
significant faults, and correct them earlier in the process.  I commend this
both to developers, and to those in security who need to better manage a
secure development process.

copyright Robert M. Slade, 2008   BKSCPWSA.RVW   20080219

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