The RISKS Digest
Volume 25 Issue 64

Monday, 20th April 2009

Forum on Risks to the Public in Computers and Related Systems

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

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Lisa Wangness: Inaccuracies in Google Health records
Martin Ward
Woman killed by laptop in crash
Walter Roberson
San Francisco South Bay phone vandalism
Vesta tire-pressure warnings
Click and Clack
Finnish e-voting results annulled; municipalities to hold new elections
CIA agent testifies on risks of electronic voting
Conficker C Analysis from SRI
Monty Solomon
Japanese vending machine face recognition accepts 10-yr-old as adult
Paul Saffo
Pro-regulation viewpoint on cyber vulnerability
via David Farber
"Nowt for owt" with Amazon
Chris J Brady
Credit-Card Activation
Kees Huyser
Bad authentication question
Erik Mooney
Re: The Security By Obscurity Myth
Dick Mills
Re: Driver Says GPS Unit Led Him to Edge of Cliff
Re: flat text is *never* what we want
Tony Finch
Workshop on Service oriented Enterprise Architecture for Enterprise Engineering: EDOC'09
Selmin Nurcan
Info on RISKS (comp.risks)

Lisa Wangness: Inaccuracies in Google Health records

Martin Ward <>
Fri, 17 Apr 2009 15:27:42 +0100

When Dave deBronkart tried to transfer his medical records from Beth Israel
Deaconess Medical Center to Google Health, a new free service that lets
patients keep all their health records in one place and easily share them
with new doctors, he was stunned at what he found.

Google said his cancer had spread to either his brain or spine — a
frightening diagnosis deBronkart had never gotten from his doctors — and
listed an array of other conditions that he never had, as far as he knew,
like chronic lung disease and aortic aneurysm. A warning announced his blood
pressure medication required "immediate attention."

It turns out that Google Health uses information from billing records, which
can be inaccurate, undated, and was never intended to be used by doctors.
Transferring existing paper records could take years and hundreds of
millions of dollars. Insurance data, by contrast, is already computerized
and far easier and cheaper to download. But it is also prone to
inaccuracies, partly because of the clunky diagnostic coding language used
for medical billing, or because doctors sometimes label a test with the
disease they hope to rule out, medical technology specialists say.

Ironically, Beth Israel has one of the most advanced electronic medical
records systems in the country, with clinical records carefully tended by
doctors and accessible to patients on a secure website. But Google Health
prefers providers send information in coded form to build the list of
patient's medical conditions so the program can guide patients to additional
information on the Internet about each disease using links. The neatly
packaged billing codes are easier to link to than the mix of medical terms
and standard language doctors use in their clinical records.

[Source: Lisa Wangness, *The Boston Globe*, 13 Apr 2007]

  [I used this case in beginning a keynote talk I gave on identities, trust,
  and trustworthiness at NIST on 15 Apr 2009 for the IDtrust 2009
  conference.  It was highly relevant, and came up several times during the
  talk.  My slides are online on my website and on the IDtrust site.  PGN]

  [Incidentally, an earlier article by Stephen Smith in *The Boston Globe*,
  9 Apr 2009, noted that more than 338 Massachusetts hospital patients
  "suffered perilous falls, got the wrong medication, or had medical
  instruments left inside them."  On the other hand, almost 2/3 of those
  involved falls.  PGN]

Woman killed by laptop in crash

Walter Roberson <>
Thu, 16 Apr 2009 13:11:28 -0500

A Canadian woman driving a small car was involved in a car crash.
Investigators found that she likely would have survived if not for her
laptop, which had been placed unsecured in the back seat and which flew
forward and hit her in the back of the head.

  [It actually might make some sense for laptops to be in cases and anchored
  with seatbelts — particularly the new Mac Airbooks.  PGN]

San Francisco South Bay phone vandalism

"Peter G. Neumann" <>
Fri, 10 Apr 2009 12:42:12 PDT

Once again we are reminded of the fragility of our infrastructures — this
time fiber-optic cables and accessible manhole covers.  Ten cables were
severed at four different locations in the wee hours of the morning of 9 Apr
2009.  At least 50,000 landline telephone customers and many others had
their service seriously disrupted by fiber-optic cuts that also affected
cell-phone service and Internet connectivity in Santa Clara, Santa
Cruz, and San Benito counties.  It impacted hospitals, businesses, banks,
911 calls to police and fire departments, computerized medical records,
ATMs, and ubiquitous use of credit and debit cards.  [Source: Long article
by Nanette Asimov, Ryan Kim, and Kevin Fagan, *San Francisco Chronicle*,
10 Apr 2009; PGN-ed]  With pervasive physical and logical vulnerabilities,
sophisticated malware such as Conficker, and `normal accidents', we really
need to consider our infrastructures much more holistically.

Vesta tire-pressure warnings

"Peter G. Neumann" <>
Sun, 19 Apr 2009 11:06:45 PDT

Click and Clack (Tom and Ray on NPR's Car Talk) had a caller this morning
saying that her Vesta tire-pressure warning system goes off whenever she
drove on a particular stretch of highway.  After a little grilling, it turns
out she was passing the NSA complex at Fort Meade.  C&C concluded it had to
be Radio Frequency Interference, and wondered whether it affects only
Vestas, or perhaps other late-model cars with the newly mandated wireless
sensors that might operate on the same frequency.  [This was in MD.  If it
also happens in VA (e.g., near Langley), there might be Vestal Virginians
calling in as well.  PGN]

Finnish e-voting results annulled; municipalities to hold new elections

"Peter G. Neumann" <>
Fri, 10 Apr 2009 12:42:12 PDT
Electronic Frontier Finland (EFFI), 9 Apr 2009
Kirjoittaja: Antti Vaha-Sipila, Huhtikuu 9, 2009

The Supreme Administrative Court has ruled on the Finnish municipal
elections of 28 october 2008, in which an e-voting system was piloted.
In its decision, the court sided with the complainants, overturning an
earlier decision of Helsinki Administrative Court, and the decisions of the
municipal central elections committees to confirm the election results. As a
result, the three municipalities that took part in the Finnish e-voting
pilot must now hold new elections as soon as possible. As the e-voting pilot
has ended and the law authorising e- voting expired in December 2008, the
new elections will use a traditional paper ballot system.

The Supreme Administrative Court decision was based on two issues: first,
the voting instructions that the voters had received by mail were incorrect,
and second, the user interface of the e-voting terminals was deemed to be
flawed. The voting process utilised a smart card given to each voter, and
upon premature removal of the card, the voting terminals gave no indication
that the vote was not cast. As the system did not use a voter-verified paper
ballot, voters might have been left with an impression that the vote had in
fact been cast.

It is notable that the Court did not address the general lawfulness of
e-voting. According to the Finnish law authorising e-voting, electronic
ballot boxes would need to be archived until the next election. These
electronic ballot boxes contain encrypted information on who voted and
how. This poses a risk to voter secrecy. However, the Court refused to rule
on whether this is unlawful, or whether the electronic ballot box would need
to be destroyed.

In addition, the Court did not address the question whether an e-voting
system would need to be more transparent. A significant amount of system
design in the Finnish e-voting pilot were declared 'trade secrets', and the
system source code is closed. The Court decision still leaves an open
question whether paperless, 'black box' e-voting systems could be fielded in
the future.

  [Many other sources are cited on the EFFI website.  PGN]

CIA agent testifies on risks of electronic voting

"Peter G. Neumann" <>
Sat, 11 Apr 2009 16:26:53 PDT

  [Thanks to Gene Spafford for spotting this one.  PGN]

 A CIA agent testified before the Election Assistance Commission.  His
position (or perhaps the CIA's?): electronic votes are not secure and can be
altered — and are being altered in some locales.

Conficker C Analysis from SRI

Monty Solomon <>
Fri, 10 Apr 2009 22:39:55 -0400

Phillip Porras, Hassen Saidi, and Vinod Yegneswaran,
Technical Report, Addendum
Release Date: 08 March 2009, Last Update:   4 April 2009
Computer Science Laboratory, SRI International, 333 Ravenswood Avenue
Menlo Park CA 94025 USA

This addendum provides an evolving snapshot of our understanding of the
latest Conficker variant, referred to as Conficker C.  The variant was
brought to the attention of the Conficker Working Group when one member
reported that a compromised Conficker B honeypot was updated with a new
dynamically linked library (DLL). Although a network trace for this
infection is not available, we suspect that this DLL may have propagated via
Conficker's Internet rendezvous point mechanism (Global Network Impact).
The infection was found on the morning of Friday, 6 March 2009 (PST), and it
was later reported that other working group members had received other DLL
reinfections throughout the same day.  Since that point, multiple members
have reported upgrades of previously infected machines to this latest
variant via HTTP-based Internet rendezvous points.  We believe this latest
outbreak of Conficker variant C began first spreading at roughly 6 p.m. PST,
4 March 2009 (5 March UTC).

In this addendum report, we summarize the inner workings and practical
implications of this latest malicious software application produced by the
Conficker developers.  In addition to the dual layers of packing and
encryption used to protect A and B from reverse engineering, this latest
variant also cloaks its newest code segments, along with its latest
functionality, under a significant layer of code obfuscation to further
hinder binary analysis.  Nevertheless, with a careful mixture of static and
dynamic analysis, we attempt here to summarize the internal logic of
Conficker C.  ...

New:  Free Detection Utilities

Conficker C P2P Snort Detection Module

Conficker C Network Scanner

  [Phil Porras and his colleagues have done an amazing job in reverse
  engineering and analyzing Conficker.  See the Malware Threat Center,
  Cyber Threat Analytics, and BotHunter.  PGN]

Japanese vending machine face recognition accepts 10-yr-old as adult

Paul Saffo <>
Fri, 17 Apr 2009 12:29:27 -0700

A 10-year-old boy in Kyoto was able to purchase cigarettes from a vending
machine equipped with face identification technology, it has been found.

Kyoto Prefectural Police conducted an experiment with the cooperation of the
boy, who had bought cigarettes from a vending machine this February. Neither
the Ministry of Finance, which had approved the use of such machines in lieu
of those that read Taspo I.C. cards stored with personal identification
information, nor the manufacturer of face identification vending machines
have heard of other instances in which elementary school children have been
misidentified as adults.

According to police, the boy confessed that he had purchased cigarettes from
a vending machine when he was questioned by his father about the cigarettes
he had in his possession, and the father then contacted the juvenile
division of Kyoto police. Early this month, police asked the boy to re-enact
what he had done at the vending machine in question. The boy stood on the
frame of his bicycle to move closer to the camera installed in the machine,
pressed the "confirm" button, and was identified as an adult.

Face identification vending machines determine a person's approximate age
from the size of their eyes and mouth and their bone structure. If a buyer
is not identified as an adult, they must present a driver's
license. Designed to prevent minors from buying cigarettes, 5,200 such
vending machines have been in operation across Japan since the system's use
was approved in July.

Kyoto police know of at least five instances in which junior high school
students were misidentified as adults. "We plan to push the Ministry of
Finance and vending machine manufacturers to make efforts to prevent minors
from buying cigarettes from vending machines," said police.

"We are currently investigating the cause," said a representative of the
vending machine manufacturer. "We are constantly upgrading our software to
meet increasingly tough standards. The vending machine in question has also
been upgraded." It is unclear, however, whether the boy was able to make
purchases after the upgrade.

The legal smoking age in Japan is 20.

Pro-regulation viewpoint on cyber vulnerability

David Farber <>
Mon, 30 Mar 2009 10:12:42 -0400

  [From someone contributing anonymously to Dave Farber's IP]

A paper that speaks to market failure is at:,com_csis_pubs/task,view/id,5370/type,1/

Given that we know that perimeter defenses are ineffective illusions in
cyberspace, to what market should regulation be targeted to have the most
desirable impacts?  Would it be the market for devices, operating systems,
network infrastructure, application software and services, on-line content?
All of the above?

"A new Federal approach to cybersecurity will fail if it does not elicit
actions that the private sector will not otherwise perform.  Government
intervention in response to market failure can include regulation (or the
threat of regulation) or subsidy. Both have limitations, but both are
preferable to inaction. We are at the end of a long era of deregulation, an
effort that was initially beneficial but it went too far in the last
Administration. Finding a new and more balanced approach will not be
easy. The intellectual heritage of deregulation lives in assertions such as
any regulation to improve security will hurt innovation. Like all lobbyist
mantras, it contains a grain of truth while being fundamentally and
dangerously wrong.  Innovation is a complex process, and simple statements
about cause and effect deserve only skepticism."


"Nowt for owt" with Amazon

Chris J Brady <>
Sat, 4 Apr 2009 12:17:54 -0700 (PDT)

There is a saying in the North of England of 'nowt for owt' (rhyming with
'out'). That is 'there is nothing for free.' I have just been sucked into an
unwanted near 48-pound annual premium membership subscription by Amazon and
there is no way to unsubscribe.

I use to purchase various items of interest about four times a
year. I'm never in a hurry to receive these.

Just now I attempted to purchase a book and was offered the cheapest deal
from Amazon with no packing or postage if I signed up for a 'free' trial of
their new premium next day membership. This was easy to do,
unsurprisingly. The p&p charges were then zeroed in my basket details - but
then I received a response saying that payment had been declined by
VISA. Hmm - payment for a 'free' trial offer - I smelt a rat. It also stated
that an email had been sent - which I found was headed: "Payment Declined
for Amazon Prime Free Trial Membership."  The rat started to smell bad.

I checked my account details and noticed that I had on my account a number
of credit cards - all but one - now out-of-date. One of these latter had
been used for the 'free' payment - LUCKILY. The email also stated that after
the 'free' trial that my card would be charged 47.97 pounds for a one-year
full membership!!!!

I searched the web site and could find no information about this premium
membership - only that I had inadvertently joined it.

Worryingly I could NOT find any way to unsubscribe.

My only solution to this situation was to delete ALL of my cards' details
from my account. And I resolved NEVER to use Amazon again. Their loss.

By this time - and running out of my time at the Internet cafe - I was very
angry. The rat stank to high heaven. I trusted Amazon with my VISA card
details and they attempted to suck me into an annual - and assumedbly ever
increasing - membership that I had no need for.

Let others be warned - if you smell a rat with a web site stop and
investigate further before submitting credit card details.

Credit-Card Activation

Kees Huyser <>
Mon, 30 Mar 2009 09:12:49 +0200

Recently, my bank was taken over by another bank. As a consequence of this
take-over, I was issued a new credit card. The card needed to be activated
by an 'activation code' which was sent in a separate letter a few days after
I received the card.

To activate you need to call a toll-free number, enter the number of your
credit card, the activation code and your date of birth. I tried to activate
twice and both times it failed without telling me the reason for failure. I
was advised to call the bank's customer service desk.

This morning I called the service desk and was asked the last eight numbers
of the card, my full address (including the post code) and my date of
birth. I was then told my date of birth was incorrectly recorded in the
system and that this was the reason for activation failure.

The nice lady at the service desk then activated my card without asking for
the activation code.

I'm sure you can see the holes in the system here: I can steal a card, phone
the service desk and tell them the date of birth is not what is in their
system (the full address and postcode is printed on both letters and thus is
also in my possession) and have the card activated.

How can the bank check my DoB over the phone? If they had asked me to give
them the activation code at least that would mean I would have to steal two
envelopes: the one with the CC and the one with the activation code.

Bad authentication question

Erik Mooney <>
Fri, 17 Apr 2009 19:46:04 -0500

So here's an entry in the Bad Website Security Question derby:

"What sports team do you most like to see lose?"

This appeared for online banking services for a local northeast US regional
bank.  If one knows anything about pro sports rivalries in the Northeast,
there's maybe two to five potential answers to that question that would
cover 90% or more of respondents.  (And the bank even sponsors by name a pro
sports arena in a northeast city.)

At least it isn't a password-retrieval question.  It's an extra factor
required for authentication in addition to the regular password.  So it
can't compromise my account, but the security it provides is quite illusory.

PIN Crackers Nab Holy Grail of Bank Card Security (WiReD)

David Farber <>
Thu, 16 Apr 2009 11:16:08 -0400

Threat Level from

Hackers have crossed into new frontiers by devising sophisticated ways to
steal large amounts of personal identification numbers, or PINs, protecting
credit and debit cards, says an investigator.  The attacks involve both
unencrypted PINs and encrypted PINs that attackers have found a way to
crack, according to an investigator behind a new report looking at the data
breaches.  The attacks, says Bryan Sartin, director of investigative
response for Verizon Business, are behind some of the millions of dollars in
fraudulent ATM withdrawals that have occurred around the United States.
"We're seeing entirely new attacks that a year ago were thought to be only
academically possible," says Sartin. Verizon Business released a report
Wednesday that examines trends in security breaches. "What we see now is
people going right to the source ... and stealing the encrypted PIN blocks
and using complex ways to un-encrypt the PIN blocks."

  [From Dave Farber's IP distribution.  Thanks to Dave for many fascinating
  items.  PGN]

Re: The Security By Obscurity Myth (Sebes, RISKS-25.62)

Dick Mills <>
Mon, 30 Mar 2009 18:12:10 -0400

In RISKS-25.61, John Sebes reiterated the expert's condemnation of security
by obscurity (SBO).  I for one, would certainly not challenge the validity
of what Mr. Sebes and others say — within context.  However, I have two
social-engineering type speculations as to why the SBO myth won't die.

First and foremost, nearly all governments, businesses, and academic
institutions continue to embrace SBO.  On the day when the news reports that
NSA, IRS and Citibank open source all their software, and universities chip
in with their GPA counting software; all to invite scrutiny for
vulnerabilities, then I'll start to believe.

Next, as an engineer I'm trained to always check the limiting cases.
Suppose all the world's software, or even a substantial fraction of it, was
made open source?  I can't even guess how many zeroes to put on the number
of lines of code in question.  9? 12? 15?  Then, the obscurity shoe would
shift to the other foot.  Benevolent hackers would have their efforts
diluted to almost nothing.  Only a tiny fraction of the code would benefit
from adequate inspection by open source enthusiasts.  Malevolent hackers
need only find unscrutinized corners of obscure applications to find
something to exploit.  The average number of pairs of eyes scrutinizing each
line of code would be much less than one.  It would be disastrous.

Even on a much smaller scale, say the source code of the Windows OS, it
seems likely that malevolent hackers inspecting the code would greatly
outnumber the benevolent ones; especially, when considering the animosity
towards Microsoft exhibited by the open source community.  I believe that
most of them don't *want* Windows to be secure; nor NSA nor IRS for that

Consider the plight of a manager responsible for the security of any
attractive target software, and faced by the prospect of whether to open
source the code.  The code *might* benefit from the efforts of benevolent
hackers, but it would *certainly* suffer from the attentions of malevolent

Within certain context, I can easily accept the arguments against SBO and
for open source.  The context would be a relatively small block of code
(such as a voting machine, an encryption algorithm, or an OS kernel) and an
open source community motivated to work, and work hard, on the benevolent
side.  Outside that context, I'm far from being convinced that SBO is a

Re: Driver Says GPS Unit Led Him to Edge of Cliff

Mon, 06 Apr 2009 06:47:26 +0800

The e-maps where I live mark anything long and shiny (creek beds,
landslides) as "road", and anything not (roads underneath trees) as "not a
road". This combined with no concept of "vertical discontinuity", and any
staircase could become the "best road".

At least nobody's managed to drive off the _bottom_ of my cliff (Risks
24.13). I.e., there probably will be slightly less fatalities if the GPS
destination is at the top of the cliff instead of the bottom.

Re: flat text is *never* what we want (Finch, RISKS-25.55)

Tony Finch <>
Wed, 1 Apr 2009 10:57:14 +0100

A followup to my question in RISKS-25.55 about languages and/or libraries
that reduce the problems caused by incorrect / insecure software arising
from type mismatches in weakly typed data represented as strings.

Google has recently announced an open-source library that tackles one
consequence of this problem: cross-site scripting. It is part of a web page
templating system, and it embodies a lot of domain-specific knowledge about
the syntax and nesting of the various languages found in web pages.

CfP Workshop on Service oriented Enterprise Architecture for

Selmin Nurcan <>
Thu, 09 Apr 2009 19:54:27 +0200
  Enterprise Engineering (EDOC'09)

SoEA@EE'09 is organised in conjunction with the 13th International
Enterprise Computing Conference (EDOC) on September 1st, 2009, Auckland, New

The goal of the SoEA@EE'09 workshop is to clarify the relationship between
business process management and service provisioning. The objective is
(i) To characterise the strong relationship existing between Business
Process Management (BPM) and Service oriented Enterprise Architecture (SoEA)
(ii) To develop concepts and methods to assist the engineering and the
management of Service-Oriented Enterprise Architectures (SoEA) and their
support systems.

The Call for Papers can be downloaded from the SoEA@EE'09 Web site :

Selmin Nurcan, SoEA@EE'09 co-organiser

Paper submission: May 31, 2009
  [See the website for full details.  PGN]

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