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 67

Saturday 16 May 2009


Emirates Tail Strike at Melbourne 20 Mar 2009
David Landgren
Joke foils chess software
Fred Gilham
Canada's tax agency computers pile up
Ken Knowlton
New key-derivation function
David Magda
iCal/iPhone/iPod dislike senior citizens?
Steven M. Bellovin
JHU insider may have breached more than 10,000 patient records
DC financial-aid agency discloses personal data of 2,400 students
George Mannes
DHS Sensitive But Unclassified sharing platform hacked
French net piracy bill signed off
Amos Shapir
Kiwibank discovers perils of Google Adwords with 100% Interest campaign
Max Power
Australian emergency services can't break through their own firewall
Danny Burstein
Re: FAA ATC shutdown
Gene Wirchenko
Al Macintyre
Pete Kaiser
Mike Coleman
Linda Gorman
REVIEW: "Googling Security", Greg Conti
Rob Slade
Info on RISKS (comp.risks)

Emirates Tail Strike at Melbourne 20 Mar 2009

Tue, 12 May 2009 10:47:43 +0200

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) has released its preliminary
report regarding the take-off of an Airbus A340-500 flown by Emirates that
nearly turned into a disaster.

The pilots used a laptop to develop the flight plan which involved a
reduced-power take-off. The performance calculation used to determine the
power settings required on the engines were based on an incorrect value.
The weight of the aircraft was entered as 262 tonnes instead of 362
tonnes. Neither the pilot nor the co-pilot caught the error during cross

The co-pilot attempted to rotate the aircraft to commence the climb, but it
failed to respond since the engines were delivering power for a much lighter
craft. The pilot selected maximum thrust and the aircraft finally became
airborne, but not after having suffered three tail strikes, overrunning the
end of the runway and knocking out some ground infrastructure.

They dumped fuel and landed successfully. The airframe suffered damage to
structures made from composites and apparently no-one is quite sure how to
repair it as this has never occurred before.

RISKS readers will recall a similar incident which did not end so happily.
In October 2004, a 747 freighter was launched down a runway with its engine
delivering insufficient power, due to errors made in calculating the
take-off profile. 250 metres beyond the end of runway it managed to climb
into the air, and 100 metres further it struck an earth berm, severing the
tail. The craft crashed and all seven crew members were killed.

Joke foils chess software

Fred Gilham <gilham@AI.SRI.COM>
Thu, 14 May 2009 07:48:54 -0700

This article tells how the custom of having a celebrity make the first move
to open the tournament backfired when he made two consecutive moves with the
White pieces as a joke.  This caused the software feeding the games to the
outside world to freeze up and they were not able to get it working again
that day.

The beginning of the last paragraph was rather amusing: "The technical staff
of Mtel Masters proved useless and could not repair the live feed."

Canada's tax agency computers pile up

Ken Knowlton <>
Tue, 12 May 2009 10:36:02 EDT

"Canada's tax agency is stockpiling hundreds of old computers containing
sensitive taxpayer data that officials are unable to delete. Police warned
federal agencies two years ago that their disk-erasing software was
unreliable, but the tax agency failed to buy new software. Since then, tax
offices around the country have been storing the old hard drives in locked
facilities.  Some have resorted to smashing the computers to destroy the
data, but police say that technique has mixed results. To properly destroy a
drive, they say, it should be run through commercial equipment that slices
it into bits no bigger than the width of a pencil." [from *The Week* mag. 8
May 2009, page 8]

New key-derivation function

David Magda <>
Sun, 10 May 2009 21:48:20 -0400

Colin Percival, who happens to be the FreeBSD Security Officer, has created
the "scrypt" key-derivation function that he's presenting at BSDCan 2009:

> We estimate that on modern (2009) hardware, if 5 seconds are spent
> computing a derived key, the cost of a hardware brute-force attack against
> scrypt is roughly 4000 times greater than the cost of a similar attack
> against [OpenBSD's] bcrypt (to find the same password), and 20000 times
> greater than a similar attack against PBKDF2.

There's a sixteen-page paper that describes the algorithms and logic behind
these conclusions.

iCal/iPhone/iPod dislike senior citizens?

"Steven M. Bellovin" <>
Wed, 13 May 2009 14:53:09 -0400

When you view your iCal birthday list on iPhone or iPod, the birthdays of
people over 75 disappear.  They look like an appointment that has repeated
too many times, because the software cannot handle events that occur more
than 75 times.  [PGN-ed; MacWorld's Christopher Breen suggests duplicating
the entry -- which he notes works just fine unless someone lives over 150.]

Steve Bellovin,

JHU insider may have breached more than 10,000 patient records

"Peter G. Neumann" <>
Fri, 15 May 2009 9:45:13 PDT

An employee at Johns Hopkins Hospital may have leaked the personal
information of more than 10,000 patients in an identity fraud scam.  Some 31
individuals with connections to Johns Hopkins have reported identity thefts
since 20 Jan 2009.  JHU security people have identified a single employee
working in patient registration, who is expected to be indicted.  Law
enforcement agencies suspect the thefts might be part of a fraudulent
driver's license scheme discovered in neighboring Virginia.  [Source: Tim
Wilson, DarkReading, 13 May 2009, PGN-ed; TNX to Jeremy Epstein]

DC financial-aid agency discloses personal data of 2,400 students

George Mannes <>
Thu, 14 May 2009 17:03:40 -0400

Bill Turque, Data About Students Dispersed in Breach
E-Mail Included Personal Information, *The Washington Post*, 23 May 2009

The D.C. agency that handles college financial aid requests said yesterday
that it had accidentally e-mailed personal information from 2,400 student
applicants to more than 1,000 of those applicants.  The Office of the State
Superintendent of Education (OSSE) said it has notified all students of the
breach, which occurred when an employee of the agency's Higher Education
Financial Services Program inadvertently attached an Excel spreadsheet to an
e-mail. The information included student names, e-mail and home addresses,
phone and Social Security numbers and dates of birth.

The disclosure involved the "DC OneApp," an online application that allows
D.C. students to apply for a series of grant programs. They include DCTAG,
which provides awards of up to $10,000 toward the difference between
in-state and out-of-state tuition at public four-year-colleges in the 50
states.  The accidental disclosure went to about 1,250 DCTAG applicants.

OSSE never publicly announced the breach, which occurred Wednesday. It did
express regret for the incident in an e-mail sent to students and parents
the next day.  A parent made the e-mail available to *The Washington Post*
over the weekend.

The agency urged all recipients to immediately destroy the spreadsheet
attachment. It also offered one-year subscriptions to a credit-monitoring
service to help students guard against identity theft or other fraud.
"The OSSE takes very seriously our responsibility to keep personal
information private and sincerely apologizes to everyone for any
inconveniences," the e-mail said. The agency said it was taking steps to
shorten Social Security numbers on any reports or spreadsheets and was
reviewing policies and security measures for handling confidential student

Parents reacted angrily to word of the breach. Brenda Thomas, whose daughter
Leah is a senior at Maret, a private school in Northwest Washington, said
she was `livid'.  "We tell her how important it is not to give her Social
Security number out, not even to join Facebook, for goodness' sakes."  Even
more irritating was that she was recently informed by OSSE that Leah, who
will attend Stanford University this fall, was ineligible for assistance
because the family exceeded income guidelines.  "And now this," Thomas said.

DHS Sensitive But Unclassified sharing platform hacked

"Peter G. Neumann" <>
Thu, 14 May 2009 14:02:55 PDT

The Homeland Security Information Network (HSIN) platform for sharing
sensitive but unclassified data with state and local authorities was hacked
recently.  The initial penetration in late March was brief and limited, and
was followed by a more extensive one in early April, using the HSIN account
of a federal employee or contractor.  The bulk of the data obtained was
federal, but some state information was also accessed, and contained some
administrative data (telephone numbers, e-mail addresses, but not SSNs,
drivers' licenses, or financial data).  [Source: Ben Bain, Homeland Security
Information Network suffers intrusions, *Federal Computer Week*,, 13
May 2009; PGN-ed; thanks to Jeremy Epstein.]

French net piracy bill signed off

Amos Shapir <>
Wed, 13 May 2009 17:43:29 +0300

A controversial French bill which will disconnect people caught downloading content illegally three times has been given final approval.

It would be fun (for the non-French, at least) watching them try to enforce
it.  See for reference "The source of semantic content" in RISKS-16.87
(  The situation is much
more complicated now; with mobile devices which can pick up content from the
"data cloud" any time, anywhere, how can they even begin to define legally
"downloading content" and "disconnect people"?

Full story at:

Kiwibank discovers perils of Google Adwords with 100% Interest campaign

Max Power <>
Mon, 11 May 2009 04:00:27 -0700

There are many kinds of risks with targeted keyword marketing on the web.
This is merely one example. Univerally keyword based marketing campeigns are
not protected for "string" or "checksum" uniqueness. The "Uniqueness" option
may emerge during this finance system crisis, but it will not be cheap.

Source: 11 May 2009

Kiwibank has launched a campaign aimed at business customers with the big 4
Australian owned banks that offers `100% interest' in their business.  It
even has its own website and readers are encouraged to search on "100%
Interest" to find out more.  The pitch is that Kiwibank is 100% interested
in the customer's business.  This campaign even has it's own website to
inform would-be customers.  The trouble with the Google Adwords approach is
that it is vulnerable to ambush by a competitor. That is exactly what
happened today when Westpac bought the sponsored link for 100% interest.
Blogger Dan Roberts from Xebidy Strategic Design also wrote a blog about it
to prove a point. Another one here on the need for better bank marketing did
the trick too, putting it near the top of the natural search rankings.

Australian emergency services can't break through their own firewall

danny burstein <>
Mon, 11 May 2009 01:26:28 -0400 (EDT)
  (Re: RISKS-25.66)

Following the news story about a youth near Sydney, Australia who couldn't
get help from emergency services (RISKS-25.66), the focus in that excerpt
was that the emergency dispatch computer system "needed" a street address,
and the call receivers were stuck because they wouldn't/couldn't override
that requirement.  It turns out there's another risk from the story, courtesy
of the just completed inquest:

Complicating matters was that when other people in the emergency services
systems wanted to listen to the call to try to get a hint as to where he
was, it was a lot harder than it should have been:

  "Superintendent Patrick Paroz told Penrith Coroner's Court he made two
  separate requests to the state emergency services for copies of 000 calls
  made by the Sydney Grammar student.  "He did not receive them until almost
  a day later.  ...  "A disc containing sound files of the calls had to be
  driven from the city to Katoomba because computer firewalls in the
  ambulance service system prevented police receiving them by email.",27574,25396246-421,00.html

Re: FAA ATC shutdown

Gene Wirchenko <>
Mon, 11 May 2009 10:46:59 -0700

700 reasons why air traffic control systems may be hacked: A recent audit in
the U.S. has found more than 760 high-risk vulnerabilities in Web
applications used to support Air Traffic Control operations. These give
attackers a way to gain access not just to underlying Web servers but
potentially to other more critical backend systems.

Re: FAA ATC shutdown

Al Macintyre <>
Sun, 10 May 2009 16:43:23 -0500

Here's the full report

It includes identification of which are the 11 ATC sites with ANY kind of
protection, so that now terrorists, hackers, and other trouble makers know
which are the hundreds of sites without any protection.

It is important for government to be open to the people in identifying
problems, but some stuff needs to be kept confidential from potential
trouble makers.

Re: FAA ATC shutdown (Gorman, RISKS-25.66)

Pete Kaiser <>
Mon, 11 May 2009 09:58:13 +0200

On Government IT competence

Linda Gorman's note is a partisan rant where it suggests that government is
uniquely incompetent.  That rant doesn't belong in RISKS.

In many years of consulting to government and (often large, sometimes huge
international) business, I've seen nothing to suggest that government IT
designers and creators are any less able than those in business; indeed, it
has often astounded me that some businesses manage to operate at all,
considering how grotesquely bad are their IT operations.  If there's any
difference with government IT in the USA, it may be simply where politics
trumps good IT; or, for example, where protected entities like the FBI end
up doing their IT work out of the sunlight of dispassionate good judgment
(something I've often seen in business); where underfunded entities are
asked to perform miracles on inadequate budgets (also often seen in
business); or where the rewards to vendors are large and oversight is
lacking (amazingly, also found in business).  I could provide examples of
any of this from businesses whose names everyone knows.

The proper response to these problems, no matter where they occur, is to
exercise that dispassionate good judgment and oversight.

Businesses have many ways of concealing their IT incompetence that aren't
available to government, especially the option of simple secrecy; and we
write our laws to protect (if not always guarantee) their ability to make a
profit even when they screw up.

Shall we talk about voting devices?  Or perhaps the design and quality
problems of certain operating systems used by hundreds of millions of
persons daily?

Re: FAA ATC shutdown (Gorman, RISKS-25.66)

Mike Coleman <>
Mon, 11 May 2009 11:49:18 -0500

I nearly fell over in my chair when I read Linda Gorman's comment in RISKS
25.66.  I've been reading RISKS for almost 20 years now, and no other
submission comes close to being as politically biased and content-free.

Consider just the last sentence: "To date the myth or [sic] electronic
systems to the rescue continues to grab people even though almost all of the
real world tests of the effects of expanded government control suggest that
the most likely result it [sic] higher costs and degraded care."

What myth?  As we all know, sometimes electronic systems fail horribly
and sometimes they work really well.  Is Ms. Gorman seriously
suggesting that they be eliminated?

Real world tests of expanded government control?  Actually, the real world
examples that come to mind--the health care systems of countries like
Canada, Sweden, and Denmark--suggest that expanded government control leads
to outcomes superior to those reached by private entities.

I smell an axe grinding...

RE: FAA ATC shutdown

"Linda Gorman" <>
Mon, 11 May 2009 12:03:33 -0600

Dear Mr. Coleman:

I merely suggest that the involuntary imposition of information systems on
people who need or provide health care can lead to excess costs, massive
problems with securing private information, and risks to life and limb.
Those costs may exceed the benefits. Unfortunately, involuntary imposition
is rapidly becoming federal policy in the United States.

Obviously electronic systems work very well in some health care related
uses--people in the US would not have CAT scans or MRIs or nationwide
Walgreens prescriptions without them. The question is who should decide who
must use them, and who chooses the systems to be used, and whether we are
safe in assuming that everyone has the same risk reward tradeoff.

As for the comment about grinding political axes, as I am sure you are
aware, there is a large literature on comparative health care systems.
Recent work does not necessarily support your claim that government run
systems provide better results. A few examples of why this is true, and why
such comparisons are difficult, are outlined below.

Leaving aside the problems of purchasing power parity and currency
translation for non-traded goods, cost comparison is a problem because
national accounting systems vary. For example, certain expenditures counted
as health expenditures in the US national accounts are not included as
health expenditures in Japan's national accounts. The OECD has a decade old
program that has been discussing these differences and seeking to harmonize
accounting systems. Progress is slow.

Cost comparisons are also hampered by the fact that many national
governments impose price controls on health inputs. As a result, recorded
payments to providers understate true costs. We can do cost comparisons
between private and public systems in the United States, but even those are
difficult because Medicare operates under a system of controlled prices, and
people can and do switch between the private system, Medicare, and the
Veterans Administration, and private systems and Medicaid, in order to
optimize their care.

Another problem is that simple definitions differ across countries. Infant
mortality rates are an easily understood example of this. For years, the US
had been excoriated for having high infant mortality rates. In the 1990s,
epidemiologists realized that there were major differences in infant deaths
in the first 24 hours across countries. Further research led to the
discovery that the mortality differences were created by differences in
birth registration--in the US and Canada any birth in which a child showed
any signs of life was counted as live. Some European countries would
classify the same very low birth weight babies as dead. Since very low birth
weight babies also have the highest mortality risk, excluding them at birth
made the European results look better than the US and Canadian rates. OECD
comparative health statistics now include a note saying that cross country
infant mortality rates are not comparable.

Finally, in order to accept your assertion that "the real world examples
that come to mind--the health care systems of countries like Canada, Sweden,
and Denmark--suggest that expanded government control leads to outcomes
superior to those reached by private entities" one must believe that waiting
lists, which exist in virtually all known government run health care
systems, do not matter.

Swedish researchers, among others, have done a lot of work showing that they
do matter. Waiting lists increase costs by causing enormous productivity
losses, and they cause excess mortality as people die waiting for care. This
may be part of the reason why the Swedes are now trying to move towards more
private provision of health care. In passing, I should note that
productivity losses, and losses due to excess mortality, are not included in
most health care spending estimates.

I am sorry to have made a statement that you found so upsetting. I hope that
these examples show that my comments simply reflect a conclusion that I
believe is supported by recent health care research. I suppose that you are
correct in saying that my comments are ideological in that in the best case
one's ideas are formed by the facts as currently known, and by theory as
currently accepted.

Linda Gorman, PhD, Director, Health Care Policy Center
Independence Institute, Golden, Colorado 80401  USA

REVIEW: "Googling Security", Greg Conti

Rob Slade <>
Thu, 14 May 2009 15:05:23 -0800

BKGGLSEC.RVW   20091020

"Googling Security", Greg Conti, 2009, 978-0-321-51866-8,
%A   Greg Conti
%C   P.O. Box 520, 26 Prince Andrew Place, Don Mills, Ontario  M3C 2T8
%D   2009
%G   978-0-321-51866-8 0-321-51866-7
%I   Addison-Wesley Publishing Co.
%O   U$49.99/C$54.99 416-447-5101 800-822-6339
%O   Audience i+ Tech 2 Writing 2 (see revfaq.htm for explanation)
%P   332 p.
%T   "Googling Security: How Much Does Google Know About You?"

The title is ever so slightly misleading: the subtitle is much clearer.
This is not about doing Web searches to find security tools or information,
but, rather, the information that Google collects from (and relating to)
Internet users in the course of providing its services and tools.  The
preface states that the intent is to raise awareness of the privacy risks
involved in using Google, its utilities and services, and of similar systems
and agencies.  Conti does not, for the most part, present solutions: some
activities admit of no resolution.  Google is not being singled out because
the author doesn't like the company, but because it is the largest and most
pervasive search and information system, with the greatest implications, and
because the policies and decisions resulting from discussions of these
issues can be applied more generally.

Chapter one is an overview of the online world, and online activity, and the
scope and capabilities of Google.  There are extensive endnotes supporting
the stories and studies cited in the text.  The normal information flows
involved with computer operations are outlined in chapter two, and Conti
points out the potential areas of leakage.  Although not named as such, he
provides an excellent explanation of the trusted computing base (TCB), as
well as reviewing covert channels such as TEMPEST and acoustic surveillance,
and Internet entities.  Turning more specifically to the structure of
requests from browsers, chapter three notes the information that is captured
by server logs.  The author also notes data provided by users themselves,
and that which can be obtained from statistical analysis of a large amount
of activity.

Chapter four notes the various search sites and functions, as well as the
intelligence that can be inferred about someone, simply by examining the
search requests submitted.  Communications, mostly Gmail, is the subject of
chapter five.  Chapter six examines the mapping and related imagery
functions, discussing the information disclosed by requests for directions,
as well as the occasional invasion of privacy involved in the collection of
satellite photographs.  (Personally, while I don't use Google Earth, I use
Google Maps quite a bit.  I was interested to see that my non-standard
interaction with the system inadvertently protected against some of the
dangers Conti points out.  I don't "express interest" by clicking on the
"Print" or "Link ..." buttons, but tend to copy the link location URL and
use that.  Of course, if Google buys up TinyURL I may be in trouble ...  :-)
Tracing functions related to the provision of advertising, as well as
malicious enterprises associated with commercial proclamations, are noted in
chapter seven.  Webbot, spider, or crawler operations are detailed in
chapter eight.  Although Conti did not promise a solution, chapter nine does
provide recommendations and resources to raise awareness of the issues, and
assist with protecting the reader's privacy.  Chapter ten finishes off with
a look to the future, and the forces which ensure that whether or not Google
survives, the privacy situation online is unlikely to change.

The book is certainly interesting and illuminating.  Internet users, for the
most part, may have encountered security awareness material that speaks of
the dangers of certain types of activities, but not necessarily of how much
information they disclose in the course of normal pursuits.  While Google is
used as a specific example in many parts of this work, the internal
operations of many of the services and utilities are not examined to the
internal depth they might have been.  A more accurate title might be
"Privacy While Surfing."

Which is an important enough topic to read about in any case.

copyright Robert M. Slade, 2009   BKGGLSEC.RVW   20091020

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