The RISKS Digest
Volume 26 Issue 01

Thursday, 8th April 2010

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…


Taking Idol back
Avi Rubin
Microsoft to Transition Corporate IT to Google Apps
Lauren Weinstein
`Alarm fatigue' linked to patient's death
Liz Kowalczyk via PGN
Improving the Security and Privacy of Implantable Medical Devices
Kevin Fu
Derailment of London Dockland Light Railway train, 10 Mar 2009
Bob Waixel
Canada's planned electronic passports easy to hack?
Vito Pilieci via Matthew Kruk
Watch your language
Eugene Miya via PGN
NASA will help probe Toyota accelerators
Crawley/Kim via PGN
Federal Judge Finds N.S.A. Wiretapping Program Illegal
iPad Jailbroken
Joseph Lorenzo Hall
Self-driving cars
David Magda
21 hidden tech threats and how to handle them
Dan Tynan via Gene Wirchenko
Google/YouTube refuses to Fix Longstanding Bug
Chris J Brady
Why are we still overloading fields in 2010?
Geoff Kuenning
Impossible to change account numbers
Geoff Kuenning
USPS allows an INTERNET Change of Address; what could go wrong?
FJohn Reinke
SSNs again — in Medicare
Paul Wexelblat
Spirit goes silent
Richard Cook
Framed for possession of c-porn in UK
David Hollman
Lauren Weinstein
DMV saga: I'm gay?
Rob Slade
The next escalation in the spam war: circumventing Bayesian filters
Jonathan Kamens
Re: FOSE 2010
Paul Robinson
Info on RISKS (comp.risks)

Taking Idol back

Avi Rubin <>
Thu, 1 Apr 2010 03:04:12 -0400

   [Another 1 April item, not received in time for RISKS-25.98.  PGN]

Last week, I served as a guest judge of American Idol for (see
article). If you watched the show, you know how pathetic Tim Urban was, and
as I stated in my judging comments, he deserved to be eliminated. However,
to my great frustration, Paige Miles, who actually has some serious vocal
chops was sent home instead, thrusting the hapless Tim Urban upon us. I am
so sick and tired of America getting the results wrong on Idol, that I've
finally decided to do something about it.

A couple of years ago, I noted in my blog a vulnerability in the American
Idol voting system. There is a memory leak in the server that they use to
tally votes, and the phone system they have implemented is vulnerable to
dialer spoofing and scripted dialing attacks. I have studied electronic
voting security for several years, and using my experience, I spent the last
several days developing a hack to basically control the voting on American
Idol. Now all I need is a distributed launch pad for what is in a sense a
computer virus. This is where you come in. I assure you that the virus does
nothing bad. I promise it will not delete any of your files or corrupt your
hard drive, and I virtually guarantee you that it will not get you into
trouble if you download it.

If you are using Windows and you are reading this message, you are already
infected, and you don't need to do anything. If you are lucky enough not to
be using Windows, I have created custom installers for Mac, Linux, OpenBSD,
and the iPhone to make things as easy as possible for you to install. Once
you have the installer, just double click on it, and my software will take
care of the rest. The virus will propagate to any computer that you send
email to or with whom you share files. Again, I give you my word that it
will not do too much harm to those systems. All that will happen (hopefully)
is that when it's time for American Idol voting next week, all of the
"infected" systems will exploit the vulnerability on the American Idol
server and change the votes ensuring that the singers who I like will make
it and the ones who I don't like will be eliminated. I really, really
appreciate your help in this project, and I assure you that it is totally
legal and that you will not get into too much trouble. It is extremely
unlikely that your computer will suffer any damage.

Here are the packed installer files:

Open BSD:

It is time to take control of American Idol.

Thanks for you help!!

Microsoft to Transition Corporate IT to Google Apps

Lauren Weinstein <>
Thu, 1 Apr 2010 00:35:08 -0700

   [Another 1 April item, not received in time for RISKS-25.98.  PGN]

         Microsoft to Transition Corporate IT to Google Apps

REDMOND, Wash., April 1 /PRNewzwire/ — In a move that may surprise some
industry onlookers, but that is being described by a company spokesman as
"making incredible sense at the bottom line," Microsoft Corporation
announced today that it will begin migrating its corporate information
technology operations to arch-rival Google's "Google Apps" Internet
"cloud"-based services environment by the start of the second quarter this

"We've gone over the numbers more ways than you can crash Vista, said Hymie
Morander of the newly formed "Microogly" working group at the software
giant's Washington State headquarters.  "We're going to save millions --
maybe billions! — by moving most of our employees over to free Google Apps
services like Gmail.  Plus we'll be freeing up resources here to concentrate
on our core competencies like Flight Simulator and stylus-based mobile phone
operating systems."

Asked if the $50/user/year "Google Apps for Business" services tier might be
more appropriate for Microsoft's use, Morander noted that, "Some of our top
executives' needs will likely justify that level of expenditure, but most of
us will be able to do just fine with the very generous allotments in the
free versions of Google Apps. Seven gigs of storage is more than enough to
hold all of my Microsoft internal correspondence, plus most of my uuencoded
porn collection!  Every Microsoft employee will be assigned a nondescript
alias for Gmail use to avoid attracting Google's attention — for instance,

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer emphasized that Microsoft's move to Google Apps
only involved Microsoft's internal global corporate operations, and would
not in any way impact customer-facing services such as Microsoft's popular
"Bing" decision engine.

"Given Microsoft's intense desire to enthusiastically embrace the diverse
and expansive censorship requirements of our partners in the Chinese
government, and Google's apparent reluctance to meet those same
requirements, we'll definitely be keeping our Bing and other related
public-use servers running on their current CP/M Windows 98 secure clusters
into the foreseeable future," Ballmer promised.

Founded in 1975, Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) is the worldwide leader in
software, services and solutions that help people and businesses realize
their full potential.

SOURCE Microsoft Corp.

Lauren Weinstein, +1 (818) 225-2800,
NNSquad Network Neutrality Squad -
Global Coalition for Transparent Internet Performance -
PRIVACY Forum - Lauren's Blog:

`Alarm fatigue' linked to patient's death (Liz Kowalczyk)

"Peter G. Neumann" <>
Sun, 4 Apr 2010 13:50:12 PDT

Federal investigators concluded that alarm fatigue experienced by nurses
working among constantly beeping monitors contributed to the death of a
heart patient at Massachusetts General Hospital in January 2010.  In a
report released on 2 Apr 2010, the investigators said 10 nurses on duty that
morning could not recall hearing the beeps at the central nurses station or
seeing scrolling tickertape messages on three hallway signs that would have
warned them as the patient's heart rate fell and finally stopped over a
20-minute span.  But an audible crisis alarm had apparently been turned off
the night before.  The ECRI Institute listed alarms on patient monitoring
devices as number two on its top-ten list of health technology hazards in
2009.  [Source: Liz Kowalczyk, *The Boston Globe*, 3 Apr 2010. Thanks to
dkross for noting this item.  PGN-ed]

Improving the Security and Privacy of Implantable Medical Devices

Kevin Fu <>
Thu, 1 Apr 2010 08:06:35 -0400

A perspective article in the *New England Journal of Medicine* highlights
the importance of improving the security and privacy of implantable medical
devices.  The article draws on historical events such as the Tylenol cyanide
poisonings of 1982, sabotage of a web site for an epilepsy support group,
and the damage caused by the first Internet worms.  The risks should
resonate with the readers of this forum.  [Sorry, the abstract is free, but
the NEJM implements a paywall for the full 3-page article.]

Derailment of London Dockland Light Railway train, 10 Mar 2009

"Robert (Bob) Waixel" <>
Thu, 01 Apr 2010 10:42:05 +0100

The following is based on a report issued by the UK's Rail Accident
Investigation Board (RAIB) but heavily paraphrased by the author.  Details
have been taken from:-
(RAIB Report 03/2010 issued March 2010)


Docklands Light Railway (DLR) is an off-street rapid transit light railway
system in London England (it is different from the London Underground or
'Tube' system).

DLR trains are normally run under remote automatic computer control
(monitored by controllers) but from time to time are controlled by a
passenger service agent onboard, at times of so called degraded working.  At
the time of the derailment on 10 March 2009 this was the case, as the
automatic signaling had failed at a complex three way intersection.  The
person driving (for simplicity referred to as 'the driver' from now on) was
being given instructions by a controller in a control room by radio. When
being manually driven trains can only be driven at a very restricted speed.

There are very few colour light signals on this railway since they are not
needed when trains are being driven automatically. Points (US: switches)
where lines diverge (or converge as in this case) have Point Position
Indicator (PPI) display lights (at ground level) to indicate their
setting. Such setting can also, of course, be confirmed by the position of
the point/switch blades themselves.

In this accident the train ran through a set of trailing points at low speed
and was derailed. There were no injuries and passengers were detrained
rapidly to an adjacent station platform.

Why did it happen?

The interest to RISKS readers lie in the mix of factors that led to the
incident, a mix of technical and human problems, including these:

* Major long term upgrade work on the whole railway caused the signaling
  in this complex trackwork area to fail for long periods thus needing
  trains to be driven from onboard under manual control (giving a heavy
  sustained workload on controllers).

* A software change in the behaviour of interlocking of signaling and
  these points, by the upgrade contractors had not been communicated by the
  upgrade contractor to the controllers.

* The controller did not fully follow correct procedure in authorising the
  train forward.

* The controller did not monitor progress of the train (controller was busy
  elsewhere) (their screen was switched to a different type of display).

* The driver did not check the position of the points/switches for their
  intended route.

* that type of Point Position Indicator was hard to see by the driver
  (management had postponed replacement of them as not being urgent).

* The bulb in the PPI had failed (replacement of failed light bulbs in PPIs
  wasn't considered urgent).

* The driver should not have crossed points without correct PPI showing
  (driver didn't notice that no indication was showing).


* Equipment that might not be safety critical in 'normal usage' becomes so
  in 'abnormal/degraded' working conditions

* People's workloads that might not be safety critical in 'normal usage'
  becomes so in 'abnormal/degraded' working conditions

* If it takes a lot of simultaneous failures for an accident to happen, then
  it will happen, sooner or later.

Robert (Bob) Waixel, MBCS, CITP, MCInstM, FHEA, Cambridge, CB4 1JL, UK

Canada's planned electronic passports easy to hack? (Vito Pilieci)

"Matthew Kruk" <>
Sat, 3 Apr 2010 22:33:03 -0600

As Canada prepares to roll out new electronic passports next year, experts
warn the technology is far from perfect and will do little to deter
terrorists from crossing our borders.

Adam Laurie, a British computer security researcher, has been pointing to
the flaws in ePassport technologies for the past five years.
The new passports use Radio Frequency ID (RFID) microchips to store personal
information about the traveler that can be used by border officials to help
verify the person's identity.

In one of his more famous demonstrations, Laurie in 2008 created a passport
for Elvis Presley, and scanned the document at an automated passport scanner
in an airport in Amsterdam. The passport was accepted by the machine and a
smiling picture of Presley was displayed on the screen.
"I think adding the biometric chip to the passport doesn't make them any
more secure," said Laurie, who is also the director of Aperture Labs Ltd., a
security consultancy. "I would say they (governments) should look very
carefully at their deployment . . . the implementation of the system is poor
and that means that the security of it is completely undermined."  [...]

  [Source: Vito Pilieci, Canada's planned electronic passports easy to hack,
  expert warns *Ottawa Citizen*, 3 Apr 2010; PGN-ed.  This is a very
  informative item.  Browsing on Pilieci and the Subject: line above readily
  finds the full article, which is well worth reading.]

Watch your language

"Peter G. Neumann" <>
Mon, 5 Apr 2010 10:44:22 PDT

Computer screens in Sweden faded to black in October 2009 when the entire
country lost its Internet connection, due to a missing period (in ".se"?).
It took almost 24 hours to get things working again.

  [Thanks to Eugene Miya for spotting this terse/cryptic item, albeit with
  source unknown!  Swedening the pot?  PGN-ed]

NASA will help probe Toyota accelerators

"Peter G. Neumann" <>
Thu, 1 Apr 2010 3:59:00 PDT

According to U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, nine NASA scientists
with expertise in electronics, electromagnetic interference, software
integrity, and complex problem solving will contribute to the the National
Highway Traffic Safety Administration's review of Toyota's unintended
acceleration problems — in response to suggestions that evidently emerged
during Congressional hearings.  [Source: John Crawley and Chang-Ran Kim,
Reuters, 30 Mar 2010.  PGN-ed]

Federal Judge Finds N.S.A. Wiretapping Program Illegal,

"Peter G. Neumann" <>
Wed, 31 Mar 2010 21:51:04 PDT

A federal judge ruled on 31 Mar 2010 that the National Security Agency's
program of surveillance without warrants was illegal, rejecting the Obama
administration's effort to keep shrouded in secrecy one of the most disputed
counterterrorism policies of former President George W. Bush.  In a 45-page
opinion, Judge Vaughn R. Walker ruled that the government had violated a
1978 federal statute requiring court approval for domestic surveillance when
it intercepted phone calls of Al Haramain, a now-defunct Islamic charity in
Oregon, and of two lawyers representing it in 2004. Declaring that the
plaintiffs had been “subjected to unlawful surveillance,” the judge said
that the government was liable to pay them damages. [...]  [Source: Charlie
Savage and James Risen, *The New York Times*, 31 Mar 2010; PGN-ed]


Sat, 03 Apr 2010 07:53:33 +0800

"It was also apparent that some locals were fed up with wayward tourists
and developed a simple solution - large hand-painted signs stating

iPad Jailbroken

Joseph Lorenzo Hall <>
April 4, 2010 1:54:42 PM EDT

It appears the iPad has been jailbroken... in something like 24 hours.

  [From Dave Farber's IP distribution.
  Monty Solomon noted this as well.  PGN]

Self-driving cars

David Magda <>
Wed, 31 Mar 2010 21:01:40 -0400

In light of all this Toyota talk, *WiReD* posted a story (and video) about
Stanford and Audi teaming up to build a self-driving car--that can follow
the course of the Pike's Peak rally race:

  It's a mix of pavement, dirt and gravel that rises 4,721 feet at an
  average grade of 7 percent. The current record for a production- based
  all-wheel-drive car stands at 11:48.434. No one expects the TTS to hit
  that mark, and it won't achieve the kind of speeds rally driver Marcus
  Gronhölm or four-time winner Nobuhiro Tajima have, but it will make the
  run faster than you ever could.

  “I want to go up the mountain much faster than anyone with any sense of
  self-preservation would go,” [director of the Center for Automotive
  Research Chris] Gerdes said.

The car has hit 130 mph (208 km/h) at the Bonneville Salt Flats.

21 hidden tech threats and how to handle them (Dan Tynan)

Gene Wirchenko <>
Wed, 31 Mar 2010 13:06:35 -0700

Some of these risks have been covered in RISKS before, but this is a nice,
compact package:

  Dan Tynan, 21 hidden tech threats and how to handle them, 31 Mar 2010

Here are 21 dangers that the industry is hiding from you. But fear not, we
also offer you a fix or a way to work around them.

Google/YouTube refuses to Fix Longstanding Bug

Chris J Brady <>
Wed, 31 Mar 2010 08:39:47 -0700 (PDT)

There is a serious bug with YouTube and Flash Player that is affecting many
(thousands?) of users. This has been reported on the many YouTube Forums for
over a year.

It suddenly manifests itself by a refusal to play YouTube clips with the
messsage "Hello, either you have JavaScript turned off or an old version of
Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player."

But this is not due to Javascript being 'turned off' nor the use of an old
version of Flash player. Carrying out the implied instructions does not cure
the problem. Quite why Google (in its arrogance towards its long suffering
users) does not change the text into something more meaningful is a moot

And no definitive solution has yet come from the Google stable and the
forums are full of conflicting advice from frustrated users.

Google is well aware of the problem. It is also well aware of the angst of
its users. Yet it refuses to 1/ acknowledge the problem, and 2/ do anything
about it.

This lack of pro-activity is typical of a large unwieldy corporation. It
displays the same lack of inertia with regards to its hosting and archiving
of numerous (millions) of false Google / Usenet Groups with links to extreme
and hard core pornography which are mainly hosted in China. Complaints about
these are simply ignored.

So too ignored is the above problem with YouTube.

The risks: Google makes its billions and its customers' concerns are
ignored. It has a long way to go to meet even the needs of basic customer

Why are we still overloading fields in 2010?

Geoff Kuenning <>
Sun, 04 Apr 2010 01:18:47 -0700

For many years, our college dining hall has offered a "to-go" option for
those who lack the time to sit down to a meal.  Recently, they have become
concerned about the ecological impact of the "to-go" containers, and so they
are experimenting with reusable packaging.  Since the new containers are
more expensive and reusable, to-go diners are expected to return old
containers before checking out a new one.

The problem, of course, is that there needs to be way to track who has yet
to return their last container.  There's an obvious solution, too: simply
charge people for the container, preferably at a rate exceeding the
replacement cost.

But apparently that idea never occurred to those in charge.  Instead, they
chose a Boolean flag: true if you're OK to check out a container, false
otherwise.  But their computer system is set up to track only one thing:
money.  So somebody came up with a clever solution (not).  From a recent
campus-wide e-mail:

> Essentially, the Blackboard system is set up to ask the question: Is
> this account eligible for container checkout?  The $1.00 that may
> show up on your account under the line item *clam shell* should be
> interpreted as a *true* or *yes* answer to that question, and, if the
> $1.00 is not present, its absence should be interpreted as a *false*
> or *no* answer to the question.  Thus, when your card is swiped when
> you initially check out a container, your account goes from showing
> $1.00 under *clam shell* to not showing the $1.00 at all, and when you
> return a used container, your card will be swiped to update your
> account to show the $1.00 under *clam shell* once again.
> If your account does not show the $1.00 under *clam shell* and you
> want to check out a container, you will not be able to do so until you
> pay a $5.00 lost/stolen/destroyed container fee.  Otherwise (if your
> container is never lost, stolen or destroyed) there is no charge for
> using the eco-friendly to-go containers.

Let me get this straight: if my account has been charged $1.00, I don't
owe $1.00.  If it hasn't been charged $1.00, I owe $5.00.


Geoff Kuenning

A programmer who can't write readable prose is as incompetent as one
who can't produce working code.

Impossible to change account numbers

Geoff Kuenning <>
Mon, 05 Apr 2010 20:45:49 -0700

I recently refinanced my mortgage; it happened that the best rate was
offered by our current mortgage holder, Citimortgage.  (Slogan: "Citi never
sleeps"...recording: "We are open 7 AM to 12 midnight Eastern time.")

In an attempt to resolve some problems, I went to the online account I
established well over a year ago.  It wouldn't let me in, asking me to call
Customer Service instead.  Knowing what that would lead to, I decided that
I'd first explore options such as recreating the account; that allowed me to
prove that my account does still exist but didn't resolve anything.

Fine.  Approximately four calls and 2.5 hours on hold later, I finally
talked to a very friendly human.  She immediately confirmed my guess: when
your account number changes as a side effect of refinancing, the online
account is deactivated.  The only cure is to create a new account with a new
user name!

The RISK, of course, is that they are polluting their database with
thousands of unnecessary accounts, increasing the risk that an "old"
account (with private information) will be compromised.

Geoff Kuenning

USPS allows an INTERNET Change of Address; what could go wrong?

fjohn reinke <>
Wed, 7 Apr 2010 20:57:05 -0400

My Mom passed. That's not the story. (Please, no need to express your
sympathy. Unless it's for having to clear an estate through the gooferment
bureaucrats. Argh!) I was ASTONISHED that I could put in a USPS Change of
Address for her. Stunning! I'm sure no one can imagine anything that could
go wrong with that. Just pick up your new credit card in Lagos Nigeria!
Argh! Convenient, but imho fraught with "possibilities". fjohn

SSNs again — in Medicare

Paul Wexelblat <>
Thu, 1 Apr 2010 08:47:20 -0400

The April 1st RISKS edition made me think that it may not be unreasonable to
remind folks of The Government's favorite joke, the Security and Secrecy of
the Social Security Number.

I, myself, was reminded just yesterday when I used my Medicare card at a
doctor's office.  In its wisdom, one's Medicare number — available to
any/every person in any/every medical facility or pharmacy used by any
Medicare recipient — is the person's SSN. These facilities almost certainly
have addresses, and a host of other personal information, to go with the

Anyhow, the receptionist asked the person in front of me for her Medicare
number (which that person read out, aloud).  When it came my turn, I asked
the receptionist if she wanted my Social Security Number, she replied - No,
certainly not, she just needed my Medicare number. I handed her the card.

Moral: Don't turn 65

Spirit goes silent as Martian winter threatens survival

Richard Cook <>
Fri, 02 Apr 2010 13:42:47 -0500

  [Pretty amazing... the foresight needed to plan how to handle
  deteriorating circumstances...]

  [PGN notes: See earlier mesages in RISKS, e.g., beginning with 23.15,
  and Jim Griffith's comment (RISKS-23.17)
     I'm so disappointed that PGN didn't go with the obvious pun --
     that Spirit was willing, but its flash was weak...]

Framed for possession of c-porn in UK

David Hollman <>
Thu, 1 Apr 2010 09:19:10 +0100

This story relates how man broke into the house of a woman with whom he was
infatuated and downloaded child pornography onto her husband's computer in
order to frame him and get him out of the way.  The innocent husband was
initially arrested although later cleared.  Unfortunately, the article
doesn't go into more detail about how the police eventually figured out it
was a frame-up.

I bet many people don't consider how well their *home PC* should be secured.
In this (admittedly bizarre) case, perhaps if the husband's PC were better
protected (my speculation) the scheme wouldn't have been possible.  Even in
cases where people have passwords on their own accounts, what about "guest"
accounts which, although they might have no access to your personal files,
could still allow enough access to the PC to leave a trail of "evidence" of

I wonder what standards are used in law to determine that just because one's
PC was used for something, the owner was responsible?  If (say) there was no
password on the machine, what proof is there of who was using it?  This
seems similar to how other types of electronic information are used in legal
situations - eg, if an automatic camera shows your car was speeding, what
standard is used to identify the driver?  Is there legal consistency in
these various areas?

Whatever rules of inference are used, clearly they could be used to protect
the innocent as well as to obscure the actions of the guilty, so balance has
to be carefully set.

Framed for possession of c-porn in UK

Lauren Weinstein <>
Fri, 2 Apr 2010 09:41:00 -0700  (

The obvious question — what's to stop this sort of scenario — or even more
likely one conducted remotely via targeted malware, from destroying lives
when there isn't such a "lucky" happenstance of evidence pointing to someone

DMV saga: I'm gay?

Rob Slade <>
Wed, 31 Mar 2010 16:32:50 -0800

No, this isn't an April Fools' joke.

Gloria's driver's licence is up for renewal this year, so she was down to
the DMV office about a week ago.  Today her licence came.  When she opened
the mail this morning, she informed me that, apparently, I was gay, since
the government had determined that she was male.  It said so, on the licence
that had just come.

She was a little concerned with how she was going to have to get the
government to admit that they had made a mistake (never an easy task).  She
was going prepped with birth certificate and passport, but wondered if she
was going to have to go through some kind of medical exam.  I thought of
suggesting that she take our marriage licence, but I guess that doesn't
prove anything in Canada, anymore.

She got down to the office, and lined up at the reception desk, where you
have to get your number.  She was behind a young man who wanted some third
party (who didn't speak English) to get a driver's licence, on the basis of
some incomprehensible piece of paper.  He wasn't about to take "you have to
contact office A, and fill out form B" for an answer.  The receptionist, the
usual droid, was unable to get out of the loop and deal with the line that
was forming.

Another worker beckoned to my wife to come over.  As Gloria started to leave
the line, the receptionist got very agitated, calling out that she had to
have a number.  The other worker confirmed that Gloria should come over, so
she did.

(Possibly a mistake, since any government functionary who is willing to work
outside the process has obviously not yet had their sense of humour
surgically removed, as events will show.)

Gloria laid out all the paper, and explained that the government had changed
her into a man.  The worker got the giggles.  Gloria continued to explain
the situation, including her comment to me that I had become gay.  At that
point the worker completely lost it, head in hands, face down over keyboard,
howling with laughter.  She finally composed herself, got her breath back,
straightened up, took one look at Gloria and lost it again.  Once the
laughter subsided to intermittent giggles, Gloria continued explaining the
documentation she had brought, including my suggestion about the marriage
certificate, and the reason it wouldn't do any good.  Which set the worker
off again.

The worker had to go through and check every field in order to make the
correction.  At the end of that process, she had to take another photo for
the licence.  The camera positions are separate stations.  The one nearest
Gloria was occupied by a very, very large person-of-colour (built like a
football player), who had noticed the disturbance.  As Gloria approached, he
noted that she and the worker had been having *way* too much fun for anyone
in a government office, and the situation was explained.  As Gloria had to
pass him in order to get to the other photo station he stepped out of the
way, and said "Sorry ... Dude."

So, Gloria is back to being a woman.  Officially.  I guess I can go back
into the closet.

(I suppose this can be filed under data integrity, verification, and
identity theft.)

(Hopefully this will not have offended anyone of any sexual orientation,
skin colour, or data-entry classification.)

The next escalation in the spam war: circumventing Bayesian filters

Jonathan Kamens <>
Thu, 01 Apr 2010 01:58:51 -0400

I've been using bogofilter <>, a Bayesian
<> spam filter, to filter
email coming into my inbox for over seven years; I even wrote and maintain
the Milter <> that integrates bogofilter with
sendmail <>.  Until quite recently, it has
been remarkably effective.  For example, in the past year, an average of 935
spam messages per day have passed through my bogofilter, and it successfully
identified over 98% of them as spam, with very, very few false positives.

All that changed on 10 Mar.  Since then, the success rate of bogofilter has
plummeted from over 98% to less than 85%.  In real terms, this means I'm
being forced to at least briefly eyeball well over 100 spam messages per day
to confirm that they're spam so I can tell bogofilter to retrain them,
whereas before I was seeing less than 20.  Yowza!  (You can see a 60-day
history of my bogofilter stats showing this dramatic drop on my home page

The cause of the success rate plunge appears to messages such as this one
<>, each of which
contains, below the actual spam payload, a sequence of random text snippets
on many different topics.

These messages are coming from many different IP addresses, so it would seem
that they're being generated by a botnet.

I did a quick statistical analysis of a small subset of these messages that
I've received, 35 of them, and discovered that these 35 messages contained
10,860 unique words, of which over 68% appeared in only one of the messages,
81% appeared in one or two messages, 87% appeared in 1-3 messages, 90%
appeared in 1-4 messages, and 98% appeared in less than half of the
messages.  This would seem to indicate that the text snippets being used by
the spam generator vary widely and are thus likely to hit upon keywords that
previously occurred in legitimate email.

It would seem that somebody has figured out how to do a pretty good job of
outsmarting Bayesian filters.  Frankly, I'm rather surprised that it's taken
this long.

I've started a discussion about this on the bogofilter mailing list, which
those of you who are curious can follow at

Re: FOSE 2010 (RISKS-25.95)

Paul Robinson <>
Thu, 1 Apr 2010 20:29:39 -0700 (PDT)

Kalin Tyler posted an ad on Feb 18 in RISKS-25.95 encouraging those
interested to pre-register for FOSE 2010 and get a discount to the
conference and exhibits.  Not a bad idea, but I had a better one, or at
least, I thought it was, at first, anyway.

I found an even cheaper way, with some drawbacks.  Dice.Com was offering
free admission to the exhibits if you pre-registered with them, supplying
your resume.  (Since they already have my resume on file it's not a big deal
to do it again.)  So I did, and got a confirmation page note saying I was

I go out to the exhibit, which is at the new Washington (DC) Convention
Center.  As the note said, I go to one of the self-check-in kiosks - in this
case, a bunch of laptop computers - and try to get an admission.  Asks for
e-mail address and zip code. Doesn't work.  Maybe I have the zip code wrong
(my home is in one zip code and my office has a different one.)

I'm trying several times and getting more and more unhappy at basically
being called out on a fool's errand. (The exhibits are interesting but
they're not worth paying to see, and I'm not going to.)  By now I'm getting
very frustrated, and, I guess, seeing a 6'2", 400 pound man in a power
wheelchair getting very angry at one of their computers because it keeps
telling me I'm not registered, scares some people, so one of the staff comes
over to help me, then he directs me to a registration clerk and tells her to
go ahead and register me manually.

I'm not the only one they had to do this for.  Apparently FOSE's computer
systems weren't able to get registration data transferred from the other
3rd-party systems...

  [Ur efforts were REFOSED by Ur FOES?  PGN]

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