Computer files from South Shore Hospital that contain personal information for about 800,000 people may have been lost when they were shipped to a contractor to be destroyed. Reportedly, an independent information security consulting firm has determined that specialized software, hardware, and technical knowledge would be required to open and decipher information in the files. They also said they had no evidence that the information in those files had been improperly used by anyone. [Source: Martin Finucane & Kay Lazar, *The Boston Globe*, 20 Jul 2010; PGN-ed] http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2010/07/20/hospital_files_with_data_of_800000_are_missing/ [Also noted by Jim Reisert. PGN]
Once again, risks aren't confined to computers; humans are still the weakest link. Hospital says 800K records may be missing http://www.boston.com/news/local/breaking_news/2010/07/hospital_says_8.html "The backup computer files were shipped out on Feb. 26, 2010, the hospital said. When the company did not provide certificates of destruction, the hospital inquired and learned from the company that only a portion of the files had been received and destroyed. A search is underway for the missing files. ... The hospital said the information on the files could include people's names, addresses, phone numbers, birth dates, Social Security numbers, driver's license numbers, medical record numbers, patient numbers, health plan information, dates of service, and information on diagnoses and treatments. For a very small subset of people, bank account and credit card information was included." Jim Reisert AD1C, <email@example.com>, http://www.ad1c.us
Colorado's corporate registration Web site allows anyone to change any company's contact information (registered agent) anonymously, i.e., without the changer authenticating or identifying him/herself to the site in any way. It was implemented this way for ease of use "at a time when identify theft was not a rampant problem." Some enterprising individuals changed the registered agent for various companies, allowing them to apply for and be granted credit lines in those companies' names at retailers such as Home Depot, Lowe's, Office Depot, Apple, and Dell. At least $750,000 in fraudulent purchases were made from Home Depot alone. The Secretary of State's office says there are no plans to institute site authentication right now because they'd have to hire a half dozen people to support it, and there's no budget for that, at least not until the matter is taken up in the next session of the legislature, which resumes next January. The office is recommending that businesses sign up for email alerts when their information is changed (Can the crooks change the email alert settings? Does the old email address get notified when the alert address is changed to a new one?). They are also supposedly monitoring address changes and comparing them against the addresses of around 10,000 virtual offices around the country. http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/9179251/Colorado_warns_of_major_corpo rate_ID_theft_scam?taxonomyId=82 [For some reason this story brings to mind an article that ran a few days ago ("Best place to raise abducted children") in The Onion.] http://www.theonion.com/articles/boulder-colorado-named-best-place-to-raise-abducte,17729/
[Steve revisits the old adage, Common Sense is Not Common. PGN] He's posted his comments on his blog: http://www.cs.columbia.edu/~smb/blog/2010-07/2010-07-11.html
I don't mind having electronic documents, well not usually. Today someone sent me an electronic business card (..._Electronic_Business_Card.exe). Yes, that's right, a full-blown executable just, apparently, to display a pretty facsimile of a business card. I suspect this one would possibly have been OK (I know the sender), but I notice a number of web sites offering their own such cards. The risks? The first, too obvious to state here. The second - it didn't actually reach me, because my mail server like many is paranoid about attachments. The third - I'm not using windows, so it wouldn't have been of much use anyway! Companies entering this field should really do their homework! And what's wrong anyway with a bit of plain, honest text?!!
[Thanks to Jeremy Epstein. PGN] Robert McMillan, IDG News Service, 17Jul 2010 http://www.networkworld.com/news/2010/071710-new-virus-targets-industrial.html Siemens is warning customers of a new and highly sophisticated virus that targets the computers used to manage large-scale industrial control systems used by manufacturing and utility companies. Security experts believe the virus appears to be the kind of threat they have worried about for years—malicious software designed to infiltrate the systems used to run factories and parts of the critical infrastructure. Some have worried that this type of virus could be used to take control of those systems, to disrupt operations or trigger a major accident, but experts say an early analysis of the code suggests it was probably designed to steal secrets from manufacturing plants and other industrial facilities.
Bob Herbert, *The New York Times*, 16 Jul 2010 https://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/17/opinion/17herbert.html I was driving from Washington to New York one afternoon on Interstate 95 when a car came zooming up behind me, really flying. I could see in the rearview mirror that the driver was talking on her cellphone. [...] A few days later, I was talking to a guy who commutes every day between New York and New Jersey. He props up his laptop on the front seat so he can watch DVDs while he's driving. "I only do it in traffic," he said. "It's no big deal." Beyond the obvious safety issues, why does anyone want, or need, to be talking constantly on the phone or watching movies (or texting) while driving? I hate to sound so 20th century, but what's wrong with just listening to the radio? The blessed wonders of technology are overwhelming us. We don't control them; they control us. We've got cellphones and BlackBerrys and Kindles and iPads, and we're e-mailing and text-messaging and chatting and tweeting - I used to call it Twittering until I was corrected by high school kids who patiently explained to me, as if I were the village idiot, that the correct term is tweeting. Twittering, tweeting - whatever it is, it sounds like a nervous disorder. This is all part of what I think is one of the weirder aspects of our culture: a heightened freneticism that seems to demand that we be doing, at a minimum, two or three things every single moment of every hour that we're awake. Why is multitasking considered an admirable talent? We could just as easily think of it as a neurotic inability to concentrate for more than three seconds. ...
Car manufacturers have long sought to make quieter cars, and they probably viewed the near-silence of electric and hybrid vehicles as a wonderful side benefit. But this is creating a new problem for blind pedestrians who rely on being able to hear vehicles to avoid being hit. This has led to calls for new regulations mandating *minimum* noise levels! So far, Japan is the only country to have come up with voluntary noise guidelines for makers of electric and hybrid vehicles, but the government is leaving it up to individual manufacturers to decide on the type of sound a vehicle will make. The result is a wide variety of sounds that some industry watchers are already calling noise pollution. This is a field that cries out for standardization. Will blind people (and guide dogs) have to memorize dozens of new sounds for each make & model of car, bus & truck? Source: Putting the Noise Back Into Whisper-Quiet Vehicles from the Wall Street Journal: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704738404575346671454162854.html Steven Klein | Mac, PC & Network Expert | Phone: (248) 968-7622
[Source: Peter Van Allen, Philadelphia Business Journal, 16 Jul 2010] Subaru of America Inc. said Friday it will offer wi-fi in its 2011 Outback models. The Subaru Mobile Internet system creates a wi-fi hotspot for 10 or more users within 150 feet of the vehicle. The system, which operates on a 3G network, was created by a San Francisco-based company, Autonet Mobile, which was founded in 2005. Autonet has also form partnerships with Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge, Cadillac, GM and Volkswagen, according to its website. http://www.bizjournals.com/philadelphia/stories/2010/07/12/daily38.html
[From Network Neutrality Squad] Trusting Your Friends—and Trusting the Cloud http://lauren.vortex.com/archive/000733.html Greetings. Internet "cloud"-based services, both for data storage and as computing resources, are expanding rapidly, and have become a flash point of controversy among some persons in the computer science and privacy fraternities. On various discussion lists and forums, dialogues about the value and risks of "cloud computing" have devolved into name-calling and impassioned arguments about whether the term "cloud computing" itself is somehow misleading—with suggestions that data storage services (where encryption is more easily applied by users) should be considered separately from remote computing services—sometimes called "SaaS" (Software as a Service). I'm more interested in issues than word wars, so for now (despite the related complaints that I'll receive) I will continue to refer to this entire area as "cloud computing"—"the cloud" for short. Some other time we can have a technical discussion of cloud computing's benefits and risks. But there are a couple of truths about the cloud that are in my opinion undeniable, and are too often lost amidst the forest of technical details. Realize this: The future of computing and communications will increasingly be Internet cloud-based. There is no escaping this truth. The complexity of the services that will be demanded by persons around the world will increasingly be impractical to provide wholly through traditional locally-based resources. Despite ever more encompassing attempts at automatic software updating regimes, many or most users' computers are in states of relatively poor (or even awful) security, and sport feeble or non-existent data backups, putting immense amounts of personal and business data at risk on users' local disks at any given time. And to expect non-technical users to somehow manage these ever more complicated computing devices, even with the help of increasingly complex updating environments, is becoming about as nonsensical as requiring that everyone be their own auto mechanic. That there are privacy and security challenges in the cloud is undeniable -- but research in these areas is proceeding rapidly and holds great promise. Laws that in some cases treat cloud-based user data as having fewer legal privacy protections than locally-based data are no longer tolerable and need to be harmonized so that user data gets the highest practicable level of legal privacy safeguards regardless of where that data resides at any given time (http://bit.ly/dBPyBy [Digital Due Process]). But for some who dislike the cloud, no amount of technical and legal assurances will ever suffice, simply because they have a fundamental distrust of remote services—"We never *really* know what's going on in the cloud!" they say. And yet, do we really know everything going on in our local computers, even those of us who have spent our professional lives building these technologies? In most cases, the answer is no. Unless we've written every line of code ourselves, or have compiled every program personally from source code that we've inspected (and presumably understood!) line by line, there is a leap of faith involved in everything we do on these machines. For that matter, if you're of a conspiratorial bent, do you *really* know for sure what's going on in those CPU cores that run your computer? Have you inspected every line of microcode? Are you *positive* that something nefarious isn't going on deep within those busy chips?? More realistically, Ken Thompson—co-creator of the UNIX Operating System itself—noted in his 1984 paper "Reflections on Trusting Trust" (http://bit.ly/drwkzx [Univ. of Waterloo]), that you can't necessarily even depend on the compilers that you use being free of self-compiling malware and other subterfuge. What this all boils down to in the end is—to paraphrase Bob Dylan—You Gotta Trust Somebody. And in our modern world, you have to trust lots of somebodies at various levels or our entire technological civilization would simply grind to a halt. We certainly depend on trust in our personal lives. Even though that trust may turn out to be misplaced in particular instances, this doesn't change the fact that trust is fundamental to getting virtually anything done in our modern world. And trust isn't only a concept for individuals. Just as we trust our friends and lovers—whose inner thoughts we can never truly know for sure -- we need to make decisions about trust related to technology as well. The fact that we can't know everything about every aspect of cloud computing services is ultimately just another nuance of the same sort of necessarily incomplete information with which we make every other trust decision in our lives. Ultimately, if you trust that a provider of cloud computing services is of good ethical standing, will defend your privacy rights against unreasonable intrusions, and provides services with a degree of security and reliability that you consider to be acceptable—especially in contrast to what you can and do provide locally on your own machines, then an inability to personally inspect every aspect of operations in the cloud should not be an automatic deterrent to its use. Technical and standards advances are making the cloud even more attractive. For example, Open Source cloud standards (http://bit.ly/aTByiA [*The New York Times*]) and efforts such as Google's "Data Liberation Front" (http://bit.ly/aOIrk1 [Google Data Liberation]) provide increasing levels of transparency and data portability. There are many factors to take into account when choosing cloud services—just as there are in the process of making bosom buddies. There are no absolute guarantees—there always risks in life, both today and tomorrow. But the various aspects of trust are key in both cases, and trust is possible without total knowledge of and control over the other parties involved. Like love, trust makes the world go 'round. Lauren Weinstein (firstname.lastname@example.org) http://www.vortex.com/lauren PFIR (People For Internet Responsibility): http://www.pfir.org NNSquad (Network Neutrality Squad): http://www.nnsquad.org +1 (818) 225-2800
This interesting article has recently been published in the daily Haaretz paper in Israel: "An increasing number of complaints of abuse during the interrogation of Palestinians from the Hebron area can apparently be traced to a computer program that grades police performance. An investigative report on the digitization of evil." Full story at: http://www.haaretz.com/magazine/friday-supplement/winning-on-points-1.300971
Gabe Goldberg asks if the protocol that Con Ed uses to cycle thermostats is secure. I've never looked at that one, but a few years ago I evaluated an Internet-connected thermostat I was contemplating installing in my house. From a security perspective, it was very poorly designed, with many gaping hole. In fact, I use it as an example for some of my classes... Steve Bellovin, http://www.cs.columbia.edu/~smb
It says here: http://www.aolnews.com/weird-news/article/anykey/19556328 that iPhone 4 users are often finding that a touch-screen may not be the best user interface for a device meant to be held next to the face in normal use. Accidental calls, accidental hangups, accidental muting in the middle of a call, confusion all around. [The URL I actually found the story at was http://www.aolnews.com/weird-news/article/iphone-4-problems-owners-report-random-dialing-hang-ups-muting-and-facedialing/19556328 But Clive Feather pointed out to me recently that in these long news-media URLs, often the part that just repeats the headline is ignored and it's the numerical bit before or after it that actually selects the story. I use "anykey" as an allusion to "Where's the 'Any' key?", of course. It occurs to me that for people who actually read URLs, this could be a medium of deception. You know, send someone a URL like http://www.aolnews.com/weird-news/article/[horrifying-situation]/19556328 and maybe they won't figure out what's happened.
There's been a huge amount of coverage of the notorious iPhone 4 signal problems. A large amount of this coverage (including the RISKS story) includes reports of people saying that they have more dropped calls with the new phone than the previous version. But do they, really? People are really very poor at making this kind of judgment, especially in the presence of a tide of news stories reporting the problems and generally dismissive of Apple's counterclaims. Probably the only people who could really know are the network operators, and even then it may be very hard for them to be sure. Of course, in this case this does not matter very much, but this sort of unquestioning reliance on people's impressions is not really a good thing. The end point of this is variously audiophiles paying thousands of dollars a foot for depleted uranium cables with aligned protons, or the pervasive belief in the UK that crime is rising out of control and terrorists are just round every corner.
Yukari Iwatani Kane and Niraj Sheth, Apple Knew of iPhone Antenna Glitch, *Wall Street Journal*, GADGETS & GAMES, 15 Jul 2010 Chief Executive Steve Jobs's insistence on strict control of Apple Inc.'s product-design process appears to have backfired with his new iPhone 4, leading the company to overrule internal concerns about antenna reception and to deny carriers adequate time to test the phone before selling it. Apple's iPhone 4 has been dogged by reports of antenna-reception problems since its launch last month. The company has called a news conference to discuss the issue Friday. Apple doesn't plan to recall the phone, a person familiar with the matter said. Apple engineers were aware of the risks associated with the new antenna design as early as a year ago, but Mr. Jobs liked the design so much that Apple went ahead with its development, said a person familiar with the matter. The electronics giant kept such a shroud of secrecy over the iPhone 4's development that the device didn't get the kind of real-world testing that would have exposed such problems in phones by other manufacturers, said people familiar with the matter. The iPhones Apple sends to its carrier partners for testing are "stealth" phones that disguise a new device's shape and some of its functions, people familiar with the matter said. Those test phones are specifically designed so the phone can't be touched, which made it hard to catch the iPhone 4's antenna problem. ... http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704682604575369311876558240.html
Brian Klug & Anand Lal Shimpi, The iPhone 4 Redux: Analyzing Apple's iOS 4.0.1 Signal Fix & Antenna Issue anandtech, 15 Jul 2010 The iPhone 4's antenna design has come under considerable scrutiny. In our iPhone 4 review, we investigated the iPhone 4 antenna and came to two conclusions. First, that iOS 4 was displaying signal bars in an overly optimistic manner, compressing the dynamic range of possible signal bars users can see. Second, we identified a worst case signal drop of around 24 dBm when the iPhone 4 is cupped tightly in the left hand, covering the black strip and possibly detuning the antennas and adding additional attenuation from the presence of the hand. Since those initial measurements, we've been working tirelessly to both characterize the problem, fully understand the mechanisms behind it, and report on a number of possible solutions. ... http://www.anandtech.com/show/3821/iphone-4-redux-analyzing-apples-ios-41-signal-fix
A system designed in the 1950's would have to have been either for mainframe or punched cards or punched paper, but by 1970 redesign, data base technology was available on IBM mini-computers which I programmed in the 1960's. We did not have to read all records, because the master index file constructs, and many transactions for that index, were in fact available by the 1960's, but not from all the computer manufacturers. I first saw "real all records" mentality in the 1980's. It had been popular in communities that had limited storage, but unlimited time to process data, at a time when computing power was much more expensive than people power, but that trade-off had now gone in opposite direction, so I did many conversions from that mentality, in the 1980's, to valuing people time instead. Typically, until the 1960's, people would deliver their wants to a data processing center, then get their results back a week later from the computer department, and that was considered normal. But with the advent of mini-computers, people had a TV screen to access data from hard disk, and it was no longer acceptable to wait a week for results. We now had the notion of "sub-second" response time, because companies did not want their employees staring out the window for 15 minutes at a time, waiting for computer to respond with answers. A major problem with "read all records" designs was that individual records would not have unique identification such as employee #. We could have a record that pointed at a record, that pointed at a record, which . for a string of 1,000 records, all of which must be read to find all the data needed, which might actually be contained within 10 of the records actually read, and if there was a crash of any kind while in midst of updating, we had to go back to last backup and reprocess all transactions since then. The logic for this was to save on disk space, by excluding the redundancy of key index data that the programs could match on, but then every record had to have all those pointers to other records, which ate more disk space than what was being excluded. As the cost of disk space dropped, and cost of humans increased to exceed the computer resources, it became a standard at least in the 1970's on business mainframes and mini-computers, to use some kind of relational data base structure (although it was not called that then), so that needed records could be accessed with no more than 2 disk reads: access index for a file, which has key you looking for, and where on disk that is located, then read the actual record needed. A system re-designed in the 1970's would have been when the micro computer was emerging in the hobbyist market, so it is unlikely California's payroll system is running on PC servers. Maybe it is Unix-based. If the payroll system cannot be changed, it is more probably because it is written in a programming language unknown to off-shore outsourced programmers, or the documentation has been thrown away, not that it is impossible to reprogram. I cannot believe that employee salaries have not been changed since the 1970's. There must be a way to do that. I can certainly believe that with management turnover, no current employee knows how to do that. Allowing one's computer to be unprotected, while connected to the Internet, can be compared to owning a handgun and putting it out on your doorstep every night, in case a passing robber might be in need of one. Unfortunately millions of people are doing exactly that, while thousands of them do so through networks of companies and government agencies that they manage. [My friend Bob Speth found an earlier article on the CA payroll system. from the Yahoo News article: "Absent ... completion of the state's payroll system overhaul" I wonder how much of the "overhaul" remains. http://www.govtech.com/gt/ <http://www.govtech.com/gt/articles/100010> articles/100010 Jun 27, 2006, News Report SAP will provide software, five years of maintenance, and will train state employees to run the software. BearingPoint will adapt SAP's software and implement it among the state's various agencies. The system will go online in November 2007. Full implementation is expected by June 2009. So the question is: "What happened to the SAP and BearingPoint project?" SAP is not antique architecture, but pretty close to state-of-art. The main problem I have seen with large ERP systems designed for multiple tasks is that sometimes payroll updates to meet new government rules are delivered after government deadlines, so they require high levels of extra maintenance, to meet the deadlines, then merge in the patches. Could it be that to save $$$, the state did not pay for needed hardware, maintenance or training?
I am trying to connect the dots on we can make the logical leap from the news.yahoo.com story to this being a sequential versus direct access issue. Perhaps this is an illustration of the Risk of making assumptions. A few years ago the top half of the back cover page of the Vancouver Sun Business Section had a large point headline story about the vast majority of British Columbia Public Sector employees still waiting for their Income Tax return forms, just 2 weeks before the penalty data for late filing. Sequential files had nothing to do with that. A major payroll application had just been converted to Oracle on Open System Servers from IMS and DB2 on a mainframe. Six weeks after the Statutory Deadline for providing forms for Employees the BC Government had still not been able to print even a fraction of them. My money is on someone not knowing how to optimize SQL or Indexes being responsible for that one. I also suspect it was a case of someone assuming that the latest and greatest DB software would spare them of trivia such as access path analysis or Query tracing and tuning. While 1950s mainframes didn't have database management systems IMS DB / DC and ISAM go back to the 1960s.
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