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 27 Issue 37

Monday 22 July 2013


UK flights affected by computer problems
Martyn Thomas
Parts installed upside-down caused Russian rocket to explode
Doug Hosking
PayPal giveth US$92 Quadrillion in error and taketh away
Bob Gezelter
PayPal 'credits' US man $92 quadrillion in error
Amos Shapir
Government Destroys $170k of Hardware in Absurd Effort to Stop Malware
David Farber
UBS fined $30,000 for a typing error
Lothar Kimmeringer
How the Pentagon's payroll quagmire traps soldiers
Paltrow/Carr via Jim Reisert
UK Post office software bug leads to wrongful prosecutions
Robert Lister
Sony drops appeal and pays 250,000 pounds UK fine ... data lost in 2011 PlayStation Network hack
Jon Russell via Gene Wirchenko
Insider Threats, FBI NCIC and elsewhere
The dangers of insufficient granularity in access control
Mark Radon
Florida Accidentally Banned All Computers, Smart Phones In The State Through Internet Cafe Ban: Lawsuit
Rick Scott via David Farber
Risks to NYC Bike Share
George Neville-Neil
"How Microsoft handed the NSA access to encrypted messages"
Glenn Greenwald via Gene Wirchenko
"Microsoft's Prism Involvement Detailed in Recently Leaked Documents"
Chris Paoli via Gene Wirchenko
"HP admits to undocumented backdoors in two separate storage lines"
Ted Samson via Gene Wirchenko
Universities Face a Rising Barrage of Cyberattacks
Richard Perez-Pedia via Monty Solomon
Nations Buying as Hackers Sell Flaws in Computer Code
Perlroth/Sanger via Monty Solomon
Telemarketers call in reinforcements as they ignore do-not-call list
David Lazarus via Monty Solomon
"Google patches a gap in security on Android—finally"
DH Kass via Gene Wirchenko
"Alternative fixes released for Android 'master key' vulnerability"
Jeremy Kirk via Gene Wirchenko
"Most enterprise networks riddled with vulnerable Java installations"
Lucian Constantin via Gene Wirchenko
"New Mac malware confuses users with right-to-left file name tricks"
Lucian Constantin via Gene Wirchenko
VoIP phone hackers pose public safety threat
Lauren Weinstein
How to Build Versatile and Reusable Software
Paul Robinson
Designing Dashboards With Fewer Distractions
Bill Vlasic via Monty Solomon
Re: WashDC Metro Identifies Problem With Emergency Call Buttons on Trains
Gene Wirchenko
Re: Why are software development task estimations regularly so far off?
Gene Wirchenko
Millions of US license plates tracked and stored
ACLU report via Ed Pilkington via Monty Solomon
Re: License-plate readers let police collect millions of driver records
David Alexander
Another method to read RISKS online: Google Groups
Paul Robinson
Info on RISKS (comp.risks)

UK flights affected by computer problems

Martyn Thomas <>
Tue, 09 Jul 2013 15:06:36 +0100

As described, this incident has the symptoms that I saw more than 10 years
ago when the National Airspace System (NAS) crashed.  NAS does the flight
data processing for en-route traffic in the London and Scottish FIRs and
(unless it has been rewritten recently) is based on code written in the
1960s for US airport approaches, (in the Jovial programming language and
with substantial dynamic data overlays because 1960s hardware had little
RAM). If NAS crashed and the auto restarts failed (typically because there
was persistent data that causes further crashes) then the flight data
available to the controllers at the Swanwick ATC centre aged to the point
where Swanwick had to enter SWIMM (Swanwick In Manual Mode), which involved
stopping departures of aircraft on the ground that were destined for UK
airspace and reducing Swanwick traffic as quickly as possible. The
transition into SWIMM was a period of high workload taking (as I recall)
20-30 minutes. The transition out of SWIMM was also stressful for the
controllers, so it usually waited for a period of low traffic.

I suggested in the 1990s and early 2000s that a formal specification of
the NAS should be commissioned, followed by a complete rewrite, because
there were areas of the code that no-one understood well enough to
modify, and functional changes were being implemented either by changing
the airspace data (I called it "lying to NAS") to bring about the
desired behaviour or by making modifications outside the no-go areas of
the NAS code. Unfortunately, I was insufficiently persuasive. I don't
know the current state of the NAS (but would like to).

Parts installed upside-down caused Russian rocket to explode

"Doug Hosking" <>
Wed, 10 Jul 2013 02:17:41 -0700
It shouldn't take a rocket scientist to design to prevent a mistake like
this.  But on 9 Aug 2013, Anatoly Zak reports on his own site,, that investigators have determined the culprit was the
"critical angular velocity sensors, DUS, installed upside down."

PayPal giveth US$92 Quadrillion in error and taketh away

"Bob Gezelter" <>
Wed, 17 Jul 2013 10:38:24 -0700
CNN reports that a PayPal customer received an electronic statement showing
a credit balance of US$ 92 Trillion.  When he logged into his account, the
balance was correct. PayPal apologized.  Unanswered question: Imagine
the possible consequences if an automated system had processed the
statement and swept the balance to another institution. A good example for
safety traps in automated systems.  Original CNN article
Bob Gezelter,

PayPal 'credits' US man $92 quadrillion in error

Amos Shapir <>
Sun, 21 Jul 2013 18:31:19 +0300
"The online money-transfer firm said it would offer to make a donation
to a charity of Mr Reynolds' choice."

The article claims the erroneous sum was $92,233,720,368,547,800; the
sum of the donation was not stated...

Full story at:

(Being a computer nerd I had to check—this number is almost exactly
2^63 * 0.01, so the credit was probably meant to be 1 cent).

Government Destroys $170k of Hardware in Absurd Effort to Stop Malware

David Farber <>
Mon, 8 Jul 2013 19:27:15 -0400
This is a story about government incompetence on the grossest, most
unforgivable scale. Here's how the Economic Development Administration
unnecessarily spent $2.75 million to fight a common case of malware.
Warning: much innocent hardware was lost. Yes, even the mice.

In December 2011 the Economic Development Administration (an agency under
the US Department of Commerce) was notified by the Department of Homeland
Security that it had a malware infection spreading around its network. These
things happen, but what came next was truly exceptional. The EDA's IT people
-- including its CIO—had a meltdown.

The EDA's IT crowd determined that its network had been infected with a
persistent, nation-state attack on its systems. So they isolated their
department's hardware from other government networks, cut off employee
e-mail, hired an outside security contractor, and started systematically
destroying $170,000 worth of computers, cameras, mice, etc. It gets
crazier. From the report, prepared for the Dept. of Commerce:

EDA's CIO concluded that the risk, or potential risk, of extremely
persistent malware and nation-state activity (which did not exist) was great
enough to necessitate the physical destruction of all of EDA's IT
components.  EDA's management agreed with this risk assessment and EDA
initially destroyed more than $170,000 worth of its IT components,
including desktops, printers, TVs, cameras, computer mice, and keyboards. By
August 1, 2012, EDA had exhausted funds for this effort and therefore halted
the destruction of its remaining IT components, valued at over $3
million. EDA intended to resume this activity once funds were
available. However, the destruction of IT components was clearly unnecessary
because only common malware was present on EDA's IT systems.

Destroying cameras? And mice? Over malware? Are you serious?

Worse, the EDA continued destroying components until it could no longer
afford to destroy them. In fact, the agency intended to continue destroying
gear just as soon as it got more funds approved to do so. Uhh... okay!

And no, it does not end there. It turns out the malware infection was
absolutely routine. All the EDA had to do was isolate the affected
components, remove the malware, reconnect the hardware and move on. NOAA,
which received a notice at the same time as EDA, completed this operation in
one month.

The overall cost of EDA incompetence? $2.75 million—approximately half of
the agency's IT budget. Here it is, neatly enumerated into smaller idiotic

Malware is scary, so in a way, we're sympathetic to the government agency
that got infected and had a bit of a panic attack. But our sympathy
disappears when we learn that its response to the malware betrayed a basic
misunderstanding of malware and how it works. And remember, kids! Those are
your tax dollars working hard in all the wrong places. [Department of
Commerce via Federal News Radio via The Verge]

UBS fined $30,000 for a typing error

Lothar Kimmeringer <>
Thu, 18 Jul 2013 12:51:50 +0200
To be on topic: If you design a fool-proved system, nature comes up with a
new fool.$30%2C000+infringement+notice+penalty?openDocument

A trader enters a sell-order into the system with a sell price of $0.165
(instead of the intended $16.50). A filter is triggered and is ignored by
the trader. Because of the low price, the system forwards the order to a
second party for authorization who authorizes it despite the fact, that
he/she received two warnings and the price is 99% below the current

The (obviously) fast-filled order was later canceled, so no real damage has
been done here but the australian ASIC now fined UBS for this.

The system will now be changed to be fool-proved (again).

How the Pentagon's payroll quagmire traps soldiers (Paltrow/Carr)

Jim Reisert AD1C <>
Wed, 10 Jul 2013 16:56:54 -0600
Scot J. Paltrow and Kelly Carr, Reuters, 2 Jul 2013

"DFAS [Defense Finance and Accounting Service], for its part, inherited a
pay operation that even at the time was an antique—a 20-year-old Air
Force system that DFAS renamed the Defense Joint Military Pay System, or
DJMS. It ran, and still runs, on Cobol, a computer language that dates to
1959. Most of the Cobol code the Pentagon uses for payroll and accounting
was written in the 1960s, according to 2006 congressional testimony by Zack
Gaddy, director of DFAS from May 2004 to September 2008.

Wallace, the Army assistant deputy chief of staff, says the system has
“seven million lines of Cobol "code that hasn't been updated'' in more than
a dozen years, and significant parts of the code have been `corrupted'.  The
older it gets, the harder it is to maintain. As DFAS itself said: “As time
passes, the pool of Cobol expertise dwindles.''

Further, the system is nearly impossible to update because the documentation
for it—explaining how it was built, what was in it, and how it works --
disappeared long ago, according to Kevin McGraw. He retired recently after
working 30 years in DFAS's Cleveland office, most of that time responsible
for maintaining the part of DJMS that handles Navy pay.  “It's hard to make
a change to a program if you don't know what's in there.''

Jim Reisert AD1C, <>,

UK Post office software bug leads to wrongful prosecutions

Robert Lister <>
Tue, 9 Jul 2013 16:08:22 +0100
The Post Office has admitted that software defects have occurred with a
computer system at the centre of a bitter dispute with some of its 11,500
sub-postmasters across the UK.  More than 100 say they were wrongly
prosecuted or made to repay money after computers made non-existent
shortfalls.  Some of them lost their homes as a result and a few went to

The Post Office said the report showed its system was effective but said it
would improve training and support.

Over the past year, independent investigators Second Sight, who were
employed by the Post Office, have been examining a handful of the
sub-postmasters' claims.  Although their review found no evidence of
systemic problems with the core software, it did find bugs in it.

It pinpointed two specific occasions, in 2011 and 2012, when the Post Office
identified defects itself that resulted in a shortfall of up to 9,000 pounds
at 76 branches.  The Post Office later made good those losses and the
sub-postmasters were not held liable.

Full story at:

Yet another case of "computer being taken as infallible."  Reminds me of
recent chip-and-pin card fraud that banks insist the customer is liable,
rather than somebody being able to exploit a security flaw in the
chip-and-pin system. Somebody has next to no chance of proving they were not
responsible for fraud.

  [Also noted by Andy Cole and Martyn Thomas.  PGN]

Sony drops appeal and pays 250,000 pounds UK fine ... data lost in 2011 PlayStation Network hack (Jon Russell)

Gene Wirchenko <>
Thu, 18 Jul 2013 13:38:25 -0700

Insider Threats, FBI NCIC and elsewhere

"Peter G. Neumann" <>
Mon, 22 Jul 2013 07:03:09 PDT
One of the major security threats that remains poorly understood and poorly
addressed in today's systems involves the risks of insider misuse.  The
risks are relevant to the ongoing discussions of surveillance, critical
national infrastructures, election integrity, and lots more.  Providing
better system and networking technologies as well as better administrative
practices is a huge challenge.

A recent article exposes some misuses in the National Crime Information
Center (NCIC) database, although this should not be news to RISKS readers.
It discusses "a batch of corruption cases in recent years against NYPD
officers accused of abusing the FBI-operated National Crime Information
Center database to cyber snoop on co-workers, tip off drug dealers, stage
robberies and—most notoriously—scheme to abduct and eat women."  (A
police academy instructor testified at the trial of Gilbert Valle, who was
convicted in March in a bizarre plot to kidnap, cook and cannibalize women.)
[Source: Tom Hays, Associated Press, NYC cases show crooked cops' abuse of
FBI database, PGN-ed]

Many years ago, I noted that the NCIC access had almost no authentication
once enabled, and no differential access controls—typically with a police
officer signing a paper log at the beginning of each shift and the system
then accessible to anyone with physical access (including the nighttime
cleaning crew).  Long ago, we noted the case of the Arizona ex-officer who
tracked down his ex-girlfriend and murdered her.  In my Computer-Related
Risks book (Addison-Wesley 1995, but unfortunately mostly all still
relevant), I cited a GAO report that enumerated a surprisingly large number
of insider misuses of law-enforcement databases.  Yes, this is a very old
problem, and yes, it still exists.  Perhaps it is a little better now in
some respects?  But apparently not: with much more information online, more
opportunities exist for misuse!

The dangers of insufficient granularity in access control

Mark Radon <>
Thu, 18 Jul 2013 21:52:23 +0100
I recently came across two interesting anecdotes in the medical IT field,
which are interesting in that the illustrate the risks that come with access
controls when they are insufficiently granular and poorly understood. Some
care is needed in the design of access control, and users/administrators
need appropriate education in their use.

Both of these issues appeared in the context of medical imaging systems, but
it would be possible that they could appear in the context of other forms of
medical record management system.

Case 1

An administrator for a radiology department information system had
previously attended the hospital and had a file on the system on which he
managed. He had set the software's "confidential file" flag on his record,
to protect against nosy colleagues. One day, when unwell himself, he was
admitted to the hospital at which he worked. The duty emergency doctor
ordered a chest X-ray.

There was a problem, however. The X-ray receptionist could not find his
record in order to book the X-ray attendance. The confidential flag had
rendered his file completely invisible and inaccessible to non-administrator
users. As there was no system administrator on duty, the most practical
solution was to hand over his user name and password a trusted member of the
X-ray staff and ask them to remove the confidential flag, so that he could
have his X-ray (and have his doctor be able to view it).

[Technically a new file could have been created, but this would have later
required the delicate housekeeping task of merging multiple case-records,
and would still have meant that medical staff were unable to access his
historical records for comparison]

The issue in this case was that the "confidential flag", intended for
protection of staff or celebrity records, rendered records accessible only
to system administrators, with no way for an individual user to override
this. Only system administrators could override the flag, with no way to
offer this right to certain groups, e.g. senior doctors.

Case 2

Many hospitals in the UK have recently come to the end of a long contract
for their PACS (Picture archiving and communication system) infrastructure;
large servers holding medical imaging files. There was a need to migrate the
data to new systems which were being procured by individual hospitals. In
some cases, the incumbent provider was less helpful than hoped for, refusing
to offer a method of migrating the data to a new system until after the
system had been decommissioned. (An unacceptable risk, as this would have
meant a period when the hospital had no access to historical medical
records, and of unknown duration).

In view of this, many hospitals employed specialist consultancy firms to
migrate the data from the incumbent systems onto a temporary store in
industry-standard format. The normal way in which this was done was for a
software tool to masquerade as an image processing workstation, run a query
(e.g. MRI scans performed on 18/07/2013), and then archive all the images
that are returned from the search.

This had gone well. The industry standard data had been indexed and imported
into the new system in time for "go live". The original servers were
decommissioned at the end of contract, and hard drives shredded.

A few months later, the one of the consultants sent a circular to their
clients, explaining that they had come across a problem. Any files with the
"confidential flag" set, would not have been returned by the search, and
therefore would not have been migrated....

 - - -

These two anecdotes illustrate the problem with access controls, especially
"silent" access controls, that give no indication that a dataset has been

This is a particular problem in the medical field, as the work necessarily
includes emergencies, and there are a large number of staff who may have a
legitimate requirement to access confidential data at short notice.
Software vendors have been very varied in terms of their handling of this
requirement. The above "administrator only" solution is a common one in the
industry, despite its significant risks.

Florida Accidentally Banned All Computers, Smart Phones In The State Through Internet Cafe Ban: Lawsuit (Rick Scott)

David Farber <>
Tue, 9 Jul 2013 07:07:06 -0400

Florida Accidentally Banned All Computers, Smart Phones In The State Through
  Internet Cafe Ban: Lawsuit
Rick Scott reportedly called the ban, "the right thing to do for our state."
When Florida lawmakers recently voted to ban all Internet cafes, they worded
the bill so poorly that they effectively outlawed every computer in the
state, according to a recent lawsuit.

In April Florida Governor Rick Scott approved a ban on slot machines and
Internet cafes after a charity tied to Lt. Governor Jennifer Carroll was
shut down on suspicion of being an Internet gambling front—forcing
Carroll, who had consulted with the charity, to resign.

Florida's 1,000 Internet cafes were shut down immediately, including
Miami-Dade's Incredible Investments, LLC, a caf=E9 that provides online
services to migrant workers, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

The owner, Consuelo Zapata, is now suing the state after her legal team
found that the ban was so hastily worded that it can be applied to any
computer or device connected to the Internet, according to a copy of the
complaint obtained by The Miami Herald.

The ban defines illegal slot machines as any "system or network of devices"
that may be used in a game of chance.

And that broad wording can be applied to any number of devices, according to
the Miami law firm of Kluger, Kaplan, Silverman, Katzen & Levine, who worked
with constitutional law attorney and Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz.

The suit maintains that the ban was essentially passed "in a frenzy fueled
by distorted judgment in the wake of a scandal that included the Lieutenant
Governor's resignation" and declares it unconstitutional.

Read the full complaint here.

  [I am reminded once again of California's first attempt at a computer
  crime bill, which would make it illegal to `read, write, alter, or delete'
  information in a computer.  When I confronted one of the law enforcement
  folks, the response was “But we would never use that against someone who
  was not doing anything wrong.''  Weak on the concept?  PGN ]

Risks to NYC Bike Share

George Neville-Neil <>
16 July 2013 20:44:25 GMT+01:00
  [via Robert N. M. Watson]

New York City recently installed a bike sharing program, named Citibike,
sponsored in part by Citibank.  The system consists of a set of heavy
3-speed bicycles with integrated GPS and a set of "Bike Stations" where
people can check bicycles out and back in.  Annual members get an RFID key
that they use to take out a bicycle for up to 45 minutes, after which there
are extra charges.  Casual users pay, using a credit or debit card, at a
kiosk attached to the bike station.

One feature of the system is that if a bicycle needs repair someone can
press a repair button, marked with a wrench, next to the bike that is having
problems.  Once the button is pressed, a red light comes on and the bicycle
cannot be removed from the station until a maintenance person comes by to
look at the bike.  There is no timeout, and there is no requirement to put
in your key or type in the code that you get from the kiosk.

This DOS against the system is already being applied by causal vandals, who
push the repair button on whole racks, taking them out of service until a
repair person can show up.  Citibike says that they are working to fix this
problem in the system.

"How Microsoft handed the NSA access to encrypted messages" (Glenn Greenwald)

Gene Wirchenko <>
Fri, 12 Jul 2013 10:40:08 -0700
Glenn Greenwald on security and liberty
* Secret files show scale of Silicon Valley co-operation on Prism
* encryption unlocked even before official launch
* Skype worked to enable Prism collection of video calls
* Company says it is legally compelled to comply

"Microsoft's Prism Involvement Detailed in Recently Leaked Documents"

Gene Wirchenko <>
Mon, 15 Jul 2013 11:48:27 -0700
Chris Paoli, *Redmond Magazine*, 12 Jul 2013
New information alleges Microsoft provided a backdoor for the NSA to
access chat and e-mail information from Outlook and Skype.

opening paragraph:

Recently leaked documents described Microsoft working hand in hand with the
National Security Agency (NSA) to break encryption and provide access to its
customers' data through the NSA's Prism surveillance program.

"HP admits to undocumented backdoors in two separate storage lines" (Ted Samson)

Gene Wirchenko <>
Mon, 15 Jul 2013 11:59:33 -0700
Ted Samson, InfoWorld, 12 Jul 2013
Malicious hackers could exploit the backdoors into StoreOnce and
StoreVirtual hardware to gain root access

opening paragraph:

HP has owned up to undocumented backdoors in members of its StoreOnce D2D
Backup and StoreVirtual Storage product lines that can grant malicious
hackers root access to the systems' OS. A fix for the HP StoreOnce D2D
Backup Systems already exists; the company said it would deliver a patch for
the StoreVirtual gear by July 17.

Universities Face a Rising Barrage of Cyberattacks (Perez-Pedia)

Monty Solomon <>
Wed, 17 Jul 2013 00:58:15 -0400
Richard Perez-Pedia, 16 Jul 2013

America's research universities, among the most open and robust centers of
information exchange in the world, are increasingly coming under
cyberattack, most of it thought to be from China, with millions of hacking
attempts weekly. Campuses are being forced to tighten security, constrict
their culture of openness and try to determine what has been stolen.

University officials concede that some of the hacking attempts have
succeeded. But they have declined to reveal specifics, other than those
involving the theft of personal data like Social Security numbers. They
acknowledge that they often do not learn of break-ins until much later, if
ever, and that even after discovering the breaches they may not be able to
tell what was taken.

Universities and their professors are awarded thousands of patents each
year, some with vast potential value, in fields as disparate as prescription
drugs, computer chips, fuel cells, aircraft and medical devices.

Nations Buying as Hackers Sell Flaws in Computer Code

Monty Solomon <>
Mon, 15 Jul 2013 02:46:26 -0400
Nicole Perlroth and David E. Sanger, *The New York Times*, 13 Jul 2013

On the tiny Mediterranean island of Malta, two Italian hackers have been
searching for bugs—not the island's many beetle varieties, but secret
flaws in computer code that governments pay hundreds of thousands of dollars
to learn about and exploit.

The hackers, Luigi Auriemma, 32, and Donato Ferrante, 28, sell technical
details of such vulnerabilities to countries that want to break into the
computer systems of foreign adversaries. The two will not reveal the clients
of their company, ReVuln, but big buyers of services like theirs include the
National Security Agency—which seeks the flaws for America's growing
arsenal of cyberweapons—and American adversaries like the Revolutionary
Guards of Iran.

All over the world, from South Africa to South Korea, business is booming in
what hackers call "zero days," the coding flaws in software like Microsoft
Windows that can give a buyer unfettered access to a computer and any
business, agency or individual dependent on one.

Just a few years ago, hackers like Mr. Auriemma and Mr. Ferrante would have
sold the knowledge of coding flaws to companies like Microsoft and Apple,
which would fix them. Last month, Microsoft sharply increased the amount it
was willing to pay for such flaws, raising its top offer to $150,000.

But increasingly the businesses are being outbid by countries with the goal
of exploiting the flaws in pursuit of the kind of success, albeit temporary,
that the United States and Israel achieved three summers ago when they
attacked Iran's nuclear enrichment program with a computer worm that became
known as "Stuxnet."

The flaws get their name from the fact that once discovered, "zero days"
exist for the user of the computer system to fix them before hackers can
take advantage of the vulnerability. A "zero-day exploit" occurs when
hackers or governments strike by using the flaw before anyone else knows it
exists, like a burglar who finds, after months of probing, that there is a
previously undiscovered way to break into a house without sounding an
alarm. ...

Telemarketers call in reinforcements as they ignore do-not-call list (David Lazarus)

Monty Solomon <>
Wed, 17 Jul 2013 01:39:12 -0400
Complaints by those in the federal Do Not Call Registry are on the rise as
telemarketers use robocalls and 'spoofing.'

David Lazarus, *Los Angeles Times*, 15 Jul 2013

Dan Yeh has been on the federal government's Do Not Call Registry for
years. And for a while, it seemed like the leave-me-alone system worked just

Not anymore.

"There's been a real surge recently," Yeh, 72, told me. "I've been getting
five or six calls a day, at all hours, seven days a week."

The Huntington Beach resident isn't alone. I've heard similar complaints
from dozens of other people.

Regardless of having registered a phone line with the Federal Trade
Commission as a telemarketer-free zone, a growing number of consumers are
saying that some businesses are ignoring their stated preference and calling

A particular annoyance: automated robocalls that get you on the line before
looping in a human telemarketer. Such calls frequently use "spoofed" lines
that hide their origin or make it look as if the call is from someone you
know. ...,0,6060357,full.column

"Google patches a gap in security on Android—finally" (DH Kass)

Gene Wirchenko <>
Thu, 11 Jul 2013 22:01:16 -0700
DH Kass, Google patches a gap in security on Android (finally), ITBusiness,
10 Jul 2013

opening paragraph:

Google Inc. has only just patched a security vulnerability in the Android
operating system that could have allowed hackers to change 99 per cent of
all applications into malware. Yet Google has known about the flaw for
months, says a new report.

"Alternative fixes released for Android 'master key' vulnerability" (Jeremy Kirk)

Gene Wirchenko <>
Thu, 18 Jul 2013 14:58:18 -0700
Jeremy Kirk, InfoWorld, 17 Jul 2013
Alternative fixes released for Android 'master key' vulnerability
Many Android devices may still be vulnerable if operators haven't
sent out updates

[selected text]

More fixes are appearing for a pair of highly dangerous vulnerabilities
exposed earlier this month in the Android mobile operating system.

Security vendor Webroot and ReKey, a collaboration between Northeastern
University in Boston and vendor Duo Security, released software on Tuesday
that detects if an Android device is vulnerable and applies a patch.

Application markets and websites not run by Google have posed a risk for
Android users. Security researchers have found numerous examples of popular
applications that have been modified to deliver secret code that can spy on

"Most enterprise networks riddled with vulnerable Java installations, report says" (Lucian Constantin)

Gene Wirchenko <>
Thu, 18 Jul 2013 14:50:40 -0700
selected text:

[The article has a lot of percentages, but these are especially noteworthy:]

The Bit9 data showed that 93 percent of organizations have a version of Java
on some of their systems that's at least five years old.  Fifty-one percent
have a version that's between five and 10 years old.

"New Mac malware confuses users with right-to-left file name tricks"

Gene Wirchenko <>
Thu, 18 Jul 2013 15:04:30 -0700
Lucian Constantin, InfoWorld, 16 Jul 2013
The malware is digitally signed and is probably used in targeted attacks,
researchers from F-Secure said

VoIP phone hackers pose public safety threat

Lauren Weinstein <>
July 18, 2013 10:31:09 PM EDT
  "The demand stunned the hospital employee. She had picked up the emergency
  room's phone line, expecting to hear a dispatcher or a doctor. But
  instead, an unfamiliar male greeted her by name and then threatened to
  paralyze the hospital's phone service if she didn't pay him hundreds of
  dollars.  Shortly after the worker hung up on the caller, the ER's six
  phone lines went dead. For nearly two days in March, ambulances and
  patients' families calling the San Diego hospital heard nothing but busy
  signals.  The hospital had become a victim of an extortionist who,
  probably using not much more than a laptop and cheap software, had
  single-handedly generated enough calls to tie up the lines."  (*LA Times* via NNSquad)

How to Build Versatile and Reusable Software

Paul Robinson <>
Thu, 18 Jul 2013 05:11:50 -0700 (PDT)
I take good ideas where I can find them, and this article [1], which
surprisingly enough is in "Law Technology News", discusses how to build
versatile and reusable software.

The article asks some good questions, and its focus is not really just on
software for law offices but on custom software directly. So if you have to
work with software developed in-house or by contractors for your company or
department's use, it's worth a read.

In case you're not really up on these two words, "versatility" means the
software handles problems more robustly, which reduces risk. "Reusable"
means that it is capable of being modified (without a huge amount of effort)
to do other things than what it was originally developed for, which
conceivably can reduce total cost of ownership (and the risk involved in the
investment to develop it in the first place).


Paul Robinson <> (My Blog)

Designing Dashboards With Fewer Distractions (Bill Vlasic)

Monty Solomon <>
Sat, 6 Jul 2013 19:25:09 -0400
Bill Vlasic, 5 Jul 2013

The engineers working on Honda's new Acura MDX luxury sport utility vehicle
were obsessed with giving customers more—more space in the rear seat,
more fuel economy from a high-tech engine, and above, all, more apps, maps
and connectivity.  But there was one feature they wanted less of: buttons.

In an effort to simplify the newest Honda vehicle, which went on sale in
June 2013, the product team was determined to streamline the instrument
panel. For the new MDX model, more than 30 buttons have been eliminated. The
change was emblematic of the challenge confronting automakers in the age of
the connected car. How does a car company give customers the technology they
crave without overwhelming them with complicated controls that can impair
their ability to drive safely? ...

Re: WashDC Metro Identifies Problem With Emergency Call Buttons on Trains (RISKS-27.36)

Gene Wirchenko <>
Sat, 06 Jul 2013 22:19:08 -0700

One sentence in the above article highlights another risk.

  "Metro also began spot checks by safety officers of intercoms on trains in
  service Wednesday morning."

There is a terrible tendency of once a system is in place and working to
simply assume that it is continuing to work.

It would be a good idea to check these sorts of things regularly.  What else
is not getting checked?

Re: Why are software development task estimations regularly so far off? (RISKS-27.36)

Gene Wirchenko <>
Sat, 06 Jul 2013 22:24:32 -0700
Long-time readers of RISKS may recall when URLs were frowned on here because
of their transience.  Now, the problem is walled gardens.

Judging from the summary in 27.36, I would find the article hilarious.
Unfortunately, without signing in to Google or Facebook, I can not.  I do
not have an account with either.  Security concerns, you know.

Quora has a lovely non-answer on the page:

  "Why do I need to sign in?  Quora is a knowledge-sharing community that
  depends on everyone being able to pitch in when they know something."

How does my not being able to sign in make me able to pitch in?

Millions of US license plates tracked and stored (ACLU report via Ed Pilkington)

Monty Solomon <>
Wed, 17 Jul 2013 11:14:45 -0400
Alarming number of databases across US are storing details of Americans'
locations—not just government agencies
Ed Pilkington in New York,, 17 Jul 2013

Millions of Americans are having their movements tracked through automated
scanning of their car license plates, with the records held often
indefinitely in vast government and private databases.

A new report from the American Civil Liberties Union has found an alarming
proliferation of databases across the US storing details of Americans'
locations. The technology is not confined to government agencies—private
companies are also getting in on the act, with one firm National Vehicle
Location Service holding more than 800m records of scanned license plates.

You Are Being Tracked: How License Plate Readers Are Being Used to
Record Americans' Movements

Re: License-plate readers let police collect millions of driver records

David Alexander <>
Sun, 7 Jul 2013 09:40:22 +0100 (BST)
I read the submission by Henry Baker about license plate readers. It's what
we call Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) here in the UK. The system
doesn't take pictures, just reads the plates electronically. The ANPR
systems have a real-time link to the Police, Insurance and Driver Licensing
databases. If a car is scanned that shows a potential offence, an alert
sounds and displays the reason why the car is suspected to be illegal. The
officers can then stop the car as soon as it is safe to do so in order to
investigate. They have powers to impound unsafe and uninsured cars on the
spot. I live 4 miles from Silverstone race circuit and last weekend we had
the Formula 1 race here. A series of these ANPR systems are used to scan the
vehicles arriving at the car parks, and it's amazing how many people they
catch each year.

The overwhelming majority of people here like the fact that the police and
government use it. The people who don't like it are, for the most part, the
irresponsible ones who they catch driving without insurance, road tax, in
'cloned' cars on false plates, while disqualified for some other offence, in
cars reported as stolen or who haven't had the mandatory annual saftey
inspection for cars more than 3 years old (MOT). It means there is less
chance of my car being hit by someone without insurance, or who has poorly
maintained brakes or whatever. It also improves the amount of revenue raised
by the government which (ostensibly) is for road repairs and improvements.

Yes, there are systems that scan plates on all cars on major roads, but
since the authorities can use a court order to obtain my cellular records to
track my movements if they have just cause, I'm not concerned. There is also
the issue of potential abuse by those with access to the systems. I know we
have a very tough auditing regime for any manual enquiries made to any of
the databases by the users. A significant percentage of them are chosen at
random and they have to explain why they made their enquiry.

I do have an issue if they keep the data on law-abiding citizens for an
inordinate length of time, but our European Data Protection laws provide
checks and balances that I am (mostly) happy with.I think that is the
essence of this article—some countries don't have sufficient checks and
balances for this kind of technology to be used responsibly. My point is
this—don't change the surveillance system, change the legislation
governing its use.

Another method to read RISKS online: Google Groups

Paul Robinson <>
Thu, 18 Jul 2013 05:24:06 -0700 (PDT)
Here's something you can add to the summary. You can read RISKS through
Google Groups (what used to be Deja News before Google bought it), and you
can even send responses back to the moderator through the interface.

Please report problems with the web pages to the maintainer