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 28 Issue 90

Thursday 20 August 2015


Bitcoin is on the verge of a constitutional crisis
Timothy B. Lee
Uber Missed Criminal Records of Drivers, Prosecutors Assert
Lightning storm security risks
Morten Welinder
Recent Wikipedia items in RISKS
Denis Bloodnok
The Covert World of People Trying to Edit Wikipedia--for Pay
Lauren Weinstein
Socially controversial science topics on Wikipedia draw edit wars
Lauren Weinstein
Why the "Right To Be Forgotten" is the Worst Kind of Censorship
Lauren Weinstein
Data from hack of Ashley Madison cheater site purportedly dumped online
Ars Technica
Re: Could Hackers Take Down a City?
Alister Wm Macintyre
Re: Failing light rail safety system
Geoff Kuenning
Re: Supreme Court's Free-Speech Expansion ...
R. G. Newbury
Re: gmail policy on BCCs, related to Mass. pot dispensary
Geoff Kuenning
Re: IRS Get Transcript
Harlan Rosenthal
Re: Intel to customers: We listen to you... All The Time!
Edwin Slonim
Dimitri Maziuk
Info on RISKS (comp.risks)

Bitcoin is on the verge of a constitutional crisis (Timothy B. Lee)

Dewayne Hendricks <>
Wednesday, August 19, 2015
[Note:  This item comes from friend Steve Goldstein. DLH] (via Dave Farber)

Timothy B. Lee, Vox, 18 Aug 2015

The Bitcoin community is facing one of the most momentous decisions in its
six-year history. The Bitcoin network is running out of spare capacity, and
two increasingly divided camps disagree about what, if anything, to do
about the problem.

If these two sides fail to reach a consensus, the Bitcoin network could --
according to one side, at least—slowly grind to a halt as the number of
transactions exceeds the network's capacity to process them. Even worse, if
a fix for this problem is forced through prematurely, it could split the
Bitcoin network in two and permanently damage public trust in the network.

The argument is the closest thing the Bitcoin community has had to a
constitutional crisis. Bitcoiners are trying to figure out who, if anyone,
has the authority to make technical changes to the Bitcoin network's
foundations. So far, neither side in the increasingly heated debate has
shown much willingness to compromise.

The Bitcoin network is running out of capacity

The Bitcoin network processes transactions in units called "blocks," which
are created about every 10 minutes. To prevent malicious parties from
clogging up the system with spam, the original Bitcoin software limited the
size of each block to one megabyte, which corresponds to a few thousand
transactions. When Bitcoin was created in 2009, that left plenty of room
for growth.

But Bitcoin usage has been growing, bringing the network closer and closer
to its maximum capacity. Right now, the network is only 30 to 40 percent
full on average, but it sometimes gets congested during periods of high
demand, causing delays for users. And if current growth continues, things
could get a lot worse in the next year or two, as the network gets closer
to 100 percent capacity.

And if Bitcoin is going to become a mainstream payment platform, it's going
to have to grow a lot more. Bitcoin handles tens of thousands of
transactions per day. Visa handles tens of millions. To compete with Visa
and other mainstream payment technologies, the network is going to need
more capacity.

Changing the limit is easy—if everyone agrees

The limit is just a number in the Bitcoin software. If that number were
changed to a higher value, the Bitcoin network would have more capacity.

The difficulty is that this only works if everyone agrees to raise the
limit. The Bitcoin network is built on consensus. If some parts of the
Bitcoin network raise the limit and others don't, the network would be split
in two. Having two competing versions of the Bitcoin network running
simultaneously would be catastrophic. It would destroy trust in the Bitcoin
network, since users could never be sure which transactions were official.
And it would likely cause the value of bitcoins—the unit of currency --
to plunge, as people questioned whether the network had a future at all.

Uber Missed Criminal Records of Drivers, Prosecutors Assert

Monty Solomon <>
Thu, 20 Aug 2015 09:28:39 -0400
District attorneys in Los Angeles and San Francisco say drivers for the
ride-hailing service have included some convicted of murder or sex offenses.

Lightning storm security risks

Morten Welinder <>
Wed, 19 Aug 2015 20:23:39 -0400
Long Island suffered a quite spectacular electrical storm in the early hours
of 4 Aug 2015.  It came, evidently, with strong gusts of wind downing trees
left, right, and center.

Sometime during that storm one of my wireless routers reset itself.  Where I
used to have an encrypted access point, I suddenly had an unencrypted one
with admin/admin setup.  On the inside of my firewall, no less.

This was somewhat mitigated by the power company which cut power in order to
start clearing out the mess.  And also somewhat by the cable company whose
nearby cables were ripped out of the ground by a large tree's roots.

Why would anyone make a router fall back to fully open wireless?

Recent Wikipedia items in RISKS

Denis Bloodnok <>
Thu, 20 Aug 2015 18:39:42 +0100
Full disclosure: I'm a Wikipedia editor, and also a friendly acquaintance of
Abigail Brady, one of the authors of the Cracked article.

There's no doubt that Wikipedia is a bit of a sausage factory. A lot of the
time, you don't want to know what goes on under the surface; and in
particular the Chelsea Manning debacle was the process at its worse. I'm
quite surprised Abi did not mention the little detail at the end of this

Which is also why this item is pseudonymous - if I tell you that someone who
quite openly works for Chelsea Manning's jailers does so and so might have a
bit of a conflict of interest, that'll get me permabanned.

However, I'm quite amused that we've been told both that:

"it's an anonymous gang bang where the opinions of idiots are valued,
and authority and experience are ignored."   and
"anybody can declare themselves to be an anonymous expert about anything"

The way it's actually meant to work (which, of course, it doesn't always) is
that Wikipedia doesn't believe you're an expert just because you say you
are.  If you are a published expert, you can point to useful cites from your
own work - but avoid citing yourself directly, because Wikipedia also
doesn't believe you are right about the great controversy in your field just
because you say you are.

The reality is that most editors spend most of their time on damage control,
and there's not enough of that to go around. (As regards Ken Knowlton's link
that should have been edited out whether or not he was alive; it could be
expunged from history as well, but if the subject thinks it's amusing there
seems little point).

There's a fundamental difficulty with the "like Wikipedia, but peer-reviewed
and better" model - otherwise an attractive one; it's been tried
( is one) and no-one used it.

The risks (to get back to the topic)? The road to hell is paved with good
intentions; everyone in this mess meant well, and look where it got us, in a
trap where the project is driving away the very editors who could stop
things getting worse.

The Covert World of People Trying to Edit Wikipedia--for Pay

Lauren Weinstein <>
Sun, 16 Aug 2015 19:39:21 -0700

  Can the site's dwindling ranks of volunteer editors protect its articles
  from the influence of money?

The beginning of the end for Wikipedia. And it's about time, as its
quality has continued sinking into the muck.

Socially controversial science topics on Wikipedia draw edit wars

Lauren Weinstein <>
Tue, 18 Aug 2015 12:58:33 -0700

  The accuracy of what you see depends on whether people are happy about a
  topic ... Likens might be expected to be satisfied with seeing his
  findings become widely accepted and eventually serve as the basis for
  national policy. But any satisfaction he felt almost certainly took a hit
  because he made a terrible mistake: he tried to make sure the Wikipedia
  entry on acid rain was accurate. In a new paper, Likens says "we noticed
  that some corrections we or others made on the acid rain article had been
  changed by major edits to introduce (or re-introduce) balderdash and
  factual errors into the content."

Why the "Right To Be Forgotten" is the Worst Kind of Censorship

Lauren Weinstein <>
Fri, 14 Aug 2015 13:33:46 -0700
        Why the "Right To Be Forgotten" is the Worst Kind of Censorship
                             Lauren's Blog

  [This item in its entirety epitomizes several of Lauren's previous
  messages on this subject.  His full text is worth reading.  I have
  abridged this item for RISKS, perhaps to induce you to peruse the
  extensive scope of his blog items.  Here are the final paragraphs.  PGN]

[...] There is no practical way to proverbially "dip your toe" into RTBF
censorship, without ending up quickly and totally submerged and drowning.
It's like being "a little bit" pregnant, or setting a match to a piece of
flash paper.

Making it crystal clear to our legislatures and political leaders that we
will not accept these censorship regimes is absolutely crucial to our civil
liberties—in fact, even to our knowledge going forward of what civil
liberties actually are!

This will be an enormously difficult battle, because censorship is very
much the natural ally of governments and of politicians.

But if we lose this battle, this war on our basic freedoms, it's very
possible that someday—perhaps not in the very distant future at all --
even these very words you're reading right now may be impossible to ever
find again.

Data from hack of Ashley Madison cheater site purportedly dumped online (Ars Technica)

Lauren Weinstein <>
Tue, 18 Aug 2015 15:48:18 -0700

  Gigabytes worth of data taken during last month's hack of the Ashley
  Madison dating website for cheaters has purportedly been published
  online--an act that, if true, could prove highly embarrassing for the men
  and women who have used the service over the years.  A 10-gigabyte file
  purportedly containing e-mails, member profiles, credit-card transactions
  and other sensitive Ashley Madison information became available as a
  BitTorrent download in the past few hours. Ars hasn't had an opportunity
  to download the massive file to confirm its contents.

Re: Could Hackers Take Down a City? (Andrea Peterson WaPost 28.89)

"Alister Wm Macintyre \(Wow\)" <>
Thu, 20 Aug 2015 01:03:09 -0500
I vaguely remember a story from over a decade ago, where in a labor dispute,
a city workers union was accused of hacking traffic lights to city's streets
to grind almost to a halt due to the traffic jams created.  I think it was
in Washington state.

More recent stories saying yes, this could happen:

A lot of risks, to a city, are in infrastructure not controlled by a city,
such as public utilities.  Some pipeline explosions have been due to
mistakes in the control rooms of the pipeline companies.  Can they be hacked
to cause such an accident on purpose? Wasn't one of the great NE black outs
partially caused, because an electric utility control room was pre-occupied
with a virus attack, when they should have been doing their normal job? Take
out electric power, phones, and that can do a lot of disruption.  Some
people have been trying to figure out how to do this, but not by hacking.

April 4, 2013,  unknown persons chopped fiber-optic cables and killed
landlines, cell phones and Internet service for tens of thousands of people
in Santa Clara, Santa Cruz and San Benito counties. Ten fiber-optic cables
were cut at four locations.

April 16, 2013, sniper(s) took out 17 power transformers at a PG&E
substation south of San Jose, nearly causing a blackout throughout Silicon
Valley. 100 fingerprint-free shell casings were found at the scene, after 52
minutes of shooting.  It took 27 days to repair all the damage.

Re: Failing light rail safety system (Muller)

Geoff Kuenning <>
Thu, 20 Aug 2015 01:21:06 -0700
My understanding is that in US traffic light systems, there is a low-level
hardware controller that prevents lights from going green in both
directions, no matter what the software orders.  If the Nieuwegein light
rail system had similar hardware, either the tram's green light or the
bicycle's would be prohibited.

(The hardware will also shut the signal down and go into a fail-safe mode,
such as blinking red in all directions, if the software commands are
sufficiently wrong.)

Re: Supreme Court's Free-Speech Expansion ... (RISKS-28.89)

"R. G. Newbury" <>
Wed, 19 Aug 2015 20:49:35 -0400
And then there are the opposite aspects: if the government cannot now
restrict any speech on purely content-related bases, how can governmental
bodies now require you to speak in a particular content related way? Such as
baking wedding cakes for gay weddings?

Re: gmail policy on BCCs, related to Mass. pot dispensary (Levine)

Geoff Kuenning <>
Thu, 20 Aug 2015 01:22:57 -0700
John Levine writes:

> Setting up a Google email group that allows only the group owner to post
> takes about two minutes.  Why is that "not a real alternative"?

Does it really take only two minutes for a 200-person group?  In any
case, two minutes is a lot of time to have to spend if you're only going
to BCC a bunch of people once or twice.  I find myself in that situation
quite often.

Geoff Kuenning

Re: IRS Get Transcript (RISKS-28.88)

Harlan Rosenthal <>
Wed, 19 Aug 2015 21:39:34 -0500 (CDT)
I had reason to use this last year.
I was horrified at how easy it was.

Re: Intel to customers: We listen to you... All The Time!

Edwin Slonim <>
Thu, 20 Aug 2015 11:03:16 +0300
> "Intel's new processors let you wake your computer with your voice"

Don't be silly, this "feature" is nothing more than an additional facility
available in hardware to partially wake the processor from deep sleep, do
some processing and go back to sleep, quickly and efficiently.

If someone chooses to use it for continuous voice monitoring, then that is a
feature of the relevant software (eg Windows 10). It could also be used to
monitor heart activity of a sick person continuously in the background - why
not write a headline for that?

Re: Intel to customers: We listen to you... All The Time!

Dimitri Maziuk <>
Thu, 20 Aug 2015 09:42:39 -0500
Am I the only one reminded of the "format c colon return" joke from last

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