The RISKS Digest
Volume 29 Issue 27

Thursday, 18th February 2016

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…


U.S. vs. iPhone security
statement by Apple's Tim Cook
Google CEO: FBI's request of Apple could set a 'troubling precedent'
Extremely severe bug leaves dizzying number of software and devices vulnerable
Ars Technica
"Windows 10 forced update KB 3135173 changes browser and other default settings"
Woody Leonhard
VTech back stabs customers
Gov Info Sec
Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center Pays Hackers $17K Ransom
NBC News
Fatal German train crash caused by human error, prosecutor says
SKYNET is already live
Ars Technica via William Brodie-Tyrrell
Steam Gauges are Safer
Erling Kristiansen
NSA's TAO Head on Internet Offense and Defense
Bruce Schneier
Worldwide Encryption Products Survey
Bruce Schneier
Re: Asiana: Secondary Cause of Crash Was Poor Software Design
Amos Shapir
Re: Lack of reproducibility of research
C. Titus Brown
Re: Doing University exams on computers?
Gene Wirchenko
Al Mac
Info on RISKS (comp.risks)

US vs. iPhone security (statement by Apple's Tim Cook)

Werner U <>
Thu, 18 Feb 2016 14:16:02 +0100
Message to Our Customers, February 16, 2016

The United States government has demanded that Apple take an unprecedented
step which threatens the security of our customers. We oppose this order,
which has implications far beyond the legal case at hand.

This moment calls for public discussion, and we want our customers and
people around the country to understand what is at stake.

The Need for Encryption

Smartphones, led by iPhone, have become an essential part of our lives.
People use them to store an incredible amount of personal information, from
our private conversations to our photos, our music, our notes, our calendars
and contacts, our financial information and health data, even where we have
been and where we are going.

All that information needs to be protected from hackers and criminals who
want to access it, steal it, and use it without our knowledge or
permission. Customers expect Apple and other technology companies to do
everything in our power to protect their personal information, and at Apple
we are deeply committed to safeguarding their data.

Compromising the security of our personal information can ultimately put our
personal safety at risk. That is why encryption has become so important to
all of us.

For many years, we have used encryption to protect our customers' personal
data because we believe it's the only way to keep their information safe.
We have even put that data out of our own reach, because we believe the
contents of your iPhone are none of our business.  The San Bernardino Case

We were shocked and outraged by the deadly act of terrorism in San
Bernardino last December. We mourn the loss of life and want justice for all
those whose lives were affected. The FBI asked us for help in the days
following the attack, and we have worked hard to support the government's
efforts to solve this horrible crime. We have no sympathy for terrorists.

When the FBI has requested data that's in our possession, we have provided
it. Apple complies with valid subpoenas and search warrants, as we have in
the San Bernardino case. We have also made Apple engineers available to
advise the FBI, and we've offered our best ideas on a number of
investigative options at their disposal.

We have great respect for the professionals at the FBI, and we believe their
intentions are good. Up to this point, we have done everything that is both
within our power and within the law to help them. But now the U.S.
government has asked us for something we simply do not have, and something
we consider too dangerous to create. They have asked us to build a backdoor
to the iPhone.

Specifically, the FBI wants us to make a new version of the iPhone operating
system, circumventing several important security features, and install it on
an iPhone recovered during the investigation. In the wrong hands, this
software—which does not exist today—would have the potential to unlock
any iPhone in someone's physical possession.

The FBI may use different words to describe this tool, but make no mistake:
Building a version of iOS that bypasses security in this way would
undeniably create a backdoor. And while the government may argue that its
use would be limited to this case, there is no way to guarantee such

The Threat to Data Security

Some would argue that building a backdoor for just one iPhone is a simple,
clean-cut solution. But it ignores both the basics of digital security and
the significance of what the government is demanding in this case.

In today's digital world, the *key* to an encrypted system is a piece of
information that unlocks the data, and it is only as secure as the
protections around it. Once the information is known, or a way to bypass the
code is revealed, the encryption can be defeated by anyone with that

The government suggests this tool could only be used once, on one phone.
But that's simply not true. Once created, the technique could be used over
and over again, on any number of devices. In the physical world, it would be
the equivalent of a master key, capable of opening hundreds of millions of
locks—from restaurants and banks to stores and homes. No reasonable
person would find that acceptable.

The government is asking Apple to hack our own users and undermine decades
of security advancements that protect our customers—including tens of
millions of American citizens—from sophisticated hackers and
cybercriminals. The same engineers who built strong encryption into the
iPhone to protect our users would, ironically, be ordered to weaken those
protections and make our users less safe.

We can find no precedent for an American company being forced to expose its
customers to a greater risk of attack. For years, cryptologists and national
security experts have been warning against weakening encryption.  Doing so
would hurt only the well-meaning and law-abiding citizens who rely on
companies like Apple to protect their data. Criminals and bad actors will
still encrypt, using tools that are readily available to them.  A Dangerous

Rather than asking for legislative action through Congress, the FBI is
proposing an unprecedented use of the All Writs Act of 1789 to justify an
expansion of its authority.

The government would have us remove security features and add new
capabilities to the operating system, allowing a passcode to be input
electronically. This would make it easier to unlock an iPhone by *brute
force*, trying thousands or millions of combinations with the speed of a
modern computer.

The implications of the government's demands are chilling. If the government
can use the All Writs Act to make it easier to unlock your iPhone, it would
have the power to reach into anyone's device to capture their data. The
government could extend this breach of privacy and demand that Apple build
surveillance software to intercept your messages, access your health records
or financial data, track your location, or even access your phone's
microphone or camera without your knowledge.

Opposing this order is not something we take lightly. We feel we must speak
up in the face of what we see as an overreach by the U.S. government.

We are challenging the FBI's demands with the deepest respect for American
democracy and a love of our country. We believe it would be in the best
interest of everyone to step back and consider the implications.

While we believe the FBI's intentions are good, it would be wrong for the
government to force us to build a backdoor into our products. And
ultimately, we fear that this demand would undermine the very freedoms and
liberty our government is meant to protect.

Tim Cook, Apple Footer

  [Also noted by several others.  PGN]

Google CEO: FBI's request of Apple could set a 'troubling precedent'

Lauren Weinstein <>
Wed, 17 Feb 2016 17:57:11 -0800

  Tim Cook did not mince words in a lengthy open response to the FBI's order
  that Apple create a backdoor to allow the agency access to a terrorism
  suspect's iPhone. Plenty of privacy groups and Apple customers have
  praised Cook's words thus far, and now one of Apple's biggest competitors
  is showing support for the company's stance. Google CEO Sundar Pichai just
  posted a series of tweets regarding Cook's letter and it seems he firmly
  comes down on the same side as Apple's leader.

Extremely severe bug leaves dizzying number of software and devices vulnerable (Ars Technica)

Lauren Weinstein <>
Wed, 17 Feb 2016 09:16:47 -0800

  Since 2008, vulnerability has left apps and hardware open to remote
  hijacking. Researchers have discovered a potentially catastrophic flaw in
  one of the Internet's core building blocks that leaves hundreds or
  thousands of apps and hardware devices vulnerable to attacks that can take
  complete control over them.  The vulnerability was introduced in 2008 in
  GNU C Library, a collection of open source code that powers thousands of
  standalone applications and most distributions of Linux, including those
  distributed with routers and other types of hardware. A function known as
  getaddrinfo() that performs domain-name lookups contains a buffer overflow
  bug that allows attackers to remotely execute malicious code. It can be
  exploited when vulnerable devices or apps make queries to
  attacker-controlled domain names or domain name servers or when they're
  exposed to man-in-the-middle attacks where the adversary has the ability
  to monitor and manipulate data passing between a vulnerable device and the
  open Internet. All versions of glibc after 2.9 are vulnerable.

    [Also noted by Bob Gezelter.  PGN]

"Windows 10 forced update KB 3135173 changes browser and other default settings" (Woody Leonhard)

Gene Wirchenko <>
Wed, 17 Feb 2016 10:43:31 -0800
Woody Leonhard, InfoWorld, 16 Feb 2016
The cumulative update not only knocks out PCs' default settings, it prevents
users from resetting them

VTech back stabs customers (Gov Info Sec)

"Alister Wm Macintyre \(Wow\)" <>
Mon, 15 Feb 2016 17:02:00 -0600
Very few customers read the small print Terms of Service (TOS), just click
OK.  They can be clicking away a lot of consumer rights, privacy, security.

VTech revised Terms of Service:
. We make zero claims of privacy & security.
. If we get breached, tough luck for customers.
. We won't be legally accountable, because here we warn you of the risks.

  "You acknowledge and agree that any information you send or receive during
  your use of the site may not be secure and may be intercepted or later
  acquired by unauthorized parties."

The company claims that this practice is commonplace on the web.  Various
people have been searching other TOS, saying they cannot find any other
company doing the same thing.  "What makes this position even more absurd is
that VTech is now heading into home security:"

There are proposals to boycott VTech.

The boycott should extend to insurance companies refusing to take them on as
a customer, because they obviously are very high risk..

It should include Internet Service Providers, and Trade Shows, places where
companies advertise, because all those places need to protect their
customers, from such bottom feeders.

I hope some authorities, competitors, blast them hard enough about this, so
as to discourage imitators.

EU data protection mandate goes into effect in 2 years. "As of spring 2018
any organization trading in any EU member state" - that'll include you,
VTech - "that collects personal data is legally obliged to properly protect
that data,"

Last Year, VTech "allowed itself to be hacked" by using the same practices
that led to highly publicized hacks of other companies on the web.  This

. SQL injection risk the hacker originally exploited
. Unsalted MD5 password hashes
. no SSL encryption anywhere
. SQL statements returned in API calls and massively outdated web frameworks
. VTech also had multiple serious direct object reference risks
. The API that returned information on both kids and parents could be
  easily exploited just by manipulating an ID
. No authentication required

When the above was exploited, VTech claimed that "it was an extremely
sophisticated attack."

That was total BS.

Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center Pays Hackers $17K Ransom

Monty Solomon <>
Thu, 18 Feb 2016 09:34:57 -0500
Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center Pays Hackers $17K Ransom

Fatal German train crash caused by human error, prosecutor says

Monty Solomon <>
Tue, 16 Feb 2016 12:52:36 -0500

SKYNET is already live

William Brodie-Tyrrell <>
Wed, 17 Feb 2016 09:31:23 +1030
metadata + machine learning + blithe incompetence => mass murder by the state

Steam Gauges are Safer

Erling Kristiansen <>
Tue, 16 Feb 2016 16:04:35 +0100
Interesting article about cognitive aspects of aircraft automation.

Technically advanced aircraft (TAA)—those with a primary flight display
(PFD), multi-function display (MFD), and GPS—are sexy. Pilots are drawn
to them like Pooh Bear to honey. Besides being eye-catching, TAA attempt to
address some of the biggest problems in aviation by providing pilots with a
lot of supplementary safety information. Moving maps designed to improve
situational awareness make it almost impossible to get lost.  Databases
store more information at the touch of a button than a thirty pound chart
case. We can display more weather information in the cockpit than was even
available 30 years ago. Combine all that with an autopilot that provides
time to gather and interpret, and you'd think we'd be a lot safer.

We're not. Pilots of TAA kill themselves more often than steam gauge
aviators—almost twice the rate, according to the NTSB. Technology
advances address many of the leading causes of GA fatalities: loss of
control, controlled flight into terrain, fuel problems, midair collisions
and weather. So, where's that improved safety?

NSA's TAO Head on Internet Offense and Defense

Bruce Schneier <>
Sun, 14 Feb 2016 23:18:38 -0600
[Excerpted from] CRYPTO-GRAM, February 15, 2016
Bruce Schneier, CTO, Resilient Systems, Inc.

For back issues, or to subscribe, visit
This issue:

Rob Joyce, the head of the NSA's Tailored Access Operations (TAO) group --
basically the country's chief hacker—spoke in public earlier this
week. He talked both about how the NSA hacks into networks, and what network
defenders can do to protect themselves. Here are his "Intrusion Phases":
Reconnaissance, Initial Exploitation, Establish Persistence, Install Tools,
Move Laterally, Collect Exfil, and Exploit.

The talk is full of good information about how APT attacks work and how
networks can defend themselves.

I was talking with Nicholas Weaver, and he said that he found these three
points interesting:

 1. A one-way monitoring system really gives them headaches, because it
    allows the defender to go back after the fact and see what happened,
    remove malware, etc.

 2. The critical component of APT is the P: persistence. They will just keep
    trying, trying, and trying. If you have a temporary vulnerability—the
    window between a vulnerability and a patch, temporarily turning off a
    defense—they'll exploit it.

 3. Trust them when they attribute an attack (e.g.: Sony) on the
    record. Attribution is hard, but when they can attribute they know for
    sure—and they don't attribute lightly.

Nothing really surprising, but all interesting. Which brings up the most
important question: why did the NSA decide to put Joyce on stage in public?
It surely doesn't want all of its target networks to improve their security
so much that the NSA can no longer get in. On the other hand, the NSA does
want the general security of US—and presumably allied—networks to
improve. My guess is that this is simply a NOBUS issue. The NSA is, or at
least believes it is, so sophisticated in its attack techniques that these
defensive recommendations won't slow it down significantly. And the
Chinese/Russian/etc. state-sponsored attackers will have a harder time. Or,
at least, that's what the NSA wants us to believe.

Wheels within wheels....

More information about the NSA's TAO.
An article about TAO's catalog of implants and attack tools. Note that
the catalog is from 2007. Presumably TAO has been very busy developing
new attack tools over the past ten years.

Worldwide Encryption Products Survey

Bruce Schneier <>
Sun, 14 Feb 2016 23:18:38 -0600
[Excerpted from] CRYPTO-GRAM, February 15, 2016
Bruce Schneier, CTO, Resilient Systems, Inc.

This week, I released my worldwide survey of encryption products.

The findings of this survey identified 619 entities that sell encryption
products. Of those 412, or two-thirds, are outside the US-calling into
question the efficacy of any US mandates forcing backdoors for
law-enforcement access.  It also showed that anyone who wants to avoid US
surveillance has over 567 competing products to choose from. These foreign
products offer a wide variety of secure applications—voice encryption,
text message encryption, file encryption, network-traffic encryption,
anonymous currency—providing the same levels of security as US products
do today.


* There are at least 865 hardware or software products incorporating
encryption from 55 different countries. This includes 546 encryption
products from outside the US, representing two-thirds of the total.

* The most common non-US country for encryption products is Germany, with
112 products. This is followed by the United Kingdom, Canada, France, and
Sweden, in that order.

* The five most common countries for encryption products—including the US
-- account for two-thirds of the total. But smaller countries like Algeria,
Argentina, Belize, the British Virgin Islands, Chile, Cyprus, Estonia, Iraq,
Malaysia, St. Kitts and Nevis, Tanzania, and Thailand each produce at least
one encryption product.

* Of the 546 foreign encryption products we found, 56% are available for
sale and 44% are free. 66% are proprietary, and 34% are open source.  Some
for-sale products also have a free version.

* At least 587 entities—primarily companies—either sell or give away
encryption products. Of those, 374, or about two-thirds, are outside the US.

* Of the 546 foreign encryption products, 47 are file encryption products,
68 e-mail encryption products, 104 message encryption products, 35 voice
encryption products, and 61 virtual private networking products.

I know the database is incomplete, and I know there are errors. I welcome
both additions and corrections, and will be releasing a 1.1 version of this
survey in a few weeks.

The report:

The data:

Press articles:

Old blog posts on the project:

Re: Asiana: Secondary Cause of Crash Was Poor Software Design

Amos Shapir <>
Thu, 18 Feb 2016 18:44:17 +0200
Contrary to Peter Ladkin's opinion, I can see the Korean's ARAIB's point.
Any aircraft manufacturer should take into account that there are many
factors affecting human interface, some of them also cultural.  The report
acknowledges that the pilot had accidentally disconnected the auto throttle
mechanism; how did that happen?  How long would it take for tired and
inexperienced pilots to notice that their instruments are not functioning as

The answer to this question should also take into account that this might be
significantly longer if the culture the pilots come from puts a high value
on obedience to authority.

In short, human interface in a high risk environment is much more
complicated than just the design of the system.  Manufacturers should
acknowledge that not all pilots were on the top of their class at the Air
Force Academy (as many test pilots are) and plan accordingly.

Re: Lack of reproducibility of research (Thorn, RISKS-29.26)

"C. Titus Brown" <>
Tue, 16 Feb 2016 06:24:39 -0800
> For example, when staff at Amgen, a Californian drug company, attempted
> to reproduce the results of 53 high-profile cancer-research papers they
> found that only six lived up to their original claims.

This report is just hearsay - it's not clear at all what Amgen tried to do,
or how seriously they tried to reproduce, and it's certainly not peer
reviewed.  Crucial details are missing, so it's hard to say what it means.
(I personally bet that the conclusions are broadly right, but it's not a
scientific study.)

The Nosek study on psychology is a real example of testing reproducibility,
however, and is worth reading in full.

There's an increasing recognition that our approach to publishing research
is fundamentally flawed and drives reporting of irreproducible research. A
good recent discussion:

  [p.s. Autocorrect fixed *notsp* to *not sp*. Fun!]

Re: Doing University exams on computers? (Wolff, RISKS-29.26)

Gene Wirchenko <>
Tue, 16 Feb 2016 22:05:31 -0800
Rogier Wolff states: 'You can enforce rules like: "you are not allowed to go
back and correct answers. Your first answer stands".'

1) Not reviewing one's answers is a very bad habit that could have nasty
   Real World consequences.

For example, in the computing field, we have a process of checking, and, as
needed, correcting answers.  The programmers can not simply release the
software; it has to get through QA.

2) When I was attending university, I reviewed my test answers usually
   multiple times.  Had I not been able to, I would have lost many marks.

An exam is stressful enough without insisting that the first answer is the
only answer allowed.

Re: Doing University exams on computers (Risks 29.25+26) notsp

"Alister Wm Macintyre \(Wow\)" <>
Mon, 15 Feb 2016 18:47:12 -0600
<> talks about expense of having rooms of dedicated computers,
wired to not talk to the outside, plus staff to manage the exams.

Staff is needed no matter how the exams are presented.  But tests on paper
can be scanned into a computer format, for automated scoring.  Be careful to
include personnel qualified in the hard & soft ware needed, to avoid the
kind of errors recently reported with science research data.

There are places for disaster recovery.  A computer system can go down due
to natural disaster, fire, etc. and have a contract with another place,
where backups will be restored, any CPU serial # licensing arranged in
advance to use the disaster recovery site, and the corporate computing
interruption is minimal.  Those disaster recovery sites sit idle most of the
time, and would love to accept the work of exams, voting machine usage,
other applications, between disasters.

I have been to IBM school, more often at a University, or enterprise
marketing software on IBM computers, than doing the education at an IBM
office.  These places have multiple classrooms, with computer terminals for
every student, connected to their network, which controls what the students
have access to, and whether or not there is any outside access.  I imagine
IBM competitors have similar educational facilities, which also could be
used for other purposes.

If you have more students, needing to take exams, than computer terminals at
one such facility, then do not require all students to take the exam at same
time.  The second session can have different questions than the first
session, to undermine any advantages to the second session by info gained
from those in the first session.

Rogier Wolff wrote about risks of a better student, with counterfeit student
id, taking exam for lesser student, to get them a good store, then the
practice helping the better student do even better, when being tested under
their own identity.

Security can be improved by cloning the Indiana State Police system.  When
they stop an Indiana motorist, and ask for our driver license, they compare
the picture on the license with the actual driver face, who handed them the
license, then take the license to patrol car, where bar code on back of
license connects them to DMV photo, taken when the license was issued.  How
can that data info stream be spoofed?  I think the crooks, in the false id
biz, would need to hack the DMV, mess with the bar code in addition to the
picture.  Perhaps arrange some local jamming from trunk of car, so state
police connection to DMV is "down" during this traffic stop.

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