"BT is blamed for HM's displeasure" (Computing, August 14th 1986) by Angus McCrone (c) Computing British Telecom (BT) is being blamed for a network fault which caused nuclear attack sirens in Edinburgh to blare into action last month. The sirens disturbed thousands of people at 7.30 in the morning. The incident coincided with a visit by the Queen and Margaret Thatcher to watch the Commonwealth Games. A spokeswoman at the Home Office, which has the responsibility for civil defence in the UK, said that BT was checking a carrier control unit in Edinburgh. This is believed to have malfunctioned causing the alarm to go off. The carrier control unit, one of about 250 around the country, has the job of connecting the Ministry of Defence's air operations computer centre and local police stations which activate the alarm. The Home Office has ruled out computer error as a reason for the mistake, and seems convinced that human error or sabotage were not involved either. This is despite the fact that no similar mistakes have been recorded in the past 12 years, and that the incident happened at the height of a controversial visit to Scotland by the Prime Minister. A BT official confirmed that a report on the alarm had been sent to the Home Office, but would not say whether his company accepted responsibility for the mistake. In time of war the Home Office consults with the MoD before ordering police stations to switch on the alarms, which warn citizens to expect air or nuclear attack. The incident in Edinburgh last month caused little panic because most people switched on their radios to check there was no real emergency.
"Minor bug starts mass beer panic" (Datalink, August 11th 1986) by Dave Holmes (c) Datalink A holidaying programmer sparked off a bizarre series of events last week culminating in a rumour that Tetley's, Yorkshire's most famous brewery, had stopped production. Workmates had realised that they needed the advice of the programmer, Richard Chubb, to sort out a problem with the control system he was developing for Tetley. Police were asked to help track him down on holiday in Scotland, but a telex from Strathclyde police to seven Scottish police divisions apparently suggested that the brewery had stopped production because of a computer breakdown. News of this got back to Yorkshire and last weekend Tetley was deluged with calls from worried publicans afraid that supplies of Yorkshire's finest were about to dry up. David Gaskill, of the engineering company Turkington which was installing the control system explained what had happened: "There was a communications glitch between two systems we are installing at Tetley, and the program is not fully documented yet. To go through the code was going to take ages, but Richard could have sorted it out in 20 minutes," he said.
The interesting question that it raises is that of what has happened to the information on the data-base. Has it been destroyed, or has it been incorporated into the Police computer records? Lindsay [The implication of the article was that indeed the records had been confiscated. With a shredder in the office, it could have been what was on the diskettes -- but more than likely there were simply printouts lying around. PGN]
Last night I watched "The China Syndrome" on TV. For those of you not familiar with this moderately-trashy movie, it's about the threat of a meltdown at a nuclear power plant. It seems that when the plant was built, the X-ray testing of the welds was faked, so a bad weld went unnoticed (causing a pump to fail, etc). [That was taken from some real cases... PGN] Anyway, at one point, the hero exclaims, "but our quality control is second only to NASA's!" Shows you the RISKS of making comparisons, doesn't it? Do nuclear plants have O-rings? [No, but they do have lots of reports of equipment failures and human errors that don't seem to get wide public view. PGN]
The following is an abridged version of an article from issue 3.3 of VM-COM, an e-magazine published distributed in BITNET. It has been edited with permission, by Sterling Bjorndahl (BJORNDAS@CLARGRAD). Life in the Fast Lane: Column #2 Chris Condon BITLIB@YALEVM There are hackers in BITNET. You aren't surprised, I'm sure. Now, not all hackers are slavering, demented, animals waiting to break into, crash, and destroy systems, illegally using their resources, plundering userids that are not their own, and making a general mess out of everything. Only some are. There exists in this network a group of hackers who broke into a userid at Fermilab via BITNET. They used the RELAY conference machine system to keep in contact. Administration types at Cornell University, hearing of this, came to this conclusion: "The Cornell Relay has been shut down forever due to the misuse of BITNET by some hackers in West Germany who discussed their trade on the Relay. It is Cornell's desire to not be associated with the Relay system in the future..." The reaction by these people might seem a bit extreme, but it could be even worse. There are some people in BITNET who would like to see students completely banned from the network, or chatting banned from the network, or both. These are people to be reckoned with. They are in positions of power to do such things at their own nodes, given enough reason. For Cornell, the hackers breaking into Fermilab turned out to be an excellent excuse. It need not be anything so extreme. Our actions are a reflection on the students in BITNET. It has been said (not enough) that BITNET usage is a privilege. It brings with it a great responsibility. Everything we do may have far reaching effects without our knowing it. The hackers that broke into Fermilab were not from Cornell, had no intention of getting that Relay shut down, and they probably did not consider that it would happen. I posted a notice on this subject for the Usage Guidelines Group via LISTSERV@BITNIC. These are some of the responses (names withheld): A. "The problem, as I see it, stems from a lack of moral and ethical standards in the computer world, as well as the natural inquisitiveness of young people specifically and computer type people generally." [I disagree that "computer types" have any worse ethical standards than the bulk of this society. They just have a lot of power. - S.B.] B. "I don't know what, if any, audit trail is left from interactive traffic on the net. If there isn't any, I think there ought to be and installations with security concerns about chatting should monitor the traffic for suspicious activity." C. "A totally restrictive policy, one that makes absolute and unbending restrictions, especially to undergraduate students, will have two effects. 1: Those persons who are borderline on being responsible or abusive with the system may just go the wrong way, partly out of challenged to their perception of a "cold-hearted" system. 2: Students will lack (unless they break in and get away with it which is what we try to prevent) a practical education of how real life computers are implemented. I know these things to be true from first hand experience, because I used to be such a hacker. I did get away with it and I did learn enough to go right into an upper level systems programming job right out of school... The school I attended had a very closed policy. They were, however, not effective in implementing that policy, and so some of us got into the system." D. "My suggestion is that a policy be established to deal [constructively] with "curious students" who show promise. Just how you do this has to depend on your resources." Like it or not, someone is looking over your shoulder. Maybe you won't get caught when you do something irresponsible via BITNET, but somebody will pay the consequences. Somebody out there is looking for an excuse to shut you, or some other student, out of BITNET... The actions of some students have simply led him to believe that shutting students out is a good thing. It will take your example to convince him otherwise.
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