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 30 Issue 05

Monday 26 December 2016


BART new extension two years behind
Uber Booboo SNAFU, not FUBAR?
Who's Liable for George Hotz's Self-Driving Software?
Gabe Goldberg
Security risk on in-flight entertainment systems
BBC via Duncan Gibson
Recounts or no, U.S. elections still vulnerable to rigging, disruption
For Fact-Checking Website Snopes, a Bigger Role Brings More Attacks
David Streitfeld
Fake News Story Sets Off Israel-Pakistan Twitter Feud
German government wants to fight “fake news”
Thomas Koenig
‘Special’ Powers Corrupt Especially!!
Werner U
U.S. NSA insider may be behind Russian FSB leak?
BankInfoSecurity via Al Mac
Biz Cams into Madison MS
Al Mac
Patch Linux
Ars Technica via zdnet
Android phones by Lenovo and others may be running spyware
Michael Simon
Facebook banned a social justice activist for commenting on racism
Online profile pictures leave lasting impressions, researchers say
Before Trump's Presidency, US Privacy Board in Disarray
MSFT $927M tech support contract
geek wire
Re: US feds cyberattack US states
Steve Lamont
Re: Audi Cars Now Talk To Stop Lights In Vegas
Chris Drewe
Re: Project Wycheproof—Crypto Check Libraries
Craig Burton
“Walking Wounded: Inside the U.S. Cyberwar Machine”
Michael VanPutte
Info on RISKS (comp.risks)

BART new extension two years behind

"Peter G. Neumann" <>
Thu, 22 Dec 2016 11:48:12 PST
BART has been extending one of its East-Bay lines south by 5.4 miles to a
new station in South Fremont, originally supposed to open in 2014 (after
work began in 2009).  Completion is now expect to be deferred until 2017,
due to construction problems and computer problems.  The difficulties in the
past two months involve upgrading the 44-year-old automated train control
computer system and integrating it with up-to-date gadgetry on the new
extension.  At the moment, trains on the new stretch of track show up with
incorrect reports of locations and speeds.  (This is the first leg in
extending BART to downtown Santa Clara and San Jose.)  [PGN-ed from an
article in the *San Francisco Chronicle*, 22 Dec 2016]

Uber Booboo SNAFU, not FUBAR?

"Peter G. Neumann" <>
Thu, 22 Dec 2016 11:36:37 PST
Uber has been testing its self-driving cars in San Francisco, and running
into problems with the state and city having not obtained the proper
permits.  The *San Francisco Chronicle* on 21 Dec 2016 reported that the
cars have made illegal and unsafe right turns through bike lanes, as
witnessed by the head of the SF Bicycle Coalition.  One car also reportedly
ran a red light.

The following day 22 Dec 2016, the *Chronicle* reported that the California
DMV revoked the registrations for the self-driving Uber Volvo XC90s, because
they had been improperly issued—they were not properly identified as
"test vehicles".  Uber had been protesting that the cars were not truly
"autonomous" because they still had a human operator, and was refusing to
report accidents—as required for autonomous vehicles.

Who's Liable for George Hotz's Self-Driving Software?

Gabe Goldberg <>
Wed, 21 Dec 2016 20:48:07 -0500
You could download's new open-source Python code
<> from Github, grab the necessary
hardware, and follow the company's instructions to add semi-autonomous
capabilities to specific Acura and Honda model cars (with more vehicles to
follow).'s CEO George Hotz told /IEEE Spectrum /last week
that's code has safety features
<>, but what would
happen if there's a bug and your car crashes into a building, another car,
or a pedestrian? Self-driving-cars are notoriously difficult
to test for safety.

Hotz writes in an email, “It's not my code, I did not release it.'' -” Inc. “released and maintains it.''  Most legal experts that spoke
with *IEEE Spectrum* -” and Hotz himself -” believe that if you use the
company's code and something goes wrong, then it isn't liable for
damages.  You are.

But Consumer Watchdog <> advocate John
Simpson doesn't believe this is fair. He says Hotz “was somewhat
responsible'' for any damage that could occur.  Although responsibility gets
*murkier* as more developers modify the code, he says Hotz made it public,
and should therefore be held liable as well as the user.

Liability is an interesting issue; so is software bugs and patches. I
haven't yet installed iOS 10.2 on iPhone/iPad because of discussions of
problems with batteries, etc.  It'll be fun evaluating when to install
Honda.accord.coupe.6cyl next release, trading off bug and security fixes
against warnings that the new release, say, disables the radio and swaps
left/right turn signals.  Or bricks the car.  (Can a car be "bricked"?  It
seems too big for that so maybe cars will be "cinderblocked" or

Gabriel Goldberg, Computers and Publishing, Inc.
3401 Silver Maple Place, Falls Church, VA 22042           (703) 204-0433

BBC: Security risk on in-flight entertainment systems say researchers

Duncan Gibson <>
Wed, 21 Dec 2016 09:46:42 +0100
"Air passengers could be subjected to a series of "shocking" incidents if
security flaws in cabin entertainment systems were abused, say researchers.

Security experts found flaws that let them take over cabin entertainment

I seem to remember this was predicted on RISKS...

  [Predicted?  No.  It was claimed, and is plausible in that the
  infotainment system and the avionics share the local network (with some
  sort of presumed firewall—perhaps software that is not very secure,
  like almost all other software.  See Chris Roberts and Avionics Security
  (Schneier, RISKS-28.69).  PGN]

Recounts or no, U.S. elections still vulnerable to rigging, disruption (Rubinkam/Bajak)

"Peter G. Neumann" <>
Mon, 26 Dec 2016 11:44:16 PST
Michael Rubinkam and Frank Bajak, AP, 26 Dec 2016

  Most Pennsylvania voters used antiquated machines that store votes
  electronically, without printed ballots or other paper-based
  backups. There was basically nothing to recount.

See also a much longer and detailed item, quoting various RISKS contributors:

For Fact-Checking Website Snopes, a Bigger Role Brings More Attacks (David Streitfeld)

Lauren Weinstein <>
Mon, 26 Dec 2016 08:25:17 -0800
David Streitfeld, *The New York Times* via NNSquad
Internet wrath turned against Snopes after it joined a coalition of websites
that will work with Facebook to identify and flag suspicious content.

  One way to chart Snopes's increasing prominence is by measuring the rise
  in fake news about the site itself.  If you believe the Internet, the
  founder of Snopes, David Mikkelson, has a longer rap sheet than Al
  Capone.  He was supposedly arrested for committing fraud and corruption and
  running a pit bull ring.  In the wake of a deal that Snopes and others made
  this month to start fact-checking for Facebook, new slurs and allegations
  poured forth.  The underlying message of these spurious attacks is that
  the movement to fact-check the Internet is a left-wing conspiracy whose
  real goal is to censor the right, and therefore must be resisted at all

Fake News Story Sets Off Israel-Pakistan Twitter Feud (AP)

"Dave Farber" <>
Sun, 25 Dec 2016 13:24:48 -0500
AP item via *The New York Times*, 25 Dec 2016

A fake news story has touched off a tense Twitter confrontation between
nuclear power Pakistan and Israel, widely believed to have a nuclear arsenal
of its own, in an episode that underlines the potentially harmful impact of
such stories in sensitive global affairs

German government wants to fight "fake news"

Thomas Koenig <>
Mon, 26 Dec 2016 15:48:24 +0100
The German government wants to set up a "center of defense against
disinformation" to combat fake news on the Internet.  It will be part of the
Chancellor's Office.  According to one proposal, Facebook would be obliged
to delete fake news or face a 500 000 Euro fine per article.

The risks?  Looking back, a prime candidate for "fake news" would be
the past would have ben the New Year's Eve sexual assaults in Cologne.
The official police reports said it didn't happen, so it must have been
fake news, correct?

Of course, there is a legal precedent in Germany for banning fake news.  The
Decree of the President of the Reich for the protection of the German
people, dated February the 4th, 1933, contained the passage (my translation)

§9 (1) Periodicals can be banned [...]
    7. If they contain obvious fake news, whose dissemination is likely to
       endanger vital interest of the State

'Special' Powers Corrupt Especially!!

Werner U <>
Mon, 26 Dec 2016 03:35:18 +0100
Never Doubted It:  Access to 'Special' Powers over Information sources...
... *do* get abused, sooner rather than later !

*Revealed: British councils used Ripa to secretly spy on public*

Anushka Asthana, *The Guardian*, 25 Dec 2016

Local authorities used Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act to follow
people, including dog walkers, over five years.  Councils were given
permission to carry out more than 55,000 days of covert surveillance over
five years, including spying on people walking dogs, feeding pigeons and

A mass freedom of information request has found 186 local authorities --
two-thirds of the 283 that responded—used the government's Regulation of
Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa) to gather evidence via secret listening
devices, cameras and private detectives.

Among the detailed examples provided were Midlothian council using the
powers to monitor dog barking and Allerdale borough council gathering
evidence about who was guilty of feeding pigeons.

Wolverhampton used covert surveillance to check on the sale of dangerous
toys and car clocking; Slough to aid an investigation into an illegal puppy
farm; and Westminster to crack down on the selling of fireworks to children.

Meanwhile, Lancaster city council used the act, in 2012, for *targeted dog
fouling enforcement* in two hotspots over 11 days.

A spokeswoman pointed out that the law had since changed and Ripa could only
now be used if criminal activity was suspected. The permissions for tens of
thousands of days were revealed in a huge freedom of information exercise,
carried out by the Liberal Democrats. It found that councils then launched
2,800 separate surveillance operations lasting up to 90 days each.

Critics of the spying legislation say the government said it would only be
used when absolutely necessary to protect British people from extreme

Brian Paddick, the Lib Dem peer who represents the party on home affairs,
said: “It is absurd that local authorities are using measures primarily
intended for combating terrorism for issues as trivial as a dog barking or
the sale of theatre tickets.  Spying on the public should be a last resort
not an everyday tool.''

...lots/most snipped—repetitive retelling of how pathetic, little
bureaucrats abuse power....

[It's tempting to guess that it was a "slow news day".]
  [At least they are giving you the straight poop, albeit doggedly.  PGN]

U.S. NSA insider may be behind Russian FSB leak?

"Alister Wm Macintyre \(Wow\)" <>
Sat, 24 Dec 2016 23:12:46 -0600

Biz Cams into Madison MS

"Alister Wm Macintyre \(Wow\)" <>
Sat, 24 Dec 2016 21:21:23 -0600
City of Madison, Mississippi, Passes Ordinance Mandating CCTV Surveillance
By Businesses, Including Doctors And Lawyers Offices

{Does this include cameras inside toilet facilities of hotels & motels,
which have 25 or more 'guests'?

Or are the cameras required to show only the people who come and go, not all
details of their visitations?

In USA & some other nations, there is constitutional guarantee of
confidentiality between

* Doctor & Patient;
* Lawyer & Client;
* Priest & alleged Sinner.

Will placement of cameras mean some of this can be violated via lip reading?

It does not apply to businesses whose parking areas are smaller than 25
cars, or inside are less than 2,000 feet.

Does this also apply to government offices, like police station, court
house, schools, wherever city council meets?

Can all the businesses of the city participate in a discount, since many of
them will need to buy cameras all at same time?

Learning about the city of Madison MS:,_Mississippi

Patch Linux (Ars Technica via zdnet)

"Alister Wm Macintyre" <>
Wed, 21 Dec 2016 21:26:03 -0600
  This was from Ars Technica, 22 Nov 2016:
  Elegant 0-day unicorn underscores "serious concerns" about Linux security
  Scriptless exploit bypasses state-of-the-art protections baked into the OS.

  This is from ZDnet, 9 Dec 2016:
  Three serious Linux kernel security holes patched
  It's time to patch your Linux servers and PCs again.

The good news is developers are looking very closely at Linux's core code
for possible security holes. The bad news is they're finding them..  At
least the best news is that they're fixing them as soon as they're

Android phones by Lenovo and others may be running spyware (Michael Simon)

Gene Wirchenko <>
Thu, 22 Dec 2016 08:50:13 -0800
Michael Simon, Greenbot, 20 Dec 2016

The security hole that previously affected Blu R1 HD phones has been linked
to more than 40 other manufacturers.

When security firm Kryptowire discovered last month that Chinese firmware
company Adups was spying on text messages, call logs, contact lists, and
location information sent by Blu R1 HD phones in the United States, Blu
quickly acted to plug the security hole and assure customers that their
personal data was safe. But now it appears that the issue might be more

Security research outfit Trustlook has uncovered numerous other
manufacturers that may have devices containing Adups apps. While many of
them are smaller China-based manufacturers, a few notable brands made the
list, including Archos, ZTE and Lenovo. Trustlook's findings echo those of
Kryptowire, in that the pre-installed apps are working behind the scenes to
mine your data:

"The app comes preinstalled on the device. It collects many types of user
information. In addition to specifications such as IMEI, IMSI, MAC address,
version number, and operator, this app attempts to collect user's SMS text
messages and call logs. More troubling is that all of these procedures are
done without user's consent and are processed in the background."

Facebook banned a social justice activist for commenting on racism

Lauren Weinstein <>
Thu, 22 Dec 2016 10:59:08 -0800
via NNSquad

  Ultimately, the issue seems to be that a bunch McGorry's followers
  disagreed with Mac's post and then reported it to Facebook. Given that
  Mac's post doesn't seem to violate any of Facebook's community standards,
  what might have happened was that there was such a high volume of people
  reporting the post that Facebook just automatically took it down and then
  banned her.  "Do I think Facebook is like, we hate Leslie Mac? No," Mac
  said. "But what their systems allow is people to attack people of color
  with no recourse and to take those people's opinions as fact. That's where
  the deliberacy is existing.

There was absolutely nothing wrong with that post.  This is why
"crowdsourcing" abuse flagging is so complicated and itself subject to abuse
unless there is adequate ongoing oversight.

Online profile pictures leave lasting impressions, researchers say

Lauren Weinstein <>
Wed, 21 Dec 2016 11:02:07 -0800
via NNSquad

  The researchers at Cornell wanted to find out how our initial impressions
  of someone, based only on seeing a photo of them, carry over if and when
  we meet that person one-on-one.

Before Trump's Presidency, US Privacy Board in Disarray

Lauren Weinstein <>
Wed, 21 Dec 2016 17:48:37 -0800
ABC News via NNSquad

  A federal board responsible for protecting Americans against abuses by spy
  agencies is in disarray just weeks before President-elect Donald Trump
  takes office.

We must protect our own privacy by all technological and other means
at our disposal.  Trusting the government—ANY GOVERNMENT—to do so
is the act of fools.

MSFT $927M tech support contract (geek wire)

"Alister Wm Macintyre \(Wow\)" <>
Wed, 21 Dec 2016 14:26:13 -0600
Bill Gates, one of our world's richest billionaires, gets another billion of
taxpayer money to provide tech support for 4 million employees of DoD (US
Dept of Defense).

Re: US feds cyberattack US states (RISKS-30.03)

Steve Lamont
Wed, 21 Dec 2016 10:06:31 -0800
If one reads the stories, the so-called “cyberattacks” appear to be nothing
more than ‘nmap’ scans:

  Kemp also told Diamant that DHS has yet to explain at least nine other
  suspected network scans linked to DHS IP addresses over the last year on
  or around important primary and presidential election dates. Kemp's call
  for answers is amplified now by the National Association of Secretaries of
  State, or NASS.

And here might be the source of the brouhaha:

  Georgia has been pushing back for months against DHS deliberations over
  whether to classify electoral infrastructure as "critical infrastructure,"
  on par with the financial sector or power grid. Critics say the move
  represents federal government overreach, while proponents insist it would
  help states better fend off election hackers. [...]

  Georgia was one of the few states that did not accept a DHS offer to scan
  state systems for digital bugs amid this year's election-season hacking
  fears, warning that the action represented a potential federal intrusion.

And sourcing Sean Hannity?  Um, okay.

Re: Audi Cars Now Talk To Stop Lights In Vegas (RISKS-30.04)

Chris Drewe <>
Wed, 21 Dec 2016 22:13:36 +0000
Last Christmas I had a rental car with this, though it had automatic
transmission—car was a SEAT Leon (European VW brand) with turbo-Diesel
engine and one of those twin-clutch gearboxes rather than conventional
torque converter.  Seemed to work fine for me; what I found was that if I
braked firmly and came to a full halt, such as at a stop light, the engine
shut off, then started instantly when I put my foot back on the gas pedal to
move off, whereas if I braked gently and slowed to a standstill, the engine
kept running.  Presumably the software only shut the engine off in
favourable conditions, i.e., engine fully warmed, well-charged battery, no
big electrical loads switched on, etc.

Big problem with some rental cars is figuring how to work the radio (or
'infotainment centre' nowadays)—if I have trouble when sitting in the
parking lot with the instruction manual in front of me, how the heck do I
manage while barreling down the highway..?  :o) Also I'm not sure about
touch-screen displays and controls in cars, which I can find a challenge in
static conditions such as ATMs and train ticket machines.

Re: Project Wycheproof—Crypto Check Libraries (Google) (RISKS-30.04)

Craig Burton <>
Wed, 21 Dec 2016 16:41:28 +1100
Mount Wycheproof is "the smallest mountain in the world", at 141 feet.  I
have driven up it.  Took 15 seconds at a meandering pace.

The name 'Wycheproof' originates from the local Aboriginal language,
'wichi-poorp', meaning 'grass on a hill'.

The Wycheproof area is known to have its own unique mineral, known as

Hopefully Google isn't making a mountain out of a molehill!

“Walking Wounded: Inside the U.S. Cyberwar Machine” (Michael VanPutte)

"Peter G. Neumann" <>
Sun, 25 Dec 2016 20:43:56 PST
Here is a book I really want to read, written by someone who has been a
long-time insider.  The book has apparently endured long delays involving
internal pre-publication reviews (and even a congressional investigation on
why the government wouldn't release the manuscript), but is now published.
I believe it will be of considerable interest to RISKS readers.

  Michael VanPutte
  Walking Wounded: Inside the U.S. Cyberwar Machine

  Forget everything you know about crime, war, and espionage in cyberspace.
  Walking Wounded takes the layman to seasoned professional on an insider's
  journey through the secret history, technologies, and strategies
  surrounding war and espionage in cyberspace.  Walking Wounded is not
  another hacking book.  It takes the reader behind the scenes and recounts
  the story of the Pentagon's love affair with technology, and how this
  reliance makes them vulnerable to hackers.  It explains how foreign
  intelligence services, criminals, and amateur hackers have compromised our
  sensitive systems for three decades, while our government hackers are
  running rampant through foreign information systems.  And it explains how
  our national policies have made us all less secure.  Walking Wounded gives
  the reader the tools to get beyond the hype, mythologies, and marketing
  and understand what President Obama called, “The most serious threat to
  out national security.''

    [This book may seem like putty in your hands, but it may also help mold
    the minds of some new readers who might be less risks-aware than our
    long-time readers.  I know some of you will be in you 32nd calendar year
    of reading RISKS next week; I appreciate your steadfastness!  PGN]

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