The RISKS Digest
Volume 32 Issue 57

Tuesday, 23rd March 2021

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…


Cybersecurity in retrospect: not good!
PGN on NYTimes item
A New York Lawmaker Wants to Ban Police Use of Armed Robots
Eastern Health blames software after thousands allowed to book early vaccine appointments
How far should humans go to help species adapt?
Atlas Obscura
No good evidence that 5G harms humans, new studies find
Where Are Those Shoes You Ordered? Check the Ocean Floor
Hackers are exploiting a server vulnerability with a severity of 9.8 out of 10
Ars Technica
What Happens When Our Faces Are Tracked Everywhere We Go? Face Is Not Your Own
Risk transfer and Doordash
Rob Slade
‘Expert’ Hackers Used 11 Zerodays to Infect Windows, iOS, Android Users
Dan Goodin
New publication launch: Zero Day
Kim Zetter
Faster fusion reactor calculations thanks to machine learning
Re: Victoria University of Wellington accidentally wipes all desktop computers
John Harper
Richard Thieme—Mobius: A Memoir
reviewed by PGN
Info on RISKS (comp.risks)

Cybersecurity in retrospect: not good! (PGN on NYTimes item)

Peter Neumann <>
Sat, 20 Mar 2021 14:18:59 PDT

David E. Sanger, Julian E. Barnes and Nicole Perlroth White House Rethinks Cybersecurity After Failure to Detect Hackings: Looking to private companies to cope with domestic surveillance restraints The New York Times, 15 Mar 2021

The sophisticated hacks pulled off by Russia and China against a broad array of government and industrial targets in the U.S.—and the failure of the intelligence agencies to detect them—are driving the Biden administration and Congress to rethink how the nation should protect itself from growing cyberthreats.

Both hacks exploited the same gaping vulnerability in the existing system: They were launched from inside the United States—on servers run by Amazon, GoDaddy and smaller domestic providers—putting them out of reach of the early warning system run by the National Security Agency. The agency, like the CIA and other American intelligence agencies, is prohibited by law from conducting surveillance inside the United States, to protect the privacy of American citizens. […] In the end, the hacks were detected long after they had begun not by any government agency but by private computer security firms.

The full extent of the damage to American interests from the hacks is not yet clear, but the latest, attributed by Microsoft to China, is now revealing a second vulnerability. As Microsoft releases new patches to close the holes in its system, that code is being reverse-engineered by criminal groups and exploited to launch rapid ransomware attacks on corporations, industry executives said. So a race on between Microsoft's efforts to seal up systems, and criminal efforts to get inside those networks before the patches are applied. […] The failures have prompted the White House to begin assessing options for overhauling the nation's cyber-defenses even as the government investigates the hacks. Some former officials believe the hacks show Congress needs to give the government additional powers.

It was FireEye that ultimately found the SolarWinds attack organized by Russia, and a small Virginia firm named Volexity that revealed to Microsoft the fact that Chinese hackers found four previously unknown vulnerabilities in their systems, exposing hundreds of thousands of computer servers that use Microsoft Exchange software.

Previous items: <> <>

A New York Lawmaker Wants to Ban Police Use of Armed Robots (WiReD)

Gabe Goldberg <>
Mon, 22 Mar 2021 18:29:23 -0400

Officers' use of Boston Robotics Digidog intensifies concerns about militarization of the police.

New York City council member Ben Kallos says he watched in horror last month when city police responded to a hostage situation in the Bronx using Boston Dynamics Digidog, a remotely operated robotic dog equipped with surveillance cameras. Pictures of the Digidog went viral on Twitter, in part due to their uncanny resemblance with world-ending machines in the Netflix sci-fi series Black Mirror. …

In the Bronx incident last month, police used the Digidog to gather intelligence on the house where two men were holding two others hostage, scoping out hiding places and tight corners. Police ultimately apprehended the suspects, but privacy advocates raised concerns about the technical capabilities of the robot and policies governing its use.

The ACLU questioned why the Digidog was not listed on the police department's disclosure of surveillance devices under a city law passed last year. The robot was only mentioned in passing in a section on situational awareness cameras. The ACLU called that disclosure “highly inadequate” — criticizing the “weak data protection and training sections” regarding Digidog.

In a statement, the NYPD said it has been using robots since the 1970s to save lives in hostage situations and hazmat incidents. This model of robot is being tested to evaluate its capabilities against other models training sections, r´┐Żregarding use by our Emergency Service Unit a Bomb Squad.

In a statement, Boston Dynamics CEO Robert Playter said the company's terms of service prohibit attaching weapons to its robots. “All of our buyers, without exception, must agree that Spot will not be used as a weapon or configured to hold a weapon. As an industry, we think robots will achieve long-term commercial viability only if people see robots as helpful, beneficial tools without worrying if they're going to cause harm.”

The risk? Overreacting. Prospectively reacting. Horror over surveillance? Shock over robots—in use for decades—evolving?

Eastern Health blames software after thousands allowed to book early vaccine appointments (CBC.CA)

Matthew Kruk <>
Tue, 23 Mar 2021 10:39:25 -0600

A problem with Eastern Health's COVID-19 vaccination appointment booking system has allowed about 2,800 people to schedule appointments ahead of schedule, according to the health authority.

At a media conference Tuesday afternoon, Eastern Health president and CEO David Diamond said people were able to prematurely book appointments due to the scheduling software's design, allowing those who had access to the booking website to share their codes with others.

“The system has allowed people to register somewhat outside of our regular process . book themselves, schedule themselves for vaccine appointments,” Diamond said.

How far should humans go to help species adapt? (Atlas Obscura)

Gabe Goldberg <>
Tue, 23 Mar 2021 16:23:11 -0400

The idea of using gene editing to preserve natural systems seems, from a certain perspective, crazy. What could be less natural than a creature created in a lab? And the perils of releasing gene-edited organisms — particularly those equipped with gene drive—are clearly enormous.

No good evidence that 5G harms humans, new studies find (Gizmodo)

geoff goodfellow <>
Sat, 20 Mar 2021 09:39:48 -1000

Concerns over the potential harms of 5G technology are overblown, according to two large new reviews of research recently published by scientists in Australia. Both found no clear evidence that the type of radio-frequency energy used by 5G mobile networks poses any danger to human health.

5G is the next generation of wireless communication. It enables faster speeds and lower latency than LTE, and while we're already seeing that in action on 5G phones, it'll take years before 5G's potential to transform industries like autonomous cars becomes a reality. <>

That delayed promise hasn't stopped some people from warning that 5G will only accelerate the harms purportedly caused by our existing use of wireless technology. The evidence for any health risks from our cell phones today isn't particularly strong, but it's still something scientists are keeping an eye on. In particular, there have been many studies in the lab and on animals trying to figure how varying levels of radio-frequency energy could possibly affect the body, including the sort of energy that would be emitted by 5G networks. <> <> <>

The two new papers are the work of researchers from the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) and the Swinburne University of Technology in Australia. Both were published this week in the Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology and are billed as the first reviews to focus on 5G specifically. […] <> <>

Where Are Those Shoes You Ordered? Check the Ocean Floor (WiReD)

geoff goodfellow <>
Sat, 20 Mar 2021 09:27:36 -1000

More containers have fallen off ships in the past four months than are typically lost in a year. Blame heavy traffic and rolling waves.

Since the end of November, this is some of what has sunk to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean: vacuum cleaners; Kate Spade accessories; at least $150,000 of frozen shrimp; and three shipping containers full of children's clothes. “If anybody has investments in deep-sea salvage, there's some beautiful product down there,” Richard Westenberger, chief financial officer of the children's clothing brand Carter's told a conference recently.

You can blame the weather, a surge in US imports tied to the pandemic, or a phenomenon known as parametric rolling.

All told, at least 2,980 containers have fallen off cargo ships in the Pacific since November, in at least six separate incidents. That's more than twice the number of containers lost annually between 2008 and 2019, according to the World Shipping Council. <>

Shipping companies tend to blame the weather. The Maersk Essen, which lost 750 containers while sailing from China to Los Angeles in mid-January, “experienced heavy seas during her North Pacific crossing,” Maersk said in a press statement. (The company didn't respond to WIRED's questions.) The Maersk Eindhoven experienced heavy weather in mid-February that contributed to a shipwide blackout in the middle of a storm; it lost 260 containers. The ONE Apus, bound for the port of Long Beach from southern China, lost more than 1,800 containers during what the company called ‘gale-force winds and large swells’ in November. That's expected to prove one of the costliest losses ever.

The tough weather has been exacerbated by rising traffic to the US. US container imports grew 30 percent in December, compared with the same month a year earlier, according to IHS Markit <>. “It's a boom in import cargo beyond anything we've seen before,” says Lars Jensen, the CEO of SeaIntelligence Consulting, which advises clients in the container shipping industry.

That's led to a shortage of containers, particularly empty containers stuck in North America when they're needed in Asia. So it's possible that shippers have pressed older, well-used containers into service, which are more likely to have defective or corroded lashing or locking mechanisms, says Ian Woods, a marine cargo lawyer and a partner with the firm Clyde & Co. Then you've got tired crews, stretched by the extra work so they're not able to pack and secure the containers as well as they would if well rested. […]

Hackers are exploiting a server vulnerability with a severity of 9.8 out of 10 (Ars Technica)

Monty Solomon <>
Sun, 21 Mar 2021 10:05:35 -0400

As if the mass-exploitation of Exchange servers wasn't enough, now there's BIG-I

What Happens When Our Faces Are Tracked Everywhere We Go? Face Is Not Your Own (NYTimes)

Monty Solomon <>
Sun, 21 Mar 2021 22:02:24 -0400

When a secretive start-up scraped the Internet to build a facial-recognition tool, it tested a legal and ethical limit ” and blew the future of privacy in America wide open.

Risk transfer and Doordash

Rob Slade <>
Sat, 20 Mar 2021 12:30:03 -0800

In terms of risk management, there are our four basic strategies: risk avoidance, risk acceptance, risk mitigation, and risk transfer.

Risk avoidance is fairly simple: if the game isn't worth the candle, don't do it. If the risk, in terms of both factors of impact and probability, is any greater than the potential benefit, then we simply don't get involved in that activity or situation. Or, more often, if the reward we aren't going to get from this isn't much greater than the risk, then we don't pursue the risk.

Risk acceptance is more complicated. Risk acceptance should be the calculated decision that the gain is much more than the potential loss, and so we will accept the risk. However, most often risk acceptance is simply the fact that we want to do something, and we blindly accept the risk without knowing what that risk actually is. The decision to drive drunk is based on a) the fact the we want to drink, and b) the fact that, by the time closing time comes, we are far too drunk to do any kind of risk calculation at all. The decision to go to a party during a pandemic has everything to do with the fact that we are bored, and nothing to do with the probability of encountering someone who might be infected (currently likely around 50%), and the risk that, if infected, we might die (generally about 2%).

(Psychology, social dynamics, and social engineering come in at this point. Study after study shows that “successful,” in terms of non-inherited money or running large corporations, people are much less risk averse and much more risk accepting than the general public. This holds true even if the risk is demonstrably unlikely to come out in their favour. This is unlikely to say anything about optimal risk strategies, since human beings have been tuned, by millions of years of evolution, natural selection, and avoiding sabre-toothed tigers in the savannah, to a certain range of risk acceptance and risk avoidance. It is much more probable that is says something about the artificiality of modern, primarily capitalist, societies. [The sample size is rather small, since we are not talking just about the one percent, but the vanishingly small proportion who manage to move into one percent from outside of it.] It also says something ironic and contraindicating about CEOs of large corporations, since startups are much more risk accepting, having little or nothing to risk, while large corporations, having infrastructure, capital, and branding goodwill to risk, are generally much more risk averse. And, again in terms of general risk acceptance, note that, while we remember and celebrate all the startups that go on to become large corporations, most startups, and many, many more than succeed, fail within the first year.)

Risk mitigation is the bulk of what we think about when we think about risk management. Mitigation is all the assessment, analysis, safeguards, controls, countermeasures, metrics, that we spend most of our time discussing, writing about, and teaching. So I won't go into that here.

Risk transfer is a way to shift our risk onto somebody else. Most of the time, when we come to risk transfer, the only thing we can think of is insurance. Go ahead. Do a quick search on risk transfer on the ISC2 “community.” Of the five items that come up, two obviously are about insurance, one actually is about insurance, and the remaining two just mention risk transfer without actually talking about it.

However, the CoVID pandemic has provided us with a new example of risk transfer: food delivery. We are afraid to go out—it's dangerous out there. So we pay other people to go out there for us, and bring us food (and other necessities). We thus transfer the risk to them. As noted, it's not just meal deliveries: we now have a much greater use of grocery deliveries, and online shopping of all kinds. We are staying home, in a dangerous time to go out, and getting other people to go out and take those risks for us.

Although I'm grateful for the example of risk transfer (and I'm only sorry I thought about this too late to get it into the book), I'm not a big fan of food delivery, in general. It's a big part of the “gig economy,” and the gig economy is a massive “race to the bottom” in terms of wages and working standards. (The gig economy is also, at least partly, being used by corporations to outsource both costs and risks, which is, again, ironic in view of the fact that the pandemic has also demonstrated the inherent brittleness of the business practice of endlessly trimming any and all margins in the name of “efficiency.”) Capitalism in general is currently driving growing inequities, and the gig economy may be pushing for the development of a massive underclass as there was in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (and possibly leading to violence, revolution, and war, as it did then). In terms of the pandemic risk, we are seeing case clusters and outbreaks in fulfillment centres such as Amazon, but the delivery workers, of all types, are becoming the largest and most unregarded class of essential workers. Unfortunately, the risk of illness to them is hard to probably years from now.

‘Expert’ Hackers Used 11 Zero-days to Infect Windows, iOS, Android Users (Dan Goodin)

ACM TechNews <>
Mon, 22 Mar 2021 11:49:18 -0400 (EDT)

Dan Goodin, Ars Technica, 18 Mar 2021, via ACM TechNews 22 Mar 2021

Google's Project Zero security researchers warned that a team of hackers used no fewer than 11 zero-day vulnerabilities over nine months, exploiting compromised websites to infect patched devices running the Windows, iOS, and Android operating systems. The group leveraged four zero-days in February 2020, and their ability to link multiple zero-days to expose the patched devices prompted Project Zero and Threat Analysis Group analysts to deem the attackers “highly sophisticated.” Project Zero's Maddie Stone said over the ensuing eight months the hackers exploited seven more previously unknown iOS zero-days via watering-hole attacks. Blogged Stone, “Overall each of the exploits themselves showed an expert understanding of exploit development and the vulnerability being exploited.”

New publication launch: Zero Day (Kim Zetter)

Peter Neumann <>
Sat, 20 Mar 2021 10:14:26 -0700

Kim Zetter has launched a substack publication yesterday called Zero Day, which is focused on spies, hackers, and the intersection between cybersecurity and national security.

Here's the first story:

Faster fusion reactor calculations thanks to machine learning (

Richard Stein <>
Tue, 23 Mar 2021 10:33:12 +0800

“The ultimate goal of research on fusion reactors is to achieve a net power gain in an economically viable manner. To reach this goal, large intricate devices have been constructed, but as these devices become more complex, it becomes increasingly important to adopt a predict-first approach regarding its operation. This reduces operational inefficiencies and protects the device from severe damage.”

“To simulate such a system requires models that can capture all the relevant phenomena in a fusion device, are accurate enough such that predictions can be used to make reliable design decisions and are fast enough to quickly find workable solutions.”

The plasma physics models and simulations become progressively tuned as computational infrastructure enables. The computations typically scale like O(N^3), possibly O(N^4) given time-dependent solutions.

Applying machine learning to assist convergence, to extrapolate and accelerate solution discovery, enables confirmation bias. (

At tens of millions of degrees Kelvin, this predisposition must be correct to prevent a plasma diverter meltdown. Fermi solutions—order of magnitude calculations—may provide quicker guidance.

Re: Victoria University of Wellington accidentally wipes all desktop computers (RISKS-32.56)

John Harper <>
Sun, 21 Mar 2021 18:08:14 +1300 (NZDT)

The university didn't wipe all desktop computers, only the ones using Microsoft. My desktop machine was one of the Linux ones and was not affected. I'm very grateful to the people who look after our Linux systems.

A year or two ago I told our Maths, Stats and Computing people that when I was writing my own PhD thesis on paper in a different university in the pre-LaTeX and pre-Xerox-machine era, I made a carbon copy and took it home every night, leaving the original in my office, in a building that had been rebuilt after a fire a few years earlier. Daily backups are easier to do now but are still useful when there is a fire, burglary, serious computer problem, …

Victoria Univ. of Wellington, PO Box 600, Wellington 6140, New Zealand.

Richard Thieme—Mobius: A Memoir

Peter G Neumann <>
Mon, 22 Mar 2021 10:11:00 PDT

Richard Thieme's Mobius: A Memoir is written on at least three levels of rhetoric (as was Moby Dick, according to Wikipedia): It is a very enjoyable read as an instructive spy-like novel for lay readers; it is also a wise book for techies, and a thoughtful challenge to Intelligence-aware insiders as to what is really is going on—often invisibly. Recognizing that a mobius strip is a one-dimensional surface on which we unavoidably keep coming back to where we started, Mobius is actually a metaphor for the entire novel: while doubling back on itself, this book encourages us to incrementally reflect on where we have been, where we might be headed, and when we might need to move off the treadmill. Intriguingly, the author of the novel might be referred to as Mobius Dick (Richard), who in turn declares that the memoir is attributed to Mobius Nick (Cerk). I really loved the book, but then I am both a reader for enjoyment and also a lurking insider.

Please report problems with the web pages to the maintainer