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 4 Issue 11

Friday, 14 November 1986

Contents

o Computers don't kill people, people kill people
Howard Israel
o Open microphone in the sky
Bob Parnass
o Computerized Voting in Texas
Jerry Leichter
o Problems with HNN
Alan Wexelblat
o Post-hacker-era computer crime
Talk by Sandy Sherizen
o Re: They almost got me! [A motor-vehicle database saga]
Doug Hardie
o Re: information replacing knowledge
G.L. Sicherman
o Info on RISKS (comp.risks)

Computers don't kill people, people kill people

Howard Israel <HIsrael@DOCKMASTER.ARPA>
Tue, 11 Nov 86 11:45 EST
"Child Dies of Grill's Fumes In House Without Utilities"

 Employee Error Kept Power Turned Off
(Washington Post, Sunday, November 9, 1986, pg A46)

(AP) NEW BRITIAN, Conn., Nov.  8--A mistake by a utility employe deprived a
house of power and a 7-year-old girl suffocated from the fumes of a charcoal
grill being used to heat the residence, state investigators said.  The
Department of Public Utility Control said the family of Lucita Morales had
requested and been granted "hardship status", which is intended to guarantee
service to needy customers.  Gas and electric service should have been
turned on Nov.  1, the report said, but a Northeast Utilities computer
operator recorded the order incorrectly, punching a "no print" button
instead of a "print".  As a result, service was not restored until Nov 3.,
the day after the girl was found asphyxiated in an upstairs bedroom.  Police
said a habachi that the girl's mother, Paula Craig, was using to cook and
heat the room generated carbon monoxide.

  Electric service to the home in Bristol had been shut off Sept. 30, and
gas was discontinued Oct. 7. Utility Spokeswoman Jane Strachan said no
action would be taken against the employe, whom she declined to identify.  A
department spokeswoman, Toni Blood, said the incident would be reviewed to
determine whether the system for tracking the hardship cases needs
improving, but no action was pending against the utility.

  Avila Craig, Lucita's grandmother and the owner of the two-story house,
said she did not blame Northeast for the girl's death.  "It's sad so many
people get caught up in the bureaucracy," she said.  "It's about time people
in Bristol wake up and realize people are hungry."  "I don't feel
victimized," she added.  "My daughter was just caught up in what is
happening in America ....  She represents all the girls that have babies and
no income."


Open microphone in the sky

<ihnp4!ihuxz!parnass@ucbvax.Berkeley.EDU>
Thu, 13 Nov 86 09:29:38 PST
NBC News reported last night [Nov. 12], and CBS News reported today, that a
Braniff passenger jet nearly collided with a United passenger jet over
Tennessee.  An air traffic controller in Atlanta witnessed the situation on
his radar screen, attempted to warn the pilots, but was thwarted because the
frequency was blocked by an "open microphone".

Bob Parnass,  Bell Telephone Laboratories - ihnp4!ihuxz!parnass - (312)979-5414


Computerized voting in Texas - from 4-Nov-86 New York Times

<LEICHTER-JERRY@YALE.ARPA>
14 NOV 1986 12:44:15 EST
                     [Remailed after delay due to Yale network-table problems.]

            Computer Fraud Fought in Texas 
        Official Orders More Security for All Counties
              That Tally Ballots Electronically

                 By Robert Reinhold

Houston, Nov. 3 -- The Secretary of State of Texas has ordered "additional
security" procedures in Tuesday's election to prevent fraud in the 40 or so
counties that use computerized vote counting and reporting.

Under the directive issued by the Secretary, Myra A. McDaniel, the computer-
generated printed log of the vote tabulation must record all operator commands
and the "inputs," and the log may not be turned off at any time.

The Attorney General of Texas, Jim Mattox, is investigating charges of vote
fraud arising from last year's mayoral election in Dallas.  No findings have
yet been issued in the inquiry, for which the state has hired Arthur Anderson
& Company, the accounting and consulting concern.

According to Karen Gladney, Director of Elections in the Secretary of State's
office, no significant changes in local vote-counting procedures are expected
because of the directive.  "Basically what we've done is ask counties if
they do not already have them in place, to make sure these procedures are in
place," she said, adding that state inspectors will be dispatched, as usual,
to a number of counties throughout the state.  She said that while the
Secretary was aware of the Dallas inquiry, the order was not issued as a
direct result of it.

In Dallas, Bruce Sherbet, elections coordinator for Dallas County, said the
county already practiced "99 percent" of the precautions.  But he said there
would be a few changes at local precincts, where additional signatures from
election judges and clerks would be required to validate computer tapes
holding vote counts.  In Houston, where, unlike Dallas, ballots are tallied
at a central station, officials said there would be no difference.  "There
is nothing in the directive that we don't do all the time," said Anita
Rodeheaver, a voting official in Harris County.

In Texas counties using electronic tally systems, people vote either by
punching holes in a card that is read by a machine or by marking boxes that
are read by optical scanning.

Among the other security procedures ordered, computer terminals outside the
central counting station are to be permitted only to make inquiries, and the
county clerk or election administrator must produce at least three cumulative
reports in the course of tabulation and prepare a report on the number of
ballots cast in each precinct.  As a final measure, the Secretary of State
said she had the authority to order a manual count of the original paper
ballots to verify the accuracy of electronic counts.


Problems with HNN

Alan Wexelblat <wex@mcc.com>
Thu, 13 Nov 86 09:34:23 CST
Last night, at around 6:40PM CST, the Headline News Network (HNN) signal
was disrupted for about 10 minutes.  The picture that replaced it was too
distorted to see but the audio was fairly clear.  It was an advertisement
for satellite-signal de-scramblers.

Does anyone have any info on why/how this happened?  Did someone deliberately
spoof the HNN signal?  Or was it just an accidental foulup?

Alan Wexelblat
UUCP: {seismo, harvard, gatech, pyramid, &c.}!ut-sally!im4u!milano!wex


Post-hacker-era computer crime

<Mandel@BCO-MULTICS.ARPA>
Thu, 13 Nov 86 09:09 EST
           Predicting Future Trends in Computer Crime:
                    The Post-Hacker Era
                      Dr. Sandy Sherizen
              President, Data Security Systems, Inc.
       Wednesday, November 19, 1986, 7:30 PM at MIT (see below)

 Abstract: This talk is based on a paper that examines computer
 crime patterns and suggests the factors which will lead to
 increasingly sophisticated computer crimes and criminals in the
 future.  There are several recent aspects of computer crime which
 indicate that computer crime has turned a corner, dramatically
 changing from earlier and possibly less serious versions.  As we
 enter what can be called the post-hacker era of computer crime,
 we need a social road map which will guide us in preparing
 information security measures and computer crime laws.  The
 information in the paper/talk is from a series that Sherizen is
 preparing on criminological models of computer crime.

 Dr. Sherizen, a criminologist, consults with corporations, banks,
 and governments on computer crime prevention.  He specializes in
 information security, providing executives with a translation of
 complex technical requirements into managerially relevant
 policies and controls.  Author of "How to Protect Your Computer"
 and numerous articles, he has written reports for the U.S.
 Congress' office of Technology Assessment and conducted seminars
 around the U.S. and Asia.

 (Sponsored by Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility)

 CPSR/Boston meets on the third Wednesday of each month, at 545 Technology
 Square, in the lounge on the 8th floor.  545 Tech Square is located at
 the corner of Main and Vassar Streets in Cambridge, near the Kendall
 Square stop on the red line.  Meetings are free and open to the public,
 and free parking is available.

 For more information, contact CPSR/Boston at P.O. Box 962, Cambridge, MA,
 02142, or call (617) 666-2777.


They almost got me! [A motor-vehicle database saga] (Mark Hittinger)

"Maj. Doug Hardie" <Hardie@DOCKMASTER.ARPA>
Wed, 12 Nov 86 09:50 EST
     I had a similar situation in college many years ago.  However, the
associated risks were much different.  The school had a honors program in
humanities that replaced al the undergraduate general requirements with one
two-year course.  Competition to get in the program was stiff.  As I remember
the requirements, you had to have all A's in English etc., plus outstanding
scores on the entrance exams.  Only 1 percent or so of each new class was
selected for this program.  It was a real honor and a big deal was made at our
hign school graduation for those who were accepted.  I graduated from
highschool with 2 D's in English and never expected to be considered for this
program.  However, the day after graduation, I received an invitation which I
accepted immediately.  It was a great program.  However, 4 or so years later,
I was running the school's computer center.  The admissions people asked me to
rewrite their program which selected new students for the humanities program.
Since they paid real money, I took the job.  The original program was written
in machine language, not assembler language.  It had one instruction per card
in numeric form.  That was a common approach in the school.  Since the program
was unintelligible, they provided the old algorithm and the new.  It took a
few hours to get the new program working.  Basically, each student had a card
which contained the necessary information.  All that had to be done was to
compare the various values on the card with the criteria and select only those
that met the criteria.  The admissions people provided a deck that had been
run earlier so it was simple to test the new program by running it and
comparing the outputs.  After doing that, we found the new program selected
one less person than the old.  After extensive analysis, we discovered that
the extra should never have been selected in the first place.  That caused
some consternation in the school as it meant that someone who was not
qualified had taken a valuable slot in the program.  So the immediate question
was how many times could this have occurred?  The analysis indicated that
there was only one possible way to be selected improperly and it required a
specific set of values for some 20 different items (including 2 D's in
English).  That set off a bell, and I went back to my hysterical records and
found my copy of my card from years earlier.  There were at least two who made
it through that filter.

-- Doug


Re: information replacing knowledge

"Col. G. L. Sicherman" <colonel%buffalo.csnet@RELAY.CS.NET>
Wed, 12 Nov 86 14:16:08 EST
I sympathize with Daniel G. Rabe's argument about communication:

>                                                  As I see it, one
> of the greatest risks of widespread computing is that we'll all stop
> learning.  We've got spelling checkers, so why bother learning to
> spell?  We've got calculators and home computers, so why bother learning
> any math?  We've got electronic mail and conferencing, so why bother
> to learn or practice the art of public speaking?

But I doubt that the millions of otherwise intelligent people who cannot
spell right will agree with this characterization of learning!  Indeed,
all his examples belong to specific media of communication.

"Standard" spelling did not exist in Shakespeare's day; words were spelled
out ad hoc.  The pressure to spell each word in just one way came from
printing, when people discovered that they could read faster than they
could listen.  Standard spelling is invaluable for the efficiency of
reading print.

The flip side is that standard spelling is _not_ invaluable for electronic
communication, because efficiency no longer matters--it's a measure left
over from the machine age.  Efficient absorption is important only in one-
way, bulk media like print.  Electronic communication is interactive.

Similar arguments about the nature of mathematics turn up now and then
in journals like _Mathematics Magazine._ Modern mathematics is designed
for the page; its methods don't allow for a Ramanujan.  As for public
speaking, print killed it long ago!  Listen to any political debate and
you'll know what I mean.  Oratory is just a toy these days.

All technological progress alters us. "Why learn to walk great
distances when we have trains?  Why learn beautiful handwriting when we
have typewriters?  Why learn to use tinder and flint when we have
matches?" And of course the ancient "Why learn to remember everything
we hear when we have paper, ink, and alphabet?" Just remember:

    1. You don't have to go along with it.  Dijkstra is said
       to write his books with pen and ink.
                                                             [Knuth too!]

    2. If you don't like how progress alters people, you can
       associate with resisters like yourself--if you can find
       them.  For example, people who believe that the prevalence
       of clothing weakens the body's natural defenses tend to
       congregate.

    3. Let others choose for themselves; don't moralize about it.
       I for one intend to go on using spelling checkers, e-mail,
       and clothes.

                        [I rejected a bunch of other messages on this
                         topic, as we begin to get into second-order points
                         and some repetition.  Thanks, anyway.  PGN]

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