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 47

Monday, 16 February 1987

Contents

o The fielding is mutuel!
PGN
o Another worm story
Dave Platt
o Re: The student's extra $25,000
Ronald J Wanttaja
o Problems with the B-1B Bomber
Bill McGarry
o Super-Smart Cards Are Here.
Leo Schwab
o Iranamok Computer-Databased
Craig Milo Rogers
o Re: electronic steering
Tom Adams
Amos Shapir
o Re: Nova: Why Planes Crash
Alan M. Marcum
o Re: Library computerization
Will Martin
o Second British Telecom Fraud
Lindsay F. Marshall
o Info on RISKS (comp.risks)

The fielding is mutuel!

Peter G. Neumann <Neumann@CSL.SRI.COM>
Mon 16 Feb 87 10:48:53-PST
On Tuesday, 10 Feb 87, Golden Gate Fields opened its 41st season racing
season with a $3 million upgrade -- including its computer systems.
Unfortunately, the first day was a disaster.

Due to starkly degraded computer capacity, only 80 of the 130 betting
windows could be opened, despite adequate personnel for manning all windows.
And those 80 were operating at a snail's pace.  Bettors waiting in line for
20 minutes never got their bets in.

The new Z Alpha Display next to the totalisator board was showing ridiculous
probable payoffs.  Actual payoffs could not be displayed and had to be
announced.

The Pick Six had to be cancelled altogether.  It, a new Pick Nine, and a daily
triple all used computer-readable marked cards, but the equipment was not
up to the task.

The GGF president Kjell Qvale said the reason for the breakdown was that the
new equipment had been standing idly for too long and wasn't tested
properly.  Actually, mutuel machines are linked in groups of 8, and when one
goes all 8 go.  Something like 6 grids of 8 all collapsed.  The resulting
degradation in performance was intolerable.  

this is another example of the difficulty of testing a system adequately
without the presence of LIVE operating conditions... although it sounds as
if they had plenty of time to do less-than-live testing...

                    [Derived from the SF Chron green pages, 11 Feb 87.]


Another worm story

Dave Platt <dplatt@teknowledge-vaxc.arpa>
Fri, 13 Feb 87 14:42:36 PST
There's a very interesting letter in the 1/87 issue of Byte magazine
(page 408).  Seems that the writer purchased a "speed-up BIOS chip for
PC compatibles made by Softpatch Inc.", and installed it in his
Televideo 1603 computer.  Because the 1603 isn't strictly a PC-clone,
he had to change two bytes in the video parameters (to suit the
characteristics of the 14-inch monochrome monitor), and had to change
one other byte to to make the BIOS checksum come out to zero.  He
decided to use the manufacturer's-logo byte for this latter change.
Woe was he!  The new BIOS contains a logo check, buried in the
clock-tick interrupt routine, which is activated several hours after
bootup.  If the logo doesn't match, a glaring "PLEASE POWER OFF OR YOUR
DISK WILL BE TRASHED!" message appears on the monitor, and if any key
is typed (or is being held down when the message appears) the disk is
"totally wiped out".

The writer reports that the documentation which comes with the BIOS
chip makes no mention of the worm.  He apparently spoke with the author
of the BIOS, who told him that his choice of the logo-byte for checksum
fudging was "unfortunate", and that he (the BIOS's author) had wiped
out his own hard-disk twice while testing the worm.

Sounds to me as if Softpatch Inc. may be in a VERY dubious legal
position with this worm, under the legal doctrine of "strict
liability"...  especially if the worm is accidentally activated on
someone's computer due to a "wild branch" into the BIOS, as the writer
suggests might happen.


Re: The student's extra $25,000

Ronald J Wanttaja <hplabs!cae780!tektronix.TEK.COM!uw-beaver!ssc-vax!wanttaja@ucbvax.Berkeley.EDU>
Fri, 13 Feb 87 09:56:57 pst
At a recent aviation safety conference, Jack Eggspuler told a story similar
to that of the student with the extra $25,000 credited to his account
[Steve Thompson, RISKS-4.46]:

He had banked for years at a small-town bank.  One day, a large banking
conglomerate bought up the small bank.  After this, Jack noticed that his
deposits weren't being listed.

He went into the bank to talk to them.  It turned out that his account
number, which had been assigned to him when the bank was independent, was
identical to Borden Industries' account number with the conglomerate.  Yup,
his penny-ante deposits were going into Borden's account.

He thought it was straightened out.  A week or so later he went in to
cash a check, and asked for his balance.  It was:  $9,238,345.35.  Ulp!  He
thought of a new Piper, but settled for a copy of the printout.  He's got
it hanging on his wall...

GIBU:  Garbage in, Bucks out?
                     Ron Wanttaja (ssc-vax!wanttaja)


Problems with the B-1B Bomber

Bill McGarry <decvax!bunker!wtm@ucbvax.Berkeley.EDU>
Wed, 11 Feb 87 0:15:16 EST
In the January 19th, 1987 issue of Newsweek, there is an article on
the problems with the B-1B bomber project (page 20) .  Three key systems
are reported as being "faulty" with two of those attributed to software
problems:

 * Terrain-following radar:  "Software glitches have prevented pilot training
   but Air Force engineers say the flaws will be corrected  within weeks."

 * Flight-control software: "..is especially critical during delicate
   in-flight refueling operations.  Faulty software programs make such
   operations difficult."

The third key system, electronic countermeasures systems (stealth), is
reported as "jamming their own signals instead of the enemy's" but it was
not mentioned whether software played any role in the problem.

                Bill McGarry, Bunker Ramo, Shelton, CT
                                PATH: {philabs, decvax, ittatc}!bunker!wtm


Super-Smart Cards Are Here.

Leo 'Bols Ewhac' Schwab <well!ewhac@lll-lcc.ARPA>
Wed, 11 Feb 87 23:30:58 pst
    I just saw an article in the San Francisco Chronicle describing a
new little goodie which inventors have called the Super-Smart card.  It is a
credit-card-sized unit with lots of memory in it, and it also appears to
have a 12-key keypad on the back.

    What I found interesting about this article is that its inventors
don't know what to do with it (solution looking for a problem), and are
soliciting potential applications, such as encoding medical information.

    Do we really need this?  Think about it.  Supposedly "foolproof"
systems have been defeated before (VideoCypher, British Telecom, countless
computer systems, etc.).  Why should this be any different?

    This is not just a card with an indentification number specially
encoded, this is a full computer system in a credit card.  It's got memory,
I/O, an external interface (I would surmise that this would be the case so
external readers can be plugged in), etc.  Imagine: All your personal
information encoded on a credit card.

    What if it's stolen?  Thieves are getting more and more ingenious,
and a particularly smart one could easily upload all the information out of
the card.  What if an even more ingenius person encoded fabricated
information on the card?

    Suppose you're in an auto accident.  The card is damaged.  How will
emergency personnel read the vital medical information?

    The list could go on.  I agree that it's a neat gadget, and wouldn't
mind having all kinds of information available in my wallet, but do we
REALLY need something like this?  Not necessarily because of the RISKS
involved, but just as a new piece of technology to worry about.

    "Damn, the batteries are dead.  And I can't buy new batteries
without the card.  And I can't use the card because the batteries are
dead..."  :-)

Leo L. Schwab               ihnp4!ptsfa!well!ewhac
                    well ---\
                                dual ----> !unicom!ewhac
                                hplabs -/       ("AE-wack")


Iranamok Computer-Databased

Craig Milo Rogers <Rogers@venera.isi.edu>
Thu, 12 Feb 87 09:21:32 PST
From the Los Angeles Times, Wed 11 Feb 1987, front page:

    IRAN INQUIRY REPORTED FOCUSING ON NEW DATA

    ... Computer Records Revealed

    ... FBI agents reviewed National Security Council computer
        records ...

    The records, part of a massive electronic filing system
    disclosed to investigators by the White House this winter,
    contains copies of private messages sent between National
    Security Council offices to the White House's internal IBM
    computer network, called PROFS.  ...

    The computer messages under scrutiny by the FBI - which
    range from routine memos and obscene jokes to eyes-only
    accounts of intelligence operations - were composed and
    sent by most NSC employees in the belief that they were
    not being recorded elsewhere.

    In fact, however, their contents were stored on magnetically
    treated "hard" computer discs and retained for at least one
    to two months before being erased, White House spokesman
    Dan Howard said Tuesday.

    "We were living under a delusion.  We thought when we
    deleted them from our own files, that they dissapeared,"
    the rueful Administration official said.  "In fact, they
    were just going into storage."  ...

    The rest of the article contains more details on who was using
the system and what they were saying.
                    Craig Milo Rogers


Re: Electronic steering (RISKS-4.46)

<ulysses!gamma!pyuxww!sw1e!uusgta@ucbvax.Berkeley.EDU>
Tue, 10 Feb 87 22:05:01 est
Lear Jets have no mechanical connection between rudder pedals (steering wheel)
and nose wheel.  I would also assume a microprocessor is involved.
While I have seen these jet's steering fail (intermittently) due to
water leakage I have never heard of an accident attributed to this.
This lack of steering linkage means the nose wheel swivels freely without 
power (*very* helpful to linesmen). It is probably useful to note that main
wheels are independently brakeable though.

#           ---Tom Adams---
# {bellcore,ihnp4}!sw1e!uusgta  St. Louis MO    314-235-4237
# Opinions expressed here are mine, not those of Southwestern Bell Telephone


Re: Electronic steering

Amos Shapir <decwrl!nsc!nsta!instable.ether!amos@ucbvax.Berkeley.EDU>
Wed, 11 Feb 87 08:49:10 -0200
In RISKS-4.46 Steve McLafferty writes:

>The killer (pun intended) is the electronic four-wheel steering.  There is
>no mechanical connection whatsoever between the steering wheel and the
>steering gearboxes!

I really hope that scheme never makes it to production! Last time I heard,
power steering and brakes are designed in such a way that even when all power
is lost, the driver can still control the car and stop manually.

    Amos Shapir
National Semiconductor (Israel)
6 Maskit st. P.O.B. 3007, Herzlia 46104, Israel
(011-972) 52-522261  amos%nsta@nsc.com 34.48'E 32.10'N


Re: Nova: Why Planes Crash (RISKS-4.46)

Alan M. Marcum <marcum%nescorna@Sun.COM>
10 Feb 87 17:30:51 GMT
In RISKS DIGEST 4.46, Werner Uhrig wrote:
  >I just saw [Nova: Why Planes Crash].... One...interesting [item] was...
  >that the [autopilot] may... have been a... factor in several incidents....
  >Examples included...a Chinese airliner...[where] one engine [failed]...

I've read the NTSB report on this incident (and I saw the television
program).  It appears to have been much more a case of pilot error
(failing to follow standard procedures -- namely "disengage the autopilot
upon engine failure") than of "computer failure."

  >...the crash...near Miami, where the crew was occupied trying to analyze a
  >[lack of gear-down indication], flying the plane on auto-pilot, unaware
  >that...it did not hold [2000']....

Again, this was much more a disregard of primary duties: no one bothered to
fly the airplane.  Three supposedly qualified pilots all diverted nearly
their entire attention from their primary jobs at the same time, for several
minutes!

Now, do these (and others) indicate an over reliance on technology?  Is THAT
the risk we're seeing in aviation today?  Or is it lack of sufficient
training in systems that are growing more and more complex?  During primary
training and initial instrument training, a good curriculum will include
tremendous information about the systems of the aircraft.  A frequent
criticism of recent airline training is that it is becoming more
procedures-based ("if this happens, do this"), rather than systems-based
("this is how it all works, and plays together").

As a counterpoint (i.e. that in many cases it IS an error on the part of
the pilots -- often an error which adherence to procedures, even as taught
in procedures-based training, could have avoided), during the China Air
incident, the entire cockpit crew, including the backup crew, experienced
severe spatial disorientation.  Everyone there misinterpreted the attitude
indicators (one of the primary non-visual flight instruments, used in
essentially every instrument-capable airplane, from trainers like Cessna
172s, to 767s and L1011s), which showed, very clearly, and correctly, what
was happening to the 747 as it began its uncontrolled (though NOT
uncontrollable!) roll.  Both the captain and the first officer believed
that both of their attitude indicators (attitude indicators in that 747,
and in most planes, are gyroscopic instruments) had tumbled at the same
time!  As soon as the plane broke out below the clouds, the captain was
able to recover from the unusual attitude -- using VISUAL flight skills.

How much of the China Air incident could be blamed on computers?  On
technology?  On training?  Where are the REAL risks?

Alan M. Marcum              Sun Microsystems, Technical Consulting
marcum@nescorna.Sun.COM         Mountain View, California


Re: Library computerization

Will Martin -- AMXAL-RI <wmartin@ALMSA-1.ARPA>
Wed, 11 Feb 87 9:34:08 CST
The St. Louis Public library has also recently eliminated its physical card
catalog and gone to a computerized system for cataloging and for book
loaning and tracking. It is based on bar-code scanning, and I've noticed
a rise in incorrect book-overdue notices and the like; one specific 
example that happened to me was that I had checked out and returned a
book which had water damage distorting the bar-code label. Some weeks
after returning it I got an overdue notice, so I went to the library,
found the book on the shelf, and took it and the notice to circulation
to remonstrate with them. They seemed to be used to reports of errors
by that time, so I suppose this was relatively common. My guess for the
reason for that error was that the bar-code-reader returned an incorrect
reading when they processed the return.

This was during their transition period, though, and things seem better
now. However, the catalog is now on microfilm or -fiche, which is harder
to use than the paper card catalog, plus it is only updated periodically.
(With the paper cards, they could always insert new cards at any time --
whether they actually DID this, or waited until they had a batch to put
in, or did it on a weekly or other time-based schedule, I do not know.)

I find the COM microfilm catalog to be particularly difficult to use,
as the film is in manually-driven reader units, and there is no
indication to the user just where in the reel the viewer is pointing.
(That is, they have the author/title and subject catalogs both on
the same reel, and I can never remember which is first, and they do not
tell you. So you turn on the reader and see you are looking at "M" in
the author/title section, and you want to go to "G" in the subject
section. You have to crank for a minute or so in one direction and hope
you are going the right way; if not, you hit end-of-reel, and have to
crank back over what you already skipped over, plus the rest of the
alphabet, before you even get into the section you want to search.)
At least the fiche allow a random or direct search to get the right
fiche, and then you can jump around within it with the reader unit.
But you always have to look at two fiche -- they issue change-update
sets more often than they re-issue a complete updated catalog set.

Regards, Will Martin


Second British Telecom Fraud

"Lindsay F. Marshall" <lindsay%kelpie.newcastle.ac.uk@Cs.Ucl.AC.UK>
Tue, 10 Feb 87 09:39:20 gmt
This had nothing to do with the Phonecard scam.  As far as I could make out
from the newspaper reports it was a simple fraud - probably worked by
hacking wiring in exchanges or something (that is a pure guess, no details
were mentioned).  There certainly seemed to be no computer aspects involved.

Lindsay

P.S. Does anyone have a pointer to the work on human error being done by people
at UCSD? Hofstadter mentions it in his latest book and it sounds interesting.

Please report problems with the web pages to the maintainer

Top