Four employees of the DCASR (Defense Contract Administration Services Region) office in El Segundo CA are accused of having "prepared some false documents and tricked some coworkers" to rig the DCASR computer to issue a check for $9.5 million to one of them individually as payment for a legitimate invoice from a legitimate contractor. A bank officer apparently became suspicious when the person trying to deposit the check wanted $600,000 in cash on the spot, and called in the law. One of the defense lawyers blamed the events on OTHER DCASR employees. "Because of incompetence, lack of control and violation of regulations, it's impossible to know exactly what happened in this case, who did what and when they did it." [Source: Evening Outlook, Santa Monica CA, 4 February 1988, courtesy of Donn B. Parker]
"Ian A. Murphy, a.k.a. Captain Zap, is selling his underworld expertise to USA corporations that want to keep hackers from busting into their computer systems. Night after night, [...] the cherubic Captain sits at his dusty computer in a cluttered, run-down townhouse here, scanning electronic bulletin boards -- where tips and gossip are traded by computer. Someone may drop a hit about breaking into one of his clients' computers. Murphy is one of a handful of convicted computer felons who make decent livings ($200,000 last year, he says) using the skills that helped land him in trouble in the first place. His slogan: ``Everybody's into computers. Who's into yours?'' [...] Murphy claims to employ seven to 10 of the USA's top hackers to break into computers -- legally, that is." [USA TODAY cover story by Mark Lewyn, no date available, courtesy of Donn B. Parker] [$200,000 sounds INDECENT to me. Nice time to plant Trojan horses? PGN]
John Stapelton, 35, a computer consultant from Yonkers NY was stopped while driving in The Bronx and was frisked because a random check of automobile licenses in the police computer system erroneously turned up his car as that of someone who had killed a state trooper. Strangely the database record did not include the make of the car, which might have been a tip-off that the actual license of the killer had been entered inaccurately. Stapleton said the cops admitted the car computer system has its faults. ``They told me it tilts on them all the time.'' In this case they let him go after deleting the incorrect entry. Officers of the Bronx' 50th Precinct claimed to have no record of the incident, but that is not surprising because no arrest was made. [Source: An article by Joy Cook and Linda Stevens in the New York Daily News, no date available, contributed by Michael J. Wallach, Innovative Computer Solutions, 31 Tulip Circle, Staten Island NY 10312.] [The subject of accepting partial matches is a very thorny one, especially in the presence of inaccurate data. One approach is that much greater effort is needed in training personnel who interpret partial matches. Another is that systems that try to do partial matching should REJECT unconfirmed input data and should continually warn the users... I already suggested adding a pervasive measure of data trustworthiness -- see my endnote on the message from James H. Coombs in RISKS-3.32. PGN]
This RISKS digest mentioned the Post Office matching its list of employees against a list of debtors (ah, the wonders of computer technology). Some 20 or so years ago, the State of New York did a match of driver's license holders against recipients of state aid to the blind. This operation found, I think I remember, a few hundred people who were on both lists. But then, anyone who's driven in New York City could have guessed that. [I had a NY driver's license from 1948, and was able to renew it with no effort even though no longer residing in NY -- until in the late 60s they decided to request an eye reexamination! So those who became blind also had no trouble until then. PGN]
Sometimes, the RISK in computers is in trying to dispose of them, as the following story shows. From "Computing Australia", Feb 29th: ``Cream of Canberra wades through rulebook for simple solution. When the Department of Science was dissolved into the Dept. of Industry, Technology and Commerce last year, officials discovered the two departments had non-compatible computing equipment. Ditac [Dept of I T and C] used IBM pcs, while Science had always favoured Convergent Technology. It was decided the CT system would be abandoned and put into storage. At the same time, Ditac began to suffer a shortage of computing equipment. Some bright spark suggested if another department could be found to use the CT gear, it might be swapped for IBM-compatible pcs. Then the real snag struck. The Department of Finance stepped in to question the mechanics of the proposal. Was the arrangement legal? It had not been done before. The regulations made no mention of swaps. Maybe the rules would have to be re-drafted. Interdepartmental meetings were held. Possibilities canvassed. Eventually a circuit-breaker [?] was called for: an outside legal opinion. Finally, after weeks of effort and argument, 67 networked microcomputers and a minicomputer have been taken from the stores and exchanged for 48 pc clones. Everyone's a winner and bureaucracy triumphs. Dave Horsfall, firstname.lastname@example.org.OZ.AU, ...munnari!stcns3.stc.OZ.AU!dave
RISKS readers are well aware of the need to check on technology, I learned this the other week when after allowing four months of bank statements to pile up, I decided to catch up and reconcile them all. In early December I deposited a check in the bank's ATM and as I always do saved my receipt and then later entered the transaction in my check book. Upon reconciling my statement, I noticed that the deposit had never been credited to my account. I found the receipt and noticed that the transaction was noted as "Deposit not completed." I knew that since I saved the receipt I must have deposited the check. I contacted the individual who gave me the check and noted that it had indeed been debited from their account 9 days after I had deposited it. I contacted my bank and was informed that since the transaction code stated I never completed the deposit I must be mistaken. After getting a copy of the check (which had my account number in the endorsement in addition to all the usual bank's endorsements), the bank finally credited my account for the missing amount. I wonder what the bank did in their reconcilation? When they checked the machine the fact that they had an extra envelope and deposit didn't bother them nor did they find it necessary to credit any account but their own. This certainly shows the need for good record keeping as well as continuing to check on technology. David Andrew Segal [When a supposedly indivisible transaction fails to complete properly, this is known as an atomic bomb. If the kernel of the operating system is at fault, it is known as nuclear con-fusion. Consistency may be seen as the hobgoblin of little minds in life, but in computer programming we mind more than a little when the system fails with a gob of hobblin' code. PGN]
1. Airbus Safety In RISKS 3:32, Nancy Leveson writes (from the London Sunday Times, 13 Dec.): > "Airbus yesterday rejected the charges, and said the 320 would be the safest > passenger aircraft ever. `We believe that the safety requirement of a total > breakdown occurring only once every billion hours is achievable,' a > spokesman said. Airbus dismissed Hennell's fears as extravagant and > `wildly off target,' but admitted the computer had failed during test > flying. The breakdowns were caused by teething problems and the aircraft > had landed safely, it said." Airbus' statement is less than comforting. Will only a "total" breakdown cause the pilot to lose control of the plane? How badly does some component of the system need to fail before the plane crashes? The quote about "teething problems" is also alarming. Since this is the first civilian aircraft with fly-by-wire technology, I assume that that technology is still relatively new. Does the certification board, or Airbus, or anyone else, have sufficient expertise to guarantee that the system's teeth are all in yet? Particularly in a system like this, where human lives are on the line, we need to be very careful about deployment. Testing components and letting a couple of Navy pilots take the plane up isn't sufficient. Large systems tend to fail because of unexpected interaction among their components. I'd be *very* interested in examining Arbus' test suite. 2. Database Accuracy In an earlier RISKS digest, Amos Shapir writes of problems in reliably identifying people from a database with no reliable primary key. James Coombs comments: > A naive operator may well not be aware that more than one > record has been retrieved (yes, there may still be some irresponsibility > here). Whether or not the incident followed this scenario, we should keep > the possibility in mind and consider displaying the number of records > retrieved before displaying any records. This theme is an old one is RISKS, and other contributors have addressed the issue at length. From personal experience, though, I add the following: The "clerks" responsible for entering and retrieving data are often both undertrained and underpaid. It's hard to convince someone who's making minimum wage to care much about accuracy; they want to do their jobs with no fuss or bother, and forget about them at the end of the day. Given a database for (for example) the registration of all citizens, their addresses and credit histories, bank balances and criminal records, misuse (whether or not it's inadvertent) is virtually guaranteed. I used to work for a hospital billing agency; the data entry people there were mostly high-school dropouts living at just about the poverty line, and we had problems like this all the time. Once, for example, two patients with the same name were admitted to the hospital on the same day, went into surgery on the same day, and were released on the same day. One was an eighty-year- old man in for a hip replacement; the other was a young woman in for a Ceasarian section. Our database wasn't well-constructed; the eighty-year-old man was billed for both procedures. (To be fair, if he *had* been pregnant, he certainly would have required a C-sec...). Medicare objected to the bill, of course, which was how we found out about it. The risk here is two-fold. We were using an old system that had been poorly designed from the start. It's true that the software that handles the billing should be smarter, but like a lot of businesses, we couldn't afford to re-write it (ever try to scratch by on Medicare payments?). And the people who used the software were either unable or unwilling to understand its limitations. Hackers love to talk about the twenty billion lines of Jurassic COBOL that run the world. As time goes by, and networks and databases put more information on-line, the flaws of old code are going to become more apparent. Mike Olson, Britton Lee, Inc. (...!ucbvax!mtxinu!blia!mao) (email@example.com)
My view of this debate is that there are two different objects being pursued, and perhaps mistaken for one another. The slippery slope is one paradigm with which to anticipate possible risks. What David Thomasson would like to do is go beyond the identification of possibilities to a ranking of risks, that is, a MEASUREMENT of benefits and pitfalls, from which a rational judgement can be attained. The piteous condition of the real world is that the cost of measuring risks often outweighs the possible benefit of a rational choice. The confusion can become even more vicious when the cost of measurement is itself highly uncertain. Darkness heaps upon darkness. So how do we cope? Badly, of course. People die in accidents caused by unexpected features, and people die in accidents easily preventable by the appropriate widget. Different cultures and different individuals adopt different attitudes toward experimentation in different domains, choosing high risk/high payoff or low risk/sure payoff. One technique associated with western culture is to let individuals choose their risks, and then, after some data come in (some die, some get rich), observers adopt the beneficial and reject the detrimental. The whole afair is a chaotic mess, with no end of decisions based on insufficient data and irrational likes and dislikes. The approach is obviously inappropriate to instances where replication is impractical - nuclear war/nuclear defense immediately leaps to mind. But we profit so well from such ``scientific method'' that no other approach seems to satisfy the void when it is unavailable. Societies less opulent than ours have a propensity toward tradition and moral dicta that may reflect their smaller margin for error -- or the causality may lie in the opposite direction, with our larger margin for error being the result of more ristk taking. For the moment, life in the fast change lane is serving us well. To continue to be successful, we must develop methods applicable beyond the scope of practical experience; we must know when to apply them; and we must have the will to apply them. These topics are the concerns of metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics, and we must have high hopes for Mr. Thomasson's philosophy. It is that which is not subject to engineering solutions which most threatens our society. Most readers on this list are engineers, however, and we work from the opposite direction. Our duty is to measure wherever we can, and, failing that, to present as comprehensive a description of the possibilities as we can.
<> What do you think? Is technology weakening us by causing <> important skills to atrophy? Or is our educational system <> "irrelevant"? Where does one draw the line? It is not so much the SKILL (ability to multiply) that will atrophy; it is the ability to think that will atrophy. You were not taught insciption of cunieform or how to trim a quill pen when learning to write because of the advent of improved MEANS of writing (eg. the pencil). However, there was still the necessity of learning the skill of writing. I never learned how to multiply by using a slide rule (what with the advent of calculators). And I will use a calculator without hesitation if one is immediately available. But if one is not available, I can just as readily multiply by hand. The only cost to me is time. I am not condoning technological stagnation, but I am condemning absolute technological reliance. The need for multiplication will probably exist as long as mankind exists; but it seems dangerous (RISKy?) to come to rely upon calclators (or whatever will succeed them) to perform this multiplication. Technological advances should save us time; they should not "save" us the "bother" of being able to think. Ron Bottomly
February 31, 1988 is at least partially understandable, given the atrocious algorithms sometimes used for date manipulation. However, on February 29, 1980, IBM's VS/APL system reported the date as March 0, 1980! The user who called us to report it asked if we'd changed the default for the )ORIGIN. I guess it made sense, given an APL mindset. Ross Patterson, Rutgers University
I just noticed that the "due date" on the computer-generated slip for a bank loan of mine says "2/30/88". On another note, a lawyer-friend of mine says his office sends out a warning to its staff every leap year, on 2/1, to check all legal documents that may be completed on 2/29. Seems they did get caught several years ago with a mega-buck financial contract that expired on the 20th anniversary from the date of signing, which was---- 2/29. Let's see, 80 years of interest on $5 million, at 12%...
At the current state of technology, neural networks are nothing to be feared! The idea that "some neural network" could take over large sections of the ARPAnet seems ludicrous; anyone who has ever implemented a neural network can tell you that it is painful enough trying to teach the network how to "learn" an XOR operation. What people mean when they say neural networks "learn" is that the network has the ability to configure itself so it recognizes patterns. Typically, the experimenter takes many kinds of examples of input (bit patterns, samples of human speech, etc) and runs them through the network. The network is told the right answer for each input, and the idea is that from some subset of input, the network can generalize and apply its pattern recognizing capability to provide the correct answer for input that wasn't explicitly presented. Depending on the complexity of the pattern, this process can take hundreds or thousands of presentations, eating up huge amounts of CPU time. The person I work for managed to use UCSD's entire allocation of CRAY-XMP time for a quarter by running his neural network simulator for 24 hours. That's the closest to a takeover that I've heard of! It is true that the learning approach does seem to better reflect the way people actually learn, but the technology is still quite new and mostly unexplored. Dave Pare, Center for Research in Language, UCSD
1. Am I correct in thinking that several (two?) missiles were recently destroyed on launch each of which had their guidance systems coded in Ada? Were the problems which forced the destruction of the missiles the result of bad software design or some inherent ambiguity in Ada syntax? 2. I spotted but unfortunately left unlogged a report somewhere which gave an account of a talk by a leading scientist (name?) in the military technology area who expressed grave reservations about the design of Ada. I *think* the report mentioned that the person expressed little confidence in guidance systems coded in Ada. 3. Is the Pentagon insisting on Ada being the standard for all military software projects? Jerry Harper, Merrion Gates Software (Logic Programming) Merrion House, Merrion Road, Dublin 4, IRELAND. netwise: firstname.lastname@example.org [Ada is by no means a panacaea. It has some benefits -- type-checking, import/export controls, etc. -- that can contribute to safer programming. But its complexity makes it ripe for misuse. It is nominally mandated for all military embedded systems, except that various limitations have resulted in its being eschewed in some security-community applications. Can anyone provide a definitive answer to Question 1? I don't recall anything that might have implicated Ada! PGN]
Call for Papers, Fourth Aerospace Computer Security Applications Conference December 12-16, 1988, Sheraton World Hotel, Orlando, Florida Operational requirements for civil and military systems under development increasingly stress the necessity for information to be readily accessible to users and operators. This produces an apparent conflict with policies and directives which require total protection of system data from compromises of privacy, confidentiality, and integrity. Accomplishing both of these sets of requirements requires the application of the maturing technology of computer security to new systems throughout their development cycle. In addition, operational approaches to satisfy system requirements and accommodate the implementation of engineering technology require intensified research and development. This conference will explore technology applications in two complementary aspects: first, the policy issues and operational requirements for both civil and military systems; and second, the hardware and software tools and techniques being developed to satisfy system requirements. Special emphasis will be placed on specific examples of systems applications. A three-day technical conference exploring the application of computer security technology will be preceded by two days of tutorials dealing with policy matters, technology applications, and other areas. Introductory and advanced surveys will be offered as well as advanced courses exploring specialized technological areas. Areas of Interest Include: Trusted DBMSs, Operating System, and Network Security, Current and Future Trusted System Technology, Space Station Requirements, Certification, Evaluation and Accredition, Policy and Management Issues, Advanced Architectures, C3I Systems, Risk/Threat Assessments Unclassified papers or unclassified abstracts of classified papers must be mailed before 20 May, 1988, to Dr. William T. Bisignani, Technical Program Chairman, Booz-Allen & Hamilton Inc., 4330 East-West Highway, Bethesda, MD 20814 Tutorial Proposals including a detailed outline and a resume of presentor(s) must be mailed before 20 May, 1988 to Dr. Dixie B. Baker, Tutorial Program Chairwoman, The Aerospace Corporation, P.O. Box 92957, 2350 East El Segundo Blvd, El Segundo, CA 90245-4691. For more information or to receive future mailings, please contact the conference chairman, Dr. Marshall D. Abrams, phone: (703) 883-6938, The MITRE Corporation, 7525 Colshire Drive, Mail Stop Z670, Mc Lean, VA 22102, E-mail address: email@example.com
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