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 6 Issue 91

Wednesday 25 May 1988


o Computers as a weapon?
Ken De Cruyenaere
o Aircraft computer malfunction incidents
Nancy Leveson
o Federal "smart cards"
Gary Chapman
o Cash on the Nail
Michael Travers via Andrew Scott Beals
o Style rules - a horror story
Mark Brader
o Rebuttal on Hinsdale
Patrick A. Townson
o Risk cost recovery -- Hinsdale
Barry C. Nelson
o Info on RISKS (comp.risks)

Computers as a weapon ?

Tue, 24 May 88 12:02 CDT
The following story appeared in today's WINNIPEG SUN
(reprinted without permission)
Life must certainly be unpleasant in an "occupied land".

 RAMALLAH (AP)  Israel is using computers as weapon in the struggle
to suppress the Palestinian uprising in Israeli occupied Arab lands.
  A computer linkup of the military administration, police and civil
and security service offices allows Israel to monitor almost every aspect
of life in the West Bank and Gaza.
   Arab merchants who obey the calls of the uprising's underground
leaders and refuse to pay taxes are often nabbed in a network of
computerized roadblocks.
  On the road between Jerusalem and the West Bank town of Bethelem,
an AP reporter saw checkpoints where portable computers were used
to track down tax evaders.  Names are taken from identity cards
Arabs are required to carry.  When the names are entered in the
computer, it identifies those who owe taxes.
  The military government demands tax payment in exchange for a
registration of a newborn child or marriage, Palestinians told
told the AP.
  "We are scared.  The tax officials catch you and seize your
   car or impose a huge fine."
  A military government official said about 400 vehicles belonging
to deliquent Arab taxpayers have been seized in the West Bank.
  The computer "is indeed the ultimate instrument of population
control, a carrot-and-stick operation", researcher Meron Benvenisti
wrote in his annual study of the occupied territories.
Benveniti said Israel started to develop a computerized occupied lands
data bank in August, 1985.  The five-year, $8.5-million project
was undertaken by TIM, an Israeli representative of the U.S.
computer company Data General.

Aircraft computer malfunction incidents

Nancy Leveson <nancy@ICS.UCI.EDU>
Tue, 24 May 88 21:12:44 -0700
From Air Line Pilot, May 1982.

  "Several of ALPA's technical committees and the Assocation's New Aircraft
   Evaluation-Certification Committee are studying improvements that might
   be made to the stretched DC-9 to address such pilot concerns as the

          Computer Malfunctions

   Unexpected mode changes, complete loss of data, and other anomalies of
   the flight guidance system have been reported during all phases of flight
   in Super 80s; cold soaking of the computer or electrical transients or
   both are believed to have been partial causes.  Reports of flight guidance
   system malfunctions include unexpected switching from the takeoff mode to
   another mode during the takeoff roll and from the desired approach mode to
   the heading mode near decision height (DH).  Autopilot and autothrottle
   disconnects during turbulence have been reported, and switching from takeoff
   mode to climb mode has caused the autothrottle thrust computer to retard
   one throttle to idle.

   Under certain deicing-engine auti-icing bleed configurations and flight
   conditions -- for example, on coupled approaches and when climbing through
   cirrus clouds -- problems with computer system logic for digital thrust
   rating have caused autothrottle disconnects."

[It continues with a listing of problems in non-computer parts of the design.]

Federal "smart cards"

Gary Chapman <>
Wed, 25 May 88 16:08:06 PDT
The recent humorous (I presume) recommendation for a universal "smart
card" on one's thumbnail prompts me to call attention to something a
little more serious.  I was recently a reviewer for an OTA draft report
on computerizing the entire Federal welfare benefits system--food
stamps, Medicare, welfare, etc.  As one official put it to me recently,
people at OTA thought this was sort of a joke when it first came down, but
Congress is serious.  The draft report, which may get elevated to a
full panel study, considers the issuance of "smart cards" to all Federal
welfare beneficiaries, with ATM-like machines at all places where
Federal benefits are exchanged for goods and services.  If you just
stop and think a minute about how many sites this involves--every "Mom
and Pop" grocery store, every Seven-Eleven, any place that takes food
stamps--you get an impression of the expense.  This is a multi-billion 
dollar proposal just to get the system set up and into place.  

Beyond that, say some experts, looms a national identity card for all U.S.
citizens.  Serious proposals for this may not be far off.  So far there has
been no real rationale for Congress to consider this, but the recent
immigration law, which imposes fines on employers for hiring undocumented
workers, will create a nation-wide consitituency pressing for some reliable
form of citizenship identification.  If there is a trend toward "smart card"
disbursement of Federal benefits, this will add to the INS rationale for a
national identity card.  What's disturbing about all this is that Congress
gradually gets used to ideas like these, opposition seems to fade, and the
momentum can appear irresistable.

Gary Chapman, Executive Director, CPSR

Cash on the Nail

Andrew Scott Beals <well!>
Wed, 25 May 88 15:29:15 PDT
Date: Wed, 25 May 88 16:07 EDT
From: Michael Travers <>
Subject: Mark O' the Beast update

Subject: Cash on the Nail

 David Jones

      For  years  now,  we  have been told that the cashless society is
 just around the corner.  Every shop will  have  a  computer  terminal;
 simply enter the transaction, validate it with your personal card, and
 the central computer will transfer the sum specified  from  your  bank
 account  to  that  of the shop.  Wonderful!  The reason why it doesn't
 happen is that fraud would be so easy.  Card fraud  is  so  widespread
 already  that the banks daren't risk anything worse.  But Daedalus has
 the  answer.   His  new  cash-card  is  unstealable:  the  user's  own

      A  nail  has  a  smooth  and  uniform surface, and is transparent
 enough to let through the light from a laser.   A  small  laser  could
 bring  a brief light pulse to a focus in the body of the nail, burning
 a tiny white mark that could easily be read, but  would  be  protected
 from chance abrasion.  A dot-matrix pattern of such marks could easily
 encode a financial transaction.  A nail has no nerves so  the  process
 would  be  quite  painless.   Accordingly,  the  new Dreadco financial
 terminal has, besides a  keyboard  for  entering  the  transaction,  a
 thumb-port to admit the user's thumb.

      Every day a nail grows about a tenth of a millimetre.  With laser
 dots about the size of those on a compact disc , this would give space
 for about ten new transactions.  Over time the user will accumulate on
 his  thumbnail  a  running  financial  statement   showing   all   his
 transactions  for the past few months.  Each time he inserts his thumb
 into a terminal, the sytem will check that statement against its file.
 If  everything  matches,  his  identification  is secure; the terminal
 accepts the new transaction and prints it  below  the  previous  ones.
 But  if  there is a discrepancy, it sounds an alarm and clamps down on
 the suspect thumb, trapping the fraudster until the police arrive!

      But  suppose  a  bent manicurist manages to photograph a client's
 thumbnail, and uses it to construct a forged thumb?   Even  then,  the
 fraud  is  risky.   By  the time the forged thumb is ready, the victim
 will probably have used the system again.  The forgery will not  carry
 this  latest  transaction:  it  will  be  detected  and trapped by the
 terminal, for the police to study later as evidence.

      Daedalus'  new  thumbcard  will  impose financial prudence on its
 users.  The spendthrift who fills his thumb up with wild  transactions
 will  soon  be  choked off by sheer lack of space.  On the other hand,
 should he go down with mumps or measles (which  arrests  nail  growth)
 bankruptcy would rapidly threaten.  And secrecy is not really assured.
 Gigolos with magnifiers may  shrewdly  revive  the  old  gallantry  of
 hand-kissing:  gypsy  palmists  will  read both sides with great care;
 shady financial operators of both sexes may  take  to  wearing  opaque
 nail  varnish.   And  a  death  in  the family will have the sorrowing
 relatives   hastily   erasing   the   deceased's   thumbs    with    a
 laser-scrambler,  before  some unscrupuous undertaker or body-snatcher
 can detach or copy them to filch their encoded legacy.

The Guardian, 24 May l988

Style rules - a horror story (forwarded from comp.lang.misc on USENET)

Mark Brader <>
Wed, 25 May 88 20:33:49 EDT
On the topic of corporate rules requiring formal documention for each
procedure in a program, Dick Dunn (uucp: {ncar,cbosgd,nbires}!ico!rcd)
posted the following in comp.lang.misc:

  People may not realize just how much trouble it can cause.  A few years
  back, I saw a procedure-heading standard which was so large and ornate that
  it was actually causing people to *avoid* writing procedures!  They were
  working on a project which had deadlines (as opposed to lines-of-code-per-
  day goals:-), but they were absolutely required to build one of these giant
  headers for each function.  As a result, it was often easier to write code
  in-line to perform the identical function in several different places than
  to split it out into a separate procedure.

  Write your own moral--something about programmers taking the easiest path
  so style rules should encourage the easiest path to be the same as the
  right one.

Forwarded to Risks by Mark Brader

Rebuttal on Hinsdale

Wed May 25 20:40:09 1988
John Haller of AT&T Labs (Risks 6.90) discusses the sequence of events which
led to the disasterous fire at Hinsdale on May 8. He quotes from a television
show (Chicago Tonight) which on more than one occassion has been derelict
in getting all its facts straight.

First: The fire alarm and power outage alarm were NOT simultaneous. The fire
alarm was first noted in Springfield, IL at 3:50 PM that Sunday afternoon.
The fire alarm signal continued for nine minutes. It was ignored by an employee
who thought it was going off due to other conditions at the time.

The alarm stopped about 3:59 PM, then started again a few minutes later, and
on its second warning, *then the alarm for loss of power made itself known*.
There was nine minutes wasted, plus the several minutes until it began again.

Second: When the technician finally was moved intellectually to consider that
a fire alarm might actually refer to a fire, a call was made to a weekend
duty supervisor. Not the Hinsdale Fire Department; not the Police Department,
but a person who had to put down what they were doing, go out to their car
and drive to 120 South Lincoln from wherever they were, through Sunday
traffic, the whole bit. Had the tech immediatly called the Hinsdale Fire
Department and the weekend supervisor, and coordinated as best as possible
the arrival of firemen with telco personnel on location, the damages would
have been much less.

Third: The cost of staffing for that office, or any central office on weekends
or off hours is no where near the estimate given by correspondent. He assumes
a full compliment of people on each shift, Sundays, nights, holidays, etc...
and assumes holiday pay, night premiums, etc. None of this is required. One
or two persons *maximum* per office would be fine. A clerk at a terminal with
work to do -- they surely could input work orders, make record corrections,
etc -- and the express duty of touring the building once every hour or so and
immediatly upon reciept of an alarm would be sufficient.

Fourth: A good, comprehensive Halon network, via overhead plumbing just as
in conventional water sprinkler systems, would cost only about a quarter
million dollars per office to install, and much less than that annually to
refresh the holding tanks each year. Hand held halon extinquishers mounted
in strategic locations around the building would cost even less.

Imagine if you will, a clerk on the premises Sunday afternoon. He is only
paid $30,000 a year or so, and an alarm is noted on his console or terminal.
He picks up a hand held cellular phone, walks into the room down the hall,
sees smoke and grabs the Halon cannister from the wall. On the phone he
dials 911 to tell them. He starts spraying the Halon, and likely gets the
fire out before the firemen arrive. Then he calls a couple other numbers on
the phone to key employees to get the word out: get over here fast.

He goes out, meets the firemen and escorts them inside. If the fire is still
going, they also have Halon, and are better trained at this sort of thing
than the $30,000 per year clerk. Within minutes a couple of other employees
are there, and the limited damage is assessed and repairs begin immediatly.

Now how much would this very *non* labor intensive scenario cost in a year?
We would need three such persons per office -- or four perhaps -- allowing
for one at night, one evenings, one weekends and days off for the other two.

Would $200,000 per year per office cover salaries?  If there were 10 very
important central offices in the Chicago area, would $2,000,000 per year
cover salaries? That's quite a bit lower than the $12,000,000 correspondent
suggests would be required. And if the watch-persons had other duties to
do, could their salaries at least in part be charged off in the budgets of
other departments?  In my figures here, I've actually over-budgeted to
include two or three additional watch-persons-at-large, who would travel
from office to office during the night to relieve for lunch breaks,
fill in for sick or vacationing watch-persons, etc.

Correspondent shudders at the idea of $12,000,000 (his figures), and
says its not economical....but the actual damage to date from Hinsdale
has exceeded $50,000,000 and the cash register is still ringing! Talk
about false economies....

I'm sorry, but I think Jim Eibel, Illinois Bell VP of Operations, and
designer of the plans which led to this tragedy was expecting an awful
lot for his money if he figured a person downstate would see the alarm,
know what it was, get help and control a serious problem as well as someone
right on location babysitting the switch would do it.

Finally, they have weekend duty supervisors all over the area anyway. They
are already being paid a salary, so in figuring the cost of staffing an
office at night you have to consider you already have several of the
needed employees in place. Arrange them differently and hire a few more.

I rest my case.

Patrick Townson

Risk cost recovery

"Barry C. Nelson" <>
Wed, 25 May 88 09:41:37 EDT
John Haller writes about economics of protecting telco switches:

>  At a typical salary of a
>craft person, that would be ~$120,000 per year per office.  To
>staff 100 offices, at $12,000,000 per year, it is easy to see
>the decision not to staff compared to the cost of a new switch.

Okay, so I'm not an 'econ' major, and it isn't very easy for me to see this.

It  does  NOT  take a craft person to watch a switch, it takes a security guard
(and I would guess they would not be  paid  as  well!).   The  CRAFTperson,  if
provided, could be doing otherwise-useful work while guarding the switch.  Such
work could not be fully billable as 'protection', and the TelCo  would  benefit

Ten  minutes  out of an hour to do 'rounds' leaves 3/4 time 'working.' Add this
to the demonstrably fallible alarms already installed and they  are  made  much
better since a person on-site can EASILY go LOOK, let alone COPE with a problem

Why not just reduce daily staffing so as to normally have productive work to do
during  off-hours.  Even  paying  an EXTRA 1/4, or $30,000 per year per office,
exclusively for added protection, is pretty cheap for guaranteed insurance.

We must also not forget the other costs beyond the actual switch.
[From Patrick Townson's May 14 posting to RISKS:]

> And twenty five million is a *very
>low estimate* of the cost of the fiasco. The new switch alone is estimated
>to cost about sixteen million dollars. ... That does
>not of course include peripheral equipment, overtime salaries to workers,
>the cost of repairing the building or the month of lost revenue from the
>thousands of subscribers without service.

I'll  bet someone with the ACTUAL number of similar offices, over all the years
they've been installed, given the ACTUAL distribution and cost  of  preventable
disasters  during  those  years,  could  come  up with a good business case for
continued protection.  Belt and suspenders, anyone?

Barry C. Nelson

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