The RISKS Digest
Volume 7 Issue 56

Wednesday, 21st September 1988

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…


o Runaway mouse problem in popular commercial WP program
Jon Jacky
o Wrapping Britain round the Greenwich meridian
Jack Campin
o Crime and (indifferent) Punishment
Glen Matthews
o Software Mixup on Soyuz Spacecraft
Karl Lehenbauer
o RISKS of (Suspected) Crooks Running Dinosaur-DOS
Fred Baube
o Multiple reservations and single bills
Jacob Hugart via Markus Stumptner
o Complete info on the Phobos 1
Kaj Wiik via Ritchey Ruff
o `Computer programmer convicted of creating "virus"'
Mike Linnig
o Info on RISKS (comp.risks)

Runaway mouse problem in popular commercial WP program

Jon Jacky <>
Mon, 19 Sep 88 09:17:04 PDT
From COMPUTERWORLD, Sept. 5, 1988, p. 39:


Users running Microsoft's Mouse and Word 4.0 software program on IBM Personal
System/2 computers have inadvertantly sent Mouse on a wild spree by hitting
an uncommon combination of keystrokes and clicks.  The results include a 
variety of unwanted windows being opened and system freezes wherer the user
cannot get into the command line.  "It goes a little nutty," said Jeffrey
Sanderson, Microsoft's group product manager for word processing.

Microsoft said that, with the help of IBM, it determined the problem to be
with the PS/2's mouse port when the mouse was used to point and click with
Word.  Sanderson said the problem was spotted last February when users
started to complain about the wild mouse.

In all, Microsoft received about 200 calls from users that had an encounter
with the rowdy device.  Microsoft made a slight modification to Word to quiet
Mouse and began shipping the new version, called Word 4.00A, in May.

While Microsoft said that Word was the only part of its application software
line that experienced the problem, one user said he had similar difficulties
when running Xerox Corp.'s Ventura Publisher. ...

- Jonathan Jacky, University of Washington

Wrapping Britain round the Greenwich meridian

Jack Campin <>
19 Sep 88 15:20:36 GMT
A point related to the discussion about averaging angles is made by John Lamb
in the article "The everyday risks of playing safe" in New Scientist (8 Sept
1988). Describing the software used for air traffic control in the London area
by the Civil Aviation Authority on its IBM 9020 machine he writes:

    "One of the more startling problems concerned the program's handling
     of the Greenwich meridian. The National Airspace Package, designed
     by IBM's Federal Systems division, contains a model of the airspace
     it controls, that is, a map of the airlanes and beacons in the area.
     But, because the program was designed for air traffic control centres
     in the US, the designers had taken no account of a zero longitude;
     the deficiency caused the computer to fold its map of Britain in two
     at the Greenwich meridian, plonking Norwich on top of Birmingham."

Jack Campin, Computing Science Dept., Glasgow Univ., 17 Lilybank Gardens,
Glasgow G12 8QQ, SCOTLAND     work 041 339 8855 x 6045; home 041 556 1878

Crime and (indifferent) Punishment

WED 21 SEP 1988 08:15:00 EDT
In the Montreal Gazette (Tuesday Sept. 20 1988) a report appeared that
rounded out the story some months back re a Quebec firm selling welfare
information illicitly obtained as a result of co-operation of government
employees. Criminal charges against those involved were not laid due to
a decision by Crown prosecutors in May. However, the two civil servants
(by their actions I'd say most "uncivil" servants!) involved pleaded
guilty to a violation of Quebec's welfare act when they gave out
confidential information on welfare recipients.

According to the report, they were traced by using "security devices
built in to the computer system". It goes on to say that "each
government employee has a computer code, which automatically is logged
on all files he calls up".

The two were fined $100. Government officials have refused to say what
punishment the provincial government, their employer, has meted out.
Possible measures range from an oral reprimand, a note in the employee's
suspension, or firing. Had they been fired, I'd assume that this would
have been stated.

So, computer crime in Quebec, while perhaps not rewarded, is treated
with little urgency. With such a lenient approach to malefactors, I
wonder what other things are going on; certainly, this case provides
no deterrent to future "hi-jinks".

Glen Matthews, McGill University

Software Mixup on Soyuz Spacecraft

Karl Lehenbauer <>
Wed, 21 Sep 88 8:00:04 CDT
According to Aviation Week (September 12, 1988, page 27), the second failed
reentry of the Soviet Soyuz-TM spacecraft on September 7, the engines were shut
down within seconds due to a computer problem:  "Instead of using the descent
program worked out for the Soviet-Afghan crew, the computer switched to a
reentry program that had been stored in the Soyuz TM-5 computers in June for a
Soviet-Bulgarian crew.  Soviet officials said last week that they did not
understand why this computer mixup occured."

The article notes that the crew was committed to a reentry because they had
jettisoned the orbital module that contained equipment that would be needed to
redock with the Mir space station.

The article also noted that Geoffrey Perry, an analyst of Soviet space
activities with the Kettering Group, "said the crew was not flying in the same
Soyuz that they were launched in, but instead were in a spacecraft that had
been docked with the Mir for about 90 days.  He said that is about one-half the
designed orbital life of the Soyuz."

RISKS of (Suspected) Crooks Running Dinosaur-DOS

"F.Baube" <>
Wed, 21 Sep 88 10:43:07 -0400
The WashPost (Mon Sep 19) had a story on the procurement investigation.

"Sometimes, however, investigators hit unexpected roadblocks.  In a search of
consultant James Neal last June, for example, FBI agents seized computer disks
only to find they couldn't run them on the agency's computers.  So they
subpoenaed Neal's vintage machine, gently suggesting in the subpoena that he
might be kind enough to help the FBI agents by demonstrating how it works.

When Neal sought to have the subpoena quashed, [the judge] ruled that the
government could have the computer for five working days.  But, he added, "I
don't understand a subpoena asking for assistance.  The government will have to
learn to work the machine itself."

#include <disclaimer.h>

Multiple reservations and single bills

Markus Stumptner <mcvax!tuhold!markus@uunet.UU.NET>
Mon, 19 Sep 88 20:06:54 -0100
This is an article which appeared a few weeks ago in recs.arts.sf-lovers.
It shows a case where, even after the error had become known, the hotel
staff were unable to correct it. 

I have not attempted to verify the story. Only the hotel name was changed
to protect the incompetent.

(P.S. No mention is made in the article of a computerized reservation
system. After reading it, however, I rule out the possibility of
unsupported humans botching it this bad.)

    Markus Stumptner, Technical University of Vienna, Paniglgasse 16, 
    A-1040 Vienna, Austria                 UUCP: tuvie!tuhold!markus

 = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

From: GWCHUGPG@uiamvs.BITNET (Jacob Hugart)
Newsgroups: rec.arts.sf-lovers
Subject: Conventions and Hotels
Message-ID: <>
Date: 26 Aug 88 16:00:22 GMT

Hotels, Conventions, and People don't mix.

Here's a horror story for you.

A good friend of mine, Jordan Orzoff, is a gamer.  Not a geek, but a devoted
role-player.  Anyway, he was going to GM a game at GenCon/Origins, based upon
a scenario he used on some of his friends.  Because he was going to judge a
game, he got his judge's pre-registration packet early.  This came with a
hotel reservation form which he filled out and listed me as a roommate.

We received our confirmation from the <XYZ> Hotel (our first choice) and
from GenCon.  Great, no problem.

When we arrived in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, we went to the <XYZ> and asked
about our room.  The desk person said that no rooms were available now, but a
reservation for Nathan Orzoff and Jacob Hugart was listed.

Here's where the fun begins.  Jordan has a well-know cousin named Nathan
Orzoff, who is well-known in some gaming areas, and whom Jordan had never met.
We asked the desk person if there was another Orzoff listed, and he said no.
He also said he'd change the first name.  Jordan said he probably shouldn't,
Nathan might show up.  In any case, we couldn't check-in until 3pm.

We arrive at 3pm.  Jordan gets in line.  After a bit, he calls me up and
introduces me to his cousin, Nathan.  Nathan and a friend had also reserved a
room at the <XYZ> for GenCon.  Unfortunately, I had a reservation with
Nathan and Jordan had a reservation with Nathan's friend.  All four of us were
placed in the same room, with one double-bed.

Since Jordan and I had our <XYZ> confirmations, we got the room right
away, and Nathan and friend got one too, after a bit.  Jordan payed his
downpayment with Visa, I with American Express.

After four days, when GenCon was over, Jordan and I had to check out.  He had
received two bills, one for him, one for me.  When we looked closely at the
bills, both of them had Nathan Orzoff's address on them, and mine had my name
as "Jordan, Hugart" whereas Jordan's was "Orzoff, Jordan."  So now we have
five people in this room, according to the reservations: Jordan Orzoff, Nathan
Orzoff, Nathan's friend, me (Jacob Hugart), and Hugart Jordan.

All reserved and billed in the same room with one double-bed.

Since the bills had a "Balance Due" line, we went to the desk and said we'd
like to check out and pay our bills.  The person at the desk looked up our
account on the computer, and said we were already checked out.  News to us.
Also, our bills had been paid in full.  More news.  The desk person showed us
the receipts we had signed.  Fine.

Jordan has a theory.  He believes Nathan got stuck with our bills, and paid
them.  That would explain how we checked out before we checked out.  But it
doesn't explain why one bill would be paid on AmEx, the other on Visa.

I liked the <XYZ>. But I wouldn't trust their reservation system as far
as I can spit it.

Wed, 21 Sep 88 14:07:33 PDT
This is via Kaj Wiik in Finland (he is an associate of Gilbert Leppelmeir).  It
is reprinted with permission (I suggest people try to get permission, it's not
only the "correct" way to do it, but it can also be fun! Right, Eugene?).

It was such a twisted set of "coincidences" it could only happen in 
real life.  From this note the following questions come to mind:
    - the probes are programmed "real time" ?
    - they are programmed in a very low level language ?
    - the code isn't verified before transmission ?
    - there is no continous telemetry from the probe ?
    - there is no "sanity check" in the probe, and no
      "panic" mode (as several have told me NASA uses)
      to keep the probe from doing really dumb things ?

At least the "hopper" is on Phobos 2 instead of Phobos 1...

--Ritchey Ruff -or- ...!tektronix!orstcs!ruffwork

------- Forwarded Message

To: (Ritchey Ruff)
Date: Wed, 21 Sep 88 17:06:21 EET DST
From: Kaj Wiik <>
Subject: Re: Soviet Mars probe PHOBOS 1 communications lost enroute

No problems, you can publish the notes. There were some inaccuracies in the
original posting concerning the author, so could you please publish the
following, corrected version.

Kaj Wiik   kwi@kolvi.HUT.FI   kwi@finhutee.bitnet

 = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

      Phobos I news
      Gilbert W. Leppelmeier  12.9.88
      VTT (Finnish Technical Research Centre),
      Instrument laboratory

      At the last session of the meeting of the International
      Science Committee of the Spectrum-X-Gamma project,
      Friday, 9.9.88, Prof. R. Sagdeev gave a presentation of
      "all we know at present about what has happened to
      Phobos I".  These are my notes from that presentation.
      (Not an official IKI announcement)

      A few weeks ago it was decided to move the control of
      Phobos I from the Crimean Space Center to a Center near
      Moscow.  Among other things, this involved using a new
      computer with a different keyboard.  Traps were
      installed in the new operating system to catch
      characteristic operator errors, including one wherein an
      operator now had to insert a particular character at the
      end of a command.  If he failed to do so, a reminder
      would come on the screen asking him if he had forgotten
      to do so, and the computer would not continue unless
      the character were included, OR the operator
      specifically overode the computer.

      On 29.8.88 a very long message was being prepared for
      transmission to Phobos I.  At one point, near the end of
      the message, the operator failed to add the character,
      the computer stopped, but failed to display the question
      on the screen.  The operator thought it was a computer
      error and overode the stop.  The absence of the
      particular character changed the bit pattern of the
      following instruction, into a bit pattern, not on the
      list of accepted commands, but which did call an area of
      the onboard ROM which had a list of possible commands,
      used in development and left there for possible future
      use.  Unfortunately, the particular pattern created in
      this error translated into turning off the attitude
      control thrusters.

      Two days later the Control Center sent a message to
      Phobos I and received no answer.  It is now believed
      that as the spacecraft slowly changed orientation it
      lost power, because the solar panels no longer faced the
      sun, and everything turned off.  The serious concern is
      that many items [from private conversations I gather
      both in spacecraft support and instruments] need
      electrical power to avoid becoming too cold, and will
      be permanently damaged if they get too cold.

      Sagdeev listed the following points as links in the
           - error on operator's part
           - computer failure
           - operator decision to circumvent computer
           - absence of cross checks
           - actual command sent able to enter ROM
           - The OB computer must be programmed to prevent
      suicide.  [I believe RS said the OBCPU was 8-bit.  You
      can't do much checking with such a small cpu on such a
      large spacecraft.]

      This is the first failure of a Soviet deep space spacecraft
      since 1972.

Added 14.9:  This is what I wrote when I returned from Moscow.
 Looking at my notes, I realise that the move of control center
 may have taken place on 29.8 and the transmission error later.

------- End of Forwarded Message

`Computer programmer convicted of creating "virus"'

Tue, 20 Sep 88 20:56:26 CDT
From  9/19/88 Ft. Worth Star-Telegram

  A 40-year-old computer programmer was convicted last night of deliberately
creating a computer "virus" — a series of destructive programs, one of which
was used to delete records from his company's computer within days after he was
  A Tarrant County jury deliberated about six hours before convicting Donald
Gene Burleson of harmful access to a computer with valued loss and damage of
more than $2,500.
  Burleson's trial was considered a landmark case because he was the first
person tried under a 1985 Texas law prohibiting computer sabotage. It also may
have been one of the first such trials in the nation, trial Judge John Bradshaw
told jurors after the verdict.
  Prosecutor Davis McCown said the verdict proves that computer crime is not
impossible to prosecute.
  "The jury heard the evidence and did what they felt was best," McCown said.
"This proves it is not an unprosecutable offense. It may be hard to put a case
together, but it's not impossible."
  Burleson, of Irving, is scheduled to be sentenced this morning by Bradshaw, a
retired state district judge who presided over the nine-day trial in Impact
Court II in Fort Worth.
  The third-degree felony of which Burleson was convicted carries a possible
punishment of two to 10 years in prison and a fine up to $5,000. As a
first-time offender, Burleson  is eligible for probation.
  Burleson already has lost a $12,000 civil lawsuit to USPA & IRA, the Fort
Worth security brokerage and insurance company for which he worked until he was
fired for unrelated reasons Sept. 18, 1985, just days before company officials
discovered that 168,000 records of sales commissions had been deleted from
their computer system.
  The computer virus was discovered by USPA & IRA employees as they worked
feverishly to restore the records, which were deleted sometime after 3 a.m.
Sept. 21, 1985, witnesses testified.
  Although hundreds of computer records and other documents were introduced
during the trial, the main issue became the credibility of key witnesses,
including Burleson and Duane Benson, a USPA & IRA senior programmer analyst who
unraveled the destructive scheme he said was traced to Burleson.
  Benson, who spent four days testifying about how he uncovered the scheme,
said the destructive programs were created Sept. 2 and Sept. 3, 1985, on
Burleson's computer terminal by someone using Burleson's computer password.

  The automated virus series, which was designed to repeat itself periodically
until it destroyed all the records in the computer system, never was
automatically activated, Benson said. Instead, someone manually set one of the
programs in motion Sept. 21, deleting the records, then covering his tracks by
deleting the program, he said.
  But Burleson and a computer expert he hired contended that the virus and the
related delete program could have been created by someone else using Burleson's
terminal and password.
  Burleson contended that he and Benson did not get along and that Benson
created the destructive programs to make Burleson look bad and Benson look good
when he restored the damaged system.
  Prosecutors contended that Burleson, who had been fired, had more motive to
destroy the records than did Benson, to whom Burleson confessed the sabotage a
week after it was discovered, according to Benson's testimony.
  But Burleson's  alibi  was his undoing,  one juror said.
  Burleson testified that he was more than 300 miles from Fort Worth on Sept. 2
and Sept. 3, and he produced a Texaco credit card receipt  he said proved he
had a tire repaired in Rusk on Sept. 3, on his trip home from Jasper. His son,
father and former wife  supported his alibi.
  But Burleson school attendance records show that Burleson's son was in school
Sept. 3, not traveling with his father. A Texaco official said the receipt
Burleson produced was printed October 1987, two years after the alleged
transaction. And USPA & IRA records showed Burleson attended a staff meeting 
Sept. 3.
  "Three or four days ago, I was absolutely convinced he was innocent,"  juror
Randal Scott Owen of Fort Worth said last night after the verdict. "But I feel
he fabricated stories about his alibi. That just destroyed his credibility with
  "He didn't have the burden of proof, but he should have shrugged his
shoulders and said, "I'm innocent and I have no proof,' " instead of
fabricating evidence, Owen said.
  Eleven other jurors declined to comment before leaving the courtroom. And
Owen acknowledged that the trial was hard on everyone.
  "I have a real problem sending someone to jail for a white-collar crime," he
  Burleson also declined to comment after the verdict, sitting slumped at the
defense table as his attorney, Jack Beech, gave media interviews.
  "I was sort of surprised," Beech said. "I had expected a better verdict.
We'll have to wait until after the sentence to decide whether we want to

    [Of course, it was a time-bomb, not a virus.  But then so were many of
    the other so-called viruses.  By now the popular press have completely
    perverted both "virus" and "hacker", but in any subsequent RISKS
    discussions, let's try to rise above that.  BTW, I received shorter
    versions from Steve Smaha and Henry Cox, but in this case decided
    to go with the long one, for the possible interest of those of you
    whose local papers truncated.  PGN]

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