In a keynote talk for the 5th International Workshop on Software Specification and Design in Pittsburgh, 20-21 May 1989, I cited the case of the Aegis' role in the Vincennes' shootdown of an Iranian Airbus as an example of a system in which the design of the user interface was critical. Matt Jaffe (Jaffe@ics.uci.edu) responded with some comments on the Aegis user interface — in whose design he had played a part while at RCA — after which he was invited to gave an impromptu talk on his experience to the workshop. As you may recall, the Iranian Airbus was shot down by the Vincennes, although it was on schedule, on course, and apparently flying completely normally. There was confusion between the commercial plane being tracked and an observed IFF (Identification, Friend or Foe) squawk from a fighter plane. The altitude information (Z) was not displayed on the main screens, but only in one of various subtables that had to be called up on a smaller screen. There was no indication of rate of change of altitude (Z', or "Z-dot"), not even a ternary choice among ascending, cruising, or descending. Matt took the view that the user interface could not have done much differently, because of intrinsic limitations on 1. the reliability and/or accuracy of the underlying data, 2. the physical and logical characteristics of the display devices (alphanumeric raster-scan screens with limited space) 3. and the ability of human operators to interpret marginal data in the high volume and high stress environment. This is an attempt to summarize Matt's main points: Mode II codes (military use only) cannot be conclusive in determining friend or foe because they can be spoofed by a non-friendly aircraft, as can the civilian use Modes I and III. In this particular case, the military aircraft supplied by the US to Iran almost certainly included Mode II transponders. Note some subtle points here. IFF is to determine the identity of friendly aircraft, not the military capability of a non-friend. In this tragedy, the problem was not in discriminating between friends and all others but between an Iranian F-14 and an Iranian airliner. The identification as Iranian was correct (and presumably not based on IFF but on point of origin). A classification of a Mode II code as belonging to an Iranian military aircraft would seem reasonable given that the airfield from which the aircraft departed was a joint use airport (both civilian and military). What may have happened was that the airliner taxied near enough to an F-14 on the ground as to preclude the system from recognizing that there were in fact TWO aircraft. (ANY sensor has some resolution limits.) Once the airliner was airborne, its lack of further mode II activity would not preclude the display of the old Mode II code. Aircraft may fail to respond to an IFF interrogation (of any code) for a variety of reasons and yet operators (both civil and military) want to have the last recieved code remain displayed. Thus the entire mechanism contains potential ambiguities. Providing a recency field for Mode II squawks would probably have been a good idea, display space and operator cognitive limits permitting. (At that time and to date, Matt indicated that he knew of no system that provided the age of last squawk; nor did the Navy mention the possibility. Scary?) The altitude readings are generally unreliable. Thus, the Z' calculations -- irrespective of how they were done — would be suspect, and subject to possible misinterpretation. Nevertheless, some crude up-down-same field might have been useful. Uncertain or unreliable information will always be a major problem in any safety-critical system. From the Navy's point of view, the Captain of the Vincennes did the right thing — based on what he knew. No standard Navy shipborad systems could have done the discrimination automatically. No equipment necessary for the Vincennes mission could have prevented a manual decision from being difficult, nerve-wracking, and error-prone. The situation was basically untenable in the first place, with hostile aircraft and commercial airliners closely interwoven within an area of great unrest. [The Stark Captain had said earlier that they had not realized the limitations of the combat system in that kind of an environment. PGN] Matt made the appropriate disclaimers — that his knowledge is not current, that his opinions were his own, etc. And his audience was generally impressed with the care with which he had thought out the issues. All in all, this case is of great importance, and bears close consideration. There are many lessons to be learned, some technological and some nontechnological — many of the latter relating to the intrinsic limitations of trusting the technology, especially under adverse circumstances. PGN
The June 1989 issue of Consumer Reports includes a test of the Chevrolet S-10, as well as three other sport/utility vehicles. The Chevrolet has rear-wheel anti-lock brakes. This is from the "Reliability" section of the report on the Chevrolet: "The most disquieting [sample defect] was a defective antilock brake controller. At just over 200 miles, the brake warning light came on and the pedal sank almost to the floor. The pedal felt spongy and sank slowly during each brake application. The controller was replaced under the warranty." I would have expected that a controller failure would leave you with normal brakes, and perhaps a warning light glaring at you to warn that the brakes are now manually controlled. Instead the failure mode sounds like a plain old brake system leak, except that Consumer Reports didn't say that braking power was actually lost. Was there braking power left only because the front brakes, which I understand do most of the braking, weren't controlled by the defective controller? In any event, finding the brake pedal much lower than you expect it to be, is a risk in itself. It's also interesting that Consumer Reports didn't make a big deal out of this problem, so perhaps they don't consider it to be a major risk. Jay Elinsky, IBM T.J. Watson Research Center, Yorktown Heights, NY
This is based on an article in the Stockholm newspaper Dagens Nyheter, 24 May 1989, p.6. Last year, a law went into effect in Sweden requiring the registration of most pleasure boats. The database is financed by a small "user fee," i.e., a tax. The data are public information. A thief who steals a boat can phone the registration office, tell them the boat's registration number, and obtain the legal owner's name, address, and national ID number. This makes it easy for the thief to impersonate the legal owner when selling the stolen boat.
This is an account of two ancient (30-year old) computer risks that were not publicly disclosed for the usual reasons. It involves an air defense system called SAGE and a ground-to-air missile called BOMARC. SAGE was developed by MIT in the late '50s with Air Force sponsorship to counter the threat of a manned bomber attack by you-know-who. It was also designed to counter the political threat of a competing system called Nike that was being developed by the Army. SAGE was the first large real time computer system. "Large" was certainly the operative term — it had a duplexed vacuum tube computer that covered an area about the size of a football field and a comparably sized air conditioning system to take away the enormous heat load. It used an advanced memory technology that had just been invented, namely magnetic core, and had a larger main memory than any earlier computers, though it is not impessive by current standards — it would now be called 256k bytes, though no one had heard of a byte then. The system collected digitized radar information from multiple sites and used it to automatically track aircraft and guide interceptors. SAGE was designed to work initially with manned interceptors such as the F-102, F-104, and F-106 and used a radio datalink to transmit guidance commands to these aircraft. It was later modified to work with the BOMARC missile. Each computer site had about 50 display consoles that allowed the operators to assign weapons to targets and monitor progress. As I recall, there were eventually between one and two dozen SAGE systems built in various parts of the U.S. BOMARC missiles used a rocket booster to get airborne and a ramjet to cruise at high altitude to the vicinity of its target. It was then used its doppler radar to locate the target more accurately so that it could dive at it and detonate. It could carry either a high explosive or a nuclear warhead. BOMARCs were housed in hardened structures. When a given missile received a launch command from SAGE, sent via land lines, the roof would roll back, the missile would erect, and if it had received a complete set of initial guidance commands in the meantime it would launch in the specified direction. Testing the fire-up decoder It was clearly important to ensure that the electronic guidance system in the missile was working properly, so the Boeing engineers who designed the launch control system included a test feature that would generate a set of synthetic launch commands so that the missile electronics could be monitored for correct operation. When in test mode, of course, the normal sequence of erecting and launching the missile was suppressed. I worked on SAGE during 1956-60 and one of our responsibilities was to integrate BOMARC into that system. This led us to review the handling of launch commands in various parts of the system. In the course of this review, one of our engineers noticed a rather serious defect — if the launch command system was tested, the missile would be in a state of readiness for launch. If the "test" switch was then returned to "operate" without individually resetting the control systems in each missile that had been tested, they would all immediately erect and launch! Needless to say, that "feature" was modified rather soon after we mentioned it to Boeing. Duplexed for reliability For some reason, I got assigned the responsibility for securing approval to put nuclear warheads on the second-generation BOMARCs, which involved "proving" to a government board that the probability of accidentally launching a missile on any given day as a result of equipment malfunctions was less than a certain very small number and that one berserk person couldn't do it by himself. We did eventually convince them that it was adequately safe, but in the course of our studies we uncovered a scary problem. The SAGE system used land lines to transmit launch commands to the missile site and these lines were duplexed for reliability. Each of the two lines followed a different geographic route so that they would be less likely to be taken out by a single blast or malfunction. There was a black box at the missile site that could detect when the primary line went bad and automatically switched to the alternate. On examination, we discovered that if both lines were bad at the same time, the system would remain connected to the alternate line and the amplifiers would then pick up and amplify whatever noise was there and interpret it as a stream of random bits. We then did a Markov analysis to determine the expected time that it would take for a random bit stream to generate something that looked like a "fire" command for one of the missiles. We found that expected value was a little over 2 minutes. When such a command was received, of course, the missile would erect and prepare to launch. However, unless the missile also received a number of other commands during the launch window, it would automatically abort. Fortunately, we were able to show that getting a complete set of acceptable guidance commands within this time was extremely improbable, so this failure mode did not present a nuclear safety threat. The official name of the first BOMARC model was IM-99A, so I wrote a report about this problem titled "Inadvertent erection of the IM-99A." While that title raised a few eyebrows, the report was destined to get even more attention than I expected. Its prediction came true a couple of weeks after it was released — both phone lines went bad on a BOMARC site in Maryland, near Washington D.C., causing a missi
SABRE disaster caused by "core corruption"Andrew Birner <Andrew-Birner%ZENITH.CP6%LADC@BCO-MULTICS.HBI.HONEYWELL.COM> Wed, 24 May 89 18:08 PDTAccording to an article by Margie Semilof, entitled "SABRE Recovers from Network Crash", in Communications Week, May 22, 1989, the recent SABRE outage occurred when the "Online DASD formatter was changed erroneously by another software program operating at the same time. This 'core corruption' resulted in the destruction of critical system data on SABRE's 1,800 DASDs." The article later quotes Jim Juracek, vice president of systems engineering for SABRE Computer Services: "All the predictable things are covered," Juracek said. "The unpredict- able things, such as when a software program gets clobbered by another program . . . [ellipsis hers] there is no way to work with this." The article further notes that "SABRE is developing software that will provide memory protection of applications, and thereby help prevent against core corruption. That software will not be ready[,] however, until the early to mid 1990s". Using software for memory protection? In the 1990s? How, I wonder, will they protect their protection software ("quis custodiet ipsos custodes", as always)? Is SABRE is too tightly coupled to its hardware to be moved to a platform that provides hardware memory protection? Or is it just plain too big to be ported? Andrew E. Birner — Zenith Electronics Corp — Zenith/A_Birner@ladc.bull.com
Computer Intrusion Network in Detroit<email@example.com> Thu, 25 May 89 19:01:31 -0700Taken from the San Jose Mercury News, 5/25/89 (Knight-Ridder News Service). DETROIT - Secret Serviceagents smashed what they described as a costly, sophisticated computer intrusion network Wednesday and were surprised to discover it made up largely of teen-agers. The computer systems of more than 20 companies including the Michigan Department of Treasury and Home Box Office cable television services, were infiltrated, according to agents serving search warrants across the country. Federal officials said the infiltrations by the network represented fraud of $200,000 to $1.5 million in appropriated goods, telephone and computer time. Agents expected to arrest some adults when they swept down on eight people who allegedly ran the network in several states. Instead, they found only one adult, in Chicago. The rest were teen-agers as young as 14: two in Columbus, Ohio; two in Boston; two in Sterling Heights, Mich.; and one in Atlanta. Agents expected to make another arrest in Los Angeles. Officials said at least 55 other people nationwide made use of the network's information. In Sterling Heights, Secret Service agents pulled two eighth-grader boys, both 14, out of school and questioned them in the presence of their parents, who apparently were unaware of their activities. James Huse, special agent in charge of the U.S. Secret Service office in Detroit, said the youths admitted involvement in the scheme. He said the eight-graders [sic], because they are juveniles, cannot be charged under federal law and will be dealt with by local juvenile authorities. Authorities believe the mastermind is Lynn Doucett, 35, of Chicago. She was arrested Wednesday and is cooperating with authorities, Huse said. Doucett, who was convicted in Canada of telecommunications fraud, supports herself and two children through her computer intrusion activities, which include using stolen or couterfeit credit cards for cash advances or money orders, according to an affidavit filed in U.S. District Court. If convicted, she faces up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Robert T. Morris suspended from Cornell<firstname.lastname@example.org> Thu, 25 May 89 18:49:38 -0700Taken from San Jose Mercury News, 5/25/89 (From the New York Times) Cornell University has suspended the graduate student identified by school officials as the author of [the Internet worm]. In a May 16 letter to Robert Tappan Moris, 23, the dean of the Cornell Uni- versity Graduate School said a university panel had found him guilty of vio- lating the school's Code of Academic Integrity. He will be suspended until the beginning of the fall semester of 1990, and then could reapply. No criminal charges have been filed against Morris. A federal grand jury this year forwarded its recommendations to the Justice Department, which has not taken any action. [....]
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