The RISKS Digest
Volume 9 Issue 55

Monday, 18th December 1989

Forum on Risks to the Public in Computers and Related Systems

ACM Committee on Computers and Public Policy, Peter G. Neumann, moderator

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o Risks of Mail (the "yellow peril"?)
Joe Dellinger
o PR RISKs of computer communications — Prodigy
Mark Jackson
o Re: private eyes probing suitors — Amazon Women on the Moon
Dwight McKay
o Faults in 29000 RISC chip
Jon Jacky
o The Trojan horse named "AIDS"
contributed by many who are not neigh-sayers
o Info on RISKS (comp.risks)

Risks of Mail (the "yellow peril"?)

Joe Dellinger <>
Thu, 14 Dec 89 03:01:06 PST
    Several computers in the Earth Science department at Stanford were
brought to their knees Dec 13 by an interesting combination of bugs.  I can
only assume similar numbers of machines around campus in other departments also
succumbed. I don't really know, because our network is dead as a result of it!

    For some reason, the Stanford Chinese Student association mailing list
started bouncing mail infinitely between two Stanford machines, "Macbeth" and
"Portia". At each iteration the 30K of mail was rebroadcast anew to everyone on
the list, including at least one Chinese student on each machine in our
department. This was the first bug. I don't know why it happened. (Anyone know
that story?) This bug alone would have been bad, but not catastrophic...

    The problem was that after each successive bounce the return address
got longer and longer, until monstrosities like the following became


    Once the reply addresses got up to about the length shown in this
example, they started to overflow a fixed-length buffer in all Berkeley-derived
mails (NO checking for overflow, OF COURSE). This caused the affected mail
processes to go crazy. First of all they sent an error message back to the
sending machine (causing it to send the viral mail _again_ 30 minutes later).
Worse, the mangled mail processes continue to run forever until somebody kills
them. (And it takes kill -9 as superuser to do it.) One such mail process on a
lightly-used Earth Science machine accumulated _9500_ minutes of CPU before
anyone figured out why the machine had been so slow for the preceding week!

    Our first reaction was to scream at the people who run the list, and
they said they fixed the problem, but their fix only resulted in a greater
variety of mail loops being generated; various interesting orbits about portia,
polya, hamlet, macbeth, ...

    Needless to say as the traffic built up the CPUs and then finally the
network itself in the Earth Science department ground to a halt. It became
impossible to even log in to many machines to kill the offending mail
processes. Killing the processes wasn't very effective, either, since that
would not stop Macbeth from immediately starting the whole mess up again. We
finally pulled the plug on sendmail.

    Fortunately this evening Stanford had a power glitch that seems to have
crashed most of the offending machines, so the network is OK again now. :-)

PR RISKs of computer communications

14 Dec 89 07:33:07 EST (Thursday)
The following is extracted from a brief item, "Prodigy service creates
controversy," on the business page in Wednesday's /Democrat and Chronicle/
(Rochester, NY).  It appears that when you're "where America shops,"
discussions about who America might be make you nervous. . .  Mark

> There are better ways to get publicity, but a fight between homosexuals and
> Christian fundamentalists nevertheless has called attention to the rapid
> growth of a home computer service owned by IBM and Sears.

> The Prodigy service has expanded to a quarter-million subscribers in
> 160,000 homes from 30,000 homes a year ago.  It serves 21 of the nation's
> largest markets, up from six a year ago.

[business stuff deleted]

> Prodigy's adverse publicity came this week after it cancelled a chat
> service named Health Spa, a "bulletin board" that allowed subscribers to
> post notices or communicate on health-related issues.

> Prodigy said Health Spa was canceled because of low usage, but some
> subscribers said it was because one section of Health Spa turned into a
> forum for a heated debate on homosexuality between gays and fundamentalist
> Christians.

> Dozens of subscribers have been demanding the return of Health Spa - an
> unintentional testament to the popularity of Prodigy's service.

Re: private eyes probing suitors — Amazon Women on the Moon

Thu, 14 Dec 89 15:45:11 EST
There's an amusing but scary skit in the movie, "Amazon Women on the Moon"
regarding a women who checks out her boyfriend.

On a blind date, he arrives at her place.  She asks for his driver's license
and a valid credit card.  She walks over to her desk and runs the credit card
through a magnetic strip reader (like at a store) and gets a printout of all
the other dates he's had and how they turned out...

Dwight D. McKay, Engineering Computer Network Workstation Software Support,
Purdue University,

Faults in 29000 RISC chip

Thu, 14 Dec 1989 13:51:45 PST
Here are excerpts from an article in the trade publication ESD: THE ELECTRONIC

"Stepping on 29000 Bugs," by Michael Slater

The current stepping of Advanced Micro Devices 32-bit RISC processor, the 29000
revision D, still has three acknowledged bugs.  However, the bugs are all
relatively minor.  They consist of an instruction burst mode problem, an
exception handling priority error, and a data-access exception problem.

Since hardware workarounds have been required for the instruction burst mode
problem since the first silicon, existing designs either already incorporate
the fixes or don't produce the offending set of conditions.  Modifications to
the exception handlers can correct the other two bugs.  These same bugs were
also present in revision CA. The most serious bug from revision C, the failure
of the branch target cache to work reliably, has been fixed.

(Here follow many column-inches describing the problems and workarounds in
more detail.)

AMD has distributed samples of the new revision, and current orders are
expected to be filled with this revision.

- Jon Jacky, University of Washington

The Trojan horse named "AIDS"

Evan "Biff Henderson" Eickmeyer <>
Sat, 16 Dec 89 02:14:52 PST
The following article is from the Los Angeles Times, 15 December 1989, p.D3.

AIDS Data Disk Has PC-Damaging Virus, by Michael Specter, The Washington Post

     A mysterious computer diskette about AIDS that was mailed to major
corporations, insurance companies and health professionals across the world
contains a hidden program that has destroyed information in thousands of
personal and corporate computers, police in London said Thursday.

     Officials of Scotland Yard said at least 10,000 copies of an unusual "AIDS
Information Diskette," which promised to help users deduce their risk of
becoming infected with the AIDS virus, were sent to people in England,
Scandinavia, Africa and the United States.

     Hospital systems from London to Stockholm reported damage Thursday and
AIDS researchers at major institutions in the United States, from the National
Institutes of Health to the University of California at San Francisco, issued
alerts to all their computer users.

     "Extremely urgent message for all National Institute of Allergy and
Infectious Disease PC Users," said a flyer sent Thursday to AIDS researchers at
NIH.  "A diskette from PC Cyborg Corp. contains a highly destructive virus.
All systems running these programs had ALL hard disk data DESTROYED."  Neither
that corporation nor Ketema Associates, its parent company, has any known
officers or location, according to people who tried Thursday to find them.

     In Sweden, the State Bacteriological Laboratory sent letters to clinics
and doctors warning them of the diskette.  Chase Manhattan Bank was one of the
first companies to report problems with the diskette, which also was sent to
the London Stock Exchange, British Telecommunications, Lloyds Bank, the Midland
Bank, other major banks and manufacturing companies.

     "We have never seen anything approaching the magnitude of this attack,"
sand John McAfee, chairman of the Computer Virus Industry Assn., though he
noted no damage had yet been reported in the United States.  "It took enormous
preparation, coordination and a huge amount of money."

     People familiar with computer "viruses" and other computer "diseases" were
baffled by the maliciousness of the crime, the amount of money and
sophistication it required and its lack of any immediately discernible motive.

     Computer programs written as pranks or tools of minor sabotage have become
ubiquitous over the past few years.  But this one was different, according to
experts across the country.

     The diskette came in a slick package mailed from offices on London's tony
New Bond Street.  The bright blue cover sheet said the package contained AIDS
information, and informed recipients that the information was easy to use and
would help them calculate the risks of exposure to the disease.

        [This topic seems to be the all-time RISKS record-holder in terms of
        number of submissions.  Most of them were verbatim copies of John
        McAfee's messages, although John himself did not submit them to RISKS.
        I was tied up and could not be one of the early harbingers, so at this
        point I assume almost everyone has heard the story.  But just for the
        record is a summary of it.  Those who have been following the story can
        skip the rest of this issue.  PGN]

Major Trojan Warning

Tue, 12 Dec 89 11:26:29 PST
This is an urgent forward from John McAfee:

     A distribution diskette from a corporation calling itself PC Cyborg has
been widely distributed to major corporations and PC user groups around the
world and the diskette contains a highly destructive trojan.  The Chase
Manhattan Bank and ICL Computers were the first to report problems with the
software.  All systems that ran the enclosed programs had all data on the hard
disks destroyed.  Hundreds of systems were affected.  Other reports have come
in from user groups, small businesses and individuals with similar problems.
The professionally prepared documentation that comes with the diskette purports
that the software provides a data base of AIDS information.  The flyer heading
reads - "AIDS Information - An Introductory Diskette".  The license agreement
on the back of the same flyer reads:

"In case of breach of license, PC Cyborg Corporation reserves the right to use
program mechanisms to ensure termination of the use of these programs.  These
program mechanisms will adversely affect other program applications on
microcomputers.  You are hereby advised of the most serious consequences of
your failure to abide by the terms of this license agreement."

Further in the license is the sentence: "Warning: Do not use these programs
unless you are prepared to pay for them".

If the software is installed using the included INSTALL program, the first
thing that the program does is print out an invoice for the software.  Then,
whenever the system is re-booted, or powered down and then re-booted from the
hard disk, the system self destructs.

Whoever has perpetrated this monstrosity has gone to a great deal of time, and
more expense, and they have clearly perpetrated the largest single targeting of
destructive code yet reported.  The mailings are professionally done, and the
style of the mailing labels indicate the lists were purchased from professional
mailing organizations.  The estimated costs for printing, diskette, label and
mailing is over $3.00 per package.  The volume of reports imply that many
thousands may have been mailed.  In addition, the British magazine "PC Business
World" has included a copy of the diskette with its most recent publication -
another expensive avenue of distribution.  The only indication of who the
perpetrator(s) may be is the address on the invoice to which they ask that
$378.00 be mailed:

          PC Cyborg Corporation
          P.O. Box 871744
          Panama 7, Panama

Needless to say, a check for a registered PC Cyborg Corporation in Panama
turned up negative.

An additional note of interest in the license section reads: "PC Cyborg
Corporation does not authorize you to distribute or use these programs in the
United States of America.  If you have any doubt about your willingness or
ability to meet the terms of this license agreement or if you are not prepared
to pay all amounts due to PC Cyborg Corporation, then do not use these

John McAfee


"Kenneth R. van Wyk" <krvw@SEI.CMU.EDU>
Wed, 13 Dec 89 18:02:50 EST

The latest on this is as follows:

If you have run this disk contact ROBERT WALCZY at PC Business World
on 01-831 9252 they have a FREE disk that combats the effects of the
disk and they will send a copy to users effected.

Either call Robert of FAX him on 01-405 2347 with your name and address.

The disk should be available in the next day or two.

The program will be available on CONNECT (01-863 6646) for download as
soon as it has been tested.


The AIDS disk when installed creates a number of hidden files and directories.
You can remove these files by running the program mentioned above or by using
the Norton Utilities, PC Tools or equivalent program.

The files that are hidden include a new AUTOEXEC.BAT and a number of other
files and directories that contain characters that can not be accessed by
standard DOS commands.  You will need to rename the files/directories before
they can be deleted.

This information will be updated as we learn more about the disk.

Alan Jay — The IBM PC User Group — 01-863 1191.

*** APPENDED 12/14/89 09:17:07 BY PU/MELINDA ***

Append on 12/14/89 at 09:17 by Lew Shepherdson, Simware:

I was at a seminar a couple of weeks ago and we had a session on viruses.
Some interesting predictions...

1. Benign (non-destructive) viruses will die out...just a passing fad

2. Expect big increase in 'political' viruses...groups spreading vir
   which promote a political/environmental/human rig
   and are counting on intense coverage by eager media

3. Expect an increase in 'extortion' viruses aimed at particular vendors...
   'If we don't get _______, we will release a virus that only attacks
   your product, etc...'

4. There's a real danger that political
   hysteria by passing some stupid laws.

5. Expect diskless workstations to be a high-growth mark

Lew Shepherdson
Simware Inc.

*** APPENDED 12/14/89 09:17:25 BY SIW/LEW ***

Append on 12/14/89 at 09:59 by Melinda Varian <BITNET: MAINT@PUCC>:

Received: by PUCC (Mailer R2.06X) id 9330; Thu, 14 Dec 89 07:45:07 EST
Date:         Thu, 14 Dec 89 07:42:06 EST
Sender:       Virus Alert List <VALERT-L@LEHIIBM1>
Comments:     Resent-From: Kenneth R. van Wyk <krvw@SEI.CMU.EDU>
Comments:     Originally-From: Alan Jay <alanj@IBMPCUG.CO.UK>
From:         "Kenneth R. van Wyk" <krvw@SEI.CMU.EDU>
Subject:      Re: AIDS — UPDATE II — What can you do.

                   AIDS INFORMATION DISK

Update 2  13-Dec-1989 6pm

IF you have not run this disk DO NOT INSTALL it appears to be a very
cleverly written TROJAN program that can be activated by a number of
methods.  Currently the activation method that has been detected uses
a counter of the number of system reboots.  When the counter gets to
90 the system goes into a second phase and encrypts files and
directories on your hard disk.

The program appears to have a number of embelisments that makes one
think that the front door we have been shown MAY not be the only
method that the system uses for deciding when to activate.  This
is a very nasty program and the only 100% safe thing to do is to
backup all DATA files and perform a full reformat of your hard disk.

Followed by a reinstallation of all DATA, from your backup, and
programs from original system disks (or backup prior to installing
this software).

This should only be attempeted once at least TWO copies of all
valuable data have been extracted from the system.  Please remember to
boot your system off an original DOS disk before starting this

Full details of the suggested procedure will be posted tomorrow.

Alan Jay

Readers who do not wish to follow this route may be interested to
in the folowing information about the primary activation system.

1)  A hidden 'ACTOEXEC.BAT' file contains

CD \<ALT255>

    it then runs your AUTOEXEC.BAT which the program renamed AUTO.BAT

2) A hidden subdirectory <ALT255> contains a file REM<ALT255>.EXE

Each time the system is booted the program is run and the counter
incremented/decremented.  After 90 activations the system enters phase

Please note that the system uses the <ALT255> character 'hi space' in the
file names to stop standard DOS procedures acting on these files.

IT MAY be possible to delete these entries and thereby disable the
program this is NOT certain and it will take several months to discover
if this is a safe course of events to take.

I hope that this information helps.  I also understand that this is in the
hands of the Fraud Squad / Computer Crime Division of the Metropolitan
Police.  If you have any further information I am sure that they would
be interested to here from you.

Alan Jay — IBM PC User Group -  01-863 1191

*** APPENDED 12/14/89 09:59:16 BY PU/MELINDA ***

Append on 12/14/89 at 14:02 by Rich Greenberg, Locus Computer Corp., L.A.:

The AIDS virus was mentioned on the local radio news broadcast as having hit
The RAND Corp in Santa Monica, Ca.

*** APPENDED 12/14/89 14:02:45 BY LCT/RICH.G ***

Append on 12/15/89 at 00:50 by John Lynn - Mobil Technical Center:

Sick sick sick! AIDS kills on a daily basis, so I guess that makes a 'clever'
topic to exploit. And $300+ dollars, plus a 256K minimum memory requirement?!
For an AIDS questionnaire? Very imaginative...

Guess they got tired of pulling wings off of flies...

-- John (Sorry, but enough is enough, wouldn't you say?) Lynn

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