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 9 Issue 76

Monday 19 March 1990


o How history gets made, or, myths spread like viruses at the CVIA
Doug McIlroy
o London Underground wrong-way train in rush-hour
Brian Randell
o Privacy in Printout
L. P. Levine
o Send it by FedEx = Don't Send It At All!
Betsy Perry
o 20th Int. Symp. on Fault-Tolerant Computing
Neil Speirs
o Info on RISKS (comp.risks)

How history gets made, or, myths spread like viruses at the CVIA

Sun, 18 Mar 90 22:37:12 EST
When Time magazine was writing their 1988 cover story on viruses, I
sent them a copy of Ken Thompson's Turing lecture, which detailed an
early and particularly secretive and patient one (a computer "slow
virus"?)  that he had demonstrated but had not allowed to spread.  The
conclusion of the lecture was a strongly worded warning about the rise
of computer vandalism and worse, and advice to all who would listen
that "brilliant" is rarely the right adjective for such activities.

In the interview with Time, I had also discussed "Darwin", a game of
survival of the fittest among self-reproducing programs, which
Vyssotsky, Morris, and I had played sometime around 1962.  Darwin had
been described in the computer recreation column of Software -
Practice and Experience in 1972.  Rechristening it "core wars", Kee
Dewdney popularized it in Scientific American in 1984.

More interested in a good story than an accurate one, Time's writer
made up a wheeze about the Bell Labs folks having kept the awful
secret of self-reproducing programs to themselves, with the pact of
silence being broken by the Turing Lecture.  Probably because it didn't
fit with the thesis that Ken let the cat out of the bag, the Time
article was silent about Ken's admonitory message.

Now Ken McAfee, self-styled "leading expert" and principal in
the Computer Virus Industry Association, and Colin Hayes,
"investigative reporter", have enshrined Time's sensationalism in
their book on viruses.  They simplify the myth even further, implying
that Ken talked about core wars - a trifling subject compared to what
he really did describe.  Apparently McAfee and Hayes, having found a
good story in Time, never looked further, certainly not at the Turing
lecture, which is hardly an obscure reference.

The investigative reporter did eliminate some of Time's errors:  he
didn't misspell Vyssotsky's name and mine, but probably only because
he identified us merely as "young AT&T programmers".  Instead, out of
nowhere, he decided that we were "engaged in the groundwork for
artificial intelligence."  Perhaps I underestimate his ability to
misread the record.  He may believe in Vyssotsky's chaostron.

Doug McIlroy, Bell Labs

     [The 1959 Chaostron piece reappeared most recently in the Communications
     of the ACM, vol 27, no 4, April 1984, pp. 356-7, in a section entitled
     "An Anthology of Selections Spanning 25 Years", in an issue whose
     table of contents page mysteriously says "May 1984"!  For those of you
     who haven't seen it, this item is an absolute classic.  PGN]

London Underground wrong-way train in rush-hour

Brian Randell <>
Fri, 16 Mar 90 17:30:16 BST
Following on from recent discussions in RISKS about railway
signalling, I thought it appropriate to submit the attached article,
which appeared in the Financial Times on Thursday, 15 March 1990. (It
is reprinted in its entirety without permission.) I'm alarmed that
London Transport do not seem to have thought before of the sort of
situation described.  I'm also intrigued that the manner in which a
disaster was avoided is also implied to be novel - if this is really
so then the train driver showed amazing presence of mind.

Brian Randell


  By Roy Hodson

  An empty London underground train was driven along a tunnel in the
  wrong direction towards a train packed with passengers during last
  Monday evening's rush-hour at 6pm in an incident that London
  Underground is now giving the priority of a major disaster.

  The driver of the empty train became disoriented after being told to
  manoeuvre the train to a cross-over point.  The signalling system was
  unable to cope as he set off north instead of south on the Piccadilly
  Line from Kings Cross.

  The rogue train was stopped just 400 feet from a stationary train
  crammed with 800 passengers.

  Kings Cross was the scene of a fire disaster on November 18, 1987 in
  which 31 people were killed.

  Disaster was averted in this new incident by the prompt action of the
  driver of the stationary train.  He saw approaching train lights and
  reached through his window to seize some 12-volt telephone wires,
  shorting the circuit.

  A programme is now going on throughout the underground network to
  redesign parts of the signalling system.  Work will be completed by
  the weekend.  Fifty stationary red lights are being fitted at points
  identified as possible accident sites, of a similar accident.

  "The present signalling system cannot understand that a train is going
  backwards in a one-way tunnel", a London Underground manager said last
  night.  "The new lights will warn a driver in the remote possibility
  of this ever happening again".

Brian Randell, Computing Laboratory, University of Newcastle upon Tyne, UK

Privacy in Printout

Prof. L. P. Levine <>
Mon, 19 Mar 90 11:02:58 CDT
Is TDD printed output Information or just paper?

>From the Milwaukee Journal, 3/18/90.

A piece of TDD (Telecommunication Device for the Deaf) output was pried from
the clenched fist of a deaf man, resulting in a life prison sentence for
murder, according to an appeal being considered by the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

The questions created by this case include: Was the paper obtained illegally?
Is the TDD output to be considered public information or as private as a phone
conversation?  Since the TDD was in the sheriff's department office in Pierce
County, Wisconsin, the paper is police property.  Is the information written on
it during normal use also police property?

The facts of the case: Robert Rewolinski was picked up on a traffic charge in
June 1987.  He used the TDD in the sheriff's office to call his common law
wife, Catherine Teeters, for a ride home.  During the TDD conversation Teeters
told Rewolinski "I am scared like hell you will do something to me or the kids.
I don't want the kids to have short lives or hurt... I can't stand you
anymore... You must understand that I don't want you and I don't love you."

Three hours later the sheriff's TDD received a call with the message "Robert
Rewolinski here.  Lost my mind.  Cathy's dead."  The TDD printout of the
earlier conversation was considered the critical evidence in convicting him of
first degree murder rather than manslaughter.  The prosecution contends that
the deputy was simply retaining custody and control of police property.  She
could not have been looking for evidence of a crime since no crime had yet been
committed.  The defense contends Rewolinski deserves a new trial because the
printout should not have been taken or used as evidence.

It is clear that the paper belonged to the sheriff.  Did the information on it
belong to them too?  The police do not monitor phone conversations in such
circumstances, how about TDD communication?

Leonard P. Levine, Professor, Computer Science, Univ. Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Send it by FedEx = Don't Send It At All!

Betsy Perry <>
Fri, 16 Mar 90 10:46:11 EST
Thought you might be amused by my latest encounter with Bad Computer
Programming.  Last Saturday, I phone-ordered a selection of seeds from
Shepherd's Seeds in Connecticut.  I asked that the seeds be sent Second Day
Air, since planting season is coming fast.  The salesperson said "Sure, I'll
mark it FedEx; that'll be $5.00 extra.", and we parted with mutual expressions
of esteem.

Five days later, on Thursday, I called Shepherd's to enquire why the seeds
hadn't arrived.  After the order-taker had done some quick computer-sleuthing,
she came up with a shamefaced explanation.  Their computerized order-entry
system schedules orders to be filled based on the method of shipping; normally,
2nd Day Air orders are scheduled to be filled on the evening of arrival.
Unfortunately, my order-taker had marked the order "FedEx".  Since Shepherd's
never ships seeds by Federal Express (they use UPS exclusively), the
order-entry system never scheduled my order to be shipped.  Presumably, my
order would have languished unfilled until the Judgment Day, or until
Shepherd's switched delivery services.

20th Int. Symp. on Fault-Tolerant Computing

Neil Speirs <>
Mon, 19 Mar 90 14:41:16 GMT
 The Twentieth International Symposium on Fault-Tolerant Computing (FTCS-20)

                          26-28th June, 1990

    Newcastle Crest Hotel, New Bridge Street, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK

Sponsored by: Computer Society of the IEEE, CSR, BCS, IEE, ESPRIT,
              University of Newcastle upon Tyne, IFIP Working Group 10.4.

FTCS is the international symposium on fault-tolerant systems. It is
devoted to state-of-the-art issues in fault tolerant computing and
encompasses all aspects of specifying, designing, modelling, implementing,
testing, diagnosing and evaluating dependable and fault-tolerant computing
systems and their components. In addition to a full programme of
contributed papers, invited talks will be given on two very significant
and interesting systems, each of which has extremely challenging
dependability requirements, in the areas of banking and air traffic
control, respectively.

The Association for Payment Clearing Service's CHAPS system provides
the UK same-day guaranteed electronic credit transfer service for 14
settlement banks and over 300 participant banks. The transaction value
often exceeds 80 billion pounds per day.  This system will be
described by Mr Eryl Thomas, who has overall responsibility for the
operation of CHAPS, together with Mr Jim Reeves, CHAPS Technical
Manager, and Mr Geoff Birks, a Senior Manager with the IT Planning
Department of the National Westminster Bank, which is a major CHAPS user.

Dr Flaviu Cristian, who is on the staff of the IBM Research Center,
Almaden, California, will describe plans for the Advanced Automation
System (AAS). The AAS system is being built for the US Federal
Aviation Authority, as a total replacement for the existing North
American air traffic control system. The AAS contract, whose total
value is 3.55 billion dollars, is the biggest single contract in IBM's
history, and the biggest non-military procurement by the US Government
ever. Dr Cristian has just received a Corporate Award (IBM's highest
technical award) for his key contributions to the design of the AAS.

Further information and enquires regarding registration should be made to:
FTCS-20 REGISTRATION, Keepers Lodge, Great Chart, Kent TN26 1JX, UK.,
Tel. +44 23 382 258.

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