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 81

Wednesday 18 April 1990

Contents

o RISKS, SENDMAIL, and YOU!
PGN
o London Tube train leaves ... without its driver
Stephen Page
o Shuttle roll incident on January '90 mission
Henry Spencer
o Software failures on Boeing 747-400?
Trevor Warwick
o False 1099 forms
Phil R. Karn
o Re: Risks [9.080] of Daylight Savings Time
Thomas Zmudzinski
Chuck Weinstock
o Comment on UK Software Standards
Richard Morton
o Automates Fast Food
David Bank
o Info on RISKS (comp.risks)

RISKS, SENDMAIL, and YOU!

"Peter G. Neumann" <neumann@csl.sri.com>
Tue, 17 Apr 1990 10:11:36 PDT
If you are wondering why you have not seen many issues lately,

   1. I was travelling for almost two weeks, and have been utterly swamped
      trying to recover since I returned.

   2. The SENDMAIL multiple-mailing problem has continued to bug us, hitting
      a DIFFERENT one of the six main SUBLISTS on the average of EVERY OTHER
      ISSUE.  Thus, to try to minimize your agony and my annoyance, I have
      favored fewer but larger issues.  (Yes, that could be a part of the
      problem, too.  However, in general, it appears that the trouble has
      usually been due to the combination of noncompliant remote hosts and
      nameserver problems.  I've also had to drop a few addresses that were
      hanging in a name server loop!

   3. At long last, we are about to install a new version of SENDMAIL for which
      claims are made that it improves some things, but also continues to
      handle awkward addresses properly and does some of the other things we
      need, preventing us from backing off to an earlier warhorse version.
      Perhaps some of the old problems will now go away, although I shudder at
      the thought that we may now have to discover some new problems.  At any
      rate, please bear with us.

   4. We still have a lot of .ARPA addresses, even though the ARPANET is
      essentially kaput.  I trust those of you will provide updated addresses
      before it is too late.  Let's not wait until the address grace period
      expires.

Thanks for your patience.  PGN


[London] Tube train leaves ... without its driver

Stephen Page <sdpage@prg.oxford.ac.uk>
Mon, 16 Apr 90 14:39:04 bst
[an article by Dick Murray in the [London] Evening Standard under the above
title, 12 April 1990.]

The Runaway train went down the track -- leaving an embarrassed Victoria Line
Tube driver standing behind on the platform.  He had broken a golden rule and
left the cab of his fully-automated train to check a door which had failed to
close properly.  When the door did shut an electrical circuit was completed and
the train, with 20 passengers on board, moved off before the driver had time to
rush back to the controls.

A London Underground spokesman, stressing that there was no danger to any of
the passengers, said today: `He did not turn off the automatic-mode switch
before leaving the cab.'  The driver, whom Underground chiefs refused to name,
then had to wait on the platform for six minutes before he could get on the
Tube [train] behind to catch up with his own train.

Passengers did not know what had happened, except there was nobody to open the
doors at Pimlico until the inspector let them out.

Now a full-scale inquiry into the incident, at 11.20pm on Tuesday, has been
launched by London Underground and the driver could face a disciplinary charge.

[ Readers who have visited London may sympathise with my own theory, which
  is that the train was so astonished to be less than 400% full that it
  bolted.  - S ]

    [Yes, the normal situation is "tuBe or not tuBe, that is congestion."
    But he was certainly optimistic to think that he could CATCH UP with
    his train, since the automatic controls clearly are designed to prevent
    that.  A better strategy would have been to call ahead.  But I presume that
    the supervisor commandeered a substitute driver anyway.  Actually, the
    train is not COMPLETELY automatic; the opening and closing of doors is
    controlled manually.  But perhaps there is an interlock that keeps the
    train from taking off again after a time-out without the doors having been
    opened?  Otherwise it might just have kept on going.  Seems like a good
    subject for the Kingston Trio.

    Headless horseman?  Horseless headman?  Watch the driver putter?  PGN]


Shuttle roll incident on January '90 mission

<henry@zoo.toronto.edu>
Fri, 13 Apr 90 22:16:19 EDT
As many people know, during the LDEF retrieval mission in January 1990, at one
point when the crew were asleep, a garbled "state vector" uploaded to Columbia
caused the orbiter to start rotating.  The extent of this has been somewhat
exaggerated -- maximum speed was half an RPM, and the crew didn't notice until
Mission Control woke them up -- but it was a bit startling that such a thing
could happen.  It could have been serious if it had happened at a worse time.

Most software people, on hearing about, react with "haven't those clods ever
heard of checksums?".  Well, it turns out they have.  In the latest issue of
World Spaceflight News (an excellent source for serious technical detail on
shuttle flights), the full story is given.  The telemetry channels were noisy
at the time, the state vector was garbled by several noise "hits", and Mission
Control's computers correctly announced that the copy sent back by the orbiter
for confirmation didn't match the original and the state vector should be
discarded.  The ground controller responsible for the matter examined the
detailed report, incorrectly decided that nothing important had been damaged --
and ordered the orbiter's computers to begin using the defective state vector!
The orbiter, naturally, obeyed.  In other words, this was ultimately operator
error.  The controller's action was "clearly outside the expected" procedures.
(The question of whether this sort of thing is routine practice was not
addressed, but I for one would suspect that the controller wouldn't have done
that if he hadn't had to use manual overrides before.)

Procedures have been changed as a stopgap, and various long-term fixes are
being considered, including the possibility of "inhibiting" the manual override
in such cases.  (It is not clear whether this means making it impossible, or
just requiring some degree of confirmation or authorization.)

          Henry Spencer at U of Toronto Zoology        uunet!attcan!utzoo!henry


Software failures on Boeing 747-400?

"Trevor Warwick dtn: 830-4432 16-Apr-1990 1730" <warwick@marvin.enet.dec.com>
Mon, 16 Apr 90 09:53:30 PDT
Last week, I caught the end of an item on the BBC TV news where they were
talking about a software fault that had been found on British Airways' new
Boeing 747-400s.

Apparently, on more than one occasion, the flight control system had throttled
all four engines back to idling speed while the aircraft was climbing. On each
occasion, the pilot immediately intervened, and successfully rectified the
situation.

It was then stated that after investigation by BA and Boeing engineers, a fault
was corrected in the control software. Boeing was quoted as stating that they
could not absolutely guarantee that faults like this would not occur again.

Can anybody supply any further details ?

For the record, I'm not overly worried about the increasing computerisation of
aircraft systems. With today's software technology, I don't see how you can
avoid incidents like the one mentioned above, and I wouldn't be stupid enough
to claim that you could build a completely reliable system.

However, on balance, I think that the automated systems are an improvement,
since they go some  way towards eliminating the main cause of accidents, which
is human error on behalf of the pilot. It may be that human error on behalf of
the software engineer causes a different class of fault than you expect a
pilot to make, but just because a fault is bizarre doesn't necessarily make it
more dangerous.

The only reason I wouldn't fly across the Atlantic in an A320 is because it
doesn't have enough engines !
                                               Trevor Warwick

Telecommunications and Networks Engineering, Digital Equipment Corporation,
Reading, England.                        warwick%marvin.enet@decwrl.dec.com

   ["the opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the views
   or opinions of Digital Equipment Corporation"]


False 1099 forms

Phil R. Karn <karn@thumper.bellcore.com>
Tue, 17 Apr 90 21:45:17 EDT
Monday's Wall Street Journal carried a front page article about a new tactic
being used by some hard-core tax protesters against the IRS: the filing of
false 1099 forms. (IRS form 1099 is used to report miscellaneous payments to
individuals; anyone who has done independent consulting should be familiar with
them.)  The targets of the false 1099s were generally enemies of the tax
protesters: employees of the IRS, Federal judges, etc. The intent was
apparently to cause grief for the victim when the IRS inquires why he or she
didn't report the "income" on his or her tax return. The reported "amounts"
ranged from thousands to tens of millions of dollars.

Although in principle this type of attack does not require the involvement of a
computer, apparently the IRS has in recent years begun to conduct large scale
computerized cross-checks between 1099 reports and the tax returns of the
payees to see if miscellaneous income was properly reported. A sufficient
number of false 1099 forms might seriously diminish the cost-effectiveness of
this technique because of the need for manual verification of the forms. (The
article quoted a former IRS commissioner as saying that this type of attack had
the potential of becoming a "stick of dynamite" in the tax system.)

One wonders if there may be a fundamental limit on the degree to which
institutions that must be open to many sources of public input can rely
on a high degree of computerization to achieve cost-effectiveness,
especially when the institution or its policies are unpopular.  Local
police and fire departments have long faced the problem of false alarms
and malicious reports. They seem to deal with the problem by screening
calls with human operators and by resigning themselves to wasting a
certain percentage of their resources responding to crank calls. Credit
reporting systems must also be open to many sources of input, and they
too are often deliberately fed garbage.

Closer to home, computer networks such as Internet, phone BBSes and even
"Sneakernet" represent social institutions through which people can contribute
software, data and so forth, with the goal of increasing the cost-effectiveness
of computer systems in general. But the Internet worm and especially the PC
virus problem may mean that there is a fundamental limit on the degree of
sharing, because of the effort that each individual must spend to ensure that
he doesn't pick up an infected program or leave his computer open to network
attack.

Although privacy and authentication mechanisms do exist, so far they seem to be
workable only when the "community" within which the mechanisms are used to
grant trust is relatively small, and threat of sanctions are effective in
deterring abuses of that trust.

In the case of 1099 forms, anyone buying the services of an individual US
resident is apparently required to file them, and that takes in an awful lot of
corporations, small businesses and even individuals. Some may be in other
countries. Even if each filer of 1099 forms were given an authenticator of some
kind by the IRS, there would be little to keep someone from applying for such
an authenticator under a false name. (In the cases cited in the WSJ article, a
number of criminal prosecutions are underway, apparently because many of the
perpetrators used their own real names as the payers!)

In the computer field, I'll leave it to your imagination as to how easy it is
to find the author of a PC virus. Those few suspects that have been caught seem
to have been extraordinarily careless in leaving evidence and witnesses around.
I venture to guess that had Robert Morris developed his worm on his own
computer in complete secrecy, we'd still be wondering who did it.

Phil


Re: Risks [9.080] of Daylight Savings Time

"zmudzinski, thomas" <zmudzinskit@IMO-UVAX.DCA.MIL>
16 Apr 90 14:53:00 EDT
One counter question, when did the railroads stop running on Standard Time?

(The transcontinental railways were the main reason we went to Standard in
the first place.  The last time I rode a train (not recent I'll admit), they
still ignored local vagaries like Daylight Saving, War, Victory, etc. Time.)

/z/


Re: Risks [9.080] of Daylight Savings Time

Chuck Weinstock <weinstoc@SEI.CMU.EDU>
Wed, 18 Apr 90 09:31:13 EDT
The railroads went (mostly) to daylight time in the 1960's as best I can tell.
I have some employee timetables that indicate that they go into effect at
12:01am (or 2:01am) Pacific Standard Time, on the Sunday of the time change,
yet seem to have times in them on daylight savings time.  I also looked at an
old Offical Guide from the 60's and it had some railroads showing their
schedules in DST and others in ST.  Amtrak, at least, publishes its schedules
according to local time (when the computer doesn't goof!)

Side note: most railroads today don't publish times in their employee
timetables (and they don't have public timetables since Amtrak).  The reason
for this is that with the increasing use of radios, it is typically more
efficient to run all trains as "extras" and let the dispatcher sort out which
train meets which train and where.  The capacity of the railroad is increased.
The exception is an Amtrak train, which always runs to a schedule.

Chuck


Comment on UK Software Standards [RISKS-9.1 and 2]

<Richard Morton via PGN>
[lost, but old]
I have been following the discussion on the RISKS Forum regarding the new UK
defense software standards, and it seems to me that the arguments about what
technology should be in the standards are irrelevant.  The standards as
described by Sean Matthews (RISKS-9.1) appear to address only technical
concerns (what programmers should do), and as such will never lead to higher
quality systems regardless of which technology they espouse.  Quality is first
and foremost a management problem, not a technical problem.  Long before we
worry about the technology, we need to learn some basic management principles
and apply them.  David Parnas recognizes this when he writes:

    I believe that organisations such as MoD would be better advised to
    introduce regulations requiring the use of certain good programming
    techniques, requiring the use of highly qualified people, requiring
    systematic, formal, and detailed documentation, requiring thorough
    inspection, requiring thorough testing, etc. than to introduce regulations
    forbidding out the use of perfectly reasonable techniques.

Fred Brooks tried to make the importance of management clear in The Mythical
Man-Month.  For example, he noted "More software projects have gone awry for
lack of calendar time than for all other causes combined."  There is not even a
hint of a technical problem there.  He explains:

    I believe that large programming projects suffer management problems
    different in kind from small ones, due to division of labor.  I believe the
    critical need to be the preservation of the conceptual integrity of the
    product itself.

That book is almost 15 years old, and very few people seem to have taken it to
heart.  Marketing concerns still dominate schedule estimates on competitive
contracts.  Project managers still add more people to late projects.  It seems
like no one is listening.  Apparently, we still haven't gotten the attention of
top management.  Why not try something different, something so simple any CEO
can understand?

Henry Ford once recommended to Congress that all that was needed to solve the
water pollution problem was to require people who take water out of a river to
return it upstream from where they take it out.  I believe that a similar simple
but elegant solution to the "software problem" exists.  Only one quality
standard is required:  Any company bidding on a high risk project (or better
still, any project) must be able to demonstrate (and continue to demonstrate
during the life of the contract) that the quality of their software development
process is better this year than it was last year.

It does not do any good to try to tell people how to solve the problem, until
it is their problem.  Some people call this the 2-by-4 theory of how to get
someone's attention.  After they have been hit right between the eyes, they
will ask us for the technology we have been trying to give them for the last 20
years.

Richard Morton, Institute for Defense Analyses
(Opinions expressed are strictly my own.)


Automates Fast Food

David Bank <unkydave@shumv1.ncsu.edu>
Sun, 15 Apr 90 01:49:19 EDT
    Recent articles by davy@instd.sri.com and webber@psych.toronto.edu reminded
me of a story related to my by my girlfriend.

    For a time, she worked at a Hardees restaurant in North Carolina.  It is my
understanding that this was one of their "flagship" operations as it was
geographically close to the center of the Hardee's "empire" in Rocky Mount, NC.

    The events here took place a number of years ago. This food store had
regiesters installed that recorded all of the purchases, so that at the end of
the day the manager could get printouts of all the data and make sure the till
matched the sales reported and help keep inventory updated.

    These registers were "linked" and could "talk" to each other. At the end of
business each day, the manager would go to a register (it did not matter which
one), punch in a numeric code, and ALL of the registers would start printing
out ALL of the purchases they recorded that day.

    Once this process was triggered, from ANY register, there was NO way to
abort or stop it. The registers printed until they were finished, short of
pulling the plug on the whole system (which would cause data loss, obviously).

    One day, a recently discharged assistant manager went thru the drive thru
at the beginning of lunch "rush hour." When he got to the window, he made a
request of the person at the window which he knew would require them to leave
their station. While they were gone, he leaned in the window, typed in the
aformentioned code on the register, and drove off...leaving the registers at
the store paralyzed as they printed out the morning's sales at the height of
the lunch rush. The front line staff was reduced to taking orders on pads and
hand-calculating the cost and applicable tax, having to constantly refer to the
menus behind them.

Unky Dave

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