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 1 Issue 24


Wednesday, 20 Nov 1985


o Doing Something About Risks in Computer Systems
Brad Davis
o Space Program Software
Jerome Rosenberg
o Susceptibility to interference
John Brewer
o Expecting the unexpected
Herb Lin
o Philip W. Anderson's "Case Against Star Wars"
Pete Kaiser

Doing Something About Risks in Computer Systems

Brad Davis <>
Tue, 19 Nov 85 11:05:34 MST
Often the discussion has touched on failure of software and hardware, but
rarely on levels and methods of protection that should be built into these
systems.  Is is good to trade cycles for protection?  What are the best ways
to recover from failures?  Does anyone have real experiance with these
				Brad Davis

    [Clearly these are leading questions!  We have indeed mentioned many
     good techniques of software engineering that help.  But there are no
     easy answers — especially in the absence of specific requirements.
     But let's see if any of our readers wants to take a crack at this one.

Space Program Software

Jerome Rosenberg <>
Tue, 19 Nov 85 14:46:49 CST
           We have heard a great deal about the great successes of the space
  program but we rarely hear about the difficulties that have to be overcome
  with great effort and dedication. I suggest you direct your readers to the 
  current issue of DATAMATION for an article by Edward Joyce entitled "The
  Art of Space Software". Its subtitle tells a far different story than
  some hand-waving protagonists of the SDI tell about the Space software.
  The subtitle  — The complicated software labyrinth behind the shuttle is
  still far from error-free — tells the story. The article should serve to
  alarm those who are quick to discount the sincere critics of the SDI
  software problems.                     jerome


Tuesday, 19 Nov 1985 10:21:51-PST
brewer%ace.DEC@decwrl.DEC.COM (too busy for bureaucracy -John 5522026) Subject: Re: Susceptibility to interference RE: Bennett Smith's comments of emi-rfi susceptibility in automobile control applications... cb's are low power, limited frequency devices. As an Amateur radio operator, one has to be aware of much higher output power, as well as a much wider bandwidths. Amateur Radio frequency allocations include segments from 1.8Mhz to Ghz ranges. As I remember, some of the control modules are also pretty good emitters of Emi/Rfi hash as well. Typical (legal) output power of a CB is 5 watts or less. A typical ham radio mobile transmitter output power is 100-200 watts. Something to think about! -John ------------------------------ Tue, 19 Nov 85 15:10:41 EST From: Herb Lin Subject: Expecting the unexpected Regarding your comments about spontaneous failure: The Russians have a saying regarding rifles used on stage in plays: once every decade an unloaded gun will fire; once every century a rake will fire. [Perhaps that is what prompted Stravinsky to stage "The Rake's Progress". PGN] ------------------------------ Wednesday, 2 Oct 1985 21:32:34-PDT From: kaiser%furilo.DEC@decwrl.ARPA (Pete Kaiser, 225-5441, HLO2-1/N10) Subject: Philip W. Anderson's "Case Against Star Wars" [The following message was put aside for evaluation before my absence. With the reminder that we of course would like to see more informed pro-SDI contributions in RISKS as well, Anderson's article seems worth including — not because it breaks new ground, but because it represents a position for discussion. PGN] The article below, by Professor Philip W. Anderson of Princeton University, appeared in the Princeton Alumni Weekly of September 25, 1985, and is reprinted here with the author's permission. Professor Anderson won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1977, and was awarded the National Medal of Science in 1982. Although what Professor Anderson has to say is couched partly in specific terms of Princeton University and the discipline of academic physics, it seems to me relevant to basic research in general, and to computer science research and the discipline of computer science in particular. To me, for instance, it seems to be very personally a social consequence of the military funding of computer science research that, while I've worked with computers, there have been many kinds of work which I couldn't conscientiously do because, although they may be very interesting, they are done essentially only for military purposes and with military funding. Finally, Professor Anderson points out that a great deal of sensible thought can be brought to social issues even by someone who "isn't ... fascinated by the technical details." Agreed. We must remember that we're not priests. ---Pete {allegra|decvax|ihnp4|ucbvax}!decwrl!dec-rhea!dec-belker!kaiser DEC, 77 Reed Road (HLO2-1/N10), Hudson MA 01749 617-568-5441 ---------------------------------- The Case Against Star Wars Philip W. Anderson, Princeton I am not an expert on strategic weapons. I'm a theoretical physicist who has been involved in almost all of physics except atomic bombs. I have not done classified work since 1945, and that was on radar. My total contribution to the laser — a major technical component of the Strategic Defense Initiative, which is better known as Star Wars — was roughly that when one of the scientists at Bell Laboratories who originated the things asked me to predict whether a certain seminal version of it would work if they built it, I said "Well, maybe." Fortunately, most of the scientific issues that come up in discussing Star Wars are very simple ones which require neither specialized nor especially technical -- and therefore classifiable — knowledge. One needs to know that it costs everyone about the same amount to put a ton of stuff into a given orbit and that this is a major portion of the cost of any space system; that signals can't travel faster than the speed of light; that it takes roughly as much chemical fuel to burn through a shield with a laser as the shield itself weighs; that Americans are not measurably smarter than Russians; and a few other simple, home truths. Given these, almost everyone comes to much the same conclusions. If you go through the enormously detailed kinds of calculations on specific configurations which Richard Garwin and his fellow opponents of SDI felt necessary to convince the stubborn, you leave yourself open to the kind of errors of factors of 2 or 4 which Martin Muendel '86 found in his widely publicized junior paper last spring [Princeton Alumni Weekly, May 8] and which then — to the lay person — seem to weaken the whole structure. This is a particularly tough game because Star Wars advocates do not themselves propose specific configurations and present specific calculations that can be shot down; their arguments are given in terms of emotional hopes and glossy presentations. This is why I think it is good for the argument against SDI to be made by a mentally lazy, non-expert person like myself who isn't particularly fascinated by the technical details. The reasons for not building Star Wars are essentially identical to those which led both us and the Russians to abandon, for practical purposes, the antibal- listic missile in 1972 and to sign a treaty restricting ABMs. It is important to understand that reasoning — and perhaps it is less emotionally charged than Star Wars since it is now history and not even controversial history anymore. Why would anyone feel that a defense against missiles was useless and, in fact, dangerous and destabilizing? There are three stages, each more certain than the last: (1) It probably wouldn't work, even under ideal conditions. (2) It almost certainly wouldn't work under war conditions. This puts us in the dangerous and unstable situation of the gunfighter who doesn't know if his gun is loaded. (3) Most certain and conclusive of all, *each defensive system costs, inescapably, at least 10 times more than the offensive system it is supposed to shoot down*. Thus it pays the other side to increase its offensive arsenal until the defender is bankrupt, and the net result is an *increase* in armaments and a far more dangerous situation, without any increase in safety. The offense has, inescapably, enormous advantages: its missiles are sent at will, in any desired sequence and quantity, with any number of decoys and other deceptive countermeasures, preprogrammed at leisure to hit their targets; the defense has to find them, sort them out, get into space at a time not of its own choosing, and then kill the warheads it finds with nearly perfect accuracy. In the case of ABM, there were other problems, such as that the explosions were over the defending side and that the first few explosions probably blacked out the whole shooting match, but that was sufficient argument against. As far as almost everyone in and out of the Defense Department was concerned, until March 1983 this situation was an accepted fact. No technical breakthrough had or has changed those realities. The change has been purely political and emotional, and hence now financial. President Reagan's March 1983 speech, as far as anyone can ascertain, was not preceded by any serious technical review, but quite the opposite: the most recent and urgent internal study of antimissile defenses had come out negative on all possible schemes. Apparently, the President based his speech and his subsequent program on a collection of rather farfetched suggestions — farfetched but by no means secret and previously unknown — which, to the outside scientific observer, seem to deserve the oblivion that the last pre-Star Wars study consigned them to. These schemes amount to a way for the defense to spend more per missile and still let through a large fraction of the offensive missiles. The defensive hardware that has to be got up into space still has to have roughly the same mass as the offense; in many schemes it has to get there faster; and it still has to be much more sophisticated and therefore vulnerable and delicate. Key components, in most schemes, have to be left in space indefinitely, inviting the enemy to track them with space mines, perhaps the most dangerous tripwire mechanism for stating a war that one can possibly imagine. Some Star Wars advocates will protest that I do not mention the one idea which doesn't founder just on the problem of total mass in space. This is the scheme of exploding hydrogen bombs in space and directing the explosive energy of the bombs with lasers to kill very many missiles per bomb — several hundred to several thousand, if one is to kill an equivalent cost in missiles! If I could think of any way such a monstrosity could work as opposed to the many ways it could not work or be frustrated, I would take it more seriously. Apparently there has been some good and interesting science done on these lasers, but unfortunately it is classified; no one, however, seems to claim that it helps much with the technical problem. I cannot, incidentally, see any way to do meaningful development on such a weapon without exploding H-bombs in space, a terrible pollution as well as a violation of what treaties we have. I think the above would represent reasonably well the views on the technical realities of most trustworthy physicists to whom I have spoken, in or out of academia and in or out of the Star Wars program. In academic physics depart- ments, which receive relatively little support from the DOD, a pledge form has been circulating stating that the signer opposes SDI as unworkable and will not seek SDI funds; this has had a high percentage of signers everywhere it has been circulated and its preliminary circulation in Princeton over the summer encoun- tered only a few holdouts. Those who do not sign feel, primarily, that research in any guise shouldn't be opposed, while agreeing personally that the systems proposed are unworkable and destabilizing. Perhaps it would be worthwhile, therefore, for me to explain why I feel the large increment of research funds earmarked by President Reagan for SDI is a very bad thing for the research community, as well as for the country as a whole. You will note that I said *increment*; every year before Star Wars, we spent $1 billion in ABM research and development. My main reason is that, on the whole, Star Wars will represent a further acceleration of three extremely disturbing trends in the direction of research funding in this country. First, we are seeing a decrease in basic research relative to mission-oriented, applied research. The basic research agencies — National Science Foundation, Basic Energy Sciences in the DOE, and National Institutes of Health — have been maintained at level funding while their missions have been gently skewed toward applications and engineering by piling more applied responsibilities on them. At the same time, while the Administration has cut back on development in some civilian sectors, it has more than compensated by increasing the amount of applied work for the military. Second, there is a trend away from scientific administration of federal research money — mostly done by the system of "peer review" — to micromanagement either by bureaucrats, or, increasingly, by Congress, with all the logrolling possibil- ities that entails. The three institutions mentioned above, especially NSF and NIH, operate by subjecting each grant to a jury or other scientists. Like most democratic procedures, this system is worse than everything except the alterna- tives; its effect has been reviewed repeatedly and there is no serious doubt that it works. Military "research," on the other hand, has always operated on the arbitrary whim of the contracting officers. In the early days after World War II this administration was a benevolent despotism, but the adjective has long since lost its meaning. Most of the in-house DOD laboratories have been rather a scandal in the research community. The dominant motivation in this system seems to be the standard bureaucratic one of "empire building." Third, from the point of view of the country as a whole, perhaps the most dangerous trend is the shift from civilian to military dominance of our federal research and development spending. Under the Reagan Administration, this has grown to 72 percent military, up from about 50 percent a decade ago. Everyone has been told — and DOD sees to that — of the great economic benefits of "spin-off" from military development, but if they exist (and I have never found an economist who believes in them), they are not evident in our recent economic performance vis-a-vis Japan and Germany. In fact, in a country like ours with a serious shortage of trained engineers and scientists, a shortage which would be crippling if we did not attract great numbers of them from overseas to staff our universities and research laboratories, the waste of our precious technical expertise on military hardware is a serious economic debit. From Princeton's point of view, all of these trends are disturbing. As a top- flight research university, a heavy percentage of our funding is in individual support of independently functioning basic scientists, mainly peer-reviewed and to a large extent from the agencies mentioned above. We have not had to resort to logrolling political tactics, nor have we had to accept micromanagement, DOD control of publications, or limitations on citizenship of students to keep our research funded. SDI control of funding, and in general the shift of research funding to the military, is a serious danger to the independence of Princeton as a research university. Of course, this is a narrow and slightly parochial view, but it is nonetheless serious. Certainly it is more important that the naive emotional appeal of the Star Wars concept is being used so blatantly to defuse the country's strong desire for nuclear disarmament, and to turn this emotional pressure into yet another excuse for enriching the arms manufacturers and building up a dangerous and worthless arsenal of nonsensical armaments. To paraphrase Murph Goldber- ger's testimony on the ABM: Star Wars is "spherically" senseless — that is, silly no matter how you look at it. [End of Philip Anderson's statement, and of Pete Kaiser's Message.]

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