The RISKS Digest
Volume 26 Issue 04

Wednesday, 28th April 2010

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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We Have Met the Enemy and He Is PowerPoint
Elisabeth Bumiller
"Software Error" sends out wrong ballots for the UK general election
Steve Loughran
PG&E details technical problems with SmartMeters
Dana Hull via Paul Saffo
The Eyes Have It?
Dnt Txt N Drv
Oprah Winfrey via Monty Solomon
3D TV: A Bad View?
Nestor E. Arellano via Gene Wirchenko
More on the McAfee SNAFU
Chris J Brady
Cloud Risks and McAfee's blunder
Gene Wirchenko
More Virus Protection Woes
Chris J Brady
Speech recognition and phone banking: not a very good idea
Tim Bradshaw
Risks of RFID car keys
Ron Garret
Fredric L. Rice
Arthur Flatau
Re: Broadband survivability and certification
Michael D. Sullivan
Re: Your Cell Phone May Be Hazardous to Your Health
Jeff Grigg
Info on RISKS (comp.risks)

We Have Met the Enemy and He Is PowerPoint (Elisabeth Bumiller)

"Peter G. Neumann" <>
Tue, 27 Apr 2010 19:26:59 PDT

* “PowerPoint makes us stupid.” (Gen. James N. Mattis of the Marine
  Corps, the Joint Forces commander.)

* “It's dangerous because it can create the illusion of understanding and
  the illusion of control.”  (Brig. Gen. H. R. McMaster, who banned
  PowerPoint presentations when he was in Iraq in 2005.)

* “When we understand that slide, we'll have won the war.”  (General
  Stanley A. McChrystal, a leader in Afghanistan, responding to an amazing
  spaghetti-like PowerPoint slide he saw in Kabul (reproduced in the *NYT*

[Source: Elisabeth Bumiller, *The New York Times*, 26 Apr 2010,
We Have Met the Enemy and He Is PowerPoint; PGN-ed]

  [Delightful article.  Excellent reading.  The ppt is truly wonderful.  PGN]

"Software Error" sends out wrong ballots for the UK general election

Steve Loughran <>
Tue, 27 Apr 2010 09:09:16 +0100

The UK General election is coming, and with three parties all doing fairly
well, it's hard to predict the outcome. In a marginal seat — like Bristol
West — every vote matters.

Which is why it is unfortunate that nearly 2400 voters have been sent postal
ballot papers that are for the adjacent ward, Bristol East.

1.  Voting by post is optional; these are people who have stated in advance
    they wish to vote by post.
2. The electoral boundaries of the wards have changed. Last time the area in
   question was in Bristol East, now it is in Bristol West.

There is more detail on the web site of the Bristol East MP:

“Stephen McNamara, the Returning Officer, is going on Radio Bristol
tomorrow to explain how it happened ("software error" I'm told), and what
he's going to do about it”

I don't think this is a software error. It smacks of a human error -failure
to change to boundary specification or entry of the wrong boundary into the
election database, compounded by a process failure: nobody checked a sample
of postal voters in the areas of changed boundaries to see their ballot
papers were valid.

Given the boundary change is not a recent event, and that May 6 is the
latest date the Labour Party could have held an election, the fact that the
council seems to have been caught out by this is pretty embarrassing. The
spare time before the election is called can be used to check that these
things are up to date, and if some bizarre software problem stops you from
checking the validity of ballot papers until an election is called,
verifying a sample of postal ballot papers seems easy and obvious to do. I
hope everyone has learned from this, and that the consequences — which
could involve lawsuits and byelections, possibly even changes of government
-- are not too serious.

PG&E details technical problems with SmartMeters (Dana Hull)

Paul Saffo <>
Tue, 27 Apr 2010 07:46:18 -0700

Dana Hull <>,
PG&E details technical problems with SmartMeters, 26 Apr 2010

After months of denying any technical problems with its SmartMeter program,
PG&E publicly detailed a range of glitches Monday affecting tens of
thousands of the digital meters.  But the San Francisco-based utility said
it had found just eight meters that inaccurately reported a customer's
energy use, despite thousands of complaints from customers who say the new
meters have overcharged them. The utility would not say how many of the 5.5
million meters installed so far have been tested for accuracy after

PG&E detailed 43,376 cases in which the meters were involved in other kinds
of problems. It said 23,000 meters were installed improperly, 11,376 failed
to retain consumer usage information.

The Eyes Have It?

"Peter G. Neumann" <>
Mon, 26 Apr 2010 11:19:04 PDT

  [I hope some risks-aware folks are eye-tracking this one.
     “Look Out Where You're Going!” becomes
     “You're Going Where You Look!”
  If you experience rapid eye movement while driving in your sleep,
  you might even flip the car over.  PGN]

Car Steered With Driver's Eyes
Freie University Berlin (Germany) (04/23/10)
[From ACM TechNews, 26 Apr 2010]

Researchers at the Freie Universitat Berlin's Artificial Intelligence Group
have developed eyeDriver, software that enables users to steer a car with
their eyes.  The driver wears a helmet that features two cameras.  One
camera is pointed at the driver's eyes and captures their movements, and the
other camera points forward.  The data is transmitted in regular intervals
to an onboard laptop computer, where the eyeDriver software converts the
data into control signals for the steering wheel.  The software can
calculate the position of the pupil in the eye, as well as the position in
the scene that the user is looking at.  The software has two modes.  In
"free ride" mode, the driver's gaze direction determines the desired
position of the steering wheel.  In "routing" mode, the software steers
autonomously unless an intersection or fork in the road appears.  In that
case, the car stops and the driver must select the desired route.

  [There's no such thing as a ‘free ride’.  Lots of other sources,
  including *Der Spiegel* (German and English).  PGN]

Dnt Txt N Drv (Oprah Winfrey)

Monty Solomon <>
Sun, 25 Apr 2010 21:28:25 -0400

... I just kept thinking: How many people have to die [from drunken driving]
before we "get it"?  Fortunately, we did get it, and since 1980, the number
of annual traffic fatalities due to drunken driving has decreased to under
15,500 from more than 30,000.  But in recent years, another kind of tragic
story has begun to emerge with ever greater frequency. This time, we are
mourning the deaths of those killed by people talking or sending text
messages on their cellphones while they drive...  [Oprah Winfrey, OpEd, *The
New York Times*, 25 Apr 2010; PGN-ed, and well worth reading in its

3D TV: A Bad View? (Nestor E. Arellano)

Gene Wirchenko <>
Mon, 26 Apr 2010 09:22:10 -0700

Warning: TV may be bad for your health
A warning from a 3D TV manufacturer that its product may cause some health
problems among children, pregnant women, elderly and those who've consumed
alcohol suggest that 3D TV isn't yet ready for prime time.

Nestor E. Arellano, *IT Business*, 26 Apr 2010

Opening paragraphs:

'Have you been eyeing that gorgeous 3D television lately?

You may want to put the brakes on your desire to have exotic aliens and
super heroes zoom into your living room.

A warning issued by one of the leading 3D TV manufacturers may indicate the
technology isn't yet ready for family prime time.

Less than a month following the roll out of its 3D TV, Samsung Electronics
in Australia states on its Web site that some viewers may experience more
than just awesome visual effects.

It cautions users to "immediately stop watching 3D pictures" and consult a
doctor if they experience altered vision, lightheadedness, dizziness,
involuntary movements such as eye twitching, confusion, nausea, loss of
awareness, convulsion, cramps or disorientation.

Here's something that will definitely be a bummer for kids: Children and
teenagers may be more susceptible to health issues associated with viewing
in 3D and should be closely supervised, according to Samsung.'

It puzzles me that this product got to production.  In my twelfth grade
(1977), the school had a haunted house.  A strobe light was used a one
point.  There was awareness that this could be a problem for epileptics, so
it was warned about.  Surely, Samsung should have known of possible issues.

Risks?  Rushing a new technology to the market before it is ready.  There is
no mention of suits against Samsung, but that seems to me to be a

I think I will let someone else do the first consumer testing of flying cars.

More on the McAfee SNAFU

Chris J Brady <>
Mon, 26 Apr 2010 01:29:48 -0700 (PDT)

[Source: Security update hits Windows PCs.  Browsing on that finds too many
hits for me to figure out where the original one was.  Maybe BBC News?  PGN]

Windows uses lots of copies of the svchost file. Thousands of PCs around the
world have been paralysed by a security update that wrongly labeled part of
Windows as a virus.

The update was sent out by security firm McAfee and made affected PCs
endlessly restart.

Corporate customers of McAfee seemed to be hardest hit but some individuals
reported problems too.

The update wrongly labeled svchost as the virus and then quarantined it.
This caused many PCs to crash as Windows uses many copies of the file to
keep the operating system going.

Computers inside businesses running Windows XP with service pack 3 applied
were the hardest hit according to reports. The University of Michigan said
8,000 of its 25,000 computers were hit by the faulty update.

The SANS Internet Storm Center said the update was causing "widespread
problems" and said it received reports about "networks with thousands of
down machines and organizations who had to shut down for business until this
is fixed."

Analyst Rob Enderle said the update "pretty much took Intel down today". Mr
Enderle was at the chip giant's HQ for a meeting when the widespread crash
started to hit the computers of the people with whom he sat.

Cloud Risks and McAfee's blunder

Gene Wirchenko <>
Mon, 26 Apr 2010 09:44:35 -0700

I have not understood how people figure that the cloud will be the saviour
of computing.  There are too many risks.  “McAfee's blunder, cloud
computing's fatal flaw” states my case rather well: McAfee's update fiasco
shows that even trusted providers can cause catastrophic harm.  *InfoWorld*,
26 Apr 2010.

  [Trusted for what?  The risk in the clouds is of course trusting something
  that is not trustworthy .  PGN]

More Virus Protection Woes

Chris J Brady <>
Mon, 26 Apr 2010 01:59:12 -0700 (PDT)

I have just bought a new Acer Aspire One 532 Netbook. The thought of using
mifi and web browsing on the beach rather than in the office does appeal
somewhat. Even though the unseasonably cold British weather is not exactly
conducive to such activity (or non-activity) at present. But I digress. The
Acer came with McAfee virus protection pre-installed for a 60-day free
trial. But this actually came with a high price — of wasted time in having
to investigate an obscure problem with IE8 (which also came
pre-installed). I quickly found that with many web pages that I browsed that
had embedded hyperlinks, especially Yahoo Mail for some reason, that IE8
would not activate these links when clicked upon. Neither would IE8 open a
new window or a new tab for these links (right mouse click options). Indeed
it simply ignored the links — period. The problem is so serious that
Microsoft has issued a special command file to re-register IE8's dlls>. IE8
is very sensitive to the incorrect registration of its dlls. Also without
directly ascribing the blame to any other specific pre-installation the MS
MVPs have also advised de-installing the McAfee virus protection s/w>.
Having done both, i.e. removed McAfee and run the respective re-reg. cmd
file the problem with IE8 was cured (for me). CJB.

Speech recognition and phone banking: not a very good idea

Tim Bradshaw <>
Tue, 27 Apr 2010 10:29:15 +0100

My wife recently had a suspicious transaction on her credit card.  She rang
the standard phone number for the card company to enquire about it (it was
actually legitimate), and discovered that they have replaced their previous
type-the-card-number-on-the-phone-keypad system with something that requires
you to speak the number, and other authentication details, before you can
get to talk to a human.

What this means is that you have to speak your card number and other
details, in a clear voice, trying to minimise any regional pronunciation so
the system understands it, and probably do this several times because its
recognition accuracy is dismal (which makes the system far more annoying to
use than a touchtone system, of course).  Speaking loudly also helps as it
gets the signal further above the noise.  In other words this is maximising
the chance of a bystander being able to hear this rather sensitive

Someone has not been thinking very hard about the security aspects of this.

Risks of RFID car keys

Ron Garret <>
Mon, 26 Apr 2010 23:43:55 -0700

I rented a car with an RFID key the other day, the kind that is purely
electronic and wireless.  When I went to return the car, the agent made of a
point of asking me for the key, and I suddenly realized I had no idea where
it was.  It was obviously *somewhere* in the car, but apparently at some
point during the day I had absentmindedly tossed the key somewhere (it
ultimately turned out to be in my backpack) and forgotten where I had put
it.  Not only that, it actually slipped my mind that the car even *had* a
key!  Because the key was in my backpack and the backpack was in the car,
all I had to do to start the car was to push the start button, and the key
faded out of my consciousness.  If the agent hadn't thought to ask me for it
I almost certainly would have inadvertently walked off with it.

Another potential risk: back in the good old days, if you happened to leave
your key in your car, a potential thief still had to 1) know it was there
and 2) locate it in order for it to do him or her any good.  No more.  Now
thanks to handy dandy RFID technology the thief can steal the car first and
then search for the key after.  And, of course, finding a car whose owner
has left a key in it somewhere is a simple matter of making a pinging
device.  You don't even need to break the encryption.  All you have to do is
elicit a response from the key.  Add a directional antenna and you have a
remote detector for easily stealable high-end cars.


"Fredric L. Rice" <>
Mon, 26 Apr 2010 10:28:40 -0700 (PDT)

It's a shame that contemporary GPS receivers with mapping functionality do
not allow for an operator to select a broad spectrum of specific behaviors
which would allow operators to tailor degrees of acceptable risks.

Rather than being able to select the shortest route or the quickest route,
or the route with fewer traffic lights and stop signs, I personally would
like to be able to select the route which has fewer opposing left-hand turns
since accumulatively, reducing opposing left-hand turns reduces the risks of
being struck in that very common mode of accident.

If I recall the statistics correctly, being rear-ended is a major mode of
accident with greater frequency than someone turning left in front of you
(in the United States, any way) however opposing left turns is a major
statistical risk that would, it seems to be, be capable of being reduced
through alternative navigation.

GPS receivers could be configurable to determine how torturous a route
would be acceptable to the operator to avoid opposing lefts, and know when
avoidance becomes absurd enough to simply proceed without opposing
left-turn avoidance.

In the course of some 40 years of driving, I have been rear-ended by
speeding vehicles while I was stopped three times, but have narrowly avoided
striking someone making a left turn through on-coming traffic dozens of
times.  A smart enough GPS receiver that avoids routes based upon accident
statistics would at minimum be interesting, and would, I would think, be a
marketable gimmick.

Manufacturers would have marketing and legal difficulties if they did so,
though, and since we're a nation of more lawyers than engineers, accident
victims would probably sue the GPS manufacturers.


Arthur Flatau <>
Tue, 27 Apr 2010 17:30:15 -0500

I have a similar experience when using my Tom Tom.  When traveling from
Austin to Houston the usual route is to take Texas Highway 71 to Interstate
10 (I do not need the GPS for that part of the trip).  The Tom Tom tries to
direct me to US Highway 183 (which intersects with TX 71 in Austin).  This
takes you further west (Houston is east of Austin) and according to Google
maps the US 183 route is about 22 miles longer (Google directs me to take TX
71) The Tom Tom continues to direct me to take various turns off of TX 71,
to get to US 183, for 10-15 miles past the intersection.  By looking at the
expected arrival time, it seems the problem is that the Tom Tom thinks TX 71
has a speed limit of about 35 miles per hour (both roads are highways with
speed limits of 60-70 miles per hour for the relevant portions).

Re: Broadband survivability and certification (Jackson, RISKS-26.03)

"Michael D. Sullivan" <>
Mon, 26 Apr 2010 00:14:12 -0400

>  [Don't you love these easily remembered URLs?  PGN]

Those are the URLs of NECA's repositories (for its daily newsletter)
of the orders, which may load faster than the FCC orders.  However,
the official URLs are:


  [Also noted by Danny Burstein, who offers such alternatives as

Re: Your Cell Phone May Be Hazardous to Your Health (R 25 93)

"Jeff Grigg" <>
Mon, 26 Apr 2010 20:26:47 -0500

Shall we call this "Risks of relying on GQ as a source of reliable

There's been quite a lot of misinformation and even downright hoaxes going
on around this issue.  No, cell phone will not pop popcorn or cook eggs;
those videos were hoaxes.  Now as for other dangers, the main one is that
cell phones are a distraction: Talking or texting while driving is dangerous
-- probably a lot more dangerous than you think!

Now as for the medical effects of prolonged cell phone use on your brain,
there is simply insufficient evidence to support such an assertion.  And
there's been lots of testing.  So if there was a non-trivial effect, we
should have seen it by now.

Please check reliable sources, such as Wikipedia and the articles it

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