April Fools on the Net     Home       The Net       Comics       Links       Stories       Buy Stuff    
1995 Fools: RISKS DIGEST 17.02
From risks@csla.csl.sri.com Sun Apr  2 15:30:54 EDT 1995
Article: 149 of comp.risks
Path: bigblue.oit.unc.edu!concert!gatech!howland.reston.ans.net
From: risks@csl.sri.com (RISKS Forum)
Newsgroups: comp.risks
Subject: RISKS DIGEST 17.02
Message-ID: <CMM.>
Date: 1 Apr 95 00:23:47 GMT
Sender: usenet
Reply-To: risks@csla.csl.sri.com
Distribution: world
Organization: The Internet Gateway Service
Approved: risks@csl.sri.com
Lines: 531

RISKS-LIST: RISKS-FORUM Digest  Friday 30 March 1995  Volume 17 : Issue 02

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

***** See last item for further information, disclaimers, etc.       *****

Re: Internet cybergambling (via PGN)
Denial of Service Attacks, Jack Jaunters, and the Cool Site of the Day
   (Jerry Bakin)
More on German Train Problems (Debora Weber-Wulff)
Computer Crackers Sentenced (Edupage)
Self-Censorship of NetPorn (Peter Wayner)
RISKS of Green PCs and Disk Caches (Todd W Burgess)
"thin, thin, thin computer candy shell" (Peter da Silva)
Re: Risks of doing date arithmetic (Bob Frankston)
More date/time problems (VAX) (Lord Wodehouse)
RISKS of non-standard interfaces (Richard Schroeppel)
ABRIDGED Info on RISKS (comp.risks)


Date: Sat 1 April 1995 00:00:00 GMT (+0)
From: info@microsoft.com
To: RISKS@csl.sri.com
Subject: Re: Internet cybergambling

  [This message was received by RISKS@csl.sri.com at 04:00:00 PST Friday, 
  in answer to an earlier request for clarification.  It may be freely
  redistributed.  BTW, I just returned from a really lively Computers,
  Freedom and Privacy 1995; I hope some RISKS readers will provide 
  write-ups of their most interesting sessions.  P.G. Neumann]

In response to your query, we wish to inform you that Bill Gates will
announce later today that Microsoft has entered into an arrangement with
Native American Virtual Activities to develop a computerized casino that
will be accessible on the Internet as well as by dial-ups, with a toll-free
800 number for U.S. patrons.  User-supportive software will be bundled at no
extra cost within Windows 95.  During April, further software will be added
compatibly to Bob, Microsoft's new user-friendly empowerment package --
which was officially released yesterday.  Bob will even be able to analyze
your gambling habits and prompt you if you do something stupid.

Microsoft has struck a deal with the National Security Agency under which
good crypto (80-bit SKIPJACK, implemented in software) can be used
internationally.  The deal involves export controls being waived in return
for NSA getting a 1.5% share of the profits, the crypto keys being escrowed
by yet-to-be-named agencies of the U.S. Government (insiders suggest
Treasury and the FBI), and Microsoft promising to keep the crypto from
falling into the hands of undesirable elements such as organized crime.  
PGP will be used to envelope the electronic communications, and its creator
Philip Zimmermann will be on the governing board of NAVA, along with Bill
Gates, Richard Stallman of the Free Software Foundation, and Steven
Spielberg on behalf of DreamWorks SKG.

Conservative projections indicate that this will be enormously profitable
for all concerned, including the U.S. Government -- which will
instantaneously receive withheld taxes on all winnings via Internet
electronic funds transfer, based on the use of a valid Social Security
Number.  Special extended social-security numbers will be allocated for
foreign individuals who wish to participate from abroad, although they will
generally be subject to a nonrefundable U.S. tax.  Cooperation with tax
agencies of foreign governments is anticipated.  The newly reconstituted
Bureau of Wish and Game will oversee the operation.

The virtual casino will be operated onshore from specially dedicated Indian
lands that are not under state or Federal jurisdiction.  However, the
operation is expected to be so lucrative that it will voluntarily contribute
taxes to the two states that will house the geographically dispersed
interoperating computer systems designed to ensure very high system
availability.  For those states in which gambling is illegal, remote
services will be provided so that the activities can legally be conducted
remotely from another state, such as Nevada or New Jersey.  It is likely
that states currently banning gambling will be incentivized to change their
laws by the standing offer of tax revenues collected from bettors in their
home states.  Several banking institutions have already expressed interest
in extending their automatic teller-machine functionality, trying to preempt
competition from the Internet-compatible First Bank of Internet Visa (TM)
ATM cards.  Overall, this operation has the potential to completely
eliminate national and state deficits.

Despite the security and integrity risks raised in a recent article by John
Markoff of The New York Times, and some concerns about the socially
regressive and antidisestablishmentarian consequences of gambling, there
seems to be little opposition to this remarkable confluence of usually
disparate interests -- other than from its would-be competitors, Virtual
Vegas, the already existing free Internet casino operated from Santa Monica,
Calif., and the Online Offshore Casino and Sports Book -- which is expected
to open for business next month in the Bahamas.


Date: Wed, 29 Mar 1995 14:02:07 PST
From: Jerry Bakin <jbakin@adoc.xerox.com>
Subject: Denial of Service Attacks, Jack Jaunters, and the Cool Site of the Day

Risks of being the Cool Site of the Day: (http://www.infi.net/cool.html)

Have you read Alfred Bester's "The Stars My Destination".

I just read the Cool Site of the Day FAQ
(http://www.infi.net/CSotDFAQ.html) and I found that the sections on
  "How much traffic can my site expect..." (lots), 
  "What should I do if I'm selected and I find that my site cannot handle
   the lads involved?" (replace your cool page with a text only page), and
  "Why would I want my site to be a CSotD" (it's the exposure) 
parallel the problems described as "jack jaunting".

In the Stars My Destination, people found they could teleport (jaunte) at
will with proper mental focus (What's your URL?).  They lived in a world
with almost infinitely quick dissemination of information about current
events (Netnews, Websites, and CNN).

One result was that when a "cool site" became known, it would become flooded
with vast numbers of jaunters from around the world.  Many of these jaunters
were malicious and used the cover of the millions of other people to
perpetrate crimes.  For instance, if a fire were televised (today I heard
that the Fulton Seafood Market is burning down) thousands of people would
jaunte in to be tourists.  Some of the people would use the opportunity to

The parallels between the CSotD and Jack Jaunting break down here, because
there is no overtly malicious motive, but there is the likelihood of a
Denial of Service Attack.

It's interesting.  You want to be a Cool Site.  I want to know of the Cool
Sites.  Being a Known Cool Site may lead to your demise as a Cool Site.

There's nothing new here, this is exactly the same problem as that known as
the "Restaurant Review Effect", but it is interesting to see how real life
is being recreated in cyberspace.



Date: Wed, 29 Mar 1995 11:09:50 +0200
From: weberwu@cha01.tfh-berlin.de (Debora Weber-Wulff)
Subject: More on German Train Problems

So, here's a "real" article, just one little rumor at the end. Some folks
objected to me posting rumors, but there are some folks who will talk only
on the condition of anonymity, wanting to keep their jobs...

>From Computerwoche 12, 24.March1995, page 27
(in German, translation mine, all translation errors mine)

CW-report by Walter Mehl (Hamburg)
"Siemens computer stops switching system (Stellwerk) in Hamburg"
>From Monday to Wednesday last week all signals at the train station in
Hamburg-Altona were on stop. [Must be more, I travelled from Hamburg on
Friday and waited an hour because of "computer problems"] Just like it was
when track was first invented, the switches could be set only by using a
crowbar-sized key to shove them into position. The fault was with a computer
from the company Siemens, that had gone on-line the day before.

The train station in Altona is home to pigeons and seagulls. They had 3
days of peace and quiet while scavenging for food between the tracks and
sleeping on the catenaries. Since the morning of 13 March, nothing works
anymore in the digital switching station: the main computer from Siemens
quit after an error in the main memory occurred.

[couple of paragraphs about all the bother people had to go to to get
where they wanted to go]

... as we go to print it is not clear if the Deutsche Bahn will demand
money back from Siemens.

The Bahn was extremely proud of its new digital helper - in their own
publication "Der Zug" they had a long article about it. The new technology
cost 62.6 million DM (about 45 million $), Siemens pocketed about 2/3 of
that sum. The Siemens computer replaced 8 conventional switching systems,
which were installed between 1911 and 1952. They controlled all the 
switches and signals in the station area. In fail-safe mode all signals are
red and the switches can be set only by hand.

In Altona Siemens first [!!!] used the Simis-3216-computer which uses an
Intel 486 chip. Siemens makes these system extremely robust: they can take
temperatures between -40 and +85 degrees Celsius and can withstand up to 5
times the earths acceleration in force. Not even a signal with 2000 Volt can
influence the running of the system. For security reasons they are run in a
2-out-of-three mode, there are 3 identical computers on site, each could
work alone. 2 are constantly running in parallel, so that if something goes
wrong the replacement one can be switched on immediately, the normal working
of the system is given in just a few minutes. When the system is working
normally, each of the two computers control each other, and when both
determine the same result, then the switch or signal are thrown.

It was determined that the cause was not a hardware problem. The system
software was working properly. The shutdown was traced to a design problem:
the main memory was too small, it was not sufficient when there were too
many events (=trains) and switches. [the rumor mill says it was a stack
overflow - would you believe dynamic data structures in a safety-critical
system?! The "fix" was to be another half a meg of memory to be on the safe
side...]. This critical point was reached in normal ruch hour traffic.  The
computer [sic, there must be more than one, however!] couldn't work any more
and shut itself down.

It took 2 days for the Siemens technicians in the Test Center in 
Braunschweig to reconstruct and analyse the situation. The computers were
running again at 5am on Wednesday morning, and from 2pm everything was
running smoothly again. [like I say, Friday it was broken again]

Debora Weber-Wulff, Technische Fachhochschule Berlin, Luxemburger Str. 10, 
13353 Berlin, Germany 

   [You'd think the pigeons would have to watch 
   out for the catenary hot tin roof.  PGN]


Date:   Tue, 28 Mar 1995 19:56:58 -0500
From: info@ivory.educom.edu (Edupage)
Subject: Computer Crackers Sentenced (Edupage 28 Mar 1995)

Two computer crackers have been sentenced to federal prison for their roles
in defrauding long-distance carriers of more than $28 million.  The two
were part of a ring that stole credit card numbers from MCI, where one was
an employee.  Ivey James Lay, who worked at MCI, was sentenced to three
years and two months, and his accomplice, Frank Stanton, received a
one-year prison term.  (St. Petersburg Times 3/28/95 E6)  


Date: Mon, 27 Mar 1995 18:46:21 -0500
From: pcw@access.digex.com (Peter Wayner)
Subject: Self-Censorship of NetPorn

When the movie industry was faced with government censorship and regulation,
they joined forces and adopted a voluntary rating system that classified the
maturity level needed to understand a movie. Such a system could work well
for the net because it could, like netiquette, spread beyond national
borders. Plus it might forestall strong arm laws like the Exon bill which
just passed the Senate.

Here's how it could work. Every person or company that places a WWW page on
the network could "rate" the contents of the page by placing it an
appropriate directory. A page from my collection of pages might have a URL


The directory with the name "over13" indicates that the material in the page
"deepkiss.html" might not be appropriate for someone under 13 years old.  I
imagine four major ratings like "over0" which is open to all, "over13" and
"over17" which contain greater indication that two people can do more than
talk to each other with their clothes on, and "over21" which is open to

How would this stop anyone? Kids can still type. Yes, but each WWW browser
could be programmed to avoid pages with certain ratings. Parents with young
children could place one of these controlled browsers on their computer and
be sure that their kids couldn't read rated pages. These browsers for
children could also exclude all pages without explicit ratings. This would
allow parents to keep their children away from any material that was not
explicitly cleared for all ages.

*Would this system work? The people on the Network already show a good
 attitude for cooperation. Aside from few bold examples, most people carefully
 follow the rules of netiquette. There is hardly any reason not to cooperate--
 the cost is only a few seconds of time and a few kilobytes of diskspace.

*What about different cultural norms? This system offers a direct incentive to
 classify material conservatively. People will rate their pages because they
 want to be polite and sensitive to other cultures throughout the world. Not
 because they fear the police. They are not censored, they are just providing
 other people a chance to avoid potentially offensive material.

*Wouldn't people lie? Sure. There are always people who break rules. But they
 could be punished by social pressure. A service provider might hesitate to
 "censor" the Web pages of its customers because it believes in free expression.
 But a service provider could ask its customers to rate web pages because it
 is the polite thing to do.

*Why is this better than the Exon law? Legal measures must always be liberal
 because the loser goes to jail or pays a fine. This is why we require
 evidence and the costs of a jury trial. Social systems like this
 can err on the conservative side. Nudists might not understand why the
 rest of the world wears clothes, but they can rate their web page
 "over21" for little cost.

 Imagine the cost of prosecuting a nudist camp's web page for simply
 being on the Net. The Nudists who might be from a liberal region like
 California could decide to fight on principle. The trial would be
 a battle of experts trying to pin down "community standards" on
 a place like the Net. The Nudists would be broken financially. The
 local district would lose out because the court would be too jammed
 to prosecute normal criminals.

 The NetRate system saves costs and accomplishes more! Legal systems
 let the grey zone live. Social systems can restrict the grey zone
 without stopping it.

If anyone has any suggestions or comments, I would like to hear them. I
think this system is technically simple, politically possible and something
that promotes greater understanding of people throughout the world. I am
working on a rating system that would encompass the thoughts of major
religions throughout the world. Please let me know if you're interested in
reviewing it.


Date: Mon, 27 Mar 1995 16:50:59 -0400 (EDT)
From: Todd W Burgess <tburgess@uoguelph.ca>
Subject: RISKS of Green PCs and Disk Caches

     The following happened to me a while ago when doing one of my 
computer assignments in Turbo Pascal for DOS. Just so you know I'm running a 
"Green"/Energy Star/VESA Power Management (call it what you will) 
486DX2-66 that is set up to power down the hard disk after 15 minutes of 
inactivity. On top of that I run your standard vanilla software disk 
cache software. My story as is follows:
     I was editing my assignment and since I hadn't read or wrote 
to the hard disk in the last 15 minutes the CMOS instructed the hard disk 
to power itself down (to save power) but I could still edit my program. 
Anyway when I was finished my current editing session I saved my program, 
exited the Turbo Pascal IDE and shut off my computer. 
     Later that day when I went to edit the same program I noticed the 
program I had saved earlier was not the same one I had loaded up (I had 
lost half an hours work). What I had found out (with a little 
experimentation) is this: the file that I had saved was saved in memory 
in the disk cache. When I exited to DOS, COMMAND.COM was in the cache's 
memory so the hard drive did not have power-up. When I killed the power 
with the hard drive off the cache never had a chance to save the file 
to disk. 
The RISK here is obvious:

      1) Using a PC with DOS, power saving features and a disk cache may 
         result in data loss! This can be particularly RISKy if you like
         to do your assignments the night before they are due. :)
My recommendations based on my own experiences are:

      1) If your hard drive powers itself down before you hit the power 
         switch then do a "dir" or some other command that will force the 
         hard drive to power-up. This way when the hard drive comes back 
         on the cache will be able to write itself to disk.
      2) Switch to Linux. I haven't had this problem since I switched 
         over. :)

    Perhaps somebody with a little more understanding of disk caches 
might be better able to explain my experience. As well I've wondered if 
continually shutting down the hard drive decreases its life.
    In conclusion, this whole incident reminds me of a Kermit the Frog 
quote "It ain't easy being green." :)

University of Guelph, Computer Science Major    tburgess@uoguelph.ca
URL: http://eddie.cis.uoguelph.ca/people/tburgess/tburgess.html


Date: Mon, 27 Mar 1995 15:51:18 -0600
From: peter@nmti.com (Peter da Silva)
Subject: "thin, thin, thin computer candy shell" (Cook, RISKS-17.01)

Dr. Richard I. Cook's phrase is wonderful!  What proportion of the RISKS
discussed in this list have been due to people depending on the computer
candy shell, or being unable to diagnose a problem when the computer candy
cracks? Probably at least half...  and this problem isn't going to get
better, especially with new operating systems that *never* drop the user
down to a file or program interface and teach people to think that the
pretty graphic user interface *is* the system.

Larry Niven wrote a story, "The Ethics of Madness", where a busy executive
went slowly insane because his desktop autodoc had failed. The warning light
had burned out... how much more likely when the warning light isn't a light
at all, but an icon in the corner of his PADD?


Date: Wed, 29 Mar 1995 09:56 -0500
From: Bob_Frankston@frankston.com
Subject: Re: Risks of doing date arithmetic (Kuenning, RISKS-17.01)

Huh? -- Dates as measured by computers are inherently integers?

Generally computer systems do assume a certain resolution such as seconds
and can identify the range of dates (or time spans) representable as
integers but whey does that mean they are inherently integers more than any
other measure?  Naive assumptions lead to judgment rather than evaluation.
In fact, Basic typically places the decimal point at the day and then the
time within the day is a fraction of the day.

Yes, integers are nice because one has (the illusion of) control over them 
but they are not inherently safer than floating point since one can easily 
exceed their representation on either end and very few computers systems (
especially in C) will annoy you with reporting loss of significance or 


Date: Tue, 28 Mar 1995 12:04:49 +0100 (BST)
From: Lord Wodehouse <w0400@ggr.co.uk>
Subject: More date/time problems (VAX)

Reading PGN's book, I remembered another problem on our VAX cluster related
to date/time. The BT PDN X.25 network (then PSS and now called GNS) had an
address which you could call and get the date/time returned accurate to
about 2 seconds. The inaccuracy was due to the call setup/cleardown times
and the network response. We coded an application to get this data and
adjust the VAX system date/time every eight hours at 0210, 1010, 1810, which
takes care of GMT/BST changes as they happen at 0205 in theory.

VAXen DECNET networks have features that if times are changed packets can
expire suddenly and screwup comms. Also if you run any files with expiry
date/times set, you may run into trouble if the clock suddenly advances.
(wait for it ...)

BT's online clock (X.121 address 23421920100605) returns a string like this:

TUE 28/03/95 11:32:59 HRS BST

If for any reason the link to the atomic clock at Rugby is not working, the
system free runs with a "high" degree of accuracy. Certain fields are
changed so you can detect this (I can't remember which, because I cant find
original document).

One day on successive calls made one after the other, the results returned
could be 30 seconds apart. This was outside the specification, but there was
no sing of any loss of the radio link to the master clock displayed in the
data. Suddenly all communications on the cluster "hung" and general panic
occurred with all concerned with the cluster as it was in production and it
was about 10am and users reading their mail.  Investigations were
complicated by the fact that someone did undo a connector on the ethernet,
causing all sorts of addition trouble at the same time.

When the dust settled, we found the whole cluster had a date/time 15 months
in the future, and calling the online clock, it was discovered that this was
indeed the time being returned! Mail date/time stamps were out, deferred
mail got sent, file expired and were removed and batch jobs all started. It
took some time to recover from this.

The only explanation given by BT was that there was a problem with the
service. We never discovered why we went forward 15 months in May 1988.

The moral - well 1) never assume what is written down actually is what
happens. 2) if you use such a system, ensure that the clock can't be set
forward or backwards say more than one day in date terms and maybe 12 hours
in time terms. 3) remember the first two points and act on them.  Sorting
out the various collisions of batch jobs, which all started at once over the
cluster took some time. The summertime/wintertime change is benign in
comparison. It is about time computer manufactures fitted good quality clock
chips like in ones watch to keep machine clock in synchronisation and thus
save all this trouble. A system that checked the clock time every hour could
keep the system clock at least in step and if for any reason the change was
more than say 5 seconds, flag the problem with the clock, and just use the
system clock until the clock was fixed.  No system clock should drift more
than 5 seconds in an hour ...


Date: Mon, 27 Mar 1995 20:43:06 MST
From: "Richard Schroeppel" <rcs@cs.arizona.edu>
Subject: RISKS of non-standard interfaces (Jones, RISKS-17.01)

  This is a truly amazing claim. If it is true, I would think the business
  case for purchasing standard equipment in a hospital would be quite strong,
  even if it was built only on liability reduction.  Never mind the fact that
  2 patients can be treated in the same window on time that one could before,
  or that your ROI for each unit of equipment would be higher due to the
  higher use.

It is, indeed, a truly amazing claim.  On first blush, it seems to say that
hospital personnel spend an average of 40 minutes, for each patient,
figuring out how to use the equipment.  This is so amazing that I find it
hard to believe.

A more careful reading, however, reveals that what is being reduced is not
the time to treat each patient, but a number called "post-admittance
treatment lag".  This sounds analogous to the time you spend waiting in line
at the bank.  It is very strongly affected by exactly how much extra
capacity the system has: as the (average) load increases, sneaking up toward
the capacity, the lines get very long.  In this situation, minor variations
in load or capacity can cause large changes in customer wait times.

In the real world, systems and customers make various adjustments when faced
with long lines: customers come back later, evening out the load; the system
speeds up by adding resources, or reducing time-per-customer.  Also in the
real world, since slack is expensive, servers try to minimize it.  In the
long term, extra slack will cause allocated resources to drift down.

The resulting wait time is a compromise between cost and customer tolerance.
In the case at hand, the customers are apparently willing to tolerate an
extra 40 minutes in the waiting room.  Suppose the hospital managed to improve
efficiency by a few percent (by switching to standard equipment, or perhaps
by training the personnel better), and the waiting time fell from 70 to 30
minutes.  There would be more slack periods, with idle people and idle
machines; the system response would be to reduce resources until the expected
balance between slack and customer tolerance was restored, probably at an
average 70 minute wait.

The notion that the time-per-patient can be reduced 50% ("2 patients can be
treated in the same window on time that one could before") seems mistaken --
it might apply to defibrillators (largely idle anyway?), but is unlikely
to apply to the patient's bed, IV equipment, or staff time.  A customer in
the waiting room is using only a chair, undoubtedly the cheapest piece of
equipment the hospital has.

Rich Schroeppel   rcs@cs.arizona.edu


Date: 24 March 1995 (LAST-MODIFIED)
From: RISKS-request@csl.sri.com
Subject: ABRIDGED Info on RISKS (comp.risks) [See other issues for full info]

 The RISKS Forum is a moderated digest.  Its USENET equivalent is comp.risks.
 SUBSCRIPTIONS: PLEASE read RISKS as a newsgroup (comp.risks or equivalent) on
 your system, if possible and convenient for you.  BITNET folks may use a 
 REQUESTS to  (which is not yet automated).  [...]

 CONTRIBUTIONS: to risks@csl.sri.com, with appropriate,  substantive Subject:
 line, otherwise they may be ignored.  Must be relevant, sound, in good taste,
 objective, cogent, coherent, concise, and nonrepetitious.  Diversity is 
 welcome, but not personal attacks.  [...]

 RISKS can also be read on the web at URL http://catless.ncl.ac.uk/Risks 
   Individual issues can be accessed using a URL of the form
   http://catless.ncl.ac.uk/Risks/VL.IS.html  [...]

 RISKS ARCHIVES: "ftp unix.sri.com<CR>login anonymous<CR>[YourNetAddress]<CR> 
 cd risks<CR> or cwd risks<CR>, depending on your particular FTP.  [...]
 [Back issues are in the subdirectory corresponding to the volume number.]


End of RISKS-FORUM Digest 17.02 

Go Back