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Sen. Obama's Passport Data Improperly Accessed

According to the Washington Times, two State Department contract workers "used their authorized computer network access to look up files within the department's consular affairs section, which processes and stores passport information, and read Mr. Obama's passport application and other records." The two were fired, and a third disciplined. Why the third person was disciplined rather than fired is not said.

According to the story, "Computer-monitoring equipment detected the activities by the three employees on Jan. 9, Feb. 21 and March 14, triggering alarms in each case." No reason was given why it took so long after the first or second alarm to take action, given the tight restrictions placed on accessing passport information of political candidates.

The FBI is now investigating.

This also happened in 1992 when State Department officials looked into then presidential candidate Bill Clinton's passport records.

Update: The AP is now (noon) reporting that Sen. Hillary Clinton's passport file was breached last year as well.

Update 1: Now (1230) Reuters reports that Sen. John McCain's passport files were also looked at.

These breaches will undoubtedly stir up a political hornet's nest.

V-22 Osprey Tiltrotor Needs a New Pair of Shoes (err, Engines)


Marine Col. M. D. Mulhern head of the V-22 Osprey program has said that the Rolls-Royce AE 1107C Liberty engines used to power the aircraft are wearing out faster than expected in a story that appeared in the Fort Worth Star Telegraph. This means that the Osprey, which took 25 years and over $20 billion to develop, finally becoming operational in 2006 and deploying to Iraq last October, may now need a new set of engines.

In a story over on Air Force magazine's website, it says that, "Several engine components are not enduring as long as originally predicted. Engine compressors especially are eroding earlier than expected due to power demands that force the engines to run hotter, Mulhern noted. New additions to the aircraft, such as a directional infrared countermeasures systems and forward firing gun, will add weight, thereby placing even more demand on the engines, Mulhern said."

Rolls Royce, on the other hand claims that the engines have "met or exceeded all performance specifications."

Philip Coyle, former chief of the Pentagon's weapons testing division, in a recent CNN story focused on how the Osprey is finding redemption in Iraq was quoted as saying, "It seems like every time one problem is fixed another one comes along, and I just don't think the program will be able to get over that."

"The program is like a bad poker hand. They keep putting money into it when they should have spent it on a new helicopter system."

Well, it is likely just too late now. DoD will not kill the program. The only question is how much money its going to take to buy 900 or so new engines.

The Australian Seasprite Story Ends


The newspaper The Australian reported today that the Australian government and Kaman, the US contractor for the ill-fated Seasprite helicopter program, have come to terms. The 11 not so Super Seasprites, spare parts and training equipment, are to be sold off and the government is to get at least AU$40 million guaranteed back from the sale.

Now, who is going to want to buy the Seasprites given they are unsafe to fly, well that is another story.

Siemens' Profits Down: IT Partly to Blame

Siemens AG announced that its first quarter profits would be about $1.4 billion lower than expected. Part of the reason was, as ComputerWorldUK explains, the cancellation of a major IT contract in the UK for the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP). In April 2004, Siemens was contracted to provide a a central payment system as well as provide ongoing management and maintenance through to 2010.

The DWP canceled the project because of some small problems with schedule and cost. The payment system was supposed to be completed by October 2006, but it slipped to December 2010.

Project costs also increased from £90 million budget to an estimated cost of £153 million.

Siemens also indicated that there were other problems with its IT units that are contributing to the profit warning.

GPS Says: Turn Left, Turn Right, Drive Off Cliff


The Wall Street Journal today has a story (subscription may be required) about GPS problems, like one driver that was directed to drive off a 200 foot cliff and another that directed the driver into oncoming traffic. The latter decided to name his GPS unit Christine after the possessed '58 Plymouth Fury in Stephen King's horror novel of the same name because he thinks the GPS is trying to kill him.

I ran a similar post about GPS problems in England a little while ago.

The WSJ story quotes Clifford Nass, a communication professor at Stanford University and author of two books titled, The Media Equation: How People Treat Computers, Television, and New Media Like Real People and Places and Wired for Speech: How Voice Activates and Advances the Human-Computer Relationship about how humans have a tendency to follow the instruction of machines over their common sense: "Rather than trust our judgment of nature, we let technology tell us what's going on."

I must remember that as it gets closer to the time for my children to learn how to drive, instead of just warning them not to blindly follow their friends' poor judgments, I need to add the phrase, "And if the GPS tells you to drive off a bridge, are you going to do it?"

You can listen to Professor Nass explain how we react to computerized speech here.

Data Stolen Again: This Time Grocer Hannaford Hit


Hannaford Brothers supermarket chain disclosed that it had a breach of its computer system beginning last December that exposed 4.2 million credit and debit card numbers, as well as led to at least 1,800 fraud cases, the Boston Globe reported today. The breach affected stores in five states - Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Maine - and 270 of its stores. The breach wasn't suspected until February and continued until March of this year.

Unlike the TJX breach, Hannaford appeared to meet all the industry standards involving how customer data is supposed to be protected.

It hasn't been disclosed how customer information was compromised, but in a more detailed story at ComputerWorld, the speculation is that it was stolen in transit between Hannaford stores and the financial institutions that process the stores' credit/debit card transactions.

I don't know if this qualifies as the first million plus data breach in the US for 2008 since the breach began last year - if it counts, I guess we can ring the bell.

Also, Gregory Kopiloff was sentenced at the U.S. District Court in Seattle, Washington yesterday to four years in federal prison for using file-sharing software to steal at least 83 identities. It is the first federal case against those using file-sharing software for identity theft.

NPfIT: Some Good News


The UK's National Health Service (NHS) national electronic health record (EHR) program NPfIT (National Programme for IT) has spent £1.5 billion less than expected as of April 2007, ComputerWeekly reports. Part of the reason for the lower spend is that delays caused fewer EHR systems rolled out to UK hospitals, however.

It should be noted that while the UK government spent less, it doesn't mean that the money wasn't spent by someone. Since NPfIT vendors only get paid after delivery and acceptance, much of that £1.5 billion was likely spent, but by vendors. When the NPfIT finally gets rolled out, the total cost of it will be very hard to determine, since there will be an official government cost, and then there will be the large costs incurred by the vendors that they had to eat (which is why some vendors like Accenture bailed out of the program). Anyone looking at the NPfIT as a cost model for a national EHR system needs to be very careful in doing the sums.

The NHS also said that what has been delivered under NPfIT has saved an additional £208 million from the digitalization of x-rays and the decommissioning of legacy IT systems.

Dutch Tax Office Erases 730,000 Tax Returns

Windmill.gif The Dutch tax office admitted that 730,000 digital tax returns submitted by early filers to the tax office for some reason erased by their computer system and need to be resent.

Tax office officials assume that those who have had their records lost have their returns on their computer and will be able to easily resend them. They have until 1 April to do so.

According to Radio Netherlands, earlier in February, "another problem with the tax office computers meant that clients were unable to identify themselves properly. For a whole week, nobody was able to submit a tax declaration electronically."

Last June, tax office software that did not function correctly forced over 400,000 companies to resubmit payroll information.

The continuing problems at the Dutch tax office has forced the Finance Minister Jan Kees de Jager into reorganizing the office, but admits it will take years to fix.

Please Don't Open That Email - It's Classified


A small Suffolk County, England town has had to close its website because it was receiving thousands of classified US Air Force emails. According to a story in the London Telegraph, "Documents including sensitive information about presidential flight paths, military strategy and passwords flooded Gary Sinnott's inbox after he set up www.mildenhall.com to promote his home town."

Royal Air Force Base Mildenhall is home to several US Air Force units including the 100th Air Refueling Wing, 352nd Special Operations Group, 95th Reconnaissance Squadron, 488th Intelligence Squadron among others.

Makes you wonder why you need to hack into US defense networks when you can just set up a domain name that is close in name to a US military installation.

Patch and Pray Friday for Dextre the Space Robot


The Canadian Space Agency's Dextre (Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator) robot apparently needs a software patch to fix a timing problem that is preventing Dextre from fully powering up.

According to CSA's website, "Dextre is an essential tool for maintaining and servicing the space station. With its dual-arm design providing added flexibility, Dextre will remove and replace smaller components on the Stationâ''s exterior, where precise handling is required. It will be equipped with lights, video equipment, a tool platform and four tool holders."

"Dextre is a complex robot designed to perform intricate maintenance and servicing tasks on the outside of the ISS. Dextre will carry out delicate work that, so far, could only be accomplished by astronauts during spacewalk activities. In other words, Dextre will provide an alternative to astronauts, considerably reducing the amount of time that they have to venture out of the ISS to perform demanding spacewalks and providing more time for them to perform science on the ISS."

Engineers are "confident" that the patch will fix the problem (I noticed they didn't say software programmers were confident, though).

I wonder if the engineers are as confident as I am during every Microsoft Patch and Pray Tuesday?

Update: At the end of the day, it wasn't a software problem as first thought. The patch was uploaded, but nothing happen. Engineers next thought it was a faulty cable. This was by-passed, and power was restored. You can read more about it here at ComputerWorld.


Risk Factor

IEEE Spectrum's risk analysis blog, featuring daily news, updates and analysis on computing and IT projects, software and systems failures, successes and innovations, security threats, and more.

Willie D. Jones
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