Battle moves from the courtroom to your desktop

FTLComm - Tisdale - Tuesday, January 27, 2004


To begin this story I need to apologize for the brevity. This topic really deserves much deeper analysis and in a quick overview of the issue may just not have enough detail to fully explain what is happening and even more important, what is about to occur.




Late yesterday afternoon I began getting an unusual set of e-mail messages. The e-mail addresses were with local domains and were accompanied by postmaster e-mails warning of non-delivery. Worried that my e-mail application was acting up I called a couple of experts and as soon as I explained what I was seeing my expert told me I was dealing with a serious virus. Each message was accompanied by an unusual suffix (.exe, .pif, .cmd, .scr). I attempted to open some of these things and found a host of code but no text or picture. Because I operate with a Macintosh platform opening an unknown attachment is not a problem but for all of you with Windows based computers: DON'T DO THIS!




I was only a short while later that I received a daily newsletter from a computer magazine which featured a story "New virus hits high outbreak levels" by Mark Cox that details this nasty bit of e-mail vandalism.




Though I received about thirty or forty of these things through the evening I did not become alarmed until this morning I discovered that they were arriving at a rate of about two every five minutes. Christine Torode of CRN explains in her story "MyDoom Predicted To Be As Bad As Sobig" how it infects your computer and the magnitude of this infection in both the corporate and home environment.




Mydoom worm apparently is spreading faster than any other similar infection moving around the globe as Paul Roberts of PC World said in his headline "Mydoom Sets Speed Records, New worm is spreading faster than Sobig.F, experts say"




What apparently is afoot here truly boggles the mind. Robyn Peterson reports in eWeek in his story today "Online Jubilation About MyDoom's SCO Attack" Apparently this flood of e-mail is splashing all over the globe, is a worm designed to send e-mail on February 1 to the 12th to the software giant SCO with the intent of shutting down their server. Larry Seltzer of eWeek explains in his story "MyDoom More Bad News for SCO" how the worm will attack the company.




You can dig right in and find out about the major battle of the year and perhaps even the decade as several web sites have the latest stories explaining the conflict that is playing out in American courts between SCO and IBM over its use of LINUX.




Here is where we need a little background. Computer technology is dependent upon there being a means for users to interact with the hardware and software that we describe as computers. Our first little Apple ][+ used a simple disk operating system and I spent countless hours typing in code for little games and applications of 1981. Bill Gates had purchased a simple disk operating system and when various manufacturers began making machines it was Bill Gates software that was licensed on those machines which allowed them to run standardized applications. Apple developed its own disk operating system then created a more sophisticated one called Pro-DOS and then went to work on a graphic interface which became the Macintosh operating system. The more elegant graphic interface of the Macintosh made the computer much easier to use and Microsoft cobbled together its Windows Operating system. Windows, because of the huge number of machines on which it was able to operate, made Bill Gates the world's richest man.




But before the personal computer revolution there were mainframe systems with terminals and the system that made that work was in most cases UNIX. Designed to work in a network environment and with security as one of its main functions, this form of operating system is not especially user friendly, but it is tough.




The scourge of personal computers running Microsoft Windows has been corruption from virus and worms, mostly spread by e-mail attachments. Because Windows was designed to work in a wide range of environments and to keep it competitive, Microsoft was not able to keep the various versions of the operating system safe and users everywhere have paid the price as they lose data, reformat their drives and have to suffer from reduced productivity as a result of the constant vandalism that seems to follow one upon the other.




Linus Torvalds (seen at the top of this page) realised the need for a better operating system and began adapting UNIX code into a user friendly and modern operating system. You will have to explore his reasoning, but much of it has to do with the massive complexity of the task, he presented his work, LINUX to the world and invited others to contribute to an ongoing living and evolving operating system. The design of the operating system was set in a working agreement between users, contributors and the world at large. In general LINUX is an outstanding operating system and those people operating servers were the first to adopt it. This web site has throughout its six year history, always been served on a LINUX server.




The basis for LINUX and for the new system "X" operating system used on my Macintosh is UNIX and it itself is a continuously evolving set of code that is over seen by "The Open Group" which provides some control over changes and standards.




From this standpoint, and had things remained as described above, Microsoft would continue to produce its software, still the most widely used operating system in the world surpassing all others combined. A significant number of companies and individuals would adopt LINUX and as we are already seen, a lot of companies and users would stick with, or move to Macintosh. But the temptation to make money out of Torvalds' LINUX was just to great, and several companies began selling this "free" operating system and provided support to their users. The most prominent company to do this was "RedHat" which has made good money on LINUX and has been a responsible organisation. Then IBM began selling corporate servers with LINUX installed and that is pretty much when the peaceful world of computing went to war.




SCO a large company that provides UNIX to corporations decided that there was enough of a case to launch a litigation against LINUX claiming that it infringed upon "intellectual properties" it claims to own. There is no question that SCO has made itself the most disliked corporation since ENRON. Not in any of its most evil activities has Microsoft angered so many people so deeply, primarily because Microsoft has always just set out to make money for itself, SCO is going well beyond that and is threatening the basic concept of shared technological development.




I am not going to far in pointing out the incredible ideological issues at stake here, as one can see on SCO's website a document dealing with copyright that verges on patriotic silliness. SCO goes so far as to demand that everything must be private property and the open sharing and contributions so much a part of LINUX as "un-American." Interestingly enough SCO itself sells and supports LINUX, well that was up until it launched its law suit.




This brings us back to the present virus attack. SCO is the target of a massive denial of service confrontation which involves all of us because to accomplish this assault the attackers need to use as many computers as they can muster with their MyDoom worm. They are clogging up the e-mail system and wasting millions of man hours as we all try to cope with the onslaught. I have had to turn off my e-mail application which normally picks up e-mail every five minutes but this is interfering so severely with my computer's operation I have had to stop working on this story several times as my machine worked through the glut of messages. Shutting off has been the only way to finish this article.




So severe is the conflict between SCO and the computing world at large eWeek's Robyn Peterson in an article earlier today states in the headline: "Online Jubilation About MyDoom's SCO Attack". Similar comments are seen on the largest technological forum "Slashdot"




The reason for this passion and anger is easy to see, but the reasoning behind SCO's motivation to upset the computer world is definitely entrenched in the American Way of doing things. Greed, force, power and coercion are the only language of our unfriendly neighbours to the South and just as in all things, they are butting their heads against civilisation.

Timothy W. Shire

  Cox, Mark, New virus hits high outbreak level, (pdf) January 26, 2004, Connect It
  Torode, Christine, MyDoom Predicted To Be As Bad As Sobig (PDF) Jannuary 27, 2004,, CRN
  Roberts, Paul, Mydoom sets speed records, (PDF) January 27, 2004, IDG News Service, PCWorld
  Peterson, Robyn, Online Jubilattion about MyDDoom's SCO Attack (PDF) January 27, 2004, Extremme Tech, eWeek
  Seltzer, Laarry, MyDoom More Bad News for SCO (PDF) January 27, 2004,
  Slashdot forum on the day's technical news stories
  eWeek list of stories related to the SCO suit
  Linux Online, home page for LINUX
  The Open Group web site
  SCO home page
  SCO Linux product page
  McBride, Darl, Open Letter on copyrights, Deccember 4, 2003, SCO


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Editor : Timothy W. Shire
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