Home > Internet Columns > Feb. 2, 2003

'Slammer' worm brings Web to a crawl
Worm exploited known weakness in Microsoft software

Feb. 2, 2003


Computer servers around the world were brought to their knees recently by a computer bug that targeted a known flaw in a version of Microsoft server software.

Experts say more than 250,000 computers worldwide were affected the weekend of Jan. 25th by a fast-spreading computer worm called SQL Slammer. The bug took advantage of a well-known weakness in Microsoft's SQL Server 2000 database software, overloading servers until they could barely function.

The SQL Slammer (also known as "Sapphire") hit South Korea and other parts of Asia hardest. There were reports of computer servers around the globe suffering from the worm's effects.

From an infected server, the SQL Slammer sent out data requests to random Internet addresses in a search for other servers that could be infected. The process created a flood of traffic, which slowed down networks and Internet traffic.

The worm affected only servers running the SQL (pronounced "see-quill") Server 2000 software. It did not affect desktop computers.

A computer worm differs from a computer virus in that a worm generally attempts to spread itself without human intervention. For example, some computer worms will find a user's e-mail address book and automatically mail itself to every address listed.

The security hole the worm took advantage of had been identified more than six months ago. Microsoft had already issued a patch to fix the flaw, though apparently not all system managers took time to install the patch.

Ironically, some of Microsoft Corp.'s own computers fell victim to the SQL Slammer, according to the IDG News Service. The affected machines were some used in-house by SQL developers, Microsoft said. But the flood of traffic created by these infections in Microsoft's network temporarily brought down the activation service for Microsoft's Windows XP operating system.

The worm's success points out the need to keep computer software updated with the latest patches and upgrades, Rick Miller, a Microsoft spokesman told IDG. "The biggest lesson with this worm is that if you don't patch, you're gonna get hit," he said.

AOL TROUBLES. The impact of media giant AOL Time Warner's record $98.2 billion annual loss has filled business news pages as the company struggles to find leadership and direction.

When AOL's acquisition of Time Warner was announced in January 2000, it was a huge transaction valued at more than $165 billion. By the time the purchase was completed a year later, AOL's stock value had already begun its decline, making the deal worth approximately $106 billion, which is barely more than the company's recently announced annual loss.

But buried in all the news about the company's stock price was equally shattering news for America Online, the nation's largest Internet provider.

For the first time in the service's history, the number of U.S. subscribers fell in the last three months of 2002. The slump hit despite the well-promoted rollout of AOL 8.0 and more than $1 billion spent on advertising and promotion last year.

AOL's subscriber troubles began during the third quarter of 2002, when the rate of new subscribers plummeted. Despite the decrease, AOL still reported 1.2 million new subscribers for the calendar year.

Analysts say that AOL's competition is high-speed broadband Internet access -- typically DSL through phone companies or cable Internet on cable TV lines. To maintain or grow its subscriber base, the company will need to bolster its content and services that will take advantage of the capability of broadband access.

Depending on whose figures you believe, broadband Internet access isn't as common as you think -- primarily because the price of the high price of broadband access. While it may be seen as "old school," traditional dial-up Internet access is cheaper, reliable and available nearly everywhere a telephone can go.

AUCTION ACTION. Auction giant eBay.com has removed an auction listing for the services of the entire former staff at the ZDNet Tech Update Web site.

The 11-member group had been laid off earlier this month by their parent company, CNET Networks, and the group collectively was offering their services for "salary and benefits in the high six figures."

The group lost their jobs as part of a previously announced plan by CNET to reduce its staff.

But eBay pulled the auction listing following a request from CNET's legal staff, citing concerns the auction was misleading and could impact the CNET brand by implying it was involved with the auction.

The group's leader, former ZDNet worker Lee Schlesinger, posted the auction again after making some changes. More than 1,600 people viewed the auction listing and 24 bids were submitted before eBay removed the auction again, citing that eBay members cannot sell themselves or other humans in a listing.

Schlesinger told the Boston Globe he wouldn't repost the listing. He said the listing was successful -- even though he and his colleagues didn't find new jobs with the auction, they did gather a great deal of free publicity.

In another prank last week, an eBay user posted a tongue-in-cheek auction listing for the entire country of Iraq.

"Help your planet and improve your portfolio at the same time by purchasing the nation with the location," the listing said about Iraq. The list of amenities included, of course, "OIL! OIL! OIL!"

The listing lasted only a day before it was ended, though it remains in eBay's database as a completed auction, appropriately located in the "Everything Else/Weird Stuff/Slightly Unusual" category.

For more information on this and other oddball auctions, visit www.ebay.com.

SAINT DOT-COM? The Roman Catholic Church has long had its patron saints -- saints chosen as special protectors or guardians over areas of life. These areas can include occupations, illnesses, churches, countries, causes, etc.

The Vatican has been working on naming a patron saint of Internet users for more than two years. According to the database of saints at the Catholic Online Web site (www.catholic.org), St. Isidore of Seville remains the frontrunner as the official patron saint for Web users.

St. Isidore never owned a computer, but he wrote what is called the world's first encyclopedia, known as the Etymologia. The Etmyologia was written more than 1,400 years ago, and was a 20-volume collection of writings on subjects ranging from art and medicine to literature and agriculture. Spanish Catholics designated St. Isidore as "protector" of World Wide Web in 1999.

Other candidates for the post as the Internet's patron saint are being gathered by Holy Saints, a Roman Catholic organization headquartered in Northern Italy.

The Web site has a list of six additional candidates for patron saint that include front-runner Saint John Bosco, followed by Father Giacomo Alberione, who was beatified by the Pope in December; Sant'Alfonso Mara de Liguori, an 18th-century poet, musician, architect, painter, and later a priest. Trailing in fourth-place was the Angel Gabriel.

To cast a vote, you can visit the Holy Saints Web site, www.santibeati.it. If you visit this site, you better take your English-Italian dictionary, as the site is available only in Italian.

Comments and questions about this column may be sent to jbrooks@myoldkentuckyhome.com, or visit www.myoldkentuckyhome.com on the World Wide Web.

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