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LINUX VIEWPOINT: MyDoom Worm "Harmful to Linux Reputation"

"It's time to yell from the mountain tops that your community will take the high road and not resort to such lowly tactics. Deno

In some circles of the system administration world, the Linux user community holds a bad reputation as a pack of dysfunctional script kiddies.

Now of course not all Linux users are bad people. By human nature, though, we tend to remember the worst out of any group.

I'm sure as time goes by and more businesses and professionals start to take Linux seriously, this reputation is less deserved; but nonetheless if you say "Linux" to many seasoned administrators (especially IRCops), the first thing they think of will be script kiddies - the online equivalent of vandals.

They are of little clue (just enough to cause trouble) and absolutely no positive conflict resolution skill whatsoever. These are nerds who think that launching denial of service attacks affecting thousands or millions of users is an acceptable response to being insulted on IRC. They plague more than just the Linux community, but for whatever reason the Linux script kiddies seem to be more memorable. Perhaps our expectations of Linux are higher - the new guy always has to prove himself - and so failings and disappointments are more memorable.

Now the MyDoom e-mail worm that's been causing so much trouble on the Internet over the past week has deployed its payload, attacking SCO with a massive distributed denial of service attack from infected machines, despite a bug causing the attack to fail from about 75% of infected machines.

It's no secret that SCO has drawn the ire of many a Linux user for its claim that Linux source code stole copyrighted Unix code. The relative merits of SCO's case are beside the point; that matter will be decided not by any of us, but by the courts.

Now there's no direct evidence linking the MyDoom worm to the Linux community. But it would be amazing for someone who was not at least sympathetic to the Linux community's battle with SCO to choose such a relatively-obscure target for attack otherwise. A second variant of the MyDoom virus is set to attack another Linux "enemy": Microsoft.

Even if we suppose that the author of MyDoom and MyDoom.b chose the Microsoft and SCO targets completely at random and their apparent grudge has nothing to do with Linux at all, this action still isn't good for the Linux user community. People are going to put 2 and 2 together anyway. Notably absent from the news articles about the worm are leaders from the Linux community condemning this type of behaviour. The media itself may be partly to blame, but I can't help but wonder if more could be done to get the message out there.

The problem is that even if it isn't deserved and even if Linux has nothing whatsoever to do with it, Internet vandalism on this scale to enact some kind of vengeance on an "enemy" of the Linux community still reflects badly on that community, making it look childish, immature, dysfunctional, and desperate. Outsiders will associate the Linux community with the person or persons who wrote the worm, regardless of whether that's fair.

Outsiders may also assume that "silence = consent." Linux users, take advantage of this opportunity to take a stand against script kiddies and worm hackers. Make it clear that this kind of behaviour is not tolerated within your community. Where are your leaders saying, "Even though we disagree with SCO, this is not the right way to show our disapproval?" Why isn't someone saying, "This is not how we solve problems and resolve conflict?"

It's good to see that open-source advocate Eric Raymond voiced similar concerns [as did Bruce Perens here at LinuxWorld]; now let's hear from folks who control the direction and development of Linux itself.

I know we geek types don't like being thrust into political leadership situations. We'd all much rather bury our heads in code and go about our creative process. Unfortunately, once a community develops around a product, its developers are unavoidably forced into these situations. The community forces the leaders to think about things like PR, conflict resolution, influence and other political nonsense. To migrate to and survive in the business world, you must think and act like the business world thinks and acts. Microsoft didn't hesitate to offer a massive reward for the head of the worm's author. Why was there silence from Linux?

When someone makes your organization and community look bad, it's time to engage PR (hey, it works for Microsoft). It's time to yell from the mountain tops that your community will take the high road and not resort to such lowly tactics. Denounce Net vandalism and disown the vandals. Develop a culture that says this kind of childish behaviour is below your community standards.

You must get the word out (use PR Newswire or get help from allies like IBM if necessary), or folks like me are going to read the news about the next Internet worm that attacks a well-known "enemy" of Linux or open-source and say, "the Linux kiddies are at it again."

More Stories By Nick Johnson

SysAdmin Nick Johnson writes for a number of sites including morons.org where an earlier version of this piece was posted. This version is written specifically for Linux.SYS-CON.com.

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