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Last Updated: Thursday, 5 February, 2004, 00:41 GMT
Linux cyber-battle turns nasty

By Stephen Evans
BBC North America Business Correspondent

The MyDoom virus has triggered a new wave of attacks on company websites. It also looks like a new front in a war waged by those who want to preserve the open-source Linux operating system.

Linux users want to keep the system free

It's usually no easier to fathom the motives of virus creators than it is of any other perpetrator of damage for damage's sake.

Deep in the darkness of the psyche, vandals and arsonists no doubt have their reasons - and so, presumably, do the run-of-the-mill geeks who wreak damage on the unsuspecting computer user.

It's just that the reasoning isn't easy for most of the rest of us to understand.

Patenting Linux

But, in the case of the MyDoom computer worm, the motivation seems clearer.

It has attacked a company based in Utah called SCO, bringing down its website with a barrage of data sent from countless computers into which the worm had been insinuated, unbeknownst to the users.

There seems little doubt that SCO was targeted - illegally and unacceptably, lest anyone be in any doubt - because it has enraged many people devoted to the Linux operating system.

Two years ago, SCO claimed that it owned more than 800,000 lines of the system which had always been available for free and to anyone since its invention in 1991.

On top of that, SCO has sued IBM, accusing it of infringing on SCO intellectual property in the way it uses Linux.

For good measure, SCO is seeking at least a billion dollars from IBM.

Wrath of the geeks

If anyone's anger has no measure, it is the wrath of internet zealots who believe that code should be free to all (open source).

So, it seems likely that the perpetrators of the MyDoom virus and its variants are internet vandals with a specific grudge.

SCO is the big, bad company that violates one of their sacred principles, as they would see it.

There's no proof, of course, but it must be one of the theories at the top of any investigator's list.

Not that Linux devotees probably have that much to worry about.

Despite the law-suits against users by SCO, sales of computer servers using Linux have soared - up on one estimate by 50% in the past year, litigation or no litigation.

Court hearing

Meanwhile the court dispute between SCO and Linux users (rather than the cyberspace war between SCO and the hackers) is scheduled for next year in a court in Utah.

The users are putting in place formidable defences. A group called Open Source Development Labs has set up a fund of $10 million with the backing of IBM and a host of other big Linux users.

In the meantime, experts are pondering the implications of the MyDoom attack.

It is probably the most successful virus in this form of internet warfare, where a wickedly ingenious program persuades thousands of computers to bombard a single website on a particular date.

It's hard to see how any website could withstand that kind of clever evil.

The attack also raises the possibility of internet blackmail, with companies threatened by individuals or even an individual who might be anywhere.

This attack, though, is not blackmail.

It is about malice not money.

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