SCO is called `Doom' target

Virus: A Utah software company that has plenty of critics appears to be under attack by hackers.

January 29, 2004|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,SUN STAFF

Many people before this week hadn't heard of SCO Group Inc., a small software developer in Utah.

Then, the "MyDoom" virus struck.

The fastest-moving virus infected tens of thousands of computers worldwide, shut down e-mail systems at large corporations, left victims vulnerable to hackers and spread so rapidly that security experts are calling it the worst computer worm ever.

SCO, the apparent target, is a much less conspicuous one than the likes of Microsoft Corp., the world's largest software maker and a frequent focus of past viruses and worms. But SCO is at the middle of a battle over open source software, copyright and trade secrets. Last year, it sued International Business Machines Corp. for $3 billion.

"During the past 10 months, SCO has been the target of several [denial of service] attacks," Darl C. McBride, president and chief executive, said in a statement. "The perpetrator of this virus is attacking SCO but hurting many others at the same time. We do not know the origins or reasons for this attack, although we have our suspicions."

MyDoom is timed to launch a denial-of-service attack on SCO Sunday, bombarding the Web site with mail to effectively shut off access to users, security experts said. SCO said yesterday that it was experiencing a number of attacks that had shut down its Web site for as long as 20 minutes.

Not all experts are convinced that the MyDoom virus was after SCO only. Some surmised that the hackers' main goal was to gain remote access to infected computers. But in the world of computer programmers and software developers, SCO would be an obvious target for some.

"This was a tiny, little company worth about $15 million when they launched their lawsuit," said Deutsche Bank analyst Brian Edward Skiba. "Today, SCO is worth about $200 million. The stock has gone up pretty dramatically over the year, given the assertions they made.

"This may ultimately get settled in court, which means SCO is either worth a lot or worth nothing when you get out of trial," Skiba said. "Why are they the most hated company in the world right now? They dared to make an audacious claim that could threaten the very popular operating system called Linux."

Executives at SCO headquarters in Lindon, Utah, did not return calls. The company is working with the FBI and the Secret Service and has offered a $250,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the virus writer.

Viruses and worms are a common annoyance for computer users, but for the corporate world they can be especially costly. According to a Symantec Internet Security Threat Report, the cost of eight days of widespread "worm" attacks in August was about $2 billion.

In most cases, large corporations are the target of such attacks, but organizations of any size are in danger, said Jonah Paramsky, senior manager of product management for Symantec Security Services in California.

"We haven't seen recently a high-profile attack like this against a small organization," Paramsky said. "It's all about what the agenda of the virus writer is. Certainly, organizations of any size are at risk. It's possible maybe they're angry at the company or maybe they're having fun, but it's clearly intentional that they're trying to disrupt the business."

SCO is the oldest established manufacturer of Unix operating systems. Over the years, computer enthusiasts developed similar software based on the principles of Unix and called it Linux.

Linux source code was to be free and open to the public. More recently, Linux has become more widely promoted and is used by such corporations as Hewlett-Packard and IBM. Linux has developed loyal and borderline fanatical fans in the computer world.

For SCO, that means its market may be vanishing.

"That has really made SCO unhappy," said Bradley M. Kuhn, executive director of the Free Software Foundation, a Boston nonprofit that promotes computer users' right to use, copy, modify and redistribute computer programs. "Their business model of licensing software didn't survive. Why pay for software when there's similar, better software out there available for free or a small fee? SCO is the last refuge of companies that is in a whole heap of trouble. They've turned to litigation as business model."

In March, SCO sued IBM, claiming that it owned a major portion of the Linux software the computer giant distributes. Threatening to take other Linux users to court, SCO is seeking to collect royalties from companies using the Linux system.

"They're trying to hijack the open source movement," said George Staikos, a Toronto member of K Desktop Environment, a group of hundreds of engineers worldwide committed to free software development.

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