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As the (Blaster) worm turns, Sun makes Mad Hatter move

As the body count of Windows-based systems affected by the so-called Blaster worm (also known as W32.Blaster, MSBlast and LoveSAN) approached an estimated 330,000 last week, Sun Microsystems opened up early registration for its upcoming Linux-based alternative desktop environment, code-named "Mad Hatter."

Project Mad Hatter, which Sun plans to release this fall, represents the Santa Clara, Calif.-based systems company's best efforts to build a better and cheaper desktop. Mad Hatter desktops will use JavaCards for authentication, and will include a JVM, the Gnome desktop interface, the Mozilla browser, the Evolution personal information manager from Ximian and the Gaim instant messaging client.

In a statement, Sun said the registration schedule was changed "in response to yet another massive security vulnerability in Microsoft's Windows operating system."

Microsoft took a lot of heat because of the Blast worm's ability to exploit a vulnerability in the Redmond, Wash.-based software maker's operating systems. The self-propagating program first appeared on the Internet late last Monday, and then spread quickly to machines running both Microsoft Windows XP and Windows 2003 Server. It was designed to launch a denial of service attack against Microsoft on the sixteenth of every month using insecure computers. To thwart those attacks, Microsoft killed the Windowsupdate.com address. A Microsoft spokesperson could not be reached for comment at press time.

The worm contains two messages in its code: a "greet" message; and a dig at Microsoft that reads, "billy gates why do you make this possible?" and "Stop making money and fix your software!!". It installs the Trivial File Transfer Protocol (TFTP) server, and runs the program to download its program code to the compromised server. It will also add a registry key to ensure that the worm is restarted when the host computer is rebooted.

Sun's EVP of software, Jonathan Schwartz, was not shy about his company's obvious attempt to capitalize on Microsoft's bad press. In a statement last week, Schwartz warned that "reliance on a single vendor for desktop deployments represents an Achilles' heel in the safety and security of the world's network infrastructure."

Sun has yet to disclose pricing information for its as-yet-unnamed OS, but has said that it will reveal all when the product becomes available in September at its annual SunNetwork user conference. Information about early-access registration for Project Mad Hatter is available at www.sun.com/madhatterinterest.

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at john@watersworks.com.

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