Debian: Attack Didnt Harm Source Code

According to officials of the Linux distribution project, the attack on Debian's servers was an annoyance that caused little damage.

Despite a cracker incursion into Debian Project servers this week, representatives of the Debian Linux distribution said the open-source code behind it remains untouched.

Ian Murdoch, chairman of Progeny Linux Systems Inc. and founder of Debian, told, "Fortunately, open-source developers tend to be very good at keeping cryptographic signatures on files and multiple backups to make sure that everything stays all right."

For Debian, Murdoch said, the attack "is more a matter of inconvenience, since the organization was about to release the latest version of Debian this Friday."

This is not the first time an open-source site has been attacked by crackers. In March of this year, the Free Software Foundation Inc.s GNU Project ftp servers were attacked. This assault, which caused no damage to the code, was only discovered months afterwards.

In the Debian case, though, the break-in was discovered within 24 hours. The cracker had gained access to four machines: "master," the bug-tracking system; "murphy," the mailing-list manager; "gluck," the Web server and Concurrent Versions System (CVS) system; and "klecker," which houses security, quality assurance and search-engine code. Martin Schulze, a Debian spokesman, reported that the Debian source code archives themselves were "not affected by this compromise."

"This kind of attack is inevitable in open source," Murdoch said. "Weve increased security. At the beginning of Debian, becoming a developer was as easy as sending me an e-mail, but these days there are checks and balances in place to make sure that only real developers get in and that the code stays clean."

Some posters at popular Linux news and discussion site Slashdot joked that either The SCO Group Inc. was trying to break in and "steal the source to prove once and for all that Linux has stolen their patents" or "are trying to break in to insert patented code into Linux code, so theyd have a leg to stand on in the court." However, Murdoch said, "The sad thing about the break-in is that it was probably done by an archetypical 15-year-old in a basement with nothing better to do. If that same kid channeled his energy and skills in a creative rather than destructive way, he could achieve real recognition as an open-source programmer."

Dan Kusnetzky, IDC vice president for system software research, told, "In one sense, people could take this as a backhanded complement: Someone felt that [breaking into Debians servers] was hard enough to do to be worth doing. This is one more line of evidence that Linux is coming into the mainstream." And, at the same time, "The fact that it was caught and dealt with showed the strength of the open-source software community."

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