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  Long Arm of Law Summoned in ‘Second Life’  
 
 
Posted 2006-05-19 by Tony Walsh
 
 
     
 
Linden Lab, makers of the virtual world Second Life, attempted to clarify its response to denial of service attackers yesterday. According to the Second Life Herald, CEO Philip Rosedale told those gathered at a virtual town hall meeting that running a business site in Second Life is no different from running a web site. "Interrupting somebody's commerce on the Web is a serious crime. In cases where we are able to establish a reasonable equivalance between that kind of disruption, we have, and we will be, and we will get better at, turning those people in, in general to the FBI here in the US. We are serious about doing this and we have done it." While it's now clear that Linden Lab has involved--and will continue to involve--the FBI, it's also clear that not all cases will be eligible for reporting, based on the nature of the attack. I have a feeling that if the company doesn't choose its battles wisely, the FBI (and any other authorities) will lose interest in pursuing virtual world attacks.

In other news, Wired News published a story yesterday on the virtual land lawsuit I covered over a week ago. Wired contributor Kathleen Craig was kind enough to quote me in her article, and even call me up for a quick fact-check. Since the Second Life community became aware of the lawsuit, discussion about the case has been going strong. While this may not be the ground-breaking case legal experts are waiting for, virtual-world residents are paying close attention.
 
     
 
   
 
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  8 Comments  
 
   
 
Comment posted by Secureplay
May 19, 2006 @ 2:25 pm
     
 
The comparison with an e-commerce site is apt, but not in the way Linden Lab may think. E-commerce sites show due diligence in trying to prevent these attacks with rate filters, firewalls, IP blocking, etc.

They don't provide tools to build the attacks on the site.

And, if there is a site bug that allows such an attack, they are expected to fix the flaw.

To date, there doesn't seem to have been too much that Linden Lab has done to actually address the underlying problem (at least that has been discussed) - no changes to the scripting language, no improved auditing, .... just a call to the FBI.

I think you are right about "crying wolf" here, Tony. Also, given the apparently weak state of security in Second Life, is it really reasonable to expect them to maintain court quality records that will support a case? (Assuming that jurisdiction is easy, etc., etc., etc.)
 
     
 
     
   
 
Comment posted by Tony Walsh
May 19, 2006 @ 2:58 pm
     
 
Yeah I didn't think Rosedale's statement was very strong simply because LL isn't likely to be able to do much about these griefers (short of a software solution). There's nothing worse than a hollow threat--it makes me wonder why he even bothered to address it.
 
     
 
     
   
 
Comment posted by Prokofy Neva
May 19, 2006 @ 3:11 pm
     
 
Tony, I wonder if you had a chance to see my piece called "The Climate of Impunity"
http://secondthoughts.typepad.com/second_thoughts/2006/05/the_climate_of_.html
in which I pose the question of whether the Lindens' shall we say permissive environment for things like bending the TOS to reverse-engineer (see Phoenix Linden's post on this I quote) makes a climate whereby griefers are not sufficiently discouraged and indeed enabled.

Jeff Lindens has said that as a matter of course IPs are tracked during log-ins in fact to make the game work, but do they ever block them? Apparently not, as it's common for griefers to come back on alts, and for forums posters to pick up alts after being banned (BTW, I am *not* one of them).

The Lindens take a philosophical position that anyone who comes in new is innocent until proven guilty, and that they have to wait until they do something bad before they can nab them.

It's frustrating to many of us who also personally suffered numerous griefer attacks (I have had horrendous fire prim bombing and particle bombing attacks for the last few weeks where griefers, possibly the same ones, used the same self-replicating scripts). We can see the same dumb-ass groups with the same truck-load of alts filling up, often with names that amount to saying "Ima Griefer" or "Catchme Ifyoucan". We can abuse report suspects when we see the same griefer groups over and over, with the same lame M.O., but we can't ever be sure the Lindens ever put all this together.

They seem terribly reluctant to close down any group qua group (we can't even be sure that known griefer groups even get any special surveillance). Of course, this opens up civil rights concerns. Should know griefing groups always be under heavy surveillance and their new alts even prevented from perpetuating abuse? It's a question to debate.

The Lindens praise people for replicating fish ih artificial life experiments. They chuckle if those fish began to swim off world or swim all over the grid from when they spawn. They want to keep that climate of whimsical creativity ever open. So they don't deprecate a script with those functions when they are used to replicate grief balls with ugly pictures crashing grids.

It's the same sort of philosophy that makes them not remove security orb scripts or "bounce" scripts that bounce your av to kingdom come just because you happen to fly near or over somebody's McMansion. Tekkies argue that these scripts are used for elevators or guns, so can't be deprecated without harming creativity.

So contrary to the belief that some have that certain script functions are completely eradicated from servers, they aren't, and that's why these attacks repeat over and over.

I wonder why they can't find a balance better -- the slider is way too far over to enabling griefers. Others say they need to calibrate the sims better or even move to host your own sims so that people don't have to be plugged into an entire grid.
 
     
 
     
   
 
Comment posted by Tony Walsh
May 19, 2006 @ 3:33 pm
     
 
Hi Prok,
I did indeed see the post on your blog you refer to. I was, as you were, struck by Phoenix Linden's self-defeating statement about reverse-engineering SL. LL seems unwilling to accept that if it's going to let users do whatever they want, it can't reasonably expect them to also simultaneously obey LL's rules. It makes no sense to say "go ahead and reverse engineer whatever you want... unless we don't want you to."

Interestingly, in this latest town hall, Philip was saying something about letting residents be their own police force. This is all fine and dandy if the residents have more powerful tools, and can make their own laws. But the buck stops at LL. There is no resident-created rule that can supersede LL's edicts (that I am aware of). So, what's going to come out of this are mob-ruled neighbourhoods, and roaming packs of thugs like the Green Lantern Core and the SL Police Department. This will result in LL having not only to police griefers, but vigilantes too.

I'd love to see what would happen if LL just turned it all over to the residents. Let's have wars. Let's take down servers. Chaos. Anarchy. Sooner or later, I bet it would settle down. Although I think someone tried that in the MUD days and eventually, the "wizards" had to come back and fix everything.
 
     
 
     
   
 
Comment posted by csven
May 19, 2006 @ 4:41 pm
     
 
My solution is looking better to me all the time. Although upon re-reading that, now I'm thinking it might get them a government job.
 
     
 
     
   
 
Comment posted by Prokofy Neva
May 19, 2006 @ 5:17 pm
     
 
Yes, Tony, I blogged about Philip's notion of "civic redress" today at
http://secondthoughts.typepad.com/second_thoughts/2006/05/civid_redress.html

It would be a mistake to pick up Philip's remarks on this yesterday and call this some kind of enlightened "self-governance" and "dispute resolution" given the jealous passions and elitist gated communities of SL.

You say that the Lindens would not allow a resident-created rule to supersede their own. Well, in these discussions about the covenants (which they are planning to put into a patch in the near future), they talk about letting, say, Goreans just run their own servers. Goreans want the right to have all abuse reports emanating from their sims to be rerouted from the Linden abuse managers right back to the Gorean masters. So no cry for help if someone is actually suffering genuine abuse is possible -- your would-be helpers will be routing your plea back to your tormentors. It's sick. And Lindens appear to endorse this and says, "sure" in these meetings where resident request the right to serve as abuse stewards on their own servers, seized as they are with this ideology of technolibertarianism, "anything goes."

The Lindens have a supreme distaste for instituting any kind of rule of law, even one that might help preserve their own wacky brand of fuzzy California silicon liberalism. They'll do stuff like make mass purges of yard sales deemed "illegal" and ban the "miscreants" and "spammers" to 3 days punishment, but they'll let the extortionist "Bush Guy" spam up 16m2 parcels and extort land sales in the name of "creative license".

They seem to care not that the very liberal ethos itself will be destoyed if they let residents install illiberal worlds. They actually aggressively encourage them to do whatever they want so they can get more subscribers. They don't even nod sagely or seem to wring their hands in distress about the complexities of banning things like age play -- they don't seem to care, because they seem to really want the residents themselves to do it -- yet while retaining this strong executive authority without any checks or balances.

Yes, the result of this is going to be awful to watch.
 
     
 
     
   
 
Comment posted by Secureplay
May 19, 2006 @ 8:09 pm
     
 
All -

OK, I have a question for you - what is it going to take for you to quit SL? Prokofy - you do business in SL - there has got to be a point at which SL becomes so unreliable that you will quit?

If you accept Linden Lab's contention that Second Life is a "platform" to allow other people to work, build, and play - it has to be trustworthy.

On this count, they seem to be failing miserably AND don't seem to be taking the issue seriously. All of our blogs have numerous articles & commentary about Second Life's flaws.

There seems to be no real effort to engage these problems... except calling in the FBI.

Now that Second Life is in the public consciousness, the platform is going to need to deliver or die.
 
     
 
     
   
 
Comment posted by Prokofy Neva
May 19, 2006 @ 8:35 pm
     
 
I really hate when the grid crashes, when my communities get attacked -- I literally lose $100 USD like that a day I estimate, because there's a knock-on effect -- a few people move out, a few more feel insecure, a couple more don't log on and don't pay, etc. I wonder if my rentals are like a microcosm of the whole world. On the other hand, I'd have to say business is booming, we all had record sales weeks after the BW article and the new people just keep on coming. Some stick, some don't. So it crashes -- it's still cool.

What's worse than the griefing is the land glutting and the monetary policies -- these are ideologically driven by what appears to be some technosocialengineering sort of ideology and they only cause losses except for those who are high-end content makers or having huge volumes of islands.

I continue to maintain in these debates with Tony that is is truthworth *enough*. I'm not trying to do really mission-critical work, whoever. I don't see that it's a miserable failure in that they continue to improve things here and there, though it does have a one step backwards, two forward feel.

Whenever the Lindens pursue policies that seem bad for business, I just tier down and don't cave to this constant lure of volume that they try to get land dealers to buy into. Kill the GOM? Move to fake on-demand wholesale auctions? I stop buying off your auction. Compete with your own residents? Then I pay you for one less sim. Ruthlessly cut out all telehubs and put in p2p and don't lose the grey square problem? One less sim for you. OK, this has no impact on them -- as Kenny Linden immemorably told me, "There's always another guy to buy the island." But I do try to keep the record and try to leave a trail for others.

I'm hanging on now for 2 things they are promising, fixing the group tools and adding better land controls against griefers. There are about 3-4 seemingly little things they need to do to fix these up, and I don't get why they keep sequencing thing behind other things that seem far less important like having flexible prims, but their skew is always toward content creators because that's the cash flow, so I understand that limitation.

My guess is the FBI isn't going to be able to do a thing about this.
 
     
 
     
   
 
 
     
 
     
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