Grey goo attack briefly fells Second Life

Users of the highly popular massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG), Second Life, were locked out of the game's virtual world when it was shut down by a worm this weekend.

The grid that runs the online world was clogged up when it was hit by what its creators at Linden Lab dubbed a "grey goo attack." Such attacks are perpetrated when malicious users place self-replicating objects within the world. The moment a player picks up the object it replicates further, eventually causing a DoS-type attack once enough objects are created to eat up server resources.

Because Second Life's vibrancy depends on the trading of player-coded objects, its underlying grid is susceptible to these malicious attacks. As its player base has exploded to more than 1.5 million, Linden has made efforts to program code what it calls its "grey goo fence" to defend against these self-replication attacks. However, as the attack demonstrated, the defense is far from fool-proof.

Linden reported on its company blog that the server was only down for approximately a half-hour while workers cleaned up the offending objects from the grid. During the interim, some players complained on the blog that this type of attack may be a sign that the game's wild success is going to be its downfall.

"It sure is a good thing that getting 1 million sign ups was so important when the existing structure can't handle 15,000 users logged in. (with 3,000 sims, that's an average of only five people per sim). One statistician projects that ther(e) will be 2 million by New Year's Eve," one user wrote. "Linden Lab, it's time to seriously think about these problems as REAL problems that are going to affect all of us and your bottom line."

Click here to email Ericka Chickowski.

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