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Web 2.0 worm downs MySpace

Angle bracket defenses breached

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It's been a rough weekend for Tomorrow's People. A JavaScript exploit that has been called the first "Web 2.0 worm" knocked out MySpace.com - and the $500m-valued website, recently acquired by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp - was still struggling to get back on its feet two days later.

The cunning JavaScript exploit added a million users as "friends", forcing the site offline. Service was restored on Friday but two days later the site was still struggling with the consequences, serving pages at a glacial pace.

A Google fan blog calls it "truly Web 2.0" - the buzzword attached to the latest attempt to generate a hype around the internet's most popular presentation layer. Paul Bissex has a lucid explanation.

The exploit used XSS scripting, and was made possible by allowing users to inject their own JavaScript onto their blog pages.

So is the highly-Emergent angle bracket crowd redoing Windows on the web with AJAX, using Microsoft as a security model? Yes, but actually it's even worse than that, reckons Paul.

"The Wikipedia article on XSS divides exploits into Type 0, Type 1, Type 2. The description of Type 2 (the most severe) notes that it involves script code stored on the server (as in this case), but says that the attacker "may not need to use the web application itself to exploit such a hole."

"I'd say we now have a new type - Type 3 - in which the web application is an integral part of the exploit," he writes.

You can read a technical explanation of the code here, and an interview with its author 'Samy' here.

'Samy' puts the blame on the browsers.

"The reason I was still able to get JavaScript past their filters is by using browsers’ leniencies. With a little finagling, I could get JavaScript to execute on some browsers, even though the actual code wasn’t valid. It was the browsers that mistakenly executed JavaScript when they shouldn’t have."

So real life imitates parody.

Samy says the worm was his first attempt at learning 'AJAX' and it took only a week of studying one hour a day to develop:

"The worm was my intro to and first time using Ajax, and I learned a few other things while developing it. I spent an hour or two a day trying to do something new on MySpace for about a week. After one week, I put a few of the things developed into one big piece and had the resulting worm."

Which recalls Verity Stob's sudden breakthrough after years of trying to make sense of Microsoft's inadequate scripting documentation:

"I for one still feel a thrill of excitement and surprise when Word does what I asked it to, often followed by a second thrill, of a different kind, when it abruptly stops doing so," she wrote in 1998.

"For a long time the big problem with Automation, in my opinion, was the lack of robust and realistic examples showing what it could do—especially where Outlook was concerned. Happily this shortcoming has in recent times been addressed, and addressed in spades.

"Of all the script viruses, “I Love You” is still my preferred source of useful snippets for manipulating the Outlook address book, even if its author does insist on spelling mail “male.” By the way, ILY also contains some good stuff demonstrating the VB file system object - I would lobby for its inclusion in MSDN, but I suppose it is too late now."

As we pointed out in our review of the "Web 2.0 hype", what happens when you allow presentation layer people - wiki-fiddlers - to write real systems?

A predictable disaster. ®

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