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Server bug cripples Dublin law firms

Badly configured MS Small Business Server

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Solicitors across Dublin fell victim to an accidental mass mailing that crippled their systems this week, clogging inboxes and causing widespread disruption.

The problem was attributed to an improper server configuration, causing five servers to send out more than half a million emails to Dublin solicitors. The deluge of mail originated with a publishing company's email marketing message, which was sent to solicitors. When some solicitors attempted to reply to the mail, a fault in the solicitors' configuration of Microsoft Small Business Server sent the original email to their entire email database tens of thousands of times.

The incident crashed mail servers and caused embarrassment to those involved. The problem even hit smaller solicitors. One firm told ElectricNews.net that although the email had caused no serious harm, it had arrived in one of their inboxes hundreds of times.

Technology firm Enclave Technologies picked up on unusual email activity on Tuesday, although it pointed out that none of its clients had been affected by the problem. "We were quickly able to trace servers that were causing the problem and alert the firms involved. Our priority then was to furnish the IT support companies who looked after these servers with the knowledge to halt this spread of email," explained Jane Reid, network manager, Enclave Technologies.

"Preventing the accidental propagation required the implementation of the Microsoft Knowledge Base (KB) patches KB886208 and KB835734. We would advise any company running Microsoft Small Business Server to ensure these patches are installed to prevent against this problem," she continued.

The incident is being used as an opportunity to highlight the importance of keeping up to date with patches. Apparently, none of the solicitors involved had installed the server configuration recommended by Microsoft.

Reid pointed out that situations like this are easily avoided. "Solicitors and other professional services firms' absolute focus is their clients and it should not have to be their IT infrastructure," she said. "We believe that companies who do not have their own internal IT capability can prevent this sort of accident in the future by ensuring their IT maintenance and support provider keep on top of best practice and the latest updates."

Still, installing patches is not always the panacea it appears to be - some users who have installed patches in the past have reported further problems, while Microsoft recently withdrew a planned security patch, citing concerns over quality.

Windows users have been hit by a number of bugs in recent months, including a flaw previously thought to be relatively harmless. The Internet Explorer security flaw exploits a problem with Javascript that could be used to take control of a Windows system.

Copyright © 2005, ENN

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