Feeds

Linux patch becomes terminal pain

Update malaise spreads

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

Many users of the increasingly popular Ubuntu Linux distribution found themselves thrown back to mid-1990s on Tuesday, when a botched update to the graphical X Window subsystem brought them face-to-face with the command-line terminal.

The update, pushed out to Ubuntu users Monday night, aimed to fix some hardware issues to the X Window software used by almost all Linux systems, but instead caused the graphical user interface (GUI) to fail to initialise, leaving users to deal with issuing text commands through the terminal.

By Thursday, more than 700 comments had been posted to the Ubuntu forums by affected users looking for answers, and the Linux project - managed by software and service firm Canonical - issued an apology.

"When we learned of the problem, the patch was immediately withdrawn," the group said in the mea culpa posted to its website. "Mirrors have also been disabled to ensure that the faulty patch isn't available from them. We have launched an investigation and formal quality process review to understand exactly how this happened and what corrective actions to take."

Instructions posted to the Ubuntu website allow affected users to roll back the problematic update with a few commands. The project withdrew the faulty patch early Tuesday, after about 17 hours.

"It was not clear how many people were affected," Matt Zimmerman, chief technology officer for Ubuntu, said in an interview with SecurityFocus. "The bug seems to be hardware specific."

Ironically, the incident occurred as Linux competitor Microsoft had update problems of its own. A cumulative patch to Internet Explorer published by the software giant over a week ago fixed eight vulnerabilities but introduced an exploitable security flaw into the web browser. On Thursday, Microsoft pushed out an upgrade patch that fixed the problem.

Earlier this year, Ubuntu fixed a security hole in its Linux distribution caused by the installer storing the user's main password without first encrypting the data.

Many users were willing to give a pass to the Ubuntu project, which has generally garnered rave reviews among Linux users, for the rare update issue.

"This fix worked perfectly for me," wrote a member of the Ubuntu forums identified as "Moephan." "I had no GUI for about five minutes total. Also, I didn't lose any data or anything...Stuff like this happens, even to big companies like Sun and Microsoft."

Others users criticised the project for missing the problem during quality control and predicted that the mistake would cost the project future users.

"Overall, this was an eight hour exercise, eight hours that I could afford to take out of my day, but how many others have that luxury?" wrote a forum member with the handle "Dale61". "I'm wondering how many others, particularly those in business, are still trying to find a solution to a problem that should never have happened in the first place."

Despite the distributed programming model of open source projects, catastrophic errors in patches are rare. The companies and groups behind most Linux distributions extensively test software updates, said Holger Dyroff, vice president of marketing for Novell's SUSE Linux group.

"What you try to do as a business - and this is true for Microsoft as well as the enterprise Linux distributions - you try to make sure that these issues don't happen," Dyroff said. "With thousands of customers out there - many paying for the product - it's important to invest in quality assurance."

As a project, Ubuntu checks any updates from internal and external sources and requires that a member of the team sign off on the changes. Ubuntu's Zimmerman remained hopeful that the incident would not cause users or administrators to delay patching their systems - or at least, delay any more than they already do.

"I think it is a common practice among administrators of large networks to wait before applying patches," he said. "Those administrators are very conservative and don't apply updates right away no matter who the vendor is."

The project is currently reviewing its quality checking procedures, and in the end, the incident will serve to make Ubuntu's update process better, Zimmerman said.

This article originally appeared in Security Focus.

Copyright © 2006, SecurityFocus

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

More from The Register

next story
Preview redux: Microsoft ships new Windows 10 build with 7,000 changes
Latest bleeding-edge bits borrow Action Center from Windows Phone
Google opens Inbox – email for people too thick to handle email
Print this article out and give it to someone tech-y if you get stuck
Microsoft promises Windows 10 will mean two-factor auth for all
Sneak peek at security features Redmond's baking into new OS
UNIX greybeards threaten Debian fork over systemd plan
'Veteran Unix Admins' fear desktop emphasis is betraying open source
Google+ goes TITSUP. But WHO knew? How long? Anyone ... Hello ...
Wobbly Gmail, Contacts, Calendar on the other hand ...
DEATH by PowerPoint: Microsoft warns of 0-day attack hidden in slides
Might put out patch in update, might chuck it out sooner
Redmond top man Satya Nadella: 'Microsoft LOVES Linux'
Open-source 'love' fairly runneth over at cloud event
prev story

Whitepapers

Cloud and hybrid-cloud data protection for VMware
Learn how quick and easy it is to configure backups and perform restores for VMware environments.
A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Three 1TB solid state scorchers up for grabs
Big SSDs can be expensive but think big and think free because you could be the lucky winner of one of three 1TB Samsung SSD 840 EVO drives that we’re giving away worth over £300 apiece.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.