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An alliance of software makers and network-hardware vendors announced on Tuesday that they had banded together to fix a fundamental flaw in the design of the internet's address system.

The vulnerability in the domain name system (DNS) - the distributed database that matches a host and domain name with the numerical address of a computer server - could give an attacker the ability to replace the addresses of popular websites with that of a malicious server, said Dan Kaminsky, director of penetration testing for security firm IOActive. Kaminsky found the flaw when he was doing non-security research on the domain name system (DNS) more than six months ago.

"It is a fundamental issue affecting the design," Kaminsky said. "Because the system is behaving exactly like it is supposed to behave, the same bug will show up in vendor after vendor after vendor. This one bug affected not just Microsoft ... not just Cisco, but everyone."

On Tuesday, a number of software and network-hardware vendors released patches for their products. On its regularly scheduled patch day, Microsoft released updates for Windows 2000, Windows XP and Windows Server 2003 to mitigate the issue, which the company ranked an important vulnerability, its second highest grade of severity. Internet Software Consortium, the group responsible for the development of the popular Berkeley Internet Name Domain (BIND) server, also released a patch, confirming that its software contained the vulnerability. Both Cisco and Juniper also acknowledged flawed systems.

Vendors have also provided the fix to certain large clients. Yahoo will be upgrading its name servers from BIND 8 to the latest version of BIND 9, the Internet Software Consortium stated during the conference call. Internet service provider Comcast has already patched its servers for the issue, according to internet infrastructure firm Nominum. Finally, the Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT) Coordination Center has contacted some other nation's response groups to inform them of the problem.

For the most part, however, internet service providers and companies each received the fix on Tuesday, said Sandy Wilbourn, vice president of engineering at Nominum. The goal: To have every major service provider and company apply their software patches in 30 days.

For that reason, don't expect immediate action, Wilbourn said.

"For key customers on our network, we have made a special effort to get them an early release to help solve this problem, and a number of them have finished deployment," he said. "But the nature of this patch is that we wanted to get the vendor side covered and then have deployment over the next 30 days. Anyone that is not patched by today or tomorrow is not doing anything wrong."

The domain-name system (DNS) has been a popular way to attack the internet in the past - it's an ill-kept secret that the DNS system is insecure. The way that many software applications, such as browsers, handle DNS requests has opened up users to attack. Microsoft has fixed a few vulnerabilities in the way Windows handles domain names - issues that could have lead to easier eavesdropping or simpler phishing attacks.

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