Last night I experienced a terrorist attack on a virtual planet.
I’m being a little bit facetious. But I jumped into an assault on Second Life in the early hours of the morning nonetheless.
Materialising on the Integral Castle grounds, I found myself in the middle of a rain of small boxes, all of which were trying to load themselves into my inventory (where the objects in SL that I choose to hold on to are kept) while looping some Biblical jabber through the chat circuit, filling the entire screen.
Any object that tries to attach itself to you can be kept, discarded or “muted” — made to stop acting, and its owner/sender placed on ignore. It took maybe thirty seconds to mute the objects and the half-dozen people sending them. The senders appeared not to have accounts: appeared, in fact, to not exist on Second Life at all. Having muted them, I assumed the attack was limited to my grounds — some griefers with a grudge or just randomly looking for entertainment. “Griefer” is a SL term for people who use active objects like these to give you grief, basically, the equivalent of script kiddies.
Having dealt with this, I went to teleport out to Transylvania to
listen to some music before bed. And the system hung. Tried it two or three times. Gave up, logged out. And then, on a whim, checked out Second Life’s status page. At which point I discovered it wasn’t just me. The entire grid was under attack.
Each of those little boxes contained a bit of script that ran two processes on contact with Second Life. These scripts, of course, run on SL servers. So if two hundred boxes fell on my patch of land, that was an extra four hundred processes the SL machines were having to run. Multiply that out over the hundreds of thousands, if not millions of square meters that constitute the world of Second Life. That’s not a couple of arseholes fucking with a tired old man at three in the morning. That’s a direct attempt on the life of the world by forcing the servers to run millions of simultaneous and multiplying new processes.
I’ve seen it happen in microcosm: an upset young woman once deleted all the construction on the island of Transylvania, a place of very complex, dense building. Everything vanished (except, brilliantly, the wall by the dance floor where everyone sits), leaving the original, pre-terraformed craggy rock and waterpools.
But this was different. It was another of Second Life’s oddly science-fictional moments: standing in the snow under a rain of talking death boxes. It put me in mind of that surreal moment early in Charlie Stross’ SINGULARITY SKY where millions of telephones rain down from the clouds.
And, of course, it worked. First the complex transition processes like teleportation shut down. And then just walking became difficult. At which point, either the grid went down, or the operators shut it off.
Of course, if you turn it off, the terrorists win. (That’s a joke, son.)
It’s an interesting aspect of the slightly libertarian bent of Second Life. In fact, we had a great illustration of an old joke at the expense of libertarians — people who think roads just happen — the other day. When a major landholder left our area of SL, she took a bunch of the side roads with her. But seriously. Cory Doctorow has a habit of calling root-kit invasive software designers “arms dealers.” From that perspective, leaving bits of script lying around that can actually destroy the world would seem to be an ideological flaw at best. I mean, if you’re going to trumpet the right to bear arms and not assume people are going to fire them, then I have a course on Catholic contraception to sell you. On the heels of a hack attack that got hold of some residents’ passwords and details, it borders on the fucking retarded.
Of course it wasn’t a terrorist attack. It was a hacking exploit, and no-one’s going to mistake a few million bouncing boxes for a nailbomb in a litterbin (to use a British example). It was actually kind of funny, from my perspective. But it does illustrate one of the peculiarities of this massive virtual world I wander around in from time to time: that the creators of the world apparently leave the tools with which to destroy it just laying around in plain sight.
Integral Castle (Rogla 174, 120, 124) has been cleared for construction. If anyone wants to give me LS$50,000 to buy the space behind the castle that the creepy floating paedo-house is floating over, that’d be great.