Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Trained Orangutans of SecondLife

Your mom uses nice china plates at home because she knows you and  your dad will do your best not to break them.

The people at Denny's, however, use indestructible polymer plates because God only knows what sort of insane people will eat from them and they hire trained orangutans to wash them.

Writing software for public consumption is like the plates at Denny's.

There's a theory that hackers and griefers of a software system actually work to improve the system because they find the weaknesses and cracks in the system that need fixing.  As annoying as it is to be using software when it comes under one of these attacks, this theory is probably correct.

The problem for the engineers at Linden Labs is to find ways to plug the exploits used by the griefers while still retaining the cool stuff the rest of us use peaceably.  For instance: they could fix the old griefer trick of replicating cubes by turning off the scripting ability to make one prim spawn another one.  But that would disable a lot of cool stuff that the rest of us have fun with so they had to find another way.

Recently, a relatively new griefer hit Moose Beach dozens of times.  Although one of his tricks appears to be genuinely new, the rest use the same exploits known by Linden Labs for a long time.

When a grief attack happens, Linden Labs takes the event logs for the area and examines the objects and scripts and whatever else they can find involved and try to figure out a way to plug the exploit.  It's not a particularly fast process since they're also working on a lot of other projects at the same time and these issues go into the "to do" stack with a bunch of other things.

Meanwhile, the third party viewer developers also set to work coming up with ways for their users to shield themselves from these attacks (although there's almost always one or two people working on third party viewers that make these and new attacks easier).

The result is a system that starts out with tons of exploits for griefers to use, but over time they get fewer and fewer as the engineers involved find ways to make them impotent or impossible.

Back at Moose Beach, most of the stuff Stark uses is dispatched or disposed of immediately, or people use aspects of their viewer to make them impotent and people are already looking at his new exploit to figure out how to resolve it.

People who have been around a while get kind of a kick out of seeing all the self-replicating cubes build up because they remember when just a few of those would have made the sim inoperable for an hour or more.  Now, most of them dissipate in just a few minutes, with a staff person or contractor coming along later to clean up the stragglers.

Although annoying, the system works.  You couldn't make something like SecondLife without attracting a ton of kids bent on messing it up.  Fortunately, the people at the lab have been around the block a few times and know just how to handle it.  Exploit #3724 goes into the To Do stack, and eventually it goes away.

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