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The Wire
Digital City
Microsoft embarrassment reflects on .NET

Friday, January 26, 2001


Continued outages on Microsoft's Web sites raise questions about the company's bold new .NET initiative, which encourages users to store their files on Microsoft's Web servers.

The past few days have shown the Redmond-based software giant is vulnerable to attacks by hackers and mistakes by its own technicians.

Web surfers were blocked from Microsoft Web sites starting Tuesday night. Microsoft restored the sites Wednesday after 22 hours, blaming it on a technician who reconfigured the network equipment that directs Internet traffic.

On the next day when sites were again inaccessible, the company said it was a victim of a so-called "denial-of-sevice" attack. Hackers flooded Microsoft's the equipment with fake traffic, thus blocking any legitimate Internet traffic, which meant consumers were again unable to access Microsoft sites.

The company maintained the two events were unrelated. It restored service Thursday afternoon, but outages still continued on some of the sites Friday.

The sites affected included MSNBC.com, Hotmail, MSN, and the company's home page -- sites that serve millions of users, the company said.

Eric Siegel, a consultant at Keynote Systems Inc., a company that monitors Web site performance, said his 120 monitors reached microsoft.com about 8 percent of the time and msn.com about 10 percent Friday, while normally the sites have 98 percent or greater success rates.

Microsoft said Friday morning it was unaware of any problems and maintained that the subsequent outage was unrelated to the first.

Some experts say it could have happened to any company, but the problems have been embarrassing for Microsoft, which is trying to encourage users to rely more heavily on the Internet as part of its .NET strategy, which turns its software into Net-based services.

"Microsoft is going to have to show a certain amount of robustness before people are willing to buy into this," said Ryan Russell, incident analyst with SecurityFocus.com.

Customers may be hesitant to trust Microsoft after several days of spotty Internet connection, said Gerald Altieri, network system engineer with Roseville Online, an Internet service provider in Roseville, Calif.

"It's going to put some more doubts in people's minds about having computers based solely on the Internet," he said.

With .NET, programs, word processing files and spreadsheets would be stored on larger computers that would be made accessible on the Internet, rather than on the hard drives of individual personal computers.

The software would be able to work with a variety of devices, including PCs, cellular phones and handheld computers. A programming language called XML (for extensible Markup Language) helps link users to the data they need.

Microsoft's new .NET strategy faces tough competition against rivals Sun Microsystems and Oracle Corp., which make large server systems, said Rob Enderle, an analyst at Giga Information Group.

"The large-scale systems are seen as more reliable. So when they break, people say it's an exception," he said. "(Microsoft's) smaller PC-based systems are viewed as unreliable. They break; they're still unreliable. It's more important for challenging technology to demonstrate they do not have these problems."

Microsoft lags behind Sun Microsystems and Oracle in large corporate business.

Microsoft spokesman Adam Sohn declined to comment on Thursday's attack, but pointed out Tuesday's error could not be blamed on the quality of the company's products, but a foul-up in the configuration of Microsoft's domain-name servers -- the computer software that matches users with a particular address on the Internet.

It should not reflect on Microsoft .NET or the company's $200 million advertising campaign -- launched Monday -- that stresses the reliability of its enterprise software, Sohn said.

"We serve millions and millions of customers, virtually without fail," he said. "Unfortunately, we had an operational mistake with unintended consequences that lead to those sites appearing unreachable."

The Internet is relatively new, very sophisticated, accessible to the masses and expanding rapidly, said Nicholas Economides, professor of economics at the Stern School of Business at New York University. That leaves it vulnerable to mistakes, hackers, viruses and congestion, he said.

He doubted the events of the week would have much of an impact.

"Given how little most people know about security, it may be better off if their content is stored somewhere else," he said.

On the Net:


2001 The Associated Press.
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rewritten or redistributed.

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