Who cracked Microsoft?

Many free-software hackers make no attempt to hide their hatred of Bill Gates -- could they be the culprits?

Topics: Microsoft,

So Microsoft’s internal network, the world learned Friday, has been vulnerable for an indeterminate period of time to mysterious outside forces who seem to be operating, at least at one level, from a computer based in St. Petersburg, Russia. At first glance, it has all the ingredients of a good cyberpunk science fiction thriller or a bad James Bond flick. The systems of the world’s mightiest software corporation have been rummaged through like a basket of used toys at a flea market — its crown-jewel source code laid bare for the taking.

And so far, we don’t have a clue as to who was responsible. Are Russian mafia figures actually involved, or is the St. Petersburg data point just a link in a chain that leads elsewhere? Is this a case of industrial espionage or juvenile delinquency?

Or is it freedom fighting?

The antagonistic dynamic that exists between Microsoft and free-software hackers is unavoidably obvious to anyone who has been following the growth of open-source software over the past few years. At one point, arch open-source evangelist Eric Raymond was even linking to a picture of Bill Gates in Nazi regalia from the opensource.org Web site. In Europe, distaste for and distrust of out-of-control American capitalism are widely acknowledged motivating forces for free-software hacking. Open vs. proprietary — it’s the good vs. evil foundation of the hacker worldview. Hatred of Microsoft keeps some hackers up at night, plotting their own software-led world domination.

You Might Also Like

But would a subset of hackers go so far as to crack Microsoft itself in an effort to liberate source code? It’s not inconceivable, though the most dedicated free-software hackers would no doubt turn up their noses at such behavior. Most hackers want to beat Microsoft through the strength of their code and the superiority of their development model. Stealing Microsoft’s code would be cheating — not at all the sort of free-market proof of open source’s innate excellence that libertarians favor.

But one has to wonder: Even though Microsoft is now speedily engaged in spin control — and is declaring that the source code to its operating systems and office suites is unharmed, unchanged and still under lock and key — suppose the code has escaped? Suppose, even now, crypto-libertarian cyberpunks are stashing Microsoft source code in data havens, and dedicated hackers have begun to worry away at it, seeking out its secrets, striving to undermine Microsoft’s proprietary competitive advantage?

Would they be any real threat? The challenge of discerning useful data in the hundreds of millions of lines of code that make up Windows 2000, Windows ME and Microsoft Office is daunting to the point of impossibility. And the legal wrath that would face any above-ground software developers whose code could be provably traced back to stolen Microsoft source would undoubtedly be ferocious and awe-inspiring.

But if open-source hackers, as Raymond insists, are really a tribe, then Microsoft is their tribal foe. And when emotions get heated in tribal warfare, logic and sense tend to be the first casualties. With all the flame wars that rage in cyberspace every time Microsoft and free software get mentioned in the same breath, would it really be a surprise to see some actual heat get generated?

Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Martyna Blaszczyk/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 1

    Pond de l'Archeveche - hundreds thousands of padlocks locked to a bridge by random couples, as a symbol of their eternal love. After another iconic Pont des Arts bridge was cleared of the padlocks in 2010 (as a safety measure), people started to place their love symbols on this one. Today both of the bridges are full of love locks again.

    Anders Andersson/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 2

    A bird's view of tulip fields near Voorhout in the Netherlands, photographed with a drone in April 2015.

    Aashit Desai/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 3

    Angalamman Festival is celebrated every year in a small town called Kaveripattinam in Tamil Nadu. Devotees, numbering in tens of thousands, converge in this town the day after Maha Shivratri to worship the deity Angalamman, meaning 'The Guardian God'. During the festival some of the worshippers paint their faces that personifies Goddess Kali. Other indulge in the ritual of piercing iron rods throughout their cheeks.

    Allan Gichigi/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 4

    Kit Mikai is a natural rock formation about 40m high found in Western Kenya. She goes up the rocks regularly to meditate. Kit Mikai, Kenya

    Chris Ludlow/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 5

    On a weekend trip to buffalo from Toronto we made a pit stop at Niagara Falls on the Canadian side. I took this shot with my nexus 5 smartphone. I was randomly shooting the falls themselves from different viewpoints when I happened to get a pretty lucky and interesting shot of this lone seagull on patrol over the falls. I didn't even realize I had captured it in the shot until I went back through the photos a few days later

    Jassen T./National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 6

    Incredibly beautiful and extremely remote. Koehn Lake, Mojave Desert, California. Aerial Image.

    Howard Singleton/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 7

    Lucky timing! The oxpecker was originally sitting on hippo's head. I could see the hippo was going into a huge yawn (threat display?) and the oxpecker had to vacate it's perch. When I snapped the pic, the oxpecker appeared on the verge of being inhaled and was perfectly positioned between the massive gaping jaws of the hippo. The oxpecker also appears to be screeching in terror and back-pedaling to avoid being a snack!

    Abrar Mohsin/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 8

    The Yetis of Nepal - The Aghoris as they are called are marked by colorful body paint and clothes

    Madeline Crowley/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 9

    Taken from a zodiac raft on a painfully cold, rainy day

    Ian Bird/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 10

    This wave is situated right near the CBD of Sydney. Some describe it as the most dangerous wave in Australia, due to it breaking on barnacle covered rocks only a few feet deep and only ten metres from the cliff face. If you fall off you could find yourself in a life and death situation. This photo was taken 300 feet directly above the wave from a helicopter, just as the surfer is pulling into the lip of the barrel.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>