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Week in review: Attack of the zombies

A denial-of-service outage hits Akamai and some of its top customers, and smart phones get their first-ever call from a worm.

Almost summertime, and the living is easy--unless you happen to be an IT worker employed in any kind of security-related capacity.

In that case, it was just new kinds of trouble this week, as worms, hacker attacks and other threats made life miserable.

The biggest of the headaches was Tuesday's attack against Web infrastructure company Akamai, which knocked Yahoo, Google, and various Microsoft and Apple Computer sites offline for at least part of the day.

Akamai executives said the denial-of-service attacks initially targeted four large Akamai customers, rendering their sites inaccessible. But the effects quickly rippled across the company's network, causing a failure in its domain name server (DNS) system, which translates word-based URLs into numeric Web addresses to link surfers to company sites.

"At the high level, it was clear that this attack was focused on a subset of our customers," said Tom Leighton, chief scientist and co-founder of Akamai. "We assumed they were attacked as a way to get at Akamai."

Akamai later determined that the attack was launched by a herd of "zombies"--computers infected with a Trojan horse that programs the machines to launch Web attacks at specified times. Sleep tight, knowing that there are potentially millions of zombies out there, programmed to wreak mischief ranging from spam spewing to attacks such as the Akamai caper.

On the worm front, the first pest designed to target smart phones wriggled into daylight. The "Cabir" worm is designed to infect phones running the Symbian operating system and spread via wireless Bluetooth connections. Security experts said Cabir itself didn't pose much danger, but it exemplifies a potentially significant new category of threats.

Those more concerned with old-style threats pondered Microsoft's potential entry into the antivirus market. Representatives from the software giant said it'll happen, but details on when and how are still being worked out.

Courthouse drama
In the software world, all eyes were on San Francisco, as Oracle continued to square off against the Department of Justice in its antitrust suit, challenging the database maker's attempt to take over PeopleSoft.

Testimony was back and forth this week, even though Oracle has yet to present its side of the case. Executives from Nextel and DaimlerChrysler bolstered the government's argument, saying there were precious few alternatives to Oracle as it is and that costs to businesses could be tremendous if Oracle dropped support for PeopleSoft products.

Michael Gorriz, vice president of information technology business systems at DaimlerChrysler, estimated that it would cost the automaker $50 million to $100 million if it were forced to replace its PeopleSoft system. "I think there was a benefit to having three independent competitors in the market," Gorriz said.

But a subsequent witness--Christy Bass, a global managing partner at computer services firm Accenture--said Microsoft's expected entry into the market would do plenty to ensure that there's healthy competition for enterprise applications. "It's just a matter of time" before Microsoft goes toe-to-toe with Oracle, PeopleSoft and SAP, she maintained.

Let's make a deal
It was also a busy week on the business front, with a several large-scale acquisitions and other market-moving news. Networking gear giant Cisco Systems announced that it was snapping up Procket Networks for $98 million. Procket launched in 1999 with big plans to corner the high end of the router market, but the company's big-name engineering and business talent has yet to yield much in the way of sales.

Software maker Macrovision, a specialist in copyright protection products, said it would pay at least $76 million for InstallShield, a specialist in tools for installing and updating software applications.

The on-again, off-again initial public offering for hosted software pioneer was on again. After several delays, the latest caused by an ill-timed New York Times profile of the company's founder, is set to debut on the New York Stock Exchange on Wednesday, with the IPO expected to raise up to $85 million.

On the other end of the financial spectrum, controversial software maker 321 Studios said it was on the verge of bankruptcy, thanks to multiple lawsuits by entertainment companies challenging the legality of 321's products, which permit the copying of movies, games and other digital content.

CNET special focus: IBM
Hidebound, bureaucratic, slow--these words described the Big Blue of not long ago. But after coming perilously close to disaster, the company today leads much of the industry. Whether it can carry that momentum into its next century remains an open question.

In a three-day special report, CNET digs into three big areas: the grand "on demand" strategy, which still has to prove whether it's real or just more hype; IBM's lead in the high-tech services industry; and the blurred the line at Big Blue between research and business.

Also of note
Yahoo revamped its e-mail service in a move widely seen as an attempt to counter Google's planned Gmail offering. Yahoo customers now get 100MB of storage with free accounts and 2GB with paid subscriptions...Microsoft inched closer to the final release of Service Pack 2, a collection of mainly security-focused updates for the Windows XP operating system...Thousands of bloggers were fuming after Dave Winer, the creator of the RSS format behind most blogs, abruptly terminated his free hosting service...Linux leader Red Hat lost its chief financial officer...Microsoft video technology got a boost from a standards group that's charging it with concocting a an advanced DVD format...The German city of Munich, a high-profile Microsoft defector, said it's sticking with Linux.