SUG sinks into bankruptcy as Usenix's LISA show has best turnout ever
Vixie's spam BoF proves to be one of LISA's highlights
SUG's bankruptcy follows two poorly-attended conferences this spring and comes a few years after Sun Microsystems pulled its sponsorship of the group in an acrimonious split-up. SUG was founded in 1981.
The death of Sun's user group at a time when the company is reaching record levels of both publicity and income is ironic. One Sun user bemoaned SUG's demise, saying, "you'd think that a user group would be something they (Sun Microsystems) would be dumping a lot of resources (money, time, and people) into." Since SUG's site went down, he says, "I've been getting my Unix fix from www.ugu.com and www.usenix.org instead."
Sources say that work is underway to revive SUG in the form of some sort of a special interest group, but nobody from either SUG management or Sun Microsystems Inc. was available for comment at press time.
The death of SUG does not, however, mean there are no more Solaris users. Far from it. LISA drew a larger-than-expected turnout of 2,050 sysadmins (up from 1,600 last year), most of whom seemed eager to learn all they could about Solaris.
With its ability to draw top-notch talent like Tom Christiansen (noted Perl author), Eric Allman (creator of Sendmail), and SunWorld's own Hal Stern, LISA seems destined to keep on growing.
The event's co-chair, Hal Pomeranz, says that LISA's success starts at the grassroots. "The thing that drew attendees this year was word of mouth. We just got a huge word of mouth turnout."
And while most attendees seemed to think the tutorials were worthwhile, many found the conference most useful as a forum for meeting peers. Says Andrew Williams, a senior sysadmin from Linthicum, MD, "basically what I've gotten out of this is networking."
Ben Woodard, a first-time LISA attendee from Cisco agrees that in general the show had been useful. "What this did for me is it allowed me to see all these different perspectives. I'd never met anyone who used AIX before, and now I've met people who have to administer 40,000 students and I've met ISPs."
Privately, many show attendees admitted that LISA, which is produced by the Usenix organization, also provided them the opportunity to evaluate their real worth in the industry and perhaps even do some job searching.
Spam, spam, spam, spam
Another draw for LISA is it's birds of a feather (BoF) sessions. One of this year's best-attended BoFs was on spam. In it, Paul Vixie, perhaps best-known as the maintainer of BIND (Berkeley Internet Name Domain), explained what he calls his "blackhole" list of spam-friendly networks. The list has been set up by a Vixie-led organization called MAPS (Mail Abuse Protection System or spam backward) with the aim of denying spammers access to as much of the Internet as possible.
Vixie claims that 62 networks are presently taking real-time feeds from his blackhole list, and he estimates that once a spam-friendly host or network's IP address is identified, "18 percent of Internet posts disappear from that person."
According to documents on Vixie's Web site, whenever his team becomes aware of new spam, they "track down every network object that they [the spammers] own, and we blackhole all or nearly all of them." Hosts or networks that are used for mail relay by spammers are also blackholed.
Vixie admits that his blackhole list has "a couple of times now blackholed the wrong person" and, in response to this, he says it is now easier to take people off the list than it is to put them on. Vixie's Web site says people can have their IP address removed from the list "the moment you demonstrate favorable intentions toward stopping spam from using your resources."
The goal of the blackhole list is to, ultimately, make spamming unprofitable, says Vixie. But it seems that he would not object to a court case on his anti-spamming practices, which would be likely to provide him with a public forum in which to air the issue. "I want somebody to sue me," says Vixie, adding "I have been assured by people whose checkbooks I trust that a legal defense fund is not an issue." To date, irate spammers have had their attorneys send Vixie letters, and there has even been one official discovery motion initiated, but thus far no lawsuit.
Whatever the solution to spam might be, it will not be easy. Vixie told BoF attendees to expect a long fight before spam will ever be eradicated.
Vixie used the BoF as a forum to announce a new mail-based version of his blackhole list. "You can now plug something into your Sendmail config rather than into your Cisco router," he says. qmail, he says, is also supporting this DNS-based software.
Sendmail creator Eric Allman agrees that the war against spam will not be easily won. "There is no magic bullet," he says, but he calls the idea of authenticated SMTP (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol) "the only proposal I've seen that has a possibility of working." The downside of authenticated e-mail, however, is that it is "exactly what the police want," according to Allman. "I want to know who the spammers are, and I want gay teens to be able to communicate on the 'Net anonymously." And with authenticated mail, "there are conflicts between these two goals," he says.
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