Worm closes Second Life

A self-replicating 'grey goo' shuts down the virtual world briefly on Sunday.

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While Blizzard actively tries to prevent users of its massively multiplayer online role-playing game World of Warcraft from exchanging real-life currency for in-game gold, virtual world Second Life takes a somewhat different approach. The "game," which gives players the freedom to create their own content, is also a thriving virtual economy--players buy property, land, items, and clothes in Linden Dollars, which cost approximately $1 per L$250. This means that real money can be made by creating virtual items, an idea that's seen Second Life's population boom.

At the end of March, Second Life had 165,000 "residents," and now it boasts more than 1 million. But just like in the real world, as the population grows, so do the crime statistics. There have been a series of phishing scams, last week a copybot threatened the intellectual property created for the game, and now a rapidly replicating worm has briefly closed the online world to visitors.

The malicious attack, called "the grey goo" by Linden Lab, the game's creators, appeared in-game as spinning gold rings floating in the air. When touched by an avatar, the gold rings replicated, meaning that the worm rapidly multiplied until the game experienced severe lag and the server connection was lost.

Linden Lab took the game offline briefly on Sunday as it "isolated the grey goo," and "cleaned up the grid."

The attack was launched by a malicious programmer, and is not the first program to cause problems in the game. The copybot attack last week, which allowed users to copy any object in the game, had the potential to cause big problems for any number of the content-creating businesses that operate there--including the likes of Dell, Adidas, Toyota, and Reuters.

Some users, including Karsha Yutani, spoke of the attack on the official Second Life blog as if they had been devastated by a real-life tragedy. "Those stupid rings caused the floor and walls of my little shop I am trying to build to auto return. Granted it's a tiny plot of 512 land, that my friend owns and I plan to buy from her once I have the money set aside, and not much room, but I'm still trying to build a shop to earn a few L$ to spend for fun," she wrote.

The attack caused a flurry of criticism from Second Lifers, in the forums, some stated they would now be selling their land, some complained they believed there were now too many users in the game, with an "unsustainable" growth in new sign-ups, and others wanted access restricted to those with a paid subscription--to keep out the "tourists."

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