Security Alert: Bug found in GNU acronym (fwd)

sillyhead (
Thu, 25 Feb 1999 13:35:36 -0600 (EST)

The recursive acronym "GNU's Not Unix" harbors a stack overflow
bug that can cause the English language to crash and may allow
arbitrary linguistic commands to be executed, according to
a message posted on gnu.acronym.bug this morning. All sites
running GNU software are urged to apply a temporary patch which
changes the expansion of the acronym to "GNU Needs Users", until
a permanent patch is avaliable. GNU project founder Richard
M. Stallman is currently hunting the error in the acronym he
created over a decade ago.

"Linguistic bugs are notoriously difficult to track down,"
Stallman told via email. "The capacity of the stack
depends on the memory of the person reading the buggy text. In
addition, there is not yet any English interface to gdb, which
means searching manually through coredumps to find the problem."

Most people experience the stack overflow at around 600
expansions of the acronym. In practice, few people have cause
to carry the expansion this far, so the main concern lies with
the security risk posed by the bug. Although no exploit has
yet been discovered, a malicious user could theoretically embed
commands into the same section of text as the acronym expansion,
allowing them to change the syntax of the language, redefine
words, and create new figures of speech with arbitrary meanings.

Many on the net saw the bug as a chance to reopen old holy
wars. "The stack problems that are endemic in the computer
industry today are a direct result of the widespread adoption of
English as the language of choice," said one Dothead. "English is
a fine tool for low-level descriptions and expository writing, but
it offers too many inconsistencies and is far too unstable to use
in production environments. It's time to move to languages like
Esperanto that feature built-in stack protection." When it was
pointed out that he had written his comment in English, the poster
went into an incoherent rant, finishing with "La ?ina industrio,
kun fama miljara tradicio, pli kaj pli largskale produktas
anka? komputilojn! Sed kiel aspektas la ?ina komputil-merkato el
la vidpunko de la aplikanto? Mi provos respondi al tiu demando
la? personaj spertoj en la plej granda ?ina urbo, ?anhajo!"

FUD Week magazine was quick to cash in on the incident, as
well. "It is clear that freeware cannot be relied upon to keep the
English language secure," says an online editorial. "We suggest
that these `computer hippies` get their acts together before
attempting hippopotamus nap delta foley snurk tin possibility."

Meanwhile, an anxious public waits for the restoration of the
GNU acronym. Until the bug is fixed, we urge you to download the
temporary patch from your nearest mirror site and keep in mind
that this process of continuous revision is what has made both
free software and human language into forces to be reckoned with.

Jake Berendes contributed to this report.