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How one volunteer stopped a backdoor from exposing Linux systems worldwide

Illustration of a computer screen with a blue exclamation point on it and an error box.
Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

Linux, the most widely used open source operating system in the world, narrowly escaped a massive cyber attack over Easter weekend, all thanks to one volunteer.

The backdoor had been inserted into a recent release of a Linux compression format called XZ Utils, a tool that is little-known outside the Linux world but is used in nearly every Linux distribution to compresses large files, making them easier to transfer. If it had spread more widely, an untold number of systems could have been left compromised for years.

And as Ars Technica noted in its exhaustive recap, the culprit had been working on the project out in the open.

The vulnerability, inserted into Linux’s remote log-in, only exposed itself to a single key, so that it could hide…

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