A Microsoft spokeswoman acknowledged that engineers had written the phrase "Netscape engineers are weenies!" into a .dll file, maligning the employees of its arch rival, Netscape Communications.
Pages built with IIS version 4.0, with extensions from the FrontPage 98 Web page-building software are affected. The flaw does affect IIS versions running on Windows 2000 or the latest version of Microsoft's server extensions, included in FrontPage 2000.
"This type of action is totally wrong and against Microsoft's policy of keeping its customers' information secure," the spokeswoman said. "Microsoft just learned of this yesterday and immediately launched an investigation. It is not Microsoft's policy to add any additional information to its products."
She said Microsoft was planning to post a bulletin about the problem on its Web site.
According to Russ Cooper, editor of the respected security mailing list NTBugtraq, the text string in question, does not represent a backdoor password as some reports have suggested.
The text string, "!seineew era sreenigne epacsteN" (Ed. note: Read it backward.) is embedded in the dvwssr.dll file which itself may contain a vulnerability. Dvwssr.dll is a directory file that apparently permits anyone with permission to modify one site containing the .dll to also modify other sites on the same server.
The flaw probably has nothing with the errant string, however. "Anyone with permission to execute the .dll in the first place would have the ability to simply open the other sites and manipulate them directly (i.e. no need to use this junk with the dvwssr.dll)," Cooper reported to the Bugtraq list.
While some have claimed that they could get into a site built with FrontPage 98 using "netscapeengineersareweenies" as a user ID and no password, making them think it was a backdoor, Cooper said they would probably be able get into the same sties using "tomdickandharry" as user IDs, if the permissions were not set correctly.
Microsoft has urged users to delete the dvwssr.dll file from the company's Internet server software with FrontPage 98 extensions.
The string is also located in the .ddl file \Program Files\Common Files\Microsoft Shared\MSDesigners98\mtd2lv.dll which is the client-side component of the Visual Interdev Web development tool.
Cooper adds that this string was put into the program when it was first released in 1995 and not at the height of the browser wars between Netscape and Microsoft.
"Let's not make another 'NSA backdoor' out of this unless/until someone can actually prove a claim about it," wrote Cooper to the list.