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Security Software Unix Worms

'Morris Worm' Turns 25: Watch How TV Covered It Then 51

Posted by timothy
from the luckily-it-was-all-hype dept.
netbuzz writes "On Nov. 2, 1988, mainstream America learned for the first time that computers get viruses, too, as the now notorious "Morris worm" made front-page headlines after first making life miserable for IT professionals. A PBS television news report about the worm offers a telling look at how computer viruses were perceived (or not) at the time. 'Life in the modern world has a new anxiety today,' says the news anchor. 'Just as we've become totally dependent on our computers they're being stalked by saboteurs, saboteurs who create computer viruses.'"
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'Morris Worm' Turns 25: Watch How TV Covered It Then

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 02, 2013 @07:37AM (#45310165)

    Don't forget, Bob Morris's dad was head of the NSA. Where do you think Bob learned that the ordinary system security is horrid? And where do you think Bob learned that, when you screw up and lives and careers are at stake, it's more important to go hiding the evidence that might lead back to you than to publish the mistake and help get the mistake controlled?

    Must be nice to have a dad who can help keep the NSA from reporting anything for a *week* while the civilians reverse engineered the work and tracked it back, and who can help guide your career into a nice little computer lab at MIT where you can produce nothing useful for the rest of your life, but will be out of your dad's hair. (Look up Computer Architecture Group at MIT, and its complete lack of useful projects or meaningful work from Robert Tappan Morris). My dad would have beat me with a *stick* for this kind of stupidity.

    I'm not so mad at him because he wrote the worm.: a technical error caused it spew far more copies than intended, it was supposed to only prove popr security. I'm mad at him because he acted like a kid who went went camping in a national park, set a fire where he wasn't supposed to, and *drove out of state to hide* instead of reporting the fire. The bastard cost me weeks of work in my own lab, cleaning up from his mess, and ruined chances to do vital medical experiments that I was involved in. Medical research labs live on a shoestring as it is, knocking us and our colleagues offline could and did ruin years of work. I was personally *lucky*, because of thorough backup policies and I knew what I was doing to recover, but a lot of labs suffered far worse. (I did a lot of helping out in the next month.)

  • by cold fjord (826450) on Saturday November 02, 2013 @07:54AM (#45310219)

    The Morris Worm was written by Cornell University student Robert T. Morris [washingtonpost.com] while in school. He is the son of former chief scientist of the NSA's National Computer Security Center, and inventor of the Unix password scheme, Robert Morris [wikipedia.org]. The incident is discussed in part of this book:

    The Cuckoo's Egg: Tracking a Spy Through the Maze of Computer Espionage [amazon.com]

    I've enjoyed reading it more than once.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 02, 2013 @10:22AM (#45310845)

    Robert Morris wasn't the head of the NSA - He worked there from 86 to 94. He was certainly an accomplished cryptographer.

    I was working at a Silicon Valley company at the time. As I remember - the worm was an experiment that escaped into the wild. It was capable of infectin Vaxen and Sun boxes. I also was a reader of comp.risks - a venerable Usenet group that had a great/detailed blow-by-blow of the effects and analysis of the occurence. If anyone is interested in REALLY hearing the story - go look those archives up.

    I believe it was estimated that 6000 computers were infected by the worm. This pails in comparison todays mass infections, DOS attacks, etc.

    I'm sorry that you were inconvenienced - for me - email/usenet was slow for a couple days.

    As I recall we didn't have ANY infected machines in the company I was at ( a major Terminal/PC manufacturer of the time.) The point to make is that Junior was punished for something that was a really a mistake, and unintentional. So he has done his time and the world got fair warning about what was to come!

  • by stevew (4845) on Saturday November 02, 2013 @10:49AM (#45310979) Journal

    Date: Tue, 8 Nov 88 21:40:00 PST
    From: ge...@fernwood.mpk.ca.us (the tty of Geoff Goodfellow)
    Subject: NYT/Markoff: The Computer Jam -- How it came about

    THE COMPUTER JAM: HOW IT CAME ABOUT
    By JOHN MARKOFF
    c.1988 N.Y. Times News Service, 8-Nov-88

    Computer scientists who have studied the rogue program that crashed through
    many of the nation's computer networks last week say the invader actually
    represents a new type of helpful software designed for computer networks.
    The same class of software could be used to harness computers spread aroun
    the world and put them to work simultaneously.
    It could also diagnose malfunctions in a network, execute large computations
    on many machines at once and act as a speedy messenger.
    But it is this same capability that caused thousands of computers in
    universities, military installations and corporate research centers to stall
    and shut down the Defense Department's Arpanet system when an illicit version
    of the program began interacting in an unexpected way.
    ``It is a very powerful tool for solving problems,'' said John F. Shoch, a
    computer expert who has studied the programs. ``Like most tools it can be
    misued, and I think we have an example here of someone who misused and abused
    the tool.''
    The program, written as a ``clever hack'' by Robert Tappan Morris, a
    23-year-old Cornell University computer science graduate student, was
    originally meant to be harmless. It was supposed to copy itself from computer
    to computer via Arpanet and merely hide itself in the computers. The purpose?
    Simply to prove that it could be done.
    But by a quirk, the program instead reproduced itself so frequently that the
    computers on the network quickly became jammed.
    Interviews with computer scientists who studied the network shutdown and
    with friends of Morris have disclosed the manner in which the events unfolded.
    The program was introduced last Wednesday evening at a computer in the
    artificial intelligence laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of
    Technology. Morris was seated at his terminal at Cornell in Ithaca, N.Y., but
    he signed onto the machine at MIT. Both his terminal and the MIT machine were
    attached to Arpanet, a computer network that connects research centers,
    universities and military bases.
    Using a feature of Arpanet, called Sendmail, to exchange messages among
    computer users, he inserted his rogue program. It immediately exploited a
    loophole in Sendmail at several computers on Arpanet.
    Typically, Sendmail is used to transfer electronic messages from machine to
    machine throughout the network, placing the messages in personal files.
    However, the programmer who originally wrote Sendmail three years ago had
    left a secret ``backdoor'' in the program to make it easier for his work. It
    permitted any program written in the computer language known as C to be mailed
    like any other message.
    So instead of a program being sent only to someone's personal files, it
    could also be sent to a computer's internal control programs, which would start
    the new program. Only a small group of computer experts _ among them Morris _
    knew of the backdoor.
    As they dissected Morris's program later, computer experts found that it
    elegantly exploited the Sendmail backdoor in several ways, copying itself from
    computer to computer and tapping two additional security provisions to enter
    new computers.
    The invader first began its journey as a program written in the C language.
    But it also included two ``object'' or ``binary'' files -- programs that could
    be run directly on Sun Microsystems machines or Digital Equipment VAX computers

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