Robert Tappan Morris
Robert Tappan Morris
|Born||November 8, 1965|
|Occupation||Entrepreneur, professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, partner at Y Combinator|
|Known for||Morris Worm|
|Parent(s)||Robert Morris, Anne Farlow Morris|
|Motive||"To demonstrate the inadequacies of current security measures on computer networks by exploiting the security defects that Morris had discovered."|
|Conviction(s)||United States Code: Title 18 (18 U.S.C. § 1030, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), March 7, 1991|
|Criminal penalty||3 years of probation, 400 hours of community service, and fines of $10,050 plus costs of his supervision|
Robert Tappan Morris (born November 8, 1965) is an American computer scientist and entrepreneur. He is best known for creating the Morris worm in 1988, considered the first computer worm on the Internet.
Morris was prosecuted for releasing the worm, and became the first person convicted under the then-new Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). He went on to cofound the online store Viaweb, one of the first web applications, and later the venture capital funding firm Y Combinator, both with Paul Graham.
He later joined the faculty in the department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he received tenure in 2006. He was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 2019.
Morris was born in 1965 to parents Robert Morris and Anne Farlow Morris. The senior Robert Morris was a computer scientist at Bell Labs, who helped design Multics and Unix; and later became the chief scientist at the National Computer Security Center, a division of the National Security Agency (NSA).
Morris attended Harvard University, and later went on to graduate school at Cornell University. During his first year there, he designed a computer worm that disrupted many computers on what was then a fledgling internet. This led to him being indicted a year later.
Morris' computer worm was developed in 1988, while he was a graduate student at Cornell University. He released the worm from MIT, rather than from Cornell. The worm exploited several vulnerabilities to gain entry to targeted systems, including:
- A hole in the debug mode of the Unix sendmail program
- A buffer overflow or overrun hole in the fingerd network service
- The transitive trust enabled by people setting up network logins with no password requirements via remote execution (rexec) with Remote Shell (rsh), termed rexec/rsh
The worm was programmed to check each computer it found to determine if the infection was already present. However, Morris believed that some system administrators might try to defeat the worm by instructing the computer to report a false positive. To compensate for this possibility, Morris programmed the worm to copy itself anyway, 14% of the time, no matter what the response was to the infection-status interrogation.
This level of persistence was a design flaw: it created system loads that brought it to the attention of administrators, and disrupted the target computers. During the ensuing trial, it was estimated that the cost in "potential loss in productivity" caused by the worm and efforts to remove it from different systems ranged from $200 to $53,000.
In 1989, Morris was indicted for violating United States Code Title 18 (18 U.S.C. § 1030), the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). He was the first person to be indicted under this act. In December 1990, he was sentenced to three years of probation, 400 hours of community service, and a fine of $10,050 plus the costs of his supervision. He appealed, but the motion was rejected the following March. Morris' stated motive during the trial was "to demonstrate the inadequacies of current security measures on computer networks by exploiting the security defects [he] had discovered." He completed his sentence as of 1994.
Later life and work
He is a longtime friend and collaborator of Paul Graham. Along with cofounding two companies, Graham dedicated his book ANSI Common Lisp to Morris, and named the programming language that generates the online stores' web pages RTML (Robert T. Morris Language) in his honor. Graham lists Morris as one of his personal heroes, saying "he's never wrong."
- 1983 – Graduated from Delbarton School in Morristown, New Jersey
- 1987 – Received his Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) from Harvard University.
- 1988 – Released the Morris worm (when he was a graduate student at Cornell University)
- 1989 – Indicted under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) of 1986 on July 26, 1989; the first person to be indicted under the Act
- 1990 – Convicted in United States v. Morris
- 1995 – Cofounded Viaweb, a start-up company that made software for building online stores (with Paul Graham)
- 1998 – Viaweb sold for $49 million to Yahoo, which renamed the software Yahoo! Store
- 1999 – Received Ph.D. in Applied Sciences from Harvard for thesis titled Scalable TCP Congestion Control
- 1999 – Appointed as an assistant professor at MIT
- 2005 – Cofounded Y Combinator, a seed-stage startup venture capital funding firm, that provides seed money, advice, and connections at two 3-month programs per year (with Paul Graham, Trevor Blackwell, and Jessica Livingston)
- 2006 – Awarded tenure at MIT
- 2006 – Technical advisor for Cisco Meraki
- 2008 – Released the programming language Arc, a Lisp dialect (with Paul Graham)
- 2010 – Awarded the 2010 Special Interest Group in Operating Systems (SIGOPS) Mark Weiser award
- 2015 – Elected a Fellow of Association for Computing Machinery (ACM, 2014) for "contributions to computer networking, distributed systems, and operating systems."
- 2019 – Elected to National Academy of Engineering
- "Y Combinator: Partners". Y Combinator. Retrieved 19 June 2011.
- United States v. Morris (1991), 928 F.2d 504, 505 (2d Cir. 1991).
- Lee, Timothy B. (1 November 2013). "How a grad student trying to build the first botnet brought the Internet to its knees". The Washington Post.
- Kehoe, Brendan P. (2007). "The Robert Morris Internet Worm". Computer Science & Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL). Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Retrieved August 23, 2008.
- Denning, Dorothy Elizabeth Robling; Lin, Herbert S. (1994). Rights and responsibilities of participants in networked communities. National Academies Press. p. 74 74. ISBN 978-0-309-05090-6.
- "First Computer "Worm" Unleashed". History Channel. 2016-06-20. Retrieved 2017-08-31.
- "Robert Morris: Professor". Computer Science & Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL). Massachusetts Institute of Technology. October 30, 2017. Archived from the original on August 3, 2008. Retrieved April 10, 2020.
- Sullivan, Frank (February 1, 1990). "Former resident convicted of creating computer 'worm'". Echoes-Sentinel. Warren Township, New Jersey: Newspapers.com. Retrieved May 19, 2016.
Former township resident Robert Tappan Morris Jr. was convicted last week of federal computer tampering charges for creating a 'worm' that penetrated and crippled 6,000 computers nationwide. Morris, 24, who grew up on Old Mill Road in Millington and now lives with his parents in Maryland, was suspended for a year from Cornell University graduate school after he was charged with the crime.
- Daly, James (November 14, 1988). "Portrait of an artist as a young hacker". Computerworld. Retrieved February 15, 2011.
Draves added that Morris said he enjoyed cracking passwords as a student at the Delbarton School, an exclusive private high school in Morristown, NJ 'But I thought he'd given up on that,' Draves said.
- "US v. Morris, 928 F. 2d 504 – Court of Appeals, 2nd Circuit 1991". US v. Morris, 928 F. 2d 504.
- Graham, Paul (April 2008). "Some Heroes". Paul Grahm. Retrieved 18 January 2013.
- Weston, Randy (June 8, 1998). "Yahoo buys Viaweb for $49 million". CNET. CBS Interactive. Retrieved April 10, 2020.
- "23 faculty members awarded tenure". Massachusetts Institute of Technology. October 25, 2006. Retrieved August 23, 2008.
- "About Meraki". Cisco Meraki. 2007. Archived from the original on September 8, 2008. Retrieved August 23, 2008.
- "Mark Weiser Award". SIGOPS. Association for Computing Machinery (ACM). 2010.
- "Robert Morris". ACM Awards. Association for Computing Machinery (ACM).
- "Robert Tappan Morris – The Morris Worm". Hackers, Crackers and Thieves. Retrieved 2020-04-10.
- Hafner, Katie; Markoff, John (1991). Cyberpunk: Outlaws and Hackers on the Computer Frontier. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-671-68322-5.
- A Report on the Internet Worm
- Spafford, Eugene H. (June 1989). "The Internet Worm—Crisis and Aftermath" (PDF). Communications of the ACM. Association for Computing Machinery (ACM). 32 (6): 678–687. doi:10.1145/63526.63527. ISSN 0001-0782. S2CID 7267857.
- Official website, at MIT