morris worm

On November 2, 1988 Robert Morris, a student at Cornell University, unleashed the first internet worm. At least it was the very first computer worm to get mainstream attention. It also got it’s author convicted to serve 3 years probation and paying a heavy fine. The exact economic damage the worm inflicted will never be known, but estimates range from $100.000 to $10.000.00 and correspond to the estimated costs of removing the worm from all the infected systems.

According to Morris, the worm wasn’t meant to inflict any damage, but to gauge the size (number of systems) of the internet. The worm didn’t actually destroy anything, but a flaw in the way it replicated itself from system to system led it to infect the same host multiple times, and eventually take over all it’s processing power, rendering the system useless for it’s intended use.

The fact that Morris unleashed his worm, not from his own university at Cornell, but from MIT, where he is currently a professor, might suggest an attempt to hide his tracks, contradicting his clains that the worm was harmless, but 22 years later such details loose part of their relevance.

It is assumed that 10% of the estimated 60.000 internet connected systems (mostly DEC VAXen and SUN-3 systems) were infected.

22 years later, we have a lot more defenses, but we still get things like Conficker, which according to some sources infected over 11 million hosts just in the first 3 months of 2009, and Stuxnet which surfaced this very year, and has been specifically designed to attack critical industrial infrastructures, in what is possibly the first publicly known form of cyber-weapon. Some sources say it was aimed at Iran’s nuclear infrastructures, something that has of course been publicly denied…


Sources: Wikipedia 🙂