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25 Years After: The Legacy Of The Morris Internet Worm

A look at how worms have evolved from the infamous -- and relatively benign -- Internet worm of 1988 to targeted, destructive attacks
Given the diversity and spread of the Internet and the Internet of Things today, it's unlikely another big-time Internet worm could be unleashed that could be relatively as powerful as Morris' was back in the day. But that doesn't mean the Internet isn't at risk of another "Morris moment" of sorts.

"It would definitely be much harder to do," Maiffret says. "A lot of the previous worms were propagated by targeted, server-side vulnerabilities, and most modern types are targeting client-side applications software."

And with the disappearing network perimeter, it would be more difficult to spread from organization to organization, he says.

Spaf says another big Internet worm like Morris' would be difficult to pull off. "I won't say it is impossible, but I think it is unlikely. We have too many systems with dissimilar rules, software, and network filters," Spaf says. "If something did occur, it would be more like the Slammer worm in behavior."

So what ever happened to Morris? At the time, he was found guilty of violating the 1986 Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and sentenced to three years' probation, 400 hours of community service, and more than $10,000 in fines. He is currently a member of the faculty at MIT's computer science department -- the very university where he first unleashed the worm in 1988.

Spaf says Morris indeed paid his dues and made amends for the 1988 worm. "He has not used [the worm] for any personal gain, he has not bragged about it, written about it, nor advertised it to the security business. He instead went on to found a company and get his Ph.D., and he's a valued member of the academic community now," Spaf says.

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