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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.

Have a comment on this story? Please click "Add Your Comment" below. If you'd like to contact Dark Reading's editors directly, send us a message. Kelly Jackson Higgins is the Executive Editor of Dark Reading. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise ... View Full Bio

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User Rank: Apprentice
11/6/2013 | 2:58:13 AM
re: 25 Years After: The Legacy Of The Morris Internet Worm
Great historical review by Kelly Jackson Higgins of the Morris worm, which was for its time thinking far outside the box. We needed a warning that a poorly administrated Internet server was a dangerous thing, and Robert Morris provided it. I've not read before that it was poorly engineered. Nor is that what interests me. It was Morris' ability to see an opportunity that had been inadvertently created by the pell mell expansion of the Internet that's of interest. We should not forget that it's possible fora large group of people to do one thing with positive goals and at the same time create an opportunity for someone bent on mischief, or worse.
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