The World’s First Cyber Crime: The Morris Worm [KERNEL PANIC]


(techno music) – [Lacey] The computer was
designed to make life easier. Complicated tasks could be
accomplished more efficiently. Information could be shared more quickly. It was a step toward a brighter future, one that had endless possibilities. Many early developers believed that the computer was a first
step toward a kind of utopia. (reporters shouting) – You do have control and complete control over this information? – Well, Senator, this is
how the service works. – When he goes on Twitter and he starts bringing in my
in-laws, my parents, my wife, what does he think is gonna happen? – Well, WikiLeaks will continue. People will be astonished
at these revelations, the fact that confidential,
private data has been collected. (bat tapping) – [Lacey] But underneath the foundation of that utopia were cracks. – A man’s voice announced
that North Korea had launched three intercontinental ballistic missiles and it was coming out of our Nest camera. – This privacy problem
and propaganda problem is too big for Facebook to fix and then we’ve got a real problem. – [Lacey] Cracks that grew and grew until finally the foundation
(hooves clomping) could no longer hold. The perfect world of computers fell apart. (whistle blowing) The cause of this change? A new kind of program. A productivity tool built to move from computer to
computer, a computer worm. Inadvertently, the worm exposed
inherent vulnerabilities in computer networks. (button clicking) (fan whirring) (static flickering) To understand we have to
return to the beginning. – The computer environment in the ’70s was really in a state of transition. We were raised on large
mainframe computers from typically IBM with
punch cards for the programs. You fed it in and it was batch mode. You waited for your printout. – The only networking for most people was to take the floppy disk out and walk over and put
it in another machine, what they used to call sneaker data. – You’re working on something at MIT and you want to collaborate
with someone in California, you have to take all of your punch cards or your tape or whatever
and physically move it. – The real problem that we found was that the communications
was inadequate. – Computer networks were not
only needed but were valuable and they are gradually
coming into fruition. – [Lacey] In the 1970s,
computers were learning to talk to each other. The new interconnectivity meant that a computer was no longer
just the sum of its parts, that it could work in
concert with other machines across the world sharing their resources and distributing their workload. – As soon as the network began working we really had a nationwide
resource complex. – [Lacey] Programmers
everywhere experimented with the new networks. Some of the most innovative work was done at Xerox’s Palo Alto research and development facility called PARC. – [John S.] What was built at Xerox PARC was a really the whole
notion of individual machines tied together with a high-speed network. Almost every problem was a new problem. – Good morning.
– Good morning. – Good morning, Mr. Horace. – [Announcer] You come into your office, grab a cup of coffee– – Morning, Fred. – [Announcer] And a Xerox machine
presents your morning mail on a screen. – What’s the mail this morning? (keys typing) – [John S.] I think we
knew we were at a point where there was a change in paradigm in the model of computing. – [Announcer] This is an
experimental office system. It’s in use now at the
Xerox research center in Palo Alto, California. (keys typing) Soon Xerox systems like
this will help you manage your most precious resource, information. – That point there was already a rich science fiction literature warning us of what this
world would look like. – [Marc] Was a book in
1975, The Shockwave Rider. He made a big deal out of worms and phages and how they would spread
and take over the system. – A worm is a word that
was used to describe computer programs that move
from one machine to another, computer programs that were designed to span machine boundaries. – I should be clear one thing. A virus is a program that when you run it, it makes a copy of itself somehow. Worm doesn’t require you to run it. A worm takes care of its own replication which, it’s a little more alarming. – We did a particular
amount of work in this area in the late 1970s at Xerox. – Xerox PARC of course
had done these experiments with programs that could propel themselves through the first experimental
computer networks. – [Announcer] What’s
needed is not a new system but a new concept, a way to take the office as it is and make it something it has never been, an interactive network. This is the ethernet cable. – I was actually doing work on measuring the
performance of an ethernet. So we had an ethernet with 100 machines and we wanted to load up programs to be on the ethernet and see
what the performance would be. So we sat down and said, “Well, we’re gonna design
something different. “We’re gonna find a way to
go out through the network. “We’re gonna find and get
ahold of other machines. “We will download, reach
into them, download programs, “turn around and have
them be on the network “and when we’re done,
collect back the data “from the distributed computation.” Well, we had our first mistake one night when we had left the worm
running to do a test. And we came back the next morning and many of the machines
in the building were dead. What we think happened,
we don’t know for sure, is that somewhere along the
way the code got corrupted so it was crashing but a piece of the worm
was hidden in some office but we don’t know where they are. You don’t know whose machine you grab. So they came in and you
would boot the machine and it would start to boot up and it would get seized by the worm. And the worm would crash and
they’d lose their machine. So they’d push the boot button. It would boot up again. It would start again. The worm would grab it
and crash the machine. Oh, that wasn’t quite what we intended. That sort of went awry. And we picked up the name worm which came from the book, Shockwave Rider. And by the way, it’s a
wonderful piece of fiction. The worm has run rampant
and we can’t stop it and it’s the biggest thing
that’s ever been let loose. We quote some of the stuff in the paper. (techno music) We didn’t quite fully anticipate that that might become real. I must confess, I did not
have enough imagination to see that there were people, that people might be arrested for this. (techno music) (techno music) – [John M.] All through the 1980s stuff was starting to happen. – [Marc] It was the personal
computer revolution. – My cousins put me in
front of a Commodore 64 and yeah, I was basically
hooked from that point. – This cool thing we were into, suddenly it’s starting to trickle out to the rest of the public. – 20 goto 10 might have
been my first programming. – So I think Matt is a little toddler now. He’s got his best years far head of it and I don’t think we’ve seen anything yet. – It was kind of the
era of experimentation. It was us just gathered
around like lone computer and two computers at school
just kind of plucking away. (spaceship firing) (video game beeping) (video game beeping) (motor whirring) – Isn’t it amazing? – [Marc] People’s
understanding of computers then was really very abstract
for a lot of people. – They’ve been so, they’re
some kind of magic, mysterious, (bomb exploding)
it’ll-do-everything kind of machine. – [Marc] But they knew that
big things depended on them, banking and security and nuclear weapons. – [George Bush] Let us turn to the very strengths in technology that spawned our great industrial base. – [John M.] There was the
dark side of the force. There were these big military companies. (woman yelling) – Failure! (bomb exploding) (audience clapping) – [John M.] Then there was
the light side of the force. We have these kids playing
with microprocessors and it was just more fun. – Artist, and I think
hardware should be free. (audience laughing and clapping) – [Jeffrey] It was a
very tight-knit group. It was a strong community. (keys typing) – For sort of middle-class kids who were growing up in the suburbs and they’re sort of bright
science and math students, you know, the idea that
you could be upstairs in your parents’ bedroom and
basically be inside a machine half a world away is really
quite a remarkable thing. They were there because it was the most interesting thing around. – [Neil] But there were events that were becoming problematic. (electronics clicking) – [Interviewer] Are you afraid
of espionage or sabotage? – We’re afraid of both. We were also aware that
subversive groups are funds. The funds are in electronic databanks. – You left the office when you’re done. That was security at that time. Turn it off when you’re done
and lock the office door. From my point of view people probably should have been worrying. – We remember that the world of tomorrow is not going to be like the past and the networks we move into
are going to be threatened by the KGB, the CIA, Sears Roebuck, so it’s up to the entire
public to defend itself, to look to the extension
of freedom of privacy, freedom of information,
freedom of association and all the things that
have made America great in this strange, new,
and dark network world. – [Neil] The more connected we became the more vulnerable we were to threats that could
travel the world overnight. (techno music) – [Fahmida] There was weird
log messages showing up in their sendmail log
that computers slow down. – [Lacey] On Wednesday, November 2, 1988, Internet-connected computers began to fail across the country. – Once it’s launched it
kind of goes on and on. University, the military, defense, they were all suddenly
saying wait a minute. I can’t check my email because my computer
can’t do anything else. – There was alarm because we
didn’t know what was going on. There was some concern that this might be some kind of a military
attack on the United States. – And it just got to the point where administrators were like we have to shut down these computer. At NASA, they had to physically
unplug every computer. – [Spencer] Surviving on
soft drinks and junk food they battled the virus through
the night of November 2 and into the next day. – It was sort of a bunker mentality in that you were sitting here and very much felt like
you were under attack. To some degree we were kind of scared because we didn’t know. In the next five minutes it
could suddenly turn nasty and start removing users’ files. – The Internet had just been
created the previous year and so nobody really knew what it was. – [Lacey] By the weekend
the worst of it had passed. – [Fahmida] Berkeley was
able to release a patch within 24 hours. – [Lacey] But people were scared. – [Fahmida] The GAO had
estimates of anywhere between $100,000 to a
million dollars in damages. – It’s possible, maybe even probable that we’ll see another
attack reasonably soon, maybe now. (laughs) – The day after the
worm was first reported somebody called the New York Times and said they knew the worm’s author and they wanted to know what
kind of trouble he was in. I had no idea because
nobody had been convicted so I had no answer for him. And then he made a mistake. He referred to the author as RTM. I knew about finger which
was a directory program and back came the name
Robert Tappan Morris. Then I was sitting there
puzzling over what to do. It was three o’clock. My deadline was coming up and a source I’d called the
day before called me back calling from National Security Agency. And we had this back and
forth and I began to realize that he knew a lot more about
what had happened than I knew. Finally I said, “I think the author “was Robert Tappan Morris,” and he said, “You’re correct.” And I was about to get off the phone and I stopped and I said,
“It’s kind of strange. “Your name and his name are the same.” He said, “That’s not much strange. “That’s my son.” Robert was a member of this insular, elite computer community. His dad was a cryptographer
and a mathematician who built the Unix operating system which would have this
great impact on the world. I mean if you use an iPhone today you’re still using the
Unix operating system. Robert grew up inside that world. He was given access to these
machines at a young age and became fascinated with them. – The Morris worm, named
after Robert Morris, was a project. Robert Morris designed this worm to find out just how big
their budding network was. – He said later that he did not intend it to actually be a problem. It was meant to be more investigatory and I believe to figure out
the size of the network. – [Fahmida] The worm would
first look for other computer. And then once it found a user it knew a bunch of random password and it would just try to
see hey, can I use this to try to log in? And once it logged in it
would then use sendmail to kind of copy itself. – [Marc] Designed to
reproduce itself automatically on each machine. – [Neil] It didn’t require
any user interaction. – It was a program that would have moved from computer to computer
and network and just lived. Nobody would have noticed it. – [Marc] If he had just had it stop every time the computer said
yes, there’s already a copy. – Unfortunately, Robert was
too smart for his own good and he’d spent too much
time with his father and he was gaming out how someone who was thinking about securing a computer would defeat his worm. – [Neil] He could set
it up so that a computer that already had been
affected would set a flag and it wouldn’t infect that one again. But if he did that people
could interfere with him by proactively sending a
flag on all their computers. – [Marc] So he put in some
sort of automatic mechanism that it would copy itself in any case every n number of times. – And so the question was what’s n? How many, how often should I come? And Robert just picked the wrong number. – One time in seven it
would ignore the flag. He thought yeah, that should do it. But it turned out that
wasn’t nearly enough to keep it from flooding the
network with these copies. – 15 different copies of
the exact same program trying to do the same thing and simply put the computer
just ran out of memory. – If he’d picked 7,000 or seven million no one would have ever noticed. It was absolutely The
Sorcerer’s Apprentice. – They apparently got surprised
at how quickly it spread. I’m not surprised that worms
can spread very quickly. Computers are very fast. – I think some of the surprise was how big the Internet had gotten. Wow, there are machines connected to the Internet everywhere. – [John M.] Because Robert
Tappan Morris’s father, Robert Morris, was the chief scientist of the National Security it made a much better story. (techno music) – [Lacey] On July 26,
1989, Robert Tappan Morris was indicted for accessing
computers without permission. – Robert Morris, Jr., the
Cornell graduate student suspected of causing last
week’s massive computer virus across the country made a brief appearance outside his parents’ Maryland home today. Accompanied by his father, one of the country’s top
computer security experts, the 23-year-old Morris did
not admit responsibility for creating the virus. Instead, he was deeply
upset about the incident. He said the whole episode has been– – [Neil] They really stood
together as a family. There are these great
pictures of the family going to the courthouse with their son who’s dressed up in a coat
and tie with long hair. But his dad looked like a total, you know, you would have seen him
in North Beach in the ’50s is what his dad looked like. He looked like a beatnik. – [Marc] The government arrested and tried and convicted Morris for the damage. – [Neil] He was not sentenced to jail but he served community
service and he paid a fine. The Morris worm introduced
America to the power both for bad and for good
of computer networking. – [Lacey] Today the original floppy disks of the Morris worm are on exhibit at the Computer History Museum
in Mountian View, California. – The reason that we
remember the Morris worm and we have picture of Morris downstairs in the networking gallery along with a copy of The Shockwave Rider, it was the first one to
actually get out there, do real damage to something that was not just within a
company like at the PARC. In the public imagination this showed that there
is this vulnerability. These systems really are
weak and that scared people. – People became less naive and idealistic about the Internet. The Morris worm helped
people grow up a little bit. – So the legacy of the Morris
worm is actually fantastic. It brought attention to
the need for cybersecurity. It legitimized groups
that were already saying hey, hey, we need to protect this network. – In a sense it kind of created the cybersecurity industry
in its modern form. – [Fahmida] The Computer
Emergency Response Team I mean that’s a direct
result of what happened with the Morris worm. – But at the same time
the legacy of the worm is lessons that we didn’t learn. I mean the outlines of everything that we’re worrying about
today were right there in 1988. – We had no sense that there were any particular dangers lurking out there and I think we may have
lost that a little bit. – When we were at Xerox
40 years ago or more going on 50 years the notion of
high-performance workstations, graphical user interfaces, editors, mail, I think we saw that pretty well. We had the imagination to know that there ought to be some great things you could do with this
underlying technology. I don’t think I fantasized at the time how they could be abused and misused. – The originators just,
they couldn’t imagine that somebody would misuse
this wonderful thing. They were very trusting. – They had a goal, and that goal was to share
information really quickly. They knew there weren’t
gonna be a lot of people on that network so it didn’t matter. And they knew that everyone’s
going to be an expert and that there were going to be controls put into who could access it at the time. The network that they built
does make sense for that. But if we were to rebuild it and we were able to use
our modern understanding of technology and information sharing we could build in more safeguards. – The ARPANET was built
as a research network. The Internet was originally built as a research network with
Pentagon funding as well. They were both designed not
for the commercial world they came to support. And you could argue that if you’d built
security in at the beginning it never would have had the
commercial success it had. – [Max] We continue to see the same kind of attack
vector broadly used today. It’s absolutely a precursor
of what was to come. – Malware coding is business now. They can steal your credit
card number and sell it. They can put ransomware on your system. Cut out the middleman. Give me money right now
or your files are gone. – Every computer is connected to every other computer in the world. And oh, by the way, they’re
connected to all the banks and every secret in the world and there’s no penalty for attacking them. You were just asking for what’s emerged. I left the computer security beat largely because I did not
see any positive direction. It got worse every year and
in 2012 or 2013 I walked away and of course then it became a nation-state issue after I left. We did not see that these
networks go in both directions, that they’re two-way streets and that it would be instrumental
in undermining democracies all over the world as a technology. We missed that but it should
have been obvious to us and so shame on people like me who read lots of science fiction and knew how dark the cyberpunk world was. – [Lacey] The Morris
worm was the first crack in the foundation upon which
the digital utopia was built. The developers of the computer sought to create an easier world. Instead, they built a
vastly more complicated one. (ominous music)

19 thoughts on “The World’s First Cyber Crime: The Morris Worm [KERNEL PANIC]

  1. I'm glad I'm not the only one who came from the internet explorer waifu thing. Seriously though this made me understand a whole lot more why cyberpunk is always so bleak and depressing with it's outlook on the future. It's interesting steampunk in contrast usually has a more optimistic view on the future. In the victorian era the future looked so bright and now that we're here the future seems darker than ever

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