Morris - A Worm for Our Times

On this day in history the Morris worm was released onto the Internet, wreaking havoc on a number of systems and becoming notorious as one of the first worms distributed on the net. While the only crime was curiosity at the start, aiming to exploit a number of vulnerabilities and explore possibiltiies, the end result was a damaging viral spread thanks to the effects of including code that directed the software to replicate itself in many systems. The impact was far-reaching with systems being bogged down to an unusable state.

Photo of a display case at the Computer History Museum containing a single black 3.5-inch floppy disk. A yellow paper tag sitting beneath it with handwriting in pencil: Internet Worm - Source Code X1294.96A-D. A black museum description plackard sits to the left: 'The Morris Internet Worm source code - This disk contins the complete source code of the Morris Internet worm program. This tiny, 99-line program brought large pieces of the Internet to a standstill on November 2nd, 1988. The worm was the first of many intrusive programs that use the Internet to spread.' A red square logo is at bottom of plackard with binary ones and zeroes symbols and white text COMPUTER HISTORY MUSEUM. Original photo by the Intel Free Press.
Internet Worm - decompilation: a floppy disk at the Computer History Museum that contains the source code of the Morris worm. Catalog Number X1294.96A-D. Photo courtesy Intel Free Press.

With thousands of systems downed and high removal costs incurred its author Robert T. Morris was tried in the U.S. under the 1986 Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and was its first conviction.

This isn’t a virus. It’s a worm!

This may all sound a bit familiar with similarities to the later journeys of some of our own hacking heroes like Dade Murphy and villians like The Plague and his use of the Da Vinci virus. In more than a few ways we owe a debt of gratitude to the trail blazed by the Morris worm.

Internet Artifacts - Morris Worm source code

Screenshot of a web page from the Internet Artifacts Museum showing a blue and yellow DOS-style text editor screen mounted on a marble stand with marble background as in a museum. The editor screen as various C programming source codes for the Morris Worm. The year highlighted at the top of the interface for the website is 1988. Top corner says NEAL.FUN.
Thanks to the recent Internet Artifacts Museum project by Neil Agarwal you can see and interact with the source code of the Morris worm in a nice retro-styled IDE in your browser.


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