We all know we’re not supposed to click on links in emails from sources we don’t know because of viruses – but where did they come from?
Computer viruses have existed since the 1970’s but the first documented virus widely spread through the internet happened in 1988. Known as the Morris worm, it was a piece of coding developed by Robert Morris who was a graduate student at Cornell University. Morris claimed that he wrote the code as an innocent means to attempt to gauge the size of the internet. But the coding exploited weaknesses in the Unix operating system, file transfer protocols and weak passwords and rather than just counting internet sites/pages it began replicating over and over until infected machines became bogged down in code and crashed.
At the time of the Morris worm, it was estimated that there were approximately 60,000 computers attached to the internet – and that the virus impacted at least 10% of them at a cost in lost productivity of as much as $10 million. Seems quaint given the size of the internet today doesn’t it?
But the impact of the Morris worm lead to the establishment of government entities to coordinate and respond to networking emergencies so there was a silver lining to the event. And what happened to Robert Morris? He became the first person convicted of a felony under the 1986 Computer Fraud and Abuse Act serving 3 years of probation, 400 hours of community service and paying a $10,500 fine for releasing the virus.
Want to know more about Robert Morris and the Morris worm? Check out these links: