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DOCUMENT: phage #154 [NYT/Markoff: Release of VIRUS causes soul-searching among computer exprts.] (1 message, 3371 bytes)
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From: firstname.lastname@example.org (the tty of Geoff Goodfellow)
Date: Tue 10:55:17 08/11/1988 EST
Subject: NYT/Markoff: Release of VIRUS causes soul-searching among computer exprts.
References: [Thread Prev: 190] [Thread Next: 155] [Message Prev: 152] [Message Next: 155]
A3646 7-Nov-88 18:03 RELEASE OF VIRUS CAUSES SOUL-SEARCHING AMONG COMPUTER EXPERTS (News Analysis) By JOHN MARKOFF= c.1988 N.Y. Times News Service NEW YORK _ The trouble caused by a rogue program in national computer networks last week highlights increasing friction between the eccentric wizards who design and maintain these systems and a society that depends on the machines to run everything from banks to hospitals to military forces. Robert Tappan Morris, the computer science student whose tampering brought down the Department of Defense Arpanet computer network last week for a day and a half, is perhaps the ultimate ``hacker,'' a term used with respect in the computer subculture but frequently viewed by the outside world as a synonym for electronic delinquent, even though few hackers would indulge in such mischeif. Hackers first emerged in the late 1950s at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where a group, almost exclusively young men, became entranced by powerful new machines that allowed them to create fantasy universes entirely under their control. ``A project undertaken not to fulfill some constructive goal, but with some wild pleasure in mere involvement, was called a `hack,''' said Steven Levy, author of the book ``Hackers'' (Anchor Press-Doubleday), which documents the rise of the computer culture. A computer science professor at Cornell University said Morris had been admitted to the graduate program there because ``he had a reputation for being a hacker at Harvard.'' ``We like to have a fairly well-rounded student body,'' said the professor, Dexter Kozen, ``so we have people who are academically oriented and people who are creative in other ways. His creativity had manifested itself as being a good hacker and we certainly need that in the department and that's why he was admitted.'' Morris' stunt has forced people in the computer world do a great deal of soul searching. And some computer experts fear that if the release of the virus prompts measures like a tightening of computer security, the country's economy could be harmed, rather than helped. On Monday, the damage that resulted from the software attack was still being assessed around the country. Computer security experts have estimated that as many as 60,000 computers are directly or indirectly tied to the Department of Defense computer network. Of those machines more than 6,000 had been affected. Many computers had still not been reconnected to the network Monday afternoon, possibily because their managers feared reinfection from the network, computer security experts said. At Sun Microsystems Inc., which makes one of the two types of computers targeted by the attack, managers said that more than 2,500 of its computers had been attacked and that several had crashed with damage to data files. Still, on balance, the computer hacker appears to be both a national treasure and a national headache, and if the country is to reap the rewards of their creativity, it may have to learn with them. Paul Graham, a 23-year-old Harvard University graduate student who is a friend of Morris', argues that the United States holds a global lead in software precisely because of its hackers, people who are by nature restless, compulsive code breakers. ``The fact that the United States dominates the world in software is not a matter of technology,'' he said. ``The culture for making great software is slightly crazy people working late at night.'' Indeed, the successful programs in personal computer software like Wordstar, Lotus 1-2-3, and VisiCalc have been produced by individuals or small group of two or three people working intensely with a single clear vision. The great failures, on the other hand, programs like VisiCorp's Visi-On, which bankrupted the company, or Lotus's Jazz, were designed by management specification and were programmed by large teams of programmers. The work of hackers in Silicon Valley have had even broader benefits. Stephen Wozniak, the designer of the original Apple I computer, wanted nothing more than to show his friends at the Homebrew Computer Club the ``neat'' machine that he had wired together in his bedroom. It was Steven P. Jobs, who co-founded Apple Computer Inc. with Wozniak, who was able to understand the potential of his friend's invention and transform a hacker's toy into a billion-dollar company. The industry that Jobs and Wozniak helped create in 1977 is still growing dramatically. Worldwide personal computer sales were $50.9 billion last year, and they are expected to reach $86 billion by 1990. Between 1980 and 1985 the number of computer science graduate students tripled. Overall, the U.S. electronics industry now employs almost 2.5 million workers, and it has been the leader in U.S. manufacturing employment since 1980. The continued strength of Silicon Valley lies in the existence of a dynamic community of computer, integrated circuit and software designers whose passion is building powerful machines for their own sake. At the same time, the innovators themselves do not seem to have fully grasped how the consequences of their programming feats extend beyond the computer laboratory into ever-expanding networks of homes and businesses, where security and reliability are of paramount concern. Brian Reid, a researcher at the Digital Equipment Corp.'s Western Research Laboratory in Palo Alto, Calif., who has written about computer security, does not place the ultimate blame for abuses on the young hackers. Reid said the cause of security breaches was more likely to be the result of the sloppy security habits of the ``wizards'' who care for the networks of computers. But many computer scientists have little charity for great deeds of hacker daring. Eugene Spafford, an assistant professor of computer science at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., recently sent a message through a computerized discussion group about the risks of computing that is widely read by many of his colleagues around the country: ``Some of those same people are claiming that Robert Morris should not be prosecuted because he did us a favor, and it was somehow our fault for not fixing the problems sooner. That attitude is completely reprehensible!'' he wrote. ``That is the exact same attitude that places the blame for a rape on the victim; I find it morally repugnant.'' -------
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