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ARCHIVE: 'Phage List' - Archives (1988 - 1989)
DOCUMENT: phage #154 [NYT/Markoff: Release of VIRUS causes soul-searching among computer exprts.] (1 message, 3371 bytes)
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From: [email protected] (the tty of Geoff Goodfellow)
To: phage
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
(News Analysis)
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
	   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
	   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
	   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
	   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.''