Why Did the Creator of Morris Worm Not Go to Jail?

 

Robert Tippan Morris – this man was one of the most popular men in 1988 for he was the developer of first ever worm in the Internet era. At that time, this Cornell University Graduate was too curious to know about the vastness of internet. Yes, he wanted to know how big internet was and therefore, he created a program that would infect each computer connected to the internet. The guy, as it is said, intended that the program would infect each system only once but due to a small mistake, he programmed it in a way that the ‘worm’ duplicated itself every seventh time if it received ‘yes’ response from a computer.

Robert Tippan Morris

Image Credit: Trevor Blackwell

Mr. Morris released this worm from a system in MIT University, which did raise eyebrows about his intention but all of it was only after this worm had created havoc over the internet. The worm spread really fast over the university computers, research centers & military computers. The worm flooded the hard drives of the system with its malicious code and caused intense damage to the infected systems. It’s estimated that it took $200 to $53000 to fix each system infected with the worm. The total loss is considered to be of about $10 million.

Soon, Robert Tippan Morris was identified as the source of this worm and he also became the first person to be indicted under Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, 1983. Due to the internal debate over whether it is actually possible to prove the charges against the guy, it took eight months for the prosecutors to hand down the indictment.

The case raised a very hot debate at that time:  Should Morris go to jail or not?

Many people were of the view that he has done nothing wrong, calling it just a prank which went a bit wrong and also noticing the positive aspects generated by this worm attack. It provided an insight about the vulnerability of computers over the network.  Apart from highlighting the security flaws in then systems, he also proved that the internet is in fact a small place. How else can you explain such a rapid spread of such a small program code?

But there were a few people who considered him a criminal for they said it was all done with a bad intent and it caused a great loss to the country and caused a national panic among the computer users in their country.

At last, in 1990 Morris was found guilty and he was sentenced $10,000 fine, 400 hours of community service and a 3 year of probation.

Why no jail?

Firstly, because most people considered this as a mistake. Moreover, he also tried to help prevent systems from getting attacked once he came to know about the harm being caused by the worm released by him. With the help of a friend, he even informed many officials about what was actually happening and how to stop it. It was just an experiment which went wrong. He didn’t deserve any punishment. What do you think? I would like to know your views about it.

What do you think?

Why Mr. Morris was given no jail and why a similar type of incident was tackled so harshly by the same government which lead to the suicide of Reddit co founder Aaron Scwartz?

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5 COMMENTS

  1. I think it is because he chooses not to be a part of the problem rather he solve the problem…
    Most of the time the daemons creator are also well known for how to demolish them ! Take the case of Mr. Crunch (Kevin Mitwik ).. Although he was the one who convicted for phone tape,invasion and tampering but today he was working with fortune 50 company to make their infrastructure better by consulting security issues …

    If we think Morris should have been jailed then what about America’s Stuxnet worm( Used to weaken the Iran’s nuclear enrichment ) , which corrupt every PC/Mac in the world!! then we should sentence NSA employers too!

    If we didn’t thought about falling from airplane we never invented parachute !

    • Yes, I agree but it sounds very unfair about what happened with Aaron. Don’t you think so, though it was he, who committed suicide. May be things would have changed by the end of the trial.
      There have been many incidents when people tried to experiment and things went wrong. they are not culprits unless they are ready to help solve the problems created by them.

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