Robert Tappan Morris

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Robert Tappan Morris
Robert Morris in 2008
Born (1965-11-08) November 8, 1965 (age 58)
United States
Other namesRTM
EducationHarvard University (BA)
Harvard University (PhD)
Occupation(s)Entrepreneur, professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, partner at Y Combinator[2]
Known forMorris Worm
Y Combinator
Criminal statusFulfilled
Parent(s)Robert Morris, Anne Farlow Morris
Motive"To demonstrate the inadequacies of current security measures on computer networks by exploiting the security defects that Morris had discovered."[1]
Conviction(s)United States Code: Title 18 (18 U.S.C. § 1030, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), March 7, 1991)[1]
Criminal penalty3 years of probation, 400 hours of community service, and fines of $10,050 plus costs of his supervision[1]

Robert Tappan Morris (born November 8, 1965) is an American computer scientist and entrepreneur. He is best known for creating the Morris worm in 1988,[3] considered the first computer worm on the Internet.[4]

Morris was prosecuted for releasing the worm, and became the first person convicted under the then-new Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA).[1][5] He went on to cofound the online store Viaweb, one of the first web applications,[6] and later the venture capital funding firm Y Combinator, both with Paul Graham.

He later joined the faculty in the department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he received tenure in 2006.[7] He was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 2019.

Early life[edit]

Morris was born in 1965 to parents Robert Morris and Anne Farlow Morris. The senior Robert Morris was a computer scientist at Bell Labs, who helped design Multics and Unix; and later became the chief scientist at the National Computer Security Center, a division of the National Security Agency (NSA).

Morris grew up in the Millington section of Long Hill Township, New Jersey,[8] attended The Peck School,[9] and graduated from Delbarton School in 1983.[10]

Morris attended Harvard University, and later went on to graduate school at Cornell University. During his first year there, he designed a computer worm (see below) that disrupted many computers on what was then a fledgling internet. This led to him being indicted a year later.

After serving his conviction term, he returned to Harvard to complete his Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) under the supervision of H. T. Kung.[11] He finished in 1999.

Morris worm[edit]

Morris's computer worm was developed in 1988, while he was a graduate student at Cornell University.[12] He released the worm from MIT, rather than from Cornell.[12] The worm exploited several vulnerabilities to gain entry to targeted systems, including:

The worm was programmed to check each computer it found to determine if the infection was already present. However, Morris believed that some system administrators might try to defeat the worm by instructing the computer to report a false positive. To compensate for this possibility, Morris programmed the worm to copy itself anyway, 14% of the time, no matter what the response was to the infection-status interrogation.

This level of persistence was a design flaw: it created system loads that brought it to the attention of administrators, and disrupted the target computers. During the ensuing trial, it was estimated that the cost in "potential loss in productivity" caused by the worm and efforts to remove it from different systems ranged from $200 to $53,000.[12]

Criminal prosecution[edit]

In 1989, Morris was indicted for violating United States Code Title 18 (18 U.S.C. § 1030), the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA).[1] He was the first person to be indicted under this act. In December 1990, he was sentenced to three years of probation, 400 hours of community service, and a fine of $10,050 plus the costs of his supervision. He appealed, but his conviction was affirmed the following March.[4] Morris's stated motive during the trial was "to demonstrate the inadequacies of current security measures on computer networks by exploiting the security defects [he] had discovered."[1] He completed his sentence as of 1994.

Later life and work[edit]

Morris's principal research interest is computer network architectures which includes work on distributed hash tables such as Chord and wireless mesh networks such as Roofnet.

He is a longtime friend and collaborator of Paul Graham. Along with cofounding two companies with him, Graham dedicated his book ANSI Common Lisp to Morris and named the programming language that generates the online stores' web pages RTML (Robert T. Morris Language) in his honor. Graham lists Morris as one of his personal heroes, saying that Morris is "never wrong."[13]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g United States v. Morris (1991), 928 F.2d 504, 505 (2d Cir. 1991).
  2. ^ "Y Combinator: Partners". Y Combinator. Retrieved 19 June 2011.
  3. ^ Lee, Timothy B. (1 November 2013). "How a grad student trying to build the first botnet brought the Internet to its knees". The Washington Post.
  4. ^ a b Kehoe, Brendan P. (2007). "The Robert Morris Internet Worm". Computer Science & Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL). Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Retrieved August 23, 2008.
  5. ^ Denning, Dorothy Elizabeth Robling; Lin, Herbert S. (1994). Rights and responsibilities of participants in networked communities. National Academies Press. p. 74 74. ISBN 978-0-309-05090-6.
  6. ^ "First Computer "Worm" Unleashed". History Channel. 2016-06-20. Retrieved 2017-08-31.
  7. ^ "Robert Morris: Professor". Computer Science & Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL). Massachusetts Institute of Technology. October 30, 2017. Archived from the original on August 3, 2008. Retrieved April 10, 2020.
  8. ^ Sullivan, Frank (February 1, 1990). "Former resident convicted of creating computer 'worm'". Echoes-Sentinel. Warren Township, New Jersey: Retrieved May 19, 2016. Former township resident Robert Tappan Morris Jr. was convicted last week of federal computer tampering charges for creating a 'worm' that penetrated and crippled 6,000 computers nationwide. Morris, 24, who grew up on Old Mill Road in Millington and now lives with his parents in Maryland, was suspended for a year from Cornell University graduate school after he was charged with the crime.
  9. ^ "Hackers and Viruses : Computers Stumped by Ethics Code". Los Angeles Times. 12 November 1988.
  10. ^ a b Daly, James (November 14, 1988). "Portrait of an artist as a young hacker". Computerworld. Retrieved February 15, 2011. Draves added that Morris said he enjoyed cracking passwords as a student at the Delbarton School, an exclusive private high school in Morristown, NJ 'But I thought he'd given up on that,' Draves said.
  11. ^ Shapiro, Scott (2023). Fancy Bear Goes Phishing: The dark history of the information age, in five extraordinary hacks (1st ed.). New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. pp. 76–77. ISBN 978-0-374-60117-1.
  12. ^ a b c "US v. Morris, 928 F. 2d 504 – Court of Appeals, 2nd Circuit 1991". US v. Morris, 928 F. 2d 504.
  13. ^ Graham, Paul (April 2008). "Some Heroes". Paul Graham. Retrieved 18 January 2013.
  14. ^ Weston, Randy (June 8, 1998). "Yahoo buys Viaweb for $49 million". CNET. CBS Interactive. Retrieved April 10, 2020.
  15. ^ "23 faculty members awarded tenure". Massachusetts Institute of Technology. October 25, 2006. Retrieved August 23, 2008.
  16. ^ "About Meraki". Cisco Meraki. 2007. Archived from the original on September 8, 2008. Retrieved August 23, 2008.
  17. ^ "Mark Weiser Award". SIGOPS. Association for Computing Machinery (ACM). 2010.
  18. ^ "Robert Morris". ACM Awards. Association for Computing Machinery (ACM).

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