Please create an account to participate in the Slashdot moderation system


Forgot your password?
Security Unix Technology

Early UNIX Contributor Robert Morris Dead at 78 90

dtmos writes "Robert Morris, a major contributor to the Unix password and security features while at Bell Labs, has passed at the age of 78. His interesting life was made even more interesting by his son, Robert Tappan Morris, who invented the computer worm."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Early UNIX Contributor Robert Morris Dead at 78

Comments Filter:
  • If we send condolences by email, will we crash the internet?

    • I assume not even 0.001% here will understand your pun ... kudos.

  • by jameskojiro ( 705701 ) on Thursday June 30, 2011 @04:17PM (#36627072) Journal

    Conventional Burial?
    Crygenic Preservation?
    . /dev/null ?

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Out? Wind?
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Fuck you, New York Times.

  • Full Text (Score:5, Informative)

    by burning-toast ( 925667 ) on Thursday June 30, 2011 @04:28PM (#36627218)
    Here is the full text of the article due to the paywall suddenly becoming active for some:

    Robert Morris, a cryptographer who helped developed the Unix computer operating system, which controls an increasing number of the world’s computers and touches almost every aspect of modern life, died on Sunday in Lebanon, N.H. He was 78.

    The cause was complications of dementia, his wife, Anne Farlow Morris, said.

    Known as an original thinker in the computer science world, Mr. Morris also played an important clandestine role in planning what was probably the nation’s first cyberwar: the electronic attacks on Saddam Hussein’s government in the months leading up to the Persian Gulf war of 1991.

    Although details are still classified, the attacks, along with laser-guided bombs, are believed to have largely destroyed Iraq’s military command and control capability before the war began.

    Begun as a research effort at AT&T’s Bell Laboratories in the 1960s, Unix became one of the world’s leading operating systems, along with Microsoft’s Windows. Variations of the original Unix software, for example, now provide the foundation for Apple’s iPhone iOS and Macintosh OSX as well as Google’s Android operating systems.

    As chief scientist of the National Security Agency’s National Computer Security Center, Mr. Morris gained unwanted national attention in 1988 after his son, Robert Tappan Morris, a graduate student in computer science at Cornell University, wrote a computer worm — a software program — that was able to propel itself through the Internet, then a brand-new entity.

    Although it was intended to hide in the network as a bit of Kilroy-was-here digital graffiti, the program, because of a design error, spread wildly out of control, jamming more than 10 percent of the roughly 50,000 computers that made up the network at the time.

    After realizing his error, the younger Mr. Morris fled to his parents’ home in Arnold, Md., before turning himself in to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. He was convicted under an early federal computer crime law, sentenced to probation and ordered to pay a $10,000 fine and perform community service. He later received a computer science doctorate at Harvard University and is now a member of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology computer science faculty.

    Robert Morris was born in Boston on July 25, 1932, the son of Walter W. Morris, a salesman, and Helen Kelly Morris. He earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and a master’s in applied mathematics from Harvard.

    At Bell Laboratories he initially worked on the design of specialized software tools known as compilers, which convert programmers’ instructions into machine-readable language that can be directly executed by computers.

    Beginning in 1970, he worked with the Unix research group at Bell Laboratories, where he was a major contributor in both the numerical functions of the operating system and its security capabilities, including the password system and encryption functions.

    His interest in computer security deepened in the late 1970s as he continued to explore cryptography, the study and practice of protecting information by converting it into code. With another researcher, he began working on an academic paper that unraveled an early German encryption device.

    Before the paper could be published, however, he received an unexpected call from the National Security Agency. The agency invited him to visit, and when he met with officials, they asked him not to publish the paper because of what it might reveal about the vulnerabilities of modern cryptographic systems.

    He complied, and in 1986 went to work for the agency in protecting government computers and in projects involving electronic surveillance and online warfare. Although little is known about his classified work for the government, Mr. Morris
    • How come his son is now a member of the faculty at MIT?

      I bet if he'd had poor parents and had stolen a car as a teenager he'd have been lucky to get a job serving at McDonalds.
  • by jbeaupre ( 752124 ) on Thursday June 30, 2011 @04:38PM (#36627336)

    God@heaven /usr/earth/RobertTappanMorris sudo mv soul.bin /heaven
    God@heaven /usr/earth/RobertTappanMorris rm -f *
    God@heaven /usr/earth/RobertTappanMorris cd ..
    God@heaven /usr/earth/ chmod 777 RobertTappanMorris

    (later other users will move his empty directory to /usr/earth/cemetery)

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      God@heaven /usr/earth/RobertTappanMorris sudo mv soul.bin /heaven

      Except he was an atheist.

      • sudo mv /home/rmorris /dev/dirt

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        God@heaven /usr/earth/RobertTappanMorris sudo mv soul.bin /heaven

        Except he was an atheist.

        God@heaven /usr/earth cd /heaven
        God@heaven /heaven mv soul.bin /hell
        God@heaven /heaven cd /hell
        God@heaven /hell ./torture soul.bin -t fire

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      That is his son you've just killed.

    • I mean, seeing how he's God and all, I'd think He can run as root all He pleases ;-)
    • God@heaven /usr/earth/RobertTappanMorris sudo mv soul.bin /heaven

      You don't exist. Go away.


    • by lothos ( 10657 )

      Robert Tappan Morris is the son of Robert Morris. You might know RTM as the creator of the first computer worm on the internet in 1988.

  • by chucku2 ( 723044 ) on Thursday June 30, 2011 @04:46PM (#36627420)
    The computer worm was invented by the sci-fi author John Brunner in his 1975 novel "The Shockwave Rider". The first real implementation of a computer worm was published by John Shoch and Jon Hupp of Xerox PARC in 1982 (CACM Vol 25 No 3). I wrote my first one in 1985 (on BNA) but I am quite sure that hundreds, perhaps thousands, of other people had written their own versions by then. Robert TAPPAN Morris only released his worm in 1988. This is important because today we have the situation where large corporations are claiming patents on inventions that have been common knowledge for fifty years or more. We, the /. crowd, need to keep reminding people, especially the USPTO, of PRIOR ART. Otherwise the whole free/open software movement will be dead within a few years.
    • The first computer worm was the CREEPER, which appeared on ARPANET in 1971.
    • This is important because today we have the situation where large corporations are claiming patents on inventions that have been common knowledge for fifty years or more.

      You can't have it both ways. You consider some vague reference in a work of fiction to be an "invention" yet a clearly spelled-out and technically detailed list of claims is not worthy of the same title? If the latter is not an invention then don't make me die of laughter claiming some piece of sci-fi is, either. Seriously, what the fuck.

    • The Shockwave Rider is one of the best SF novels ever written, a must read for any geek, nerd, computer scientist, programmer ... and every other human being anyway as well.

  • RM really contributed a lot to all *nix users.
  • No, Robert Morris, Jr did not invent the computer worm. He build the first "successful" worm.

    If you look at old videos of the TV reports at the time security folks identified it as a worm by name right away. The term was discussed briefly in an OS class in college a few years earlier.

  • Isn't 78 a little late to be taking exams? Or am I just ageist?
  • by rbrander ( 73222 ) on Thursday June 30, 2011 @05:01PM (#36627644) Homepage

    Clifford Stoll, who tracked a cracker backwards from the government science-lab networks being snooped on, eventually to eastern Europe, told a few great RTM stories in his memoir of it, "The Cuckoo's Egg". Stoll accepted an invitation to lecture various government and intelligence officials on his search to that point, and had one of those deals where he had to wait outside the room while other presenters spoke, then ushered out afterwards because it was all reflexively classified.

    Stoll, an astronomer by trade who studied temperatures on Jupiter and became a sysadmin when his grants failed, got to the end of his presentation on ping timing and tracing and getting foreign police to check the telephone origin of a modem connection to an IP, to be asked several questions. The one from Morris, sprawled in the front row, was about adiabatic heating in Jupiter's atmosphere. Stoll switched mental tracks with some effort and answered as CIA types and military officers craned their necks around in confusion.

    Later on, when the RTM-Jr. worm was wreaking havoc on the 1987 Internet, Stoll called Morris Sr. to get his take on it. A subdued and monosyllabic Morris answered that he knew about the problem and believed he could get to the bottom of it, but couldn't talk now.

    • by jgrahn ( 181062 )

      Clifford Stoll, who tracked a cracker backwards from the government science-lab networks being snooped on, eventually to eastern Europe

      Yes, if you count West Germany as eastern Europe ...

      • by rbrander ( 73222 )

        The "end of the trail", at least from my point of view, was not the geographic location of Marcus Hess, but the end-point the information went to - and the money came from.

        I rather doubt the west German government was paying him for information about American computer systems. The trail, in the book, rather clearly went past Marcus Hess to the KGB that were paying him. The book doesn't mention, but the PBS show they made from it offered additional detail (the police investigation was ongoing when the boo

        • by rbrander ( 73222 )

          ...and five minutes later I finally notice Cliff Stoll also replied to my post, and it was "Bulgarian" that I was trying to think of. I think the Nova special mentioned they were the "KGB's KGB", or some such, often used for foreign ops as a proxy. But never mind that.

          Since everybody jumped in to (justly) praise his book, I want to add praise for his *second* book. His "second thoughts on the information superhighway" still strike me as a wise view. I've seen the related Newsweek article reprinted as d

    • by Cliff Stoll ( 242915 ) on Thursday June 30, 2011 @06:15PM (#36628518) Homepage

      Yes, I met and worked with Robert T. Morris in the late 1980's.

      During 1986 and 1987, I had tracked a computer intruder from our systems in Berkeley California, through a complex trail, into Hannover, Germany. Using a honeypot, we were able to show the involvement of the E. German Stassi and a rather mysterious Bulgarian connection. I testified at the intruders' trial in Germany.

      As the investigation wound up, I visited the National Computer Security Center (a part of the NSA), and met Robert T. Morris. Of course, I'd known him from his Unix/Bell Labs days. With a cigarette in his hand, we talked extensively about password security and the need to go beyond simple encryption of the Unix etc/passwd file. (At this time, salts & rainbow files were in the experimental stage). He was convinced that encryption was needed for many more processes than just logging into a system.

      Later, Bob Morris encouraged me to write up my experiences in a paper, "Stalking the Wily Hacker", which was published in the April 1988 CACM.

      Robert T. Morris was one of the computer pioneers who foresaw the troubles of unsecured computers and networks. He recognized that it wasn't possible to simply isolate a computer from the network -- that a computer's power was multiplied when connected to others. And his work in applying cryptographic protection to data foreshadowed much of today's efforts in computer security.

      All of us owe Robert T. Morris a debt: our systems and networks work better and more securely because of his work.

      May he rest in peace.


      • by Cliff Stoll ( 242915 ) on Thursday June 30, 2011 @06:18PM (#36628554) Homepage

        Whoops = replace Robert H. Morris for Robert T. Morris. My mistake...

      • by gknoy ( 899301 )

        You know, it's indescribably cool (even if this is off-topic) to have the person referenced in a post reply to it with even more info. :-D It's tempting to go read your book, as it sounds tremendously interesting.

        • by n7ytd ( 230708 )

          Mr. Stoll's book is well worth your time. I've read it 3 or 4 times; leaving four or five years between readings, it's a delight to discover again. Also try the cookie recipe. :)

          • I just went to read this, and was amused to see that the initial gaping security hole in the system was caused by emacs
        • by socz ( 1057222 )

          Definitely check out the book, it's great! Makes me wish I was in a position to do what he did (sure it took a lot of time and back then, a lot of physical effort (running around checking his equipment)) but would surely be satisfying to come to the end he did. I don't know about you guys, but one I finished reading the book, I started going through my logs! FreeBSD forever!

        • by adolf ( 21054 )

          Also check out the Nova special, The KGB, the Computer, and Me [] , which appears to be on Youtube [] for the moment. It stars our friend Mr. Stoll.

          I remember being particularly enthralled that video when I was around 10 or 11. I went on to find and read the book, learned a lot, and enjoyed the hell out of it.

        • It is -- actually it's what first got 14-year-old me interested in learning more about computers and networking. Thanks Cliff!

        • by CAIMLAS ( 41445 )

          It's one of my favorite books, and a large motivator in getting me into sysadmin work.

          I hate you, Cliff Stoll. :P

      • by trb ( 8509 )

        (At this time, salts & rainbow files were in the experimental stage).

        UNIX /etc/passwd had salt before 1986, but early UNIX had passwords that were truncated at 8 characters and I think the salts were two plaintext bytes/12 bits (4096 combinations). The password file (included the encrypted salted password) was world-readable. I think systems use the same ideas these days, but with non-world-readable encrypted passwords, and bigger passwords and salts.

      • by jcrb ( 187104 ) <jcrb&yahoo,com> on Thursday June 30, 2011 @07:55PM (#36629352) Homepage

        In one of those odd connections of fate, I remember reading The Cuckoo's Egg, and having an email conversation with Cliff Stoll about the generating function that Robert Morris discussed with him at the NSA..... and Cliff's response of "hot diggity!" when I managed to work it out. And then a few years later I wound up as a fellow grad student of RTM, which resulted in meeting RHM and hearing some fascinating stories, that the times article refers to as "still classified" about his work in the first gulf war. Indeed the usual /. bad jokes in this thread are even more troll than usual.


        p.s. hi cliff

      • Cliff- I'm another person who has you to thank for getting me into the security field through your book. I'm 21 now, just getting ready to finish up my undergrad in Information Assurance. I was working as a web developer at an internet security firm in high school when my boss, an old Unix hacker, suggested your book to me. It got me hooked and I haven't ever looked back. Appreciate your insight into Mr. Morris's life. He laid the foundation for all of us. Thanks for jumping in. Tyler
      • by yanyan ( 302849 )

        Way offtopic, but hello Cliff! I love your book and re-read it every 2-3 years! You are fucking awesome!

  • Rest in peace, sir.
  • memory of rhm (Score:5, Interesting)

    by trb ( 8509 ) on Thursday June 30, 2011 @05:50PM (#36628248)
    I worked with Bob Morris (rhm) at Bell Labs back around 1980. We were on a Bell Labs Navy contract, and Bob was on loan to the project from his usual research hacking. We were doing signal processing stuff, decoding sonar data. Anyway, I was a UNIX hacker kid (I was about 20 at the time) and he was a really sharp gadfly/rascal BTL CS research guy. We were colleagues and there was some friendly sniping back and forth between us.

    Everyone at Bell Labs was sharp, but he was a an especially talented special expert on loan. Anyway, I was doing random UNIX hacking and I was also the sysadm for a couple of PDP-11s that we all timeshared for our UNIX hacking. This is a story that I've kept secret for 30 years.

    This all was before the days of viruses, and the ARPANET existed, but not at Bell Labs. Occasionally hackers would break into other people's systems, usually just for fun.

    We made heavy use of modems to send data all around (uucp, usenet, remote login, etc), so there was some concern about system intrusion, and as I said, this was a Navy contract (with Secret and Top Secret elements). We had lots of security in the buildings and labs (big locks, guards, rs232 wires in secured tubes, etc.). We had some secret/secured UNIX systems and some not.

    On a whim, I had decided to install a little security hack on a couple of my non-secure UNIX systems - a nightly cron job that did a "find / -perm 04000 -uid 0 -ls" or whatever it was, to find all the suid root programs on the system, and write the list to a log file, and to diff yesterday's and today's, and make sure nothing changed. One Saturday morning, I logged into my system from home (as a sysadm, I had a "foreign exchange" phone in my bedroom that acted like the extension that was sitting in my office at work). I see an email from cron that said that /bin/login had changed overnight!

    I was shocked, I called my boss and I started looking around the system to see what I could find (I was the admin and had root access). I found some suspicious files in Bob Morris's $HOME. He had some files encrypted with UNIX crypt, and one was exactly the size of the login.c source, and one was a bit bigger. I knew that UNIX crypt encoded files on a byte-for-byte basis, so this was very strange, but I didn't know how to crack crypt.

    I had friends in BTL research, and I called one and they said to call Jim Reeds (I think) because he was a main BTL crypto guy, so I did. BTL was pretty big (at least 30k engineers) and the pure research folks (like Reeds, and Morris for that matter) were in an ivory tower, and didn't necessarily listen whenever Bell Labs development folks called them, especially 20-year-old kids like me. So I call Reeds and I tell him my story. I'm in this BTL department, we're doing a contract with the Navy, it looks like someone hacked my /bin/login, I have some encrypted files. He didn't sound too interested. I told him the files were in Bob Morris's $HOME. He said, "send the files right over here."

    In a few hours, he'd decoded the files. I guess if you already have a crypt-cracker, it would be especially easy if you knew that one file was an existing login.c and the other was probably a small hack to it. So Bob had hacked /bin/login to save usernames and passwords in a file somewhere, I think xored with -1 or something. Nothing fancy. There were also uucp logs of his sending either the login.c or his password booty to some another Bell Labs research system (allegra, I think, for those who remember).

    Bell Labs had many layers of management, and occasionally funny business would occur and the supervisors, department heads, directors, vps, etc would get together to pow-wow about what to do, and I think this was one of those cases. In the end, it resolved pretty quietly, and I don't know what the upshot was, but Bob stayed on our project and I think it was "no harm, no foul." I don't think I ever asked him "what the hell were you thinking?"

    When I heard a few years later that rtm (Bob's son) was in hot water for the famous Morris worm, I thought to myself, like father, like son. I don't mean to imply anything negative about either guy, I thought they were both just hacking for fun and without destructive intent. I just wanted to share this story, and I look back very fondly to my days at Bell Labs and working with Bob, who was a legendary hacker, really smart, and quite a rascal.
    • I forget exactly what year it was, but I was a Unix newbie trying to learn security, and working at Bell Labs, and had an account that I thought I had gotten to be fairly secure. I got a call the next morning from somebody who did not immediately identify himself telling me what was in my "secure" file, and suggesting several different ways he could have broken in. RHM was department head for computer security at the time; a week later one of his folks did another attack on another threat I'd missed (tho

    • by lothos ( 10657 )

      Love the story, thanks for sharing :)

  • Early UNIX Contributor Robert Morris Dead at 78

    "Late UNIX Contributor Robert Morris Dead at 78"

    There, fixed that for you.

  • ... I suspect foul play!
  • Featured prominently in Stephen Levy's "Hackers".

    Always wished I'd met you.

Our business in life is not to succeed but to continue to fail in high spirits. -- Robert Louis Stevenson