Practical Technology

for practical people.

Malware vs. anti-malware, 20 years into the fray

As I recall, Nov. 2, 1988, started as an ordinary day at Goddard Space Flight Center where I was working in the data communications branch. By the end of the day … well, actually, that day never ended. We just kept fighting to bring our servers and networks back to life. Our SunOS and VAX/BSD systems, which were connected to the Internet, had slowed to a stop.

We didn’t know it yet, but we were fighting the first Net-propagated malware program: the Robert Morris Internet worm. Twenty-four hours into our “day,” we received a fix developed by the University of California at Berkeley, and we were back online.

As it turned out, the Morris worm wasn’t a deliberate attack. It was a self-replicating program with a bug that caused it to reproduce at a rate so fast that it brought down the (then much smaller) Internet. That was almost 20 years ago, and eventually it came to light that Robert Morris Jr. didn’t intend to wreak the havoc he did. He was simply trying to get a hard number as to how many systems were attached to the Net.

In contrast, today’s malware causes less overt havoc but far more deliberate harm. Most 21st-century crackers aren’t making malware to show off their skills or wreck systems for the sheer malicious fun of itall. They’re making malware that hides in your system so they can use your personal information and PC resources to make money. Welcome to the era of capitalist hacking.

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