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Early Bird Gets the Internet Worm

When Robert Tappan Morris was a graduate student at Cornell in 1988, he had a clever idea: he would release a self-replicating program (or "worm") onto the Internet, reportedly in an effort to highlight security problems in computer networks. Morris's worm exploited vulnerabilities in common computer systems, allowing it to propagate at will onto new computers via the Internet. The worm was designed to use minimal computer resources, but in the wild its effect proved to be devastating.

Morris released his worm on November 2, 1988 (twenty years ago yesterday), directing instances of the program to report back to a host computer so that he could monitor its spread. The epidemic spread faster than Morris had expected, aggressively infecting and reinfecting computers around the U.S. Infected computers became overloaded and unresponsive, causing system administrators to panic. Within hours of its release, the worm had infected thousands of computers, and wasn't nearly as well-behaved as Morris had hoped. When Morris realized what was happening, he and a Harvard friend emailed information that would help stop the worm -- but it was too late, as email routes were already clogged...by Morris's worm.

System administrators and computer scientists banded together to fight the worm, disassembling the program and locking down its modes of transmission. Others disconnected their systems from the Internet to avoid becoming infected. Within two days the worm was largely eradicated, but Morris's troubles were just beginning: he was eventually indicted under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1986, and the U.S. General Accounting Office issued a report on the worm -- Morris had succeeded in focusing attention on computer security after all. (The report actually begins with the text: "This is the first GAO report to be made available over the Internet. GAO wants to know how many people acquire the report this way. If you are reading this, please send mail to me swolff@nsf.gov and I'll keep count for them. Your name will not be saved or used." I have to wonder how many emails swolff@nsf.gov has gotten about the report over twenty years!) Pictured at left: the source code of Morris's worm, on display (in binary form on a 3.5" floppy) at The Computer History Museum.

Morris was sentenced to three years of probation, 400 hours of community service, a $10,050 fine, and the costs of his supervision. Nearly twenty years after the worm was released, Morris is now a tenured professor at MIT; his MIT homepage makes no mention of the worm.

To read more on the worm and its aftermath, check out a contemporaneous report by Bob Page written on November 7, 1988. Network World also posted a nice retrospective of the worm last week. RTM's worm was also discussed at length in the classic Cyberpunk by Hafner and Markoff.

(Worm source code photo courtesy of Flickr user Go Card USA.)

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The Design Tricks That Make Smartphones Addictive—And How to Fight Them
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Two and a half billion people worldwide—and 77 percent of Americans—have smartphones, which means you probably have plenty of company in your inability to go five minutes without checking your device. But as a new video from Vox points out, it's not that we all lack self-control: Your phone is designed down to the tiniest details to keep you as engaged as possible. Vox spoke to Tristan Harris, a former Google design ethicist, who explains how your push notifications, the "pull to refresh" feature of certain apps (inspired by slot machines), and the warm, bright colors on your phone are all meant to hook you. Fortunately, he also notes there's things you can do to lessen the hold, from the common sense (limit your notifications) to the drastic (go grayscale). Watch the whole thing to learn all the dirty details—and then see how long you can spend without looking at your phone.

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New Lobster Emoji Gets Updated After Mainers Noticed It Was Missing a Set of Legs
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Emojipedia

When the Unicode Consortium released the designs of the latest batch of emojis in early February, the new lobster emoji was an instant hit. But as some astute observers have pointed out, Unicode forgot something crucial from the initial draft: a fourth set of legs.

As Mashable reports, Unicode has agreed to revise its new lobster emoji to make it anatomically accurate. The first version of the emoji, which Maine senator Angus King had petitioned for in September 2017, shows what looks like a realistic take on a lobster, complete with claws, antennae, and a tail. But behind the claws were only three sets of walking legs, or "pereiopods." In reality, lobsters have four sets of pereiopods in addition to their claws.

"Sen. Angus King from Maine has certainly been vocal about his love of the lobster emoji, but was kind enough to spare us the indignity of pointing out that we left off two legs," Jeremy Burge, chief emoji officer at Emojipedia and vice-chair of the Unicode Emoji Subcommittee, wrote in a blog post. Other Mainers weren't afraid to speak up. After receiving numerous complaints about the oversight, Unicode agreed to tack two more legs onto the lobster emoji in time for its release later this year.

The skateboard emoji (which featured an outdated design) and the DNA emoji (which twisted the wrong way) have also received redesigns following complaints.

[h/t Mashable]

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