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Early Bird Gets the Internet Worm

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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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Use Wi-Fi? Your Device Is at Risk in the Latest Security Breach
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Another day, another way our personal data is being compromised. This time, the latest threat to your credit card numbers, social security information, and other personal data comes from a more-than-ubiquitous source: your Wi-Fi.

As Ars Technica and The Independent report, a computer security researcher has discovered a major issue with Wi-Fi that can be used to decrypt your data. The vulnerability is the result of weakness in the WPA2 protocol that secures modern Wi-Fi networks. Hackers can steal sensitive data that has been decrypted a method called KRACK, or Key Reinstallation Attacks. While we can't know yet if hackers have actually taken advantage of the vulnerability, its existence puts every Wi-Fi-enabled device at risk.

“If your device supports Wi-Fi, it is most likely affected,” Mathy Vanhoef, the Belgium-based researcher who discovered the exploit, said. That means your phone, your computer, and even your Wi-Fi light bulbs. The hacker only needs to be within range of your Wi-Fi—not logged into your network—to take advantage of it and steal your data. However, Ars Technica reports that Android and Linux users are more vulnerable to severe attacks than Windows or iOS users.

What should I do to protect myself?

Unfortunately, changing your passwords won’t help this time around. All you can do is wait for security updates for your devices. In the meantime, treat every Wi-Fi connection like it’s the public network at Starbucks. As in, don’t go sharing all your personal data. You can make yourself safer by using a VPN. According to cybersecurity expert Robert Graham, these kind of attacks can’t defeat VPNs.

Most companies will no doubt be releasing security patches to fix this issue ASAP, so keep a look out for any available updates.

[h/t The Independent]

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Dubai Plans to Outfit Police Force With Hoverbikes
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Hoversurf

Dubai is home to plenty of flashy fashion and architecture, and it has over-the-top police gear to match. The department already is outfitted with some of the fastest cars on the streets, including a Ferrari and a Lamborghini. Now, Autoblog reports that police officers in the United Arab Emirates city are getting hoverbikes to access hard-to-reach places.

The bikes, which were developed by the Russian startup Hoversurf, debuted in early October at the Gulf Information Technology Exposition (GITEX) in Dubai. Like Hoversurf’s Scorpion-3 hoverbike, the police version is battery-powered and uses propellers at each corner to float like a drone. The newly-released model can reach maximum altitudes of 16 feet and move at speeds of up to 43 mph. Though the quadcopter can only carry one passenger at a time, it can withstand weights of up to 660 pounds. A fully charged battery is enough to fuel a 25-minute ride.

The futuristic addition to the force’s fleet of vehicles isn’t designed for chasing bad guys. Rather, the city hopes to use it to reach out-of-the-way spots during emergencies. If there’s a car wreck at the end of a traffic jam, for example, the Scorpion hoverbike could simply fly over the congestion and reach the scene faster than the department could with cars on the ground.

While cities around the world are still figuring out how low-flying drones and vehicles fit into pedestrian areas, Dubai has been quick to embrace the technology. In 2015, the city invested in jetpacks for first responders. While it's still unclear when the gadgets will be used in an official capacity, the CEO of Hoversurf has confirmed that mass production of the bikes is already underway.

[h/t Autoblog]

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