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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 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 and I'll keep count for them. Your name will not be saved or used." I have to wonder how many emails 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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Live Smarter
Make Spreadsheets a Whole Lot Easier With This Excel Trick
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While data nerds may love a good spreadsheet, many office workers open Microsoft Excel with a certain amount of resistance. Inputting data can be a monotonous task. But a few tricks can make it a whole lot easier. Business Insider has a new video highlighting one of those shortcuts—a way to create a range that changes with the data you input.

Dynamic named ranges change and grow with your data, so, for instance, if one column is time and another is, say, dollar value, the value can change automatically as time goes on. If you do this, it's relatively easy to create a chart using this data, by simply inserting your named ranges as your X and Y values. The chart will automatically update as your range expands.

It's easier to see in the program itself, so watch the full video on Business Insider. Microsoft also has its own instructions here, or you can check out this video from the YouTube channel Excel Tip, which also has dozens of other useful tutorials for making Microsoft Excel your hardworking assistant.

[h/t Business Insider]

Marshall McLuhan, the Man Who Predicted the Internet in 1962

Futurists of the 20th century were prone to some highly optimistic predictions. Theorists thought we might be extending our life spans to 150, working fewer hours, and operating private aircrafts from our homes. No one seemed to imagine we’d be communicating with smiley faces and poop emojis in place of words.

Marshall McLuhan didn’t call that either, but he did come closer than most to imagining our current technology-led environment. In 1962, the author and media theorist (who is the subject of today's Google Doodle) predicted we’d have an internet.

That was the year McLuhan, a professor of English born in Edmonton, Canada on this day in 1911, wrote a book called The Gutenberg Galaxy. In it, he observed that human history could be partitioned into four distinct chapters: The acoustic age, the literary age, the print age, and the then-emerging electronic age. McLuhan believed this new frontier would be home to what he dubbed a “global village”—a space where technology spread information to anyone and everyone.

Computers, McLuhan said, “could enhance retrieval, obsolesce mass library organization,” and offer “speedily tailored data.”

McLuhan elaborated on the idea in his 1962 book, Understanding Media, writing:

"Since the inception of the telegraph and radio, the globe has contracted, spatially, into a single large village. Tribalism is our only resource since the electro-magnetic discovery. Moving from print to electronic media we have given up an eye for an ear."

But McLuhan didn’t concern himself solely with the advantages of a network. He cautioned that a surrender to “private manipulation” would limit the scope of our information based on what advertisers and others choose for users to see.

Marshall McLuhan died on December 31, 1980, several years before he was able to witness first-hand how his predictions were coming to fruition.


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