8 Things You'll Hear About

There are certain things that you'll hear about shortly after you start actively using the Internet. Most people assume that everyone's familiar with them, and they require no additional explanation. If only that were true!

This section addresses a few topics that are commonly encountered and asked about as a new user explores Cyberspace. Some of them are directly related to how the networks are run today; other points are simply interesting to read about.

8.1 The Internet Worm

On November 2, 1988, Robert Morris, Jr., a graduate student in Computer Science at Cornell, wrote an experimental, self-replicating, self-propagating program called a worm and injected it into the Internet. He chose to release it from MIT, to disguise the fact that the worm came from Cornell. Morris soon discovered that the program was replicating and reinfecting machines at a much faster rate than he had anticipated--there was a bug. Ultimately, many machines at locations around the country either crashed or became "catatonic." When Morris realized what was happening, he contacted a friend at Harvard to discuss a solution. Eventually, they sent an anonymous message from Harvard over the network, instructing programmers how to kill the worm and prevent reinfection. However, because the network route was clogged, this message did not get through until it was too late. Computers were affected at many sites, including universities, military sites, and medical research facilities. The estimated cost of dealing with the worm at each installation ranged from $200 to more than $53,000. [Footnote: Derived in part from a letter by Severo M. Ornstein, in the Communications of the ACM, Vol 32 No 6, June 1989.]

The program took advantage of a hole in the debug mode of the Unix sendmail program, which runs on a system and waits for other systems to connect to it and give it email, and a hole in the finger daemon fingerd, which serves finger requests (see Section 6.1 [Finger]). People at the University of California at Berkeley and MIT had copies of the program and were actively disassembling it (returning the program back into its source form) to try to figure out how it worked. Teams of programmers worked non-stop to come up with at least a temporary fix, to prevent the continued spread of the worm. After about twelve hours, the team at Berkeley came up with steps that would help retard the spread of the virus. Another method was also discovered at Purdue and widely published. The information didn't get out as quickly as it could have, however, since so many sites had completely disconnected themselves from the network.

After a few days, things slowly began to return to normalcy and everyone wanted to know who had done it all. Morris was later named in The New York Times as the author (though this hadn't yet been officially proven, there was a substantial body of evidence pointing to Morris).

Robert T. Morris was convicted of violating the computer Fraud and Abuse Act (Title 18), and sentenced to three years of probation, 400 hours of community service, a fine of $10,000, and the costs of his supervision. His appeal, filed in December, 1990, was rejected the following March.

8.2 The Cuckoo's Egg

First in an article entitled "Stalking the Wily Hacker," and later in the book The Cuckoo's Egg, Clifford Stoll detailed his experiences trying to track down someone breaking into a system at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory in California. [Footnote: See the bibliography for full citations.]

A 75-cent discrepancy in the Lab's accounting records led Stoll on a chase through California, Virginia, and Europe to end up in a small apartment in Hannover, West Germany. Stoll dealt with many levels of bureaucracy and red tape, and worked with the FBI, the CIA, and the German Bundespost trying to track his hacker down.

The experiences of Stoll, and particularly his message in speaking engagements, have all pointed out the dire need for communication between parties on a network of networks. The only way everyone can peacefully co-exist in Cyberspace is by ensuring rapid recognition of any existing problems.

8.3 Organizations

The indomitable need for humans to congregate and share their common interests is also present in the computing world. User groups exist around the world, where people share ideas and experiences. Similarly, there are organizations which are one step "above" user groups; that is to say, they exist to encourage or promote an idea or set of ideas, rather than support a specific computer or application of computers.

8.3.1 The Association for Computing Machinery

The Association for Computing Machinery (the ACM) was founded in 1947, immediately after Eckert and Mauchly unveiled one of the first electronic computers, the ENIAC, in 1946. Since then, the ACM has grown by leaps and bounds, becoming one of the leading educational and scientific societies in the computer industry.

The ACM's stated purposes are:

Membership in the ACM has grown from seventy-eight in September, 1947, to over 77,000 today. There are local chapters around the world, and many colleges and universities endorse student chapters. Lecturers frequent these meetings, which tend to be one step above the normal "user group" gathering. A large variety of published material is also available at discounted prices for members of the association.

The ACM has a number of Special Interest Groups (SIGs) that concentrate on a certain area of computing, ranging from graphics to the Ada programming language to security. Each of the SIGs also publishes its own newsletter. There is a Usenet group, comp.org.acm, for the discussion of ACM topics. See Chapter 4 [Usenet News] for more information on reading news.

For more information and a membership application, write to:

Assocation for Computing Machinery
1515 Broadway
New York City, NY 10036
(212) 869-7440

8.3.2 Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility

The CPSR is an alliance of computer professionals concentrating on certain areas of the impact of computer technology on society. It traces its history to the fall of 1981, when several researchers in Palo Alto, California, organized a lunch meeting to discuss their shared concerns about the connection between computing and the nuclear arms race. Out of that meeting and the discussions which followed, CPSR was born, and has been active ever since. [Footnote: This section is part of the CPSR's letter to prospective members.] The national CPSR program focuses on the following project areas:

For more information on the CPSR, contact them at:

Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility
P.O. Box 717
Palo Alto, CA 94302
(415) 322-3778
(415) 322-3798 (Fax)

8.3.3 The Electronic Frontier Foundation

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) was established to help civilize the "electronic frontier"--the Cyberspacial medium becoming ever-present in today's society; to make it truly useful and beneficial not just to a technical elite, but to everyone; and to do this in a way which is in keeping with the society's highest traditions of the free and open flow of information and communication. [Footnote: This section was derived from 'eff.about', available along with other material via anonymous FTP from ftp.eff.org]

The mission of the EFF is:

The Usenet newsgroups comp.org.eff.talk and comp.org.eff.news are dedicated to discussion concerning the EFF. They also have mailing list counterparts for those that don't have access to Usenet, eff-talk-request@eff.org and eff-news-request@eff.org. The first is an informal arena (aka a normal newsgroup) where anyone may voice his or her opinions. The second, comp.org.eff.news, is a moderated area for regular postings from the EFF in the form of EFFector Online. To submit a posting for the EFFector Online, or to get general information about the EFF, write to eff@eff.org. There is also a wealth of information available via anonymous FTP on ftp.eff.org.

The EFF can be contacted at:

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, Inc.
155 Second St. #1
Cambridge, MA 02141
(617) 864-0665
(617) 864-0866 (Fax)

8.3.4 The Free Software Foundation (FSF)

The Free Software Foundation was started by Richard Stallman (creator of the popular GNU Emacs editor). It is dedicated to eliminating restrictions on copying, redistributing, and modifying software.The word "free" in their name does not refer to price; it refers to freedom. First, the freedom to copy a program and redistribute it to your neighbors, so that they can use it as well as you. Second, the freedom to change a program, so that you can control it instead of it controlling you; for this, the source code must be made available to you.

The Foundation works to provide these freedoms by developing free compatible replacements for proprietary software. Specifically, they are putting together a complete, integrated software system called "GNU" that is upward-compatible with Unix. [Footnote: As an aside, the editor of the GNU project, emacs, contains a built-in LISP interpreter and a large part of its functionality is written in LISP. The name GNU is itself recursive (the mainstay of the itLISP language); stands for "Gnu's Not Unix."] When it is released, everyone will be permitted to copy it and distribute it to others. In addition, it will be distributed with source code, so you will be able to learn about operating systems by reading it, to port it to your own machine, and to exchange the changes with others.

For more information on the Free Software Foundation and the status of the GNU Project, or for a list of the current tasks that still need to be done, write to gnu@prep.ai.mit.edu.

8.3.5 The League for Programming Freedom

The League for Programming Freedom is a grass-roots organization of professors, students, businessmen, programmers and users dedicated to "bringing back" the freedom to write programs, which they contend has been lost over the past number years. The League is not opposed to the legal system that Congress intended{copyright on individual programs. Their aim is to reverse the recent changes made by judges in response to special interests, often explicitly rejecting the public interest principles of the Constitution.

The League works to abolish the new monopolies by publishing articles, talking with public officials, boycotting egregious offenders, and in the future may intervene in court cases. On May 24, 1989, the League picketed Lotus headquarters because of their lawsuits, and then again on August 2, 1990. These marches stimulated widespread media coverage for the issue. They welcome suggestions for other activities, as well as help in carrying them out.

For information on the League and how to join, write to

League for Programming Freedom
1 Kendall Square #143
P.O. Box 9171
Cambridge, MA 02139

8.4 Networking Initiatives

Research and development are two buzz words often heard when discussing the networking field--everything needs to go faster, over longer distances, for a lower cost. To "keep current," one should read the various trade magazines and newspapers, or frequent the networking-oriented newsgroups of Usenet. If possible, attend trade shows and symposia like Usenix, Interop, et. al.

8.4.1 NREN

The National Research and Education Network (NREN) is a five-year project approved by Congress in the Fall of 1991. It's intended to create a national electronic "super-highway." The NREN will be 50 times faster than the fastest available networks (at the time of this writing). Proponents of the NREN claim it will be possible to transfer the equivalent of the entire text of the Encyclopedia Britannica in one second. Further information, including the original text of the bill presented by Senator Al Gore (D-TN), is available through anonymous FTP to nis.nsf.net, in the directory 'nsfnet'. In addition, Vint Cerf wrote on the then-proposed NREN in RFC-1167, Thoughts on the National Research and Education Network. See "RFCs" for information on obtaining RFCs.

A mailing list, 'nren-discuss@uu.psi.com', is available for discussion of the NREN; write to 'nren-discuss-request@uu.psi.com' to be added.

"To talk in publick, to think in solitute
to read and to hear, to inquire,
and to answer inquiries, is the business of a scholar."
Samuel Johnson The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia

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