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Ed Combs

'Twas eunicks and the asky chars
Did grepp and skanneff at the nik:
All mimdy were the hyperstars,
And the rad ravs outsmick.

"Beware the Viruworm, my sun!
Let not its bits in temp space get!
Guard well the Passpass word, and shun
The durbious Internet!"

He put his darpal code in ram:
Long time the decson foe he sought--
So waited he, in the Dirdir tree
And slept awhile, swapped out.

And as with hashish dreams he slept,
The Viruworm--that spawn from shell--
Fast fingring through the mayle, it crept,
And gettessed from Koornell!

Ping, pong! Ping, pong! And long by long
The darpal code went hicker-hack!
It ran no more, and with its core
He went dispiling back.

"And hast thou killed the Viruworm?
Nok bless your promms, my sparkish toy!
O megga win! Ess are eye! Bee bee enn!"
He broadcast in his joy.

'Twas eunicks and the asky chars
Did grepp and skanneff at the nik:
All mimdy were the hyperstars,
And the rad ravs outsmick.

This parody was inspired by the Internet Worm, the virus written by Robert Tappan Morris (rtm) which crashed computer systems all over the U. S. in November 1988. Morris was a graduate student in computer science at Cornell University at the time.

The virus made use of (even then already well-known) bugs in Un*x's sendmail and finger programs. When exploited, they allowed a remote user to embed a program into an email message which tricked the receiving computer into spawning a subshell with superuser priviledges. All this from the user's remote location, without the user actually logging in. Part of the Worm's code, using the new superuser shell, was devoted to cracking passwords using a dictionary attack (encrypting dictionary words and comparing them to existing encrypted passwords); cracked passwords were then used to gain access to other computers to continue spreading the virus.

The extent of Morris's infection of the Internet was unintentional, though the infection itself was not. Morris did send out an apology and a message describing the patches to stop the spread of the virus, but it never got through--because his own virus had already brought much of the Internet down by then. The fixes that were actually sent out over the net were written by teams of programmers who had figured them out by reverse-engineering their copies of the virus. Their instructions for stopping the Worm were similar to Morris's.

SRI stands for Stanford Research Institute, a California think-tank that was the site of one of the first few Arpanet (forerunner to the Internet) nodes. It was to SRI that Robert Morris attempted to send his apology and patch instructions. BBN stands for Bolt, Beranek, and Newman, a Cambridge, Massachusettes think-tank that designed the Arpanet network.


The email address of the author Ed Combs is ecombs@milton.acs.washington.edu.

Hafner, Katie and Markoff, John, Cyberpunk: Outlaws and Hackers on the Computer Frontier. Touchstone, New York (1991)

Garfinkel, Simson; Weise, Daniel; and Strassman, Steven, The Unix-Haters Handbook. IDG Books Worldwide, Inc., San Mateo (1994). ISBN 1-56884-203-1.

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