Sign In

Communications of the ACM

ACM News

A Flaw in the Design

View as: Print Mobile App Share:
Representation of a computer worm.

A computer worm: a standalone piece of software that can make copies of itself and spread to other computers. A destructive worm can make so many copies of itself that it overwhelms host computers, causing them to crash.

Credit: The Washington Post

David D. Clark, an MIT scientist whose air of genial wisdom earned him the nickname "Albus Dumbledore," can remember exactly when he grasped the Internet’s dark side. He was presiding over a meeting of network engineers when news broke that a dangerous computer worm — the first to spread widely — was slithering across the wires.

One of the engineers, working for a leading computer company, piped up with a claim of responsibility for the security flaw that the worm was exploiting. "Damn," he said. "I thought I had fixed that bug."

But as the attack raged in November 1988, crashing thousands of machines and causing millions of dollars in damage, it became clear that the failure went beyond a single man. The worm was using the Internet’s essential nature — fast, open and frictionless — to deliver malicious code along computer lines designed to carry harmless files or e-mails.

Decades later, after hundreds of billions of dollars spent on computer security, the threat posed by the Internet seems to grow worse each year. Where hackers once attacked only computers, the penchant for destruction has now leapt beyond the virtual realm to threaten banks, retailers, government agencies, a Hollywood studio and, experts worry, critical mechanical systems in dams, power plants and aircraft.



From The Washington Post

View Full Article



No entries found