Robert Morris, 1932-2011
June 29, 2011 10:41 PM   Subscribe

Robert Morris, a pioneer in the field of computer security, early major contributor to the UNIX operating system, and father of Robert Tappan Morris (author of the Morris Worm), has died at 78. NYT

[Wikipedia]

Morris was described in the book The Cuckoo's Egg where he challenged author Clifford Stoll with mathematical brain teasers after a meeting regarding the hacker Stoll was tracking. His three golden rules of computer security: "do not own a computer; do not power it on; and do not use it."
posted by fireoyster (23 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
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Totally interesting person. Hell of a career.
posted by cloax at 10:58 PM on June 29, 2011


Anyone who develops cryptographic systems is guaranteed to be interesting, in one way or another. Cheers, Mr. Morris!
posted by anarch at 11:27 PM on June 29, 2011


Wasn't he the one that asked Zimmerman "How long do you think it would take the NSA to break PGP?".

Not if, how long. Public crypto people debated that question hot and heavy, but I respected him for making it, even if it might have been self serving(or self defeating). That one question made public crypto better faster.

Intentional or not, that one question really changed a lot of people's minds about a critical subject at a critical time. Interesting guy.
posted by dglynn at 11:34 PM on June 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


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posted by hattifattener at 11:46 PM on June 29, 2011


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posted by Phssthpok at 12:40 AM on June 30, 2011


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posted by awfurby at 3:53 AM on June 30, 2011


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posted by Fizz at 4:35 AM on June 30, 2011


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posted by YAMWAK at 5:07 AM on June 30, 2011


> ls -a

. ..
posted by azarbayejani at 5:40 AM on June 30, 2011 [5 favorites]


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posted by JohnnyGunn at 5:53 AM on June 30, 2011


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posted by Foci for Analysis at 6:13 AM on June 30, 2011


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posted by brennen at 6:13 AM on June 30, 2011


:q!
posted by xorry at 6:18 AM on June 30, 2011


ls -d
posted by 1970s Antihero at 6:33 AM on June 30, 2011


/dev/null
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 7:05 AM on June 30, 2011


\0
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 7:55 AM on June 30, 2011


rm -r .
posted by Riki tiki at 8:04 AM on June 30, 2011


Is fingering a dead person wrong?
posted by azarbayejani at 8:34 AM on June 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


man less
posted by iotic at 9:07 AM on June 30, 2011


I spent a fair amount of time with Robert at a conference a few years ago.

When he wasn't surrounded by people trying to get a single word of his wisdom, he was sometimes mistaken for a homeless guy; he had the crazy old man persona down quite well. You could see by the glint in his eye that he was always fucking with people.

He was perhaps the first polyglot I've ever spent time with. "Robert, which languages do you know?"... "Well, the European ones, and Japanese, Mandarin, Korean..." I forgot how long the list got, but he knew more languages than I can remember the names of, offhand.

He also played the part of a lecherous old man, in sort of a sweet way. Every woman he encountered that seemed to be of Asian descent he greeted in the language of their ethnicity. Undoubtedly it impressed the heck of out folks that spoke the language, in practice he spoke some words I couldn't understand and the women he was trying to speak to couldn't understand either.
posted by el io at 10:32 AM on June 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also, from Robert, a quote that used to reside on my whiteboard:

"Systems built without requirements cannot fail; They merely offer surprises. Usually unpleasant!" (cite)
posted by el io at 10:34 AM on June 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


dglynn: Intentional or not, that one question really changed a lot of people's minds about a critical subject at a critical time.

OK, now you've got me curious. What's the change? Had people (or zimmerman, for that matter) really thought PGP was unbreakable? Would it have been unexpected for Morris to assume it could be broken? Did it take Morris asking to make people consider the possibility? Or is it something subtler?
posted by lodurr at 5:49 PM on June 30, 2011


lodurr: This WIRED article from 1996 by Steven Levy contains the anecdote. (And is also an interesting flashback to the cypherpunk days.)
posted by hattifattener at 8:40 PM on June 30, 2011


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