The graduate student suspected of creating the "virus" that jammed thousands of academic and military computers around the nation last week reportedly intended not to hurt the network but only to penetrate it and and hide a message there.
The suspect, Robert Tappen Morris Jr., 23, a Cornell University graduate student described as a brilliant but bored computer expert, was said to be in contact with his father in the Washington area and was expected to meet this week with FBI agents seeking to determine if he is responsible for the nation's worst case of computer sabotage.A spokesman for the FBI said Sunday that possible penalties could total a maximum 20-year prison term and $250,000 in fines. Under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, unauthorized access to federal government computers is a crime.
Defense Department spokeswoman Susan Hansen said that the virus created "widespread" disturbances in the unclassified branch of the military's defense data system, but it appears no information was lost.
The New York Times Sunday quoted friends of Morris as saying he had spent weeks creating the computer "virus," but by all accounts he meant no harm to the system - he only wanted to penetrate it and hide a message.
The friends said Morris, working virtually around the clock, made a single programming error involving one number that ultimately jammed more than 6,000 computers by repeating messages time after time.
When he recognized that things had gone terribly wrong, the friends said, he arranged for a friend to send out instructions on wiping out the virus to the same computers plagued by it. But the instructions were electronically posted in a place where few would see them, the Times reported.
The Washington Post reported Sunday that Morris' father said his son "is simply unavailable (to federal authorities) and will remain unavailable until he has time to retain a lawyer."
Robert T. Morris Sr., a top computer security expert with the super secret National Security Agency who lives in Arnold, Md., near the nation's capital, told the Post in a telephone interview that he met with FBI agents for about an hour Saturday to explain why his son would not immediately comply with their request for an interview. He said the family expects to hire a lawyer by Monday.
In an earlier interview with UPI, the elder Morris said his son may be responsible for the virus that has wreaked havoc on computer network nationwide since Wednesday night. "I think it's possible," Morris said, but he stressed that he had "no direct information" on his son's involvement.
The Times said friends described the first-year Cornell graduate student as caring but socially awkward, brilliant but bored with routine tasks.
"Robert was really brilliant, and so for him simple things like generating a crossword puzzle or graphics program weren't that exciting," said Andy Sud-dugh, systems manager at the Aiken Laboratory at Harvard University, where the student held a part-time job.