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Computer Hacker Sentenced to Three Years Probation

May 4, 1990

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) _ A computer expert who created a ″worm″ program that paralyzed thousands of computers nationwide was placed on three years probation Friday and fined $10,000 for the crime.

U.S. District Judge Howard Munson also ordered 25-year-old Robert T. Morris to perform 400 hours of community service.

Prosecutors had asked Munson to order the maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. They sought at least some jail time for the former Cornell University graduate student.

Defense attorney David O’Brien said Morris was ″too decent a kid″ to be sentenced to jail.

″There is a world of difference between what Robert did and what others who have used this technology did,″ O’Brien said, noting that Morris did not benefit from his actions.

Morris did not speak at the sentencing or talk to reporters after the hearing. He remained grim-faced through most of the hearing, then cracked a wide smile and hugged his mother when the sentence was announced.

Morris’ parents said they were pleased with the sentence.

″We love our son, he’s a great kid,″ Anne Morris said. ″We wish that this last year and a half had been different for him, but we’re weathering it and so is he.″

Mrs. Morris said the experience had made her son more responsible.

In January, Morris became the first person to be convicted under the 1986 Computer Fraud and Abuse Act for breaking into a federal computer network and preventing authorized use of the system.

He created the ″worm″ program while at Cornell University in Ithaca on Nov. 2, 1988. The rogue program immobilized an estimated 6,000 computers linked to the Internet research system, including ones at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, military bases and major universities.

Morris, formerly of Arnold, Md., and now living in Cambridge, Mass., testified during his trial that the worm was an experiment that went out of control because of a programming error he made. He admitted he designed the worm to invade the Internet system, but said it wasn’t supposed to replicate wildly as it did.

Prosecutors disagreed. During the trial, they described Morris’ experiment as a ″full-scale assault″ that was methodically planned. They said Morris also took deliberate steps to make the worm difficult to trace and eradicate.

U.S. Attorney Frederick Scullin Jr., however, said he thought the sentence was fair. The case was unique, and the sentence does not mean that future offenders will not face prison terms, he said.

″In case anybody had any doubt, these are serious crimes and will be prosecuted as such,″ Scullin said.

Thomas Guidoboni, another defense attorney, said he thought the sentence was reasonable, but said he will file an appeal to challenge the law under which Morris was convicted.

″I don’t believe Mr. Morris deserves to be a felon for what he did,″ said Guidoboni, who had asked Munson to consider a sentence of no more than six months in jail and a $500-$5,000 fine.

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