Unix pioneer dies

The cryptographer who helped develop the Unix operating system into what we all know and love has died. Robert Morris was 78.

According to the New York Times,  Morris also played an important clandestine role in planning what was probably the nation’s first cyberwar when he conducted the electronic attacks on Saddam Hussein’s government in the months leading up to the Persian Gulf war of 1991.

Unix was begun as a research effort at AT&T’s Bell Laboratories in the 1960s. But Morris was responsible for setting up the numerical functions of the operating system and its security capabilities, including the password system and encryption functions.

While at Bell Laboratories he created compilers, which convert programmers’ instructions into machine-readable language that can be directly executed by computers.

Morris is also famous because his son, Robert Tappan Morris, a graduate student in computer science at Cornell University, wrote the first computer worm that was able to propel itself through the Internet.

After realising he had infected 50,000 computers, Morris the Younger fled to his parents’ home where his dad was said to have had a few words with him. He was convicted under an early federal computer crime law, sentenced to probation and ordered to pay a $10,000 fine and perform community service.

Morris the Younger’s crime was a little embarrassing for his dad who had just taken a job working for an agency in protecting government computers and in projects involving electronic surveillance and online warfare.

The job was fairly hush hush but Morris once told a hack he occasionally helped the FBI. by decoding encrypted evidence.

He is believed to have died of complications of dementia. He is survived by his wife Anne Farlow Morris and his son Robert, daughter, Meredith Morris, and Benjamin.