`Virus' Jury to Hear Key Accounts of Harvard Link
Two Harvard computer workers will testify before a grand jury tomorrow about late-night phone calls Robert T. Morris, Jr., '87-'88 made to Harvard on the night he allegedly wrote and released a computer "virus" program that crippled computers nationwide.
In hearings held nearly a month after the incident exposed security gaps in one of the nation's largest computer networks, the Syracuse, N.Y.-based jury is dealing with hazy, untested laws on the subject and novel forms of evidence based on computer programming records. The jury is charged with determining whether criminal charges can be brought against Morris.
Aiken Computational Laboratories programmer Andrew H. Sudduth '83-'85 and computer science graduate student Paul Graham are the only people Morris called when the virus began to spread on the morning of November 3, and the two are expected to describe those conversations in detail.
In addition, they have been asked to relate all communication with Morris beginning in October, according to the terms stated in their subpoenas.
In the meantime, Associate Professor of Computer Science Mark Friedell said yesterday that his subpoena to appear before the federal grand jury--handed down along with the other two last Monday--has been rescinded by Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew T. Baxter, the prosecutor conducting the case. The professor said he was not being asked to testify because he had nothing to tell the jury.
"The FBI agent said after [serving the subpoena] that the subpoeana is not necessary," Friedell said. The professor was summoned to appear in New York to explain phone calls allegedly made from his Harvard office phone line to Cornell University--whereMorris is attending graduate school--the night thevirus was released.
Shortly after the incident, media accountsreported that Morris was responsible for creatingthe virus, which spread out of control across anational computer network linking institutionssuch as Harvard and the Defense Department.Experts have marvelled at Morris' ingenuity, andhis friends--primarily Sudduth and Graham--havesaid the act was an accident. Morris himselfseemed nervously to await legal judgment for hismistake.
But yesterday, Morris' attorney Thomas A.Guidoboni said, "Whether or not he's [Morris]committed any chargeable offense and whether he'scharged with it is up to the U.S. Attorney." Asfor whether Morris plans to appear before thegrand jury, Guidoboni said, "It's open."
Baxter would not comment on the grand juryactions and would not say who is beinginvestigated by his office for creating the virus.
Yet, all three search warrants issued thus farby the investigation have related to Morris'computer files and possessions at his CornellUniversity graduate student office and Cornell andHarvard computer records pertaining to his use ofmachines in both places.
Sudduth and Graham have told reporters thatMorris called Aiken labs twice shortly after thevirus appeared: first to announce that the rogueprogram was on its way, and two hours later,distraught, to ask Sudduth to broadcast anationwide computer message that the virus wasspreading out of control. In the second call,Morris gave Sudduth a solution to the program andasked him to broadcast it as well.
The grand jury's decision, however, may hingeon the interpretation of a handful of newlyenacted laws, and a new application of one of themost widely used fraud statutes in the books,Morris' lawyer said yesterday.
Some of the legislation that may be used toindict those responsible for creating computerviruses include the 1984 Act on Computer Fraud andAbuse, a 1986 act on unlawful access to storedcomputer records and a longstanding wire fraudlaw. They are a varied collection of laws, some ofwhich were created recently to keep up withtechnological advances, and others that date to apre-computer age but are relevant to regulatingnational communication networks.
According to the 1986 act, federal authoritiesmust show that Morris had "intent, withoutauthority, to access" government computerfacilities and subsequently interfere withgovernment operations.
"Intent, it's the main issue" in all the laws,said Guidoboni, Morris's lawyer. "I'm not surethat anybody fully understands the statutesbecause it hasn't been litigated that much."
Morris has reportedly said that he intended tolodge only a few copies of the program in eachcomputer, enough to allow Morris to track theprogram's progress but not to disrupt operations.
But Baxter disagreed with Guidoboni, sayingthat the laws surrounding this kind of crime arenot vague. He said yesterday, "I think thelanguage is clearer in these statutes than someothers would lead you to believe.