David L. Smith
David L. Smith a.k.a. Kwyjibo is the man responsible for the release of the single most costly worm in the history of the internets to that point. He did it totally for the lulz, and when he got caught by the man, he somehow managed to reduce his time served by getting a job working for the FBI.
Smith developed something called the Melissa macrovirus. Melissa - sometimes identified as a worm because of the way it unwantedly invades your shit and endlessly propagates - was developed as a harmless prank that would spread via Microsoft Office. The virus would first enter via Outlook and spread to your .doc files. Once there it would insert the following text, cribbed from a Simpson's episode where Bart was playing Scrabble and put down the nonsense word "kwyjibo":
- Fun Fact - Melissa was allegedly named after a stripper Smith met in Florida. No matter how bad you feel getting the Melissa worm, at least you aren't a stripper with a virus named after her.
Melissa Grows Teeth
Smith released his virus onto the alt.sex Usenet group in March of 1999. Within hours it had spread across the internet. Within a week it's estimated to have infected at least 100,000 systems worldwide. Final estimates stated that about a half-million people got the virus.
- Melissa.U would come barging into your computer like a town drunkard looking for a fight. It would then pummel your critical system files like command.com, removing them and any associated archive files.
Corporations watched their mail servers attempt to cope with the massive loads of traffic generated by the worm. One by one they failed, caving in to the rising crapflood. Thousands of documents were corrupted and lost in the process. Hundreds of companies were forced offline, losing millions in revenue in the process. Affected companies included Microsoft (a fact compounded that virtually everyone at Microsoft uses Outlook and Word), Lockheed-Martin, Lucent, and Intel.
David Smith Today
Smith evaded the police for a month, but they easily tracked him down through his AOL account to Aberdeen, New Jersey. Smith was arrested without any incident at his brother's house. Smith was one of the first people ever to be prosecuted for developing a virus. He could have faced forty years in jail, instead he was sentenced to ten.
Smith had an ingenious idea at this point. He had shown the government how dangerous a modern computer worm could be. Now he could lend his expertise in the field to the FBI. Soon he was working forty-hour weeks for the feds, ratting out his old hacker friends while staying far enough below the radar that they couldn't tell it was him. The FBI got his sentence reduced to 20 months and a $5,000 fine.
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David L. Smith
is part of a series on Web 1.0