RIP Robert Morris

Robert morris

Robert Morris was the cryptographer’s cryptographer. A compiler developer and contributor to Unix at Bell Labs, he developed the password encryption scheme for authenticating users, the direct descendants of which are still in use today. He also wrote the program we know and love as crypt as well as the math library. He went on to work for the government, including decoding encrypted evidence for the FBI and planning cyberattacks on Iraq’s command-and-control systems in the first Gulf War.

You may be forgiven for mistaking him for his similarly-named son, Robert Tappan Morris, who gained notoriety for accidentally creating the Morris Worm. He’s since received a Ph.D. at Harvard, became a member of the faculty at M.I.T. and is often one of the people who vets Paul “Y Combinator” Graham’s essays before he posts them online.

Morris strikes me as the sort of character whom you might read about in a William Gibson or Neal Stephenson novel. He even has a quote worthy of appearing in a book written by either novelist:

The three golden rules to ensure computer security are: do not own a computer; do not power it on; and do not use it.

Morris died last Sunday at home in Lebanon, New Hampshire at the age of 78. Requiescat in pace, Mr. Morris; I’ll be toasting you at the pub later this afternoon.

This article also appears in the Shopify Technology Blog.

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