WASHINGTON — A Cornell University graduate student blamed for a rogue computer program that infected as many as 6,000 computers with an electronic virus was indicted today on a felony computer-crime charge.
Robert Tappan Morris was indicted by a federal grand jury in Syracuse, N.Y., on one count of accessing without authorization at least six computers in which the federal government has an interest.
Morris, who has been criticized by a Cornell University commission that investigated last November's computer virus incident, is the first person to be charged under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1986, the Justice Department said.
Morris, who is on leave from Cornell, could face a possible five-year sentence and a $250,000 fine if convicted. He could also be required to pay restitution to universities and military bases where computers were paralyzed by the virus.
Morris has told friends that he created the virus but did not intend for it to invade computers around the country. The virus infected as many as 6,000 university and military computers on the nationwide ARPANET network, which is used by universities and military contractors to transmit unclassified data.
The network was virtually shut down for several days, although no information stored in the computers was lost.