The Cyberpunk

updated 12/26/1988 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/26/1988 AT 01:00 AM EST

Like an Information Age gunslinger, Cyberpunk roams the shadowy borderlands of computer hacking, probing for the weaknesses in electronic security systems, breaking into computer networks, altering data and unleashing a torrent of microchip mayhem.

Cyberpunk may be a teenage boy with an urge to explore and a disc drive to destroy. Or he may not be. Last month a 23-year-old computer-sciences graduate student named Robert Morris broke into the giant Arpanet network and left behind a troublesome "virus," a program that rapidly metastasized in computers all over America, including several belonging to the Pentagon. Much of the system, overloaded by Morris' program, ground to a halt.

But Morris, by all accounts, had no malicious intentions. Real Cyberpunks, a Silicon Valley computer researcher once explained, are "misfits, losers or troubled individuals lacking a sense of duty or morals." For just those reasons, the researcher preferred anonymity. Cyberpunk is, after all, a voyeur with a vengeance, privy to credit ratings, personal histories and the services on which we depend. Under the circumstances, it doesn't pay to hack off the hacker.

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