A person responsible for the world’s first major computer virus outbreak has confessed his guilt! 20 years ago, his software managed to infect millions of machines worldwide.
Filipino Onel de Guzman, aged 44, explained that he released the Love Bug Computer Worm in order to steal passwords, so as to then access the internet without cost.
He commented that he ‘never intended’ it to spread globally.
Also, he says he ‘regrets the damage’ his code caused.
“I didn’t expect it would get to the US and Europe. I was surprised,” he noted whilst giving an interview for Crime Dot Com, an upcoming book on cyber-crime being written by acclaimed UK Cyber Investigative Journalist, Geoff White.
The Love Bug ‘pandemic’ began on 4 May 2000.
Victims received an email attachment entitled ‘LOVE-LETTER-FOR-YOU’. It contained malicious code that would overwrite files, steal passwords, & automatically send copies of itself to all contacts in the victim’s Microsoft Outlook address book.
45 million machines
Within 24 hours, it was causing major problems worldwide, allegedly infecting 45 million machines. It also overwhelmed organisations’ email systems, & some IT managers disconnected parts of their infrastructure to stop infection.
This led to estimates of damage and disruption that amounted to billions of pounds.
In the UK, Parliament shut down its email network for several hours to protect itself, & the Pentagon was reportedly affected.
The previous year, the Melissa bug is believed to have infected a million machines using similar tactics. However, Love Bug dwarfed previous outbreaks & exposed how vulnerable the world’s increasing internet connectivity was to attack.
Investigators traced the virus to an email address registered to an apartment in Manila, capital of the Philippines.
The occupant’s brother was Onel de Guzman, a computer science student at the city’s AMA Computer College. He was a member of an underground hacking group called ‘Grammersoft ‘and quickly became the lead suspect in a police investigation.
De Guzman’s lawyer organised a press conference on May 11, 2019, at which de Guzman appeared to speak poor English.
When quizzed as to whether he may have released the virus accidentally, de Guzman said: “It is possible.”
However, when the alleged offences occurred, the Philippines has no law covering computer hacking, thus neither de Guzman nor anyone else was ever prosecuted.
Suspicion also was directed at de Guzman’s fellow student Michael Buen, who has been referenced online as the ‘co-author’ of the ‘Love Bug.’
Online ‘rumours’ claimed de Guzman had relocated to Germany, Austria or possibly even the US. It was also suggested had been recruited by Microsoft after the outbreak. All these proved to be untrue..
In a forum that attracts the Philippine underworld, a user claimed that in 2016 de Guzman ran a mobile phone repair shop in the Quiapo district of Manila.
In April 2019, UK-based Investigative Journalist, Geoff White visited the area hoping to discover the suspect, & found himself in a large bustling market containing literally dozens of mobile phone repair shops!
Phone Repair Booth
Geoff wrote Onel de Guzman’s name on a piece of paper and then canvassed shop workers, just at random, hoping that someone, somewhere would recognise it. At last, one employee said he knew of de Guzman, & believed he was working now in a different phone repair booth which was at a shopping mall located at another site in Manila.
After a number of hours wandering through the mall & showing the paper with de Guzman’s name, Geoff was pointed to a very cramped, messy stall right at the very back of the building, & after waiting hours for him to appear, Onel de Guzman at last arrived.
He then admitted to having created ‘Love Bug’, which he explained was a ’revamped version’ of an earlier virus he had created, so as to to steal internet access passwords.
In the long-gone time of dial-up internet, these passwords were needed to get online, & de Guzman explained he could not then afford to buy one.
He then went on to claim he at first sent the virus just to ‘Philippines targets’, with whom he had recently communicated in chat rooms, because his only aim was to steal internet access passwords that would locally work.
Microsoft’s Windows 95
Later on, in Spring 2000, he ‘tweaked’ the code, by adding an ‘auto-spreading feature’ that would go on to send copies of the virus to the victims’ Outlook contacts, utilising a flaw in Microsoft’s Windows 95 operating system. In addition, he then created a title for the email attachment that would attract interest worldwide, so thus tempting victims globally to open it.
“I figured out that many people want a boyfriend, they want each other, they want love, so I called it that,” he explained simply.
‘With many thanks for information discovered by UK Investigative Journalist, Geoff White, who was researching for his latest upcoming cyber-crime themed offering, ‘Crime Dot Com’, when he uncovered this fascinating and unlikely tale. Promises to be a great read!’