- The Washington Times - Friday, May 12, 2000

MANILA A Filipino computer student said Friday he may have accidentally released the "love bug" virus that crippled computer e-mail systems worldwide.

The student, Onel A. de Guzman, who had been missing for several days, appeared at a news conference in dark glasses.

He did not directly say whether he had written the "ILOVEYOU" virus, and claimed he was unsure whether he had released it into cyberspace.

"He is not really aware that the act imputed to him was done by him," his attorney told reporters.

When asked whether he might have accidentally released the virus, Mr. de Guzman replied, "It is possible."

Mr. de Guzman is one of two students at the Philippines' AMA Computer College who wrote computer programs that have become a focus of the search for the origin of the "ILOVEYOU" virus.

The two are close friends, a school official said Thursday.

The other programmer, Michael Buen, graduated May 5 from AMA in metropolitan Manila, and completed his studies with a thesis that acknowledged de Guzman.

Mr. de Guzman's thesis project, designed to steal passwords from other computer users, was rejected as a form of high-tech theft, so he did not graduate. School officials have said the two thesis projects could have been combined to create the virus.

A copy of Mr. Buen's thesis was obtained by the Associated Press.

The virus broke out one day before the college held its graduation ceremony, snarling e-mail traffic in major government and corporate computer systems in more than 20 countries.

Asked how he felt about the damage caused by the virus, Mr. de Guzman replied, "Nothing."

He said he did not remember where he was on May 4, the day the virus erupted.

The students, both age 23, are members of GRAMMERSoft, an underground computer group that wrote and sold thesis projects to other students. The name GRAMMERSoft appears in the computer code in the Love Bug virus.

The chief of the Philippine National Bureau of Investigation's (NBI) computer crimes division, Elfren L. Meneses Jr., said Wednesday that investigators want to talk to the computer students but it was too soon to say whether they are suspects.

Mr. de Guzman said he had discussed his thesis with other members of the group, and his attorney suggested that others may have participated in the writing of the virus.

Pressed by reporters to say whether Mr. de Guzman had written the virus, his attorney replied: "We can go as far as saying that he did prepare the thesis proposal but … the knowledge of its contents were not limited to Onel."

As agents for the NBI and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) scoured computer files for clues about the virus, the speaker of the Philippine House of Representatives called the case an example of misguided genius.

Manuel Villar Jr. said the authors of the virus should have worked equally hard on a legitimate program so they could "get rich and bring recognition to our country," the Philippine Star reported.

It quoted Mr. Villar as saying the virus which stunned experts with the speed at which it spread shows that the Philippines possesses world-class information technology skills.

Mr. de Guzman lives in an apartment with his sister and her boyfriend, Reonel Ramones, a bank worker who was arrested in the case on Monday but then freed the next day because of a lack of evidence.

NBI and FBI officials were still scanning computer diskettes seized in a raid on the apartment but have declined to comment on whether they have uncovered any useful information.

The FBI has sought to maintain a low profile in the investigation, which has been difficult for Philippine investigators who are hindered by a lack of equipment, few specialists and a scarcity of local laws that apply to computer crime. Many people in the Philippines seem to care little about the virus, which posed few problems in the relatively uncomputerized country but stirred chaos elsewhere.

Some estimates have put the worldwide cost of the virus at up to $10 billion, much of that due to lost productivity.

"We're cooperating with the Philippine NBI," said Thomas Skipper, spokesman of the U.S. Embassy. "They have the lead on this."

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