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Filipino Computer Student Surfaces In ”Love Bug” Virus Case

MANILA, Philippines – A computer student sought by investigators in the
“Love Bug” virus case emerged from hiding Thursday to say he may have
accidentally released the malicious program that disrupted computer systems
around the world.

Onel A. de Guzman wore dark glasses and covered his face with a handkerchief
as he met reporters, declining to say whether he wrote the virus but
conceding “youthful exuberance” may have been to blame.

The program released last week sent a flood of e-mails with the subject line
“ILOVEYOU” speeding through computer systems worldwide. Opening the
attachment destroyed saved files, and sent the virus along to other
addresses in the user’s e-mail file. Experts say the rogue program may cost
up to $10 billion, mostly from lost productivity.

College officials have said de Guzman helped develop programs that may have
been combined to produce the e-mail virus. Investigators wanted to talk with
de Guzman and others, but have not said whether he is suspected of any
crime. De Guzman’s lawyer, Rolando Quimbo, said his client had no intention
of meeting with investigators, and if de Guzman is subpoenaed, he would
exercise his right against self-incrimination and keep quiet.

It is not clear whether the author or authors of the virus can even be
prosecuted in the Philippines, where computer use is still uncommon among
ordinary citizens and cyber crimes are not yet defined in the legal code.
But the terse responses de Guzman gave during a news conference, with his
Tagalog language translated into English by Quimbo, seemed to fill in much
of the puzzle investigators have grappled with.

The 23-year-old Filipino acknowledged he was a member of GRAMMERSoft, a
small group of students at AMA Computer College in Manila whose activities
allegedly included writing and selling thesis projects to other students.
The GRAMMERSoft name appears in the coding of the “ILOVEYOU” virus, and de
Guzman characterized the nine-member group as “a gang for the sharing of
knowledge.”

But de Guzman said another student whose programming has come under
scrutiny, Michael Buen, was not a part of GRAMMERSoft. Buen acknowledged de
Guzman’s work in his thesis for graduation last week from AMA college. But
de Guzman did not graduate — his thesis proposal was rejected by a
professor who said it was designed to steal data from computer systems by
pilfering passwords.

De Guzman said Thursday he wanted to help people avoid charges that Internet
users must pay. “The Internet is supposed to be educational, so it should be
for free,” he said. By early this week, authorities had traced the virus to
the phone line of a shabby apartment shared by de Guzman; his sister, Irene
de Guzman; and the sister’s boyfriend, bank worker Reonel Ramones.

Authorities arrested Ramones on Monday but freed him Tuesday for lack of
evidence and said they were looking for Irene de Guzman. Computer college
officials then started releasing information about the work of Onel de
Guzman and Buen. De Guzman said he felt hunted. “I was afraid because my
name was thrust into the limelight,” he said. “Who would not be
apprehensive?”

The hackers hid out for a few days, apparently staying with other members of
the GRAMMERSoft gang, before de Guzman came forward with his lawyer and
sister in the news conference Thursday. Buen’s whereabouts remained unknown,
although his mother, Emma Buen, has insisted her son was not involved in
spreading the virus.

De Guzman acknowledged Thursday “it is possible” that he accidentally sent
out the virus, though he said he didn’t know for certain who released it and
he declined to answer when asked who had written it. “It is one of the
questions we would rather leave for the future,” said Quimbo, his lawyer.
“He is not really aware that the act imputed to him was done by him.” De
Guzman told reporters he doesn’t remember what he was doing the day the
virus erupted.

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