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Tech & Science

Student Named In love Bug Probe

MANILA, Philippines — Two students at a Philippine computer college wrote
software programs that may have been combined to make the “ILOVEYOU” virus
that disabled e-mail systems worldwide, school officials said today. “We are
not saying they are the culprits,” said Manuel Abad, executive vice
president at the AMA Computer College in Manila. But Abad characterized the
information, which has been shared with investigators, as “potential leads
for further confirmation.”

Investigators have not designated either of the students, Onel A. de Guzman
and Michael Buen, as suspects. The two were members of an underground
computer group called GRAMMERSoft, which provided programming to small- and
medium-size businesses and also wrote and sold thesis projects to computer
students, Abad said.

The whereabouts of De Guzman were unknown, but he lived in the same
apartment as a bank employee who was arrested on Monday on suspicion of
involvement with the virus, then later released because of a lack of
evidence. Investigators have traced the “ILOVEYOU” virus to a telephone line
in the apartment.

Relatives of the bank employee, Reonel Ramones, have said they suspect de
Guzman is responsible. Justice Secretary Artemio Tuquero acknowledged today
that Ramones may have been “a fall guy” but said it was too soon for
officials to clear him. Buen graduated Friday — one day after the virus
jolted businesses and governments around the world, creating disruptions
that may cost as much as $10 billion, mostly from lost productivity.

Buen was not at his home when a reporter visited today, but his mother, Emma
Buen, said her son only had an old computer that he didn’t use for accessing
the Internet. “I know that he has nothing to do with it,” she said. De
Guzman’s software program was able to steal passwords and was written as a
thesis proposal at AMA Computer College. But the idea was rejected on Feb.
24, with a thesis reviewer at the school noting: “This is illegal” and “We
do not produce burglars.”

Ramones was released Tuesday while investigators searched for evidence among
17 computer diskettes seized in a raid of his apartment on Monday. FBI
agents have made copies of the diskettes and are studying them separately in
Manila, said Elfren L. Meneses Jr. of the National Bureau of Investigation.
U.S. Embassy officials were not immediately available for comment.

The love bug virus spread quickly through more than 20 countries last week,
surging into e-mail addresses stored in the computers of anyone who got an
infected e-mail message and opened an attachment titled “ILOVEYOU.” When
opened, the virus can destroy graphics and other saved files and steal
passwords. Several variations have cropped up, one appearing to be an e-mail
joke and another purporting to be a receipt for a Mother’s Day gift.

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