“The most destructive thesis in history: I Love You, The Computer Virus”

A message with the "Love Bug" Virus, the Love Letter of Chaos | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Technology has become a fundamental part of our daily life. Nowadays, every modern process uses computers to perform their actions. Until the late 1980s, all college assignments were done either by hand, or by typewriter. Today, in the twenty-first century, everything is done on computers. In the last century, letters and telegrams were used to communicate written material over long distances. However, today just one click is enough to send a message to the other side of the world. Technology is ubiquitous; now all banks and online stores place absolute trust in the internet to make bank transfers of often astonishingly large monetary sums. However, it is not all a bed of roses for the internet. Just as every thesis has its antithesis, the internet world found its executioner in computer viruses. There are many unfortunate people who, because of computer viruses, end up losing everything, from their images and music, to valuable works, and even thesis projects. We all know about the existence of viruses, but very few of us really understand how they work, how they propagate through the web, and the magnitude of the effects of viruses on our devices and our lives.

Computer virus that pretends to deceive the user to deposit monetary sums | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Hated by all, the computer virus is the number one enemy of all who own a laptop, a computer, tablet, and even a smartphone. Its construction is simple but can be devastating. The virus is a piece of software based on various characteristics and with innumerable “themes.” In the same way as a biological virus, it attacks the host (in this case, the computer) and begins to infect many others to increase its reach. Basically, the virus is hidden in a program or document and is released when these files are executed. This plague of the electronic age emerged in the 1970s, initially only for programmers to demonstrate their skills. However, it ended up becoming a very lucrative criminal activity. Today, there are malware (malicious software) being spread by email or infected sites, and even by artificial intelligence, which simulates real conversations in chats to convince the victim to click on a contaminated link.1

The malicious software can be of various types, of which two are the most common in the world of computer science. Perhaps the best known type of malware is the Trojan Horse, which is as treacherous as its namesake in Greek mythology. A Trojan typically disguises itself as a normal and benevolent application during its installation. The users who receive the Trojans are convinced to install them and execute them because they have received them from a trusted source. Once executed, a Trojan can cause severe damage, such as capture of bank passwords, credit card data, social network passwords, etc. Another common group of malware are worms, a particularly harmful subclass of viruses that are distinguished by their ability to spread without human action, using all communication capabilities available in a device to self-distribute.2 Worms replicate themselves inside an infected device, creating thousands of copies of itself, in order to spread more quickly and prevent an antivirus from removing them before causing damage and contaminating other devices. Worms are also used to open ports on the infected user’s device, allowing a hacker total remote control of all available resources on the infected device.3

A colossal number of viruses churn through the internet, but among all the stories that can be told about viruses, there is one that stands out among all the others: the virus “I Love You,” the one that took advantage of the innocence of a secret message of love that destroyed 45 million computers! The story behind the catastrophic message created by Onel de Guzman, will surprise many people, including you. Without further ado, the story of one of the most lethal thesis projects in history: I Love You.4

A computer virus criticizing the shortcomings of the software created by Microsoft founder Bill Gates | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
The world did not know what was coming, but at the beginning of the new century, a cupid from cyberspace was finishing his destructive message of love. His tutor at the Faculty of Computing of the AMA college in Manila, the capital of the Philippines, was anxiously awaiting the thesis of his most outstanding student. The final text, delivered at the beginning of February in 2000, had spelling mistakes and poor writing. However, the whole thesis was a guide on how to steal secret codes through the Internet, or how to enter a foreign computer and take control of it. It was, in short, a manual for the lethal virus, which three months later was going to expose the vulnerability of the new world order of Internet and computer technologies.5

On May 4, 2000 computer networks around the world were invaded by the virus that has until today  earned the title of fastest propagation invader. In a matter of hours, the “Love Bug,” as the virus became known, infected more than three million machines. It came with a message in which both the subject “I Love You” and the attachment “Love-Letter-For-You” appealed to the curiosity of the recipient. To further disarm the victim’s defenses, the e-mail came almost always in the name of a friend or acquaintance.6 Although it had no destructive load, the love letter caused deep havoc by producing an unprecedented e-mail branch that congested servers around the world, causing billions of dollars of losses for companies around the world. According to the consulting company Computer Economics, the losses were around twelve million dollars.7 Not even the “Code Red” and “Sircam” viruses, which in 2001 caused an injury of 3 million and 1.5 million dollars, respectively, overcame this virus that certainly entered into history as the most devastating of the global network of computers.8

“The teachers did not like my work, they rejected my thesis. They said it was against the policy of the faculty and everything just because I used the word steal instead of access. It was a simple matter of vocabulary,” recalls the “Clyde Barrow” of computer hacking and author of one of the greatest computer disasters in history.9

Onel de Guzman, the student who destroyed more than 45 million computer softwares | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The truth is that his idea was brilliant, as well as perverse. If the virus “I love you” spread so quickly, it was because everyone liked the idea of ​​receiving an anonymous love letter. The famous love letter was the product of the disgust of a disgruntled student with his faculty, the revenge of Onel, because they rejected his thesis. Clerks, stockbrokers, politicians, firemen, or journalists, people here and there, opened the message of the supposed admirer or secret lover who began his letter proclaiming his love. Just by clicking it, the program created by Onel de Guzman began to work, that is, to eliminate. First, the virus infected the computer itself and destroyed the information on the hard disk. Then the virus forwarded the electronic message to all the addresses that the receiver had stored, in an unstoppable chain. Within twenty-four hours three million computers had been infected and within a week there were already more than 45 million computers unusable.10 Probably the final number of victims of what some experts still qualify as the most virulent, devastating, and costly virus in history, will never be known. The teachers of the AMA School of Computer Science could not believe it when, three months after receiving the thesis of their model student, they realized that the virus that was going around the world worked exactly as Onel had explained in his dissertation. His thesis, which he called “The Trojan Horse,” still circulates on the Internet today and is the bible for many computer hackers, teachers, students, and curious people.11

What happened to the author of one of the most serious cyber catastrophes in history? Absolutely nothing. The Government of the Philippines had with Onel case its first cybercrime in its history. The Philippine authorities found a total absence of cybercrime legislation with which to prosecute the alleged perpetrator. After the appearance of the virus “I love you,” the government of the Philippines created a law on computer crimes, but it could not be applied retroactively and therefore did not affect the author of the love letter.[12: Robert Frank, “Lacking Laws, The Philippines Throws Out ‘Love Bug’ Case,” Wall Street Journal – Eastern Edition, (August 22, 2000): 20.]

Computer infected by a virus whose final message is an exhortation to peace | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Onel de Guzman just needed one computer and an internet connection to be able to invade more than 45 million computers in just one week.12 De Guzman’ virus was so powerful that it was even able to penetrate one of the most powerful cybernetic systems in the world, the Pentagon of the United States of America. Yes, it is no joke, a college student was able to infect four classified military systems of one of the safest and most sheltered facilities on the planet.13 If the Philippine was able to crash one of the most powerful systems in the world, monitor financial accounts, steal personal information and messages, we must be ever vigilant before we casually click on any email attachment.14 A computer virus, like a biological one, does not distinguish social condition, economic power, political position, or any other difference. They are there, waiting for a click, which will allow them to do what they do best: destroy everything in their way. Let’s be always alert.

  1.  Funk & Wagnalls New World Encyclopedia, August 2016, s.v. “Computer Virus.”
  2. Roberta D. Anderson, “Viruses, Trojans, and Spyware, Oh My; The Yellow Brick Road to Coverage in the Land of Internet Oz ,” Tort Trial & Insurance Practice Law Journal no. 2 (June 2013): 529.
  3.  Salem Press Encyclopedia Of Science, January 2017, s.v.”Computer viruses and worms,” by  Linda Volonino.
  4. “I Love You’ virus,” Journal of Property Management 70, no. 2 (March 2005): 9.
  5. Adam Cohen, “School for Hackers,” Time Magazine 155, no. 21 (May 2000): 59.
  6. Mark Ward, “A decade on from the I Love You bug,” BBC News (May 2010), 5.
  7. Bob Edwards, “Analysis: Projected cost of damages caused by the ‘Love Bug’ computer virus,” Morning Edition (May 2000): 23-24.
  8. Keith A. Rhodes, Information Security: Code Red, Code Red II, and SirCam Attacks Highlight Need for Proactive Measures (Washington D.C.: U.S. General Accounting Office, 2001), 23-24.
  9. Rajiv Chandrasekaran, “Student Proposed Virus in Thesis; ‘Love Bug’ Probe Focuses on Filipino College Senior,” The Washington Post, (May 2000): 7-8.
  10. Frank Prince, “Love Bug’ Redux: Keeping Alert to Danger,” Community Banker Journal, (June 2000): 45.
  11. Rajiv Chandrasekaran, “Student Proposed Virus in Thesis; ‘Love Bug’ Probe Focuses on Filipino College Senior,” The Washington Post, (May 2000): 7-8.
  12. Bob Edwards, “Analysis: Projected cost of damages caused by the ‘Love Bug’ computer virus,” Morning Edition (May 2000): 23-24.
  13.  Mark Lander, “A Filipino Linked to ‘Love Bug’ Talks About His License to Hack,” The New York Times, (October 21, 2000): 1.
  14. Karen D. Loch,”Threats to Information Systems: Today’s Reality, Yesterday’s Understanding,” MIS Quarterly 16, no. 2 (June 1992): 177.
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  • I always thought that I was more or less knowledgeable when it came to technology but hearing about a different side of technology I had not known about really surprises me. To think that even your most protected accounts are not actually protected scares me. Reading about everything in the cyber world that I had not known prior to me was highly enjoyable.

  • The author does a wonderful job of providing context and setting as well as explaining all the technicalities in easy to understand language. The ending rhyme of the first section made me laugh out loud! Very well done. You have to give the hacker some credit, nothing is more intriguing than a surprise love letter. It is a wonder more computers didn’t fall prey to such a virus. I cannot believe that he escaped punishment because of a lack of a cybercrime division in the police department.

  • I had never heard of this virus attack which is weird because I like to think of my self as someone who knows so much about technology, I wouldn’t say i’m the smartest with technology but that I like to read about it in the news. To me this article was interesting in how Onel was able to create one of the most devastating viruses just because of the simple words ” I love you” this was an easy way for people to open the message and for him to infect millions of computers.

  • In the age of technology, everyone has heard about hackers and viruses, but hearing about the first virus that ever occurred was very interesting; however, it is also incredibly scary and nerve-wracking to read that a teenager was able to cause such havoc to so many people on such a global scale. For him to have reached across the world into the computers of the most secure government building in the United States is an incredible, yet threatening achievement that opened the eyes of millions of people to the dangers of the internet.

  • With the immeasurable benefits of technology in the modern age, it can be very easy to forget about the dangers associated with an online world. I wonder if Onel de Guzman knew that his actions would create a tidal wave of computer viruses that would flood the internet for years to come, or if he felt any remorse for it at all. Whatever his motivations, he single handedly reminded the world that no technology is perfect.

  • Before reading this article, I had minimal knowledge of the trojan horse virus, so it was interesting to be able to read about the creation of it. I had no idea about the love letter part of the virus, something that would make anyone want to open the email and read, only to get a virus. It is crazy to think that one man was able to do so much damage to cybersecurity. I felt that the introduction does a great job of giving some information about viruses and the article was extremely enjoyable to read.

  • It is ridiculous how we need computers for every aspect of our lives. The computer viruses are deadly to computers, but also to the computer users as well. With one these worms or Trojan horses, hackers are able to steal information such as bank passwords and other sensitive information. It is astonishing to read of what Onel de Guzman did and I hope that we are prepared for the next big computer virus that will strike our nation.

  • The I love you bug changed the way the worlds government look at cyber security. What Guzman did was wrong but i believe we are lucky that it was something like the actions of Guzman that led us to take Cyber security seriously and not something more catastrophic. I also find it amazing that he got away with is actions. Its astonishing how many computers he was able to reach with this virus and even went as far as effecting the Pentagon. Great article now I am more interested with the personality of Guzman.

  • This article was so interesting to read. I wouldn’t have initially thought that this was started by a student, but after reading it, it made sense that 1) someone educated in doing this, did it and 2) someone angry was the one who started it. To me, the first thing I thought about was the theory that the world was going to end in 1999 because computers would mess up. I think that I thought this because I found it ironic that the virus was spread in 2000 and probably scared some believers of the end of the world.

  • Onel Guzman is essentially the grandfather of computer viruses, and also kind of a genius. What he did was definitely spiteful and wrong, however his virus changed the way people viewed internet and cyber security. His virus even penetrated the United States Pentagon, and infiltrated military classified networks. Well he made his point, and the whole world was witness to it. The I love you bug was a world wide phenomenon.

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