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'Love Bug' Figure Left School Under Cloud

Investigation: Philippine dropout's thesis proposal detailed a plan to steal passwords to gain Internet access.

May 11, 2000|ERIC AUCHARD | REUTERS

A Philippine college dropout seen as a possible author of the crippling "Love Bug" computer virus left school after his instructor rejected a thesis proposal that detailed a plan to steal passwords and win free Web access.

Investigators at the Philippine National Bureau of Investigation on Wednesday said 22-year-old Oronel de Guzman was under investigation but stopped short of calling him a suspect in the case.

De Guzman is the brother of a woman who lives in a Manila apartment searched Monday in the bureau's investigation of the case.

Officials at the AMA Computer College in Makati, a thriving business district of Manila, Wednesday identified de Guzman as the author of a thesis proposal detailing how computer passwords might be stolen off the Internet.

The school said it had asked de Guzman to explain his position, but he had not surfaced.

"We all know that when we connect to the Internet we spend more time for surfing and reading e-mail only, so when we are spending time we spend a lot of money to pay the accounts for only using a couple of hours," de Guzman's proposal read.

Internet use in the Philippines runs as much as $2 to $3 an hour. By contrast, many users in the U.S. have access to flat-rate or even "free" ad-supported Internet access plans that encourage unlimited use.

"Use [this program] to steal and retrieve Internet accounts of the victim's computer," the plan submitted by de Guzman is said to have read.

A copy of the four-page, typewritten thesis proposal, titled "E-mail Password Sender Trojan," was provided by college officials.

A Trojan horse is a virus, or worm, delivered to a computer as an e-mail that appears to be from a friend. The recipient is invited to open an attached file, which then destroys files on the user's disk drive.

The virus popularly known as the "Love Bug" was originally sent under the e-mail label "ILOVEYOU," with an accompanying attachment, from two Philippine e-mail addresses.

Upon opening an attachment using Microsoft software, the virus sends a copy of itself to everyone in the user's computer address book and seeks to destroy files. Tens of millions of PCs around the globe are estimated to have received the virus.

The proposal contained critical comments said to have been written by de Guzman's thesis advisor in the margin of the plan. "We do not produce 'burglars,' " the adviser wrote, underscoring the words. "This is illegal!" he said of the student's plan to capture free Internet access time on other computers.

School officials said de Guzman and some of his friends were members of a group called Grammersoft, which charged fees for formulating computer programs for small businesses and other students.

The officials said de Guzman was an average student who excelled in computer courses. He dropped out of school after his thesis proposal was rejected in late February, they said.

A friend and fellow student of de Guzman's submitted a thesis on multiple saving of documents, a feature that the school said complemented de Guzman's program and was also a key element of the virus.

The friend's name is among the 10 code-names embedded in the "Love Bug" program, they said.

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