‘Love Bug’ Suspect To Be Charged

The Philippine National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) said Wednesday that it will file criminal charges this week against a man suspected to have spread the crippling “Love Bug” computer virus.

NBI director Federico Opinion said in published reports that charges will be filed against Onel de Guzman, a 22 year-old computer school dropout who lives in Manila. Opinion said that de Guzman will be the only suspect to face criminal charges.

Prosecution Dilemma

However, officials will be forced to charge de Guzman under provisions that govern credit card fraud because the country did not have laws covering acts of cyber-terrorism when the crime occurred.

Since the outbreak of the “Love Bug,” the Philippines has enacted the E-Commerce Act, which fines hackers a minimum of $2,350 (US$) and carries a three-year jail term. The act went into effect Wednesday when Philippines President Joseph Estrada signed it, but it is not retroactive.

No Harm Intended?

Officials said that de Guzman will be charged under the Access Devices Regulation Act that governs illegal usage of personal identification numbers and credit cards. However, legal experts say that it may be difficult to prosecute him under the Act.

According to published reports, de Guzman is also being charged with malicious mischief. If he is convicted, de Guzman could spend up to a maximum of 20 years in jail.

De Guzman’s attorney contends that his client may have transmitted the virus, but that he meant no harm.

Failed Thesis Proposal

NBI officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the bureau’s probe indicated that the virus — which has caused at least $7 billion in damages worldwide — was spread using four hacked e-mail addresses. Philippine investigators said they were led to de Guzman through the e-mail addresses.

Further investigation uncovered a thesis that he had submitted at his computer school which detailed how to steal passwords for free time on the Internet and how to replicate files — key components of the virus.

“[De Guzman] started developing the virus even before proposing his thesis,” one NBI officer said. “He pursued it despite the disapproval of his proposal and succeeded in achieving his objective of stealing passwords to avail of free Internet use.”

A search conducted by NBI agents at de Guzman’s residence yielded 17 diskettes, one of which contained a virus program similar to the Love Bug. The program, apparently written by de Guzman’s friend, Michael Buen, also identified other students from the AMA Computer College.

Buen has denied any involvement in the spread of the virus.

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