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OCTOBER 13, 2000 VOL. 26 NO. 40 | SEARCH ASIAWEEK


Edwin Tuyay for Asiaweek.
De Guzman may be a criminal. Others say he didn't do it. He's getting away with something either way.
Hacking Takes a Holiday
The Love Bug suspect is talking but not confessing

Onel de Guzman is damned if he does and damned if he doesn't. The 24-year-old college dropout is suspected to be the author of the infamous "Love Bug," the most insidious computer virus in history that caused an estimated $10 billion in damage when it was loosed on the Internet last May. Given the demand for software programmers with initiative, de Guzman might land a plush job if he came right out and said he was the Love Bug mastermind. On the other hand, the Philippines government in August was forced to drop theft and credit-card charges brought against de Guzman for the virus attack due to lack of evidence. Confessing would be tantamount to tossing himself in jail.

So de Guzman, an unprepossessing Filipino who speaks little English, extends his fading 15 minutes of fame by walking a razor's edge, granting occasional interviews (accompanied always by his lawyer) while carefully offering up little insight into his cloistered world. In terse, juvenile Tagalog argot, he talks the amoral hacker talk, rationalizing that computer vandalism is done for greater social good. He averts his eyes.

Authorities zeroed in on de Guzman when the computer college where he was studying revealed he had submitted a thesis proposal on a password-stealing program similar to the code in ILOVEYOU (the e-mail header for the destructive virus, spread by unsuspecting users who opened an attachment). At the infestation's peak, a Manila Internet service provider traced an unusually heavy volume of data traffic to an address that matched that of de Guzman's sister. Not all think de Guzman acted alone, and a few experts say the bug's data trail suggests he didn't act at all — that the virus originated in Australia or in Germany.

Is de Guzman Asia's Kevin Mitnick, the notorious hacker released earlier this year from a U.S. prison after serving nearly five years for computer break-ins? He's not saying. De Guzman dropped out of computer school after the Love Bug uproar. He says several job offers from foreign companies followed. His mother told him not to accept them. He didn't. Instead, he spends his days watching TV and hardly touching a computer. "I seem to have lost my concentration," he explains. Tick-tock goes the fame clock. Asiaweek correspondent Alan C. Robles interviewed de Guzman on two occasions in Manila:

Did you write the Love Bug?
I do write viruses, but I can't tell if it's mine - I haven't seen the source code.

Is it possible it's yours?
If I were to see it I could tell.

What other viruses have you written?
DOS viruses which just propagate and sit there [programs that contain no destructive commands, or "payloads"].

What does celebrity feel like?
It's cool. When I do a search on the Internet my whole life is there. It's funny.

What do your buddies think about what's happened?
They're proud.

How would you describe yourself?
I'm a coder.

The media say you are a hacker.
I've done hacking.

Is a hacker a mischief-maker?
No, just someone who's studying computer security.

What's a programmer, then?
A programmer is above a hacker. A programmer has no limits. He can control the computer. He's like a god.

Why did you submit a college thesis proposal on a password-stealing program?
I was exposing the security flaws of Windows.

What do you feel about programmers who write viruses?
They're just using their talents. You have to pass through that stage on the way to becoming a developer.

Do you think the person who wrote ILOVEYOU should confess?
Those who should confess are the software companies. There should be a law against those who sell defective software.

Do you think those who write viruses don't see the consequences?
They do. But they still do it. If you don't put [in] a payload you won't be famous.

What do you see in your future?
I see myself becoming a simple family man - a programmer - in my own house, living a quiet life.

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