ANILA, Oct. 19 — Did Onel de Guzman create the "Love
Bug," the most destructive computer virus in history?
"I admit I create viruses, but I don't know if it's one of
mine," he said in an interview here. "If the source code was
given to me, I could look at it and see. Maybe it is somebody
else's, or maybe it was stolen from me."
Mr. de Guzman, 24, understands that in the information age,
fame is fleeting. With his notoriety vanishing like so many 1's
and O's in cyberspace, this Filipino computer school dropout
wants the world to know he is a brilliant hacker — a mastermind
who can turn a PC into putty.
But Mr. de Guzman has a problem. His claim to fame is the
suspicion that he created a computer bug that hopscotched around
the world, causing an estimated $10 billion in damage as it
paralyzed computers from the Pentagon to the British Parliament.
In many countries, that would have landed him in prison.
The Philippine authorities filed theft and other charges
against Mr. de Guzman, but dropped them in August because of
insufficient evidence. The case against him was weakened because
at the time, the Philippines did not have laws governing
Now it does — which means that if Mr. de Guzman confesses, he
could wind up back in legal trouble. So this shy, spiky-haired
young man is playing a risky game of wink and nod: giving
occasional interviews in which he refuses to own up to the
virus, but tries to cash in on the dark glory it confers.
"There are so many computer geniuses out there," said Mr. de
Guzman, as his lawyer monitored his remarks. "But I think I have
become part of the history of the Philippines. That cannot be
Mr. de Guzman said he no longer hacked. But he still
practices "cracking," which he describes as gaining unauthorized
access to passwords, serial numbers and other numeric codes. He
said he used the technique to download unlicensed software from
the Internet, rather than paying for it.
"Cracking does not destroy," he said. "You know what effect
you are going to have when you crack."
Mr. de Guzman said he saw nothing wrong with purloining
software, just as he has no moral qualms about the damage caused
by viruses. He said software makers, notably Microsoft, were to
blame for the Love Bug debacle because they licensed products
vulnerable to sabotage.
"For programmers like us, it is not wrong," Mr. de Guzman
said, speaking in Tagalog. "I'm the user; I buy the product. If
I use it in a wrong or improper way, why should I be blamed? I
bought the product."
People who follow the computer industry said such amoral
attitudes were typical among computer hackers, whether they
lived in the teeming neighborhoods of Manila or the low-rise
sprawl of Silicon Valley. Indeed, until last spring, Mr. de
Guzman was an unremarkable young man struggling to complete the
requirements for a computer science degree at a technical
On May 4, an e-mail bearing the title "I LOVE YOU" began
popping up in computers in Asia. When opened, it destroyed
graphics and other files. The e-mail program, commonly called a
virus or worm, spread by sending itself to all the other e-mail
addresses in a computer's database. Within hours, it had
followed the rising sun to newsrooms, brokerage firms and
government offices in Europe and the United States.
"I was at home sleeping," Mr. de Guzman recalled. "When I
woke up, I heard it on the news. It didn't mean anything to
Manila quickly became the focus of a feverish worldwide hunt
for the author of the virus. The police identified Mr. de Guzman
as their prime suspect after a local Internet service provider
traced an unusually heavy volume of data traffic to a computer
in the home of his sister. Mr. de Guzman at first said he might
have released the virus by accident. Now, he says, he does not
know how it got out.
Mr. de Guzman said he became a suspect because of a thesis
proposal he had submitted to his college. The proposal, which
laid out a method for stealing passwords to gain free access to
the Internet, was rejected. Mr. de Guzman said his professors
"They did not want to believe that I had created a program
that exposed a hole in the operating system," he said. "They
couldn't accept that I was able to do that. I told them, but
they didn't want to accept it."
Did he unleash the virus to vindicate his thesis?
"I don't know if I was the one proving it," he said after a
lengthy pause. "I just showed them the thesis."
Mr. de Guzman holed up at his mother's house for weeks after
the police named him as a suspect. The few times he ventured
out, he said he was pointed at by people. He has since cut his
hair and gained weight, he says, from eating home-cooking and
passing the time on a couch with a Sony Playstation.
These days, Mr. de Guzman said he could go out with his
friends in relative anonymity. But his return to obscurity has
dampened his job prospects. At the height of the affair, Mr. de
Guzman said he was bombarded by job offers from computer
companies. He ignored them to focus on his legal defense.
Now, the companies have stopped calling. Mr. de Guzman wants
people to know he is in the job market. He said he would even
consider Microsoft, whose Outlook software was one of the main
transmission vehicles for the virus.
"If the offer is good, if they're not pressuring me, I think
maybe I might accept," Mr. de Guzman said.
First, though, he has to stay out of trouble. Mr. de Guzman's
lawyer, Rolando Quimbo, said that the Internet service provider
that was used to launch the virus had petitioned to reinstate
the case against him. While that seems unlikely, Mr. Quimbo
wants his client to avoid incriminating statements.
In June, prodded by the Love Bug case, the Philippine
government passed a law that bans hacking. By then, however, it
was too late to prosecute Mr. de Guzman under its provisions.
The senator who pushed the bill, Ramon Magsaysay Jr., said it
was aimed at future hackers.
"Once the law is implemented, and a couple of people are sent
to jail, they may think twice," Mr. Magsaysay said. "But young
people being who they are, I'm sure some will still try to break
For his part, Mr. de Guzman insisted the thrill of hacking
was gone. If he cannot find work with a software company, he
said he would go into business — perhaps opening a cybercafe.
Longer term, he said he would like to write a software program
impervious to hackers.
"But if somebody hacked it, I would just laugh," Mr. de
Guzman said without a trace of a smile. "I would admire