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Security from A to Z: Love Bug

The computer virus caused an estimated $8.5 billion in damage, making it the most expensive to date. Part of a series on hot security topics.

ILOVEYOU. Loveletter. Love Bug.

All names used to refer to a computer virus that used social engineering to trick computer users into opening an infected attachment entitled "LOVE-LETTER-FOR-YOU.TXT.vbs"--in this case, playing on people's desire to feel loved.

The Love Bug was fiendishly effective. The worm, which only affected systems running Microsoft's Windows, surfaced in Hong Kong on May 3, 2000. Propagating via e-mail contact lists, it spread westwards across the globe as office workers logged on in the morning and checked their e-mail--a common phenomenon in the virus world, called "following the sun."

As well as causing overloaded e-mail servers to grind to a halt, the virus overwrote files with a copy of itself. One training company had its entire image library wiped out. Even the Pentagon was not immune to the Love Bug's charms.

The worm's cost to businesses is thought to have been around $8.5 billion, making it the most expensive piece of malicious software to be unleashed to date. It was also the first time a computer virus became the day's top story for newspapers and television stations, marking a shift to mainstream awareness of computer viruses.

A 23-year-old computer programming student from the Philippines, Onel de Guzman, was charged in June 2000 with releasing the Love Bug. But the case against him was dropped, as the Philippines had no law against virus writing. Authorities there also failed to prosecute Reonel Ramones, who was accused of authoring the worm.

Natasha Lomas reported for in London.