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One might say more than 3 million computer users had a bad date on May 4, 2000. In this week’s edition of Tech Time Warp, we’re going back to the day those users downloaded the ILOVEYOU virus, a Visual Basic script that overwrote JPEG and MP3 files, added new files to registry keys, and even executed an application that stole passwords and emailed them to the hacker.

And if that doesn’t sound bad enough, ILOVEYOU automatically sent itself to an infected user’s Outlook contacts.

An estimated 55 million machines received the virus, which caused approximately $10 billion in damage. Security experts estimated more than half of Fortune 100 companies were affected. The virus, which originated in the Philippines, played on an innocent user’s curiosity and need for companionship: What purported to be a text file containing a love letter from a secret admirer was actually malware.

The Philippine government sought to press charges against ILOVEYOU’s alleged creator, 24-year-old Onel de Guzman, but ultimately couldn’t because the country had no real laws against cybercrimes at the time of ILOVEYOU’s release. That was quickly remedied with the passage of tough legislation targeting computer crime by June 2000. Prior to the release of ILOVEYOU, de Guzman had aroused suspicion when he was forced to drop out of university after proposing a password-stealing trojan horse program as his thesis. Once he was out of legal hot water, de Guzman gave a round of interviews in which he danced around his relationship with ILOVEYOU. He also subsequently had trouble securing employment.

ILOVEYOU is memorable not only for preying on lonely hearts but also for being one of the first visible examples of malware. Unlike a boot sector attack, which could lurk unnoticed, an email worm would instant disrupt a user’s work and spread quickly through a social network. ILOVEYOU was a bug with a nasty bite.

Photo: Rapin_1981 / Shutterstock

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Kate Johanns

Posted by Kate Johanns

Kate Johanns is a communications professional and freelance writer with more than 13 years of experience in publishing and marketing.

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