Man accused of Love Bug hack goes free

Charges are dropped against suspected 'I LOVE YOU' author Onel de Guzman in the Philippines

Insufficient evidence is blamed Monday for the collapse of the case against a Filipino student accused of authoring the Love Bug.

According to reports, Onel de Guzman, an ex-student of Manila's Computer College, has always refused to comment on whether he is the author of the "I LOVE YOU" computer virus that infected email systems around the world and is estimated to have cost businesses billions of pounds. In May when the virus was released the Philippines had no laws existing against computer crime.

Investigators were forced to fall back on to offline laws governing credit card fraud and theft in order to charge the student. The Department of Justice says Monday that such laws do not apply to computer hacking and that there is insufficient evidence to proceed with the case.

Questions have been raised over whether the Love Bug was an individual or group effort and several other suspects have been released without charge.

In the Philippines the students linked to the Love Bug virus attack have been hailed as national heroes. One survey, from a Filipino TV station, found that 50 percent of people thought virus writing was OK.

Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant for computer security firm Sophos finds the outcome bitterly disappointing. "It is such a wasted opportunity. It certainly hasn't put out a message that virus writing is wrong and you will be punished," he says. "It caused millions of pounds worth of damage. If someone had gone around burning down offices you would expect them to be locked up."

The Philippines has changed its laws about computer crime but plenty of other countries still have no laws to deal with hacking. "We see a lot of viruses coming from Eastern Europe and Asia where countries don't have computer crime laws," says Cluley. "In places like this you could have a bright kid but it is unlikely that he is going to be making a fortune like the same kid in Santa Clara [in the US's Silicon Valley] and he may turn to means malicious to vent his revenge."

According to Cluley hacking should be recognised as a serious crime not least because of its persistent nature. "We will be seeing Love Bug variants for years to come, it is a crime that will never stop."

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