Ten Students Targeted in 'Love Bug' Virus Probe

Philippines authorities are investigating a bank employee and his alleged live-in partner as well as 10 students of the AMA Computer College (AMACC) for possibly spreading the devastating "I Love You" virus that caused billions of dollars in damage to computer systems worldwide.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) has already filed charges against Reomel Ramones, an employee of the Equitable Bank's computer division, and his live-in partner Irene De Guzman. The couple was charged with violating Republic Act 8484 or the Access Devices Regulation Act of 1998.

The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) had earlier arrested Ramones at his house in Pandacan, Manila, but the DOJ decided to release him after 24 hours in custody.

The NBI was not able to catch De Guzman, who did not surrender to the NBI despite promising NBI Chief Federico Opinion through her counsel that she would show up at the NBI office shortly after Ramones was arrested.

The NBI is also gathering evidence against 10 students of the AMACC. The students were picked out based on information provided by Internet service provider Sky Internet, which was used by the virus author to store and send out the virus files.

Other suspects have also been identified by computer experts around the world. Swedish security specialist Fredrik Bjorck, who helped track down the author of the Melissa virus, said that a German exchange student living in Australia was the author of the "I Love You" virus. Another report surmised that the real culprit was a 23-year-old male in Pandacan who is or was a student of AMACC.

Although Ramones lives in Pandacan, he is in his late twenties or early thirties, according to agents of the NBI.

Still another report said that De Guzman had a 23-year-old sister living with them who was a student of the AMA Computer College. The sister's name and whereabouts are still unknown.

Preliminary hearings for the case against Ramones and De Guzman are scheduled to start May 15.

The NBI's Opinion refused to divulge what evidence they had against the couple, but only said that they are still continuing their investigation and gathering evidence.

Nelson Bartolome, who led the NBI raiding team, said they found no computer inside the house of Ramones but found only "cables and peripherals" that "suggest" that there was a computer there previously. They also found computer diskettes, a telephone set that was plucked out of the phone jack and various computer publications like books and magazines.

With the absence of local legislation on computer crimes, authorities decided to charge the couple for violating Republic Act 8484 or the Access Devices Regulation Act on 1998.

The law regulates the issuance and use of access devices, defined as "any card, plate, code, account number, electronic serial number, personal identification number, or other telecommunications service, equipment, or instrumental identifier, or other means of account access that can be used to obtain money, goods, services or any other thing of value".

The lack of a law on computer crimes is posing a serious problem and hindering efforts by the government to find the real culprit that started the world's biggest computer virus devastation, admitted Efren Meneses Jr., chief of the NBI anti-fraud and computer crimes division.

"There's no law in our country that punishes persons who commit acts such as computer crimes," Meneses said. "But we have the Access Devices Regulation Act that we are going to study if we can use this against the hacker."

Earlier the NBI was even thinking of filing only malicious intent charges on the perpetrators of the virus. Malicious intent is only a light offense in the country.

Ramones was released by the NBI after the DOJ approved a motion to release him filed by his lawyer, Jesus Disini.

In a local mailing list, a friend of the suspect claimed that it is very unlikely that Ramones could even write a computer virus.

"I personally know the suspect. He doesn't have any knowledge on how the Internet works. He can't even create a small program in VB (Visual Basic), assembly or whatever language. He even told me once that he liked to work for other computer departments, but he knows he is not qualified," said Ricson Que in a message posted in a local mailing list.

NBI chief Opinion confirmed that the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is helping in their investigations. U.S. legal attache James Nixon leads two other computer security experts from the FBI.

"The FBI is part of the investigation because they are the ones that will be advising us," Opinion said.

Some reports said that the U.S. government could ask the Philippine government to extradite the suspects to the U.S. so that they can be tried there. Unlike the Philippines, the U.S. has a computer fraud and abuse act that heavily penalizes hacking and the sending of computer viruses.

Disini, in a message posted in a local mailing list, explained that the U.S. government can ask the Philippine government to extradite suspects.

"Will the U.S. consider the alleged Filipino teenager to have committed a crime in the U.S.? The answer is 'yes', meaning they can demand that the Philippine government deliver him for prosecution," he said.

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