It was the 4th day of May in the year 2000 when people worldwide started to receive emails with "ILOVEYOU" on the subject. It baffled many across the world, not knowing it was the start of a global malware attack, causing roughly $10 billion of damage.
Upon clicking the text file attached to the email, people opened their doors to a virus that would take control of their computers. The ILOVEYOU virus, or the Love Bug, was a worm that replicated and sent copies of itself to everybody in the victim's email address book. It spread at an alarming pace as unsuspecting recipients continued to open the file. Soon, email servers were clogged as thousands of love letters went back and forth.
"This wasn't something that people were used to as a concept, they didn't realize that email could be so dangerous," Michael Gazeley told CNN as he recounted his experiences when the virus broke out. Gazeley is a part-owner of the information security firm, Network Box, located in HongKong.
By May 11, a 23-year-old college student from the Philippines was traced by the FBI. Onel de Guzman became the headlines of local and international media, said to be the mastermind behind the destructive Love Bug. Rolando Quimbo, De Guzman's lawyer, was quoted saying that his client was not even aware of whether those acts alleged against him "were indeed done by him."
The ILOVEYOU virus ended up paralyzing businesses and government agencies across the globe, including the British Parliament and the Pentagon. To this day, it remains the most controversial and destructive malware in history, as people tuned in how authorities managed to trace the virus's origin.
Philippine prosecutors, however, said that since there were no specific laws against computer-hacking in the Philippines at the time the virus was launched, they have been forced to dismiss all charges. But the incident called the attention of the masses to become warier against the risk of cyberattacks. It also showed the vulnerabilities that still exist even after 20 years since the love bug came out.
One thing that has changed somewhat since ILOVEYOU is how prepared most companies are for such an incident. Most at least have some kind of anti-virus protection and back up their data. But all the experts who tackled the Love Bug two decades ago agreed that there remains a startling degree of complacency over potentially devastating cyber attacks.
"What's frightening is that 20 years after, there are still plenty of organizations who don't take this seriously until they are hit," said Gazeley. People remain oblivious, which in turn makes them vulnerable.