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Back to February 2013 ITS Newsletter

Candygram! – Remembering “ILOVEYOU” 13 years later

By Ryan Coyle

In honor of Valentine’s Day, I thought I’d see how many people remember the ILOVEYOU worm.  This innocuous looking email started out simple enough, but in the end infected tens of millions of computers around the world, estimating to have affected up to 10% of the world’s Internet connected computers at the time. Could this ever happen again?

The Past

On May 5, 2000 and following daybreak around the world, moving from Hong Kong to Europe, and eventually the US, people opened up their email that day and had a cute email from a friend, with the subject line “ILOVEYOU” and an attachment called “LOVE-LETTER-FOR-YOU.txt.vbs.”  As the message was from a friend, most people innocently and curiously clicked on the attachment to see what it was.  It couldn’t be bad, it was from that cute girl in accounting, right?

Wrong.  Clicking on the attachment launched the worm on your computer.  First it tap danced on your files deleting and renaming picture files, word documents, and music files with copies of itself.  Then it moved on to your friends, sending itself out via email to the first 50 people in your address book.

The worm spread so quickly that it shut down mail servers across the Internet as they were flooded by the tremendous volume.  Government agencies, like the CIA and Pentagon shut down mail services all together to prevent the spread of the worm,  and  it is estimated that it caused somewhere in the range of $6-$9 billion in damages worldwide, while costing in the area of $15 billion to clean up. 

To add insult to injury the virus was written in simple visual basic script, which allowed people to quickly modify it for their own purposes and it spawned thousands of variants in short order.  So, while people quickly heard of the ILOVEYOU worm and were warned not to open those emails, copycats spawned quickly with names like VIRUS-FIX.exe.vbs and Important! Read Carefully!

The Present

In today’s computer world, email viruses have mostly gone the way of the dinosaur and the dodo.  That’s not to say that they’re not out there, but they are pretty rare at this point.  You still shouldn’t click on attachments that you’re not expecting.  Lessons were learned from the past and security was tightened up.  Email servers now contain virus scanners that intercept viruses such as ILOVEYOU and dump them automatically, so as not to propagate them.  Microsoft tightened the security on its popular Office product line to not automatically allow programs to launch visual basic files and macros. 

The Future

We should all continue to practice good safety habits when using our computers:

  • Having the latest security software (e.g. Sophos, AVG, etc.), web browser (e.g. Firefox, IE, Chrome) and operating system are the best defenses against viruses, malware, and other online threats.  
  • Make passwords long and strong, and never share them.
  • Connect with care - not all wi-fi is created equal. If it is free and open, you shouldn't be accessing information you don't want others to see, e.g. your bank accounts.

These tips are courtesy http://staysafeonline.org. More tips from StaySafeOnline.org.

All in all a lot of fuss created by two college students in the Philippines who were looking to spread a little Love.