The ILOVEYOU Virus: What Is It and How To Protect Yourself

ILOVEYOU infected tens of millions of computers in a matter of days, and it raised awareness about cybersecurity among the general public.

Bojan Jovanovic Image
Updated:

October 12,2022

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In the year 2000, malware called ILOVEYOU spread like wildfire and caused billions of dollars in damages. This was one of the worst viruses to ever hit the internet, and it showed just how vulnerable we are to cyberattacks.

In this article, we’ll take a look at how the ILOVEYOU virus came to be and what we can do to prevent something like this from happening again. Read on to find out!

How Did the Virus Start?

The virus appeared on May 4, 2000, and over the next 10 days, it spread to infect around 50 million computers. It’s believed that around 10% of computers were eventually bit by the “love bug.”

The email was generated in the Philippines, but the creator of the Love Bug virus, Onel de Guzman, removed the limitations on the area extension and let the virus loose on the world.

It quickly got to Hong Kong and then found its way into western corporate systems, which wasn’t difficult, seeing as it was mainly spreading through Microsoft Outlook. The virus would get into the user's address book and start sending copies of itself to all of the addresses it found there. This allowed it to spread extremely quickly. 

Earlier in 1999, the Melissa virus was using a similar method of infecting computers through Microsoft Outlook email attachments. The Melissa virus, on the other hand, didn’t replicate in the same way and was eventually stopped as it infected around 1 million computers.

What Is the ILOVEYOU Virus?

Although it’s often labeled as a computer virus, it’s more precise to call ILOVEYOU a worm. The technical difference between a virus and a worm is that a worm doesn’t depend on interaction with the user to replicate itself. Meanwhile, a virus requires a user to activate the host file.

The ILOVEYOU worm also showed just how interconnected we all are. ILOVEYOU didn’t discriminate, as it affected businesses, government institutions, and individuals equally. It made it clear that there was a vulnerability in our cybersecurity protocols that we had to address if we wanted to be prepared for future cyberattacks.

More than 50 million computers were infected by the virus, and the total damages it caused were eventually estimated at between $5.5 billion and $8.7 billion, and it’s also estimated that it cost up to $15 billion to remove the worm.

The virus destroyed different types of files by overwriting them, including data files, photographs, and audio files, and it also hid some types of files so that users would be unable to access them.

How Does the ILOVEYOU Virus Work?

The ILOVEYOU malware spread via an email attachment. The user would first receive an email with the subject line: ILOVEYOU. The text of the email simply said: “kindly check the attached LOVELETTER coming from me.” However, as soon as the user opened the infected email, the virus would be downloaded onto the system.

Essentially, this virus is a type of VBScript program. Visual Basic Script, or VBScript programs, were developed by Microsoft, and they are a light version of Microsoft Visual Basic, with which it shares most of its code. 

The virus is also sometimes referred to as the “love letter for you” virus because the file name for the virus was "LOVE-LETTER-FOR-YOU.TXT.vbs." 

The name would appear with the true “.vbs” extension hidden, as the ILOVEYOU virus creator exploited a flaw in the Windows 95 email system, hiding the extension when the file name appeared in the attachments. So, the title included a fake “.txt” extension in order to deceive the recipient into thinking that they were actually about to open a text file.

Once the Love Letter virus infected a computer, it would go into Microsoft Outlook and send a copy of itself to all the contacts from a user’s address book. This trick allowed it to spread rapidly through all internet-connected computers, including corporate computer networks.

As mentioned above, the virus didn’t just spread to other computers, as it would also overwrite files and render them unusable. Aware of the potential danger, many large corporations and government institutions - including the CIA and the Pentagon - shut down their email systems in hopes of avoiding the threat

Onel de Guzman claimed that he conceived the virus so he could gain internet access by stealing people’s internet passwords, as he believed that having an internet connection should be a basic human right. Under Philippine law, creating malware wasn’t recognized as a crime at the time, so he couldn’t be prosecuted, despite the many lawsuits he faced.

The Impact on Cybersecurity

For many people, this was the first major computer virus pandemic, and it changed the way we think about cybersecurity. 

The ILOVEYOU infection was unprecedented at the time, both in terms of how destructive it was and how quickly it spread around the world, infecting and wreaking havoc on private computers as well as corporate and government systems.

As a result, companies began to invest more heavily in antivirus software and firewall protection, and users became more cautious about opening email attachments. 

While it caused widespread destruction, something else the ILOVEYOU virus did was highlight the vulnerabilities of our increasingly connected world. In the wake of the virus, many organizations implemented new security measures to help prevent future attacks. 

However, as we've seen with recent ransomware cyberattacks, such as WannaCry and Petya, the threat of computer viruses is still very real. As we become more and more dependent on the internet, it's also becoming more important than ever to be vigilant about cybersecurity.

How To Be Protected From Future Attacks

While many viruses are essentially harmless and simply cause distracting pop-ups, others can be much more destructive, including ransomware that encrypts your files until a ransom is paid or phishing emails that are designed to steal your passwords and private data.

So, how can you protect yourself from these malicious programs?

  • Antivirus software is constantly evolving to keep up with the latest threats, so it's important to make sure you have the most recent version of whatever antivirus you’re using installed, and don’t ignore any potential virus alert.
  • Be careful what you download. Avoid downloading files from untrustworthy sources, and be wary of email attachments from people you don't know - it’s how the ILOVEYOU virus attack started, after all. 
  • Don't click on links in email messages or instant messages unless you're absolutely sure they're safe

That said, by keeping your system up to date and using reliable antivirus software, you can keep your devices safe from attack. If something looks suspicious, it's better to err on the side of caution.

The Bottom Line

The ILOVEYOU virus changed the way we think about cyber security and showed us just how vulnerable we are to these kinds of attacks.

As we continue to rely more and more on technology, it’s essential that we take steps to protect ourselves from such threats. Cybersecurity is no longer an optional extra - it’s a necessity in today's world.

In the end, many would agree that the best protection is to educate people on the potential risks and how to avoid them.

FAQ
Who made the ILOVEYOU virus?

The worm was created by a Filipino computer programmer named Onel de Guzman. De Guzman released the virus on May 4, 2000, sending it to everyone in his address book.

The virus quickly spread throughout the world, infecting millions of computers and causing billions of dollars in damage. De Guzman was never charged with any crime, but the incident raised awareness of the importance of cybersecurity.

How was the ILOVEYOU virus stopped?

The ILOVEYOU computer worm was eventually stopped by the combined efforts of cybersecurity companies who delivered patches that kept the infection from spreading further.

Who was affected by the ILOVEYOU virus?

The ILOVEYOU computer virus affected computers running Microsoft Windows, and it spread through email attachments. The people who were most significantly affected by the virus were those who relied on computers for work.

In particular, the virus had a devastating impact on businesses that lacked good backup systems. Estimates suggest that as many as 10% of all computers connected to the internet were affected by the worm.

When did the ILOVEYOU virus start?

On May 4, 2000, the ILOVEYOU virus started circulating as an email attachment. Also known as the Love Bug, this malicious code reached tens of millions of computers within 10 days. In addition to causing widespread damage, the ILOVEYOU virus also revealed a major security flaw in Microsoft's Outlook Express email program.

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