In the final years of the 20th century, the so-called “year 2000 problem” was a matter of grave concern.
The “Y2K scare,” as it was also known, referred to potential computer errors triggered the moment the new millennium arrived. Many corporations scrambled to prepare for such an eventuality by training their tech people.
Four months after the scare passed without incident, the world was shaken by a computer virus that spread faster and wider than any other.
Dubbed “ILOVEYOU” or “the Love Bug,” it was sent as an email with an attached file titled LOVE-LETTER-FOR-YOU which, when opened, stole the user’s password and copied itself to every address in the user’s mailing software system.
A total of 45 million computers were infected, including those at the U.S. Department of Defense and the British Parliament.
The creator of this malware was a Filipino student at a computer school. He was never prosecuted, since there were no laws in the Philippines against making malware at the time.
I spent six months searching for him, wanting to interview him and understand what had motivated him.
During the interview, he said he had built his first computer at age 14. As for the notorious computer worm, he’d set it loose just to show off to other hackers. And people fell for it because they all wanted love, he explained.
He spoke in a surprisingly calm and matter-of-fact manner.
Twenty-three years have passed since the Love Bug attack. On Aug. 8, Japanese and Indonesian law enforcement authorities announced that they had jointly cracked down on an international phishing scam.
The phishing tool “16Shop” used in the scam was created by an Indonesian youth, who was 17 at the time. He was obsessed with computer programming from an early age and felt no guilt for his actions. He reminds me of the Filipino student I interviewed.
According to the National Police Agency, there were record cases of online banking scams during the first half of this year. Last month, a ransomware cyberattack brought container handling to a grinding halt at Nagoya Port.
The internet-connected world can become fragile very quickly. Wouldn’t it be nice if young “geniuses” could make positive contributions when society is in crisis?
–The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 10
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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.