Love bloomed amid bureacracy
- By William Matthews
- May 11, 2000
The "love bug" computer virus swept through the United States fast, and
federal authorities moved slowly.
"In a lot of ways, getting a snippet from CNN was more valuable than
what you could get through official channels," said Keith Rhodes, director
of GAO's Office of Computer and Information Technology Assessment, speaking
to a congressional committee Wednesday.
Official warnings were slowed by the need to have them reviewed and
approved before they were released, Rhodes told the House Science Committee's
The first official alert about the e-mail-borne computer virus came
at 11 a.m. May 4 when the FBI's National Infrastructure Protection Center
issued "a brief notice," according to the General Accounting Office. By
then, thousands of government computers, from Congress to the Pentagon to
the Federal Emergency Management Agency, had already been infected, and
some e-mail systems had been shut down. Love bug damage was long-since done
by the time a second warning was issued at 9:30 p.m. from CERT, the federally
funded computer emergency response team at Carnegie Mellon University in
Pittsburgh. The FBI issued a more detailed warning at 10 p.m.
At least four other government organizations — three of them in the
Defense Department — are responsible for protecting federal computer systems,
but none was able to sound an alarm fast enough to head off the love bug
Bureaucracy was ill-equipped to deal with the swift-moving virus. The
love bug spread worldwide in one day's time, infecting an estimated 47 million
computers. It was named for its e-mail subject line: "ILOVEYOU."
The virus was designed to spread fast. It copied itself into messages
and mailed itself to all of the addresses in an infected computer's e-mail
address book. It also spread rapidly because it was released during a work
week and without advance warning.
In addition to replicating and mailing itself, the virus deleted picture
and sound files on hard drives. Damage cost estimates range upward from
The government's inability to cope with the love bug spotlights the
need for a federal information technology "czar," said Harris Miller, president
of the Information Technology Association of America.