While the latest development moves the investigation beyond its initial scope of questioning fewer than 10 people and tracking only two main suspects, overall progress in the case seems to be inching one step forward and two back.
The list of suspects grew after Filipino officials at the National Bureau of Investigation seized a computer file and discovered in it a program that they say closely resembles the original "Love Bug," which infected email systems worldwide on May 4, causing damage estimated to be in the billions of dollars.
The seized file was retrieved from one of 17 disks taken from the apartment of AMA student Onel A. de Guzman, who earlier told reporters that "it is possible" he unleashed the "Love Bug." But authorities say that the list of names they now are investigating was found on a disk containing a program written by another AMA student, Michael Buen, as a thesis project.
Just a few days ago, however, Buen denied any involvement in the "Love Bug" havoc, stating at a press conference that he had been surprised and hurt by the accusations.
Officials did not reveal when they thought the program on the disk had been written, but they said that it resembles the "ILoveYou" virus in that it also uses the Visual Basic programming language. Included in the virus code is a warning: "If I don't get a stable job by the end of the month, I will release a third virus." In contrast to the seriousness of that threat, however, the virus also includes - apparently as a joke - the names of several prominent Filipinos, including President Joseph Estrada.
The threat of a third virus gives the NBI grounds to confront Buen, though such a move is unlikely at the moment, said Elfren L Meneses Jr, chief of the agency's antifraud and computer crimes division. With so many new people to interview, he added, Buen couldn't yet be named as a prime suspect.
In the meantime, the NBI has started calling the 40 or so individuals on the list to see whether they have any connection to Buen. Officials declined to give details about the 10 people on the list who aren't AMA students, but confirmed that de Guzman was on the list. Buen graduated from AMA one day after the "Love Bug" was launched, but de Guzman did not, after his thesis outlining a password-stealing program was rejected by his professor.