Why hackers loved AOL in the 1990s…

If you ask youngsters about AOL they aren’t sure if it’s a car model or an insurance company. But most older folks will either remember AOL for dumping unwanted CD-ROMs in their mailbox or for stupid advertisement.

Unwanted AOL CDs
Coasters for your coffee mug or frisbees? You decide!

Actually AOL was quite interesting in like 1995 – being among the few providers besides Compuserve (RIP) who offered kinda all-in-one solution for Internet access, an e-mail address and a personal homepage. All that may seem god-given these days, but back then you were quite happy to slam loads of money on the counter each month to just have that and being connected to the world. And “loads of money” is to be taken literally since back in the days you didn’t have a flat rate, so you had to pay for every minute you were connected.

That was for sure a problem as AOL (and all similar companies) were not really from charity, so an excessive life online would cost an excessive amount of money back then. And the good old times of blue box ( see here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blue_box )  were already over, so no more free or cheap phone calls with our analog modems.

I remember one halfway famous porn website (Shame on me, obviously noone else vistited these in the days) advertising their downloadable videos with a quote like “Fap without looking at the watch” which kinda reflects the whole situation back then. Every minute you were connected was precious.

Well all that was annoying for a hacker like me since i didn’t have much money back then, wouldn’t it have been for a bug feature of AOL back in the days – ROAMING. Most youngsters know that term because it means they can use their cell phone during their vacation to Mexico or elsewhere while paying loads of additional money. Well back in the days it was exactly the same just with using your AOL internet access. That meant if you were a U.S. citizen and went to Germany you could just bring your laptop, dial in your analog modem from any phone line and AOL would bill you everything, your friend in germany would not have to pay a single cent on his phone bill (All AOL internet access numbers abroad were toll free numbers). But when you came home from vacation you might have been surprised that AOL charged you like 5 Dollars per minute in Germany. As i said before – AOL was never a charity organization.

While this sounds (more or less) reasonable just imagine someone from Germany you don’t know had your account credentials (username and password that is). Big surprise when you get your AOL bill. And maybe now i should mention that I am the German guy that these unsuspecting AOL users didn’t know.

Getting AOL password was rather hard by typical hacking. AOL had this bug feature that they would just ask for your password once while setting up the software and saving it along with the rest of the settings in a big monolithic binary file that was encrypted. So no way to read out that password unless you dreamed about encryption ciphers at night. Well but a nice workaround was to simply copy that whole settings file and inserting it into my AOL installation directory. I did that so often that i even made a batch file to replace it from my “incoming” directory.

But yeah, hacking every single client and downloading that rather big file was annoying and some paranoid people checked their AOL account online every day and quickly changed their password once their bill surpassed a few hundred dollars.


So i needed a better method of getting a stable supply of AOL credentials (sounding like a junkie here which hits it pretty well regarding my online habits..).

So an easier way of hacking scamming people for their AOL passwords was simly good old social engineering. But instead of calling people asking for their password i just posted an instruction how to hack someone elses AOL account by simply sending an email with your own password to some “special” email address. Ironically there are still some of these pathetic scams online, as you can see i used it as late as 2001… (Proof here: Scam instructions ).

You’d be surprised how many jealous girls and boys tried to “hack” their partners/friends AOL account with this “trick” – i always had dozens of fresh AOL accounts in my inbox that way.

I usually changed the current AOL account if it got close to 1000 Dollar roaming fees – oh well there was that once woman from Brazil who ended up with something like 1600 USD on her AOL bill, but usually it was much less.

And no i was NEVER contacted by AOL or anyone else (besides some hate mail on the email inbox used from that scam).

Well so that is pretty much how i survived between the “blue box era” and the “Flat rate DSL era”.

Author: fronzelneekburm

Computer nerd

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