AOL4FREE

Category: Virus hoax Discovered On: 01 Jan 2000
Type: hoax Updated On: 08 Jun 2006

Description

AOL4FREE has caused a lot of confusion and concern because it may be one of three different things:

  • An illicit program designed to get free time on America OnLine
  • A Trojan horse
  • A hoax email virus

The illicit program

The original AOL4FREE program was written in 1995 by a Yale student called Nicholas M Ryan. It was designed to give the user access to the America Online (AOL) commercial online service without them having to pay the standard hourly charge. In early 1997 Nicholas Ryan pleaded guilty to charges of computer crime in the US and was ordered to pay restitution to AOL. This was around the time information about the AOL4FREE hoax email virus began to circulate.

The Trojan horse

A Trojan horse called AOL4FREE.COM appeared in April 1997. A Trojan horse is a program whose execution would result in undesired side effects, generally unanticipated by the user. In the case of AOL4FREE.COM, it will delete all the files on the user's C: drive when executed and then display a derogatory message directed at AOL users.

A Trojan horse is not a virus because it cannot replicate by itself. The AOL4FREE Trojan horse must be run to do any damage.

The hoax email virus

As is common with hoax email viruses such as the infamous Good Times, warnings about AOL4FREE were circulated widely on the Internet. One posting to alt.comp.virus included the text

Anyone who receives this [warning] must send it to as many people as you can. It is essential that this problem be reconciled as soon as possible. A few hours ago, someone opened an E-mail that had the subject heading of "AOL4FREE.COM". Within seconds of opening it, a window appeared and began to display all his files that were being deleted. He immediately shut down his computer, but it was too late. This virus wiped him out.

Threat Level

Threat Level:

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