AOL4FREE has caused a lot of confusion and concern because it may be one of three
- 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.