The speed of fiber Internet makes it easy to view the days of America Online with rose-colored glasses. Recalling the dulcet tones of the “You’ve got mail,” one tends to overlook the nefarious activities that occurred on AOL. It turns out “AOHell” is not a reference to painfully slow dial-up, but rather a “proggie” used by hackers to stir up trouble in the early days of widespread home Internet use.

Stirring up trouble for trouble’s sake

Created by “Da Chronic,” who claimed to be a 17-year-old from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, AOHell was a Visual Basic program with no purpose other than allowing users (mostly teenage boys) to stir up trouble for trouble’s sake. As one former AOHell user reminisced in an online forum, “You could punt people offline, impersonate people in the chat rooms, get free AOL time (back when they used to charge per hour), file fake TOS complaints getting people banned, type in rainbow text, etc. … Hell, that was half the reason I kept my AOL account for so long, because I used to get a kick out of them.” 

AOHell users convened in chat rooms to swap tips — sharing how to create AOL accounts using false credit card information, tips for locking up unsuspecting users’ computers with a bombardment of instant messages, and ways to phish for passwords and credit card information.

Eventually, AOL caught on and defeated AOHell with a two-pronged approach. AOL utilized increased security measures, including credit card verification at the beginning of a free trial period. AOL also created a concerted education program, letting users know that no AOL employee would ever ask for their passwords or credit card information over IM.

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Photo:  Denis Pogostin / Shutterstock

Kate Johanns

Posted by Kate Johanns

Kate Johanns is a communications professional and freelance writer with more than 13 years of experience in publishing and marketing.

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