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AOL warns against Trojan horses

AOL wants users to beware of email messages bearing gifts.

America Online (AOL) wants users to beware of email messages bearing gifts.

Today, it launched a feature it is labeling "Download Sentry," a automated warning against malevolent programs called Trojan horses, often sent in email attachments.

Download Sentry is no more complicated than a pop-up screen automatically triggered by email software and is similar to warnings Net surfers see on their browsers.

Trojan horses, known as such for masquerading as benign programs that actually contain malicious code, have been an escalating problem on AOL. "In the last month, we've seen an increase in the number of members reporting having downloaded Trojans," said company spokeswoman Wendy Goldberg.

People send unsuspecting members email saying they are delivering various programs such as games, help files, video clips, screensavers, and sounds when they really sending programs that will actually "watch" keystrokes and then ship them back to the sender.

With that information, the sender can then figure out a member's password and other information. Some Trojan horses distributed to AOL members also can do things like add graphic files (usually obscene) to users' hard drives.

The Sentry Guard will pop up when users go to download programs with the message, "Warning! You are about to download a file which contains executable code. Downloading files from unknown sources might cause harm to your computing environment or display objectionable material. Do you wish to proceed?"

The user can then choose to eliminate that warning the subsequent time he or she downloads a file.

AOL members are particularly targeted because the online service attracts users who generally are less savvy about the dark side of the Internet, like high school seniors targeting unwary freshman for pranks such as selling subscriptions to the school's free paper.