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Hackers threaten riot on AOL

Hackers promise to kill accounts in "riot" on AOL come Valentine's Day.

Hackers intend to turn the day of love into a day of grief for unwary America Online (AOL) members to punish the company for constant busy signals, according to a message making the rounds among AOL members.

More than 800 AOL members have gotten an email warning them that "at least 150 hackers will be rioting" on AOL come February 14, according to David Cassel, a grassroots AOL activist who published the story on his AOL List.

It threatens that hackers will clear out chat-room lobbies and cancel accounts of anyone online at the time. It goes on to warn users not to log on February 14.

"Don't spread the word because it is the only way to be able to sign on again with no busy signals," the email states.

AOL has been a favorite target of hackers for years. AOL members, often new to the Net, also are primary targets of Netizens who like to perpetuate hoaxes, such as fake viruses that purport to do impossibly nasty things to your computer.

But this threat is most likely real, Cassel said. AOL is taking the threat seriously enough to prepare for it, added AOL spokesman Andrew Graziani. "We're geared up for this but don't really expect this to be a problem for members."

Cassel, who witnessed a similar revolt in 1995, says he is taking the threat seriously but doesn't know if the hackers have the ability to make good on their threats.

Graziani said that while hackers can perform a trick called "scrolling," in which they cause text to be scrolled so quickly that no one can read it, they don't have the ability to cancel accounts.

"It's not technically possible to throw people off of the service," Graziani said. "At worst there will be some people in public chat rooms doing things like scrolling."

The hackers also say they'll use other tricks in their arsenals, such as spreading viruses and bombing people's email accounts. In the first case, users can protect themselves by refusing to download any email attachments. Viruses cannot be spread through email, but they are commonly spread through attachments sent with email. As long as users don't open those attachments, they should be protected.

Hackers also have been known to effectively prevent users from using accounts by subscribing them to so many mailing lists, that they are flooded with email.