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Truth About Computer Security Hysteria

AOL hacker riot/virus threat

CATEGORY: Hoax virus alerts

Childish AOL users sometimes begin a direct-threat chain letter (see related link) about a planned "AOL riot." It claims a bunch of genius hackers will band together on a certain date to wreak havoc on AOL users.

Current versions of the hoax "order" AOL users to forward the chain letter to ten friends. (See related link about direct-threat chain letters.) Naturally, those evil genius hackers will target any AOL user who fails to do so.

Gullible reporters sometimes fall for "AOL riot" email threats and will write a story about it. Ironically, gullible hacker-wannabees fall for the story and visit AOL chat rooms at the "appointed time." A massive argument then erupts — some demand the death of AOL while others plead "can't we all just get along?" A few imbeciles will brag about their hacking prowess and use simple "parlor tricks" to impress gullible AOL users who dared to hang around for the supposed riot.

One of the best examples occurred in 1997 when AOL List editor David Cassel warned of an upcoming Valentine's Day Massacre. News agencies picked up on it and gave Cassel his 15 nanominutes of fame. The alert quickly evolved — users soon received word of a global hacker riot which "may destroy the entire infrastructure" of the Internet according to one hysterical user. In the end, Valentine's Day 1997 left no profound mark on the Internet.

Cassel logged onto AOL with a few hundred wannabee hackers to argue whether they should destroy AOL. Ironically, their anarchistic plans got bogged down by Robert's Rules of Order. A follow-up story in Wired magazine summed it up in one word: "amateurs." Cassel — who later proclaimed "I started the AOL Riot" — rationalizes the whole thing flopped because it had little to do with hackers. "It was a folk protest... Malcontents gathered [on AOL] to 'voice their angst, their anger and their dissatisfaction' " with the nation's largest online service.

Last updated: 2000/8/10