Ghost Sites of the Web

Web 1.0 history, forgotten web celebrities, old web sites, commentary, and news by Steve Baldwin. Published erratically since 1996.

June 24, 2004

You've Got Unconscious Humor

Yesterday, the world began learning about how an employee at AOL sold 92 million customer names to a spammer.

Around 5 PM yesterday, I first saw this story appear on the home page of the New York Times. I clicked on the link, which brought me to a story-level page.

On this same page is a big AOL ad reading:


I took a screenshot of this page.

More knowledge indeed!

The question on the tongue of every AOL user in the world today is "how secure is my credit card information?" AOL will assure us that this information is in a "locked box" somewhere, and that accused engineer Smathers never had the keys to the box. (Of course, Smathers never posessed keys to the screen name database either. He used some social engineering to "borrow" its keys: a "blended attack" on AOL's crownn jewels that worked remarkably well and wasn't caught for a long time).

This incident will likely go down in history as the greatest breach of the public trust since it was revealed last year that airline JetBlue was sharing customer information with a government contractor working on a bid for a homeland security contract.

AOL users have no cause to rest easy today: the 92 million-screen name database is "in play", and there are probably copies lying around on the desks of every direct marketer's desk in the country now. Yes, this list becomes less valuable with time and "churn", but it's still valuable enough to be sold and re-sold for at least a year.

"More knowledge" indeed.

Note: The Smoking Gun has the complaint filed against Smithers and Sean Dunaway, the direct-marketer who allegedly bought the purloined list, online here:

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