AOL Hacks Customers' Computers?

The Messenger Service is a function built into most versions of Windows. It allows administrators to send alerts to computer users. Spammers have co-opted the service, blitzkrieging Internet users with plain gray pop-up windows. AOL has taken it upon themselves to silently disable the Windows Messenger Service on their customers' computers.

AOL, who makes money showing customers their own pop-up ads, says they are just trying to do customers a favor. In doing so, however, they are setting a dangerous precedent. ISPs simply shouldn't have the right to make changes to customers computers without an explanation of what's about to change and why. Customers should definitely have the ability to opt-out.

c4.net took a different approach to the problem. We have disabled the ports commonly used by such services at the router level. This means that all computers on the c4.net network are protected from this type of spam and even many different types of Internet attacks and viruses. We did this without having to change a single customer's computer.

Ostensibly, the size and layout of AOL's network makes such a change difficult, if not impossible. Since very few applications use the Windows Messenger Service, AOL has deemed it easier to just disable that service on their customer's computers.

Security experts have mixed opinions about this one. Almost everyone believes there will probably be little collateral damage: the Messenger Service just isn't used that much. However, what happens when AOL decides that the user's Internet connection would work better if the Earthlink dialer wasn't installed on the computer, something they've done at least once before?


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