The AOL List: Hackers Dis-Robe AOL Klansman

David Cassel (
Sat, 19 Apr 1997 12:45:33 -0700 (PDT)

	 H a c k e r s   D i s - R o b e   A O L   K l a n s m a n


A web page recruiting for the KKK has been removed from AOL. 

By hackers. 

So say "Dr. Ill" and "Joka".  Last night the two hackers swapped knowing
details as a page recruiting for the "Realm of Texas"
( began returning the 'address not
found' message late Friday night. "Try to e-mail them,"  Ill gloated. 
"The page is gone too...that's funny." 

It was Joka who pulled the stunt.  "I talked to the KKK Guy today in an
instant message,"  Dr. Ill added.  "Apparently there were attempts daily to
get the account--but none as big as Joka's." 

It started in March, when a message appeared in alt.politics.white-power,
advising that "Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, Realm of Texas has an
excellent new site."  ("Stand up, Be a man, Join the Klan!" another post
announced the same day.)  HateWatch's site called attention to the page
days earlier ( William Richard Jones, webmaster for
the African American Web Connection (, discovered their
listing March 7.  ("I normally don't even look at the contents of those
sites," he told the AOL List, "but noticed an AOL web address.  I called
AOL's 1-800 number and asked to speak to someone involved in
enforcement/complaint of member web pages.")

Seven days later Jones received his answer:  AOL wouldn't remove the
page--despite a history of strict rule enforcement for the service.
(Citing a financial report on the fourth quarter of 1995, Ned Brainard's
"Flux" column on Hotwired noted last year that AOL deleted a sixth of
their paying accounts acquired during one three-month period for
"anti-social behavior"--
But the "Realm of Texas" page would remain, promising "final victory
through White Christian Revival."  Over the next month it grew, adding
information as recently as yesterday about a Houston meeting of the
National Association for the Advancement of White People.  Organizations
like HateWatch are concerned that the page may be part of a larger
problem. Though denounced by the NAACP, the governor of Virginia, where
AOL is headquartered, recently proclaimed April "Confederate History and
Heritage Month." 

The tone of the AOL staffer's response only increased Jones's anger. 
(  "I told her I'd send my
complaint to my 1000+ distribution list. She told me to go ahead..."  So
he did--and the message turned up in eight newsgroups.  It led to coverage
from Wired News ( and the
Washington Post, where Jones announced that he'd cancelled his account.
( ) 

At that time, the AOL List notified an AOL content provider, who said "The
Anti-Defamation League's not going to stand for this."  It's not known
whether that triggered their response, but by the end of the day a
statement had been composed.  Then on April 7, the League issued a press
release, prompting nationwide news stories, including the Wall Street
Journal and the Associated Press.

But AOL clung to their position.  "All the people working on TOS staff
knew about the account and were told not to action it," Joka says.  So he
applied the hacker skill of social engineering--and created an account
mimicking that of the page's author.  "The text-based nature of AOL lends
itself to these 'look-alike' screen names," AOL wrote in an announcement
to their staffers in November.  "Capital I's look like lowercase L's and
1's, and letter O's look like zeroes."  In fact, there were many more
possibilities-- "Two vv's also bear a resemblance to w's, as do n's to
ri's," the warning continued.  "Does your screen name have any l's, I's,
1's, 0's, 0's, w's, or ri's in it?" 

It was as simple as that.  "I went around asking people for their
passwords, hoping that they would report the wrong screen name," Joka
commented Friday.  AOL advises their staff to create all possible
look-alike names themselves, then delete them, which removes the spoofs
from the pool of available names--but they offer no such warning to their
members.  "If your screen name were JimMiller (jimmiller)," the staff
announcement points out, "it would be easy for someone to create the
screen name JimMiIIer (jimmiiier), or JimMiIler (jimmiiler)." Dr. Ill says
others had also impersonated the Klansman's account.  "Another guy in the
hackers room had 'ReaimOfTex'--capitol i."

It's nothing new.  "Look-alike screen names have been a problem since the
80's on AOL,"  one veteran remembers.  "Back on Q-link, people would
create accounts with all zeros and O's, and terrorize an on-line game
where they were shown as the same letter.  There was very little AOL could
do about it."  The problem, the veteran feels, lies with AOL.  "Many
services use a special font to make the letters look different.  AOL does
not." And the Terms of Service staff fell for it.  "Stupid people on aol
always amaze me," Joka chuckles. 

His plan took some time--last night he figured he'd harried over 3000 AOL
members with the phony doppleganger before the account "Realmoftex"  was
cancelled.  "An internal friend told me they purposely didn't
cancel the account after the first 50 reports," Joka observed last night.  
"But then there were 150 more, and they had to."
Reached Saturday morning at his Austin, Texas home, Jones laughed about
the incident, and wondered if AOL will re-activate the account.  "I would
say they'd probably try to get out of the hot water," he speculates.  "The
easy way out."  The ball's in their court.  "I'm just going to see what
happens in the next couple of days...  Anything's possible now.  I figure
we'll know in a week or so."

Ironically, AOL is listed as a plaintiff in an anti-censorship suit
brought against the recently-passed Communications Decency Act, which last
month was argued before the Supreme Court.  "I was appalled..." read one
letter to the American Library Association's journal last year.  "AOL is
notorious for its blatant censorship...with 5 million subscribers and
400,000 to 500,000 users on-line at any one time during 'peak hours', AOL
may be the greatest censor in the "Free World" at this time...  To me this
is pragmatism gone mad!"  ( 

But today it seems both sides are angry.  "AOL no longer enforces it's
Terms of Service in the effort to retain as many paying members as
possible," one staffer claimed to the AOL List.  "This has resulted in
AOL's 30,000 remote staff pulling their hair out trying to maintain a
decent conversation for normal users."  Complaining that "when assistance
is requested, it never happens," they wrote that many staffers are now
"resigning or simply giving up."  The end result?  "There is now a hosting
shortage on AOL because of this non-enforcement policy...  Disruptive
members know that AOL will not cancel their accounts for illegal behavior
and for violations of the Terms of Service." 

One AOL user expressed her concerns to the AOL List.  "Considering the
wonderful opportunity that the Internet provides us, by making it possible
to meet new people and open our minds to new cultures, religions, etc., I
think that it is incredibly sad that a huge online service such as AOL is
not using this potential to help build a better world."  Lara Johnston is
a frequent poster on AOL's embattled South Africa board
(  But she argues that
warnings are issued TOO freely--and at the end of all her e-mail messages,
she adds a quote from Chief Justice Olive Wendell Holmes. 

"The only thing needed for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing."


In a late night conversation, the two hackers inadvertently touched on the
issues involved in granting outside parties the power to terminate
accounts.  "I dont even know WHY I did it," Joka pondered.  "Maybe because
he doesn't deserve to be in the same 'cyber space' as me." 

"Joka, YOU dont deserve to be in the same cyber space as me," Dr. Ill
replied, "but I let ya stay." 

        David Cassel
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