I’ve got an Anti-AOL reader who recently used their AOL email to whistleblow in such a way that their life is now possibly endangered. Given that this person got to this point over not knowing how to send anonymous email anonymously, I thought a quick tutorial on how to do it right, especially if you use AOL email, might be a good idea.
When using AOL email is a fairly safe and anonymous way to communicate
- When you sign into AOL’s dial-up software (the thing that yells “You’ve got mail!”) with your computer’s dial-up modem as your only connection to the Internet while using an anon-looking username that reveals no personal info in your AOL or Bebo profile. So you sit down at your PC, open your AOL software, sign in as gooblygookhaha!1!11, then listen as your dial-up modem screeches until it connects. So far, so good. Now you send an email directly from your AOL software. This is a fairly good way to hide your IP address (the number that can reveal your approximate location to others who view the headers of your email). The tl;dr technical explanation on why this is a fairly anon way to communicate is here.
- HUGE CAVEAT: Even this method is not a bulletproof way to hide your identity or location from anyone. All it takes is one court order from a sufficiently determined party to force AOL to hand over your contact and billing details to any interested legal authority.
When using AOL email is not a fairly safe nor anonymous way to communicate (that is: most of the time)
- Say you sign into AOL’s dial-up software with any username that resembles your real name, such as iampatsyclineha!ha!1!1. Won’t work. Forget it.
- Say you sign into AOL’s dial-up software with a username like gooblygookhaha!1!11 but your Bebo or AOL profile contains info like your street address, home state, phone number, pictures of you, other email addresses tied to your real name, AIM and other chat handles tied to your real name, comments indexed by Google under the username, etc. Won’t work. Forget it.
- Say you sign into AOL’s software at home or work using any ISP besides AOL dial-up (such as Verizon, Comcast, Brighthouse, Time Warner Communications, CenturyLink, etc.). Doing so will reveal your IP address to AOL, which in turn will force your IP to show up in the headers of email you send from AOL or from any other email client (such as Outlook or Thunderbird) or any other online email service (such as AOL, Hotmail, Yahoo, etc.) that you use.
- When you sign into AOL’s online email from any connection to the Internet besides AOL dial-up.
- When you use your old cell phone, current iPhone, new smart phone, PDA, Blackberry, Android tablet or any other smart/wifi-enabled device to sign into AOL’s online email.
How to ensure you remain anonymous while using AOL email
This is where I review a few key points and make some suggestions to help you play it safe.
- Don’t use a connection to the Internet from your broadband, DSL, or cell phone service provider to use AOL email. If you use AOL’s dial-up software with your dial-up modem to connect to the Internet, do make sure you sign into AOL with an anon-looking username with no profile/contact info or comments tied to it that might reveal your true identity. Do be aware that even this is not a bulletproof way to remain anonymous.
- Do use the free wifi (wireless Internet connection) available at public libraries, cafes, and other hotspots where people congregate in large, mostly unknown masses. But for an extra layer of protection, don’t sign into AOL’s online email from any hotspot until you visit a free web proxy. Choose a proxy from the list on any free proxy website by clicking on it, then on the next page you see, type in the address you want to visit (like http://aol.com/), then press the Enter button on your keyboard or click the button next to or below the address box you just filled in.
- For maximum anonymity, do forget about using AOL email altogether. Also forget about using Hotmail, Yahoo, GMail, or any other “normal” online email service, as all of them will throw your IP address up in the headers of any email you send. Instead, go to your chosen hotspot, connect to a free web proxy (you can then connect to another proxy from the first one, if you’re really paranoid or just need to take every possible precaution), then use a disposable or highly anonymous email address to get your super-seekret business done.
Caveat Emptor, yo: This page does not represent an exhaustive list of options for sending anonymous email, nor does following the suggestions here guarantee you will remain anonymous. Following them may simply help reduce your chances of exposure.
Try this link for the Old AOL Classic look:
I’m not sure exactly when AOL brought the Classic Look back (yes, they really did). I’m only sure that it wasn’t before early December. I got a comment alerting me to the fact today:
Try this link for the Old AOL Classic look
Oh, boy, how one thing always leads to another, especially with AOL.
Tonight a reader asked how to access the AOL Classic home page (the answer is you can’t, because AOL Classic is gone).
Once that was sorted out (I told her to use http://netscape.aol.com instead – it’s ugly, but it’s basically the same thing), I tied up a few other loose ends on this blog, then – you know how I always get bored – so I usually go trawling through search engines to see what trouble I can find, since trouble doesn’t bore me? OK.
So tonight I’ve won the “un-bored” jackpot. Using the search terms (with quotes, exactly as you see it) ["aol" "back to classic" "developer network"] – which were two links at the bottom of the AOL Classic home page] I got this as the third result: http://www.primcapital.com/default_003.html.
Clicking the Prim Capital link takes you to an identical copy of the AOL Classic home page. Every link you click on that page brings you to another hijacked AOL page on Prim Capital’s servers. Curious as to whether AOL owns Prim Capital or not, I looked it up and, nope, apparently not!
But that’s where my gumshoeing stops. I have got to get to bed!
Have fun, AOL – I wash my hands of this little phishing attack or whatever it is you have going on with the Prim Capital people (but if I owned AOL, whoever runs Prim Capital wouldn’t be able to say their names without speech synthesizers by tomorrow morning – just sayin’).
Oh, and if you’re a reader who uses AOL? PLEASE DO NOT VISIT THE PRIM CAPITAL SITE. IT IS NOT AOL! YOU MAY GET PHISHED OR GET YOUR IDENTITY STOLEN! HERE BE DRAGONS! ETC.
There are lots of stories going around about AOL lately. Let’s clear some of them up.
- Myth #1: AOL no longer sells dial-up access.
False. AOL still sells dial-up and BYOA (Bring-Your-Own-Access). The good news is, AOL is down to 4 million subscribers from an all-time high of 25 million subscribers in 2005, with more subscribers fleeing each month.
- Myth #2: AOL does nothing but provide dial-up and BYOA access.
False. AOL does much more. AOL recently thought it was an ad company, but now thinks it’s a media company. Access is something AOL doesn’t “focus” on anymore, because most of AOL’s customer service and tech support calls are handled by employees in India, and the infrastructure for dial-up practically runs itself.
- Myth #3: AOL still blankets the US with CDs.
False. AOL does limited distribution of CDs by bundling them with Dex phone books or by sending them to certain bloggers, but other than that, the days of waiting breathlessly for your next coaster are over.
- Myth #4: The name “AOL” is now written out as “Aol.”.
False. The new “Aol.” moniker is a prime example of “branding”, like how I changed my blog’s name a few years ago, to improve my, um, “brand”. I’d prefer if you call my blog “Anti-AOL” now, but if you still call it “Marah’s AOL Log”, that’s OK, too. It wasn’t a legal name change, and neither was AOL’s. You can write its name out however you want. I prefer “AOHell” and “Aolol”, myself.
- Myth #5: “Aol.” is a meaningless brand meant to catch your eye and nothing more.
Well, yeah. But, no, not technically speaking. False. Supposedly, when you choose Aol., you choose the best brand for your lifestyle. (I know…the whole idea makes me sick, too.) So you don’t visit a blog on AOL; you visit “blog.Aol.” Adding the “Aol.” appendage makes you seem smarter and cooler (or, if you’re old school, l33t3r) than the rest of us.
- Myth #6: “Aol.” is pronounced…differently, so how do you pronounce it?
False. You pronounce it the same way.
- Myth #7: It is still impossible, damn it, to cancel your AOL account.
False. You can cancel your paid or free AOL account simply by filling out the online cancel form, unless you live in Washington, DC (AOL programmers forgot to let the District of Columbia in on the magic).
- Myth #8: I can cancel your AOL account for you, if you just leave me a comment anywhere on this blog saying something snotty like, “Do away with my service”.
Hello people, let’s get real: I can’t do that, OK? But the good news is, I think these people can.
This may come as a surprise, but you’re not staying safe by using AOL. Every day you encounter possibly unsafe ads, phishers and Nigerian scams. AOL is not protecting you (or me) from such routine online dangers.
AOL Email is Unsafe
Clicking the Spam Button in AOL’s email doesn’t make scams or phishers go away – for every email that you mark “Spam”, more spam will often comes in it’s place. Anyone can get their bulk (and sometimes, spammy) email whitelisted by AOL, because it’s not a matter of the sender having a good website for you to visit or a good email for you to read; it’s a matter of the sender wanting to send email to AOL users in bulk. Whoever is willing to do so can get whitelisted. And your GoodMail? Really not so good, if you’ll pardon my pun.
One of my readers, koshinbay13, has a few questions about coding a website to work for AOL users. After reading about AOL’s caching proxy servers, he’s looking for PHP code to prevent an AOL user’s cookies from getting passed to the next AOL users who show up on his site.
I can’t answer his PHP questions, but I’ve posted a response below to answer the rest of his questions as best as I can. Best answer from any of *you* gets posted to my “how-to” section as a permanent post with your name and website credited if you like.
Don’t forget to let me know what you use instead of AOL in the comments!
The question, “What do you use instead of AOL?” has been put to me from time to time. I never answer it, wanting to appear unbiased, but I always promise to discuss it someday, then I never do. But what I use instead of AOL has to be one of the easiest posts I can write, so without ado…
“How do you connect to the Web without AOL?”
I don’t know. How does anyone do that?
Since I wrote this post it’s risen to the #1 slots for the keyword searches mentioned below, so to save you time, if you’re here for the phone number to report a hacked AOL or AIM account, it’s 1-800-307-7969.
Tonight I typed “report hacked aol email” into Google and got, among other irrelevant things: “how to hack an AOL account“. Brilliant! Just to ensure my fury shot from moderate to severe, I typed “contact aol hacked” next, and got the same damn results…curses on Google. May fire rain down from heaven on their precious servers.
Patty, the reader with the AOL proxy/ AOL Trojan scare a few months ago, wrote me again to say that she finally quit AOL. While I am – as anyone can imagine – happy for her (she’s with Earthlink now, which is a big step up), canceling AOL is, as always, fraught with peril, trepidation and fear of the unknown. Her updated saga, with the subject line Ex-AOL Proxy!:
Hello Marah! Thought you might like to hear the end of the story — I finally quit AOL! (which so far has been no big deal, but that’s kind of what scares me!) (time will tell!) First of all on Wed., 1-21-09, I followed your cancel.aol.com link, and filled out the form (making sure to check the box at the bottom!) — got an immediate “successful submission” response, and a box telling me to allow 3 business days for the cancellation to kick in. It also said I’d get an email, and that I’d still be an active member until my next billing date (2-1-09). (haven’t gotten that email yet . . . )
Today “NP” asked me via email:
I’m beginning to see the light! But I need someone to answer a question for me before I let loose of my three-year connection to AOL (I basically just use it to get online). Somehow, I sense you’re that person. (no pressure!)
I’m[...]kind of new to this technical stuff, but observing “inbound events” logged by my McAfee firewall (“FREE” from AOL!) (but at what price?!), put me in my investigative mode. Hopefully you can explain to me what’s going on.